What we know about Austin serial bombings so far

By ethan / March 20, 2018

Four explosions have rocked Austin, Texas, in the past three weeks, killing two people and leaving four others critically injured. Here’s what we currently know about the spate of bombings that is spreading terror in the city.

The victims

The first attack that killed 39-year-old Anthony House happened on March 2. Two further bombings occurred on March 12. The first of these took place just before noon, after a package was left on the doorstep of a house. Seventeen-year-old Draylen Mason was killed and a woman in her 40s was seriously injured. Several hours later, a second explosion left an elderly woman, Esperanza Herrera, with life-threatening injuries.

The latest explosion on Sunday seriously wounded two men, aged 22 and 23, who were walking by the roadside when they accidentally triggered the bomb.

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Emergency vehicles block the road after package bomb explosion in Austin, Texas, US, March 12, 2018. © Sergio Flores

Police hunting for ‘serial bomber’

The Austin Police Department believes the series of bombings are all connected. “We are clearly dealing with what we expect to be a serial bomber at this point, based on the similarities between what is now the fourth device,” interim police chief Brian Manley told reporters on Monday.

However, the bombs have not been consistently similar. The first three bombings were in packages left on doorsteps, but the device that exploded on Dawn Song Drive in Travis County on Sunday was left by the roadside.

It was also more sophisticated than the previous bombs. Police believe that it may have been triggered by a tripwire and showed “a different level of skill above what we were already concerned that this suspect or suspects may possess,” Manley said.

Not classified as ‘terrorism’ or ‘hate’ yet

Initially, many commentators suggested that the bombings could be racially motivated because the first three victims were all African-American or Latino. Additionally, the two men who have died were both from prominent African-American families in Austin and their families reportedly know each other.

However, the latest victims were both white men and the bomb went off in a predominantly white neighborhood in southwest Austin, which may suggest that the attacks are random.

“We were not willing to classify this as terrorism, as hate, because we just don’t know enough. And what we have seen now is a significant change from what appeared to be three very targeted attacks to what was last night a target that would have hit a random victim that happened to walk by,” Manley said on Monday.

Suspect is an ‘accomplished bombmaker’

The police have not yet identified a suspect, but they believe the bomber is likely to have a military or police background, given the technical skill required to make the devices.

“The device’s success, despite significantly different design, further suggests that the bombmaker behind these attacks is an accomplished one, and has likely to have received some training, perhaps as a military or police explosive ordnance disposal technician,” police said.

Austin police are offering a $ 100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible.

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House GOP plans to subpoena DOJ for more than 1mn documents related to Clinton email probe

By ethan / March 20, 2018

Unhappy with the “very slow” ways of the Justice Department, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee want to subpoena it for one million missing documents related to the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private emails.

The committee has received only a “tiny percentage” — about 3,000 of 1.2 million — of the documents they have requested, chairman of the committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo on the ‘Sunday Morning Futures’ show.

“We need to have those documents,” Goodlatte said. “We’ve had communications with the Department of Justice about this and they know that not just myself and Chairman [Trey] Gowdy, but many other members of the House are very concerned about the slow nature of those documents being produced. And as I say, actions are going to have to take a new level here very soon,” he added.

Inspector General of the Justice Department Michael Horowitz has spent the last year looking into the FBI and DOJ’s actions relating to the probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Clinton faced major criticism for using a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State under the Obama administration — a decision that haunted her throughout her presidential campaign.

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© Jim Bourg

Horowitz’s report is expected to be made available to members of Congress in April. His team has said the classified information within the documents has slowed the process.

The private text messages between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, criticizing then-candidate Trump during the 2016 election, are of particular interest to House Republicans. Republicans claim the text messages, in which Strzok called Trump an “idiot” and said the FBI could not “take the risk” of a Trump presidency, provide proof of an anti-Trump bias within the agency, particularly given Strzok is also reported to have played a role in the Clinton investigation.

Both Strzok and Page were also members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating alleged collusion between Trump and Russia, but they were removed when the text messages came to light.

Just days ahead of his official resignation last week, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Horowitz determined that he had not been forthcoming about his handling of the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s email usage and that he had inappropriately leaked information to the media.

McCabe denied the accusations and claimed his firing was politically motivated due to the fact that he corroborated former FBI Director James Comey’s accusation that Trump had put pressure on him to end the Russia investigation.

Goodlatte has also called for a second special counsel to investigate the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe.

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Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City running for New York governor

By ethan / March 19, 2018

One more person believes it takes a celebrity to tackle America’s problems. Cynthia Nixon has jumped into the race for governor of New York. She’s no stranger to progressive activism and previously supported the Israel boycott.

Nixon will run as a Democrat against New York’s incumbent Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Tony, Grammy and Emmy award-winning actress has a long history of political activism in New York and her current goals include fighting poverty, mass incarceration and subway problems.

But one aspect of her past activism that might cause her some trouble is her past support of an Israel boycott. In 2010, Nixon signed a letter supporting a boycott of actors in Israel who said they would refuse to perform at a new theatre in the occupied West Bank.

