Trump was reportedly furious when he learned the U.S. was expelling more Russian diplomats than France
President Trump is slowly moving away from his uncharacteristic docility toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, but in private and on Twitter, he continues to hold out hope for a better relationship — a tension that has occasionally escalated into anger, The Washington Post reports. When Trump's aides briefed him in March on the plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats to protest a Russian nerve attack in Britain, he reportedly told them the U.S. will "match" the number of diplomats expelled by America's European allies. "We're not taking the lead. We're matching."
When Trump learned that France and Germany were only expelling four Russian officials each, "Trump erupted," the Post reports:
The president, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia. His briefers tried to reassure him that the sum total of European expulsions was roughly the same as the U.S. number. "I don't care about the total!" the administration official recalled Trump screaming. ... Growing angrier, Trump insisted that his aides had misled him about the magnitude of the expulsions. "There were curse words," the official said, "a lot of curse words." [The Washington Post]
Trump was initially reluctant to believe the intelligence that Russia was responsible for the attack, "a fact that some aides attributed to his contrarian personality and tendency to look for deeper conspiracies," the Post said. "To persuade him, his advisers warned that he would get hammered in the press if he was out of step with U.S. allies," and one senior White House official told the Post that Trump asked British Prime Minister on the phone, "Why are you asking me to do this?"
"The United States essentially has three Russia policies," Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University, told the Post: "The president's, the executive branch's, and Congress'." Peter Weber
The Milky Way galaxy contains about 300 billion stars — way more than any one human could possibly hope to see. But the European Space Agency wants to help intrepid stargazers try.
The ESA's Gaia mission has been collecting data on the stars in the Milky Way since 2013, NPR reported. On Wednesday, the group used that information to release the most detailed star map of the galaxy we've ever had.
Over the past five years, the Gaia spacecraft has captured images of the sky roughly every six months, allowing scientists to understand information about some 1.7 billion stars by comparing images when they're at different positions in the sky, Popular Mechanics reported. Now that the database is publicly available, scientists from all across the world can use that information in their research.
Gaia's data barely scratches the surface of what's out there, but "the exact brightness, distances, motions, and colors" of all those stars is valuable information for astronomers, NPR explained. "We're really talking about an immense change to our knowledge about the Milky Way," said David Hogg, an astrophysicist at New York University and the Flatiron Institute.
You can visually explore our galaxy below, or look through the data Gaia has collected on the ESA's website. Shivani Ishwar
Some families relying on federal housing assistance could see their rent triple under Ben Carson's proposed plan
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is poised to propose tripling the minimum rent for some of America's poorest families, a move that comes as the White House has pushed for adults to "shoulder more of their housing costs and provide an incentive to increase their earnings," The Washington Post reports. While tenants receiving federal housing assistance are required to pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward housing, with a $50 cap for the poorest groups, Carson would push for a 35 percent contribution with a cap of $150.
The legislation, which is already opposed by some groups, would have to be approved by Congress. "When we are in the middle of a housing crisis that's having the most negative impact on the lowest income people, we shouldn't even be considering proposals to increase their rent burdens," said Diane Yentel, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Users of gay dating apps like Grindr and Hornet are at risk of entrapment in countries like Egypt where police seek to crack down on LGBT citizens, The Verge reports.
Undercover police officers will chat with Egyptians on a dating app, The Verge explains, and then arrange for their arrest once they agree to meet in person. While homosexuality isn't illegal in Egypt, government officials often target LGBT individuals with debauchery charges and use arrests and raids as a way to create a public statement, The Verge reports.
App developers have taken steps to help protect users from falling prey to these traps, sending out alerts and encouraging users to keep their profiles anonymous. Grindr, which usually displays how far users are from one another, keeps distances private in the Egyptian version of the app. It has also made options to password-protect the app and make it look more inconspicuous on a phone's home screen.
But more extensive safety features would take major engineering work, The Verge notes, and wouldn't necessarily prevent users from being targeted by law enforcement anyway. LGBT advocacy groups in the region are encouraging users to know the risks, and are additionally providing attorneys for meet-ups in case things go wrong.
