Kim Jong-un, Facebook, Sacramento: Your Wednesday Briefing

Opponents say the question would dissuade noncitizens, and even legal immigrants, from answering. The Trump administration says it’s needed for accurate estimates of voter numbers.

The Constitution requires that all residents of the U.S. be counted, whether or not they’re citizens.

Here’s why an accurate count is important.

A twist in Cambridge Analytica case

• Christopher Wylie was “like a pink-haired, nose-ringed oracle sent from the future to explain data” when he testified before British lawmakers on Tuesday, our correspondent writes.

Mr. Wylie, the 28-year-old whistle-blower and co-founder of the political data firm Cambridge Analytica, described how personal information about 50 million Facebook users was harvested.

He also said that his firm had received help from at least one employee of the defense contractor Palantir Technologies. Palantir was co-founded by Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member and supporter of President Trump.


Christopher Wylie, who worked for Cambridge Analytica until 2014, told British lawmakers on Tuesday, “The way I like to think of it, data is the electricity of our new economy, and electricity can be quite dangerous.”

Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, is said to have agreed to testify in at least one congressional hearing over the social network’s handling of user data.

No charges, again, for officers

• It’s the latest example of how rarely law enforcement officers are prosecuted for violence against suspects.

A pair of white police officers in Baton Rouge, La., will not be prosecuted by the state authorities over the fatal shooting of a black man, Alton Sterling, almost two years ago. Last year, the Justice Department also declined to bring charges in the case.


No Charges for Officers in Death of Alton Sterling

Alton Sterling was shot by the police outside a Baton Rouge, La., convenience store in 2016. The episode was captured on video.

By THE NEW YORK TIMES on Publish Date March 27, 2018.

Photo by William Widmer for The New York Times.

Watch in Times Video »

Separately on Tuesday, hundreds of demonstrators filled Sacramento City Hall to protest the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by two officers last week.

The Daily

Listen to ‘The Daily’: A Divisive Nominee

John R. Bolton, President Trump’s choice for national security adviser, was portrayed during a 2005 Senate confirmation hearing as a threat to U.S. interests.



Last week, we wrote about a major study of income inequality, focusing on how black boys and white boys raised in wealthy families fare as adults.

Here are income mobility charts for other groups, and a tool to make your own comparisons.

Uber says it won’t renew its permit to test self-driving cars in California until the end of an investigation into how one of its autonomous vehicles killed a woman in Arizona.

Arizona’s governor ordered the company to suspend tests there.

The fashion giant H&M has a problem: $4.3 billion worth of unsold clothes.

U.S. markets fell on Tuesday, led by tech stocks. Here’s a snapshot of global markets today.

Smarter Living

Tips, both new and old, for a more fulfilling life.

Determine whether your sickness is contagious.

Here’s how to decide if you should tell your boss about your mental illness.

Recipe of the day: Bake a lemon tart with a filling that’s somewhere between a custard and a pudding.

What We’re Reading

Our journalists recommend these great pieces:

“Facebook’s data laxity, piggybacked on the general theme of fake news, has turned my field — social media — into the topic of the moment. This piece offers a look from the ground up at what exactly social media is, by going inside one of my favorite platforms, Reddit.” [The New Yorker]

Nancy Wartik, Reader Center

“Adam Roberts died in January 2016 where he felt most alive: on the ski slopes of the Pacific Northwest. He was buried in an avalanche, an end that friends and even family felt he had courted. This is a story about skiing, and about a gifted and charismatic athlete who had a shot at professional status — but it’s really about ‘the blast zone of mental illness,’ which radiates out into so many lives.” [Outside]

John Schwartz, climate change reporter


New lessons from King’s death

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is next week. An exhibition at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis compares contemporary events with the demonstrations he led.

We’d also like to hear what his assassination means to you.

A former justice speaks

In an Op-Ed, the retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens argues that the Second Amendment needs to be repealed.

Tasty, whatever the category

It’s hard to say what kind of food Chez Ma Tante in Brooklyn serves, apart from the consistently good kind, our restaurant critic writes.


At Chez Ma Tante, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the plates are usually unfussy: a gob of chicken liver pâté, a stack of grilled miche, and a little pile of chile peppers.

Daniel Krieger for The New York Times

“Roseanne” is back

The ’90s sitcom returned to ABC on Tuesday, and the reboot “has the potential to do something a little deeper and more ambitious than your average nostalgia-fest,” our chief TV critic writes.

We spoke with Roseanne Barr, who, like her character on the show, supports President Trump.

If you prefer a dash of espionage, we also reviewed tonight’s premiere of the final season of “The Americans.”

Best of late-night TV

Trevor Noah was worried about a comment by John Bolton, President Trump’s nominee for national security adviser: “ ‘The earlier you strike, the more damage you can do:’ I think that’s a horrible strategy for keeping peace in the world. Although it is a great strategy for tackling an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

Quotation of the day

“I no longer have a family. The ruling regime is guilty. Every bureaucrat dreams of stealing like Putin. Every state functionary treats people like garbage.”

— Igor Vostrikov, whose wife, three children and sister were among dozens who died in a fire at a mall in Siberia.


A funeral today in Kemerovo, Russia, for one of the victims of the blaze that killed at least 64 people, many of them children.

Maxim Lisov/Reuters

The Times, in other words

A technical glitch prevented us from including an image of today’s front page, but you can find a list of its contents here, and links to our Opinion content and crossword puzzles.

Back Story

Each week, The Times’s crossword column, Wordplay, highlights the answer to one of the most difficult clues from the previous week’s puzzles.

This week’s word: torii.


A familiar sight in Japan, the torii was less well-known to Times crossword solvers.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Torii (pronounced TOR-ee-ee) are familiar as a symbol of Japan, but many solvers were unsure of the word when it appeared in the March 20 puzzle with the clue “Traditional Japanese gate.” It has appeared 63 times in Times crosswords.

The gates, which have a traditional shape and structure, are closely related to the Shinto religion. Typically located at the entrance of shrines or in spots that hold special religious significance, they signal a transition from the profane world to the sacred. By walking through the torii, one has entered the world of the Kami, or Shinto gods.

