April 7, 2014

Free elections don't always lead to a vibrant democracy — the world is filled with too many examples to list, though let's pick on Egypt anyway — but they're a prerequisite. And an estimated 7 million to 7.5 million Afghan voters made a promising down payment this weekend, defying Taliban death threats to vote in the country's first democratic transfer of power. There were a few Taliban attacks on Saturday, but they didn't deter voters from turning out in much higher numbers than expected.

There will be some amount of fraud discovered, but if voter turnout was really 60 percent, as unidentified Independent Election Commission officials tell The New York Times, that's a victory in itself. We won't know who will replace President Hamid Karzai for weeks, but it appears that the Taliban lost this election pretty badly. For those understandably jaded about the state of democracy in the world, that's at least a glimmer of hope to start out the week. Peter Weber

1:15 p.m. ET

When Ivanka Trump was 17 years old, she reportedly set an age limit for the women that dad Donald Trump was allowed to date. "I have a deal with her," Donald said during a taping of The Howard Stern Show in June 1999. "She's 17 and doing great — Ivanka. She made me promise, swear to her, that I would never date a girl younger than her." The New York Daily News pointed out that 17 is the age of consent in New York, "so Trump essentially told Ivanka that he wouldn't violate statutory rape law."

Donald then proceeded to joke with Stern that his deal with Ivanka meant "as she grows older, the field is getting very limited." "The nerve of her," Stern said in response. "Now you can't go out with 16-year-olds." At the time of the interview, Donald was already dating his current wife Melania, who is 24 years younger than Donald — but 12 years older than Ivanka.

Of course, Trump was no stranger to Stern's show, having called in repeatedly throughout the 1990s. In another interview no less cringe-inducing, Trump in 1995 discussed with Stern how annoying women's accents could be — or, as Stern phrased it, how "one day the accent is cute and the next you're married to Dracula's sister." "You know what I like most about Marla [Maples, Trump's second wife]? And this is not lewd," Stern said. "No accent. Because that can make you bonkers after a while. Isn't that true?"

Yes, Trump agreed: "Especially when they're asking for money." Becca Stanek

12:21 p.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Footage of Donald Trump testifying under oath about his comments concerning Mexicans and Latinos could be released to the public as early as Friday, potentially providing valuable fodder for Democratic ad-makers in the short weeks before election day. While Trump's lawyers had argued that the tapes of Trump's deposition, as well as those of his son Donald Jr. and daughter Ivanka, be kept sealed, D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman denied their request, Politico reports.

"This Court finds that Plaintiff has not demonstrated that any subject video deposition contains scandalous, libelous, or other unduly prejudicial material warranting denial of media access. The public shall not be held captive by the suggested eventuality of partisan editing in a manner unfavorable to Plaintiff or the deponents," Holeman wrote.

Trump's testimony comes from lawsuits he filed last year in relation to two chefs pulling out of restaurant deals for his D.C. hotel after Trump called Mexicans "rapists" and made other remarks about Latinos. In transcripts from the deposition, which have already been released, Trump claimed that his comments could have helped business: "If he had the restaurant, it would have helped," Trump said of one of the restaurateurs, Geoffrey Zakarian. "I've tapped into something. And I've tapped into illegal immigration."

In a separate case concerning a lawsuit over Trump University, U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled against the media's request for video of Trump's depositions, saying there was not substantial public interest in their release. Jeva Lange

11:54 a.m. ET
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Health officials in Thailand announced Friday that two babies have tested positive for Zika-related microcephaly, the birth defect that causes abnormally small heads and malformed brains. Though Thailand has confirmed 349 cases of the mosquito-borne illness since January — with 33 of those cases in pregnant women — this marks the first time cases of microcephaly tied to Zika have been reported in Southeast Asia.

Thailand's announcement came just a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised pregnant women against non-essential travel to 11 Southeast Asian countries, including Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Philippines, Thailand, East Timor, and Vietnam. The CDC has already issued a "travel notice" for Singapore, where 393 cases of Zika have been recorded.

