It was to have been a celebration of renewal. Instead, the coastal town of Paravur became a scene of carnage after a firecracker reportedly landed amid stored fireworks early today. “Shocking beyond words” was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reaction to the blast that so far has killed 100 and injured 200 at a Hindu temple, which collapsed before further explosions hurled chunks of concrete. Local authorities say the fireworks — for Thursday’s Vishu new year observance — had been prohibited earlier for safety reasons. Now they’ve launched a homicide investigation and Modi has pledged compensation for survivors.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They wanted to hit France again. Belgian authorities say suspects charged yesterday in the March 22 Brussels bombings — including one said to have helped the Nov. 13 Paris attacks — had planned another terror attack in France. But their plans were interrupted by the arrest of accused co-conspirator Salah Abdeslam, prompting them to attack Brussels instead a few days later. Since Friday’s arrests, no suspects in what now appears to be a unified network remain at large, but others may remain unidentified, prompting Belgian premier Charles Michel to warn, “we know we have to stay alert.”
He’s had his day in court. Three decades after he allegedly touched five young wrestlers inappropriately, Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty yesterday to failing to report major cash transactions feds say were used to silence a young man he’d abused as a Yorkville, Ill., high school coach. When banking irregularities surfaced, the former Republican leader claimed he was an extortion victim, but the payment recipient’s demeanor in recorded phone calls reportedly told another story. The guilty plea carries a potential five years in prison, but leniency is expected at the 74-year-old ex-congressman’s sentencing April 27.
He’s going to the front lines. Next week, Francis will visit the island of Lesbos, showing support for Europe’s refugees in the face of an ongoing EU program of deporting undocumented migrants en masse to Turkey. The new plan seems to be deterring refugees from making their way to Europe. But there are troubling rumors that Turkey has been forcing Syrian refugees back over the border into their homeland. Some hope the pontiff’s visit will focus international attention on the migrants as people, rather than as roots of a crisis.
The realm of offshore tax havens sprang a leak this week. Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm specializing in global tax avoidance, claims it was hacked in the world’s biggest-ever data leak, shedding light on hidden overseas investments. The 2.6 terabytes’ worth of documents uncovered shell companies and offshore accounts linked to associates and relatives of Russian, British and Chinese leaders, as well as to Iceland’s prime minister, who stepped down for an “unspecified” period after his dealings were exposed. With the data still being studied, many expect the fallout to continue.
They were driving a hard bargain … for cars you can’t afford, with credit terms tilting toward repossession and bankruptcy. This system, developed decades ago, “helped” poor, high-risk and often minority auto buyers. By 2009, investors owned $3 billion worth of subprime auto loan bonds, and as subprime mortgages flatlined in the financial crisis, the auto version ballooned, hitting $22 billion by 2014. Industry leader Credit Acceptance had a profit margin that even outstripped Google’s. Critics say regulators need to take action to protect borrowers caught up in the loans fueling this frenzy.
“Go home,” Daoud Abudiab pleaded with his wife and the other headscarved women who gathered behind police tape to watch their mosque burn in 2008. Arsonists had painted a swastika on the mosque wall — and Abudiab feared for their safety. Many remember a friendlier American South, where educated Muslims once flocked and where polls showed they were happier than their counterparts in liberal enclaves like New York. Cities like Nashville were bastions of goodwill after 9/11, but lately, “anti-Sharia” laws and public hostility are making adherents of Islam feel less and less welcome.
Obama Calls Libyan Policy His Worst Mistake, Strong Pakistan Earthquake Shakes South and Central Asia
U.S. president says post-Gadhafi Libya policy was his biggest mistake. (CNN)
Strong earthquake hits northern Pakistan, rattling India, Afghanistan. (Reuters)
Ted Cruz takes all Colorado delegates, Bernie Sanders wins in Wyoming. (AP)
Abu Sayyaf militants kill 18 Filipino soldiers, raising questions about U.S. aid. (WSJ) sub
Ex-New Orleans Saints player Will Smith killed in ‘road rage’ incident. (USA Today)
Call them growing pains. Colombia has been trying to sweeten the deal for farmers to move away from illegal coca production by pushing crop substitution in favor of … chocolate? Cocoa bean production is indeed up, but these experiments tend to be in undeveloped areas — narco-trafficking rebels used remote areas to control the drug trade — making it hard to get legal products to market. Meanwhile, the coca business is seeing a resurgence, with the promise of fatter profits, which is stirring doubts about whether farmers will choose to go drug free.
It’s a new kind of touch therapy. Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco, hoping to help those suffering from the severe brain disorder, have developed PRIME, an app tooled with counseling, goal-oriented reminders and a social network of peers with the condition. On-demand clinician “coaches” provide feedback, while a “goals” feature includes daily motivational challenges and suggestions for healthy social interactions. Average users are logging on four times a week and achieving their objectives more than 80 percent of the time — boosting hope for a holistic approach to schizophrenia.
He’s the toast of the town … two centuries later. He helped create the world’s richest nation and the New York Stock Exchange, so why shouldn’t Alexander Hamilton be a boffo box-office hit? Scalped seats for the award-winning musical can fetch upwards of $2,000, and producer Jeffrey Seller, of Rent fame, is putting together touring Hamilton companies to circle the globe. But like Wall Street, there’s a downside: Seller must now manage the show — and expectations — so its coveted tickets don’t become another entitlement separating the governed from their founding father.
Jack really is in the box. Few Britons had heard of baby boxes before Finland gifted one to the expectant Duchess of Cambridge in 2013. All Finnish moms, regardless of income, receive cardboard bassinets packed with diapers, clothing and hygiene supplies — a tradition the government started in the 1930s that’s credited with nearly ending infant mortality in the country. The royal gift sparked a movement stretching as far as India, South Africa and Texas, with box-makers and donors — teamed with Finnish consultants — working to eliminate preventable infant and maternal deaths.
America’s pastime is fading to white. That’s the message from columnist Jay Caspian Kang, who notes there are half as many Black players — 8 percent — as there were in 1981. Revenue is up, but World Series ratings are down, and baseball’s cultural relevance has been in a “steady decline.” MLB’s hope may lie in a burgeoning 30-percent roster of Latino players, but commentators and coaches must embrace the changes brought by stars like José Bautista, shunned for celebratory bat-flipping, for the sport to keep hitting it out of the park.