April 2, 2014

Charles H. Keating Jr., the infamous financier behind the biggest savings and loan disaster of the 1980s, died Tuesday. He was 90.

Keating ran the Phoenix-based American Continental Corp., in addition its subsidiary Lincoln Savings & Loan. Many of the depositors at Lincoln Savings & Loan, especially older savers and naive investors, were persuaded to cash in their federally insured deposits for $256 million worth of uninsured American Continental junk bonds. Keating was convicted in 1993 of swindling those customers and raiding the thrift. The failure of Lincoln Savings & Loan cost the government $3.4 billion.

It also tainted the political careers of the Keating Five — Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Donald Riegle (D-Mich.), and Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) — all significant recipients of Keating's campaign largesse who lobbied to get federal regulators off his back as Lincoln and American Continental teetered toward insolvency.

Keating's convictions were later overturned, and he pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud in Phoenix. He served four-and-a-half years in prison. While Keating is best known for the savings and loan disaster, he garnered attention in other ways earlier in life; he was a college swimming champion at the University of Cincinnati and an anti-pornography activist. Read more at The New York Times. --Catherine Garcia

6:26 a.m. ET
William Morrow via AP

Robert Pirsig, who wrote the unexpected bestseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) and just one other novel, 1991's Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals, died at his home in Maine on Monday, after a period of failing health, his publisher, William Morrow, announced. He was 88. Pirsig's 1974 cult classic, subtitled "An Inquiry Into Values," is a lightly fictionalized recounting of a 17-day motorcycle trip he took with his young son Chris and two other people in 1968, mixed with his philosophical musings on the tension between culture and counterculture, humans and machines, mind and body, and his own experience with schizophrenia.

Prisig was born in Minneapolis in 1928, and despite high intelligence, he was expelled from the University of Minnesota due to failing grades before serving in the Army before the Korean War. During a visit to Japan, he became interested, and then a lifelong adherent of, Zen Buddhism — though he said his novel should not be viewed as a guide to Zen, or motorcycles. He returned and earned degrees in journalism, studied philosophy, and traveled to India and elsewhere before teaching writing at Montana State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was turned down by 121 publishing houses before William Morrow took it.

The book made him wealthy, but he was so unnerved by the mostly young people showing up at his house in search of wisdom — his neighbors outside Minneapolis called them "Pirsig's Pilgrims" — that he hit the road with his wife and family, eventually settling down in Maine. He struggled to understand why his novel hit such a nerve. "I was just telling my own story," he said. "I expressed what I thought were my prime thoughts," he added, "and they turned out to be the prime thoughts of everybody else." Pirsig is survived by his wife, Wendy, son Ted, daughter Nell Peiken and her husband, Matthew Peiken, and three grandchildren; his son Chris died after being stabbed in a mugging in 1979. Peter Weber

5:16 a.m. ET
Jonathan Ernst/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. and its NATO allies have been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan since soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, though the mission officially changed to training the Afghan army and police a few years ago. On Monday, Defense Secretary James Mattis made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to assess the situation as President Trump decides whether to send more troops to help quash a resurgent Taliban. Mattis and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, strongly suggested that Russia is behind a flood of arms to the Taliban.

The U.S. will have to "confront Russia" over "denying the sovereignty of other countries," including Afghanistan, Mattis said at a news conference in Kabul on Monday. "For example, any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law." When asked if he wanted to refute reports that Russia is arming the Taliban, Nicholson said, "Oh no, I'm not refuting that," adding that the U.S. has continued to receive such reports of Russian assistance to the Islamist insurgents.

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the U.S. covertly supplied arms to the Afghan mujahideen resistance, which eventually caused enough loss of Russian blood and treasure that Soviet Russia pulled out in 1988. The loss in Afghanistan has been credited as a significant cause of the Soviet Union's fall in 1991. Peter Weber

4:30 a.m. ET

This Saturday, President Trump will reach 100 days in office, "and boy, it sure seems longer," Stephen Colbert said on Monday's Late Show. Trump hasn't accomplished any of his big goals, "but — and it's a big but — he did sign a law making it easier for mentally ill people to buy guns and for hibernating bears to be hunted," Colbert noted. "So he took care of his base: insane people who want to murder Yogi." Trump dismissed the 100 days frame in a tweet, taking credit for "S.C." — which might refer to a Supreme Court confirmation, or, Colbert noted, Stephen Colbert. "I gotta say, Donald Trump has done a lot for me in the first 100 days. Thank you for your service, Mr. President."

In wide-ranging and often "unintelligible" interview with The Associated Press — "Sixteen times it's just unintelligible," Colbert said. "Are they not allowed follow-up questions — for instance: 'Huh?'" — Trump also "crowed about what he believes his biggest accomplishment has been so far," TV ratings, in granular detail. Seriously, "nothing matters to Trump more than ratings," Colbert said. He's even said he won't fire Press Secretary Sean Spicer because he gets as many viewers as a soap opera and everyone tunes in. "It's true: You can't tear your eyes away from Sean Spicer; it's like watching a car crash that knows nothing about the Holocaust," Colbert said. And "clearly, Sean Spicer is a soap opera — that explains why his character is constantly getting amnesia."