Nixon has already faced criticism for that decision, with Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz accusing her of collaborating “with Israel haters” and calling on New York voters not to support her “bigotry.”

Nixon is the latest celebrity to dip her toes into America’s political waters. Her bid comes on the heels of speculation that TV host Oprah Winfrey was planning to challenge former reality TV star Donald Trump for the presidency in 2020 — a rumor Winfrey later denied.

Nixon is reportedly gathering a campaign team around her, including former staffers of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first campaign in 2013, which Nixon was involved with.

In an op-ed for CNN in January, Nixon wrote: “If we’ve learned anything during this first year of the Trump presidency, it’s that the cavalry isn’t coming to save us. We ourselves are the cavalry. In 2018, each one of us has to do whatever we can to take the government back. If we want change, we have to go out ourselves and seize it.”

Nixon has long been critical of Cuomo, who she called a “centrist and Albany insider” in a statement on Monday.

“Cuomo’s time in office has been defined by a string of indictments for corruption, his failure to fix the New York City subway, and his support for a backroom deal which handed Republicans control of the state Senate, resulting in the failure of numerous pieces of progressive legislation,” she wrote.

While it is still early, it looks like Nixon may be facing an uphill battle.

Incumbent Cuomo is “overwhelmingly favored”over Nixon by Democrats, according to a Siena College poll. Cuomo’s favorability rating stands at 52 percent, while 66 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for him over 19 percent who chose Nixon.

“Cynthia Nixon is far from a household name in New York,” said Siena pollster Steven Greenberg. “While Nixon does a little better among younger and upstate Democrats, she doesn’t have the support of more than one-quarter of either group.”

Nixon will face off against Cuomo in the state’s Democratic primary in September.

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‘US drug prices will drastically fall’: Trump outlines plan to fight opioid epidemic

By ethan / March 19, 2018

President Donald Trump has promised that US drug prices will fall substantially in the near future. Drug companies could also face lawsuits as part the devastating opioid crisis in America, he warned.

Trump made the remarks at an event in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he outlined a broad range of proposals to tackle opioid abuse. The state has some of the highest levels of opioid addiction, which mainly affects rural communities.

One of the core policy objectives of the Trump administration has been reducing the price of prescription drugs in the US, which remain higher than in most other developed countries. “We pay as a country so much more for drugs because of the drug lobbies and other reasons, and the complexity of distribution which is basically another term for saying, ‘how do we get more money,”’ Trump said at the event.

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FILE PHOTO © Nguyen Huy Kham

He stated that he was working with Congress to provide $ 6 billion in new funding to tackle the opioid crisis, adding that the US would “engage with China and expand cooperation with Mexico to reduce supplies of heroin, other illicit opioids, and precursor chemicals.”

On Monday, Trump also reiterated his aim to introduce the death penalty for drug dealers with the backing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. On Sunday, the White House announced that the Justice Department would seek the death penalty against drug traffickers. “The Department of Justice will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers when it’s appropriate under current law,” Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg told reporters at a briefing on Sunday. 

In October 2017, Trump called the opioid epidemic “the worst drug crisis in America,” and declared it a nationwide public health emergency, although he did not set aside funding for it. On Monday, he pledged to cut the number of opioid prescriptions by one-third in upcoming years.

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Jim Carrey faces Twitter backlash for ‘monstrous’ portrait of White House spokesperson

By ethan / March 19, 2018

Comedian Jim Carrey turned to art (loosely defined) to mock President Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. His derisive portrait was widely rebuked on social media, however.

The ‘Bruce Almighty’ star unveiled his magnum opus to his 17 million Twitter followers over the weekend. “This is the portrait of a so-called Christian whose only purpose in life is to lie for the wicked. Monstrous!” Carrey wrote.

Many users were less than impressed with the caricature, accusing Carrey of bullying and sexism.

Carrey has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration and has tweeted similarly unflattering portraits of Republican figures in the past.

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Uber suspends self-driving vehicle tests after fatal crash

By ethan / March 19, 2018

Uber is pausing its autonomous car tests after a woman died in Arizona. The pedestrian was hit by a self-driving Uber vehicle.

The woman died after being hit by the self-driving car operated by the company in Tempe, Arizona, the New York Times reports. The vehicle was driving in autonomous mode with a human driver at the wheel when it struck the unnamed woman as she was crossing the street, Tempe police said.

The woman was taken to hospital but later died from her injuries, NBC 26 reports. The incident occurred near Mill Avenue and Curry Road early Monday morning, according to ABC15.

Tests in San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Toronto are being paused, the company told Bloomberg in an email on Monday.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family,” Uber said in a tweet. “We’re fully cooperating with @TempePolice and local authorities as they investigate this incident.”

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Spartak Moscow fans vote for manager Carrera in Russian presidential election

By ethan / March 19, 2018

Vladimir Putin may have run out a clear winner in the 2018 Russian presidential election, but Spartak Moscow fans tried their best to make manager Massimo Carrera a candidate in the ‘race for the Kremlin’.

