March 22, 2017

In 2008, Alexander Acosta, then the top federal prosecutor in Miami, cut a deal with billionaire investor Jeffrey Epstein in which Epstein pleaded guilty to a Florida charge of soliciting underage girls, earning a 13-month jail sentence, in return for immunity from federal prosecution for any offenses committed between 2001 and 2007. If Acosta had prosecuted him on federal charges tied to his alleged sexual abuse of more than 40 girls, mostly aged 13 to 17, he faced up to life in prison. Acosta, who is President Trump's second nominee for labor secretary, is now facing scrutiny in a civil case in Florida over Epstein's light sentence, and Trump is on the witness list.

Trump is just one of the famous people who palled around with Epstein before his fall from grace, partying at his Palm Beach mansion and flying off on his private jet to his private Caribbean estate. Former President Bill Clinton, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Buffett, Michael Jackson, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair were among his other guests. (None, including Trump, has been accused of participating in Epstein's sexual misdeeds.) But Trump is on the witness list because, lawyers for Epstein's victims say, he might have useful information, as Epstein was apparently banned from Mar-a-Lago "because Epstein sexually assaulted an underage girl at the club." Lawyers involved with several Epstein cases tell The Washington Post there's almost no chance that Trump will actually be required to testify.

Acosta's deal with Epstein stipulated that "this agreement will not be made part of any public record," though it was unsealed in 2015 as part of a civil lawsuit. In the current suit, lawyers for the women argue they had a right to know about the deal under the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act, charging that Acosta hid the agreement to avoid "the intense public criticism that would have resulted from allowing a politically connected billionaire" to get off easy.

In a 2011 open letter to the media, Acosta noted that "Epstein, a billionaire, served time in jail and is now a registered sex offender," and said he had declined to press charges after a "a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors" by "an army of legal superstars" representing Epstein, including Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, and several prominent defense attorneys. Dershowitz told The Washington Post that Acosta had tried his best to indict, but "we outlawyered him." Peter Weber

10:14 a.m.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson isn't going anywhere.

You might expect him to, given his sudden, strange laughs mid-broadcast — the sort of thing that could have taken him off air for a while in the "Dean scream" era. Or you might think he'd resign over a college yearbook image circulating in which a much younger Carlson appears to make an inside joke about the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Macone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the latter of whom was California's first openly gay elected official.

You'd be wrong. We're in a weird space, culturally, with public shaming and what used to be called "gaffes." I think there's something real to the charge of "cancel culture," though the concept is much abused. Yet, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed in 10 theses on the subject, its threat "is most effective against people who are still rising in their fields." For those who have reached the top, particularly in politics, the threat is increasingly empty.

Indeed, in that elite realm — which obviously includes Carlson, for all his railing against the elite — we're rapidly approaching a point where anything short of tattooing Nazi symbols on your face on live television is not disqualifying for anyone willing and able to ignore the haters for a few weeks or months. Memories are short. Forced resignations aren't what they once were. Now, you can just refuse to be embarrassed and keep on trucking. Former President Donald Trump was a big part of this shift, but so are Democratic Govs. Ralph Northam (Va.) and Andrew Cuomo (N.Y.), who have steadfastly refused to resign after major public scandals.

Carlson, who last year had the highest-rated program in cable news history and is a rumored 2024 GOP contender (he denies interest), will do the same. The playbook is very simple. He's already using it, just as he has with scandals past. When his show's lead writer resigned after getting caught writing pseudonymous, racist posts online, Carlson took a vacation he said was "long-planned," then simply moved on from the subject. This month, he walked up to the line of advocating "replacement theory," then doubled down, with network support.

This is just opposition research, he'll tell his fans of the yearbook. Our shared enemies are attacking me because I'm telling the truth, and because they hate you. It's all tribal. It's all dishonest. It's all games. It's all irrelevant. And it will be. Bonnie Kristian

9:41 a.m.

Alexei Navalny, the imprisoned critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, will end his three-week hunger strike following recent warnings that his health is deteriorating and he could be near death.

Navalny announced Friday he will end his hunger strike, which he began on March 31 in protest of not being allowed to see private doctors in prison to be treated for medical issues, Axios reports.

"I do not withdraw the requirement to admit the necessary doctor to me — I am losing sensitivity in parts of my arms and legs, and I want to understand what it is and how to treat it, but taking into account the progress and all the circumstances, I am starting to get out of the hunger strike," Navalny wrote on Instagram, per CNN.

