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10 things you need to know today: August 19, 2019

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Harold Maass
U.S. envoy calls for accelerating Afghan peace talks after more than 60 people were killed in a wedding attack in Kabul.
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images
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1.

U.S. envoy calls for accelerating Afghan peace talks after attack

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan peace talks, tweeted Sunday that "we must accelerate" the peace process in the wake of a Saturday suicide bombing that killed at least 63 people at a Kabul wedding. A local Islamic State affiliate has claimed responsibility for the attack. The Taliban, which is negotiating an end to an 18-year conflict with the U.S., has denied involvement and condemned the bombing. President Trump said Sunday that the U.S. is "having very good discussions" with both the Afghan government and the Taliban on a peace plan to end America's longest running war. "It can't be a laboratory for terror," Trump said. The deal would include a U.S.-Taliban ceasefire, but so far no such truce between the Taliban and the Afghan military. [CNN]

2.

Trump, advisers say recession fears unfounded

President Trump and his top economic advisers on Sunday argued that recession fears that rattled markets last week were unfounded. Trump said the U.S. economy is doing "tremendously well. Our consumers are rich. I gave a tremendous tax cut and they're loaded up with money." Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, noted on Fox News Sunday that consumer wages and spending are up. "I don't see a recession at all," he said. Kudlow and White House trade director Peter Navarro rejected the suggestion that Trump's trade war with China threatened an economic downturn. Navarro told ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos that the Federal Reserve can protect the economy by reversing its "precipitous interest rate hikes," which he said had cost "a full point of growth." [CBS News, The Washington Post]

3.

Key Maduro ally reportedly in secret talks with U.S.

The U.S. has opened up secret communications with Venezuelan socialist boss Diosdado Cabello, an alleged drug kingpin and the second most powerful person in Venezuela, after President Nicolás Maduro, The Associated Press reported Sunday, citing a senior U.S. administration official. Cabello, 56, met with a U.S.-backed envoy in Caracas last month, the official said. Axios reported that National Security Council official Mauricio Claver-Carone has been communicating with Cabello through emissaries. U.S. officials said Cabello is among a handful of top Maduro officials who have secretly reached out to the U.S. to negotiate safety guarantees if they help topple Maduro. An unidentified Cabello aide told AP that the U.S. has been chasing Cabello, who would only meet with U.S. officials with Maduro's permission. [The Associated Press, Axios]

4.

Authorities say 3 potential mass shootings averted

Three potential mass shootings were foiled over the last several days thanks to tips from the public, authorities in Connecticut, Florida, and Ohio announced Sunday. In Connecticut, a 22-year-old man was arrested after police received a tip he wanted to buy large capacity rifle magazines from out of state. He reportedly wrote on Facebook that he was interested in committing a mass shooting, and faces charges of illegal possession of large capacity magazines. A 25-year-old man in Florida was arrested Friday after allegedly texting his ex-girlfriend threatening to commit a mass shooting. A 20-year-old man was arrested Saturday after allegedly threatening to carry out a shooting at a Jewish community center in Youngstown, Ohio. His Instagram account featured white nationalist and anti-Semitic comments. [CNN]

5.

Sanders unveils criminal-justice reform plan

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday released a plan to reform the nation's "dysfunctional criminal justice system." Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who has long opposed for-profit prisons, proposed banning cash bail, which he said left poor defendants languishing in jail without being convicted. His plan also called for ending civil asset forfeiture, and funding more public defenders to serve low-income criminal suspects. He would also enact a "Prisoner Bill of Rights" guaranteeing prisoners educational training, voting rights, and living wages for work done behind bars. At a town hall on Sunday, Sanders billed the plan as "perhaps the boldest criminal justice reform package in the history of United States politics." [CNN, Politico]

6.

Trump confirms interest in buying Greenland

President Trump on Sunday confirmed that he had expressed interest in buying Greenland. "It's something we talked about," he said. "Denmark essentially owns it, we're very good allies with Denmark." Trump said "strategically it's interesting," so his administration would talk to Denmark about the idea. "They're losing a tremendous amount of money, so we'll see what happens," he said. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told the newspaper Sermitsiaq that reports of Trump's interest in buying Greenland were laughable. "Greenland is not for sale," Frederiksen said. "Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland. I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously." [NBC News, CNBC]

7.

Iranian oil tanker leaves Gibraltar's waters

An Iranian oil tanker detained in Gibraltar since July 4 left the British overseas territory on Sunday. Gibraltar authorities ordered the release of the tanker, the Grace 1, after receiving written assurances it would not deliver its oil to Syria, which would have violated European Union sanctions. The U.S. had made a last-minute effort to seize the vessel on the grounds that it was linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the U.S. has labeled a terrorist organization subject to U.S. sanctions, but Gibraltar said only E.U. sanctions, not American ones, were applicable in its jurisdiction. Iran has denied the tanker was ever headed to Syria. [The New York Times, Reuters]

8.

Ex-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco dies at 76

Former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco died Sunday in hospice care after battling cancer. She was 76. Blanco, a Democrat, was the first woman elected governor in her state, but her political career unraveled after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Blanco was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer. Her treatment appeared successful but the cancer returned and spread. Blanco announced in December 2017 that she was in a "fight for my own life" that would be "difficult to win." Her family said in a statement released by Gov. John Bel Edwards' office that their "hearts are broken." [The Associated Press]

9.

Good Boys leads domestic box office

Universal Pictures' Good Boys led the domestic box office over the weekend, bringing in $21 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. The R-rated movie about the adventures of three preteen buddies scored the biggest opening of the year for an original comedy. Its haul beat analysts' expectations by more than 30 percent. "This is a franchise-level opening," David A. Gross, a movie consultant, wrote in a report noting that the film only cost $20 million to make. Good Boys' success followed a string of comedies that failed to click with moviegoers, including Stuber, Late Night, Long Shot, and Booksmart. [The New York Times]

10.

Former University of Texas standout Cedric Benson dies at 36

Former NFL running back Cedric Benson was killed in a motorcycle accident over the weekend in Austin, Texas, authorities told his attorney, Sam Bassett. Benson was 36. Benson was a top high school recruit, leading his Midland, Texas, school to three straight state championships. He went on to become one of the most prolific rushers ever at the University of Texas and the entire NCAA. At Texas, he ran for 5,540 yards from 2001-2004, the second highest total ever for a Longhorn, and the ninth highest in NCAA history. In the NFL, he played eight seasons for the Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, and Green Bay Packers. After he retired, he launched a foundation, NUFCED, to help underprivileged children. [The Associated Press]