The earliest documentation of the torii in Japan dates to 922, during the Heian period.

The structure of the torii varies, but the most important parts are the pillars (hashira), the lintel placed on the two pillars (kasagi) and a tie-beam that keeps the structure together (nuki).

For the easier puzzles at the beginning of the week, the word might appear with the clue: “Shinto temple gateway” or “Shinto gateway.”

Later in the week, it might be referred to as: “Shinto shrine entrance,” “Traditional Japantown feature,” “Decorative gateway in Japan” or “Japanese portal.”

Deb Amlen contributed reporting.


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The Pro Football Hall of Fame Expansion Project Hits the Skids

The story of how something that began as a $25 million renovation of an old football stadium became an $1 billion, mixed-use mega-project is about two long-connected entities — local officials in Canton and Hall of Fame boosters — each hoping they could help solve each other’s problems.

Canton, an hour south of Cleveland in the heart of a region that has suffered hundreds of thousands of lost jobs in manufacturing during the past 50 years, needed something big to help boost the local economy. The Pro Football Hall of Fame, needed local support to become something more than a museum near a declining stadium. The Hall attracts 225,000 visitors annually, but many of them come on a single weekend in early August.


The annual induction ceremony for the Pro Football Hall of Fame attracts the largest crowds of the year to Canton, Ohio.

Dustin Franz for The New York Times

No one will ever confuse Canton with Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, a picturesque town and well-known summer opera destination, with nearby ski areas and lakes that combine to make it a year-round destination for people who never set foot into the baseball museum. But if the Pro Football Hall of Fame can bring hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment to Canton, as well as millions of visitors, it could have a transformative effect on the city.

Bill Krueger, whose company performed an economic impact study about the project, told the Canton Repository in 2015 the development could be a “game changer” for not only “our local and regional economy, but all of Northeast Ohio.”

Dateline for an Origin Story

What would become the National Football League was founded in 1920, at a Canton car dealership. Jim Thorpe was elected its first president, and the Canton Bulldogs won two early championships. Financial troubles and the city’s small size caused the Bulldogs to fold in 1927, but Canton’s place at the heart of the game was secured in 1963, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened in town.

For the next 50 years, the Hall of Fame existed as a museum next to a small stadium — owned by the local school district — that attracted football enthusiasts and the N.F.L. once a year for its induction ceremony and preseason game. Then four years ago, the Hall of Fame announced a plan for a $25 million stadium upgrade, with the possibility of additional development.

In 2015, the Hall of Fame unveiled an expanded plan for what had become a $476 million Hall of Fame Village. An economic development report commissioned by the Hall projected a completion date of 2019, 1 million visitors by 2020 and 3 million by 2025.

Months later, the complete rebuilding of Tom Benson Stadium began. The old Fawcett Stadium was renamed after the late owner of the New Orleans Saints when he donated $11 million toward construction. Much of that work was completed in time for an unveiling ceremony at the 2017 Hall of Fame game in August, though construction in one end of the stadium remains incomplete. The rebuild has cost at least $150 million so far.

Laborers worked double shifts and on weekends to get the stadium ready for the Hall of Fame game. Then, in September, contractors working on the stadium only received 60 percent of what they were owed, according to John Ross, an attorney for four of the contractors. In January, the contractors filed liens against the project.


North Canton Mayor David Held at the the Hoover District project in his town. The project has been stalled for two years. A developer in the Hoover project is involved in the Hall of Fame Village project in nearby Canton.

Andrew Spear for The New York Times

By early February, at least 18 mostly small and local contractors had filed over $8 million in liens. Not getting paid caused a “negative cascading effect on the finances” of the contractors he represents, said Ross.

I.R.G. finally paid the contractors last week. Ross said a number of them had gotten involved in the project because of its importance to Canton, but they will be hesitant to perform work on the Hall of Fame Village in the future without adequate assurances of sufficient funding.

The contractors were paid days after I.R.G. closed on an up-to-$100 million short-term loan for the project. The loan was provided by Great American Capital Partners, a Los Angeles-based finance company. Great American didn’t respond to messages requesting comment on the loan.

Financing documents filed with local authorities show about $35 million in funding for the stadium renovation is coming from various public sources. Another $13 million comes from donations made by Tom Benson and various foundations.

The project also no longer has a $476 million price tag. C. David Baker, the Hall president, has begun calling it a billion dollar development, with most of the work yet to be completed. It isn’t clear if private funding can cover the costs, leading to discussions among local officials about potentially having to increase sales taxes to help fund the project. Such concerns dominated a recent meeting of local elected officials on economic development.

Richard Regula and Bill Smith, two of the three county commissioners who would have to approve a tax increase, said they are against it.

“I know how the N.F.L. works,” Regula said, “and sometimes they rely on the local community to build them stadiums and things like that, and we simply can’t do that here in Stark County.”


Developer Stuart Lichter in August at the construction site of a new hotel at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Contractors recently filed liens after they weren’t paid in full for months.

Nathan C. Ward for The New York Times

Commissioner Janet Creighton could not be reached for comment.

N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell and six N.F.L. owners are members of the Hall of Fame’s board of trustees. The N.F.L. did not respond to a request for comment.

A Lesson Nearby?

One of the biggest concerns about the project is that what is happening in nearby North Canton will happen to the Hall of Fame Village, too.

In 2007, the Hoover Company left North Canton for good, taking with them 2,400 jobs, contributing to a 25 percent loss of income tax revenue and leaving a 70-acre factory site empty. The next year Maple Street Investors — a partnership between Stuart Lichter, the president of I.R.G., and two local developers — bought the site of the former Hoover plant for $5 million.

By 2013 they had partially refurbished the site, retrofitting office and industrial space. About 1,100 people now work in the reimagined Hoover District. Much of that refurbishment was paid for by the public. Two grants from the state of Ohio accounted for about $5.8 million of the estimated $7 million of infrastructure work, Held, the North Canton mayor said. He considers this initial phase of construction a major success.

