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

Sarah Eberspacher
Shinseki resigned on Friday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Veterans Affairs secretary resigns in wake of scandal

President Barack Obama held a press conference on Friday morning to announce the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. The decision came in the wake of the VA's scandals over manipulated waiting lists and poor service for its veterans. Sloane Gibson, currently the VA's deputy secretary, will take Shinseki's place until Obama names a permanent replacement. [TheWeek.com, TIME]


Donald Sterling sues the NBA for $1 billion

Donald Sterling filed a lawsuit on Friday afternoon seeking damages in excess of $1 billion from the NBA. The lawsuit comes in the wake of a Thursday deal in which former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly purchased the Los Angeles Clippers from Sterling's wife, Shelly, who Sterling had granted authority to sell the team. The NBA moved to effectively ban Sterling from all ownership positions within the organization following an audiotape that went public last month, in which the former owner is heard making racist comments to a female friend. [NBC News]


White House Press Secretary Jay Carney resigns

After three-and-a-half years as White House press secretary, Jay Carney unexpectedly resigned on Friday afternoon. Carney described his time in the position as an "amazing experience" and "so fulfilling." His deputy, Josh Earnest, will replace Carney beginning in mid-June. President Barack Obama, who announced the departure in a press conference, praised his incoming spokesman. "His name describes his demeanor," Obama said. "Josh is an earnest guy, and you can't find just a nicer individual." [USA Today, RT USA]


Board rules Medicare can cover gender reassignment surgery

The Department of Health and Human Services ruled in favor of a 74-year-old veteran seeking Medicare coverage for gender reassignment surgery. The landmark decision, which came on Friday, overturned a longstanding rule banning the government health insurance program from covering such medical procedures. Transgender people seeking the surgery will most likely be diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria, meaning severe discomfort with one's current gender. [TIME]


White House confirms American citizen's involvement in Syria suicide attack

The Obama administration confirmed on Friday that a U.S. citizen from South Florida participated in a suicide bombing in Syria last week. While the man's name is not being released, authorities referred to him by his nom de guerre, Abu Huraira al-Amriki, "the American," and said they believe he is the first American to help stage a suicide attack in Syria's three-year-long conflict. The FBI has noted that a main counterterrorism operation for the agency is monitoring Americans who have traveled to Syria, and may attempt to return and carry out attacks in the United States. [The Washington Post]


Thailand's new ruler: No elections for at least a year

Thailand's new leader warned protesters that the military junta will not hold new political elections until the country re-learns democracy. Army General Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law on May 20, then he and his National Council for Peace and Order seized power two days later, arresting politicians and ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. On Friday, Prayuth said anti-coup protesters were impeding the country's return to a settled state — and marring its international reputation. "(Let) us have time to change our attitudes, values and several other things to solve Thailand's democracy to make it match with the international standards," he said. [NPR]


Mark Zuckerberg pledges $120 million to San Francisco schools

Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced this week that they will be donating $120 million to Northern California's public schools. The Facebook CEO's grant will be dispersed over the next five years to several school districts around San Francisco, and it will be used to improve classroom technology, train principals, and ease students' transition from middle school to high school. "Education is incredibly expensive," Chan said. "This is a drop in the bucket." [USA Today]


Scientists: Earth is nearing 'sixth great extinction'

Scientists at Duke University released a study, published on Thursday in the journal Science, showing that certain species of plants and animals are dying at least 1,000 times faster than they did before the existence of humans. The researchers posit that habitat loss is mostly to blame for the increase. Climate change may also be a factor. "We are on the verge of the sixth extinction," Stuart Pimm, the study's lead author and a noted biologist, said. "Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions." [The Associated Press]


Ticket prices collapse ahead of World Cup kickoff

Getting to Brazil may cost you, but once you're there, the World Cup experience becomes quite the steal. With reports of the country's unpreparedness still swirling, ticket prices for soccer games have dropped as low as $9. On the high end, tickets for more highly anticipated matchups still hover around $20 or less. "You'll find 4-5 stadiums that won't be completed on time, the infrastructure won't be in place and those stories impact the prices of tickets," Oliver Wheeler, a spokesperson for online reseller Viagogo.com, said. "If those things don't bother you, you'll get a bargain." [MarketWatch]


Julia Collins breaks second-place Jeopardy! record

Grabbing her 20th consecutive victory and another $18,100, North Shore game show contestant Julia Collins made history on Friday afternoon, securing the second-place record for most matches won on Jeopardy!. While her 20-game winning streak is still far off Ken Jennings' 74 wins, Collins has won a total of $428,100. The Wellesley College alumna who now lives in Wilmette, Illinois, will aim to keep her streak alive on Monday. [The Chicago Tribune]

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