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October 18, 2018

Jared Kushner seems to think the mounting international tensions sparked by Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance will blow over.

President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser has urged him to stand by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, thinking the outrage sparked by the suspected murder of a Washington Post columnist "will pass," The New York Times reports.

Kushner reportedly pointed to other recent incidents that the public largely moved on from, such as when 40 children were killed in a Saudi-led airstrike last month. CNN reports that Kushner and the crown prince have a close relationship and have communicated privately on WhatsApp.

Saudi Arabia is considering placing blame for Khashoggi's suspected death on one of the crown prince's advisers, reports the Times. Officials will reportedly admit that bin Salman ordered General Ahmed al-Assiri to capture Khashoggi so he could be brought to Saudi Arabia for interrogation, but will say he didn't authorize Assiri to kill him. Khashoggi visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month to obtain a marriage document and has not been heard from since. The United States has reportedly been briefed on the Saudis' plans to blame Assiri.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the United States would give Saudi Arabia a few more days to complete its investigation, at which point they will examine the facts before deciding whether to respond. Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

June 18, 2018

Sometimes bad memes happen to decent people, and unfortunately that appears to be the case for Minnesota Democratic Senate candidate Richard Painter, who got a little too literal with the ol' "dumpster fire" joke. Speaking in front of a flaming trash receptacle, Painter informs his would-be constituents that "some people see a dumpster fire and do nothing but watch the spectacle. Some are too scared to face the danger, or they think it will benefit them if they let it keep on burning."

With a truly astonishing lack of humor, Painter then reveals that while there is an "inferno raging in Washington … here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we know how to put out a fire." This proclamation is accompanied by a literal cascade of water mercilessly extinguishing the metaphor.

Try to watch with as straight a face as Painter's, below. Jeva Lange

March 5, 2018

When Michael Cohen, a personal lawyer for President Trump, wired a former adult film actress thousands of dollars in 2016, his bank apparently took notice. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Cohen's $130,000 transfer to Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels — allegedly made so that Clifford would keep quiet about a tryst she'd had with Trump in 2006 — was flagged to the Treasury Department by his bank, First Republic.

Clifford received the payment on Oct. 27, 2016, which the Journal notes was just 12 days before the election. "It isn't clear when First Republic reported [the transfer] to the government as suspicious," the Journal writes. Last month, Cohen admitted to The New York Times that he had personally funded the payment to Clifford, insisting neither the Trump Organization nor Trump campaign were involved and calling the exchange a "private transaction." He also declined to explain why the payment was made.

But on Monday, the Journal reported that after the election, Cohen "complained to friends that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment." Cohen additionally told people that he had missed two prior deadlines to pay Clifford because he could not get in contact with Trump at the time, just a few weeks before the election.

Cohen emailed a two-word statement to the Journal in response to its Monday report: "Fake news." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Kimberly Alters

February 14, 2018

Eight separate emergency alerts were sent to people in the region around the Olympic Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Wednesday, bringing the total number of government phone notifications during the Winter Games to at least 14, The New York Times reports. The push notifications are routinely sent by local and regional governments in Korea with information about possible nearby dangers like air pollution, fires, or extreme weather.

But at this point, they are mostly just freaking out Olympic attendees and spectators who don't speak Korean:

Julie Morreali, an attendee from Illinois, explained: "It's all in Korean — as, you know, it should be. We got one in the middle of the night, and we didn't know what it was. You hope for the best." Norwegian curler Thomas Ulsrud said when he got an alert, his first thought was a potential North Korean attack. "It was a little bit like, 'What is this?'" he said. "We're in the same building as the North Koreans, so it was like, 'What is going on here now?'"