“We want them to succeed,” Held said. “When they succeed, it brings more jobs and revenue to the city.”

Developers were supposed to complete the second, much larger, phase of the project — which would include housing, restaurants and retail — by the end of 2015, but it is nowhere near done. Held said the developers conducted “a lot of promotion of the project, but they would start, and stop, and start, and stop.” He spent the end of 2017 imploring the developers to remove plywood from empty windows and put in glass, to make the site less of an eyesore, and to bring the buildings that had received work in compliance with building codes.

The $50 million second phase was supposed to be funded, at least in part, with $36 million from a federal program.


The site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village promises better days ahead.

Andrew Spear for The New York Times

CMB Infrastructure Investment Group, which invested $36 million in the project, filed a lawsuit against Maple Street Investors and Lichter in 2016, claiming they violated federal rules governing the funding.

According to the complaint, just two days after receiving the funds, Maple Street Investors “diverted at least $25,000,000 of the Loan proceeds.” CMB argued the $25 million went to intermediaries and was eventually lent to I.R.G., to complete the development of a former Goodyear campus in nearby Akron, Ohio.

In court documents Lichter’s attorneys said $19.8 million of the money went to a company controlled solely by Lichter, and $16.2 million to a company controlled solely by Christopher Semarjian, one of his partners in the Hoover project. The attorneys could not provide a full accounting of the money because it was “commingled with unrelated funds,” but they said in court documents the two companies have continued to repay Maple Street Investors, which Lichter said CMB’s chief executive told him was allowed.

In early January CMB and Maple Street Investors entered into a settlement agreement, and the lawsuit has been set aside for now. The agreement stipulated that Lichter and Maple Street Investors had 60 days to “pursue financing from a nonaffiliated commercial lender to pay a portion of the settlement amount” and 90 days to close the loan.

John Christie, a lawyer for CMB, declined to comment on the status of the case, or whether Maple Street Investors has obtained the money, though the 60 days have already passed.

Some local officials want to to know why the N.F.L. isn’t more involved in the process.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a nonprofit that is separate from the N.F.L. According to its most recent tax filing, in 2015 the organization had $29 million in revenue. About $9.5 million came from contributions; $5 million from government grants, and $4.5 million from unnamed contributors. According to the Canton Repository, the Hall of Fame has received “tens of millions” from the N.F.L. over the years.

The N.F.L. has also been an enthusiastic supporter of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village. Goodell is good friends with Baker, who was formerly the commissioner of the Arena Football League, and has said he wants the league “to play a role in how this comes out.” The league will have office space in the completed village, and there is also a combined Cleveland/Canton bid to host the 2019 or 2020 N.F.L. Draft. N.F.L. owners will choose the draft sites in May.

Held believes the N.F.L. should take more responsibility for the development, and ensure no more public money is spent on it.

“Before you put a shovel in the ground, it is just good business practice to make sure you have your short and long-term financing in place,” he added. “Clearly, that was not done. It was either overbuilt, underfunded, or a combination of both.”

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Worboys release decision overturned as Parole head quits

John WarboysImage copyright

Image caption

John Worboys was jailed in 2009 for a string of sex attacks on women

A decision by the Parole Board to release the rapist John Worboys has been quashed, as the Board’s chairman Nick Hardwick resigns.

The legal challenge by two victims was upheld by the High Court which said “further inquiry” was needed into Worboys’ offending.

Worboys, 60, has served 10 years, including remand time, of an indeterminate prison sentence.

Mr Hardwick said he was resigning immediately.

In his letter of resignation, Mr Hardwick said Justice Secretary David Gauke had told him his position was “untenable”, adding he was “sorry for the mistakes that were made in this case”.

Responding to the High Court’s decision, the Parole Board praised the “bravery and determination” of the two women who brought the challenge.

The case will now be referred back to the Parole Board.

Worboys, who is now known as John Radford, was convicted of one rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted assault and 12 drugging charges – but police believe he committed crimes against more than 100 women between 2002 and 2008.

After a hearing about his case in November, the Parole Board decided to approve his release with “stringent” licence conditions, arguing its decision was based on appropriate evidence.

But the High Court judges said the Parole Board “should have undertaken further inquiry into the circumstances of his offending”.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who brought the challenge with the two victims, said the decision would bring “some reassurance to his victims and to all Londoners”.

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Image caption

Nick Hardwick has resigned as chairman of the Parole Board

At a court hearing this month, lawyers for Worboys’ victims and Mr Khan had argued that the former cab driver had been dishonest with the Parole Board and had crafted an account to convince the panel he was a changed man.

They said the “wider allegations” against Worboys should have been taken into account.

During his original trial, jurors heard Worboys – who became known as the black-cab rapist – picked up his victims in London’s West End and gave them champagne laced with sedatives, claiming he had won the lottery or had won money at casinos.

Bad blood: The rise and fall of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth HolmesImage copyright
Getty Images

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Elizabeth Holmes – not a second Steve Jobs

Elizabeth Holmes, aged 19, came up with an idea that she believed could change the world.

There was just one problem: it didn’t work.

However, that didn’t stop her creating a multi-billion dollar company, Theranos, on the back of it.

On Wednesday the illusion finally shattered as she lost control of the firm and was fined $500,000.

Neither she nor the company admits any wrongdoing, but the dream that created Theranos and made Ms Holmes a billionaire was well and truly dead.

Theranos founder charged with $700m fraud

Like all good internet start-ups, Theranos and Ms Holmes had a great story. Her father worked for government agencies, often overseeing relief work and she was brought up wanting to change the world for the better.

Aged 19, she dropped out of Stanford University shortly after filing her first patent, for a drug-delivery patch that could adjust dosage to suit an individual patient’s blood type, and then update doctors wirelessly.

“Edison” – the Big Idea

The patch never made it to market but the big idea – the one upon which the whole hoopla of Theranos was built, was a machine that could test for a variety of diseases through only a few drops of blood from a person’s finger.

Naturally, it too came with a story: as a child she had hated needles, and she would tell how her mother and her grandmother fainted at the sight of them.

