March 16, 2014

Despite warnings from the United States and its allies that they would not recognize the outcome of the referendum, Crimean voters on Sunday voted almost unanimously to break away from Ukraine and join Russia. Preliminary tallies showed more than nine in ten voters backed a union with Moscow, according to multiple reports.

The U.S. maintained that the election was illegal and illegitimate, siding with the interim Ukrainian government that has taken over since the country ousted pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovich. And with Russian troops already positioned in Crimea, there's reason to wonder just how fair such a tectonic vote could be.

But talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart on Friday proved fruitless — Kerry said there was no "common vision" between the two sides — with Russia refusing to recognize the interim government in Kiev as legitimate. Then on Saturday, Russia vetoed a proposed U.N. resolution that would have rejected the outcome of the referendum.

In a phone call with President Obama Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the vote, saying the election was "completely in line with the norms of international law." Jon Terbush

12:34 p.m. ET
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Facebook is rolling out software Wednesday that scans users' posts to identify language indicating suicidal or harmful thoughts, BuzzFeed News reports. In cases where indicative language is found, the software alerts Facebook's community team for review and can send a message with suicide-prevention resources to the flagged user, including options such as contacting a helpline or a friend.

The decision to implement the software follows a number of suicides that have been broadcast on Facebook Live over the past several months. Facebook says its program is actually even better at recognizing the warning signs of suicide and self-harm than real people are. "The AI is actually more accurate than the reports that we get from people that are flagged as suicide and self-injury," product manager Vanessa Callison-Burchold told BuzzFeed News. "The people who have posted that content [that AI reports] are more likely to be sent resources of support versus people reporting to us."

Facebook is only alerted by its AI in situations that are "very likely to be urgent," Callison-Burchold added. Facebook has also made "suicide or self-injury" a more prominent option for users when reporting a post or video. "In suicide prevention, sometimes timing is everything," explained Dr. John Draper, a project director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has partnered with Facebook.

"There is this opportunity here for people to reach out and provide support for that person they're seeing, and for that person who is using [Facebook Live] to receive this support from their family and friends who may be watching," Facebook researcher Jennifer Guadagno told BuzzFeed News. "In this way, Live becomes a lifeline." Jeva Lange

12:26 p.m. ET
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The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Trump's pick to lead the Department of the Interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke, by a vote of 68-31.

Zinke, a Montana Republican and former Navy SEAL, will be charged with overseeing federal land and national parks and determining where and how fossil fuel drilling can occur. During his confirmation hearing, Zinke acknowledged that climate change was occurring but demurred on how much of that change is due to human activity.

The Interior Department also oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which handles some relations with Native Americans regarding tribal lands. Kimberly Alters

11:02 a.m. ET

President Trump gave a well-received address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, in his first major speech to lawmakers as president. The first month of Trump's presidency has been riddled with turmoil, from a rash of hasty executive orders to personnel disarray and criticism from lawmakers in his own party. But in a sharp break from his usual ominous rhetoric, Trump on Tuesday struck a more optimistic tone — and Republican leaders have seized on the moment to praise their president and rally around the man behind the presidential lectern.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — who differs from Trump in his views on infrastructure spending and paid family leave, both policies Trump touted in his Tuesday remarks — called Trump's address a "home run":

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) praised Trump's "vision for America," which he said "does not distinguish between race, religion, or economic status." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted the president's "new spirit of optimism" and his desire to reposition America "for success both at home and in a dangerous world." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a major adversary of Trump's during the presidential campaign, called Trump's Tuesday performance "truly presidential":

Trump, known for tweeting his feelings regarding early morning news reports, seems pleased with the responses so far. Kimberly Alters

10:34 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump wants to give Defense Secretary James Mattis greater control over launching anti-terrorist operations, multiple U.S. officials told The Daily Beast. Trump's decision to pass off some of his power as commander-in-chief would give Mattis more freedom to make quicker decisions over missions, a reversal from the lengthy and cautious approval process employed by former President Barack Obama. Though U.S. commanders already have the authority to make decisions about launching operations in declared war zones, making calls outside of those pre-determined spaces or "in ungoverned or unstable places" like Libya or Yemen can require approval from as far up the chain of command as the Oval Office:

Trump officials believe loosening the permissions process can help turn up the heat against ISIS — and counterterrorist-focused agencies like the military's Joint Special Operations Command are lining up new targets in anticipation of more numerous and more rapid approvals.

