Florida school shooter was part of NRA-sponsored air-rifle school squad – report

By ethan / February 17, 2018

Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people in a shooting rampage at Douglas High School on Wednesday, honed his shooting skills as a member of a marksmanship team that received at least $ 10,000 in grants from NRA, AP reported.

Cruz, whose obsession with guns became widely known in wake of the tragedy, was a top member of his former school’s four-member air rifle team, his former team members said, as reported by AP.

“He was a very good shot,” Aaron Diener, a former cadet in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Program Corp [JROTC] at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School told AP. The 19-year-old travelled to shooting competitions as a representative of the school, he added. Diener said Cruz owned an AR-15 rifle and multiple pistols.

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Comedian Jimmy Kimmel speaks to the media at a gala honoring David Letterman, who is receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at Kennedy Center, in Washington, U.S., October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Earlier, it was reported that Cruz was enrolled in the JROTC, which is backed by the US military, before he had been expelled from the school last year for “disciplinary reasons.”

The National Rifle Association Foundation, which provides funding for shooting sports at schools across the country, channeled some $ 10,827 to JROTC at Douglas High, according to tax records for 2016 cited by AP.

While the NRA Foundation has provided $ 2.2 million in grants in at least 30 states, Florida is the state with the most number of schools to apply for a donation in 2016. A total of 18 schools, including five that are located in Broward County, received grants earmarked for shooting sports equipment in 2016. North Fort Myers High School in Lee County was the recipient of the largest grant from the charity arm of the powerful gun-rights lobby organization, amounting to some $ 37,000.

Lee County Schools Spokesperson Rob Spicker said that the schools had no plans to reconsider partaking in the program in wake of the shooting, arguing that donations are needed to sustain the poorly funded JROTC that “benefits 6,500 students.”

One of the deadliest mass school shootings in the US history, and already the 18th this year, reinflamed the festering debate about gun control, a particularly divisive and partisan issue on the Capitol Hill. Calls to pass stricter gun control laws resurface after each major mass shooting incident, which have become increasingly common in the US. In wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting in October, the most deadly shooting in modern US history, there was some hope for bipartisan action. However, gun control legislation stalled in Congress, with Republican lawmakers and the NRA arguing that easy access to assault weapons in certain US states is not the root cause of gun violence.

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Florida Governor Rick Scott © Gaston De Cardenas

Conservative Fox News contributor Tomi Lauren invoked the wrath of Twitter after she slammed “the Left” for seizing the opportunity to “push their anti-gun agenda.” She argued that the focus should be on the apparent mental health issues the attacker was dealing with.

President Donald Trump, who has not hinted at any upcoming change in gun laws in the follow-up of the Florida shooting, was himself blasted by the vice mayor of Broward County, who accused him of hypocrisy on Friday.

“Him coming here, to me, is absurd. Him coming here is absolutely absurd, and he’s a hypocrite,” Democrat Mark Bogen told CNN, speaking about Trump’s announcement that he would travel the stricken city of Parkland on Friday. “How can you come here and talk about how horrible it is, when you support these laws?,” Bogen said.

Meanwhile, the Democrats were quick to renew their push for gun control, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) saying that she “would rather pass gun safety legislation than win the election,” as cited by CNN.

Ex-CIA director John Brennan chimed in on the argument, urging Congress to ban semi-automatic weapons.

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Homage to the penis: Park full of phallus sculptures attracts Olympic fans

By ethan / February 17, 2018

Tourists visiting South Korea for the Winter Olympics are getting excited about more than the athletes’ performances thanks to a nearby park full of giant penises.

Mostly of the wooden variety – dozens of penis-shaped sculptures stand erect in Haesindang Park in Sinnam. The unusual obscure attraction has seen a huge spike in visitors fascinated by the variety of phallic shapes, including penis-shaped benches, penis totem poles and even a penis shaped canyon – that tourists have been warned not to mount.

The attraction is dedicated to a virgin who, according to local legend, died in a storm as her boyfriend collected seaweed from a rock in a nearby cove.

According to one version of the tale, the village was unable to catch fish after her death until one day a fisherman urinated into the sea, apparently appeasing her spirit. In order to keep her spirit satisfied fishermen erected a shrine of a phallus on the cliffs of the village.