But more than that, it really could have been a game changer.

Called “Edison”, after the inventor, it promised to revolutionise blood testing. Theranos planned to charge less than half the rates charged by Medicare and Medicaid in the US – potentially saving the US government $200bn over the next decade.

It would democratise the testing process, allowing anyone to get a test done at a pharmacy and have it analysed in hours. Theranos was what every investor loves – an industry disrupter, a David to take on the Goliaths of the diagnostics industry such as LabCorp and Quest.

By 2014 the company had raised more than $400m and was valued at about $9bn. Ms Holmes was worth $4.5bn, according to Forbes magazine, making her the youngest self-made female billionaire.

She had also convinced big names on to her board including two former US Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz. With hindsight, it is easy to point out that few of the names, while famous, had much to do with medicine or science.

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Getty Images

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Talking the talk – Elizabeth Holmes with Bill Clinton

Meanwhile, Ms Holmes was an interviewer’s dream: she cultivated a Steve Jobs image, wearing only black turtleneck sweaters in public. She quoted Jane Austen by heart. She went vegan and talked enthusiastically of her favourite wheatgrass-celery-cucumber “green juice”. She spoke on panels with Bill Clinton, and gave impassioned TED talks.

There was even talk of making a movie based on her, tentatively titled Bad Blood.

But if she talked the talk, there were hints that Theranos did not quite walk the walk. To start with there was the obsessive secrecy. Ms Holmes was founder, chief executive and chairman. Nothing was done without her approval. And when it came to talking about “Edison”, the shutters came down.

This is what she said to a New Yorker reporter when he asked how “Edison” worked: “A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel.”

Was this secrecy – or a cover-up?


Not everyone was a believer. Bill Maris, who runs Google Ventures (GV) in 2013 decided not to invest. In an interview with Business Insider, Maris said he had got a member of his life-science investment team to take the blood test. It turned out it wasn’t as simple as the publicity claimed. Maris said: “It wasn’t that difficult for anyone to determine that things may not be what they seem here.”

One journalist who was more than suspicious was the Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, he worked patiently to find out what was really going on at Theranos, talking to employees who started to tell a very different story from that of the dazzling public image.

Some were saying that the “Edison” results were inaccurate. Others revealed that the vast majority of tests were not done in Theranos labs at all, but in conventional machines bought from mainstream suppliers.

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Theranos’ manufacturing plant

After his story was published by the Journal in October 2015, the US financial regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, opened an investigation.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversee blood testing laboratories, revoked Theranos’ licence. Within a year the company began shutting down its labs and laid off more than 40% of its full-time employees.

Forbes magazine revised Ms Holmes’ wealth down to “nothing”.

The company has survived and managed to get financing to rebuild itself, but as of Wednesday Ms Holmes lost control of it, gave up all her shares and was fined $500,000. Looming over her is the possibility that federal prosecutors will pursue criminal charges.

The SEC summed up what was wrong with Ms Holmes and Theranos in a damning report: “Innovators who seek to revolutionise and disrupt an industry must tell investors the truth about what their technology can do today – not just what they hope it might do someday.”

Theranos said: “The company is pleased to be bringing this matter to a close and looks forward to advancing its technology.”

It is now banking on a new development, the Mini-Lab, which it says combines the capabilities of an array of traditional diagnostic instruments.

But it has an uphill struggle. Despite changing its management and restructuring, it has a reputation that will be hard to live down, with or without Elizabeth Holmes.

Out There: Meet TESS, Seeker of Alien Worlds

Most of the exoplanets will be orbiting stars called red dwarfs, much smaller and cooler than the sun. They make up the vast majority of stars in our neighborhood (and in the universe) and presumably lay claim to most of the planets.

Like Kepler, TESS will hunt those planets by monitoring the light from stars and detecting slight dips, momentary fading indicating that a planet has passed in front of its star.

The mission’s planners say they eventually expect to catalog 20,000 new exoplanet candidates of all shapes and sizes. In particular, they have promised to come up with the masses and orbits of 50 new planets that are less than four times the size of the Earth.

Most of the planets in the universe are in this range — between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. But since there are no examples of them in our own solar system, as Dr. Seager notes, “we don’t know anything about them.”

Are they so-called “superearths,” mostly rock with a veil of atmosphere, or “mini-Neptunes” with small cores buried deep inside extensive balls of gas?

Data from Kepler and astronomers suggests that the difference is mass: fertile rocks often are less than one and a half times the size of the Earth, while barren ice clouds often are bigger. Where the line really is, and how many planets fall on one side or the other, could determine how many worlds out there are balls of freezing vapor or potential gardens.

“We need to make precise mass measurements,” said David Latham of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who is in charge of organizing astronomers to follow up the TESS observations.


An artist’s rendering of the TESS spacecraft, expected to launch next month.


To that end, the team has procured 80 nights of observing time a year for the next five years on a spectrograph called Harps North, which resides on an Italian telescope on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, a part of Spain off the coast of Africa.

Harps — for High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher — can measure the mass of a planet by how much it makes its home star wobble as it goes around in an orbit. Such measurements, if precise enough could help distinguish the composition and structure of these bodies.

TESS is one of NASA’s smaller missions, with a budget of $200 million; by comparison, Kepler had a budget of about $650 million.

Recently TESS, partly clad in shiny aluminum foil, stubby solar panels folded modestly against its side, was sitting on a round pedestal inside a plastic tent. The tent occupied one corner of a cavernous “clean room” in a remote building on the scrubby outskirts of the space center here, amid palms and canals and flocks of cormorants.

The spacecraft is about the size of a bulky, oddly shaped refrigerator, festooned not with magnets but with mysterious nozzles and connectors. Four pairs of blue-clad legs were sticking out from underneath the pedestal, as if high-tech mechanics were working under a car.

The engineers were taping plaques to the bottom of the spacecraft, including a memory chip containing drawings by schoolchildren who had been asked to imagine exoplanets might look like.

Standing to the side, in a “bunny suit” of protective material that left only his bespectacled eyes visible, Dr. Ricker was staring into the tent at his new spacecraft, as if he were watching his car get fixed, and exchanging rocket talk with the engineers who had designed and built it.

