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December 17, 2018

The winner of the 2018 Miss Universe pageant is Miss Philippines Catriona Gray.

The 24-year-old was crowned the winner Sunday night in Bangkok. She defeated 93 other contestants, including first runner-up Miss South Africa Tamaryn Green and second runner-up Miss Venezuela Sthefany Gutierrez. This was the first year that the selection committee was comprised solely of women.

Born in Australia, Gray entered her first pageant at age five, and studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Catherine Garcia

8:33 a.m.

Max Stier, a former Yale University classmate of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, reportedly notified senators and the FBI during the justice's confirmation process last year about a previously unreported sexual misconduct allegation involving Kavanaugh when he was a student at Yale.

Stier reportedly said he saw Kavanaugh — a freshman at the time — at a drunken dorm party with his pants down when his friends then pushed his penis into a female student's hands. The story is similar to an allegation against Kavanaugh made by another Yale student, Deborah Ramirez, but it is unclear if they are the same incident. It is also unclear if Stier knew the female student, or if she has verified the incident as described.

The FBI reportedly did not investigate the allegation and Stier has declined to speak about it publicly, but The New York Times reports it corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Stier.

Kavanaugh faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct during his confirmation process, though only one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, was permitted to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

8:18 a.m.

Iran on Sunday denied U.S. accusations that it was behind Saturday's drone strikes on two major oil sites in Saudi Arabia, which forced Saudi Aramco to suspend its production output by half.

Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran in a civil war against a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the attacks, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Tehran, arguing there was "no evidence the attacks came from Yemen."

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, said Pompeo was "turning to 'max deceit'" after "having failed at 'max pressure,;" and Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, called Pompeo's allegations "pointless."

Regardless of whether Pompeo's claims are correct, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia already accuse Tehran of providing Houthi forces with military equipment and training. So, if the rebels did in fact launch the attacks, it is unlikely Washington would ignore Iran's potential role in the incident.

The situation is just the latest example of heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, which have risen since the U.S. departed the 2015 nuclear pact and placed sanctions on Iran. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

September 14, 2019

President Trump tweeted Saturday that he's been in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the possibility of moving forward with a mutual defense treaty between the two nations.

The fact that the treaty has been discussed is only surprising in the sense that the two countries already have a close military partnership. It appears, then, that Trump's statement might be linked to Israel's election which is set next week.

Axios reports that Trump's announcement was "exactly the kind of support" Netanyahu has long been seeking from Trump as he looks to hold on to his post. In response, Netanyahu thanked the president, saying Israel has "never had a greater friend in the White House." Tim O'Donnell

September 14, 2019

A two-and-half-years old lawsuit finally came to a close Friday, when Judge Richard E. Moore ruled that two confederate statues of Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, must remain standing. Moore, however, did not award any damages after plaintiffs argued that the 188 days the statues remained covered by tarps encroached on a state law protecting war memorials and caused the plaintiffs emotional distress. He did say he would award attorney fees.

The city had said the law was unconstitutional because the war memorials send a racist message, The Guardian reports. But the argument was unable to sway Moore, even though he did acknowledge the authors of the historic preservation statute likely had more sinister intent.

"I don't think I can infer that a historical preservation statute was intended to be racist," Moore said. "Certainly, [racism] was on their minds, but we should not judge the current law by that intent."

The statues were covered by tarps following the death of Heather Heyer at a violent "Unite the Right" rally in the Virginia city in August 2017. Read more at The Daily Progress and The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

September 14, 2019

The possible Massachusetts Senate showdown between Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) might not shape up the way most people think.

Kennedy hasn't officially announced he's challenging Markey, the incumbent, but the signs are pointing to it becoming ever more and more likely. Many expect the 38-year-old Kennedy, if he were to run, to receive votes from the younger, more progressive wing of the Democratic Party (even though the 73-year-old Markey is considered a progressive himself), in what some Massachusetts Democrats fear could become a distracting election that could take away the time, energy, and money they think is required to beat Republicans.

"You know, I think you'll see the establishment-type people gravitate toward Ed, and the more non-establishment-type people gravitate toward Joe," one Boston-based donor told Politico.

But, so far, that hasn't been the case, The Hill reports.

Some younger progressives like Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — who partnered with Markey on the Green New Deal — are backing the senator. Ocasio-Cortez called Markey "a proud and strong progressive champion for working families" and reportedly urged Kennedy not to run for his seat. Instead, she reportedly encouraged him to run for the other Massachusetts seat that could open up if Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) leaves the state for the Oval Office next year. Warren is also supporting Markey. Read more at Politico and The Hill. Tim O'Donnell

September 14, 2019

President Trump confirmed in a statement Saturday that the U.S. killed Hamza bin Laden, the son of the al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, in a counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Trump and administration officials provided no further details other than a three-sentence statement confirming the news. It remains unclear precisely how, where, and when he was killed, though American officials have reportedly said there is some indication that the CIA, rather than the U.S. military, conducted the operation, The Associated Press reports.

The younger bin Laden's death was first reported in July, but the White House did not officially confirm.

Trump's statement said bin Laden's death "not only deprives al Qaeda of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father, but undermines important operational activities of the group." The State Department had announced a $1 million award back in February for information on Bin Laden's whereabouts. He was reportedly being prepared for a leadership role in al Qaeda. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

September 14, 2019

The three Republicans challenging President Trump in the party's presidential primary think the incumbent should stand up and fight.

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R), and former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) teamed up to pen an op-ed in The Washington Post calling out Trump's re-election campaign and the four states — South Carolina, Kansas, Arizona, and Nevada — that have canceled state GOP primaries.

Walsh, Weld, and Sanford often vary significantly in tone and policy, but they all agree that the cancellations are "the latest disgrace" brought forth by the Trump administration trying to maneuver its way out of competition (it's worth noting that states, including Arizona, have called off primaries for incumbents several times before.) The candidates argue the GOP is missing out on a crucial opportunity for debate over ideas and policy because its too focused on holding on to the White House. "If a party stands for nothing but re-election, it indeed stands for nothing," they wrote.

They even briefly praised their Democratic counterparts, pointing out the party is allowing its citizens to choose the best nominee following months of rigorous debate and campaigning throughout the country. Still, they said it would be a "critical mistake to allow the Democratic Party to dominate the national conversation during primary and caucus season."

In the end, the challengers believe it boils down to the fact that Trump is scared. "Cowards run from fights," they wrote. "Warriors stand and fight for what they believe. The United States respects warriors. Only the weak fear competition." Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

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