10 things you need to know today: December 31, 2016
Trump compliments Putin following Obama retaliation, Putin says Russia will not 'downgrade' to 'irresponsible' diplomacy after sanctions, and more
Trump compliments Putin following Obama retaliation
"Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!" President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Friday afternoon, responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that he would not immediately react to retaliatory sanctions on Russia which President Obama debuted as punishment for election interference attempts. The Russian embassy in America retweeted the post. Several hours later, Trump reiterated his praise, tweeting that Russians are playing CNN and NBC — but not Fox — for fools.
Putin says Russia will not 'downgrade' to 'irresponsible' diplomacy after sanctions
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Friday he will wait for President-elect Donald Trump to take office before deciding how to respond to the sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration this week. On Thursday, President Obama announced the U.S. would expel 35 Russian diplomats, close two Russian compounds in the U.S., and slap economic sanctions on Russian entities and individuals connected to cyberattacks during the U.S. presidential election. Putin said he will not "downgrade" to "the level of irresponsible 'kitchen' diplomacy" Obama displayed. On Saturday, Putin congratulated Trump instead of Obama in his New Year's Eve greeting to fellow heads of state, expressing hope for a new era of U.S.-Russian relations.
Republicans split over appropriate Russia stance
Republicans are divided over whether to follow President-elect Donald Trump's lead in dismissing allegations of Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. election and embracing Russian President Vladimir Putin. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Friday said Obama's sanctions are "petty little actions" designed to take "tremendous leverage" away from his successor. Also on Friday, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) refused to condemn the hacks, arguing that if "Russia succeeded in giving the American people information that was accurate, then they merely did what the media should have done." By contrast, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP nominee, labeled Russian election meddling an "attack" and an "act of war" for which there must be "a price to pay."
Syria cease-fire holds through early clashes
The cease-fire in Syria negotiated by Russia, Iran, and Turkey appears to be holding despite "clashes, shelling, and air raids in western Syria," Reuters reported Friday. Rebel and government forces have been trading blame for the violations, but as of Friday night local time, no civilian casualties had been reported and diplomats remained optimistic that the deal reached Thursday would stick. Still, rebel groups threatened Saturday to back out if regime attacks continue. This cease-fire is the third this year; the previous two arrangements failed within days.
Vermont utility system detects code tied to Russian hacking
A laptop associated with a Vermont electric agency, the Burlington Electric Department, was found on Friday to contain code linked to a Russian hacking campaign known as Grizzly Steppe. The laptop, which was not connected to the electric grid, was immediately isolated and the rest of the department's computers placed under investigation. "Our team is working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems," Mike Kanarick, a representative of the utility, said in a statement. The goal of Grizzly Steppe remains undetermined, and the laptop may have become infected without any Russian action, e.g. by contact with an untrustworthy website.
Military to execute a prisoner for the first time in 55 years
A judge has denied a former U.S. Army soldier's bid for another stay of execution, setting the military up to execute its first prisoner in 55 years. Ronald Gray has been on death row since 1988 for committing two murders and three rapes in Fayetteville, North Carolina, while stationed at Fort Bragg. Gray additionally pleaded guilty to two other murders and five rapes in a separate civilian court. An execution date could be set within the next 30 days, according to Army regulations. The last military execution took place in 1961, when John Bennett was hanged after being convicted of raping and trying to kill an 11-year-old Austrian girl. The military now uses lethal injection to carry out capital punishment.
ISIS claims responsibility for Baghdad explosion killing 28
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a Saturday morning attack at a market in Baghdad, Iraq, that killed at least 28 people and injured about 54 more. The circumstances of the attack are unclear, but it is believed to have included at least one suicide bombing and perhaps a car bomb as well. The market was targeted to kill Shi'ite Muslims, whom ISIS, as Sunni extremists, regard as apostates. This incident comes as ISIS is poised to lose control of Mosul, its last major stronghold in Iraq.
Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds to have a joint funeral
Actresses Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, the mother-daughter duo who died within one day of each other, will likely have a joint funeral, Reynolds' son Todd Fisher confirmed. "It's what we want to do, but we're still working on the mechanics. We like the idea, if it's at all possible," Fisher said. "I think it's appropriate." HBO also announced Friday that it will premiere Bright Lights, the documentary on the lives the two actresses, on Jan. 7. The film was originally slated for release in March 2017, but the premiere date was moved up following news of the deaths.
Ronda Rousey knocked out in 48 seconds in comeback fight
UFC fighter Ronda Rousey was defeated in less than a minute by Brazil's Amanda Nunes, the defending women's bantamweight champion, on Friday night. The 48-second fight was supposed to be Rousey's comeback moment more than a year after she ended her undefeated streak with a loss to Holly Holm in November of 2015. Following Friday's failure, Rousey's career is in question and retirement may be on the table. Rousey "had her time, she did a lot for the sport," Nunes said after the bout. "But right now, I showed I'm the champion and I'm here to stay."
Comet to cruise past Earth on New Year's Eve
A comet is expected to split the nighttime sky on New Year's Eve, NASA announced this week. Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková will appear near the moon on Dec. 31, as it makes its closest approach to the sun. However, binoculars will likely be needed to spot the blue-green orb, as it will be 30 times farther away from the Earth than the moon. The comet, which makes a full orbit around the Earth once every 5.25 years, made its first appearance of 2016 on Dec. 15 near the M75 star cluster. It is expected to make one more appearance in February after it circles back around the sun.