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10 things you need to know today: March 21, 2019

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Harold Maass
New Zealand Prime Minister Hagen Jacinda Ardern
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1.

New Zealand to ban semi-automatic weapons after mosque mass shootings

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced that her country would ban military-style semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and accessories that can be used to convert guns into military-style weapons. The decision came just six days after mass shootings that killed 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch. Ardern said the new laws should be in place by April 11. The government plans to use a buy-back scheme for banned weapons already in circulation. The main opposition party said it supported Ardern's plan, suggesting it would face little resistance in Parliament. "It's about all of us, it's in the national interest and it's about safety," Ardern said. [The New York Times, Reuters]

2.

Trump backs public release of Mueller report

President Trump said Wednesday that he supported publicly releasing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's looming report on Russian election meddling, even though he called the inquiry "ridiculous." "There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no nothing," Trump said. "Let it come out. Let people see it." He added that it would be "up to the attorney general" to decide how much of the report to release. Federal law requires Mueller to present his findings to Attorney General William Barr, who then must report to Congress on what Mueller says. The House last week overwhelmingly voted to urge Barr to release Mueller's report. Barr has said his goal is to "provide as much transparency" as he legally can. [NPR]

3.

Senators praise the late John McCain after Trump's renewed attacks

Senators from both parties defended Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday after President Trump renewed his criticism of the late lawmaker and Vietnam-era prisoner of war. Trump said in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he "was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be," citing McCain's 2017 vote against repealing ObamaCare as a reason for his criticism. Trump said that McCain's funeral was something he "had to approve," but added that "I don't care about this," also claiming he "didn't get a thank you." Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) called Trump's attacks against McCain "deplorable." [Fox News, CNN]

4.

Theresa May asks the EU for a 3-month Brexit delay

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday asked the European Union to postpone the U.K.'s exit from the trading bloc until June 30. It is currently scheduled for March 29, but British lawmakers have rejected both May's proposed deal with the EU and the prospect of leaving without a deal. In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, May said the Brexit process "clearly will not be completed" before the current deadline. In a televised statement, May said it was "high time we made a decision," and warned that lawmakers would do "irreparable damage to public trust" if they failed to end infighting and back her deal. [The Washington Post, The Associated Press]

5.

Fed forecasts no interest rate hikes in 2019

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday at the conclusion of a two-day policy meeting that it had decided not to raise interest rates, indicating that it did not anticipate any more hikes in 2019. The Fed said three months ago that it was pausing its policy of slowly and steadily raising rates, citing signs of slowing economic growth. The central bank said in its post-meeting statement that it would continue to be "patient" before any more rate hikes. The Fed's benchmark short-term interest rate is currently set from 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. [Reuters]

6.

Cyclone Idai death toll rises as floods continue in southern Africa

The death toll from Cyclone Idai continued to rise in southern Africa on Wednesday, with more than 200 people confirmed dead in Mozambique and at least 100 more victims in neighboring Zimbabwe. Floodwaters were forecast to continue to rise on Thursday, with more torrential rains expected. "Floodwaters are predicted to rise significantly in the coming days and 350,000 people are at risk," the United Nations humanitarian office said. Aid groups have been struggling to rescue survivors, some awaiting help on rooftops. Entire villages have been destroyed. "There is death all over," said a survivor, Amos Makunduwa, who carried his remaining possessions in a bag. [The Associated Press]

7.

EPA chief cites unsafe drinking water as top immediate threat

Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler on Wednesday said that unsafe drinking water, rather than climate change, is the world's biggest and "most immediate" global public-health threat. "We have 1,000 children die every day worldwide because they don't have safe drinking water," Wheeler said in an interview with CBS News, his first since his confirmation last month. "That's a crisis that I think we can solve." Wheeler said in Washington on World Water Day that he was frustrated that water issues, including pollution, drought, and ocean trash, "often take a backseat" to larger discussions about global warming. "Most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out," Wheeler said. "What we need to do is make sure that the people who are dying today from lack of having drinking water in Third World countries, that problem is addressed." [CBS News, ABC News]

8.

States consider requiring presidential candidates to release taxes

Several state legislatures are considering laws that would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their tax returns if they want to appear on ballots. Some proponents of the bills argue that they are geared toward increasing transparency and returning to the "norm" of candidates sharing their financial records with the public after President Trump broke with tradition and declined to release his returns. Others have conceded that the push is part of an effort by Democrats to force Trump to release his returns. Washington state's Senate passed a bill that would require candidates to release five years of tax returns before they could appear on ballots, and 17 other states have debated similar bills this year, with several still considering them. [The Washington Post]

9.

NCAA's March Madness starts with 'First Four' games

The NCAA men's basketball tournament got started Wednesday night, with the "First Four" games to set the full field of 64 teams when March Madness kicks off in earnest on Thursday. Arizona State beat St. John's, 74-64, bouncing back from a late-season slide. The Sun Devils, a No. 11 seed, move on to face Buffalo, seeded 6 in their bracket, in the round of 64. The North Dakota State Bison beat the North Carolina Central Eagles, 78-74. The Bisons' junior guard Tyson Ward led all scorers with 23 points. North Dakota moves on to face the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils next, on Friday. [Bleacher Report]

10.

Finland stays at top in World Happiness Report

The 2019 World Happiness Index, an annual ranking released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations, placed Finland, known for its strong education system and public safety, at the top of the list for the second year in a row. Its neighbors Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden were all in the top 10, as well. The ranking system considers freedom, generosity, income, trust, healthy life expectancy, and social support. The United States ranked as the 19th happiest country, down one spot from last year, and five spots from 2017. The report attributes America's decline in happiness to a rise in depression and an "epidemic of addictions," including substance abuse and poor diets. The report lists South Sudan as the least happy nation. [World Happiness Report]