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April 22 2017 8:28 PM

Taliban Fighters Kill at Least 140 Afghan Soldiers at Army Base

Afghanistan is in mourning after at least 140 soldiers were killed by a group of 10 Taliban fighters at a key base in northern Afghanistan. It was the deadliest single attack against an army base since the war began 16 years ago. “Today, there was even a shortage of coffins,” said Ibrahim Khairandish, a member of the provincial council in Balkh Province, where the attack took place.

There are conflicting figures on the death toll, with the defense ministry officially saying more than 100 were killed. Anonymous officials though say at least 140 were killed and some fear the death toll could be higher than 200. “Today, there was even a shortage of coffins,” said Ibrahim Khairandish, a member of the provincial council in Balkh Province.

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Ten Taliban fighters wearing army uniforms entered the huge base and began an hours-long attack that included suicide bombings. Two of the Taliban attackers reportedly detonated their explosive vests inside a mosque that was busy due to Friday prayers.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, describing it as a retribution for the recent killing of several senior Taliban leaders. A Taliban spokesman said as many as 500 soldiers were killed in the attack. He also claimed four of the attackers were army defectors who had served at the base. The attack lasted six hours and at least one of the attackers was arrested.

The Friday attack was a stark reminder of how badly things are going in Afghanistan, notes the New York Times:

Over the last two years, Taliban fighters have gained more territory in the countryside and now threaten several cities. Afghanistan’s forces, suffering enormous casualties and a leadership marred by indecision and corruption, have struggled to put up a defense.
More than 6,700 members of the Afghan security forces lost their lives in 2016, a record high that is nearly three times the total American casualties for the war.
In a new sign of how badly the Afghan military is faltering, the commander of the NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, has requested a few thousand additional American soldiers to assist in training Afghan recruits.

April 22 2017 7:29 PM

Brooklyn Picks a President (for France)

BROOKLYN—Some of the first votes in the French presidential election, a referendum on the future of the European Union, were cast in an old red-brick church building near the Gowanus Canal on Saturday morning. On the sidewalk outside, some of the New York area’s 75,000-odd French citizens waited in the rain to choose between the 11 candidates for their country’s six-year presidential term.

 

The French diaspora in the Americas votes a day early, and unlike U.S. expats, they vote not by mail but in polling places across the hemisphere: the French Embassy in Buenos Aires, the French-American Academy of Jersey City, and here at the French International School in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. (Tomorrow, their compatriots from Hanoi to Geneva will follow suit.)

 

Even in a city whose popularity with French tourists and expatriates is the subject of popular expressions (“Très Brooklyn!) and department-store displays back home, the scene on Saturday morning was exceptionally Gallic, if a few Gauloises short of the Rue Oberkampf.

 

France’s scandal-plagued presidential campaign had no one in high spirits, there no were no pins or political T-shirts, except for one woman whose shirt read “Resist.” It was an American reference, but it neatly summed up the common political aim within the diversity of Brooklyn français: a determination to stop Marine Le Pen.

 

April 22 2017 7:24 PM

Trump Says “Congratulations … Tremendous” to Purple Heart Recipient

President Donald Trump raised more than a few eyebrows during his first visit as president to Walter Reed National Medical Center on Saturday when he awarded the Purple Heart to Army Sergeant First Class Alvaro Barrientos. "When I heard about this, I wanted to do it myself," Trump told Barrientos as he placed the Purple Heart on the soldier's lapel. “Congratulations … tremendous.” The medal is given to service members who were wounded or killed in battle.

Many on social media immediately criticized the president’s choice of words to the wounded soldier whose leg had to be amputated after he survived an attack in Afghanistan’s Helmland province.

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This isn’t the first time the president has been criticized for remarks he made about the Purple Heart. During the campaign, a veteran gave the then-nominee his Purple heart. "I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier," Trump said at the time.

Trump allowed news media to cover the event on Saturday, in contrast to his predecessor, who awarded Purple Heart medals behind closed doors when he went to Walter Reed.

April 22 2017 6:31 PM

Trump to Hold Rally on Same Night As White House Correspondents' Dinner

President Donald Trump revealed on Saturday what he will be doing next week instead of attending the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington: Hosting his own rally. "Next Saturday night I will be holding a BIG rally in Pennsylvania. Look forward to it," the president wrote on Twitter. The rally will be in Harrisburg, Pa. on the date that will also mark the 100th-day of Trump's presidency.

The announcement came a day after Trump dismissed the importance of the 100-day mark as a “ridiculous standard.”

