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Trump Says the U.S. Did Not Pay North Korea $2 Million for Otto Warmbier

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  • President Donald Trump denied that the U.S. paid North Korea $2 million for Otto Warmbier’s medical care.
  • The comments came after reports emerged Thursday that the regime forced U.S. officials to sign a pledge to do so before returning the American student in 2017.

“No money was paid”

President Donald Trump on Friday denied that his administration paid any money as part of a deal to get North Korea to return American student Otto Warmbier.

“No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else,” Trump tweeted.

Outside the White House later in the day, Trump told reporters “We did not pay money for our great Otto.”

“I haven’t paid money for any hostage,” he said, adding that the Otto case is “very unusual.”

Earlier Report

The president’s comments came in response to a Washington Post report published Thursday. The report claimed that North Korea had issued a $2 million bill to the United States for the medical care costs of Warmbier, who was returned in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” in June of 2017.

According to The Post, North Korean officials demanded that the U.S sign a pledge to pay the bill before they handed Warmbier over. Joseph Yun, a state department official who traveled to North Korea in 2017 to help retrieve Warmbier, reportedly signed the agreement at Trump’s direction.

The publication said the bill was sent to the U.S. Treasury Department and remained unpaid throughout 2017. Various news outlets like Fox, CNN, and others have also reported that their sources confirmed the existence of the bill.

However, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday, “We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration.”

Who is Otto Warmbier?

When Warmbier was 21-years-old, he was arrested in North Korea for taking a propaganda banner from a hotel in January of 2016. He was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

The government eventually released him in June of 2017, but according to U.S., doctors, he was returned “with severe brain damage and in a nonresponsive state.” Warmbier died days after returning home.

Previous coverage of Otto Warmbier.

The Warmbier family has sued the Kim regime over their son’s death, winning a $500 million judgment in December. It seems very unlikely that North Korea will ever pay that money, however, the family said it was “thankful that the United States has a fair and open judicial system so that the world can see that the Kim regime is legally and morally responsible for Otto’s death.”

In February, President Trump faced backlash from politicians on both sides of the aisle for seemingly absolving North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un of any blame in Warmbier’s death.

Following a summit with Kim, Trump said at a press conference that it “just wasn’t to (Kim’s) advantage to let that happen.” He added, “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”

However, the president later tweeted that his comments had been misinterpreted and said, “Of course I hold North Korea responsible.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Fox News) (CNN)  

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Biden Issues Targeted Eviction Moratorium for Counties With High Community Transmission

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While more limited than the previous eviction ban, the new policy applies to all areas with “substantial” and “high” COVID transmission, which currently includes 80% of counties that compose 90% of the population.


New Eviction Ban

Three days after the federal eviction ban expired, the Biden administration issued a new, more limited moratorium that will extend until Oct. 3.

Unlike the last freeze, the latest version announced Tuesday only pertains to areas of the country experiencing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled “substantial” and “high” cases of COVID-19.

However, the rule still applies to the majority of the country given the new surges driven by the delta variant.

According to the CDC, 80% of counties that make up 90% of the population are currently experiencing substantial or high community transmission. 

While not a full ban, many housing still advocates cheered the Biden administration, which has faced immense pressure to help the millions of Americans who risked losing their homes once the previous freeze expired.

“This is a tremendous relief for millions of people who were on the cusp of losing their homes and, with them, their ability to stay safe during the pandemic,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday. 

Hurdles Remain

Still, others noted that there are outstanding issues with the new policy.

First and foremost, while the moratorium covers most Americans, it does not cover all. According to reports, there are counties in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York that are protected from evictions while neighboring counties are not.

The county-to-county patchwork also adds another layer of confusion for many people who are on the brink of eviction or who have already been evicted. 

Tenants and landlords are now scrambling to see if the freeze applies to them, and because of the temporary lapse in protection, evictions resumed in some states and cities, meaning that some people who would now be covered under the ban have already been evicted.

Perhaps the most notable obstacle is the fact that the new moratorium will almost certainly face legal challenges.

The Biden administration previously argued that it did not have the jurisdiction to extend the eviction freeze unilaterally, citing a recent decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled that the CDC could not extend the ban past July and that Congressional action was needed.

Three days before the moratorium was set to expire, Biden asked Congress to pass legislation to extend it before leaving for their August recess. Republicans blocked the effort by unanimous consent, and Democratic leaders, frustrated with the president’s last-minute demand that left them with few options, said they did not have enough support for a formal vote.

Biden, for his part, has acknowledged that any freeze that comes from his administration would face this obstacle.

“Any call for [a] moratorium based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to face obstacles,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve indicated to the CDC, I’d like them to look at other alternatives [other] than the one that is in existence, which the court has declared they’re not going to allow to continue.”

Any legal proceedings, however, will take time, meaning Congress could act before any disputes are resolved. The extended timeframe would also give state and local governments more leeway to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental aid approved in the last two stimulus packages.

Only $3 billion of the funding has been distributed due to the numerous delays and hurdles municipalities have faced while struggling to create new systems to dole out the much-needed aid. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CBS News)

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Virtually All Emperor Penguins Doomed for Extinction by 2100, Study Finds

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The new study comes as the U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service moves to submit a proposal Wednesday to add the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species.


Concerns for Emperor Penguins

Nearly all of the world’s emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction by 2100, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology.

More specifically, researchers behind the study said 98% of the colonies could be gone in the next 80 years if climate change continues causing sea ice to melt at its current pace. About 70% of colonies could die off by 2050, it added.

That is pretty huge news because Emperor penguins — the world’s largest penguin species —are a vital part of the Antarctic food chain. They prey on krill, squid, and small fish, and provide a source of food for leopard seals and killer whales.

However, the birds are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they depend on sea ice for viral activities like breeding, feeding, and molting, along with resting or seeking refuge from predators.

U.S. Moves To Protect the Species

The new study comes as the U.S. government considers adding the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to build off this new research, along with other data, for its proposal on Wednesday. Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be open to a 60-day public comment period.

If the classification is granted, the species would receive protections, including a ban on importations of the birds for commercial purposes.

“These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press.

“Climate change, a priority challenge for this Administration, impacts a variety of species throughout the world,” said Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the wildlife service. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor penguin.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (AP News)

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Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations

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The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.


Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter

Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.


Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.

Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.

DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools

On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.

The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.

DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.

At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.

Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)

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