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Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 12, 2018

Harold Maass
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1.

Rescuers search wreckage left behind by Hurricane Michael

The death toll from Hurricane Michael rose to at least six people on Thursday in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas as rescuers continued to search wreckage in the hardest hit parts of the Florida Panhandle. The town of Mexico Beach, Florida, where the storm made landfall with top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, was devastated, with entire blocks of houses leveled by storm surge and powerful winds. Officials feared the death toll could rise, because many people who should have evacuated stayed behind, not expecting the storm to rapidly become the strongest to hit the continental U.S. in decades. "This hurricane was an absolute monster," Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said. "And the damage left in its wake is still yet to be fully understood." Michael was downgraded as it sped across Georgia and the Carolinas on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. [NBC News]

2.

Trump continues criticism of Fed over rate hikes

President Trump on Thursday continued to criticize the Federal Reserve, saying that the U.S. central bank was "out of control" and had triggered this week's nosedive in stock prices by raising interest rates too fast. "It's a correction that I think is caused by the Federal Reserve with interest rates," Trump said. "We have interest rates going up at a clip that's much faster than certainly a lot of people, including myself, would have anticipated." Trump has slammed the Fed numerous times recently. The Fed has hiked rates three times this year under Trump's hand-picked new chairman, Jerome Powell. Trump said he had no plans to fire Powell, but was "just disappointed" that the Fed was raising rates so fast. The Fed raises rates to keep the economy and inflation from overheating, but Trump says the hikes are unnecessary because inflation is near the Fed's 2 percent target rate. [The Associated Press]

3.

Stocks struggle to recover from nosedive

U.S. stock-index futures rose along with global stocks early Friday, as markets struggled to shake off this week's plunge blamed on fears about rising interest rates and the impact of President Trump's trade wars on looming corporate earnings reports. On Thursday, the S&P 500 fell by 2.1 percent, its sixth straight day of losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also fell by 2.1 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite lost 1.3 percent. Analysts warned that stocks could face renewed pressure if earnings season gets off to a bumpy start. "People fear that it will be harder to snap back if we're seeing a cyclical top in earnings with those two headwinds, which are not going away," said Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut. [Reuters]

4.

Lawsuit accuses Georgia of illegally stalling voter registrations

Advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in Georgia on Thursday seeking to force the state to reinstate tens of thousands of voters whose registrations were placed in limbo due to minor differences between information on their applications and their government IDs. The lawsuit says the controversial policy used by the office of Brian Kemp, Georgia's secretary of state and the Republican nominee for governor in November's election, violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The policy has stalled applications for 53,000 people, a disproportionate number of them black. Kemp's Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, is vying to become the first black woman to be elected governor in the U.S. [The New York Times]

5.

Pope accepts resignation of cardinal accused of covering up abuse

The Vatican announced Friday that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C. Wuerl, who previously served as Pittsburgh's bishop, was named in a Pennsylvania grand jury report released over the summer as among the Catholic officials who covered up sexual abuse. He also became embroiled in the abuse scandal centered around his predecessor in Washington, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. All bishops submit their resignations when they turn 75; Wuerl turns 78 in November. The Vatican did not immediately name Wuerl's successor. [The Associated Press, CBS News]

6.

Facebook purges political accounts for spamming violations

Facebook said Thursday that it had purged more than 800 accounts for flooding users with political content. Facebook said the spiked accounts and pages violated its spam policies. It said most of the accounts belonged to domestic entities that used clickbait to drive traffic to their websites so it could barrage them with ads. The accounts did not appear to be linked to Russia, Facebook officials said. One of the pages called itself "the first publication to endorse President Donald J. Trump." The decision could prove sensitive, as some critics, including President Trump, have accused Facebook and other social media of censoring conservative content, and Facebook removed the 559 pages and 251 accounts just weeks before the midterm elections. [The Washington Post]

7.

Washington state Supreme Court rules death penalty unconstitutional

Washington's state Supreme Court on Thursday declared that the state's death penalty was unconstitutional. The court said in the unanimous ruling that capital punishment in the state is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased way, and serves no legitimate purpose. "All death sentences are hereby converted to life imprisonment," the ruling said. The case centered on Allen Eugene Gregory, who was sentenced to death in 2001 for aggravated first degree murder, and commissioned a study for his appeal focusing on the role of race and county in imposing death sentences in the state. The report found death penalty decisions varied by county, and that black defendants were more than four times more likely to be sentenced to death than white ones. [The Hill]

8.

Trump administration hopeful Turkey will release American pastor

The Trump administration is hopeful that some charges against American pastor Andrew Brunson will be dropped in a Friday court hearing in Turkey, paving the way for his release two years after his arrest on charges of backing a failed coup attempt. "We remain hopeful that with the court proceeding ... that Turkey will see its way clear and free this good man who is guilty of nothing and who has been incarcerated for several years in Turkey unjustly," Vice President Mike Pence said. NBC News and The Washington Post reported Thursday that senior Trump administration officials had reached a deal with Turkey for Brunson's release, although the State Department said it was not aware of any agreement with the Turkish government. [NBC News, Reuters]

9.

Turkey to join Saudis in joint investigation of Khashoggi disappearance

Turkey said Thursday it would go along with Saudi Arabia's request to form a joint committee to investigate the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist. He has not been seen since he went into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to get a document he needed to remarry. Turkish investigators believe Saudi agents killed him, which Saudi leaders deny. Saudi leaders have claimed the consulate's security cameras did not record on the day Khashoggi disappeared, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan found unbelievable, saying that the Saudi security system is so advanced, it could "catch a bird or a mosquito." Turkish security officials reportedly have told the U.S. they have audio and video recordings proving Saudi agents killed Khashoggi. [The Washington Post]

10.

American and Russian to return to space in spring after aborted mission

The head of Russia's space agency said Friday that American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin would head to the International Space Station in the spring, after they safely parachuted to Earth when their rocket failed in flight Thursday. The capsule landed in a barren area in Kazakhstan after the failure triggered emergency measures that sent them on a steep, harrowing plunge. Hague and Ovchinin were supposed to join an American, a Russian, and a German already on board the space station. The three-stage Russian Soyuz rocket had a failure in its second stage, when one of its four first-stage engines didn't jettison at the same time as the others, setting off the abort sequence. "Thank God the crew is alive," said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia's manned launches were suspended pending an investigation. [The Associated Press, Reuters]