Putin secured another six-year term as Russian president, which was confirmed on Monday after all the ballot papers had been counted. But Spartak Moscow fans managed to alter some of those to include the name of their manager – Massimo Carrera.

Italian Carrera won the race for the Russian Premier League (RPL) title last year, bringing Spartak their first league title in 16 years. Loyal Spartak fans clearly wanted to show their high opinion of the managerial maestro by trying to vote him as Russian president as well.

Carrera came to Spartak in the summer of 2016, having previously been second in command to current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte at Juventus and Italy, capturing the Russian title at the first attempt.

READ MORE: ‘Our matches were an event’ – Putin talks secret service football games in East Germany

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Mueller probe has ‘massive conflicts of interest’ – Trump

By ethan / March 19, 2018

US President Donald Trump has again used Twitter to take aim at special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia.

Trump tweeted Monday morning that the Mueller probe is a “total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!” 

The tweet sparked another flurry of speculation that Trump is planning to fire Mueller, despite assurances from his legal team at the weekend that the president is “not considering or discussing” firing the special counsel. 

The tweet came about an hour after another in which Trump praised Fox News host Sean Hannity for his “great” performance on the channel’s morning show Fox & Friends. 

Hannity used his appearance on the show to claim there “never was any Trump-Russia collusion” and to lambaste the “fake news media” that Trump himself routinely criticizes. Hannity also said that Hillary Clinton and some FBI and Justice Department officials should be investigated and prosecuted for the “many crimes” they have committed. 

READ MORE: ‘High-ranking people’ protected Clinton from indictment – Former FBI asst. director

Left-wing, pro-Clinton media watchdog Media Matters said Trump’s comments on Hannity’s appearance shed light on the “feedback loop” between the Trump administration and Fox News. 

The Monday morning tweets follow a weekend of similar tweets from Trump criticizing Mueller and the ongoing Russia investigation. On Sunday, Trump claimed the investigation was biased, tweeting that the makeup of Mueller’s team was “13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans.” 

A day before, Trump tweeted that the investigation “should never have been started” because “there was no collusion and there was no crime”. The collusion narrative was based on “fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC.” 

Trump was referring to the now infamous ‘Steele dossier,’ which forms the basis for many of the allegations against him and was partly funded by the Clinton campaign through the Fusion GPS investigative firm. 

Since the investigation begun, The White House has repeatedly had to quash rumors that Trump is planning to fire Mueller. The president’s latest tweets, however, will likely do nothing to dampen that speculation.

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'Miracle' at English football match as fan in wheelchair walks (VIDEO)

By ethan / March 19, 2018

This is the moment a football fan in a wheelchair got up and began walking at an English League One match between Plymouth Argyle and Bristol Rovers at the weekend.

The mystery fan was caught on camera by local reporter Jak Ball, who writes on football for the Plymouth Herald, wheeling around in the chair before making his way around the concourse by the side of the pitch.

As the white-haired man approaches the stand of fans, he suddenly stands up, giving a two-armed salute to the crowd to be greeted with applause. Ball posted the video to his Twitter account with the caption: “If this game wasn’t odd enough already…”

The full details of his injuries may not be known, but the fan certainly bewildered fans at Plymouth’s Home Park during their West Country derby against Rovers. Argyle went on to win the match 3-2 thanks to an 85th minute penalty from midfielder Graham Carey.

READ MORE: Spartak Moscow fans vote for manager Carrera in Russian presidential election

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Putin to meet PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic medalists in Kremlin

By ethan / March 19, 2018

President Vladimir Putin will hold a special meeting on Tuesday with Russian Paralympians who earned medals at the 2018 PyeongChang Games in South Korea.

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© Carl Recine

“On March 20, President Putin will meet the winners and medalists of the XII PyeongChang Paralympic games in the Kremlin to present them with state honors,” the Kremlin press office said on its website on Monday.

As well as the Olympic team, which Putin welcomed at the end of the PyeongChang Games, he also traditionally greets members of the Paralympic squad and presents state honors to those who were among the podium finishers at the Winter Games.

Russian Paralympians were forced to compete in PyeongChang under a neutral flag, but won a total of 24 medals, putting them second in the overall standings.

Russian skiers Anna Milenina, Ekaterina Rumyantseva and Mikhalina Lysova claimed 16 medals between them, including seven golds.

In January, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) ruled to keep in force the suspension of the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) over alleged doping violations, obliging the Russian team members to compete as neutrals in South Korea, without the national flag and anthem.

Despite only 30 Russians being declared eligible for PyeongChang, the reduced squad managed to win a total of eight gold, 10 silver and six bronze medals to finish second in the overall standings.

READ MORE: 30 Russian Paralympians approved to compete as neutrals at PyeongChang

That put them just behind the USA, whose team in South Korea boasted double the number of athletes.

The US squad, represented by 68 competitors, topped the PyeongChang medals table with 13 gold, 15 silver and eight bronze medals.

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