U.S. officials have determined that if women contract the Zika virus while pregnant, it can cause microcephaly and potentially other birth defects in their babies. At this point, there is no treatment for Zika. On Wednesday, U.S. lawmakers passed a spending bill that allotted $1.1 billion to the fight against the Zika virus. Becca Stanek

10:46 a.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

A whistleblower has accused the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital in Illinois of leaving veterans' bodies "to decompose in the morgue for months on end," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told Fox News this week. "Some veterans' remains have been left in our hospital morgue for 45 days or more until they are stacked to capacity at times," the whistleblower claimed, and Kirk's office reports that on at least one occasion "a body had liquefied and the bag burst when staff had attempted to move it." Internal VA emails show a frustrated hospital employee threatening to file a police report if delayed approval for a burial is not promptly received.

The Hines hospital is no stranger to allegations of mismanagement, much like the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs more generally. In May, Kirk introduced legislation requiring VA hospitals to undergo regular kitchen inspections after the Hines facility was found to be infested with cockroaches. The roaches "routinely crawl across kitchen countertops and have ended up in veterans' food," a whistleblower said, adding that VA exterminators announced the hospital should continue as-is because the infestation was "not very severe."

On a national level, the VA has been caught using outdated technology, going wildly over budget, providing slow service to veterans, using faulty medical equipment, engaging in corrupt activities with minimal consequences, and fudging numbers on veteran suicides.

The Hines hospital administration denied all accusations of keeping veterans' bodies in the morgue too long. Bonnie Kristian

10:40 a.m. ET

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson might lag far behind Donald Trump in the polls, but when it comes to major newspaper endorsements, Johnson has a leg up. On Friday, Johnson landed the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune, which dubbed him "agile, practical and, unlike the major-party candidates, experienced at managing governments." The editorial called Hillary Clinton "undeniably capable," but expressed concern about her "intent to greatly increase federal spending and taxation, and serious questions about honesty and trust." Trump, on the other hand, the newspaper deemed "not fit to be president."

While the Tribune's decision to endorse a third-party candidate is alone notable, what makes it even more noteworthy is that it puts Johnson yet another newspaper endorsement ahead of Trump. Johnson has also secured the support of The Detroit News, the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Winston-Salem Journal, and The Caledonian-Record.

Trump, meanwhile, has yet to land a single newspaper endorsement in the general election. During the primaries, however, he got the support of the Santa Barbara News-Press, the New York Observer, the New York Post, and the National Enquirer. Becca Stanek

10:35 a.m. ET

First lady Michelle Obama warned students "a high school diploma just doesn’t cut it anymore" in an essay for The Fader's America issue, published Friday. "Yes, once in a while, a uniquely talented — and lucky — person catches their big break without finishing their education," Obama wrote. "But they're the exception. Here's the rule: Going to college is your best path to a big break — as a musician or in any other career you might want to pursue."

Obama explained that her own parents didn't go to college or have the money to send her, "but I knew that college was the single most important investment I could make in my future":

So I worked as hard as I could to get good grades, sent in my applications, and got accepted to Princeton University. I applied for as much financial aid as I could. That assistance allowed me to get my degree — and that degree changed my life. It allowed me to go on to law school (which I paid for with more financial aid) and become a lawyer. And with that education, I was able to do so many jobs that I loved — working in the Mayor's Office in Chicago, running a non-profit organization called Public Allies to help young people in underserved communities, being an Associate Dean at the University of Chicago. This all happened because I got into college and filled out my financial aid forms. So can you. [The Fader]

Read her full essay at The Fader, here. Jeva Lange

10:30 a.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Republican Donald Trump explained to a reporter in New Hampshire on Thursday he isn't worried about Democrat Hillary Clinton bringing up his marital history at the next presidential debate because — unlike the Clintons — he has no reason to be embarrassed.

In the first debate, Trump boasted, he considered mentioning former President Bill Clinton's very public record of marital infidelity, but then he decided to refrain because he saw Chelsea Clinton in the audience and "it's a hard thing to say in front of somebody's daughter." But next time? "We'll see what happens," he said.

When pressed by the reporter about whether his own background would then become fair game, Trump said, "I guess. They can do it. But it's a lot different than his. That I can tell you. We have a situation where we have a president who was a disaster and was ultimately impeached over it, in a sense, for lying. We'll see whether or not we discuss it." Asked again, he added, "I have a very good history" with marriage.

Donald Trump has been married three times and, if elected, would be the only American president to have multiple failed marriages. In 2001, he said what Bill Clinton "should have done is fought for years not to answer" the question of whether he had sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Trump added, "I mean, isn’t it amazing and terrible that a guy — a president — is put in that position?” Bonnie Kristian

See More Speed Reads