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2016 Watch
May 20, 2014
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Back in September of 2013, I wrote that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence might be the Republican dark horse to watch as we head into the 2016 presidential contest. Among his many attributes, I argued, Pence is widely respected by all facets of the conservative movement.

Until now. In recent days, Pence has drawn criticism from conservatives for choosing to embrace ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion. After hearing the Indiana governor speak at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recently, The Federalist's Ben Domenech penned a sharp rebuke:

Up close, Pence's mannerisms are remarkably similar to a Midwestern George W. Bush, and I feel like his actions here remind me of a key problem with the Bush presidency, which could prove to be troublesome for Pence should he try for the White House in 2016. Pence's attitude was one of relying on past defenses of conservative policy to justify his current stance...

Of course, "I am a conservative, therefore all my policies are conservative" is a dangerous path to go down. It's one that proved problematic for both W. and the conservative movement during his tenure, which went along with No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and a host of other questionable policy steps without breaking with the White House... [The Federalist]

That's not to say Pence's possible presidential bid is over before it has even started. Every single likely GOP presidential candidate has an asterisk such as this against them. But there's another interesting twist here, and that is how conservatives haven't really forgiven Bush for his big government ways — and, in fact, the 2016 field can be viewed through a sort of "fool me once," post-Bush-stress-disorder prism. Matt K. Lewis

a date with destiny
2:11 a.m. ET

In Idaho, investigators are still on the hunt for an enamored teen who used a cliffside to ask a girl on a date.

Sometime in May, the unknown vandal scribbled, "Destiny, Prom?" in huge letters on the Black Cliffs climbing area outside of Boise. Destiny may have thought this was a sweet gesture, but the authorities aren't swooning. "Whoever did this did a lot of damage aesthetically and culturally," Patrick Orr, spokesman for the Ada County Sheriff's Office, told KBOI.

Deputies decided to try to nab the mysterious vandal by finding Destiny. They have interviewed over a dozen girls with the name and checked a few leads, but none have panned out. Investigators say they are hopeful that with school being back in session, they'll get a break in the case. If the enigmatic delinquent is ever found, they could face a misdemeanor charge of injury by graffiti, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Destiny, if you're reading this, turn him in. Vandal, if you're reading this, Google "ways to ask a girl to prom without destroying nature in the process." Catherine Garcia

What happens in Vegas...
1:11 a.m. ET
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A spokesman for the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas said on Thursday that earlier in the week, two men jumped into an outdoor canal on the property and had to be rescued because they could not swim.

On Monday morning, two men were spotted on surveillance cameras jumping over the fence that surrounds the canal, Reuters reports. The hotel offers gondola rides in the area, which is based on the Grand Canal in Venice, but the gondolas were not in operation at the time. The men were rescued and taken to a local hospital in critical condition. Authorities did not give an update on their condition, and said they are not sure why the men jumped into the canal. Catherine Garcia

ISIS
1:11 a.m. ET

Junaid Hussain, a 21-year-old British citizen, was one of Islamic State's secret weapons, a convicted hacker who fled to Syria in 2013 while awaiting trial in England, then took a leading role in ISIS's efforts to recruit members online, hack into U.S. military sites, and beef up the group's cybersecurity. He was killed Tuesday in a drone strike on his car outside Raqqa, Syria, U.S. officials told The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

British and U.S. officials decided a few months ago that Hussain and other British nationals who had prominent roles in ISIS should be captured or killed. Using the online nom de guerre Abu Hussain al-Britaini, Hussein was linked to a thwarted plot to bomb a parade in London, encouraging the two gunmen who died shooting up a cartoon-drawing contest outside Dallas, and efforts to hack into military sites and the social media accounts of U.S. service members, publishing their personal information online to target them for attacks.

Hussein is also believed to have convinced ISIS leaders to stop communicating through non-secure networks, making it harder for Western intelligence to track and monitor them. He "was an irritant that had developed a worrying edge," Raffaello Pantucci of London's Royal United Services Institute told The New York Times. "Undoubtedly his online skills will be missed by the group... but it is unlikely to dramatically change the pattern of dangerous plots emanating from the group."

ISIS hasn't confirmed Hussein's death, but condolences started showing up Thursday on Twitter from ISIS supporters. Hussein was married to Sally Jones, 45, a former punk rocker whom he met online. Peter Weber

RIP
12:40 a.m. ET

Retired Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen Jr., the first black Marine Corps aviator and officer promoted to brigadier general, died Tuesday. He was 83.

Petersen was born March 2, 1932, in Topeka, Kansas. After serving two years in the Navy, Petersen was commissioned in the Marine Corps. He flew more than 350 combat missions and more than 4,000 military aircraft hours, and received the Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, the Defense Superior Service Medal, and Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

Petersen's wife, Alicia, said that her husband didn't see himself as a trailblazer, but he did work toward equality in the Marine Corps. "He was a man who had very strong character, strong goals, and a lot of determination to achieve what he wanted to do," she told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "And very early on he decided that he wanted to be a pilot." In 1979, he was promoted to brigadier general, and in 2010, was appointed by President Obama to the Board of Visitors to the United States Naval Academy. Petersen is survived by his wife, five children, one grandson, and three great-grandchildren. In the video below, Petersen describes what it was like to be in the military during the 1950s, and the obstacles he faced. Catherine Garcia

fighting the drought
August 27, 2015
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In July, California cut its water use by 31.3 percent, exceeding a goal of 25 percent set by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in April.

Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco were among the cities that saved the most, and Beverly Hills was at the bottom of the list. "San Francisco is achieving 17 percent of cumulative savings, and that's a real success story," said Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager at the State Water Board Office of Research, Planning, and Performance. He told Al Jazeera other cities should take a look at its "edgy, some might even call R-rated" public awareness campaign, with slogans that include "Nozzle Your Hose: Limit outdoor watering" and "Gardens Gone Wild: Use native, water-efficient plants."

Education about the drought is one factor in the push to conserve water, and peer pressure is another. When people see their neighbors letting their lawns go brown, it shows that they are "taking action," says Jon Christensen of the UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability. "It really makes a difference." Catherine Garcia

fight against ISIS
August 27, 2015
Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

The United States has asked Uzbekistan to join the coalition against Islamic State, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Daniel Rosenblum, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Central Asia, told reporters the country can choose how it would like to contribute to the fight against ISIS, Reuters reports. The coalition's mission has a military component and five or six other "lines of effort," Rosenblum said.

Uzbekistan is home to 31 million people, mostly Muslims. The country has been a NATO partner and assisted in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, has been criticized by Western governments and human rights organizations for suppressing dissent, but officials say they have to take a tough stance in order to keep militants like ISIS at bay. Catherine Garcia

Mars or Bust
August 27, 2015
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If Buzz Aldrin has his way, Mars will be colonized by 2039.

The second man to walk on the moon has partnered with the Florida Institute of Technology to open the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute this fall. Aldrin, who has a doctorate in science from MIT, will serve as a senior faculty adviser and research professor of aeronautics, The Associated Press reports. Aldrin, 85, said he wants to develop a "master plan" to get Mars colonized, with international input and approval from NASA. NASA is working on building rockets and spacecrafts to transport astronauts to Mars by the mid-2030s.

Aldrin set 2039 as a target date because that will be the 70th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. He's already thinking that two of the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, will be the first stops for astronauts, and he thinks it makes sense for people to live there for 10 years. "The Pilgrims on the Mayflower came here to live and stay," he said. "They didn't wait around Plymouth Rock for the return trip, and neither will people building up a population and a settlement [on Mars]." Catherine Garcia

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