One model being considered is pre-delegating authority to Mattis on extremely sensitive operations like hostage rescues; for raids or drone strikes against pre-approved targets, that authority could be pushed much further down the chain of command — all the way down to the three-star general who runs JSOC. If his teams spot a target that's already on the White House approved high value target list, the elite force will be able to move into action, informing the national security apparatus of the operation but not having to wait for permission. [The Daily Beast]

The Daily Beast's report reflects the Trump administration's pledge to intensify the fight against the Islamic State, as well as the president's expressed interest in operating "more like the CEO he was in the private sector in such matters." However, The Daily Beast pointed out the change might give Mattis and others "pause," after Trump's first authorized raid in January, which targeted al Qaeda militants in Yemen, resulted in the death of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens in addition to possibly dozens of others.

Though Trump has repeatedly defended the Yemen mission as a success, he was quick to pass responsibility for its occurrence on military leaders. Rather than own the operation as the nation's commander-in-chief, Trump in an interview Tuesday said the mission "was started before I got here" and put the burden on military officials. "My generals are the most respected that we've had in many decades," Trump said, "and they lost Ryan." For more on Trump's potential changes to military protocol, head to The Daily Beast. Becca Stanek

10:20 a.m. ET

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed above 21,000 for the first time ever Wednesday, following President Trump's well-received address Tuesday to a joint session of Congress. Goldman Sachs contributed most of Wednesday's gains, which saw the Dow jump 200 points en route to breaking the record.

Wednesday's high follows the Dow hitting 20,000 for the first time Jan. 25, five days after Trump's inauguration, and is just the latest development for the fourth-longest bull market in the Dow's 120-year history. "While it's understandable that these things take time to plan and implement properly, markets have been way ahead of the game since Trump's victory and there comes a time when we need to know exactly what they're rallying on," Craig Erlam, a senior market analyst at trading information company Oanda, told CNBC.

The Dow bottomed out at 6547.05 in March 2009, following the housing crisis. Jeva Lange

9:43 a.m. ET

A United Nations panel has determined that the forced evacuation of eastern Aleppo in December was a war crime, The Associated Press reports. The panel wrote that because the "warring parties agreed to the evacuation of eastern Aleppo for strategic reasons — and not for the security of civilians or imperative military necessity, which permit the displacement of thousands — the Aleppo evacuation agreement amounts to the war crime of forced displacement."

Over 1,000 people were bused out of the region. "Reporters described seeing people sleeping in the streets in freezing conditions with little or no food," the BBC wrote, as delays plagued evacuation plans. The buses entered Aleppo under the supervision of the international Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent; Turkey and Russia brokered the ceasefire between the Syrian regime and rebels to allow for the evacuations to take place.

The U.N.'s panel, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, also criticized "a particularly egregious attack" in September when Syrian warplanes targeted an aid convoy. Jeva Lange

9:33 a.m. ET

The rates of colorectal cancer have been steadily dropping for people born before 1950, but a sharp rise in colon and especially rectal cancer in people in their 20s and 30s has doctors worried and flummoxed. On Tuesday, researchers with the American Cancer Society published a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute estimating that Americans under 50 will be hit with 13,500 new cases of colon and rectal cancers this year, a growing percentage of the some 95,000 colon cancer and 40,000 rectal cancer diagnoses among all ages.

"People born in 1990, like my son, have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer" as someone born in 1950 at the same age, epidemiologist Rebecca Siegel, the lead author of the study, tells The New York Times. Worse, "they carry the risk forward with them as they age." The analysis is the largest and most detailed to date of colorectal cancer incidence, and it found a 1-2.4 percent increase in colon cancer rates among people 20 to 39 every year since the mid-1980s, versus a 0.5-1.3 percent annual increase in adults 40 to 54 and a decline among people 55 and older. The rates for rectal cancer are worse, rising by 3.2 percent a year for Americans in their 20s from 1974 to 2013.

Colorectal cancer is hard to diagnose from external factors — the symptoms, when they are present, include things like prolonged diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain, bloody stools, or other digestive ailments. Colonoscopies aren't encouraged (or generally covered by health insurance) until age 50, and less invasive or cheaper tests are still not on par. Doctors have some theories about why colorectal cancer cases are rising sharply in younger people — risk factors including obesity, sedentary lifestyle, heavy alcohol use, and certain chronic illnesses that are on the rise — but "the honest truth is nobody knows 100 percent why there is an increase," said Dr. Mohamed E. Salem at Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University, who says 60 percent of his patients are younger than him, and he's 42. You can read more about the worrisome mystery at The New York Times, or learn more in the CBS News report below. Peter Weber

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