It’s Wednesday January 24, 2018

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has pulled back an offer of $25 billion for President Donald Trump’s long-promised southern border wall, as lawmakers scrambled to figure out how to push a deal to protect hundreds of thousands or more so-called Dreamer immigrants from deportation. Schumer had made the offer last Friday in a last-ditch effort to head off a government shutdown. That resulted in scalding criticism from his party’s liberal activist base that the Democrats had given up too easily in reopening the government without more concrete promises on immigration. The New York Democrat told reporters Tuesday, “We’re going to have to start on a new basis, and the wall offer’s off the table.” The shutdown battle — settled mostly on Trump’s terms — complicated the already difficult search for an immigration pact: GOP hard-liners appeared emboldened, while Democrats absorbed withering criticism from progressives. Even if the Senate can come up with the votes to pass a plan, Democrats fear there is little chance such a bill would gain the support of House Republicans. Trump weighed in Tuesday via Twitter: “Nobody knows for sure that the Republicans & Democrats will be able to reach a deal on DACA by February 8, but everyone will be trying....with a big additional focus put on Military Strength and Border Security. The Dems have just learned that a Shutdown is not the answer!”

Twin car bombs exploded as people left a mosque in a residential area of the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, killing 27 and wounding over 30 in an attack timed to cause mass casualties among first responders. Officials in Benghazi said the first explosion went off around 8:20 p.m. Tuesday and the second bomb went off a half hour later as residents and medics gathered to evacuate the wounded. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings. The United Nations condemned the attack via social media, saying that direct, or indiscriminate attacks on civilians are prohibited under international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes. Libya fell into chaos following the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and since 2014 it has been split between rival governments and parliaments based in the western and eastern regions, each backed by different militias and tribes. Islamic State fighters had established footholds amid the disorder but have been mostly driven out of the main cities.

A suicide bomber and gunmen attacked the office of the Save the Children charity in the city of Jalalabad in Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing one person and wounding at least 14. The casualty count could rise, as the gunmen were still holed up in the building as hospital officials provided the first details on the toll from the attack. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. Both the Taliban and ISIS have fighters in that part of Nangarhar province. The attack followed a weekend siege at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel that left 22 dead, including 14 foreigners.

President Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, accused the Syrian government of attacking civilians in a rebel enclave with chlorine gas on Monday. Haley also slammed Russia for failing to stop its ally from conducting such assaults, which qualify as war crimes under international law, and for vetoing a proposal two months ago to renew the U.N. Security Council's panel for investigating chemical weapon use in Syria's civil war. The veto sent a "dangerous message to the world" that "chemical weapons use is acceptable," Haley said. At least 13 people were injured when rockets containing the gas hit the enclave, Eastern Ghouta, according to the UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The parents accused of torturing 12 of their children, keeping them chained to beds for months and keeping them so malnourished their growth was stunted, will appear in court Wednesday as prosecutors ask a judge to bar them from contacting their kids. The court proceeding is the latest step as authorities seek to sever ties between David and Louise Turpin and their 13 children — between 2 and 29 years old — who were rescued from their home in Perris, California, on Jan. 14. The couple pleaded not guilty to torture, abuse, and other charges. Sheriff’s deputies arrested the husband and wife after their 17-year-old daughter climbed out a window and called 9-1-1. Authorities found the siblings in the family’s filthy California home, three of whom were shackled to beds. Neighbors and relatives said they were unaware of the children’s treatment until authorities arrested the parents and revealed what they found inside the home. The case has attracted attention from around the world and some 20 people from across the U.S., including nurses and psychologists, have offered to take the seven adult children and six minors and keep them together. The Riverside University Health System Foundation, which is collecting donations for the siblings, so far has received 1,500 donations totaling $120 thousand.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has been questioned by the special counsel’s office investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign. The report, by NBC News, comes one day after the Justice Department said Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, a significant step in an inquiry that has overshadowed Trump’s first year in office. Mueller’s office also interviewed former FBI Director James Comey shortly after Trump fired Comey in May 2017. NBC, citing people familiar with the inquiry, did not say when the interview with Pompeo occurred but said one person familiar with the inquiry called him a “peripheral witnesses” to Comey’s firing. NBC also reported that former senior campaign aide and White House strategist Steve Bannon is expected to meet with Mueller’s team by the end of January. Bannon had earlier reached an agreement to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators instead of appearing before a grand jury. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that Mueller is pushing to question President Trump in coming weeks about his firing of Comey, as well as the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Trump's legal team reportedly is working on terms that would allow for some face-to-face questions and others to be answered in writing.

Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned fake news as satanic, saying journalists and social media users should shun and unmask manipulative “snake tactics” that foment division to serve political and economic interests. “Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth,” Francis said in the first document by a pope on the subject. The document was issued after months of debate on how much fake news may have influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and the election of President Trump. Called “The truth will set you free - fake news and journalism for peace”, the document was issued in advance of the Catholic Church’s World Day of Social Communications on May 13. False stories, the Pope said, spread so quickly that even authoritative denials often could not contain the damage done and many people run the risk of becoming “unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas”. He called for “education for truth” that would help people discern, evaluate and understand news in order to recognize the “sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments”.

A magnitude 6.2 earthquake has struck off the coast of Japan. According to the US Geological Survey, it was the third powerful earthquake in two days within the Pacific Ocean's 'Ring of Fire' where the bulk of the world's seismic activity takes place. Two volcanoes in the region have also erupted within the past 24 hours, including Kusatsu-Shirane in Japan, which triggered a deadly avalanche when it blew. The Japan quake, which struck at 9.50 pm local time, was felt by people on the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido but was deeper and weaker than the one which sparked fears of a tsunami in Alaska a day earlier. There were no immediate reports of damage from the tremors, which hit 64 miles north-east of the island of Honshu at a depth of 24 miles. The Pacific Ring of Fire snakes in a horseshoe shape from New Zealand through south-east Asia and Japan to the west coast of North America and South America. Due to plate tectonics, the area accounts for about 90 percent of the world's earthquakes.

Negotiators from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico started crucial, week-long talks in Montreal on Tuesday, seeking to break an impasse on U.S. demands for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. President Trump has called the trade pact a bad deal that has damaged the U.S. economy. His administration is threatening to pull out of NAFTA if it doesn't get the changes, despite fears that scrapping NAFTA would roil financial markets. Canada and Mexico reportedly are open to making concessions on at least one Trump demand — increasing the North American content required in automobiles for them to qualify for duty-free status. This is the sixth round of the talks, which are scheduled to wrap up in March.

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Jerome Powell as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve. Senators voted 85-12 to approve Powell, who has served more than five years on the U.S. central bank's board and was nominated by President Trump to replace the current chair, Janet Yellen, when her term ends on Feb. 3. Yellen was the first woman to serve in the post, and she has received high marks for her performance. Trump, however, was critical of the Fed during his campaign, and Powell's support for easing some banking regulations puts him in sync with one of Trump's major objectives. Still, most observers expect Powell to stick to Yellen's cautious approach to raising interest rates as the economy improves.

Starbucks is giving its U.S. workers pay raises and stock grants this year, citing recent changes to U.S. tax laws. All employees will soon be able to earn paid sick time off, and the company’s parental leave benefits will include all non-birth parents. Starbucks said Wednesday that the changes affect about 150,000 full-time, part-time, hourly and salaried employees, most of whom work as baristas or shop managers. The new benefits apply to workers at more than 8,200 company-owned stores but not at the 5,700 licensed shops like those found inside supermarkets. Starbucks is the latest to say it’s boosting pay or benefits due to the passage of the Republican tax plan, which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Starbucks said workers will get a pay raise in April, their second increase this year. The company will also give at least $500 worth of Starbucks stock in April to employees at stores, support centers or bean roasting plants. Store managers will get $2,000 in stock grants. Starbucks said those amounts are on top of what those workers were already going to receive this year. Starbucks said the changes will cost the company more than $250 million.

Hugh Masekela, the legendary South African jazz musician, and anti-apartheid activist, died after a decade-long fight with cancer. He was 78. Often called the “Father of South African jazz,” Masekela died in Johannesburg after what his family said Tuesday was a “protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer.” Trumpeter, singer and composer Masekela started playing the horn at 14 and quickly became an integral part of the 1950s jazz scene in Johannesburg. In the 1960s he went into exile in the UK and US, using his music to spread awareness about South Africa’s oppressive system of white-minority rule. He scored an international No. 1 hit in 1968 with “Grazing In The Grass.” Masekela spent time in both New York and Los Angeles, performing at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival with some of the era’s most iconic musicians, including Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix. He released more than 40 albums, and toured in South Africa and internationally until late last year. South African President Jacob Zuma expressed his condolences, saying Masekela “kept the torch of freedom alive globally, fighting apartheid through his music and mobilizing international support ... His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten.”

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