Warnings to Olympic-area cell phone users have included alerts about possible forest fires, smoke, and the severe cold, as well as notifications about the extreme wind, which has been scuttling event plans. "We were scared in the beginning," said long-track speedskater Francesca Bettrone, of Italy. "I still don't know what they say." Read more about what's getting lost in translation at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

January 25, 2018

The Doomsday Clock ticked 30 seconds closer to the nuclear apocalypse on Thursday, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is once again blaming President Trump, the Chicago Tribune reports. The metaphorical clock has been used to gauge the threat of humanity's annihilation since 1947, with midnight representing the end of the world. The apocalypse is now just two minutes from midnight, reported the scientists, who consult with a board that includes 15 Nobel Laureates.

In a statement that won't help anyone sleep better at night, the Bulletin said that "the world is not only more dangerous now than it was a year ago; it is as threatening as it has been since World War II." The scientists squarely blamed Trump as well as mounting tensions with North Korea, citing "the failure of President Trump and other world leaders to deal with looming threats of nuclear war and climate change."

The clock has been as far away from midnight as 17 minutes, although last year it advanced to as close to doomsday as it's been since the United States tested its first thermonuclear device and the Soviet Union tested a hydrogen bomb in 1953. "We have members of Congress, White House advisers, and even the president implying that they think war with a nuclear state is not only likely, but potentially desirable," said nuclear weapons expert Alex Wellerstein. "That's unusual and disturbing. The question I have is: How much forward can they go?" Jeva Lange

January 5, 2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are hosting presentations later this month on what federal, state, and local governments are doing to prepare for the public health crisis that would follow a nuclear strike, Politico reports. The notice warns that "while a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps."

The briefing includes presentations with reassuring names like "Preparing for the Unthinkable" and "Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness." Other presentations at the CDC's "Grand Rounds" sessions discuss more usual topics like vaccinations and hepatitis C, Politico points out.

The CDC's briefing comes amid heightened tensions with North Korea, including President Trump's recent button-measuring competition with leader Kim Jong Un. Other agencies and organizations are also reassessing what measures are in place in case of a nuclear strike, including New York City, which is in the process of removing misleading fallout shelter signs citywide. Jeva Lange

January 4, 2018

Michael Wolff, author of a hotly anticipated tell-all book about the Trump administration out next week, penned a column for The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday that offered a first-person perspective of his experience "plunking [himself] down, day after day, on a West Wing couch." Wolff's book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, was published in part by The Guardian and New York on Wednesday, and the outrageous excerpts roiled Washington.

The excerpted portions portrayed the Trump White House as a pit of hapless chaos, with disillusioned — or worse, feuding — aides, and former chief strategist Stephen Bannon standing at the center of the whirlwind. As Wolff explains in his Thursday column, Trump's staff was constantly in combat, partly because of their unnatural combination: "There was Jared [Kushner] and Ivanka [Trump], Democrats; there was [former Chief of Staff Reince] Priebus, a mainstream Republican; and there was Bannon, whose reasonable claim to be the one person actually representing Trumpism so infuriated Trump that Bannon was hopelessly sidelined by April," Wolff writes.

All that intermingling created a crackling tension — which sometimes did explode. The staff became "focused on the more lethal battles within the White House itself," Wolff writes. "This included screaming fights in the halls and in front of a bemused Trump in the Oval Office (when he was not the one screaming himself), together with leaks about what Russians your opponents might have been talking to."

Read Wolff's full column at The Hollywood Reporter, or read more material from Fire and Fury at The Guardian or New York. Kimberly Alters

August 4, 2017

On the cover of this week's issue, The Economist imagines a catastrophic endpoint to President Trump's standoff with reclusive North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un:

Last week, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts say could be capable of striking Los Angeles. North Korea has conducted more than a dozen missile tests this year, including two ICBM tests, prompting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this week to say directly to Pyongyang, "We are not your enemy." Tillerson told the Hermit Kingdom that while the U.S. does "not seek regime change" or "an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel," it will not stand the "unacceptable threat" the nuclear missiles present.

Read The Economist's cover story, which seeks to explain how to avoid "blundering" into a nuclear war with North Korea, here. Kimberly Alters

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