Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 12, 2014

Harold Maass
Members of the election committee in Donetsk, Ukraine count ballots.  (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)


Ukrainian rebels claim victory in autonomy vote

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine declared victory Sunday after a controversial, unmonitored referendum, claiming that 90 percent of voters supported breaking away from Kiev. Blatant irregularities were reported — voting booths were set up outside in the open, people were seen openly casting multiple ballots. Russia called for a "civilized implementation" of the results while the European Union and U.S. said they had no intention of recognizing them.


Hagel calls for reviewing the military's ban on transgender soldiers

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday that he was open to reconsidering the ban on transgender people in the U.S. military. Hagel said the policy should be "continually" reexamined, suggesting the Pentagon might lift the ban, as it did the one on gay men and lesbians serving openly. He indicated the change might not come soon, however, saying the transgender ban was "a bit more complicated because it has a medical component to it."


Boko Haram leader offers to trade abducted Nigerian girls for prisoners

In a video released on Monday by Agence France Presse, the leader of the Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram said he would swap 270 abducted high-school girls for imprisoned militants. In the 17-minute video, dozens of girls wearing veils are shown chanting "Praise be to Allah" and reciting verses of the Koran. The Boko Haram leader says the girls had converted to Islam.


Revised net neutrality changes expected Monday

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler reportedly plans as early as Monday to announce revised rules on allowing companies to pay for faster internet service. In an apparent attempt to soothe concerns, the revised plan is expected to include assurances that providers won't be allowed to slow down non-paying sites, although they will still be able to charge streaming-video and other content-heavy sites for faster service.


Tours resume at the Washington Monument 32 months after earthquake

The Washington Monument is scheduled to reopen Monday, 32 months after it sustained extensive damage in an August 2011 earthquake. The 5.8 magnitude temblor left the 555-foot, 130-year-old tower with more than 150 cracks in its white marble. The repairs cost $15 million, half of which Congress supplied. Philanthropist David Rubenstein covered the rest.


Iran claims it successfully replicated a fallen U.S. drone

Iran said on Sunday that it had made a copy of a U.S. drone it captured in 2011 and plans to launch a test flight soon. Tehran claimed it brought down the unmanned Sentinel aircraft down by hacking its GPS system; the U.S. said the drone was lost due to a technical problem. U.S. officials have tried to downplay the loss of the sophisticated surveillance aircraft, saying that Iran doesn't have the technology to make use of it.


Syrian presidential campaign kicks off as civil war continues

Syria officially launched its presidential campaign on Sunday as the country's civil war continued as fiercely as ever. New portraits of President Bashar al-Assad, whose military has been attempting to suppress a pro-democracy revolt for three years, appeared in Damascus. Assad has two challengers — Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri — but the anti-Assad opposition has dismissed the June 3 election as a sham, as have Western nations.


Study finds sharp drop in reading among teens

The number of U.S. teenagers who read for fun has dropped dramatically over the last 30 years, according to a report released Sunday by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Common Sense Media. In 1984, nearly one-third of 17-year-olds read a non-assigned book, magazine, or newspaper almost every day; by 2012, the rate was just one-fifth. "This is a cause for genuine concern," said Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer.


North Korea says South Korea fabricated reports of its spy drones

North Korea on Monday accused the U.S. and South Korea of making up evidence that it sent surveillance drones to spy on South Korean military installations in March. A North Korean military spokesman called South Korean President Park Geun-hye a "political prostitute," and the U.S. her "senile grandfather." In a rare direct response, a South Korean military spokesman said the North was "an unreal country that constantly lies."


Banned Clippers owner Sterling apologizes and says he is not racist

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling broke his silence Sunday on the secretly taped racist comments that got him banned for life from the NBA, telling CNN's Anderson Cooper, "I'm apologizing and I'm asking for forgiveness." Sterling also tried to pin some of the blame on his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, saying she "baited" him into making the comments. Sterling's estranged wife said he might be in the early stages of dementia.

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