Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 27, 2017

A court rejects a challenge to Trump's voter fraud panel, Obama tells Prince Harry that leaders should stop divisive social media posts, and more

1

Court rejects challenge to Trump voter fraud panel

A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected a legal challenge to President Trump's voter fraud panel, ruling that the group behind the lawsuit, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is "not a voter" and has no standing to sue. President Trump, who has claimed without evidence that thousands of people voted illegally last year, created the bipartisan Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity by executive order in May. Judge Stephen Williams wrote that EPIC "has suffered no informational or organizational injury from the defendants' attempt to collect voter data." EPIC President Marc Rotenberg called the decision "surprising."

2

Obama, interviewed by Prince Harry, warns against divisive social media use

In his first extensive interview since leaving office, former President Barack Obama told Britain's Prince Harry, who was guest editing BBC Radio 4's Today program, that leaders should avoid using social media to divide people. Without directly mentioning President Trump, who has used Twitter to criticize him and others, Obama warned that the internet can "lead to a Balkanization of society" if it is used to reinforce prejudices instead of informing them. "All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet," Obama said. "One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases."

3

Egypt hangs 15 men convicted in 2013 attack

Egyptian authorities on Tuesday hanged 15 men convicted last month on terrorism charges for a 2013 attack on a military checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula that killed an officer and eight soldiers. The attack came six weeks after the military seized power from the democratically elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, as violence spread across the country. It marked the beginning of an Islamic insurgency that the military-dominated government is still fighting. Human rights activists and Islamists warned that the public hanging, the largest in Egypt in years, will drive recruits to the Islamic State. Tens of thousands of people arrested in a crackdown after the military takeover remain in prison, many appealing death sentences.

4

Virginia election officials delay name-drawing to decide tied election

The Virginia State Board of Elections on Tuesday postponed plans to draw lots to decide the winner of a tied state legislative election that will determine which party controls the House of Delegates. The announcement came after Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds said she would challenge a court's decision to reject her one-vote win by counting a previously rejected ballot for Republican incumbent Del. David Yancey. That ruling left the vote tied, which by law requires the winner to be determined by drawing the name of one of the candidates. If Simonds wins, the chamber will be split 50-50 when the new legislature convenes on Jan. 10.

5

North Korean defector had anthrax immunity

One of the four North Korean soldiers who have fled the hermit kingdom this year was found to have anthrax antibodies in his system, fueling concerns that the isolated and combative communist regime had managed to weaponize the deadly bacteria. The defector gained immunity by being exposed to anthrax or vaccinated against it, UPI reported, citing South Korean media. Anthrax can kill 80 percent of those exposed within 24 hours unless they take antibiotics or can be protected with a vaccine. Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo has said such a "vaccine is expected to be developed by the end of 2019," but not sooner.

6

3 cities sue Defense Department over gun-check failures

New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco on Tuesday filed a lawsuit accusing the Defense Department of failing to report service members disqualified from owning guns to the national background check system. The lack of notice "has led to the loss of innocent lives by putting guns in the hands of criminals," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said. The most recent case was the massacre of 26 people inside a Texas church last month, allegedly committed by former U.S. Air Force member Devin P. Kelley, even though his conviction in a 2012 court martial for domestic violence should have left him unable to buy a gun. Air Force leaders have acknowledged the failure to report Kelley's criminal history, and those of "several dozen" others.

7

China economy expected to overtake U.S. in 15 years

China's economy is expected to be larger than the American economy for the first time in 2032, according to a report from the Center for Economics and Business (CEBR) Research in London. The CEBR also predicts significant economic growth for India, which will leap past the U.K., France, Germany, and Japan to go from seventh to third by 2032, a decade after it overtakes China to become the world's most populous country. China's population is currently about 1.38 billion, more than four times the United States' 323 million. Even with a larger aggregate economy, per capita income and standard of living in China will remain significantly lower than in the U.S. for some time.

8

Watchdog finds 'systemic' problem with DOJ handling of harassment complaints

The Justice Department has "systemic" problems involving the mishandling of sexual harassment complaints that require "high level action," according to the department's inspector general. The IG's office examined cases that included a U.S. attorney who sent harassing texts to a subordinate after they ended a sexual relationship, and a Civil Division lawyer who groped two female trial lawyers, according to investigative reports obtained by The Washington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request. Many offenders received little punishment; some later received performance awards. The review found that sexual misconduct allegations rose over the last five years, involving some senior officials. "We're talking about presidential appointees, political appointees, FBI special agents in charge, U.S. attorneys...," Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the Post.

9

Department store shares jump after record holiday shopping

Department store stocks surged on Tuesday after Mastercard reported that shoppers spent a record of more than $800 billion during the holiday season. J.C. Penney shares jumped by 7.6 percent on Tuesday, while Kohl's and Macy's rose by 5.8 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively. Mastercard's SpendingPulse report said that the accelerating rise in sales this year was led by an 18.1 percent increase in online sales. "But that's probably only 11 or 12 percent of total retail sales ... the bulk of sales still is very much in stores," said Sarah Quinlan, head of market insights for Mastercard Advisors. "There's growth, don't get me wrong, but we still love that experience of being in store."

10

Erie, Pennsylvania, gets a record 5-foot snowfall over 2 days

A massive Christmas snowfall buried Erie, Pennsylvania, the state's fourth largest city, in a record five feet of snow, with up to three inches an hour blanketing the area, the National Weather Service reported Tuesday. A total of at least 60 inches fell over two days, starting Christmas Eve, with most of it coming between Christmas morning and Tuesday. The snowfall broke local and state records and disrupted travel around the Great Lakes and left ambulances unable to reach some patients. "They don't have vehicles high enough, so we are currently working with the national guard to be able to deploy Humvee ambulances to assist them," said Richard Flinn, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Emergency Management.

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