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Weekend New Items.
1. Returnees from the first leg of the biggest Arctic research expedition in history bring back stories of a polar landscape that was even more unstable than anticipated. In some of their first interviews since leaving the ship, they said they were stunned and occasionally stymied by the very melting they hope to understand. “The Arctic is the epicenter of global warming,” said Markus Rex, an atmospheric scientist at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute and leader of the 17-nation, $134 million expedition. “We have had to constantly adapt to the changing ice environment, and we will continue to do so. But it is hard to predict what is going to happen next.” Read the whole thing. (via The Washington Post)
2. Early figures put incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen ahead of her main rival Han Kuo-yu in the Taiwan presidential race, according to local television reports. Soon after the official count got under way – as the polls closed at 4pm – broadcaster EBC said Tsai had secured 3 million votes, or 56.6 per cent of the total, while Han had 38.8 per cent. SETN put the early split at 57 per cent for Tsai and 38.6 per cent for Han, while TVBS said Tsai had secured 3.08 million votes against Han’s 2.12 million. The third candidate in the presidential race, James Soong, had less than 5 per cent of the vote, according to the broadcasters. (via South China Morning Post)
3. A roadside bomb hit a convoy of U.S. troops today in Afghanistan's southern province of Kandahar, a NATO spokesman and an Afghan official said, but there were no immediate details of casualties in a blast claimed by the Taliban. Despite a winter lull in fighting due to heavy snowfall in the mountains where the Islamist Taliban typically rest and regroup ahead of their annual spring offensive, roadside bombs continue to hit Afghan forces and their foreign allies. A senior Afghan military official in Kandahar said the incident took place in the district of Dand when the device hit one of the armored vehicles of the U.S. forces. Foreign troops cordoned off the area and kept Afghan forces away from the scene, the official added. (via Haaretz)
4. Iran said the Ukrainian airliner that crashed outside of an airport in Tehran, killing all 176 people on board, was shot down unintentionally by its armed forces. Iranian officials had initially denied claims by Western officials that the Boeing Co. 737-800 jet was downed by a missile system fired by Iran, possibly by mistake. The single-aisle jet crashed Wednesday four hours after Iran had launched military strikes against the U.S. in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of a top general, and the Middle Eastern state was on high alert for a potential U.S. response. The Ukraine International Airlines plane approached a sensitive military base operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was downed due to “human error.” (via The Wall Street Journal)
5. Hours after a U.S. strike killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Trump administration sent an urgent back channel message to Tehran: Don’t escalate. The encrypted fax was sent via the Swiss Embassy in Iran, one of the few means of direct, confidential communication between the two sides, U.S. officials said. In the days that followed, the White House and Iranian leaders exchanged further messages, which officials in both countries described as far more measured than the fiery rhetoric traded publicly by politicians. A week later, and after a retaliatory Iranian missile attack on two military bases hosting American troops that inflicted no casualties, Washington and Tehran seemed to be stepping back from the brink of open hostilities—for now. (via The Wall Street Journal)
6. The Trump administration hit Iran with more sanctions yesterday in the first concrete response to the attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq this week, which were in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike that killed the most powerful Iranian military commander. The sanctions target Iran’s metal industries, and eight senior military and national security officials who U.S. officials said were involved in the ballistic missile attacks on two bases in Iraq that house U.S. military personnel. (via The Washington Post)
7. The Trump administration refused again Friday to recognize Iraq's call to withdraw all U.S. troops, saying that any discussion with Baghdad would center on whatever force size the United States determines is sufficient to achieve its goals there. "At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how best to recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal," the State Department said. The statement came after Iraq's caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, said he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Thursday telephone call to begin talks about a "mechanism" to implement last week's Iraqi parliamentary vote demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops. (via The Washington Post)
8. The steady drip of bad news about Boeing — culminating in Thursday’s release of 117 pages of damning internal communications — has revealed something more disturbing than one poorly designed plane. The very culture at Boeing appears to be broken, with some senior employees having little regard for regulators, customers and even co-workers. Perhaps most tellingly, the documents show Boeing employees repeatedly questioning the competence of their own colleagues, and the quality of the company’s engineering. “This is a joke,” a Boeing employee, referring to the 737 Max, said to a colleague in 2016. “This airplane is ridiculous.” (via The New York Times)
