Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 31, 2014

Jon Terbush
Michael Sam in a preseason game against the Miami Dolphins Marc Serota / Getty Images
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China denies open elections for Hong Kong

China's legislature on Sunday ruled out the possibility of holding open nominations to elect Hong Kong's new leader, a shocking move that could precipitate a deepening divide between the city and the mainland. The restrictions, outlined by the National People's Congress Standing Committee, would allow for the first direct election in Hong Kong in two years. Yet prospective candidates would first need to be approved by Beijing, leaving China with a crucial role in determining who would and would not be allowed to lead. "It's certain now that the central government will be effectively appointing Hong Kong's chief executive," Alan Leong, a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, said. [The New York Times, BBC]


St. Louis Rams cut Michael Sam

The St. Louis Rams on Saturday cut defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly-gay player drafted into the NFL. The seventh-round pick earned his way through previous cuts, but was left off the Rams' final 53-man roster, which had to be finalized Saturday afternoon. In a series of tweets, Sam thanked the Rams for "giving me this tremendous opportunity and allowing me to show I can play at this level," adding that his "journey continues." [ESPN]


Putin suggests statehood for eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday sharpened his rhetoric over the situation in eastern Ukraine, saying for the first time that the region should perhaps become an independent nation. "We need to immediately begin substantive talks," he said Sunday in an interview with Russian state television, "on questions of the political organization of society and statehood for southeastern Ukraine." Putin's remarks came days after the U.S. and NATO said there was indisputable evidence Russian troops and weaponry had crossed the Ukrainian border. [AFP, Reuters]


Iraqi troops break two-month ISIS siege on Amerli

Backed by U.S. airstrikes and Shi'ite militias, Iraqi troops on Sunday entered the town of Amerli, which had for two months been besieged by ISIS fighters. Militants from the group had blockaded the city since June, preventing food and supplies from getting in, and raising fears of a possible slaughter. "Amerli has been liberated," Mahdi Taqi, an Amerli politician, said. "There is so much joy and people are cheering in the streets." [The Washington Post, Reuters]


Ted Cruz downplays government shutdown talk

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) on Saturday threw cold water on the prospect of another government shutdown, saying the only person who wanted another such debacle was President Obama. Speaking at the Americans for Prosperity summit in Texas, Cruz said, "There is one person and one person only talking about shutting down the government, and that is the White House." In a recent interview, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that if the GOP were to take the Senate in November, the party would stuff spending bills with riders rolling back Obama-era policies, thus forcing the president to choose between funding the government or risking a shutdown. [The Washington Post]


EU threatens Russia with more sanctions

The European Union on Sunday gave Russia an ultimatum: Reverse course in Ukraine within a week, or face harsher sanctions. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said EU leaders had agreed on "further significant steps" to be taken if Russia does not comply, though he did not specify what those measures would be. Even if sanctions are announced within a week, they could still take more than a month to kick in. [The Guardian, BBC]


John Kerry: ISIS a 'cancer' that must be stopped

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria poses a "unifying threat to a broad array of countries" that should unite a global coalition determined to stop it, Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in a Saturday op-ed for The New York Times. "With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries," he added. [The New York Times]


Iceland raises aviation alert after volcanic eruption

Iceland on Sunday upped its aviation alert to red, the highest warning level, following a small eruption in the Bardarbunga volcano system. Iceland's meteorological agency said the eruption was "very calm." Nevertheless, the threat that a larger eruption and ash cloud could pose to airplanes led to the heightened warning. [Associated Press]


California passes plastic bag ban

California's legislature closed out its two-year session on Friday by approving a ban on plastic grocery bags. If signed, the measure would be the first such statewide ban in the country. Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who has not signaled support for or opposition to the bill, has until September 30 to sign it into law. [Reuters]


Guardian Review publishes chapter cut from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Guardian on Saturday for the first time printed a "lost" chapter from the book. The passage was "deemed too wild, subversive and insufficiently moral for the tender minds of British children," the paper wrote. For instance, the chapter alludes to a "Pounding and Cutting Room," into which several wicked characters disappear. [The Guardian]

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