Dr. Ricker has been a rocket scientist, building astronomical satellites to be shot into space, for pretty much his entire career as a researcher at M.I.T.’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

Most of his previous projects involved measuring X-rays or gamma rays from various snaps, crackles and pops in the cosmos, most recently the High Energy Transient Explorer, used to study the cataclysms known as gamma-ray bursts.

Asked if planets represented a departure for him, Dr. Ricker shrugged, “Not so much.” All his work has involved delicate measurements of things changing, what he called “time-domain astronomy.”

The key to this work is to maintain very stable and sensitive detectors — the imaging chips that are elite relatives of the sensors in your smartphone — so that they can reliably record the changes in brightness, just a few parts per million, that signal a planet passing by its star.

Dr. Ricker said he and his colleagues had started “noodling” about a planet-finding mission back in 2006. After they lost out in a competition for NASA’s Small Explorers program, which are less expensive missions, the scientists re-entered a competition for a larger mission in 2010 — and won.

They had gone to great lengths to design a compact spacecraft that would fit the rockets NASA used for Small Explorers, and so were nonplused when NASA selected SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which can carry a much larger payload, to launch the TESS mission.

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Rare poison

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionChemical weapons expert: ‘The Russians will have a lot to answer for’

A former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned by a chemical that is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said.

France, Germany and the US have backed the UK’s assessment that Russian involvement is the “only plausible explanation”, in spite of Russian denials.

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain critically ill after the attempted murder in Salisbury on 4 March.

The chemical was identified by experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down.

So what do we know about this group of military-grade nerve agents?

1) They were developed in the Soviet Union

The name Novichok means “newcomer” in Russian, and applies to a group of advanced nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.

They were known as fourth-generation chemical weapons and were developed under a Soviet programme codenamed Foliant.

Novichok’s existence was revealed by chemist Dr Vil Mirzayanov in the 1990s, via Russian media. He later defected to the US, where he published the chemical formula in his book, State Secrets.

In 1999, defence officials from the US travelled to Uzbekistan to help dismantle and decontaminate one of the former Soviet Union’s largest chemical weapons testing facilities.

According to Dr Mirzayanov, the Soviets used the plant to produce and test small batches of Novichok. These nerve agents were designed to escape detection by international inspectors.

2) They are more toxic than other agents

One of the group of chemicals known as Novichoks – A-230 – is reportedly five to eight times more toxic than VX nerve agent.

“This is a more dangerous and sophisticated agent than sarin or VX and is harder to identify,” says Professor Gary Stephens, a pharmacology expert at the University of Reading.

VX agent was the chemical used to kill the half-brother of Kim Jong-un last year, according to the US.

A number of variants of A-230 have been manufactured. One of these experimental chemicals – A-232 – was reportedly used by the Russian military as the basis for a chemical weapon known as Novichok-5.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionTheresa May: Spy poisoned by “military-grade nerve agent”

Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, has suggested British authorities have identified the variant used in the Skripal attack as A-234.

The BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera says the implication of these comments is that Russia has been informed by the British of the specific agent used.

But he adds: “So far, British officials have not confirmed that they have communicated this to Moscow, or that the A-234 was the exact agent deployed.

“Based on public sources, A-234 is one of the Novichok family of agents… Little is known about it but the symptoms track closely with those eyewitnesses attributed to Sergei and Yulia Skripal – as do other similar nerve agents.”

3) Novichoks exist in various forms

While some Novichok agents are liquids, others are thought to exist in solid form. This means they could be dispersed as an ultra-fine powder.

Some of the agents are also reported to be “binary weapons”, meaning the nerve agent is typically stored as two less toxic chemical ingredients that are easier to transport, handle and store.

When these are mixed, they react to produce the active toxic agent.

“One of the main reasons these agents are developed is because their component parts are not on the banned list,” says Prof Stephens.

4) Some can take effect very quickly

Novichoks were designed to be more toxic than other chemical weapons, so some versions would begin to take effect rapidly – in the order of 30 seconds to two minutes.

The main route of exposure is likely to be through inhalation, though they could also be absorbed through the skin.

However, in powder form an agent might take longer to cause a reaction.

5) The symptoms are similar to those of other nerve agents

Novichok agents have similar effects to other nerve agents – they act by blocking messages from the nerves to the muscles, causing a collapse of many bodily functions.

Dr Mirzayanov told BBC Russian that the first sign to look out for was miosis, the excessive constriction of the pupils.

A larger dose could cause convulsions and interrupted breathing, he said.

“[Then begins the] continuous convulsions and vomiting, and then a fatal outcome.”

Dr Mirzayanov said there were antidotes – atropine and athene – that helped stop the action of the poison, but that they were not a cure.

If a person is exposed to the nerve agent, their clothing should be removed and their skin washed with soap and water. Their eyes should be rinsed and they should be given oxygen.

6) Could anyone else have made Novichok agents?

Moscow has denied any involvement in the Skripals’ poisoning and demanded proof.

Its foreign ministry insists there has never been any research conducted on Russian soil “that would bear the direct or even code name of Novichok”.

The word Novichok, said spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, was an invention of the West when a number of ex-Soviet scientists moved there in the 1990s “taking with them the technologies they were working on”.

But on Sunday, the UK foreign office said it had information indicating that “within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents likely for assassination”.

“Part of this programme has involved producing and stockpiling quantities of novichok.”

The UK has dismissed as “absolute nonsense” Moscow’s allegations that it could have instead produced the toxin itself at the Porton Down research laboratory. The Kremlin has made similar claims about Sweden, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which have all been denied.

Dr Mirzayanov believes Russia has to have been behind the Skripal poisoning “because Russia is the country that invented it, has the experience, turned it into a weapon… has fully mastered the cycle”.

Russia’s UN ambassador has insisted that development work on Soviet-era nerve agents stopped in 1992, and that existing stockpiles were destroyed in 2017.

In September, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed the full destruction of the 39,967 metric tons of chemical weapons possessed by Russia.