There's one more thing Trump may accomplish by Day 100 of his administration: a government shutdown on Day 99. Trump has been insisting that Congress include money for his Mexico border wall in a must-pass spending bill, "which may kill the bill and make the United States financially insolvent — so, Trump really is running the country like one of his businesses," Colbert said. Trump appears to know the risks, because he tweeted about the importance of the wall — with a sizable time gap in the middle of his sentence. "How is he going to #BuildTheWall when it takes him three hours to #BuildASentence?" Colbert asked. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:46 a.m. ET

On Monday, the U.S. State Department took down an article published earlier in April that read like promotional material for Mar-a-Lago, President Trump's private club in Florida. "The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders," said the State Department's ShareAmerica site, where the article was posted April 4 before making its way onto the official websites of American embassies abroad. The U.S. government seemingly promoting the president's private business did not sit well with Democrats, government ethicists, and many other Americans, but former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a Trump backer, found a way to blame former President Barack Obama on CNN Monday night.

Van Jones started things off, calling the post "outright kleptocracy, as far as I can tell." Conservatives should be outraged, he added. "This is an ad. I mean, you would pay a billion dollars for this ad, it's on the State Department's thing." Kingston said he was "outraged," too, adding, "I also want to point out, this is actually part of a $72 million clickbait campaign that the State Department had previous engaged in, it was not done under the Trump administration, and it's part of what they're trying to ferret out, the waste in government." Political analyst Ana Navarro pointed out how ridiculous he was sounding that the Mar-a-Lago post was clearly done under Trump, and Kingston replied: "You forced me into reminding you, this was left over from the Obama administration — I tried not to say that."

After pushback from CNN's Jake Tapper, Jones, Navarro, and political analysts Rebecca Berg and David Gergen, Kingston shifted to blaming a "low-level blogger" and the bureaucracy. "Look, I'm going to agree with Van — it sounded like a real estate ad, it was stupid, it was taken down immediately for that reason, I don't think it should be up, I'm in agreement with you on that," he said. "But I'm saying the bureaucracy does all kinds of silly and stupid things." Gergen shot that down.

2:47 a.m. ET
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Last August, former Fox News anchor Andrea Tantaros filed suit against her erstwhile employer, memorably alleging that despite Fox News' promotion of traditional family values on air, "behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny." That suit is in arbitration, but on Monday, Tantaros reached into popular culture again to allege in a new federal lawsuit that after she accused since-ousted Fox News chief Roger Ailes of sexually harassing her in 2015, the network hacked her personal laptop and cyberstalked her using "sock-puppet" social media accounts, like on an episode of Homeland.

Fox News sent operatives to install surveillance software on her computer, monitored her phone conversations, and then used the private information it gleaned about her to "intimidate, terrorize, and crush her career through an endless stream of lewd, offensive, and career-damaging social media posts, blog entries, and commentary," according to Tarantos' lawsuit. Her lawyer, Judd Burstein, said it amounted to "cyberstalking on steroids," with the network having "harassed her through sock-puppet social media accounts which conveyed the illegal fruits of their electronic surveillance of her. It was in essence two crimes committed at the same time."

Fox News, thorough its lawyers, said the network and its executives "flatly deny that they conducted any electronic surveillance of Ms. Tantaros" and "have no knowledge of the anonymous or pseudonymous tweets described in her complaint." Susan Estrich, a lawyer for Ailes, said the new suit has no merit and called it another "obvious attempt to get publicity." Burstein noted that News International, a news organization that, like Fox News, is owned by the Murdoch family, faced a damaging phone-hacking scandal in Britain in 2011. Alies and Fox News star Bill O'Reilly were both fired, with generous severance packages, following multiple sexual harassment allegations. Peter Weber

1:36 a.m. ET
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On Monday, President Trump told reporters from Breitbart News and other conservative outlets that his administration is slapping punitive tariffs of up to 24 percent on softwood lumber imports from Canada, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed the news, saying the Commerce Department has determined that such countervailing duties are necessary because Canada subsidizes its softwood lumber industry. The tariffs, ranging from 3 percent to 24.1 percent, will be retroactive for 90 days. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr jointly denounced what it called the "baseless and unfounded" subsidy accusations, and said Canada will take legal action against the "unfair and punitive duty."

Canada and the U.S. have been sparring over lumber imports since the 1800s, and the current dispute dates back to the early 1980s. The current Commerce Department review was started under the Obama administration, after a truce negotiated under the George W. Bush administration expired. The Trump administration has been hampered in its negotiations for a new deal with Canada by its lack of a chief trade negotiator. Ross said his department had decided to levy tariffs on the merits, but also because of Trump's new interest in Canadian trade disputes, specifically citing Trump being moved by complaints from Wisconsin dairy farmers he met last week. "What we are doing is dealing with another bad act on the part of the Canadians," Ross told The Washington Post.

The preliminary tariffs are subject to approval from the independent U.S. International Trade Commission, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection can start collecting the duties immediately. Softwood lumber is Canada's fourth-largest export to the U.S., accounting for $5.8 billion in sales last year, and among those opposed to the punitive duties is the U.S. homebuilding industry. Last year, the National Association of Home Builders said that a 15 percent tariff would raise the price of U.S. homes by 4.2 percent, costing 4,666 full-time jobs. The U.S. lumber industry says Canadian timber harvest prices cost U.S. jobs, too. Peter Weber

1:35 a.m. ET
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News host who left cable for network television and a gig at NBC, will be back on the air this June with a Sunday night program.

Kelly made the switch to NBC in January, but long exit negotiations with Fox News prevented her from debuting her show earlier. The program does not have a title yet, but it is being touted as a newsmagazine; it will air the same night as CBS's powerhouse 60 Minutes. Kelly will also have a morning show that is expected to replace an hour of Today, slated to launch this fall, The New York Times reports. Catherine Garcia

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