After warning of “severe punishment” if the kingdom was found responsible for killing Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump changed tack yesterday. He downplayed allegations that the Saudi government was involved, comparing them to the sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Ankara Wednesday for talks with Turkish officials — who claim Khashoggi was murdered inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul — as reports emerged that 11 of the 15 suspects in the journalist’s disappearance have ties to Saudi security services.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Can you smell that? Today the country became the world’s second nation, after Uruguay, to legalize recreational cannabis. Customers in the eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador were the first to purchase legal pot as shops opened at midnight Wednesday. “No more back alleys,” said one buyer, who called it “one of the biggest moments” of his life. Authorities will reportedly pardon all convictions for possession of up to 30 grams — now the legal limit — though sales still depend on provincial regulations: Ontario, for instance, probably won’t see any shops open until April.
After Brexit negotiations stalled over the weekend, European Union leaders are expected to offer the British prime minister a chilly reception as she addresses them during a summit today in Brussels. European Council President Donald Tusk has already warned that a “no deal” split on March 29 looks more likely than ever — and that May needs to deliver a “creative solution” to avoid that prospect. Meanwhile, May finds herself in a precarious political position back home, where she’s under pressure to prove she put up a fight.
Ahead of the ride-hailing firm’s expected initial public offering next year, Wall Street banks have reportedly valued Uber at nearly double its most recent valuation — and more than Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler combined. The proposals reflect the company’s growing momentum as it competes with rival Lyft, also expected to top its current $15.1 billion valuation ahead of a 2019 IPO. Another report suggested Uber is considering minority stake investments to help fund its self-driving car program, which it could eventually spin off into a separate entity.
Know This: Israel has responded to a rocket strike from Gaza by staging airstrikes against targets across the Gaza Strip. Texas congressman and Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke mounted an aggressive attack against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz during their debate last night. And Italian archaeologists have discovered an inscription suggesting the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii may have occurred nearly two months later than previously believed.
Read This: The United Arab Emirates is alleged to have hired a private American contractor — employing former special operations and CIA personnel — to carry out political assassinations in Yemen.
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Along with former U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, Gates will lead a coalition seeking practical solutions to “help vulnerable populations adapt” to the impacts of climate change. The Global Commission on Adaptation, which includes political leaders from 17 countries, will address what Gates called “a moment of high risk and great promise.” It will spend a year researching modifications, like planting mangroves to protect coastlines and encouraging farmers to raise ducks instead of chickens, before presenting a plan to the U.N.’s climate summit next year.
A federal judge yesterday approved the Tesla CEO’s settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over its recent ruling that he misled investors in August by claiming the electric carmaker had secured funding and was going private. The agreement — which allows Musk to resolve the matter without admitting wrongdoing, but also requires Tesla to replace the controversial chairman within 45 days — was approved despite his recent tweets insulting the SEC. It also requires Tesla to appoint a lawyer to sign off on Musk’s future tweets.
Live and learn. Singapore, South Korea and Shanghai consistently rank among the highest in international assessments of math, science and reading. But there’s a cost: Students report feeling burned out, while rote learning — which values memorization over innovation — has sparked fears that pupils won’t be able to compete in a quickly changing world. Those issues have led to proposals for more creative approaches to education, from de-emphasizing exam results to encouraging study tours abroad, though they’re meeting some resistance from conservative parents and institutions.
They’re not writing this off. PEN America filed a federal lawsuit against President Trump yesterday, claiming his “official acts” have violated the First Amendment. The group cited Trump’s pledge to block the merger of AT&T and CNN parent company Time Warner, plus his threats of antitrust action against Amazon after critical reporting by The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The suit seeks to prevent Trump from using his office to retaliate against the media — though PEN must now prove its members have been directly affected by his actions.
Mary Bono stepped down yesterday just four days after her appointment as interim president and CEO of the sport’s governing body. A former Republican congresswoman from California, the 57-year-old had been criticized for her connection to a law firm accused of helping hide information about disgraced Olympic doctor and convicted sex offender Larry Nassar. She’d also drawn anger over a tweet slamming Nike’s ad campaign featuring NFL protest leader Colin Kaepernick. In a statement, Bono said the “personal attacks” against her would have made her “a liability for the organization.”