Every bad impression counts. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are expected to run neck and neck in Nevada’s caucus tomorrow, but it’s South Carolina’s Republican primary that’s getting really messy. Donald Trump skirmished with the Pope after the pontiff questioned his Christian values, with Trump first decrying the comments but then relenting, calling Francis “a wonderful guy.” Meanwhile Canadian-born Ted Cruz is seeing the issue of his eligibility to serve as president go to court in Chicago, which could dampen his support in the polls until it’s resolved.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They’re pointing fingers. Turkish officials say yesterday’s car bombing in the country’s capital that killed 28 and injured 61 was perpetrated by Syria-based Kurdish YPG militants working in cooperation with the Kurdistan Workers Party. Nine arrests have been made after a vehicle filled with explosives detonated near buses carrying military personnel. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack — YPG affiliates notably deny involvement — and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is launching retaliatory airstrikes in Northern Iraq as funerals get underway.
He’s not trying to direct anyone’s vote — or is he? When questioned about his feelings on the real estate magnate at the end of his visit to Mexico, His Holiness merely said it was “not Christian” to talk about building walls. The Donald’s not hestitating to tangle with the pontiff, though: He called the Pope’s comments “disgraceful” and questioned whether anyone had the right to question another person’s faith, even going so far as to speculate that the Pope will pray for a Trump presidency ”if and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS.”
Days before primaries in Nevada and South Carolina, Obama has announced a visit to America’s island neighbor next month — the first Cuban trip by a sitting president in seven decades. OZY co-founder Carlos Watson has predicted the likely ascent of America’s first Latino nominee “from the deceptively small, yet mighty Cuban-American population.” Unsurprisingly, Republican hopefuls Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had critical words about Obama’s trip. Newly endorsed by Gov. Nikki Haley, the Florida senator lambasted Obama for visiting an “anti-American communist dictatorship.”
National security or privacy — take your pick. For weeks, the Obama administration urged the computing giant to unlock a smartphone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. This culminated in a judge ordering the Cupertino tech firm to bypass security on the phone. But Apple’s refusing, citing fears of setting “a dangerous precedent” that could provide the FBI with a “backdoor” and compromise other devices. CEOs at Twitter, WhatsApp, Google and Microsoft are rallying behind Apple, but the squabble could lead to federal legislation calling for tougher decryption requirements.
They smell trouble. Federal Reserve minutes from January’s meeting were released yesterday, revealing experts’ concerns over the future of global economic health and a lack of clarity over what’s driving stock turbulence. Market fluctuations, China’s downturn and sluggish inflation are creating greater uncertainty, the committee said, with several urging a “prudent” approach to analyzing future evidence about the economy’s strength. In turn, traders in futures markets are now betting that there’s just a 50 percent chance Fed officials will move interest rates at all this year.
Bus, truck crash in northern Ghana kills 71. (BBC)
China’s missiles in the South China Sea illustrate growing risk of conflict. (NYT)
Federal grand jury indicts rancher Clive Bundy and two sons. (NBC)
Kenya claims to have killed Al-Shabab intelligence chief in Somalia. (BBC)
EU Council president casts doubt on renegotiation of UK’s role in bloc. (DW)
China deploys 1,300-plus police officers in fraud crackdown. (SCMP)
They’re deep into the weeds. Wangaratta, a rural city in Victoria, is awash in a straw-like grass that’s piling roof-high, covering streets and yards. Likened to a “dandelion on steroids,” the weed is lightweight but sticks together, and it’s proving a nuisance for locals who face hours of daily cleanup just to reach their front doors. Some blame untended farmland for the scourge. But tumbleweed is a part of rural life there, and with a summer drought feeding the beast, residents hope local officials will soon offer solutions.
It was a long-standing affair. Remains of a 100,000-year-old female Neanderthal in the Altai Mountains of Siberia reveal that some of her relatives were human, predating previously known evidence of interspecies mating by at least 35,000 years. And while humans continue to carry DNA traces of early interbreeding, this is the first time scientists have discovered evidence that the genetic transfer went both ways. One researcher says the findings suggest our two ancestral lines should now be referred to as different “human groups” rather than separate species.
Will he take out the competition? Simmons, the founding editor of now-defunct Grantland — who was unceremoniously fired by ESPN last year — has named his next project: The Ringer. His plans for the boldly named endeavor sound a little familiar, with promised commentary on sports and culture, as well as “riffs” written largely by former Grantland staffers. Simmons, who’s inked a multiplatform deal with HBO, “will now become ESPN’s Kryptonite,” a colleague said. We’ll see later this year when The Ringer launches how well he scores.
This takes crime-fighting citizen science to a new level. Apps aimed at counting, tracking and protecting endangered animals are helping fight wildlife trafficking and poaching, the world’s fourth-biggest illicit industry, which rakes in up to $10 billion a year. Pings from a collar to a phone can alert biologists when animals are being illegally hunted, warn villagers that dangerous elephants are approaching — and even help Rwandans make the first accurate count of their dwindling mountain gorilla population, which will shape conservation policies and hopefully boost tourism.
The rebound continues. Days after re-entering the Top 25 rankings, the Blue Devils stunned the Tar Heels in a 74-73 shocker. Mike Krzyzewski’s players were already heavy underdogs, and their chances seemed even more far-fetched after Matt Jones went down in the first half with an ankle injury. Just five men played essentially the entire game and remarkably didn’t tire. But Duke’s good fortune may not last. With Jones out for an unknown number of games, the squad’s already-thin roster will be even tighter in the coming weeks.