September 12, 2019

The United States government believes Israeli agents planted surveillance devices near the White House and elsewhere in Washington, D.C., Politico reported Thursday.

Miniature surveillance devices that "mimic regular cell towers to fool cell phones into giving them their locations and identity information" within the last two years were discovered planted near the White House and other "sensitive locations" in Washington, "likely intended to spy on" Trump and his associates, according to the report, which cites three former senior U.S. officials.

The FBI and other agencies reportedly felt "confident" that Israeli agents were responsible, although the report says it's "not clear whether the Israeli efforts were successful."

An Israeli Embassy spokesperson denied the allegations, telling Politico they're "absolute nonsense" because "Israel doesn't conduct espionage operations in the United States, period," an assertion Politico writes intelligence experts "scoff at." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office also called the report "a blatant lie," Axios reports.

Although the U.S. reportedly came to this determination that Israel was likely responsible for planting the devices, no action has reportedly been taken, with one former senior intelligence officials telling Politico, "I'm not aware of any accountability at all." Brendan Morrow

2:58 p.m.

Harvard University epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch is predicting the coronavirus "will ultimately not be containable" and, within a year, will infect somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of humanity, The Atlantic reports. But don't be too alarmed. Many of those people, Lipsitch clarifies, won't have severe illnesses or even show symptoms at all, which is already the case for many people who have tested positive for the virus.

That's precisely why he doesn't think the virus can be stopped. Viruses like SARS, MERS, and the avian flu were eventually contained in part because they were more intense and had a higher fatality rate. In other words, if you were infected by the virus that caused SARS, chances were you weren't out and about. But because the current coronavirus, known as COVID-19, can be asymptomatic, or at least very mild, there's a better chance people will likely go about their day as normal. The down side, though, is that it becomes harder to trace and prevent. In that sense it's similar to the flu, which can also be deadly, but often passes without the infected person seeking medical care.

The Atlantic reports Lipsitch is definitely not alone in his prediction. There's an emerging consensus that the outbreak will eventually morph into a new seasonal disease, which, per The Atlantic, could one day turn "cold and flu season" into "cold and flue an COVID-19 season." Read more at The Atlantic. Tim O'Donnell

2:31 p.m.

Other planets, they're just like us!

It turns out Mars, Earth's red neighbor, also has earthquakes — er — marsquakes.

Thanks to NASA's InSight lander, scientists have confirmed that Mars is a seismically active planet, said Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator of the mission, findings from which were published Monday in Nature Geoscience and Nature Communications.

The InSight mission landed on Mars in November 2018, to study the crust, mantle, and core, and to measure tectonic activity and meteorite impacts, in the planet's "first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago," per NASA.

So far, the mission has recorded 174 different seismic events in 235 Martian days. "The seismic activity is greater than that of the Moon, which was measured back during the Apollo Program, but less than Earth," Banerdt said in a teleconference, per Vice News.

"Knowledge of the level of seismic activity is crucial for investigating the interior structure and understanding Mars's thermal and chemical evolution," according to the findings.

The mission is set to last for at least an entire Martian year (687 Earth days). Read more about the latest on Mars at Vice News. Taylor Watson

2:14 p.m.

Attorneys for Vanessa Bryant filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday against Island Express Helicopters, the company operating the aircraft that crashed in January, killing Bryant's husband, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and the seven other people on board.

The lawsuit alleges the passengers were killed as a direct result of the "negligent conduct" of the helicopter's pilot Ara Zobayan, who was also killed in the crash, making the company "vicariously liable in all aspects."

Zobayan was Bryant's longtime pilot. The 27-count complaint argues he failed to abort the flight, monitor the weather, and keep a safe distance between the helicopter and natural obstacles, noting Zobayan was cited in 2015 for violating visual flight rules minimums, The Los Angeles Times reports. The suit reportedly seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, last month on a morning that has been described as intensely foggy.

Vanessa Bryant on Monday spoke at a public memorial in Los Angeles for her husband and daughter. Read more at The Los Angeles Times. Tim O'Donnell

1:25 p.m.

Harvey Weinstein has officially been convicted of rape, and Time's Up is hailing this as a "historic moment."

The disgraced movie producer on Monday was found guilty of forcibly performing oral sex on Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann in 2013. Weinstein, who was acquitted on the more serious charges of predatory sexual assault, pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.

