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February 28, 2016

In the most powerful moment of the 88th annual Academy Awards, Vice President Joe Biden took the stage to introduce Lady Gaga's performance of "Til It Happens to You," the Oscar-nominated song from the documentary The Hunting Ground, which chronicles incidences of sexual assault on college campuses. "We can, and will, change the culture, so no abused woman or man will think they did anything wrong," said Biden.

As Gaga performed, she was joined by a group of sexual assault survivors, with phrases like "SURVIVOR" and "NOT YOUR FAULT" written on their arms in black marker. It's a moving reminder that the Oscars, for all their froth, can also bring an important issue into the national spotlight. Scott Meslow

March 22, 2017
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The name may be going away, but the mood lighting is here to stay.

On Wednesday, three months after finishing a $2.6 billion acquisition of Virgin America, Alaska Airlines announced that the Virgin America brand will be dropped by 2019, MarketWatch reports. "While the Virgin America name is beloved to many, we concluded that to be successful on the West Coast, we had to do so under one name — for consistency and efficiency, and to allow us to continue to deliver low fares," Sangita Woerne, vice president of marketing for Alaska Airlines, said in a statement. The airline, which previously had said it would consider keeping both brands alive, also said it won't get rid of many of Virgin America's signature amenities, including enhanced in-flight entertainment and cabin lighting that changes color. Catherine Garcia

March 22, 2017
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After working without a contract for almost a year, an estimated 17,000 AT&T technicians in California and Nevada went on strike Wednesday.

The workers are union members affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, District 9; they say AT&T is cutting their sick time and disability benefits, making them pay more for health care, and continually asking them to perform the duties of higher-paid employees, the Los Angeles Times reports; the technicians usually install and maintain the U-Verse television service but have been told to also work on the cables and hardware for landline phone services.

"We are hoping to reach an agreement settlement with the company," Sheila Bordeaux, a member of the CWA Local 9003 executive board, told the Times. "They are unilaterally and continually changing the job duties of our premise technicians to do a higher-wage job at a lower rate of pay." A spokesman for AT&T said the company is "union friendly" and "currently negotiating with the union in a good-faith effort to reach a fair labor agreement covering wireline employees" in California and Nevada. The strike does not affect the company's wireless division. Catherine Garcia

March 22, 2017
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The FBI is reviewing information that counterintelligence investigators believe may show coordination between associates of President Trump and Russian operatives to potentially release information to hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign before the 2016 presidential election, U.S. officials told CNN Wednesday.

Agents are sifting through human intelligence, accounts of in-person meetings, and travel, business, and phone records, CNN reports, and the officials say this investigation is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he announced on Monday that the FBI is looking into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The officials stressed to CNN that while the information indicates possible coordination, it is not conclusive and the investigation is ongoing. Catherine Garcia

March 22, 2017
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Before the sun came up on Wednesday, members of the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance were dropped off by U.S.-led coalition aircraft near a dam west of Raqqa, Syria, taking Islamic State fighters by surprise, the Pentagon said.

The area near the Tabqa dam is believed to be a base for foreign ISIS fighters, and ISIS is thought to plots international attacks there. In a statement, the SDF said fighters have seized four villages south of the Euphrates River and a highway that links Raqqa with Aleppo.

For the first time since December 2014, members of the 68-nation anti-ISIS coalition also met Wednesday in Washington, D.C., where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. policy is to "demolish and destroy" ISIS. He told attendees that they should be heartened by the fact that over the past year, the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS is down by 90 percent, and that since almost all of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's deputies are dead, it's "only a matter of time" before al-Baghdadi is killed, too. Catherine Garcia

March 22, 2017

On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) revealed that intelligence services may have picked up communications by President Trump and his transition team during "normal foreign surveillance," then went and briefed Trump on what his source had told him. The top democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), responded in a press conference that it is "deeply troubling" Nunes shared his information with Trump before briefing his Intelligence Committee colleagues.

"The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct, which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House," Schiff said. "Because he cannot to both." Nunes was a member of Trump's transition team, and he said the information he saw came from an unidentified source. He did not reveal whose communications were intercepted or what they said.

Because Nunes kept the reports from the committee, it's "impossible" to evaluate the communications, Schiff said. It also makes it clearer than ever that there needs to be an independent commission looking into Russia's alleged meddling before the presidential election, he added. FBI Director James Comey has confirmed that there is an investigation into Russia and the election, and that there is no evidence to back up Trump's claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower before the election. Catherine Garcia

March 22, 2017

The House Republican leadership is planning to forge ahead with a Thursday floor vote on the American Health Care Act, the party's proposed health-care bill to replace ObamaCare. As of Wednesday afternoon, the bill is facing long odds in the lower chamber, with more than two dozen GOP members — mostly from the far-right House Freedom Caucus — stating their intention to vote against the bill.

The White House has remained optimistic about the bill's passage, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying during Wednesday's press briefing that "member by member, we're seeing tremendous support flow in our direction." Despite the mounting defections, "the count keeps getting stronger for us," Spicer insisted.

Mere hours after Spicer's Wednesday briefing, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) tweeted this:

Republicans can only afford to lose 22 votes in the lower chamber if they want to push the American Health Care Act through. If the bill does pass the House on Thursday, it will move onto the Senate — where it also faces a steep uphill battle. Kimberly Alters

March 22, 2017

Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch is facing the Senate Judiciary Committee for a third day of confirmation hearings Wednesday. While he's been praised by Republicans for his strong conservative record and boasts a sterling academic pedigree, Democrats have pointed to the federal appellate judge's rulings on workers' rights and women's issues as points of concern. Some Democrats have also cited the unfair treatment of Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the same seat by former President Barack Obama as reason to obstruct Gorsuch's nomination.

The Garland argument holds little weight at this point, as Obama has left office and President Trump has nominated Gorsuch to the seat, as is his constitutional right. But if Democrats cannot use the Garland argument or Gorsuch's own judicial record to delay the confirmation, it seems they have developed a third tactic: delegitimizing President Trump's right to nominate Gorsuch in the first place.

In light of FBI Director James Comey's disclosure Monday that the bureau is actively investigating whether the Trump campaign has any untoward ties with Russia, both Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have indicated they believe Gorsuch's nomination is illegitimate because of the ongoing probe:

Gorsuch enjoys unified support from Republicans, while no Democrats have yet said they would support him. His final day of Senate hearings is Thursday. Kimberly Alters

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