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
Sikh actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia announced on his Instagram account Monday that he was not allowed to board an Aeroméxico flight from Mexico City to New York City because of his turban.
"Dear NYC fashion week," he posted. "I may be a little late as @aeromexico won't let me fly with a turban. Don't start the show without me. #lovenotfear #fearisanopportunitytoeducate." The Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund has released a statement saying it is "disappointed and concerned" that Ahluwalia was asked to take his turban off before boarding the flight. "The turban is an integral part of a Sikh's identity and removal in public is akin to a strip search," the organization said. "The security personnel involved in this debacle owe Mr. Ahluwalia an apology and must be trained in cultural and religious awareness."
Ahluwalia appeared in a 2013 Gap advertisement, the first time a Sikh model was showcased in a nationwide ad campaign, NBC News reports, and has a popular jewelry line, House of Waris. Aeroméxico has not commented on the incident. Catherine Garcia
Four people were injured when the Anthem of the Seas encountered a severe storm off of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on Sunday. The mega ship was sailing to Port Canaveral, Florida, when it hit rough waters, and on Monday, Royal Caribbean announced the ship would be returning to Cape Liberty Cruise Port in New Jersey.
— Bill Ritter (@billritter7) February 9, 2016
The Anthem of the Seas suffered damage to some public areas and cabins, but "remains seaworthy," Royal Caribbean announced, and the injuries sustained are not serious. On Sunday afternoon, passengers were told to stay in their rooms, and they were given updates every hour by the captain or the cruise director. Off the Carolina coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded a 76 mph gust of wind and waves of 30 feet high, CNN reports. Passengers said on Twitter their stateroom televisions reported winds clocking in at 120 to 150 mph.
— Brian Sozzi (@BrianSozzi) February 8, 2016
The Anthem of the Seas was scheduled to go on a seven-day voyage to the Bahamas. Royal Caribbean announced passengers will receive a full refund, plus half off the fare of a future cruise. Catherine Garcia
A new U.N. report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that the Syrian government is executing civilian detainees on a massive scale, in addition to killing and torturing Islamic State and Nusra Front prisoners.
The commission is calling on the Security Council to impose "targeted sanctions" against high-ranking civilian and military officials, Reuters reports. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention" covers March 10, 2011, to Nov. 30, 2015, with interviews from 621 witnesses and survivors. Thousands of people, mostly civilian men, have been killed, tortured, starved, and denied medical treatment, and chairman Paulo Pinheiro said "prison officials, their superiors throughout the hierarchy, high-ranking officials in military hospitals, and the military police corps as well as government were aware that deaths on a massive scale were occurring. Thus we concluded there were reasonable grounds…to believe that the conduct described amounts to extermination as a crime against humanity."
Investigators repeatedly asked for access to detention facilities, but were denied. The high-ranking officers are "individually criminally liable," investigators said, and a list of suspected war criminals from all sides and units is kept in a U.N. safe in Geneva. Raneem Matouq, the daughter of a prominent attorney who went missing in 2012, says she was held in a Damascus facility after peacefully protesting as a student. She described the conditions there as deplorable: There was hardly any food, the prison was infested with insects, detainees could only use an outdoor toilet three times a day, and there were dead bodies in different areas. Catherine Garcia
For months, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been promoting a very specific and outlandish strategy to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the U.S. As president, he says often, he'd simply build a wall along the entire Mexican-American border. It would be funded by the Mexican government, Trump claims.
Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón doesn't think his country would be down with that plan, CNBC reports.
"Mexican people, we are not going to pay any single cent for such a stupid wall," he said. "And it's going to be completely useless."
Calderón suggested a wall wouldn't help the U.S., serving instead to hinder the country's trading. It's an idea, he said, that came from a "not very well-informed man." Julie Kliegman
After reports surfaced in January that Michael Bloomberg was considering an independent presidential run, the former New York City mayor confirmed the possibility himself to the Financial Times on Monday.
"I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters," Bloomberg said, adding that the public deserves "a lot better."
Bloomberg, who The New York Times reported would sink up to $1 billion of his own money into a campaign, told FT he'd need to start getting his name on ballots in March.
"I'm listening to what candidates are saying and what the primary voters appear to be doing," he said. Julie Kliegman
There is trouble in Hillaryland: According to anonymous sources who spoke with Politico, Hillary Clinton is frustrated with her campaign staff — and vice versa. With the too-close-for-comfort win over Bernie Sanders in Iowa and a New Hampshire victory for the Vermont senator on the horizon, Clinton is reportedly looking to reassess the staff at her Brooklyn headquarters sooner rather than later.
One source who is close with both Hillary and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said, "The Clintons are not happy, and have been letting all of us know that. The idea is that we need a more forward-looking message, for the primary — but also for the general election too… There's no sense of panic, but there is an urgency to fix these problems right now."
There is dissatisfaction among Clinton's staffers, too:
Over the summer while her campaign was bogged down in the email controversy, Clinton was deeply frustrated with her own staff, and vice versa. The candidate blamed her team for not getting her out of the mess quickly, and her team blamed Clinton for being stubbornly unwilling to take the advice of campaign chairman John Podesta and others to apologize, turn over her server, and move on. The entire experience made her a deeply vulnerable frontrunner out of the gate, and underscored a lack of trust between Clinton and her operatives, many of whom were former Obama staffers that she didn't consider part of her inner circle of trust.
Her advisers were also frustrated by having to play roles they hadn't been hired for and were ill-suited for. From the beginning, [the campaign's top pollster and strategist Joel] Benenson was frustrated that he was forced to split his time between defending his boss on emails and defining a path for her candidacy. Clinton, meanwhile, longed for a chief strategist in the Mark Penn mold who could take on a more expansive role than playing pollster. [Politico]
Canada will stop its airstrikes on the Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq by Feb. 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday.
"As I said many times throughout the campaign in my commitment to Canadians, this is a non-combat mission," he said.
Trudeau, who took office in November, added that airstrikes don't help local communities attain long-term stability. Instead, he'll up military personnel in the region and train more local forces, The Washington Post reports.
The Pentagon has said it respects Trudeau's decision to halt strikes, but did not invite Canada's defense minister to recent meetings the U.S.-led coalition held in Paris. Julie Kliegman