But Novichoks were never declared to the OPCW, and the chemicals never formed part of any control regime partly because of uncertainty about their chemical structures, says Prof Alastair Hay at the University of Leeds.

It is quite likely that some government laboratories made minute quantities and storied their characteristics in databases, so that their identity could be confirmed at a later stage if found as an unknown poison in someone’s blood, he adds.

Whether this has happened in the UK’s chemical defence laboratory is not known.

A sample of the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack is to be given to the OPCW – the independent international body set up to stop chemical warfare – for analysis. It has called the use of the chemicals “extremely worrying” and said those found responsible should be held accountable.

Meanwhile, chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon has called for the OPCW to be allowed to visit the Russian town where he alleged the nerve agent was made.

“I have it on very good authority that Novichoks were only ever made in Shikhany in central Russia,” he said.

EasyJet suspends pilots over Snapchat videos

Michel Castellucci and his co-pilot pose for a pictureImage copyright

Image caption

Michel Castellucci (pictured right), had an active social media presence until reports about the Snapchat posts were published

An EasyJet captain and his co-pilot have been suspended amid reports they filmed Snapchat videos during a flight.

The captain, named by The Sun as Michel Castellucci, uploaded clips of his colleague interacting with animated characters generated by the messaging app.

Footage appears to show the pair inside a cockpit next to a computer-generated woman and a dancing owl.

Passenger safety was not compromised at any point, the airline said.

The BBC has not been able to reach Mr Castellucci for comment, who appears to have deleted his social media accounts since reports about the Snapchat posts emerged.

According to the paper, he filmed the videos “at 30,000ft” during a flight from Paris to Madrid.

‘Not acceptable’

It said it had been contacted by passengers who had branded the stunt “dangerous” and “irresponsible”.

A spokeswoman for Luton-based EasyJet said it happened when the aircraft was not carrying out any manoeuvre and the flight operated safely.

She said: “Whilst at no point was the safety of the passengers compromised, this falls well short of the high standards EasyJet expects of its pilots.

“It is not acceptable and is not representative of the thousands of highly professional pilots who work for the airline.

“We take this issue seriously and, as such, the pilots have been suspended (in line with our procedures) pending a disciplinary investigation.”

5 pop songs you (probably) didn't know were about God

Justin BieberImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Justin Bieber is said to be making an album of “Christian appropriate” songs

According to a report in The Sun, Justin Bieber is recording a religious concept album.

The pop star is said to be on the lookout for songs with a Christian message after reconnecting with his faith through the Pentecostal megachurch Hillsong Church.

“There are key themes of love and redemption in the tracks he has created so far,” a source told the newspaper. “It will certainly ­surprise some fans.”

The inference seems to be that pop songs with a religious theme are automatically awful or, at least, don’t fit in the charts. The devil, as they say, has all the best tunes.

But there are plenty of examples of mainstream artists turning their faith into great pop songs – from Stormzy’s Blinded By Your Grace (“Oh my God, what a God I serve”) to Bob Marley’s One Love (“Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right”).

So here are five other songs you might not realise had a theological theme.

1) Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way

One of the most insistent riffs in rock is married to a lyric about a messianic figure recruiting disciples.

“I am the chosen, I am the one,” sings Kravitz. “But what I really want to know is/Are you going to go my way?”

The song came to Kravitz in a flash of inspiration – he recalls scribbling the lyrics down on a brown paper bag – but it reflects his real-life faith.

The star has a tattoo on his back which reads “My heart belongs to Jesus”, and he once called Christ “the ultimate rock star”.

2) Candi Staton – You Got The Love

Disco diva Candi Staton recorded You Got The Love in the 1980s after turning her back on secular music and devoting herself to the church.

Bizarrely, the song originally featured in a video about the world’s fattest man and his endeavour to lose weight.

It only became famous when dance act The Source remixed it in 1991 – bringing lyrics like “My saviour’s love is real” to raves up and down the country.

The song’s success prompted Staton to reassess her career.

“It was such an inspirational song it allowed me to rethink,” she told The Guardian. “People in church used to tell me secular music was the devil’s music – but I realised it wasn’t.”

3) U2 – Until The End Of The World

There’s a strong spiritual theme running throughout U2’s career – at one point, they even considered ditching the band to devote themselves to the church.

So many of their songs are based on biblical teachings that churches have started holding “U2charists” – communion services where the band’s songs take the place of hymns.

Their most powerful song, narratively-speaking, is Until The End Of The World, which is sung from the perspective of Judas Iscariot in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The song takes place as he betrays Jesus – delivering a pre-arranged signal that identifies him to the Temple Guards, who arrest him, ultimately leading to the crucifixion.

“I kissed your lips and broke your heart,” sings Bono/Judas. “You, you were acting like it was the end of the world.”

4) The Byrds – Turn! Turn! Turn!

A time to be born, a time to die/A time to plant, a time to reap/A time to kill, a time to heal/A time to laugh, a time to weep.”

The Byrds’ 1965 hit is based, almost verbatim, on chapter three of the Book of Ecclesiastes, where King Solomon contemplates the meaning of life, God and eternity.

It was “probably the only time a song was at number one on the charts right out of the Bible,” guitarist Chris Hillman later told the US Library of Congress. “I know Pete [Seeger, songwriter] made his half of the publishing. I don’t know if King Solomon’s heirs ever got a dime.”

Hillman wasn’t religious at the time of writing the song – in fact, he said the lyrics were almost “tongue in cheek” – but he converted to Christianity later in his life.

5) Prince – Let’s Go Crazy

OK, so it opens with Prince sermonising over a church organ – but a lot of people missed Let’s Go Crazy’s religious message amid the lyrics about sex and “purple bananas” (don’t ask).

The song is a plea to make the most of life without succumbing to the temptations of the devil – enigmatically characterised as “de-elevator” who is trying to “bring us down”.

For those on the path of righteousness, the reward is the afterworld: “A world of never ending happiness [where] you can always see the sun, day or night.”

