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March 26, 2019

Empire actor Jussie Smollett has just had all of the charges against him dropped.

Smollett, who was hit with 16 felony counts after police said he staged a fake hate crime against himself, was called in for an emergency court appearance on Tuesday, and his lawyers subsequently confirmed that all of the criminal charges against him have been dropped, per BuzzFeed News. They also said that "his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him."

Police said last month that Smollett staged an attack against himself because he was dissatisfied with his salary on Empire. He allegedly wrote a $3,500 check to two brothers in exchange for them helping him carry out the supposed hate crime.

Smollett continued to maintain his innocence, though, and his lawyers said in a statement on Tuesday that he "was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement." They also maintained that Smollett was "attacked by two people he was unable to identify on Jan. 29."

The details of what resulted in these charges being dropped have not yet been revealed, but the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said in a statement per The Hollywood Reporter that "after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett's volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the city of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case." Smollett's family said in a statement per BuzzFeed that "we are grateful that the truth about Jussie has come to light." Brendan Morrow

This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.

March 15, 2019

President Trump and a New Zealand shooter have picked some eerily similar words.

On Friday morning in Christchurch, New Zealand, attacks by at least one shooter at two mosques left 49 people dead. The alleged gunman, who has been arrested, was found to have a manifesto where he declared "we are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history," per The Kansas City Star. The purported shooter specifically decried the "millions of people pouring across our borders."

Hours later, a shockingly similar phrase came from the president. Trump, after vetoing a bill that would've blocked his national emergency declaration to access border wall funding, briefly condemned the shooting before pivoting back to border talk. There are "crimes of all kinds coming through our southern border," Trump said, adding that "people hate the word 'invasion,' but that's what it is."

Also on Friday, Trump was asked if he saw "white nationalism as a rising threat around the world." "I don't really," Trump responded, saying "it's a small group of people" committing these crimes. Advocacy groups have said hate group activity has been rising in the U.S. for the past few years, and investigative reports have backed that up.

Trump first started using the term "invasion" when a migrant caravan started moving toward the U.S.-Mexico border from more than a thousand miles away. Those asylum seekers are being forced to wait in Mexico for months or even years as their claims are processed. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 21, 2019

The federal prosecutors who signed a plea agreement with Florida millionaire Jeffrey Epstein broke the law, a judge said Thursday, reports The Miami Herald.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the prosecutors involved in the sex-trafficking case, including then-Florida prosecutor and current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by not keeping Epstein's victims informed about the agreement, per Politico. After the deal, which resolved a case in which Epstein was accused of building a "cult-like network" of girls coerced into sexual acts, Epstein ultimately served 13 months in prison. The deal, which Acosta agreed to seal, was kept secret from dozens of women who alleged abuse.

“Particularly problematic was the government's decision to conceal the existence of the [agreement] and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility," the judge said. "When the government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading. While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [agreement] with Epstein's attorneys, scant information was shared with victims."

Marra also said he has reviewed evidence that Epstein violated sex trafficking laws and abused at least 30 girls between 1997 and 2007, per NBC News. "Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others," Marra said. The Labor Department did not comment on the ruling. Brendan Morrow

January 31, 2019

America's immigration court system is facing a backlog of cases that will take years to sort through. Some migrants have been sent to Mexico to await asylum hearings, while others are being detained in the U.S. as their status is processed.

But while embarking on a hunger strike to protest conditions in immigration facilities, some detainees in El Paso, Texas have been force fed by immigration officials, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

Nearly 30 detainees, largely from India and Cuba, have been refusing food and drink for upwards of 30 days, a relative and attorney tells AP. They are protesting "rampant verbal abuse and threats of deportation from guards," as well as "lengthy lock ups while awaiting legal proceedings," AP writes. The recent government shutdown only exacerbated those long waits, pushing asylum hearings scheduled during the shutdown to the end of a very long line.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has "a more narrow definition of hunger strike," AP says. But a spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that 11 detainees at the El Paso Processing Center are refusing food and four more are doing so across Miami, Phoenix, San Diego, and San Francisco. In a Wednesday statement to the El Paso Times, ICE said six strikers are "currently being hydrated and fed non-consensually under court orders" using nasal tubes.

ICE also said it is monitoring the striking detainees' food and water intake "to protect their health and safety," AP writes. But one relative countered that, saying his two nephews have had nosebleeds and been "hospitalized, back and forth." A self-described dissident in detention and an attorney both said hunger strikers are being put in solitary confinement "as punishment." Read more at The Associated Press. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 4, 2018

One miniscule microchip, found on Chinese-built motherboards, may have infiltrated the world's biggest companies and the depths of the U.S. government. But the extent of its devastation — and its future potential — is still unknown, a massive investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek reveals.

