On Sunday, the Westboro Baptist Church — which is almost universally reviled for picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers and celebrities — confirmed that founder and longtime pastor Fred Phelps Sr. has some "health problems" and is in a care facility. Late Saturday, estranged son Nathan Phelps said on Facebook that his father is "on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas."
Nathan Phelps also informed the world outside of the insular church that his father "was ex-communicated from the 'church' back in August of 2013," adding in an email to The Topeka Capital-Journal that after his father was voted out of Westboro Baptist and moved from his residence above the church, he stopped eating and drinking. A second estranged son, Mark Phelps, confirmed the news from brother Nathan.
Westboro spokesman Steve Drain said that Nathan Phelps was "ill informed," denied that Fred Phelps is near death, and said that "we don't owe any talk to you about" internal church matters. Star Trek alumnus and social-media celebrity George Takei urged his 6.4 million Facebook followers to take the high road with Phelps' impending death: Don't "dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding 'God Hates Freds' signs, tempting as it may be." Westboro is most infamous for its "God Hates Fags" signs, and for suggesting that U.S. troops are dying because of America's tolerance for gays and lesbians. Peter Weber
Supreme Court Justices said Tuesday that they will weigh in on a dispute between unions and California teachers who are contesting public employees' requirement to pay union dues. The teachers believe that it's a violation of their First Amendment rights to be required to pay fees to a union if they disagree with its positions, or are not members of it.
As the 38-year-old law stands now, unions can require non-members to pay union dues for the purpose of collective bargaining costs, so long as those collected fees are not used for for political purposes. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the teachers, the power of public employee unions to collect fees would be limited, which union officials worry could weaken unions and jeopardize membership. Becca Stanek
Iran has converted "a substantial amount" of enriched uranium — a material that is crucial to the production of nuclear weapons — into a material that can't be used to make a bomb, the Associated Press reports. This reduction, which was "a key condition of a preliminary nuclear agreement" reached in November 2013, is expected to be officially announced Wednesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, diplomats tell the AP.
Today is the deadline for a more comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, although both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have agreed to extend the conversation as a deal draws nearer. An agreement would curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for world powers lifting economic sanctions against the country. Jeva Lange
More than 500 million fan votes have been cast for Major League Baseball's All-Star Game and the Kansas City Royals still dominate the American League field, with five players hanging on to spots — and that's knocked down from eight players two weeks ago.
— Jenna Pelter (@RedKillerr23) June 25, 2015
"Prepare for the apocalypse," the Washington Post warned yesterday. "We're one week closer to a Royals-vs.-the-National League Midsummer Classic."
A whole 40 million more votes have been cast for Kansas City players this year as compared to last. Bob Bowman, the president and CEO of MLB Advanced Media, told the Washington Post that, overall, 2015 could see the most votes ever cast for the All-Star Game.
Last week was very good for President Obama — and his approval rating reflects it. For the first time in more than two years, Obama has the approval of 50 percent of Americans, a new CNN/ORC poll finds. That's a five percentage point climb since the May CNN/ORC poll, when 45 percent approved of the president's work and 52 percent disapproved. This month, only 47 percent disapproved, which is the second time in two years that Obama's disapproval rating has fallen below 50 percent.
Obama's popularity bump follows a week in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of ObamaCare and same-sex marriage — two defining issues of Obama's presidency. The president also delivered what some are hailing as his most important and moving speech in years, when he gave the eulogy at Rev. Clementa Pinckney's funeral and then sang "Amazing Grace" on national television. Becca Stanek
Apple Music launches today, adding to a glut of hyped-up but not-so-revolutionary streaming services that have popped up over the last several years (Re/code has already deemed Apple's endeavor "rich, robust — but confusing"). However, give Apple credit where it's due: They've convinced many longtime skeptics of streaming to sign on (see: Taylor Swift, Dr. Dre).
But perhaps most exciting of all, infamous Luddites AC/DC have now announced their decision to join the world of streaming services.
AC/DC was one of the last major groups to go digital at all, only joining iTunes in 2012. Guitarist Angus Young has told Britain's Sky News in the past that the group was primarily concerned about listeners breaking up the albums when listening digitally — that is, picking and choosing tracks and singles rather than soaking up, say, Back in Black in all its collective glory.
Love "Highway to Hell" but still not convinced of Apple Music's merits? Not to worry: AC/DC will be bringing their rock 'n' roll train to Spotify and Rdio, too. Jeva Lange
France's chief public prosecutor has announced the country will pursue terrorism charges against Yassin Salhi, 35, the suspect accused of beheading his boss and attempting to blow up a gas plant last Friday. Salhi has claimed that the attack was unmotivated by his alleged connections to Islamist militants and instead the result of "personal problems," Reuters reports.
Last Friday, the head of Salhi's boss was discovered chained to a fence outside the plant and Islamist flags were also found at the site. Salhi is believed to have killed his boss during a delivery, then driven to the gas plant, where he was captured.
"Yassin Salhi beheaded his victim and pinned his head on the fence to seek maximum publicity for his act," Prosecutor Francois Molins said, citing similar executions performed by the Islamic State. Jeva Lange
On the final day of the fundraising quarter, Jeb Bush will reveal more than just how much money he's raised in his presidential campaign. He'll also offer the public a look into his personal finances. Bush's campaign confirmed Tuesday that the former Florida governor is poised to release 33 years of personal income tax returns, which Time reports is "a new record in American politics." Previous to Bush's upcoming release, former Sen. Bob Dole (R) held the record for his 1996 release of 30 years of tax returns.
Bush's release is intended to underscore his commitment to transparency. This will be the first time he has offered a glimpse into his finances in over a decade. Bush has since launched at least three private equity funds and joined multiple corporate boards — although he severed all official ties to them after entering the presidential race. Becca Stanek