Prince recorded songs that were more explicitly religious (including a jazz-funk Jehovah’s Witness concept album called The Rainbow Children) but he never made faith sound this much fun again.

Further listening

  • Kanye West – Jesus Walks
  • Mumford and Sons – The Cave
  • Carrie Underwood – Jesus, Take The Wheel
  • Nina Simone – Sinnerman
  • Bob Dylan – Gotta Serve Somebody
  • The Fray – You Found Me
  • Mary Mary – Shackles (Praise You)
  • Bob Marley – Redemption Song
  • Kendrick Lamar – Faith
  • The Headhunters – God Made Me Funky

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What's next for Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim

Chloe Kim, who became a household name last month when she took home gold for Team USA at the Winter Olympics, said her favorite part about her overnight rise to fame has been the free food.

But she also hopes to use her platform to fight bullying, something she faced growing up.

In an interview with ESPNW’s Cari Champion, Kim, the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding medal, revealed that she’s just like any other American teen, saying her hobbies include “shopping” and “going to the mall.”

“I won’t leave the house without my eyeliner,” the 17-year-old Los Angeles native added.

Kim ‘got a better understanding of who I was’ at the Olympics

The daughter of Korean immigrants to the U.S., Kim said winning gold in her parent’s homeland this winter took on extra meaning because of all of the sacrifices her family made for her to get there.

“My parents sacrificed so much, I think it was so important for me to like go out there and just do good, and show them … that all of our hard work as a family really did pay off,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I definitely didn’t want to disappoint.”

PHOTO: U.S. Olympian Chloe Kim, center with medal, poses for a photo with her family at the USA House at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, Feb. 14, 2018.Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for USOC
U.S. Olympian Chloe Kim, center with medal, poses for a photo with her family at the USA House at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, Feb. 14, 2018.

Kim added that “the biggest thing that I took away from the Olympics,” was that she “got a better understanding of who I was.”

The teen said it was “an honor” to represent two countries, including “Korea, being the country where my family came from and where they spent their lives growing up, and now America, where I grew up.”

“It’s such a big cultural difference as well,” she said. “Being able to represent both is such a privilege.”

Many have dubbed Kim’s road to Olympic glory the realization of her parent’s American Dream.

“I always struggled with my identity growing up,” Kim said. “My parents came, immigrated to America in like the 1980’s or something … They kind of struggled with criticism a lot because back then it was sort of a new concept, diversity.”

“But me, just growing up in America, being born and raised in California, it was a little harder for me — just trying to understand who I was and where I fit in,” she added.

Kim said that when she was 8 she moved to Switzerland and “was the only Asian girl at the school.”

While at school, “Everyone was like, ‘Where are you from like … What are you?'” she said. “I would be like, ‘I’m a Cali girl, I’m from L.A.’ I got bullied a lot, especially for my eyes.”

“The funny thing is, in Switzerland, once I told them I lived in L.A., I was, like, popular,” she quipped. “They were like, ‘She lives in Los Angeles, that’s where Paris Hilton lives.'”

Winning Olympic gold felt like ‘part of my destiny’

PHOTO: Gold medalist in snowboard ladies halfpipe, Chloe Kim of the U.S., poses for a portrait, Feb. 13, 2018, in Gangneung, South Korea. Marianna Massey/Getty Images
Gold medalist in snowboard ladies’ halfpipe, Chloe Kim of the U.S., poses for a portrait, Feb. 13, 2018, in Gangneung, South Korea.

Kim said that while she is usually nervous before most competitions, she felt calm at her first Olympics.

“I really felt like it was part of my destiny, in a way,” she said of winning gold. “’cause I get so nervous during competitions … and I have to go to the bathroom when I get nervous, so I’m always running back and forth to the port-a-potties.”

“But at the Olympics,” she added, “I didn’t feel any of that. I felt so calm.”

The teen described the feeling she had before competing as “at peace” or “the same feelings I get when I’m in like a fuzzy poncho, like ready to watch some T.V. and possibly fall asleep.”

While the noise and excitement at the Olympic Village was “hectic,” Kim said was most comfortable on the halfpipe.

“I was like, ‘I’m here, I know how to do this, this is something that I’m familiar with,'” she said.

PHOTO: Chloe Kim of the U.S. during the snowboard ladies halfpipe final on day four of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Phoenix Snow Park, Feb. 13, 2018, in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Chloe Kim of the U.S. during the snowboard ladies’ halfpipe final on day four of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Phoenix Snow Park, Feb. 13, 2018, in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

Kim’s ‘favorite thing’ about newfound fame is ‘everyone’s just giving me food’

Kim, who tweeted about her love for ice cream and churros mid-competition in Pyeongchang, and often posts photos of her favorite foods on social media, said she’s a big foodie.

“I have an excuse,” she said of her love for eating. “I’m, like, a winter athlete, so it’s, like, you know, there is like a summer bod and then a winter bod.”

“A lot of animals, for the winter, they like eat a lot of food to, like, stay warm, so I kind of go with that same mindset,” she added.

Kim said her “favorite thing about everything” since her overnight rise to fame, “is that I’ll say I like something, and then people will send them to me in mass stocks.”

“I got so many churros sent to my house,” she said. “It’s like everyone’s just giving me food.”

Another perk of her newfound fame is that she is currently “looking at promposals.”

“I think I’m going to go to prom with a fan,” she added.

Kim, who turns 18 next month, said her ideal birthday does not include a big party.

“My team will always call me the laziest Olympian,” Kim said. “So, like, going out, or, like, throwing a big party to me, is just, like, too much work.”

She said she’d rather stay home and buy a cake and hopefully eat the whole thing “and then go to bed.”

Once bullied, Kim hopes to use her platform to combat bullying

Kim said she is “really thankful” that she has been given a “voice” through her Olympic victory.

PHOTO: Chloe Kim attends a Chanel Party on Feb. 28, 2018 in Los Angeles.Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
Chloe Kim attends a Chanel Party on Feb. 28, 2018 in Los Angeles.

“I grew up with a lot of bullying,” she said. “I feel like some kids are very mean, like, even now, some of my hate comments will be from 10-year-old kids. It’s like, how do you know how to say that?”

