September 19, 2015

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden may be in isolation in Russia, but that didn't stop him from calling into Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk podcast via robot video link Friday. The two science nerds discussed a wide range of topics — including alien life forms.

Snowden described how aliens could be communicating with us this very second, even though we have no clue it's happening:

So if you have an an alien civilization trying to listen for other civilizations, or our civilization trying to listen for aliens, there's only one small period in the development of their society when all of their communication will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means. So when we think about everything that we're hearing through our satellites or everything that they're hearing from our civilization (if there are indeed aliens out there), all of their communications are encrypted by default. So what we are hearing, that's actually an alien television show or you know a phone indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation. [StarTalk]

Mind. Blown.

Snowden also spoke openly about dropping out of high school, enlisting in the military, and getting skeptical about U.S. programs. Listen to the full interview below. Julie Kliegman

2:15 a.m. ET
Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

Malaysian police say there have been attempts to break into the morgue where the body of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is being held.

Nine days ago, after he said a woman sprayed chemicals in his face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Kim Jong Nam died from a seizure on his way to the hospital. Authorities investigating his death announced Tuesday they want to question a senior North Korean diplomat and a man linked to Air Koryo, the state airline in North Korea, and police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said it's "strongly believed" that four suspects left Malaysia on the day Kim died and fled to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. He added that police know the identities of the attempted morgue raiders, but declined to name them.

Police have arrested four people in connection with Kim's death — a Vietnamese woman, a Malaysian man, a North Korean man, and an Indonesian woman who claimed she was tricked into participating in an attack against Kim. Khalid says this isn't true, and the suspects all practiced the operation in public spaces. The incident has strained ties between North Korea and Malaysia, one of just a few countries that has open relations with Pyongyang. Catherine Garcia

2:13 a.m. ET
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President Trump's decision to put his chief political strategist, former Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon, on the National Security Council's principals committee (while demoting the director of national intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) disturbed a lot of people, because the top-tier NSC committee is meant to be an apolitical decision center and because of Bannon's own controversial views on war, race, and religion, plus his lack of national security experience.

On Facebook and in email chains, people who think Bannon's seat on the NSC is a grave mistake are being urged to call Senate Homeland Security Committee members, asking them not to approve Bannon's promotion. "The Senate Committee on Homeland Security is taking calls about Steve Bannon’s appointment to the National Security Council (NSC)," the email says, and "we're told that they're tallying calls." This may not be "fake news" — maybe the Homeland Security Committee is tallying calls, and it never hurts to call your senator or sign a petition to express your views — but Bannon almost certainly doesn't need Senate confirmation to sit on the NSC principals committee.

Congress has the power to change that, and a group of Democratic senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee has introduced a bill that would effectively remove Bannon from the NSC. So Bannon critics could call the GOP senators on that committee to urge a vote on the Strengthening Oversight of National Security Act, but even if the GOP-controlled Senate and House passed such a law, they would need a two-thirds supermajority to overcome Trump's likely veto.

The only realistic path to getting Bannon off the NSC in the near term is for new national security adviser H.R. McMaster to push hard for his removal. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said McMaster will have "full authority to structure the national security team as he wants," and if he wanted to excise Bannon from the principals committee, "with something like that, he would come to the president and make that recommendation," and "the president would take that under serious consideration." If it's true that Trump's wasn't fully aware he was putting Bannon on the NSC, maybe he'd even say yes. Peter Weber

1:19 a.m. ET
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By now, the elephants, antelopes, and zebras know the sound of the water truck, and wait patiently as their dry waterhole is replenished with what Patrick Kilonzo Mwalau calls a "very precious commodity."

Mwalau is the founder of Tsavo Volunteers, which brings water to parched areas of Tsavo, Kenya, where animals are desperate for a drink. Heavy rains aren't expected until November, and at least four times a week, Mwalau and his team rent trucks that deliver 12,000 liters of water to two different watering holes 27 miles away. Each truck costs $250, and Mwalau has started a GoFundMe to help with the costs. "We have many elephants concentrating in very few water holes, fighting to drink water, and this has made the smaller elephants lacking water," Mwalau, known as the "Elephant Guardian," wrote on the GoFundMe page. "They become very thirsty and they end up spending a lot of time and energy walking very far distances with young ones searching for water."