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As many quickly pointed out, Trump himself had often referred to the 100-day marker as an important point of his presidency. During the campaign he even released a “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again.”

A White House official criticized references to the rally taking place on the same day as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, saying it had more to do with marking the president’s 100 days in office. “The media is trying to make this about them when—respectively it has nothing to do with you guys,” the official told Politico. “It’s about focusing on the people.”

In February, Trump announced he would be eschewing tradition and skipping the annual Correspondents’ Dinner, which he had attended in past years as a guest.

Trump won’t be the only one fighting for the spotlight during the Correspondents’ Dinner. Full Frontal host Samantha Bee is holding an event called “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” at a hotel a couple of miles away from the annual event.

April 22 2017 5:26 PM

Watch Bill Nye Blast CNN On Air for Pitting Him Against Climate Change Skeptic

“Science Guy” Bill Nye was none too happy that CNN put him on the same panel as a climate change skeptic on Earth Day. "I will say, much as I love the CNN, you’re doing a disservice by having one climate change skeptic, and not 97 or 98 scientists or engineers concerned about climate change,” Nye said during an appearance on CNN's New Day Saturday to discuss the March for Science that was taking place in more than 100 cities across the world.

During the segment, William Happer, a physicist and climate change skeptic, argued that the Earth is getting greener and that carbon dioxide is good for the atmosphere. “There’s this myth that’s developed around carbon dioxide that it’s a pollutant, but you and I both exhale carbon dioxide with every breath. Each of us emits about two pounds of carbon dioxide a day, so are we polluting the planet?” Happer said. “Carbon dioxide is a perfectly natural gas, it’s just like water vapor, it’s something that plants love. They grow better with more carbon dioxide, and you can see the greening of the earth already from the additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

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An obviously exasperated Nye responded: “What he claims to not understand is the rate. it’s the speed at which we’re adding carbon dioxide.” He latter accused Happer of “cherry picking a certain model” and that the consensus view on climate change “is not controversial in mainstream science.” Plus, Nye added, acting like climate change doesn’t exist is bad for the economy. “If you pretend that climate change isn't a real problem, you will fall behind other countries that do invest in science—that do invest in basic research," Nye said.

Happer, who has met with Trump and has been described as the man who may take over the role as top science adviser, later appeared to shock everyone when he compared the Paris Agreement on climate change with the Munich Agreement and Nazi appeasement. “It’s definitely appeasement,” Hopper said. “It’s an appropriate comparison because it was a treaty that was not going to do any good.”

Nye later spoke to a crowd at a rally in Washington, D.C. before the March for Science started. "Today we have a great many lawmakers—not just here but around the world— deliberately ignoring and actively suppressing science," Nye said. "Their inclination is misguided and in no one's best interest. Our lives are in every way improved by having clean water, reliable electricity and access to electronic global information."

April 22 2017 3:09 PM

Here Are Some of the Best Signs From the March for Science

Tens of thousands of people gathered in hundreds of rallies around the world on Earth Day in what was described as a “celebration” of science and support for evidence-based policies. Although the marches were billed as a way to emphasize "the vital role science plays in our democracy” they were largely protests against President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts in budgets for science and research program as well as his well-documented skepticism of climate change. "We didn't choose to be in this battle, but it has come to the point where we have to fight because the stakes are too great," climate scientist Michael Mann said.

Some of the science lovers took to the streets with some great signs in tow. Here are some of the best:

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A dog carries a placard as scientists and science enthusiasts take part in the March for Science in Westminster, central London on April 22, 2017.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

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Scientists and science enthusiasts carry placards as they participate in the March for Sciences in Amsterdam on April 22, 2017.

ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images

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A woman holds up a sign at a rally before the March for Science on April 22, 2017 in New York.

BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

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People with signs walk past the Trump International Hotel and Tower during the March for Science on April 22, 2017 in New York.

BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

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A protester holds a placard as scientists and science enthusiasts participate in the March for Science in Westminster, central London on April 22, 2017.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

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People with signs attend a rally before the march for Science April 22, 2017 in New York.

BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

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Scientists and science enthusiasts gather prior to the start of the March for Science in central London on April 22, 2017.

Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

April 22 2017 12:32 PM

Trump Fires Surgeon General Who Called Gun Violence a Public Health Issue

President Trump asked Obama-administration–holdover Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy to resign, getting rid of a staunch advocate for the Affordable Care Act who has long called for stronger gun control. He was replaced by his deputy, Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams, who is now one of the first nurses to serve as surgeon general. The Department of Health and Human Services thanked Murthy for his service and his help on a “smooth transition into the new Trump administration.”