It’s important to understand the true impact words can have, Kim said, “and how … hurtful it really can be.”

“It’s so sad,” she added. “So many kids have taken their lives, or are hurting themselves because of bullying. And they don’t see the joys in life.”

‘Inspired’ by her peers

Kim said she was “inspired” by the activism she witnessed from people her own age this weekend at the “March for Our Lives” event in Washington, D.C., and at similar rallies throughout the U.S.

“My peers started that march … they all came together and used their voices to make an impact,” she said. “I think it’s so amazing that our generation is able to do those things.”

Trump wants to work with Putin despite US accusing Russia of meddling worldwide

President Donald Trump took some of his strongest action yet against Russia with Monday’s expulsion of what the U.S. says are 60 Russian intelligence operatives – retaliation for the alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom.

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But the president continues to hold out hope for personally working with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even congratulating the strongman leader on his “re-election” last week and calling for cooperation on “shared interests” like North Korea, Ukraine, and Syria.

“They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race,” Trump tweeted last Wednesday.

At every turn, however, Russia appears to be blocking U.S. interests, and it’s Trump’s own top officials pointing out that Russia has created crises around the world or made existing ones worse.

“Russia has chosen to be a strategic competitor, even to the point of reckless behavior,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters Tuesday.

Despite calls from the White House for Russia to change its behavior, Trump’s persistent push to work with Putin has led critics to doubt his commitment to defending American interests against Russian interference from Afghanistan to Ukraine, the Korean peninsula to western Europe.

North Korea

In North Korea, for example, Russia is hindering the administration’s global pressure campaign to isolate the regime and force it to give up its nuclear weapons in negotiations, according to Trump’s top diplomat for Europe.

“The Russian government has not been helpful in recent days with the United States, with the international community and our efforts with North Korea,” Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell told Fox News Monday. One of the few senior Trump appointees at the State Department, Mitchell said it was part of a “pattern of Russian aggressive behavior worldwide.”

North Koreas ambassador to Russia Kim Hyun-joon arrives at the Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters to for a meeting with the ministrys experts on the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in an England this month, in Moscow, March 21, 2018.AFP/Getty Images
North Korea’s ambassador to Russia Kim Hyun-joon arrives at the Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters to for a meeting with the ministry’s experts on the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in an England this month, in Moscow, March 21, 2018.

“We see the situation in Ukraine and in Syria, Russian meddling in multiple countries, undermining Western institutions,” he added.

Mitchell didn’t share more details about how Russia was “not helpful,” and State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert declined to elaborate Tuesday, but in January, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said specifically that the country has violated United Nations sanctions, especially on fuel shipments to Kim Jong Un’s regime.


Tuesday morning at the U.N. Security Council, Trump’s U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, also blasted Russia for its intervention in Syria, where it and Iran’s “forces working alongside Assad… [are] responsible for this slaughter” of civilians in a rebel stronghold east of Damascus. The U.N. had voted one month ago for a cessation of hostilities in the area called eastern Ghouta – a ceasefire that never came.

“Russia cynically negotiated a ceasefire it instantly defied,” Haley said, adding it “will stop at nothing to use its permanent seat on this Council to shield its ally Bashar Al-Assad from even the faintest criticism.”

PHOTO: A Syrian man walks down a street past destroyed buildings, March 25, 2018, in Douma, in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.Hamza Al-Ajweh/AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian man walks down a street past destroyed buildings, March 25, 2018, in Douma, in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

After months of continued bombardment by Russia and Assad – and repeated calls for it to end by the U.S. – eastern Ghouta has now been largely retaken by Assad’s forces and civilians are being bused out.

While Trump wants to work with Putin against ISIS, Haley noted that the two countries can’t even agree on which groups are terrorists in Syria, saying Russia’s claim that they have “to combat what they call ‘terrorists'” in eastern Ghouta “is a transparent excuse for the Russians and Assad to maintain their assault.”

There has been one area of cooperation in Syria, though. Last week, Russian mercenaries in Syria pulled back from a position near U.S. troops – and a possible confrontation – after successful discussions between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov. In a similar incident in February, armed groups that included Russian mercenaries opened fire against U.S. forces in the same area, leading to an American response that killed at least “dozens” of Russians.


Nowhere is Russia’s position at greater odds with the U.S. than Ukraine, where Russia seized the Crimea peninsula and Russian-backed separatists have been battling U.S.-backed government forces for four years now. The Trump administration decided to increase its support for Ukraine in December, approving the sale of lethal weapons to the country for the first time.

PHOTO: Soldiers of the National Guard in Kiev, Ukraine on March 26, 2018.Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Soldiers of the National Guard in Kiev, Ukraine on March 26, 2018.

While those anti-tank missiles are making their way to Ukraine, the U.S. has demanded that Russia stop arming separatists and return Crimea to Ukraine. Just last week, the top U.S. diplomat to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which monitors the conflict, blasted “Russia’s campaign of violence, intimidation, violations of international law, and defiance of OSCE commitments.”

With Russia responsible for the violence, it’s unclear how the U.S. expects to work with them to end it.


Even in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has spent nearly 17 years at war, Russia has begun poking at American interests.

The top U.S. commander there, Gen. John Nicholson, said days ago that Russia is supporting and even arming the Afghan Taliban, telling BBC News, “We know that the Russians are involved.”

PHOTO: Alleged Taliban fighters and other militants stand handcuffed while being presented to the media at police headquarters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on March 6, 2018.Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
Alleged Taliban fighters and other militants stand handcuffed while being presented to the media at police headquarters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on March 6, 2018.

Russia has denied arming the Taliban, but Nicholson blasted them for “destabilizing activity” in Afghanistan that has increased in the last 18 to 24 months, saying it “roughly correlates to when things started to heat up in Syria.”

The Trump administration has been pursuing a strategy to beat the Taliban on the battlefield, adding 3,500 more troops last year, and drive it to the negotiating table.

ABC News’s Elizabeth McLaughlin contributed to this report.