The cultural differences between app developers in California and users in Egypt make it difficult to overcome the regional challenges, a digital rights group worker, Dia Kayyali, told The Verge. "You have to address the fact that governments have people who are specifically manipulating the platform to hurt people," Kayyali said. Read more at The Verge. Summer Meza
Audio of an October 2017 meeting between NFL owners, executives, and player leaders obtained by The New York Times reveals the conflict the league's management faced as President Trump ramped up his criticism of the national anthem protests last fall. "The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don't feel is in the best interests of America," New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the room, despite his close relationship with the president. "It's divisive and it's horrible."
The players in the room "sounded aggravated" on the topic of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who initiated kneeling during the national anthem, and how he remains unsigned — a fact many believe is the result of collusion by the owners. Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long announced that "we all agree in this room as players that he should be on a roster." The owners pushed back, with Houston Texans owner Bob McNair instructing the players to enforce no kneeling on their teams. "You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let's go out and do something that really produces positive results," he said, "and we'll help you."
Afterward, Kraft suggested a statement with the word "unified" or "unity," with the final product claiming the executives, owners, and players discussed plans "to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change." Read more about the tape obtained by The New York Times here. Jeva Lange
Based on questions raised by Supreme Court justices on Wednesday during the oral arguments in Trump v. Hawaii, which concerns President Trump's ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries, there does not appear to be an obvious five-judge majority to strike down the ban, The Washington Post reports. Lower courts have struck down three iterations of the ban to date, claiming it improperly overrides congressional lawmaking power, engages in "nationality discrimination," and does not demonstrate that "nationality alone renders entry of this broad class of individuals a heightened security risk or that current screening processes are inadequate."
As it stands now, the ban bars travelers from seven countries, although only the Muslim-majority ones are a part of the challenge: Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, and Somalia (Chad was originally included in the ban but was removed from the list earlier this month). Travelers from North Korea and Venezuela are also barred under the ban. Trump had specifically called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" when he introduced the idea in late 2015.
Conservative justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch pressed acting solicitor general Neal K. Katyal, who is representing Hawaii, on how exactly Trump has overstepped his legal grounds with the ban. Alito in particular noted that only 8 percent of the world's Muslim population would be affected by the ban, saying "a reasonable observer would not think this was a Muslim ban," The Washington Post reports. Read more about where the SCOTUS justices appear to stand on the debate here.
French President Emmanuel Macron was all smiles with President Trump during their joint press conference Tuesday, but his Wednesday speech to Congress made it clear where their views diverge.
Macron appeared before Congress to address lawmakers as a part of an official state visit by France, where he denounced several of the Trump administration's policy moves, CNN reports. Macron encouraged the U.S. to refrain from turning inwards, urging lawmakers away from nationalism and toward policies with a more global view.
"I do not share the fascination for new strong powers, the abandonment of freedom and the illusion of nationalism," Macron said, per Reuters. "We can choose isolationism, withdrawal, and nationalism — this is an option. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy for our fears. But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world."
Macron expressed certainty that the U.S. would rejoin the Paris climate agreement "one day" and described the urgency of protecting the environment. "There is no planet B," he said.
He additionally pledged to keep France locked into the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump called "insane" Tuesday. Macron appealed to Congress to remain in the deal, saying it was the better choice as there is no "substantial" alternative. Summer Meza
Don Blankenship, the Republican candidate for Senate in West Virginia, may want to update his outdated vocabulary.
While speaking to a West Virginia radio show Monday, Blankenship referred to the father of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao as "a wealthy Chinaperson." The comment came as Blankenship has been facing fierce opposition from Republican establishment leaders who want to see a more traditional GOP candidate in West Virginia, reports The New York Times — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao's husband.
Blankenship, a former coal mining executive, spent a year in prison for conspiring to violate mine safety standards and is still on parole. He has been the subject of attack ads paid for by a super PAC that backs McConnell that emphasize that Blankenship is a "convicted criminal" and accuse him of purposefully pumping coal slurry into local drinking water.
In response to the segments, Blankenship told the radio show that McConnell had conflicts of interest because of his marriage to Chao. Chao's father is "a wealthy Chinaperson," Blankenship said, per the Times, adding that McConnell is "soft on China" because of his connections there.
Blankenship himself has considered seeking citizenship in China — a country he said is successful because of "dictatorial capitalism" — and once started a business to import generators from China. He stopped running the trade company when he was sentenced to prison, however. Blankenship's own ads describe his sentencing as an unfair and overblown misunderstanding, caused by an "Obama judge" and team of "Obama prosecutors" who wanted to bring him down because of their hatred of the coal industry.