Navalny, who has blamed his poisoning last year on Putin, was recently moved to a prison hospital after physician Yaroslav Ashikhmin warned of Navalny's elevated levels of potassium, saying "our patient could die at any moment." Five doctors for Navalny this week in a letter urged him to "immediately" end the hunger strike "to preserve his life and health," per The Washington Post.

On Friday, Navalny wrote that he now been examined by civilian doctors, according to The Associated Press. "Thanks to the huge support of good people across the country and around the world, we have made huge progress," he said. Brendan Morrow

8:24 a.m.

University of Oxford scientists have reportedly developed the first malaria vaccine which, in a trial, surpassed a key goal of greater than 75 percent efficacy.

In a trial consisting of 450 children in Burkina Faso between the ages of five and 17 months, this vaccine candidate was shown to be 77 percent effective against malaria, Bloomberg reports. It also showed a "favorable safety profile and was well-tolerated." The study was published in The Lancet, though it has not yet been peer-reviewed, and the vaccine is set to be studied further in larger clinical trials with 4,800 children in four African countries.

But Bloomberg noted it was the first vaccine against malaria to show greater than 75 percent efficacy, the World Health Organization goal for such a vaccine. According to BBC News, the most effective malaria vaccine to this point showed 55 percent efficacy in trials with African children. There were an estimated 409,000 malaria deaths and 229 million cases worldwide in 2019, the World Health Organization says.

"An effective and safe malaria vaccine would be a hugely significant extra weapon in the armory needed to defeat malaria," Malaria No More U.K.'s Gareth Jenkins said. "Countries freed from the malaria burden will be much better equipped to fight off new disease threats when they inevitably emerge in the future."

Adrian Hill, director of the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute, also told BBC News that the trial suggests this vaccine "has the potential to have a major public health impact." Brendan Morrow

7:29 a.m.

India on Friday reported 332,730 new COVID-19 cases from the past 24 hours, beating the grim record it set Thursday, and oxygen supplies in the country are so low that several hospitals in the capital, New Delhi, said they have nearly or completely exhausted their supplies. As hospital put out emergency calls for oxygen on social media, the government is scrambling to ship in reserves from retooled industrial oxygen plants. Meanwhile, COVID-19 patients are dying while their families search for open hospital beds, and crematoriums cannot keep up with demand.

India on Friday reported 2,263 new deaths over the past 24 hours, for a total pandemic fatality count of 186,920, but "those who've analyzed the numbers of daily cremations taking place suggest the number is many times higher," Aleem Maqbool reports at BBC News.

An analysis Thursday by the Financial Times found that the number of COVID-19 cremations in four Indian states was anywhere from three times the official number of COVID-19 deaths in some districts to 100 times higher in others. "Local news reports for seven districts across the states of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar show that while at least 1,833 people are known to have died of COVID-19 in recent days, based mainly on cremations, only 228 have been officially reported," FT says.

Health experts blame India's COVID-19 tsunami on more transmissible new variants, especially the B.1.617 strain first detected in the country last month, plus a lack of preparation for a coronavirus resurgence and decisions by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist BJP party to permit mass Hindu religious gatherings and hold packed BJP rallies for upcoming elections in West Bengal state.

Vijay Chauthaiwale, a BJP official who heads India's foreign affairs department, told BBC News there's no proof the rallies and Hindu festivals were super-spreader events and blamed the rise in cases on individuals deciding to stop social distancing and mask-wearing, and start using public transportation. But BJP isn't above politicizing the pandemic.

"The entire system has broken down," Santosh Kumar, the son of a BJP leader in Lucknow, told FT. "Every other person in the administration here is quarantining. People are finding out from each other what medication to take and doing what they can." Peter Weber

5:23 a.m.

President Biden on Thursday nominated longtime environmental advocate Tracy Stone-Manning to head the Bureau of Land Management, the Interior Department division that oversees about a quarter-billion acres of federal lands in Western states. BLM also manages drilling and mining rights, animal grazing, and recreational activities on those lands.

Stone-Manning, 55, has worked at the National Wildlife Federation since 2015, and before that she led Montana's Department of Environmental Quality and worked as chief of staff to former Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and an aide to Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Tester said in a statement that Stone-Manning is "a tireless public lands champion with a lifetime of experience," while Montana's other senator, Steve Daines (R), said he would be "digging through and looking at her record and history" on environmental and energy issues.

