Drivers in a cash-strapped suburb of Houston will soon be charged a "crash tax" if they get into an accident. The new fee will range from $500 to $2,000, depending on the severity of the accident, and will be used to cover the cost of sending police, paramedics, and fire trucks to the scene. "Don't we pay them to do that already?" asked local motorist Meredith Johnson.
A firefighter from San Diego died Thursday while fighting the Thomas Fire in Southern California, the state's fourth-largest fire in modern history.
Fire officials did not reveal his name or details about how he died. The Thomas Fire started Dec. 4 in Santa Paula, and quickly spread to the southwest and northwest. It is now at 242,500 acres, having moved from Ventura County to Santa Barbara County, and has destroyed more than 900 homes. It's been fueled by dry winds, which have died down for now but are expected to kick back up starting Friday.
The fire is only 30 percent contained, and fire officials said they do not expect it to be fully out until Jan. 7. Fire behavior analyst Tom Chavez told the Los Angeles Times the blaze is "60 miles long and 40 miles wide. There's a lot of fire out there." Catherine Garcia
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is adamant that war with North Korea is becoming more likely every day. "If nothing changes, [President] Trump's gonna have to use the military option, because time is running out," Graham told The Atlantic on Thursday. He additionally said he thinks there is a 30 percent chance that the U.S. launches a preemptive strike on North Korea — and that the odds would spike to 70 percent if North Korea conducts another missile test.
To his credit, Graham — who has become a frequent golfing partner of the president's — is sober about the consequences of war on the Korean peninsula. Graham told The Atlantic that conflict with North Korea would be an "all-out war" that would necessitate regime change and the removal of nuclear weapons. "There is no surgical strike option," he said. "I am literally willing to put hundreds of thousands of people at risk, knowing that millions and millions of people will be at risk if we don't [stop North Korea]."
Still, Graham believes that there is hope for a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis, if China removes Kim Jong Un from power or cuts off North Korea's economy and access to oil. The senator also supported negotiating with North Korea "without a whole lot of preconditions," which was suggested by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, though the White House shot down the idea Wednesday.
"I'm not taking anything off the table to avoid a war," Graham said. "When they write the history of the times, I don't want them to say, 'Hey, Lindsey Graham wouldn't even talk to that guy.'" Read more on Graham's North Korea concerns at The Atlantic. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Buying chips from a vending machine is so 2017. In 2018, buying a car with the push of a button is where it's at.
Alibaba, a massive online retailer often referred to as the "Amazon of China," unveiled a video concept of its "Auto Vending Machine" on Wednesday. It's an attempt to simplify car buying, letting users browse, test drive and buy a car in a matter of minutes.
Oh, and it's also shaped like a cat.
The car-buying process starts with Alibaba's Taobao app. When customers spot a car they like on the street, they scan it on the app, customize the vehicle's color, and pick it up at their nearest vending machine for a test drive, per TechCrunch. After test driving for three days, shoppers can either buy the car or test something else.
This video breaks down the process:
Alibaba will open its first two test-drive centers in China next month, and aims to install more across the country in 2018. Who knows what wallet-altering decisions you’ll be able to make on a whim next? Kathryn Krawczyk
A group of 3,000 golden retrievers from across the U.S. are taking "good dog" to a whole new level. Their checkups could help scientists beat canine cancer.
These golden retrievers are enrolled in the Morris Animal Foundation's Golden Retriever Lifetime study, the U.S.'s largest veterinary study ever. It researches what increases the risk of dogs developing cancer and other health problems, and ultimately aims to help dogs live longer, healthier lives.
More than half of golden retrievers end up with cancer, the foundation reports, so that's why they're the specified subjects in this study.
These good dogs need a little human help to make a difference, though. Dog owners keep track of what their pups eat, when they sleep, if they spend time on a lawn with pesticides, and more. They also have to take their dogs for annual checkups, collecting and shipping off hair and body fluid specimen to be studied.
No big health discoveries have come out of the study since it started in 2012, The Washington Post notes. But the research has uncovered that about a quarter of the retrievers frequently eat grass, 39 percent swim weekly — and 100 percent of them are adorable. Kathryn Krawczyk
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) may not be long for Washington. HuffPost and Politico both reported that many Capitol Hill insiders believe Ryan intends to retire at the end of his term, ideally after he passes some of his personal legislative priorities — like, say, a tax overhaul bill and entitlement reform.
While Ryan told Politico's Jake Sherman on Thursday that he doesn't have any plans to leave Congress, he did admit that "passage of tax reform would be a high note" to leave on. Meanwhile, HuffPost reported that the House's conservative wing is worried that Ryan would make compromises with congressional Democrats that they would find intolerable in order to secure his legislative "white whale."
Additionally, conservative members of the House have already considered filing a motion to vacate the speakership, Politico reports, which could happen "as soon as next month." Should that fate befall Ryan, it would be similar to the plight of his predecessor, former Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who retired from Congress rather than have his speakership usurped in a coup d'etat by conservative members of the House.
Ryan has long claimed that the speakership was "not a job I ever wanted in the first place." Still, not everyone is happy about rumors of Ryan putting down his gavel. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) told Politico: "I just think that any talk of him leaving, I hope that's not true. It would be a major setback for our cause."
American fighter jets on Thursday intercepted Russian planes in disputed Syrian airspace, MSNBC reported, the latest escalation of tensions between American and Russian forces in the region. MSNBC's Hans Nichols reported that the U.S. planes fired warning flares at two Russian fighter jets as they approached airspace the U.S Air Force claims to control.
American and Russian warplanes have had several tense encounters in Syria this year. Nichols speculated that this latest action shows that the U.S. "is no longer willing to abide" the Russian incursions into its claimed airspace, which have been "testing American resolve." Russian officials claim they are simply trying to launch airstrikes on the Islamic State.
While Nichols claims the incident occurred Thursday, Fox News reported the encounter happened Wednesday. Additionally, the details of Nichols' report are very similar to an incident reported by RT on Dec. 9 in which Russian officials claimed that the U.S. intercepted and shot warning flares at Russian fighter jets who were trying to bomb an ISIS base.
In June, Russia warned the U.S. that it would treat American aircraft as "targets" after American jets shot down a Syrian warplane. Last week, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial withdrawal of Russian troops in Syria, but the U.S. — which has about 2,000 troops of its own in the country — has remained skeptical that the Russian troop withdrawal will be significant. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold (Texas) will retire in 2019 at the end of his congressional term, local ABC affiliate Newscenter 25 reported Thursday. NBC News confirmed the report, citing two unnamed GOP officials familiar with Farenthold's thinking.
Farenthold has recently come under fire for using vulgar insults to address staffers with whom he was angry, and a New York Times investigation depicted the lawmaker's office as a "hostile work environment, rife with sexual innuendo." Farenthold's improper conduct was first revealed by Politico's report earlier this month that Farenthold had used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Farenthold has denied the allegations. He had initially planned to run for re-election next year, but instead will reportedly retire in January 2019, when his current term ends. Kimberly Alters