The extraordinary park contains dozens of wooden and stone carved penises, and it is considered a monument of fertility.

South Korea has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. This, coupled with an aging population, has led to the country being described as a demographic time bomb.

The birth rate in 2016 stood at 1.17, according to the latest government data, and it is expected to have declined even further in 2017.

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Make it rain on them: Rapper Drake hands out 1 million dollars in free money to Miami residents

By ethan / February 17, 2018

Canadian hip-hop artist Drake shocked Miami residents with a warm surprise this February: $ 1 million in cold, hard cash.

In his latest video entitled “God’s Plan,” Drake performs random acts of kindness, such as handing out massive wads of cash to local passersby and writing off everyone’s grocery lists at a local supermarket, all while recording their shocked reactions on camera.

The rapper even went so far as to buy new uniforms for Miami Senior High School and donated $ 25,000 dollars to them.
One lucky University of Miami student named Destiny James received the lion’s share of Drake’s gifts after he cut her a check for $ 50,000 for her studies.

“You don’t understand what this means to me! I would’ve never imagined this happening to me. I’m just a girl from Denmark, SC that wants to MAKE IT and be somebody and for you to see my hard work means the world. Thank you so much,” she wrote on Instagram.

The video kicks off with a short blurb: “The budget for this video was $ 996,631.90. We gave it all away. Don’t tell the label.”

The video has remained at number one on the Billboard charts over the last three weeks and is a top trending video on YouTube with over 250,000 views less than a day after publication.

Drake himself stated that it was “the most important thing I have ever done in my career.”

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Imagined Russia threat is pretext for US dominance in Europe through NATO – Lavrov

By ethan / February 17, 2018

Citing a perceived Russian threat, the US is trying to get a foothold in Europe by means of NATO, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The alliance continues to expand, devouring even Moscow’s historical allies in the Balkans.

As Russophobic rhetoric in the West never seems to abate, the presence of foreign troops on Russia’s borders is growing. “Only an inflamed imagination” could come up with the idea that Moscow is about to attack the Baltic or Poland, the Russian top diplomat said in an interview with Euronews.

“Guided by this fake logic, a very real deployment of heavy artillery and additional large contingents takes place on the NATO-Russia border,” Lavrov said, referring to Baltic states, Poland, and Romania with its missile defense site. With American, Canadian, British and German brigades already dispatched to Russia’s doorstep, “there are talks of significantly increasing their presence.”

“With an imagined Russian threat,” Washington is ensuring its dominance in Europe through NATO.

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FILE PHOTO: US troops land with parachutes at the military compound near Torun, central Poland, as part of the NATO Anaconda-16 military exercise © Janek Skarzynski

The NATO expansion has also spanned to Russia’s traditional allies. Montenegro is disturbing, with it being played as a bargaining chip in the Russophobic fight,” Lavrov said. “[Montenegro] was forced into NATO membership and refused the right for a referendum,” the minister went on, adding that plebiscites become increasingly unpopular in Europe.

“The trend to absorb this territory into NATO contradicts all solemn promises that NATO wouldn’t be moving an inch. It also contradicts common sense, since they attempt to turn Balkans from [Europe’s] soft underbelly into a confrontational zone of some sort,” Lavrov said.

“There is no Balkan state where the US ambassador together with the Europeans would not call on the government to end friendships with Russia.” While they publicly try to undermine Moscow’s ties with the Balkans, including with Serbia, Russia has taken a different approach. “We offer mutually beneficial projects. We never demand that anyone stops being friends with this or that country,” Lavrov went on, noting this is “a fundamental difference between our foreign policy from the one of the West.”

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‘Only one to blame is the killer’: Sheriff on Florida school shooting

By ethan / February 17, 2018

The Parkland, Florida school shooter never had a gas mask or grenades, authorities say. They are looking into previous calls about him to see if officials failed to act, after the FBI apologized for mishandling a tip.

On Friday, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and FBI Special Agent Rob Lasky briefed reporters on the investigation into the Valentine’s Day massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“The killer never was in possession of a gas mask or any type of smoke grenades,” said Israel.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, reportedly confessed to opening fire on students and teachers on Wednesday, killing 17 and wounding 14 people. He was ordered held without bail. Local media have since reported that Cruz’s younger brother Zachary has been sent to a mental health institution for an involuntary examination, under Florida’s Baker Law.