9. Boeing’s outgoing chief executive, who was terminated last month for his handling of the 737 Max crisis, will exit the company with more than $62 million, the company said in a filing on Friday. The airplane manufacturer said Dennis Muilenburg forfeited a severance package worth $14.6 million. However, he is contractually obligated to receive equity and pension benefits valued at $62.2 million, the company said. In addition, Muilenburg also retains stock options currently worth about $18.5 million. Boeing announced the details of Muilenburg’s exit package on the same day Spirit AeroSystems, one of the largest suppliers of the 737 Max, sent layoff notices to roughly 2,800 employees at its Wichita plant, citing “ongoing uncertainty” involving Boeing’s 737 Max jet, airplane parts supplier. (via The Washington Post)
10. A wealth tax appears to have broad public support, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll that found nearly two-thirds of respondents agree that the very rich should pay more. Among the 4,441 respondents to the poll, 64% strongly or somewhat agreed that “the very rich should contribute an extra share of their total wealth each year to support public programs” - the essence of a wealth tax. Results were similar across gender, race and household income. While support among Democrats was stronger, at 77%, a majority of Republicans, 53%, also agreed with the idea. (via Reuters)
11. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders leads the Democratic field three weeks ahead of Caucus Day in Iowa — narrowly overtaking his closest competitors, who remain locked in a tight contest just behind him. A new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows 20% of likely Democratic caucus-goers name Sanders as their first choice for president. After a surge of enthusiasm that pushed Pete Buttigieg to the top of the field in November, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor has faded, falling 9 percentage points to land behind both Sanders and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Warren is at 17%; Buttigieg, 16%; and former Vice President Joe Biden, 15%. “There’s no denying that this is a good poll for Bernie Sanders. He leads, but it’s not an uncontested lead,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. “He’s got a firmer grip on his supporters than the rest of his compatriots.” The Iowa Poll is considered the gold standard for statewide polling in the United States. (via The Des Moines Register)
12. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said the House would move forward next week on sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate, ending a tense standoff and setting the stage for the trial of President Trump, the third of its kind in the nation’s history. Mrs. Pelosi had withheld the articles for several weeks as Democrats sought assurances that the Senate trial would include new documents and testimony from witnesses blocked previously by the White House. (via The Wall Street Journal)
13. Allies of President Trump are pursuing an effort to acquire right-leaning news channel One America News Network, according to people familiar with the matter, in a bid to shake up a conservative media market that has been dominated by Fox News. The investment firm Hicks Equity Partners is looking to acquire the channel and is pitching other wealthy GOP donors to arrange a bid of roughly $250 million for the channel’s parent company, the people said. The firm is owned by the family of Thomas Hicks Jr., co-chairman of the Republican National Committee and a close friend of Donald Trump Jr. (via The Wall Street Journal)
14. Unusual patterns in the dollar during the latest flare-up in tensions between the US and Iran suggest that the currency may have lost its traditional role as a retreat in times of stress. Typically, the dollar jumps, along with gold, when bouts of geopolitical nerves strike. But after the US assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani last week the currency barely budged, judging by an index that tracks its value against a basket of other currencies. Instead, while the crisis between the two countries has abated, the dollar has climbed. This flip in the traditional behaviour of the world’s most important reserve currency has left some market-watchers puzzled. (via Financial Times)
15. It appears that Spencer Dinwiddie, who plays guard for the National Basketball Association’s Brooklyn Nets, may get the chance to be the first professional athlete to “tokenize” his contract after all. Basketball and other sports stars are typically given multi-year contracts that work out to a certain dollar amount per year. Dinwiddie hopes that by tokenizing his three-year, $34.36 million contract, he will be able to collect its value up front, instead of having to wait. Dinwiddie plans to sell 90 tokens for $150,000 each to accredited investors. After a year, they will be tradeable. The digital security will pay out 4.95% interest on a monthly basis, and fully pay out when it matures in 2023, according to Forbes. Dinwiddie says the structure he and his legal team have created can be used by other players too. (via MIT Technology Review)
16. An 11-year-old boy wielding two guns opened fire in his private school in northern Mexico on Friday morning, killing a teacher and wounding at least six other people, before killing himself, officials said. The wounded included one teacher and five students, Adelaido Flores, a regional public security coordinator in the northern border state of Coahuila, said in an interview with Milenio TV. Officials said the boy had been a well-behaved student who earned good grades. (via The New York Times)
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Political Links: Northern Ireland gets a government again. Sultan of Oman dies and is succeeded by cousin. Marianne Williamson's bizarre and mesmerizing campaign ends. How Bernie Sanders stumbled, then steadied his presidential campaign. Turning point: AOC's endorsement (second item). Many Iowa Democrats are paralyzed by fear of choosing the wrong candidate to take on Trump. Trump administration tells Supreme Court no need to rush an Obamacare ruling. Why America’s suburbs could be so important in 2020, visualized. Of course Bernie can win. Facebook says it won’t police political ads.