The reasons for the abrupt dismissal weren’t immediately clear, but the New York Times says “employees at the Department of Health and Human Services privately expressed surprise at his sudden departure.” Although it’s not unprecedented, it’s highly unusual for a surgeon general’s four-year term to be cut short. What is known is that the gun lobby was no fan of Murthy, who has for years insisted that gun violence should be classified as a public health threat. In fact, the National Rifle Association called on the Senate not to confirm him in 2014. Murthy also raised warnings against the explosion of e-cigarette use, especially among teenagers.

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For now, Murthy is keeping things diplomatic and not commenting on the reasons why he was asked to leave. He posted a statement on Facebook thanking “America for the privilege of a lifetime.” He also outlines four lessons he learned while on the job:

1. Kindness is more than a virtue. It is a source of strength. If we teach our children to be kind and remind each other of the same, we can live from a place of strength, not fear. I have seen this strength manifest every day in the words and actions of people all across our great nation. It is what gives me hope that we can heal during challenging times.
2. We will only be successful in addressing addiction – and other illnesses – when we recognize the humanity within each of us. People are more than their disease. All of us are more than our worst mistakes. We must ensure our nation always reflects a fundamental value: every life matters.
3. Healing happens when we are able to truly talk to and connect with each other. That means listening and understanding. It means assuming good, not the worst. It means pausing before we judge. Building a more connected America will require us to find new ways to talk to each other.
4. The world is locked in a struggle between love and fear. Choose love. Always. It is the world's oldest medicine. It is what we need to build a nation that is safe and strong for us and our children.

April 22 2017 11:22 AM

Video Shows Aggressive Flight Attendant Challenging Passenger to Fight

It’s now the turn of American Airlines to deal with a crisis after a viral video shows a flight attendant getting into a heated confrontation with a passenger and challenging him to “hit me.” The passenger came to the defense of a crying woman who had allegedly been hit with her baby’s stroller. American Airlines has suspended the flight attendant while it investigates the incident.

A passenger on the San Francisco-Dallas flight, Surain Adyanthaya, posted a video online of the confrontation with the caption: “OMG. Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with a baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby. Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her.’’

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The video doesn’t show the alleged incident with the stroller but starts when the woman is already crying, holding her baby in her arms and asking for her stroller to be returned. “You can’t use violence with baby,” the passenger can be heard saying as she asks for her stroller back. At one point a male passenger gets up and demands to know the flight attendant’s name.

The flight attendant who was involved in the confrontation later returns to the plane and the same male passenger who had gotten up earlier confronts him directly. “Hey bud,” he said while pointing at him. “You do that to me and I’ll knock you flat.” The flight attendant yells back for him to “stay out of this!” The male passenger quickly gets up and the flight attendant eggs him on: “Hit me,” he says. “Come on, hit me.”

A photo posted to Facebook later claims the women and her kids were involuntarily taken off the plane and the flight attendant was allowed to board. The airline has a different version of events. “After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip,” American Airlines said in a statement.

The airline said it had seen the video and has launched “an investigation to obtain the facts.” The full statement reads:

We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts. What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers. We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident. We are making sure all of her family's needs are being met while she is in our care. After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip.
The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.

One passenger who was on the flight told a local Fox affiliate that “the flight attendant wrestled the stroller away from the woman, who was sobbing, holding one baby with the second baby in a car seat on the ground next to her.” The flight attendant was “violent” and allegedly almost hit the baby with the stroller. The passenger says she spoke to the mother about what happened and apparently a flight attendant had told her she could look for space to store her stroller. “She was looking for space when the male attendant tried to take it away from her,” the passenger said.

Another passenger who was on the flight said that when the flight attendant approached the mother to tell her she couldn’t have the stroller on the plane, “She refused to let him take it and she was almost to the point of shouting.” The American Airlines website notes small strollers can be checked in at the gate but it doesn’t say anything about strollers in overhead bins.

April 21 2017 5:39 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Berkeley Continues to Insult Ann Coulter

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

On Wednesday, the University of California, Berkeley canceled a planned April 27 speech by Ann Coulter, citing safety and security concerns. Conservatives such as Piers Morgan—who wrote that the school “choked to pressure from those seeking to strangle free speech”—were outraged by the news. The story only grew in conservative media, however, after the school offered a rescheduled date in early May—largely because many, including Coulter herself, saw the new time slot as an affront.

