May 24, 2017

In addition to apparently giving Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte a pat on the back for the extrajudicial slaughter of thousands of small-time drug users and dealers, President Trump apparently made another major stumble during the leaders' April phone call: revealing where our nuclear submarines are.

On Tuesday, a leaked transcript of their conversation revealed that Trump reassured Duterte that America has "a lot of firepower" near North Korea. "We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all," Trump said.

Defense officials were horrified. "We never talk about the subs!" three separate Pentagon officials told BuzzFeed News. While the U.S. announces the movements of aircraft carriers as a show of force — and because they're not very easy to hide — submarines "are, at times, a furtive complement to the carriers, a hard-to-detect means of strategic deterrence," BuzzFeed News writes:

By announcing the presence of nuclear submarines, the president, some Pentagon officials privately explained, gives away the element of surprise — an irony given his repeated declarations during the campaign that the U.S. announces far too many of its military plans when it comes to combating ISIS.

Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. Knowing that two U.S. submarines are in the region could allow them to test their own military capabilities. [BuzzFeed News]

Additionally, it is unclear why Trump chose to volunteer the potentially sensitive information to Duterte, as the Philippines are not involved with the U.S. military on de-escalating and deterring North Korean aggression. Following Trump's highly criticized decision to share extraordinarily sensitive intelligence with the Russians "off script" earlier this month, his comments to Duterte are "likely to raise questions about his handling of sensitive information," Reuters reports. Jeva Lange

2:56 p.m.

@SudanMealProject isn't actually counting on your likes to hand out meals to children in Sudan.

Neither are @SudanMealProjectOfficial, @SudanMealOfficial, @sudan.meals.project, or pretty much any other Instagram accounts claiming to help people displaced during months of uprisings in Sudan. They're all just fishing for followers and engagement by falsely claiming they'll send a meal to Sudan for every like or share, Taylor Lorenz reports for The Atlantic.

Protests have rocked the northeast African country for months on end, forcing autocratic President Omar Al-Bashir from power in February but continuing as a military council now runs the country. Security forces have continually stormed protest camps, leaving dozens dead each time. It's all sparked a global outcry for those civilian protesters — though not necessarily because they're facing widespread starvation.

Sudan hasn't experienced a declared famine since the early 2000's, and near-famine conditions are actually more of the case in South Sudan, which is a completely separate nation. Yet dozens of Instagram accounts, all with the same steel-blue logo, are claiming they're helping the situation by purportedly sending meals overseas. They often claim one share of a post correlates to one meal sent overseas, which, as The Atlantic documents, is not true. They're largely just looking to grow their follower counts and engagement rates.

To make matters worse, as these accounts are exposed, they often change their Instagram handles to names like "@fakesudanmeal.project" and ask for shares to "expose" that the named account was fake all along. Instead, Lorenz recommends "amplifying the voices of actual Sudanese activists and organizations already working in the country, including Save the Children, UNICEF, and the International Rescue Committee." Read more at The Atlantic. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:38 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is setting his sights on states no Democratic candidate for president has won in decades.

Biden during a presidential forum on Monday was asked when he'll spend time in the south during his 2020 campaign, to which he responded, "I plan on campaigning in the south. I plan on, if I'm your nominee, winning Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, believe it or not."

During the 2016 election, President Trump won Georgia by about five percentage points, and no Democrat has won the state since Bill Clinton in 1992. It's been even longer since a Democrat won South Carolina: the last one to do so was Jimmy Carter in 1976; Trump won the state in 2016 by 14 percentage points. North Carolina went to a Democrat more recently, though: Barack Obama won it in 2008. In 2016, Trump won North Carolina by almost four percentage points.

Biden also set his sights on Texas, another state no Democrat has won since Carter in 1976. "I believe we can win Texas and Florida if you look at the polling data now," Biden said. Some recent polls have showed Biden ahead of Trump in the state. Florida went to Trump in 2016 after going for Obama in 2012.

The former vice president also received a question from MSNBC's Joy Reid during this event about how he plans to work with Republicans, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), responding that "I know you're one of the ones who thinks it's naive to say we have to work together" but promising he'll be able to "persuade the public" and adding that "you can shame people to do things the right way." Brendan Morrow

2:34 p.m.

A bipartisan bill proposal could help end what its sponsors consider a "perpetual state" of probation and parole violations that keeps many formerly incarcerated citizens trapped within the correctional system, The Hill reports.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jordan Harris (D) teamed up with colleague Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R), as well as rapper Meek Mill's Reform Alliance, which initially proposed the bill, last month to introduce the bill. If passed and signed, it would eliminate consecutive probation sentences and prohibit probation extensions over the nonpayment of fines and costs. Harris told The Hill that judges can currently extend probation parole times indefinitely, leading to the aforementioned perpetual state.