BLM never had a Senate-confirmed director under former President Donald Trump, who cycled through "a string of acting directors to execute a loosening of restrictions on industry," The Associated Press reports. "Chief among them was conservative lawyer William Perry Pendley, who before he took the position advocated for selling off federal lands." After Pendley stayed in the job for more than a year without a Senate hearing, Bullock — with Stone-Manning's support — sued, and a federal judge ordered Pendley removed.

Montana Petroleum Association director Alan Olson said Stone-Manning, who he served on a climate council with, is highly intelligent, "left of center" but not extreme, and receptive to opposing arguments, but she should expect from Republicans the same treatment Democrats afforded Trump's appointees. "Tracy went after Pendley," he told AP. "She can expect the same." Peter Weber

4:20 a.m.

"Happy Earth Day," Jimmy Fallon said on Thursday's Tonight Show. "Everyone's in the spirit. This morning at 7-Eleven I saw a rat drinking a Big Gulp with a metal straw," and "Subway recycled last week's tuna."

"President Biden hosted 40 world leaders for a virtual climate change summit," Fallon said. "With any virtual event, you're gonna have some technical glitches, but I didn't think it'd be quite this bad," he added. "Somehow we just flew a helicopter on Mars but we still can't get a Zoom meeting to work. Next time every leader will be required to have at least one grandchild present. It's funny that we were watching Putin and he didn't know he was on camera, because usually it's the other way around. "

"Humans celebrating Earth Day is like fleas celebrating Dog Day," Jimmy Kimmel joked at Kimmel Live. "There's actually something to celebrate today, though," because Biden "announced that the Unites States will cut our carbon emissions in half by the year 2030 — which is huge, because the science is absolutely clear that it's necessary to avoid a worldwide catastrophe. No one should be against this, so naturally almost every Republican is against this."

Biden's ambitious climate plan "can be met only by sharply cutting back oil, gas, and coal use," Stephen Colbert said at The Late Show. "That's gonna be rough on Santa. 'Ho ho ho, Katie! You've been naughty but coal's canceled, so here's the Snyder cut of Cats.'" Meanwhile on Mars, NASA's Perseverance rover just successfully turned carbon dioxide into oxygen, he noted. Because "when you think of planets in desperate need of a way to deal with excess carbon dioxide on Earth Day, you think Mars."

"Rough day for Earth Day, for the planet," James Corden said at The Late Late Show. "We've been giving so much attention to Mars recently, I'd really like it if we all just spend these next couple of days just really making it special for Earth." During Biden's virtual summit, "Vladimir Putin was adamant we cannot keep killing the planet — only journalists and political rivals. Not everyone was thrilled about the summit, though," he said. "Earlier today, climate activists dumped over a dozen wheelbarrows of cow poop in front of the White House to protest Biden's climate plan as bulls--t. ... Subtle."

Corden and Kimmel dryly reminded everyone the Oscars are Sunday, and The Late Show created a mock cinematic preview. Watch below. Peter Weber

2:14 a.m.

Where most people saw an empty field at Satilla Marsh Elementary School in Brunswick, Georgia, four students instead envisioned a beautiful, tree-filled space — so they got to work and are making their forest come to life.

The fourth graders — Boston Riley, Griffin Goldstone, Abbott Johnson, and Tanner Lochstampfor — launched Green Leaves, a club that is not only planting trees on campus, but also promoting global reforestation. They have partnered with Forest Nation, and are planning a fundraiser later this year to sell trees for local residents to buy and then plant at home. For every tree sold, another will be planted in Tanzania.

"We were thinking how many trees get chopped down in this community," Riley told The Brunswick News. "So we were thinking it couldn't just be a school thing. We could just make it the whole community."

Using materials from Forest Nation, the students are learning about the importance of reforestation, and how it leads to cleaner air and creates jobs. They also intend on donating 25 percent of the proceeds from their fundraiser to the Glynn Environment Coalition, a gift that its executive director, Rachael Thompson, is excited to receive. "Youth are our future, and the fact that these young men have come out and decided to actually take an action to do something to better our environment and support or organization, that's kind of just a plus," she told The Brunswick News. Catherine Garcia

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