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Shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz at Broward County Jail in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, US. © Miguel Guttierez / AFP TV

Seven of the wounded are still in the hospital, but the death toll has not risen, Israel said. One of the wounded is the son of a Broward County deputy, who is expected to make a full recovery, the sheriff said.

So far, investigators have interviewed 3,200 students and 200 staff and faculty at the school, and are trying to find out “why this killer did what he did,” Israel said. The sheriff’s office is also looking at over 20 “service calls” about Cruz over the past two years to see if anyone could have done anything to prevent the shooting.

“Make no mistake, America: The only one to blame for this incident is the killer himself,” Israel said.

The FBI apologized on Friday for failing to act on a tip they received about Cruz in January. Someone alerted the bureau to a comment left under a YouTube documentary about a school shooting, with the commenter using Cruz’s name and saying he was “going to be a professional school shooter.”

The tip was never forwarded to the Miami field office, however, and there was no follow-up to the investigation.

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7.2 magnitude quake hits Mexico near Pacific coast – USGS

By ethan / February 17, 2018

A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 has rocked southern and central Mexico. The tremors reportedly shook buildings across the country’s capital.

The quake hit the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca, United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports. Situated closest to the epicenter is the municipality of Pinotepa de Don Luis, with a population of some 6,700. Tremors were felt as far as Mexico city, with locals posting videos of shaking trees and buildings to social media. Alarms went off across the capital and thousands of people flooded into the streets.

The quake, which has been revised from a 7.5-magnitude in earlier reports, hit at a depth of 24.6 kilometers (15.3 miles) near the Pacific coast. No tsunami warning has been issued.

Mayor of Mexico City Miguel Ángel Mancera wrote on Twitter that review protocols have been activated.

Civil Protection Service, which has been assessing the impact of the quake, stated that no damage has been reported so far.

Mexico is still recovering from a 7.1-magnitude earthquake that killed 228 people in Mexico City and 369 across the central part of the country in September 2017.

MORE DETAILS TO FOLLOW

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#13Russians: Underwhelmed netizens react to US indictment over election meddling

By ethan / February 17, 2018

Reactions from internet users to the underwhelming US indictment over alleged Russian collusion during the 2016 election range from the absurd to the laughable.

Following Friday’s revelation that a US federal grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly interfering with the US 2016 election, many thought they would finally get the answers they have been searching for.

However, the indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller includes no allegations that any of the ‘interference’ actually influenced the outcome of the election at all.

READ MORE: US indictment of Russians over election meddling is absurd – FM spokesperson

The indictment does accuse the defendants (now affectionately referred to as the #13Russians) of forming an organization known as the Internet Research Agency. A group which they say “sought, in part, to conduct what it called ‘information warfare against the United States of America’ through fictitious US personas on social media platforms and other Internet-based media.”

The group is accused of “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump…and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” However, the indictment also found the group was established in May 2014, long before President Donald Trump announced his intention to run for office. It also states that after Trump’s inauguration, the group scheduled rallies both for and against the newly elected president.

READ MORE: US indicts 13 Russians for 2016 election meddling, but ‘no allegations’ they influenced outcome

In essence, the highly anticipated evidence of Russian collusion, which has plagued the headlines of every mainstream news organization for more than a year, was underwhelming for several reasons.

1. The entire ‘operation’ consisted of 13 people and some of their alleged activities are, let’s say, humorous.

2. US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said there are “no allegations” that the suspected activities actually affected the polls.

READ MORE: Russia started ‘anti-US campaign long before I announced that would run for President’ – Trump

3. The over-dramatisation of Russian interference in this election cannot be overstated.

Oh, and there’s also this:

Moscow has repeatedly refuted claims of alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. Russian President Vladimir Putin also ridiculed such claims, suggesting that the US was “not a banana republic” to be treated that way.

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Family removed from cruise ship following violent brawl (VIDEO)

By ethan / February 16, 2018

More than 20 passengers were removed from a cruise ship by Australian police after a violent night of fighting, some of which was caught on camera.