Back when it was still developing Prime Video, Amazon aimed to and later did acquire Elemental Technologies, a startup whose video-streaming software had already landed it a CIA contract. Elemental's video-compressing servers were assembled by Californian company Supermicro, which in turn built its motherboards in China. And during the pre-acquisition process, those motherboards — essentially the brains of servers — were reportedly revealed to contain a rice-grain-sized chip that wasn't part of their original blueprint, "sending a shudder through the intelligence community," Businessweek says.

Elemental's servers were in U.S. Navy ships and Defense Department data centers, Businessweek interviews with U.S. officials reveal. Supermicro also reportedly had hundreds of customers beyond Elemental, including Apple, a top bank, and government contractors. And since this was a physical infestation, the consequences could be far more severe than a wireless hacking. The 2015 incident reportedly sparked an ongoing, top-secret federal investigation, which so far has revealed "the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines," Businessweek reports. The probe also concluded that Chinese subcontractors implanted the chips, officials tell Businessweek.

Apple, Amazon, and Supermicro denied knowing about an investigation into the malicious chips, with Amazon also saying "it's untrue that [Amazon Web Services] knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental." The Chinese government claimed to be "a resolute defender of cybersecurity" in statements to Bloomberg. Yet former and current national security officials say the companies knew they were victims of a hack and that Amazon cooperated with the government's probe.

Read the whole report at Bloomberg Businessweek. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 26, 2017

New findings released this week by NASA revealed how much we still have to learn about Jupiter. The results thus far from NASA's Juno mission, which launched in August 2011 but just reached Jupiter in July, uncovered an array of astonishing and unexpected facts about the solar system's largest planet:

  • Jupiter's top and bottom poles are enveloped in massive cyclones, some spanning 870 miles across.

  • Jupiter's equatorial region houses pools of ammonia rising from deep within the planet's atmosphere. The Juno mission's principal investigator, Scott Bolton, called this "the most startling feature that was brand-new and unexpected."
  • Jupiter boasts a magnetic field that "is nearly 50 percent stronger than previously suspected in some place," Science magazine reported. To put it into perspective, Jupiter's magnetic field could be 10 times stronger than Earth's strongest magnetic field.

  • Unlike Earth's polar auroras, which Science magazine explains are "fueled by particles streaming in from space," Jupiter's auroras are powered by electrons from "deep within the planet's atmosphere."

Needless to say, it's a far cry from researchers' initial expectation of fairly humdrum findings. "There is so much going on here that we didn't expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter," Bolton said.

Next up, on July 11, Juno will take a closer look at Jupiter's Great Red Spot. In the meantime, check out a few more jaw-dropping photos from Juno's first flyby. Becca Stanek

October 9, 2016

Lawmakers in the Bundesrat, the upper house of Germany's parliament, agreed to a resolution that would ban production of all new internal combustion engines — which means all new gas- and diesel-powered cars — beginning in 2030, Der Spiegel reported Saturday. Instead, "only zero-emission passenger vehicles will be approved," the ban says.

On its own, the resolution has no legal authority, because such a ban would have to be enacted by the European Union, not at the national level. However, notes Forbes, "German regulations traditionally have shaped EU" regulations, so the ban could be made enforceable if the predictable objections of European automakers (and the many auto factory workers who would lose their jobs) are overcome.

Supporters of the engine ban say it is necessary to slow the effects of climate change. "If the Paris agreement to curb climate-warming emissions is to be taken seriously, no new combustion engine cars should be allowed on roads after 2030," said Oliver Krischer, a German Greens party lawmaker, referencing the recently ratified Paris climate agreement, which is concerned with greenhouse gas emissions like those produced by gas-powered cars. Bonnie Kristian

August 27, 2016

If you're ever stranded on a desert island, writing "SOS" in giant letters in the sand actually can help — or, at least, it helped a pair of boaters rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard from an uninhabited island in Micronesia on Friday.

The pair began their journey on Wednesday, August 17, and were expected to arrive at their destination one day later. Instead, they landed on the empty island near the Chuuk Lagoon on Friday, August 19, and survived on limited supplies for a week until the SOS was noticed by a U.S. Navy plane. Before the SOS was spotted, rescuers searched some 17,000 square miles without success. Bonnie Kristian

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