Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 8, 2017

Trump rallies base as polls show weakening support, Pentagon mulls airstrikes against ISIS in Philippines, and more


Trump rallies base, denies support is weakening

President Trump pushed back against opponents' claims that his support was weakening, tweeting that "The Trump base is far bigger [and] stronger than ever before (despite some phony Fake News polling)." Trump pointed to big attendance at rallies in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, and West Virginia. "The fact is the Fake News Russian collusion story, record stock market, border security, military strength, jobs, Supreme Court pick, economic enthusiasm, deregulation [and] so much more have driven the Trump base even closer together. Will never change!" A poll by the Republican firm Firehouse Strategies, however, found that Trump's base of support had fallen from 35.3 percent of voters with a "strongly favorable" view of him in April to only 28.6 percent now.


Pentagon considers airstrikes against ISIS in Philippines

The Pentagon is considering allowing U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State militants in the Philippines, NBC News reported Monday, citing two U.S. defense officials. The strikes would be conducted using armed drones, and the operation could be named as soon as Tuesday. In Manila, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gave Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a warm reception and dropped his frequent hostile remarks against the Trump administration, saying he was a "humble friend" of the U.S. at a time of tensions in Asia over North Korea and China's territorial aggression in the South China Sea. "I know you're worried there, because you also have domestic problems." Duterte said. "We are friends. We are allies."


Trump attacks Sen. Richard Blumenthal via Twitter

President Trump on Monday attacked Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) as "a phony Vietnam con artist" in a Twitter rampage after Blumenthal expressed support for the investigation into Russia's 2016 election meddling, and concern over the Justice Department's hunt for people leaking information damaging to the president. Trump said Blumenthal "lied" and "defrauded voters" by saying years ago that he served in Vietnam. Blumenthal, who served in the National Guard during the Vietnam era but never went overseas, apologized for misstating his service record seven years ago. Blumenthal responded on Twitter, saying, "Mr. President: Your bullying hasn't worked before and it won't work now. No one is above the law."


Federal climate report contradicts administration claims

Recent decades have been the hottest in the past 1,500 years due to a sharp rise in temperatures since 1980, according to a federal climate change report obtained by The New York Times. Scientists from 13 federal agencies contributed to the report, which has been approved by the National Academy of Sciences but not released to the public. One government scientist told the Times that he and others who worked on the report feared it might be suppressed, because it contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet that scientists still aren't sure about the extent and causes of climate change. The report said future climate changes depend "on future emissions."


Kenyans vote in tense presidential election

Kenyans voted in a tightly contested presidential election on Tuesday, forming long lines at polling stations to choose between President Uhuru Kenyatta and challenger Raila Odinga. Kenyatta, 55, touted his government's major infrastructure projects, while Odinga, 72, presented himself as an anti-corruption fighter and champion of the poor. Many voters are expected to make choices along ethnic lines — Kenyatta is seen as the candidate of the Kikuyu people, the largest ethnic group, while Odinga is linked to the Luo group. More than 1,800 other elected posts also are up for grabs, and people in the East African nation are on edge, hoping to avoid the allegations of vote tampering and violence that have followed previous elections.


South Africa's Zuma faces no-confidence vote

South African President Jacob Zuma faces a no-confidence vote on Tuesday after months of rising anger over corruption allegations. If he loses, he must resign. Zuma has survived six previous no-confidence votes, but this is the first one that will be held by secret ballot, adding to uncertainty over his future. Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete on Monday made the surprise decision to allow the secrecy, which opposition parties are hoping will give disgruntled members of the ruling African National Congress party cover to vote against Zuma.


Google fires engineer who wrote controversial gender memo

Google on Monday fired the software engineer who wrote a controversial memo criticizing the company's diversity program and claiming that women were underrepresented in the technology industry for biological reasons, not discrimination. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a company-wide email that he supported workers' rights to express themselves but that portions of the memo, which was titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," had violated the company's code of conduct "by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace." Critics within the company had demanded action.


British model describes fear as kidnappers plotted 'auction'

British model Chloe Ayling said Monday that she was lucky to be alive after being kidnapped in Italy and held for more than two weeks before being saved by authorities. Ayling told Italian investigators that she had been lured from London for a phony photo shoot at an abandoned storefront in Milan, and then drugged, bound, and stuffed into a duffel bag before being driven to a remote farmhouse. She said her abductors were preparing to "auction" her as a sex slave for $300,000 or more over the dark web, an encrypted and clandestine internet network where people buy and sell illegal goods. "I've been through a terrifying experience," Ayling told Italy's RAI News. "I've feared for my life, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour."


USDA staff reportedly told to avoid term 'climate change'

Department of Agriculture staffers have been told to "avoid" using the term "climate change" in written correspondence, The Guardian reported Monday. In instructions on how to discuss climate change-related work, "climate change" is listed as a term to avoid and replace with "weather extremes." Another blacklisted phrase is "reduce greenhouse gases." The instructions were included in an email sent in February by Bianca Moebius-Clune, the USDA's director of soil health. President Trump has repeatedly expressed doubts about the science of climate change, and his top pick for the USDA's chief scientist, Sam Clovis, has called climate research "junk science."


Hackers post stolen HBO scripts, demand ransom

Hackers on Monday posted stolen HBO files online in the second data dump since a massive cyberattack on the cable entertainment company last week. The files included five scripts from the popular fantasy drama Game of Thrones, as well as emails from the company's vice president for film programming, Leslie Cohen. The hacker or hackers, going by the name Mr. Smith, threatened to release more material unless HBO pays a ransom estimated at $6 million or more in bitcoin.


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