Donations have started to stream in, and permanent solutions are now possible. "Elephants are becoming endangered from poaching and we need to save the ones we have left by providing water for them until the drought peril is over," Mwalau said. Catherine Garcia

12:27 a.m. ET

President Trump had a big weekend, and Jimmy Fallon's caricature of the 45th president laid out the highlights on Tuesday's Tonight Show. "In case you didn't hear the news, I'll tell you now: I shot four under par, my best golf score yet," he said. "But that's not what the fake news media reported on, so it's time for me to take matters into my own, abnormally gigantic hands. The only way to ensure that the news you're watching isn't fake is if I'm the one delivering it, which is why I'm starting the Trump News Network." With a snap of his fingers, Fallon's Trump was behind the TNN anchor desk.

The first Trump news story was about the super-real attack in Sweden. (Just ask Sweden!) "Nextly, President Me just announced his pick for national security adviser, H.R. McMaster," Fallon's Trump said. "Now normally when I'm talking to H.R. it's because one of my female employees is threatening to sue, but now H.R. is going to stand for Huge Ratings." His next segment was on sports, touting a "new study" that "finds that golf is totally work." After a brief weather report from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Jo Firestone), Trump ditched today's fake stories for tomorrow's, hitting his "Bad Things Button." It created some bad news for Finland, if you can believe it. You can watch Fallon's borderline too-close-to-reality-for-parody TNN rollout below. Peter Weber

February 21, 2017

Fielding questions from her constituents for a whole 45 minutes wore down Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) on Tuesday, causing her to flee and the audience to roar.

Ernst was in the tiny town of Maquoketa, population 6,062, for a roundtable with veterans. When she arrived at city hall, slipping through a side door, she found 100 people crammed inside the room, CNN reports, with dozens more filling the hallways and atrium. The microphone being used by constituents repeatedly cut in and out, frustrating people in the room who couldn't hear what was being said, and Ernst only took one question from a non-veteran, a man who asked her about the Affordable Care Act. When she uttered the words "health savings accounts," Ernst was met with a chorus of boos.

The meeting came to a jarring end after only 45 minutes, despite a long line of people waiting at the microphone to ask more questions, causing the crowd to boo and jeer. One of the attendees, Deb Sperry, 61, told CNN she drove 45 miles to the event because Ernst "never has any type of town hall or meeting with her constituents" where she lives. The senator says she is in the "early stages" of visiting every county in Iowa, but critics say Ernst's visits often take the form of private tours of factories and businesses and she hasn't had any public events in towns where people outnumber livestock. If Tuesday's meeting — which ended with the crowd shouting "We want our voices heard!" and "Your last term!" as she made a hasty exit — is any indication of the events to come, Ernst might want to consider holding her next roundtable in an undisclosed corn field. Catherine Garcia

February 21, 2017

For about an hour on Tuesday, the Statue of Liberty had a caption: "Refugees Welcome."

Activists moved quickly in the early afternoon, unfurling a 3-by-20 foot banner with the pro-refugee message and affixing it to the public observation deck at the top of the statue's pedestal, National Park Service spokesman Jerry Willis told the New York Daily News. This violated park rules, Willis said, which prohibit items from being attached to the statue.

On Twitter, a group calling itself "Alt Lady Liberty" claimed it was behind the banner, saying they are "private citizens who felt like we needed to say something about the America we believe in." One of the activists said their grandparents met in a refugee camp in the aftermath of World War II, and President Trump's executive order banning refugees from entering the U.S. hit close to home. "We wanted to send a reminder about America when we're at our best — the country that's a beacon of freedom to the world, built by immigrants," the activist said. "Walling off countries or entire religions is against our values." Catherine Garcia

February 21, 2017
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While the welcome Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell received from the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce was warm, it was downright frosty outside, where hundreds of protesters gathered chanting, "Shame on Mitch! Shame on Mitch!"

The Kentucky Republican is spending the week in his home state, and on Tuesday, he spoke with the Chamber of Commerce about rolling back regulations and the Affordable Care Act. Protesters assembled outside hours ahead of McConnell's appearance, with one demonstrator, Debbie Rowe, telling WLKY she was there because she doesn't "feel that Mitch McConnell represents the people of Kentucky anymore. I think he represents Washington and his own pocket."

Safely inside the building, McConnell said that even though he disagreed with the protesters, he was "proud" of them for showing up. "They don't share my agenda, but I respect their right to be there," he told WLKY. President Trump doesn't share McConnell's sentiments, tweeting on Tuesday night that "the so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!" Trump must have missed McConnell's comments after his meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, when he said the president "would serve himself better by not having as many controversies surrounding his statements because it tends to take us off message." Catherine Garcia

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