FYI
March 27, 2014
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Until Congress banned the practice four years ago, the U.S. military used burn pits to dispose of military waste. Activists say these burn pits have led to early deaths, birth defects, and the environmental poisoning of Iraq. On Wednesday, members of the group Right to Heal gathered in Washington to ask for help for thousands of people they say are suffering ill effects caused by the dark smoke from burning paint, rubber tires, munitions, chemicals, plastics, and metals.

The health problems have reportedly hit both Iraqis and members of the U.S. military. Kristi Casteel's son, Joshua, died from lung cancer in 2012 at the age of 32. While serving as an interrogator in Iraq for the Army, he lived roughly 100 yards from a burn pit, Casteel told a Right to Heal meeting. "While very aware of the thick black clouds that covered the base every day, and experiencing symptoms of congestion, burning eyes, and nausea at times," she said, "he, like most all the other soldiers, just labeled their symptoms the 'Iraqi crud.'"

A 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine determined there wasn't enough data to conclude whether or not pollution from the pits could cause long-term health problems, but acknowledged that chemicals found at the Joint Base Balad pit could eventually cause respiratory, heart, kidney, and liver problems, plus anemia and cancer. Right to Heal wants the U.S. to pay reparations to civilians who lived near the pits, and to help with environmental cleanup efforts. Catherine Garcia

This just in
10:46 p.m. ET

Firefighters in Greeleyville, South Carolina, are battling a blaze at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, a black church that was set on fire 20 years ago by members of the KKK.

The Mount Zion AME Church is located about an hour away from Charleston. The cause of the fire is not yet known. Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, told The Post and Courier that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other federal agencies have been notified and are on their way to the scene.

This is the seventh black church in the south to catch on fire in recent weeks, with at least three cases known to be arson. Catherine Garcia

taking a stand
10:16 p.m. ET
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The Girl Scouts of Western Washington returned a $100,000 gift after the donor asked that the money "not be used to support transgender girls," the organization said.

The group was "thrilled" when they first received the donation, which would have provided financial support for 500 scouts. Once the donor sent a follow-up note with the request, the money was returned, and a new fundraising campaign was launched on Indiegogo, using the hashtag #ForEVERYgirl. "Girl Scouts empowers every girl regardless of her gender identity, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity [and] sexual orientation," the group said in a campaign video. "Every girl deserves access to a safe, friendly environment where she can stand up for what she believes in and be proud of who she is."

The message worked; in less than 24 hours, the Girl Scouts of Western Washington raised enough to replace the $100,000, and then some. Catherine Garcia

possible endorsement?
9:24 p.m. ET
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Cliven Bundy, the rancher who made headlines last year for not paying the $1 million in fines he owed to the Bureau of Land Management for letting his cattle graze on government-owned land, met privately with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Monday, and said he educated him on federal land oversight and states' rights.

"I don't think he really understood how land rights really work in the western United States," he told Politico. "I was happy to be able to sort of teach him." The Republican presidential candidate was in Mesquite, Nevada, to speak with supporters, and shared his thoughts on land rights. "I think almost all land use issues and animal issues, endangered species issues, ought to be handled at the state level," Paul said. "I think that the government shouldn't interfere with state decisions, so if a state decides to have medical marijuana or something like that, it should be respected as a state decision."

Bundy said he spoke with Paul for 45 minutes (Paul's spokesman told Politico he didn't have an scheduled meetings with any of the attendees, and didn't speak to anyone for 45 minutes) and disagreed with Paul over the actions of groups like American Lands Council, which uses litigation and legislation to get land from the federal government to give to states. "My stand is we are already a sovereign state," he said. "The federal government doesn't need to turn this land back to us. It's already state land."

Bundy became a conservative hero after the BLM came to impound his cattle as penalty for not paying the grazing fees, and hundreds of armed militia members came to his ranch to show their support. The tide turned after he made derogatory statements about "the negro," alluding that black people might have been better off under slavery. Once those comments were made public, former supporter Paul released a statement saying Bundy's "remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him." Catherine Garcia

This just in
9:19 p.m. ET
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The United States defeated Germany 2-0 Tuesday in a Women's World Cup semifinal game, and will now advance to Sunday's final in Vancouver. The team will go up against the winner of Wednesday's other semifinal match between England and Japan. Carli Lloyd scored during a penalty kick in the 69th minute, and Kelley O’Hara made another goal in the 85th minute. Going into the game, Germany was the top-ranked team in the competition. Catherine Garcia

fashion
7:55 p.m. ET
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Iconic American fashion designer Donna Karan is stepping down as chief designer of Donna Karan New York (DKNY), the company announced Tuesday.

Karan, 66, founded the fashion house in 1984, along with her late husband, Stephen Weiss, and Takiyaho Inc. In 2001, LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton invested hundreds of millions of dollars to grow DKNY into Donna Karan International, ABC News reports. While she will remain an adviser under a long-term agreement, Karan plans on spending more time on her Urban Zen foundation, which she founded in 2007 to improve health care treatment for patients and their families. It is not yet known who will take over as chief designer.

"Over the past three decades, Donna Karan has inspired women around the world to embrace their power and sensuality," DKNY said in a statement. "Donna Karan is an icon, visionary designer, and a passionate philanthropist. She believes in dressing and addressing women. Her impact on American fashion has been extraordinary and she will continue to influence and inspire for years to come." Catherine Garcia

Greek debt crisis
7:07 p.m. ET
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Greece missed the deadline to make a €1.6 billion payment to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, hours after European ministers rejected requests from the country to extend its bailout.

Greece is the first developed country to fail to repay a loan to the IMF. Once the eurozone bailout expired, Greece did not have access to billions of euros in funds, and was unable to make the IMF payment, the BBC reports. Eurogroup chairman and Dutch Finance Minister Jereon Dijsselbloem said that it was "crazy" for the Greek government to expect the bailout to extend past its midnight expiration, since the country did not want to go along with proposals from the European Commission, primarily to raise taxes and cut welfare spending.

On Tuesday night, thousands of protesters marched in Athens to urge the Greek parliament to vote "yes" in a referendum scheduled for Sunday on whether Greece should accept those proposals. Leaders in the EU have said a "no" vote would mean Greece leaving the eurozone. Catherine Garcia

This just in
6:27 p.m. ET
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On Wednesday, the United States and Cuba will announce an agreement to open embassies in each other's capitals, senior administration officials said Tuesday, formally reestablishing diplomatic relations between the two countries for the first time since 1961.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will share the news, officials said. Since Obama announced in December that he was working on normalizing relations with Cuba, the U.S. has removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and issued licenses for ferry and flight services between Florida and Cuba. Catherine Garcia

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