This just in
July 17, 2014
Pool/Getty Images

UPDATE 4:15 p.m.: U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that an anti-air missile downed the plane, though they have yet to determine who shot it, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A Malaysia Airlines plane has reportedly been shot down over Ukraine, a Ukrainian interior ministry official told the Associated Press. Malaysia Airlines has confirmed that it lost contact with the plane, MH17, over Ukraine, though it did not provide any other information.

The Ukrainian official, Anton Gerashchenko, claimed in a Facebook message that pro-Russian separatists downed the airliner with a Buk missile. However, the rebels denied any involvement, saying they did not have the necessary firepower to bring down a jet.

A Voice of Russia report last month claimed the Donetsk People's Republic — a rebel group — had taken control of an eastern Ukrainian military base equipped with anti-aircraft missiles. Rebel forces also reportedly downed a military jet earlier this week, one month after they claimed credit for taking out a military transport aircraft as it prepared to land in Luhansk, killing 49.

MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and was reportedly carrying 295 people.

The White House said President Obama had been briefed about the plane crash.

big spender
12:05pm ET

In early January, Vice President Joe Biden interrupted his vacation on the Caribbean island of St. Croix to make a one-day trip to Brazil for the inauguration of the country's new president,  Dilma Rousseff. Hotel and vehicle costs alone for the veep's single day visit totaled $421,000

About $191,000 of that went to hotel costs, which is more than the median price of a house in the United States. While Biden clearly knows how to travel in style — his vehicle requirements included 22 cars, 28 vans, three trucks, one bus, and one SUV — maybe next time he could just use Skype?

Really? Really.
11:52am ET

The City University of New York (CUNY), a public college system that includes 23 institutions, has forbidden faculty members of its Graduate Center from using salutations like "Mr." or "Ms."

In a memo from Provost Louise Lennihan, the school announced that as of this semester, professors should "eliminate the use of gendered salutations and references in correspondence to students, prospective students, and third parties. Accordingly, Mr. and Ms. should be omitted from salutations." Professors are encouraged to instead address people by their full first and last names.

While the school attributes the new policy to the legal requirements of Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education, this interpretation of the law's requirements is highly unusual, to say the least.

Ruble trouble
11:35am ET

Weeks after hiking interest rates to an 11-year high, Russia unexpectedly cut them again, Bloomberg News reports.

The central bank lowered the benchmark rate from 17 percent to 15 percent. That sparked ruble sales, driving it down 4 percent against the dollar.

In 2014, the central bank raised the rate six times. Officials and business leaders have warned the economy will crash unless rates come down. Earlier in January, an aide to President Vladimir Putin called doing business "impossible" at the current interest rate.

This just in
10:59am ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In an 11 a.m. call with senior donors, Mitt Romney announced that despite heavy speculation that he would step into the 2016 race, he will not consider a presidential run. "After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I've decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee," Romney said.

10:38am ET
T.J. Kirkpatrick/Stringer/Getty Images

The city of Boston fined Secretary of State John Kerry $50 this week when he didn't shovel the snow in front of his Beacon Hill home. Kerry was in Saudi Arabia for the funeral of King Abdullah, but that apparently wasn't a good enough reason to avoid being fined.

The Boston Globe reports that a snow removal company saw Kerry's house blocked off by yellow hazard tape, which was to warn pedestrians about falling snow and ice from the building's roof. But the company thought it wa police tape and didn't clear the walk. When they understood that they were indeed allowed to enter the area, the company cleared Kerry's sidewalk late Thursday morning.

"Diplomats — they're just like us," Kerry's spokesman Glen Johnson said to the Globe." The snow has all been shoveled now, the secretary will gladly pay the ticket, and let's hope this is the last blizzard of the year."

Dino Discovery
10:31am ET

There's a new species of dinosaur, and it resembles a mythical Chinese dragon. Local farmers in Qijiang city, China, originally found the fossils back in 2006 and dubbed the dinosaur Qijianglong, meaning "dragon of Qijiang," CNN reports.

In findings published this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, University of Alberta researchers say the dinosaur, a species unique to Asia, was 50 feet long, with its neck taking up half its body.

"The new dinosaur tells us that these extreme species thrived in isolation from the rest of the world,"  researcher Tetsuto Miyashita told CNN.

They found a vertebrae, skull, and tail, which will all end up at the city's new dinosaur museum when construction wraps up.

Climate change
9:57am ET

A new poll from The New York Times found that a majority of Americans, including almost half of Republicans, support government action to stop climate change. Seventy-seven percent of Americans said the federal government "should be doing a substantial amount to combat climate change," according to the Times.

The Times conducted the poll in conjunction with Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future. The poll, which surveyed 1,006 adults from Jan. 7-22, could affect 2016 presidential campaigns — two-thirds of Americans said they were more likely to vote for candidates whose campaign platforms included fighting climate change.

Climate change wasn't a deciding factor in the respondents' votes, but it does influence their decision, according to the Times. Sixty-seven percent of respondents, including 48 percent of Republicans, said they were less likely to vote for candidates who denied that humans are the cause of climate change.

Around the world
9:47am ET
Twitter/The Telegraph

South African apartheid death-squad leader Eugene de Kock, also known as "Prime Evil," was granted parole Friday, The Guardian reports. The ex-cop will be released from prison fter serving more than 20 years for the torture and murder of black South African activists in the 1980s and early 1990s.

South Africa justice minister Michael Masutha said in a news conference de Kock was released "in the interests of nation-building and reconciliation." Masutha also mentioned de Kock has expressed remorse and helped authorities recover remains of some of his victims.

De Kock is said to have been responsible for more atrocities than any other man in an attempt to preserve white rule, according to The Guardian. Many South Africans believe he should die behind bars.

This just in
9:25am ET
Disney Parks via Getty Images

Health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have announced that the measles outbreak which started in California's Disneyland likely came from overseas.

NBC News reports that the disease was likely brought to the U.S. either by a foreign tourist or an American who was returning home. So far, 94 people in eight states have been infected with measles, and 67 of those cases are linked to Disneyland.

Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC told NBC News that the outbreak is "a wake-up call to make sure that we keep measles from regaining a foothold in our country," adding that the outbreak has occurred because some people aren't vaccinated against the disease.

This just in
8:33am ET

U.S. gross domestic product expanded at a 2.6 percent annual rate in 2014's fourth quarter, according to the Commerce Department.

The news comes after the U.S. economy posted its strongest growth in more than a decade, a 5 percent GDP reading in the third quarter of 2014. It also comes two days after the Federal Reserve said the U.S. economy was expanding at a "solid pace."

Economists had estimated that America's economy grew by three percent during the last three months of 2014. Reuters reports that lower gasoline prices heightened fourth-quarter consumer spending.

"The consumer did the heavy lifting, and I don't think there is any reason to expect that to change in the first half of this year because of the enormous tailwind from lower gasoline prices," Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania, told Reuters.

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