Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 25, 2017

Texans evacuate as Hurricane Harvey strengthens, Trump accuses lawmakers of botching debt ceiling talks, and more

1

Texas prepares for weekend deluge from Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey.

Screenshot/Twitter/NHC Atlantic Ops

Residents on the Texas coast are bracing for the "catastrophic" effects of Hurricane Harvey. Texans began evacuating Thursday ahead of the coming storm, which was upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane earlier in the week and strengthened to Category 4 intensity as it approached the U.S. mainland. The National Hurricane Center has warned of potentially "life-threatening and devastating flooding" and up to 40 inches of rain. Maximum sustained winds are already topping 130 miles per hour. The conditions could make Harvey the strongest storm to hit the mainland U.S. in a decade. The Gulf Coast is home to half the nation's oil refining capacity, and energy companies are being forced to shut coastal refineries in preparation.

2

Trump accuses lawmakers of making a 'mess' of effort to raise debt limit

President Trump on Thursday accused Republican congressional leaders of bungling work to raise the debt ceiling to prevent an unprecedented default on the national debt. "Could have been so easy — now a mess!" Trump tweeted. The broadside came after speculation that Trump's criticism of lawmakers, including some powerful Republicans, was complicating efforts to strike a deal on increasing the nation's $19.9 trillion borrowing limit. Trump had suggested that GOP leaders attach legislation increasing the borrowing limit to a popular military veterans' bill he recently signed, and he tweeted that "now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier this week there was "zero chance" lawmakers would fail to raise the debt ceiling.

3

Samsung heir Lee sentenced to 5 years for bribery

A South Korean court on Friday found Samsung Group heir and one-time de facto leader Jay Y. Lee guilty of bribery and sentenced him to five years in prison. Lee was charged in February with bribing South Korea's then-President Park Geun-hye, who has since been ousted, in exchange for business favors. He also was convicted of hiding assets abroad, embezzlement, and perjury. Lee denied wrongdoing. One of his lawyers said he would appeal. Chang Sea-jin, a business professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, called the sentence a "turning point" for South Korea's family-run conglomerates called chaebols, which have been credited with transforming the once war-ravaged country into an economic power and often benefited from cozy relations with politicians.

4

Interior secretary recommends reducing size of at least 3 national monuments

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday recommended that President Trump not eliminate any of the 27 national monuments that have been under review for the past four months, The Associated Press reports. Zinke did, however, recommend reducing the size of at least three monuments, including Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, as well as Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, although none will be turned over to new owners. Public access for hunting, fishing, and grazing will be maintained or restored, depending on the circumstances. Conservationists had expressed serious concerns about the review, which has never been done in U.S. history, and feared Trump would try to walk back former President Barack Obama's legacy of designations.

5

Qatar restores full diplomatic ties with Iran

Qatar announced Thursday that it was restoring full diplomatic relations with Iran, deepening a rift with its Persian Gulf neighbors. Qatar's Foreign Ministry said it was returning its ambassador to Iran 20 months after breaking off relations following attacks on two of Saudi Arabia's diplomatic facilities in Iran. Qatar gave no reason for the unexpected decision to staff the embassy again. Saudi Arabia and three other countries in June accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and working too closely with Iran, and announced a punitive boycott. Qatar refused a list of 13 demands, including severing ties with Tehran, leaving the crisis in a standoff.

6

Amazon to lower some prices at Whole Foods when deal closes Monday

Amazon and Whole Foods — which critics often jokingly refer to as "Whole Paycheck" due to its prices — said Thursday that they were preparing to offer discounts on many popular grocery items when the online retail giant's acquisition of the high-end and organic grocery chain closes on Monday. The companies said in a news release that their marketing teams were working on integrating Amazon Prime into Whole Foods' system so that Prime members can start receiving special savings and in-store benefits. Amazon Prime will become the customer rewards program at Whole Foods, and Whole Foods' private label, 365, will be available at Amazon. "We're determined to make healthy and organic food affordable for everyone," said Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer.

7

Ousted Thai prime minister suspected of fleeing country before verdict

Authorities in Thailand said Friday that ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra might have fled the country to dodge a possible looming conviction in her negligence trial. Yingluck, 50, failed to show up at court for an expected verdict in the case, which was brought by the junta that overthrew her in 2014. She faced up to 10 years in prison if found guilty in a case centered on her role in multi-billion-dollar losses in a rice subsidy scheme for farmers. The government was still searching for her, but Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said, "It is possible that she has fled already." Yingluck's legal team said she couldn't attend court due to an "ear fluid imbalance," but a member of her party said, "She has definitely left Thailand."

8

Danish prosecutors seek upgraded charges in Swedish journalist's death

Danish prosecutors on Thursday said they planned to ask a court to upgrade charges against inventor Peter Madsen from involuntary manslaughter to the legal equivalent of murder in the death of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. Eleven days after Wall boarded Madsen's 55-foot submarine and disappeared, a cyclist discovered a torso — missing the head, arms, and legs — that has been identified as hers. Wall, 30, was a widely respected and well-liked freelance reporter who was preparing to move to China with her boyfriend, and was working on an article about Madsen.

9

Florida uses experimental drug in execution of white inmate for racial killing

Florida authorities executed Mark James Asay, 53, on Thursday for two murders prosecutors said were racially motivated. Asay, who had white supremacy tattoos, was convicted in the fatal shootings of Robert Lee Booker, a black man, and Robert McDowell, later identified as white and Hispanic, and who dressed as a woman. Asay was the first white man executed in Florida for killing a black man since the state restored capital punishment in the 1970s. His execution also represented a landmark because it was the first lethal injection in which the drug etomidate was used in the execution cocktail as a sedative. Asay denied killing Booker, and said in a jailhouse interview that he killed McDowell, a friend of his, in a drunken rage.

10

53-year-old hospital worker identified as record lottery winner

A 53-year-old Massachusetts hospital worker, Mavis L. Wanczyk, was identified Thursday as the winner of this week's $758.7 million Powerball jackpot, the largest undivided lottery prize in U.S. history. Wanczyk promptly quit her job. "I called and told them I will not be coming back," she told reporters at a news conference. "The first thing I want to do is just sit back and relax." Wanczyk won't get the full three-quarters of a billion dollars. She chose to take a lump-sum of $480 million, $336 million after taxes. Winners who take the money spread out in equal payments over 29 years get a bigger total payout.

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