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Some conservative outlets, such as the Daily Caller, reported on the new date without questioning it. But as the Independent Journal Review wrote, Coulter herself was outraged, calling out the Drudge Report for promoting “FAKE NEWS” when it shared the Hollywood Reporter’s version of the story.

For Coulter, as for the many conservative publications that followed her lead, the sticking point was that the new date came, as Breitbart put it, “in a week when there are no classes at the college.” According to Berkley’s official academic calendar, May 2 falls at the start of the school’s reading week. While classes are not in session, most students would presumably still be on campus. Partially acknowledging this fact, the Blaze nevertheless insisted that the period in question “isn’t exactly prime time for a speaking event.”

In an appearance on Hannity, Coulter ultimately insisted that she would speak on the original date, saying that she refused “to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in rescheduled, rebooked hotel rooms, flights for me, my security, my guests.”

In addition to raising objections to Berkeley’s decisions, several conservative sites also mocked Howard Dean for a tweet about the controversy in which he falsely claimed, “Hate speech is not protected by the first amendment.” As the Independent Journal Review noted, “The Constitution Disagrees.” (Many on the left also observed that Dean’s claim was incorrect.) The Daily Caller concluded its own discussion of this assertion with a paragraph discussing Dean’s various political failures.

Much like Coulter, who had called possible protestors “beta males” in her Hannity appearance (a formulation that Breibart eagerly cited), an essay by Chris Bray in the Federalist equated contemporary college students to Victorian neurasthenics in need of fainting couches. Bray warned, “Playing at relentless daily rage and sorrow, undergraduate social justice warriors find themselves surrounded by (guess what) constant messages of rage and sorrow, which lead to, amazingly, real feelings of rage and sorrow.”

The Coulter confusion also furnished an opportunity for other commentators to call for more active campus crackdowns. In a Fox News opinion piece, John Moody wrote, “Shutting down free speech is a crime,” making student agitators into criminals, and calling upon readers to “stop worrying about the students’ rights and prosecute the criminals among them.”

On Facebook, numerous popular posts celebrated the release of a U.S. citizen who had been imprisoned in Egypt, crediting it as a victory for President Trump.

April 21 2017 5:18 PM

There’s No News Right Now Because Trump Doesn’t Actually Do Anything

Donald Trump is, by various accounts including his own, currently obsessed with the idea of getting something big and splashy accomplished before April 29, the 100th day of his presidency. The good news for Trump is that he should have plenty of options. There are multiple pressing issues at the forefront of the national consciousness right now—health care, the budget/tax reform, North Korea—on which significant executive action is possible. There are also a host of issues that Trump discussed during the campaign that he could move to the front burner if he so chose—trade fairness, the Iran deal, business deregulation, the opioid crisis, veterans' health care, Middle East peace. And there are subjects he promised earlier in his term that he'd be addressing soon, like improvements to American cybersecurity in the wake of last year's Russia hacks, the alleged surveillance of his apartment by Barack Obama, and the millions of illegal votes he says were cast in the 2016 election.

There should be a lot going on right now. And yet I, a professional news blogger who is widely acclaimed as "the best in the biz," cannot currently find anything national politics-related to write about, because nothing of substance is actually happening in relation to any of those issues:

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  • There have been some anonymous quotes bubbling out this week about the possibility of finally getting a compromise health care bill written in the House, but there's still no bill.
  • Trump's next big issue is supposed to be tax reform, but the current timetable on that is that a proposal might happen next week—or might not happen next week. Who knows? Certainly not the White House.
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None of this is really surprising. As has been well-documented, Trump—though he claims to be a "builder"—actually made most of his hay in the private sector by licensing his name. He's the guy who makes big promises at the ribbon-cutting and gets the name of the project in the newspaper, not the guy who gets the permits and arranges the funding and hires the subcontractors. He doesn't make things; he talks. (When he does try to make things, they go bankrupt.)

There are a few areas in which Trump has changed federal policy since he's become president: He's given ICE the go-ahead to crack down on undocumented immigrants, and he's given the military the go-ahead to launch what appear to be riskier and larger-scale attacks than they'd been making under Obama. Both of those initiatives, though, appear to have involved simply signing off on escalations that American security forces had already planned on their own. If you bring Trump an idea, he will put his name on it try to sell it—which, as Paul Ryan's health care bill and Steve Bannon's travel ban have proven, does not mean that he'll sell it effectively. But he's not going to come up with anything on his own.

Which is probably a good thing!

*Correction, 8 p.m.: This post originally misstated that Trump signed the financial executive orders in the Oval Office. He signed them at the Treasury Department.

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