"Probation and parole is like the quicksand of the criminal justice system," he said. "The moment that you get in, it's hard to get out."

Delozier, the bill's lead sponsor, added that the bill would also allow former inmates more flexibility, mentioning, for example, that a parolee would be able to work with his or her parole officer to reschedule parole meetings for things like job interviews. That doesn't mean there won't be consequences if someone does break the rules of their probation, Delozier said, but "the flexibility does need to be there."

Pennsylvania has the second-highest rate of citizens on probation or parole in the U.S. Read more at The Hill. Tim O'Donnell

1:41 p.m.

Nicholas Sparks has issued an apology after a report showing he expressed opposition to an LGBTQ club at his school.

A report from The Daily Beast last week detailed how the bestselling author of The Notebook is in the middle of a legal battle with the former headmaster of his North Carolina prep school, the Epiphany School of Global Studies. Emails that came to light as part of this court case showed Sparks pushing for an LGBTQ club at the school to be banned, writing that "not allowing them to have a club is NOT discrimination" and that "there will be no club" like this at the school. In another, he tells the headmaster that he has "what some perceive as an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted."

In a statement on Monday, Sparks said that "I regret and apologize" over the fact that his words have "potentially hurt young people and members of the LGBTQ community." Sparks goes on to say that he is "an unequivocal supporter of gay marriage, gay adoption, and equal employment rights" and that "when in one of my emails I used language such as 'there will never be an LGBT club' at Epiphany, l was responding heatedly to how the headmaster had gone about initiating this club."

One of the emails in question had included Sparks saying that "we've had gay students before" and that the previous headmaster "handled it quietly and wonderfully." Sparks said he meant that the headmaster "supported them in a straightforward, unambiguous way."

While leaving some of the quotes from his emails unaddressed, Sparks said he regrets failing "to be more unequivocal about my support for the students in question." The author in a previous statement had dismissed the Daily Beast article as "not news." Brendan Morrow

1:01 p.m.

Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi collapsed during a court hearing on Monday and later died, Egyptian state media reports.

Morsi, who once was a top member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was in a court hearing facing espionage charges when he collapsed, BBC reports via Egyptian state media. He soon died and his body was taken to a hospital, The Associated Press continues.

While appearing in court Monday, Morsi "was speaking before the judge for 20 minutes then became very animated and fainted," a judicial source tells Al Jazeera. "He was quickly rushed to the hospital where he later died," the source continued. AP and BBC, citing state TV, say Morsi died before he reached the hospital.

Morsi was Egypt's first democratically elected president, taking office in 2012 after the end of the Arab Spring uprising and President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. He served just a year of his 4-year term before a military coup unseated him, and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took his place. Morsi had been in jail ever since, along with several other Muslim Brotherhood leaders. The Islamist group was outlawed following Morsi's ouster, and he and its leaders were soon hit with a variety of charges and tried by the new military-backed government. Morsi was previously sentenced to death, but it was overturned in 2016. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:39 p.m.

The Supreme Court split in what The Washington Post called an "unusual alignment" on Monday to dismiss a challenge to a lower court's findings on a Virginia gerrymandering issue.

Virginia's House Republicans were attempting to fight a ruling that said some of Virginia's legislative districts were racially gerrymandered, but the Supreme Court ruled they had no legal standing to continue doing so in a 5-4 split.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissenting opinion, backed up by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh.

Ginsburg argued that the House Republicans don't represent all of Virginia. "One House of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process," she wrote.

The decision could give an advantage to Virginia's Democrats, the Post reports, as they look to take control of the state legislature for the first time since 1995. Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring has opted not to appeal the ruling. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

12:27 p.m.

Jon Stewart doesn't need his own show to continue lambasting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — and McConnell now has a response.

Stewart last week delivered a fiery speech in a House Judiciary Committee hearing, urging Congress to permanently authorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. During the hearing, he blasted Congress for the hearing's low attendance, saying the sight of a "nearly empty Congress" is an "embarrassment to the country and it is a stain on this institution," also saying that those who weren't there should be "ashamed of yourselves."

McConnell dismissed that complaint in a Fox & Friends interview on Monday. "That frequently happens because members have a lot of things going on at the same time," McConnell said. "It sounds to me like he's looking for some way to take offense."

The Senate majority leader also responded to an interview with Stewart on Sunday in which the former Daily Show host complained that McConnell has never dealt with this issue "compassionately" and has "always held out until the very last minute" and only moved on the issue after "intense lobbying and public shaming."

"Many things in Congress happen at the last minute," McConnell said in response, promising the issue will be addressed and wondering why Stewart is "so bent out of shape." If this public feud continues, it may not be long before Stewart begins dusting off the turtle comparisons. Brendan Morrow

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