Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 14, 2015

U.S. investigates alleged ISIS use of mustard gas, Kerry heads to Cuba, and more


ISIS reportedly used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds

The U.S. has found credible evidence that Islamic State fighters have used chemical weapons against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. U.S. officials said Thursday that a "blistering agent" was used earlier this week, although it was unclear if the weapon was mustard gas — the best-known blistering agent — or some other poison. The German Defense Ministry released a statement saying that as many as 60 Kurds suffered breathing problems due to the attack.


Greek Parliament approves bailout deal

Greek lawmakers early Friday approved a $95 billion bailout deal with the debt-burdened country's international creditors.  The proposal includes new austerity measures demanded by European lenders and the International Monetary Fund. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of the anti-austerity Syriza party relied on opposition support to pass the agreement, which he called a "necessary choice." Next the deal comes up for euro zone approval at Friday's meeting of European finance ministers.


Kerry heads to Cuba for historic visit

Secretary of State John Kerry is making an historic visit to Cuba on Friday for a ceremony marking the reopening of the U.S. embassy in the communist island nation's capital, Havana. He will be the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Cuba since 1945. The visit marks the latest in a series of steps by the Obama administration to restore normal diplomatic ties with Cuba. Kerry said he intended to stroll through Old Havana to hear "whatever views come at me."


El Nino expected to bring record weather extremes this year

Federal officials say this year's El Nino weather pattern could turn out to be the most powerful on record. It is already the second strongest in the 60 years in which records have been kept. The phenomenon starts out with extra warm water in the eastern Pacific, which can affect weather all over the world. This year's El Nino could bring heavy winter rains to drought stricken California, and produce the warmest year ever recorded. "This definitely has the potential of being the Godzilla El Nino," a NASA climatologist said.


Connecticut high court rules remaining death sentences unconstitutional

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday that it would be unconstitutional to execute the state's remaining death-row prisoners, effectively banning the death penalty in the state. Connecticut abolished capital punishment three years ago, but left death sentences in place for those already awaiting execution. Legislators also had left capital punishment as an option for crimes committed before the 2012 law took effect.


St. Louis County extends Ferguson state of emergency

The government of St. Louis County extended a state of emergency in Ferguson, Missouri, through at least Friday. The city has seen renewed protests this week following rallies marking the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a white police officer. The state of emergency was imposed Monday after a man accused of firing at police, Tyrone Harris, 18, was critically injured when officers returned fire. His condition was upgraded to stable on Thursday.


Rescuers halt Tianjin work while experts check for airborne toxins

Rescuers suspended operations in the Chinese port city of Tianjin on Thursday so chemical teams could complete a sweep of the area to determine if airborne toxins were released during the enormous Wednesday night warehouse blast. The death toll from the explosions rose to at least 50 people on Thursday. China defended the response of firefighters who hosed water on a fire in a building storing volatile chemicals, which foreign experts said could have contributed to two huge explosions. 


Uninsured rate falls below 10 percent with new ObamaCare enrollees

Nearly a million people signed up for health coverage under ObamaCare since the open enrollment period ended in February, pushing the share of the uninsured below 10 percent of Americans, the Health and Human Services Department said Thursday. The figures were the first released since the Supreme Court upheld premium subsidies under the law in all 50 states. Several Republican presidential candidates support dismantling the law, but the rising participation rates are expected to complicate any effort to replace it.


DNA backs up story of Warren Harding's love child

DNA evidence has confirmed an old political rumor — that late president Warren G. Harding fathered a child with self-identified mistress Nan Britton. She scandalized the country with her book, The President's Daughter, which detailed the alleged affair, complete with meetings in a West Wing closet. "The technology that we're using is at a level of specificity that there's no need to do more DNA testing. This is the definitive answer," said Stephen Baloglu of Ancestry.com, which conducted the study.


New Sesame Street episodes to air first on HBO under new partnership

Sesame Street's next five seasons will air first on HBO in a new partnership announced Thursday. The new episodes of the beloved children's series still will air on PBS, which has been the exclusive home of Sesame Street for decades, but not until HBO's nine-month exclusive window on new episodes has lapsed. The next season is expected to premiere in late fall.


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Harris to visit DMZ amid nuclear threats from North Korea
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