10 things you need to know today: April 26, 2014

(Image credit: (AP Photo/Sergei Grits))

1. With tensions mounting in Ukraine, G-7 nations impose more sanctions on Russia

The Group of Seven nations agreed on Friday to impose further sanctions on Russia. For now, each of the countries will impose its own restrictions; the White House said it will first target wealthy associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but that if Moscow continues with its actions in Ukraine, the Obama administration could impose wider-reaching sanctions meant to target Russia's economy. The G-7 decision comes as top Ukrainian officials voice concerns of imminent occupation by Russian forces. "We have the information we are in danger," Danylo Lubkivsky, Ukraine's deputy foreign minister, said. "We call on the Russians to stop this madness."

The Associated Press

2. Taliban claims responsibility for helicopter crash that killed five NATO troops

Five NATO troops died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan this morning, making today the single deadliest day this year for foreign forces. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to journalists, in which he also said 12 soldiers on board the helicopter were killed in the crash. The group often exaggerates the death tolls and falsely claims attacks as their own doing, but an Afghan official did confirm the helicopter crash occurred about 30 miles from the Pakistani border. He did not release the troops' nationalities, nor did he say what caused the crash. The U.S.-led military coalition intends to be fully withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of this year.

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The New York Times

3. U.S., Japan 'still far apart' on free trade negotiations

President Barack Obama left his first stop on a four-country trip through Asia empty-handed on Friday. Meeting with Japanese officials in Tokyo, the Obama administration hoped to strike agreements on details of a 12-nation free trade accord, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Initiative. That deal is intended to increase American access to Japanese markets for products such as beef, sugar, and automobiles, and it is considered an important part of Obama's foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific. But while a senior U.S. official said the talks had gone well, "we made significant progress, but our positions are still far apart," Akira Amari, a Japanese state minister, told reporters. "We'll continue talks."

The Washington Post

4. For first time in 15 years, 100 percent of California is in drought

Released this week, the latest drought monitor map from the National Climactic Data Center shows the entire state of California is experiencing some level of drought. Nearly 25 percent of the state is suffering from "exceptional" conditions, or the most intense level of drought. The rest of California is under "moderate" to "extreme" conditions. By comparison, at this time last year, only 30 percent of the state experienced "severe" drought conditions. This is the first time a state-wide drought has occurred in 15 years, and California is on high alert to conserve water accordingly. "This is a really serious situation," Jayme Laber, a hydrologist with the National Weather Center, said.

Los Angeles Times

5. North Korea claims it has detained an American tourist

North Korean media reported on Friday that a man identified as Miller Matthew Todd (more likely Matthew Todd Miller, with his surname first), 24, entered the country on April 10 but ripped up his tourist visa, saying he sought asylum in the country. While the U.S. Department confirmed it is aware of the report, a spokeswoman would not confirm whether an American was actually being held. Foreign tourists entered the country in mid-April for events tied to the anniversary of national founder Kim Il Sung's April 15th birthday. The Korean Central News Agency said Miller was being detained for "gross violation" of the country's legal order.

The Associated Press

6. Federal prosecutors will indict Rep. Michael Grimm for campaign finance violations

Federal prosecutors will bring charges against U.S. Republican Congressman Michael Grimm, his attorney said on Friday. Grimm, who has been under investigation for campaign finance violations, made headlines in January when he threatened a television reporter who asked him about the possible charges. "I will break you in half," Grimm told the reporter in the U.S. Capitol building after President Obama's State of the Union address. Grimm's lawyer maintains that the expected charges are a "politically driven vendetta."


7. Advertising companies Omnicom, Publicis struggle with 'merger of equals'

After announcing a "merger of equals" last summer, ad companies Omnicon and Publicis may not realize that pitch. The businesses have yet to file crucial paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, because neither side will agree to be legally acquired by the other; one must for accounting reasons. And Omnicom CEO John Wren said this week the deal's closing date is impossible to predict because of its "complexity and open issues." The companies plan to combine the French and American ad agencies, while incorporating the new merger in the Netherlands but as a U.K. company, for tax purposes. They hoped to gain more power from the merger when competing with larger rivals; but the CEO of one such competitor, WPP PLC, said on Friday the deal is doomed. "You have one talking Chinese and the other Japanese," Chief Executive Martin Sorrell said.

The Wall Street Journal

8. SpaceX launching official protest against Air Force's no-bid national security contracts

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced on Friday that his company will launch an official protest against the Air Force. A pair of companies — Boeing and Lockheed — were tapped by the Air Force for a joint venture called United Launch Alliance. That contract includes 36 launches on national security projects and reportedly earns the companies $3.5 billion in annual funding from the government. SpaceX is not certified to do business on national security projects, but Musk said the company is working on that. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant," he said. "If everything's fine, then I guess that's great. But that seems unlikely to me."


9. Northwestern football players vote on whether to certify union

Northwestern University scholarship football players voted "yes" or "no" on whether to certify the first college sports union on Friday. The landmark election was ordered by a National Labor Relations Board regional official, who ruled Northwestern football players were employees last month. As employees, the players would have the right to form a union, which entitles them to worker's compensation benefits, insurance, and other agreed-upon terms. However, the ballots may never even be counted; the national branch of the N.L.R.B. will review the regional decision, and if it overturns the ruling, deeming the players student-athletes instead of employees, they will not be able to form a union. "It's a relief to have it off our plate," Traveon Henry, a safety, said. "We'll just have to see what happens."

The New York Times

10. Michael Phelps completes first meet back in competitive swimming

In his first meet since the 2012 London Olympics, swimmer Michael Phelps wrapped up competition with a 42nd-place finish out of 89 swimmers in the 50-meter freestyle. Competing at the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Phelps stuck to his plan of practicing his butterfly stroke in the Friday event. However, the 22-time Olympic medalist looked more like himself in a second-place finish to winner Ryan Lochte on Thursday night. Phelps clocked 52.13 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly, good for the fifth-fastest time in the world for 2014 so far. "I'm glad he's back," Lochte said after the race. "His leaving kind of broke my heart a little. Now that he's back, I've got a big old smile."

The Arizona Republic

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Sarah Eberspacher

Sarah Eberspacher is an associate editor at TheWeek.com. She has previously worked as a sports reporter at The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus and The Arizona Republic. She graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.