Time's Up CEO Tina Tchen in a statement on Monday highlighted the significance of the Weinstein verdict, which comes more than two years after the flood of sexual misconduct allegations against him helped ignite the #MeToo movement.

"This trial — and the jury's decision today — marks a new era of justice, not just for the Silence Breakers, who spoke out at great personal risk, but for all survivors of harassment, abuse, and assault at work," Tchen said.

Tchen went on to say that the verdict "sends a powerful message to the world of just how much progress has been made since the Weinstein Silence Breakers ignited an unstoppable movement," adding that now, "abusers everywhere and the powerful forces that protect them should be on notice: There's no going back."

Gloria Allred, attorney for several Weinstein accusers, also celebrated the verdict on Monday, saying, "This is a new day for victims of gender violence."

Weinstein on Monday was sent right to jail, where he'll await his sentencing on March 11. His lawyer said on Monday he plans to appeal and that "the fight is not over." Brendan Morrow

12:50 p.m.

Coronavirus? Never heard of her.

Fox Business host Charles Payne is attributing Monday's massive stock market drop — which is widely considered to be connected to the deadly coronavirus outbreak — to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

According to Payne, Sanders' recent presidential primary win in Nevada is what caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to tumble to its biggest one-day point drop in three years, rather than the deadly COVID-19 outbreak that has claimed over 2,600 lives and continues to surge in new countries.

Sanders decisively won the Nevada Democratic caucuses Saturday, boasting high numbers in the Democratic primary's most diverse contest thus far. Payne pointed to a dive in several health insurance stocks following Sanders' win, saying "the Bernie factor is finally rearing its head in the stock market."

Sanders' has made health care the hallmark of his campaign, but Payne attributing this to the stock market plunge might be a little iffy.

China, where the outbreak originated, boasts the world's second-largest economy, so it shouldn't be too surprising that the largest economy would be affected. Both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite fell 3.2 percent and 4 percent, respectively, on Monday, and several major industries, including several that rely heavily on Chinese consumers, have taken hits.

Still, Payne said this may be the first time Wall Street is taking "Sanders very seriously."

But Payne should know that age-old wisdom tells us Sanders' Nevada win wouldn't travel far anyway — what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas. Marianne Dodson

12:48 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) recent comments about the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro are brewing up a storm among Florida lawmakers, especially in the Democratic Party.

During a 60 Minutes interview Sunday evening on CBS, Sanders argued it was unfair to malign every aspect of Castro's regime, praising achievements like the country's literacy program. He condemned its authoritarian nature, but despite that clarification, Sanders' comments were enough to cause a backlash in Florida, which is home to a large Cuban-American population, including refugees from the Castro era. Some Democratic lawmakers even went so far as to say that if Sanders is the Democratic nominee, it could hand Florida, which always a crucial and often controversial swing state in presidential elections, to President Trump in November.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) said the comments will likely "alienate" Florida voters, and Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) said his words were "unacceptable."

Meanwhile, State Rep. Javier Fernandez (D) said the 60 Minutes interview is a "perfect illustration as to why" Sanders is the Democratic presidential candidate "least capable" of winning Florida and that "our country and party deserve better." Tim O'Donnell

12:13 p.m.

It's Warren Buffett season.

The billionaire and CEO and chair of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. sent his annual shareholder letter out this weekend, and appeared Monday on CNBC's Squawk Box, where he weighed in on various topics, including the 2020 presidential election.

Buffett normally supports Democratic candidates, but he admitted he's not a "card-carrying" member of the party and has contributed to and voted for Republicans in the past. There was no indication he'd support President Trump's re-election in the interview, but he did seem hesitant about supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) if he winds up as the Democratic nominee. Buffett didn't denounce Sanders — in fact, he said he agrees with him on some counts, especially the argument that "we ought to do better by the people who get left behind by our capitalist system" — but he said he'll wait to see what happens before making any sort of declaration.

One Democratic candidate he doesn't seem concerned about voting for is his fellow billionaire, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Buffett said he'd "certainly" vote for Bloomberg, but his own self-awareness seems likely to prevent him from endorsing him during the primaries. "I don't think another billionaire supporting him would be the best thing to announce," he said. "But sure, I would have no trouble voting for Mike Bloomberg." Read more at CNBC. Tim O'Donnell

See More Speed Reads