It’s a preliminary step. Two top senators have reached a bipartisan agreement to stabilize the country’s health insurance markets by preserving federal payments to insurers for another two years, offsetting out-of-pocket costs for lower-income consumers. The deal comes less than a week after President Donald Trump signed an order freezing such subsidies, a move observers said would lead to a hike in premiums. While it seems promising, Tuesday’s deal — which Trump approved as “a short-term solution” — still requires support from both parties in Congress.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Victory is theirs. Raqqa was once the militant group’s de facto capital in Syria, but after four months of fighting the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say they’ve chased ISIS out and are now simply clearing the city of landmines and stragglers. ISIS controlled the city for three years. Before the war, 300,000 people lived in Raqqa, but less than one percent have remained, and more than 900 civilians have been killed. Now it’s not clear who will take power, though coalition forces have promised to hand back the reins to civilians.
They’re caught between Iraq and a hard place. Baghdad says its army has retaken Kirkuk and surrounding oil fields from the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who had hoped to hold the territory after last month’s independence referendum sparked talk of Kurdish secession. President Donald Trump says U.S. forces won’t step in on either side, with the State Department calling on all parties to stand down. Washington’s long been allied with the Kurds, who’ve fought against ISIS, but this could be a blow to Kurdish hopes for independence.
They’re “closer than ever before.” So said President Trump of his relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite animosity over multiple failures to repeal Obamacare and other legislative defeats. Trump’s currently walking a line between McConnell and former adviser Steve Bannon, who recently announced that he’ll use conservative media machine Breitbart to back anti-establishment challengers against GOP senators in 2018 elections. That could jeopardize McConnell’s Senate majority — and with it future GOP legislative efforts. Meanwhile, Trump’s hoping Congress can pass sweeping tax cuts by the end of the year.
Many people still haven’t been found. Fires in Portugal have killed 36, with blazes spread by high winds from post-tropical cyclone Ophelia. Prime Minister António Costa declared three days of national mourning and promised to implement recommendations from a fire prevention commission. Much of Portugal remains under a state of emergency as more than a dozen fires are still burning. Meanwhile, storm winds carried dust and debris north, turning London’s sky yellow yesterday. And in Ireland, three people died and 230,000 were left without power after Ophelia slammed into the western coast.
This isn’t the Wild West. New internet restrictions in China ban anonymous users and hold creators of online chats and forums responsible for users’ comments. But China’s restrictive internet culture, subject to a high level of government control, has also been effective at blocking fake news and bots — both of which inundated the U.S. via Facebook and Twitter, spreading false information in advance of last year’s election. The price of online protection, however, includes curbs on political speech that are likely to be unpalatable to many Western democracies.
Know This: Daphne Caruana Galizia, the journalist and blogger who spearheaded the Panama Papers investigation and focused on corruption, has been killed by a car bomb in Malta. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in advance of a speech by white nationalist leader Richard Spencer this week. And Facebook has bought the tbh app, which encourages teens to compliment each other, for less than $100 million.
He Said What?: “If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls.” President Trump excused his failure to call the families of four American Green Berets killed in Niger two weeks ago by falsely claiming that Obama and other presidents hadn’t called the relatives of fallen soldiers. When questioned later about the lie, Trump softened his stance by saying, “I don’t know if [Obama] did.”
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Light is the best disinfectant. Last week, dozens of women in Hollywood shared allegations of sexual harassment and rape against Harvey Weinstein. This week, the exposure went further: On Sunday, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged all women who’d been sexually harassed or assaulted to tweet #MeToo. Within 24 hours it had been tweeted half a million times and spread across other social networks, with some women sharing their stories and others simply adding their voices to the crowd. Milano observed, “It gives us all extreme heartache but also strength and fortitude.”
There are two sides to every bitcoin. Though blockchain technology first gained popularity in online black markets, it’s fast becoming a major part of mainstream digital infrastructure, used in finance, health and public services. But its criminal users haven’t disappeared, and an ever-expanding list of digital currencies — ever heard of Monero, Ethereum and Zcash? — makes it tougher for investigators to stay ahead of money launderers, phishers and hackers. On top of that, the rules governing the technology aren’t always clear, leaving the industry open to shady practices.
Stay gold. Yesterday astronomers revealed that they’d observed — for the first time in history — a kilonova: two superdense neutron stars crashing into each other. The event, 130 million light-years away, caused a huge fireball visible to Earth telescopes. It also forged about 100 times Earth’s mass in gold, worth $100 octillion, plus vast amounts of silver and platinum. The Aug. 17 collision was first detected by gravitational wave observatories, which alerted thousands of scientists worldwide to study its effects — an unprecedented collaboration that could revolutionize astrophysics.
Practice makes perfect. With relations between Washington and Pyongyang increasingly volatile, the U.S. military has announced it will practice evacuating American citizens from South Korea next week. Officials say the exercise isn’t tied to current events, but merely a “routinely scheduled drill.” Meanwhile, the U.S. and South Korea have launched a 10-day naval exercise off the Korean Peninsula — an event that’s certain to ruffle North Korea’s feathers — even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised Sunday that he’ll continue to try diplomacy until “the first bomb drops.”
It’s their play. Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, penned a 1,842-word letter to the NFL urging them to support kneeling athletes. The missive, which makes reference to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s defense of nonviolent protest, is a bid to return the debate over the demonstrations to their original focus: police brutality against African-Americans. “Peacefully protesting,” Richmond’s letter reads, “is one of the most American things any citizen can do.” NFL owners are expected to decide on a response to the anthem protests this week.