The Carnival Legend cruise ship was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Twofold Bay in order to remove an extended family from the vessel. The offending family was taken from the ship by police on Friday and brought to shore in Eden, New South Wales.

The 10-day South Pacific cruise was marred by reports of clashes between two different groups of passengers, News.com.au reported.

Footage from the ship shows a large group of passengers fighting both on the deck and inside the ship, as well as clashing with security and crew members. Images provided to media outlets show passengers with various injuries, including head wounds and large bruises.

New South Wales police are investigating the incident. Authorities were told a “fight involving several men took place on board the ship after an argument about 12.45am” on Friday. Police confirmed that security detained the men involved. Officers spent hours questioning passengers onboard the ship before removing the family in what it said was an “unprecedented step.”

One of the men, identified only as Zac, said he was locked in a room overnight. “This is all over a thong [flip flop/sandal], not a foot, a thong being stepped on and being instantly apologised for,” he said, according to Radio station 3AW.

“Disembarking a family from a cruise is an unprecedented incident — it is always our last resort,” Carnival Cruise Line Australia Vice President Jennifer Vandekreeke said.

The fighting scared children and families onboard, according to eyewitness accounts, and passengers locked themselves in their cabins to avoid the violence.

David Barkho said his son George, who was on board the ship, phoned him and ask him to call the police. George said security staff deleted images of the fight from his phone.

In a video Barkho posted on Facebook, a woman working on the ship is twice seen approaching the filmer and putting her hand up to cover the phone. A male crew member also approaches the filmer, telling him he can’t film.

The footage also shows security guards repeatedly kicking a passenger who is on the floor.

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More than 80 children killed in worst flu season to hit US in decade

By ethan / February 16, 2018

US federal authorities have reported 22 more child deaths in the nationwide flu epidemic. That brings the total to 84 in the worst outbreak in a decade.

Most of the children who died from the flu this season were not vaccinated. The epidemic has affected 48 states and shows no signs of dying down, according to the health authorities.

Friday’s update from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said a total of 857 people had died of influenza and more than 3,000 from pneumonia this week. That was a decrease in flu deaths from the week before, as well as the week before that.

“It would be too early to say that we’ve peaked,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said. “We need to see more data, but that is something we are definitely hopeful for.”

At a Thursday press conference, acting CDC director Anne Schuchat warned the flu season was not over, even after 12 weeks of unusually-high infection rates.

“This flu season continues to be extremely challenging and intense, with very high levels of office visits for flu and hospitalization rates, all indications that flu activity is high and likely to continue for several more weeks,” Schuchat said.

This year’s child death toll nearly matches that at the same point in 2015, when 148 children died, Nordlund said. The 2015 flu season killed an estimated total of 56,000 people.

Back in January, federal health officials admitted that this year’s flu season is more intense than any since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, and warned it will still get worse.

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Russia tests new Arctic air-defense system (VIDEO)

By ethan / February 16, 2018

Russia’s new anti-aircraft complex Tor-M2DT, developed for the extreme weather conditions of the Arctic region, has been successfully tested, intercepting two mock cruise missiles.

The Arctic modification of the short-range air defense missile system Tor has been honing its skills during military exercises at the Kapustin Yar proving grounds in southern Russia. The Tor-M2DT system fired a volley of missiles and intercepted all the mock targets.

“The live firing was carried out by a single vehicle at two targets, simulating cruise missiles, in complicated targeting and radio interference conditions,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The latest version of the Tor system was designed specifically for the Arctic and Far North regions and is capable of operating in the harshest weather conditions of up to -50C (-58F). Tor-M2DT boasts 16 anti-aircraft missiles, capable of hitting targets some 12km (7.5 miles) away flying at altitude of up to 10km.

READ MORE: Route of the future: Russia takes the lead in Arctic exploration

The missile complex is mounted on a DT-30 twin off-road vehicle. The tracked machine can pass through weak and rough terrain, including swamps and deep snow. While the off-road vehicles have already been tested in the Arctic, the whole Tor-M2DT complex is yet to be weather-proven. The possibility of redeploying the missile system with a transport aircraft will be also explored. Following the tests, the systems are expected to be adopted by Russia’s Arctic troops, the Defense Ministry said.

The new weapon was unveiled last year during the Victory Day parade in Moscow.

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