'False alarm' set off Syrian missiles; UK-US warn of cyber-attacks

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  • ‘False alarm’ set off Syrian missiles – A false alarm set off Syrian air defences overnight, not a new attack, according to a Syrian government military commander. Syrian state media reports said the country’s air defenses had responded to a missile attack targeting an air base near the city of Homs. However, an anonymous commander told Reuters the glitch resulted from “a joint electronic attack” by Israel and the United States on Syria’s radar system. A Pentagon spokesman earlier said there was no U.S. military activity in that area.
  • Inspectors will be permitted to visit Syria site – Russia says Syria will allow chemical weapons inspectors to visit the site of an alleged chemical attack on April 18 (Wednesday). The international team has been blocked from entering Douma, despite being in the country since April 14. The U.S. had accused Russia of blocking the inspectors from reaching the site, where a suspected poison gas attack occurred. Moscow denied the charge and blamed delays on retaliatory U.S.-led missile strikes on Syria.
  • Twitter down around the world – Twitter experienced worldwide outages, beginning about 1350 GMT, according to downdetector.com. The micro-blogging site that has 330 million users was out of action for around 40 minutes on both desktop and mobile platforms. No immediate explanation was available.
  • Starbucks closes 8,000 stores for ‘racial bias’ training – Starbucks’ 8,000 company-owned stores throughout the United States will close for an afternoon next month to train 175,000 employees on how to avoid racial discrimination. Franchised stores are not required to hold the workshop. The decision comes days after two African-American men were arrested for trespassing in a Philadelphia Starbucks. When a video surfaced on Twitter, the employees said they called the police because the men didn’t buy anything and refused to leave the store. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said that the arrests were “reprehensible” and an example of “unconscious bias.” (Help us report on this story and implicit bias here). 
  • Supreme Court reluctant to impose taxes on e-commerce – After hearing oral arguments, the United States Supreme Court is divided on a case that would allow states to collect sales tax from online retailers. The state of South Dakota is leading the legal action. States have complained of losses in tax revenue, and damage to local  businesses, because e-commerce is increasing, but mostly pays no sales tax. This case has major implications for Amazon, which can sell products without any sales tax when a seller is in another state. (Help us report on Amazon’s relationship with sales taxes and the Trump administration here). 
  • Russia cybersecurity warning from UK and U.S. – The US and UK warned of a cybersecurity threat from Russia on individual homes, offices, and government and private organizations (The New York Times). Though both countries have been aware of Kremlin cyber attacks, this is the first-of-its-kind official joint warning of future attacks (Irish Times). Russia targeted millions of devices in both countries, said Ciaran Martin, chief executive of the UK’s National Cyber Security Center. In a joint conference call with Washington and London journalists, Rob Joyce said the U.S. will push back against any malicious cyber threats. Rob Joyce is a special assistant to the president and the cybersecurity coordinator for the National Security Council.
  • Facebook faces class action – A judge in California ruled that Facebook must face a class action lawsuit over its use of facial recognition technology. The suit claims that the social media company gathered biometric information without users’ consent by using “tag suggestions” technology which spots users’ friends in photos. Facebook said the case had no merit.

  • Fox News pundit revealed as client of Trump’s personal lawyer – A federal judge ordered Michael Cohen, the long-time attorney of Donald J. Trump, to disclose that he also represents Fox News pundit Sean Hannity. Hannity has been one of President Trump’s fiercest supporters. Hannity acknowledged on Twitter that he received confidential legal advice from Cohen, but denied he ever paid for services. He also tweeted that the legal advice only concerned him, and was mostly about real estate.
    • Federal prosecutors also learned that the New York lawyer represented Elliott Broidy, deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Convention. Broidy resigned April 13 for paying $1.6 million to a former Playboy model to ensure her silence on an affair that resulted with her becoming pregnant (New York Times). Cohen’s attorney failed to protect Hannity’s anonymity, but he had argued that disclosing the identity would be “embarrassing or detrimental” to the then mystery client (CNBC).
  • Sandy Hook parents sue conspiracy theorist Alex Jones – The parents of two children who were gunned down in the mass shooting of Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 are suing Alex Jones for defamation. Jones is an American libertarian who’s known for promoting conspiracy theories on his site InfoWars. One is that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax orchestrated in order to pass restrictive gun control laws. He has falsely accused the parents of the victims of being actors who never actually had children that were killed. The parents said they decided to sue Jones some five years after the shooting because his followers continue to harass and taunt them.
  • Barbara Bush dies at 92 – The former first lady who died on Tuesday night was the matriarch of the Bush political family – a dynasty that included two presidents and a governor. Reuters reports that she may have died of pulmonary complications, but a definitive cause of death has not been released.

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  • The top awards in American journalism, the Pulitzer Prize, have been announced. Read the New York Times’s summary of all the winners here. They include work about
    • the Harvey Weinstein scandal,
    • links between the United States and Russia, and
    • multimedia narrative of seven days inside a city’s heroin epidemic. – Charles Anderson
  • Some cheerful news, if we can handle it. Pop-out printed stories, from a database of 100,000 original submissions, are printed at kiosks being set up at public places around France and the United States. “Everything old is new again,” said Andrew Nurkin, of a Philadelphia library operating the scheme there. It’s a story; it’s on paper – but it’s also free. Film director Francis Ford Coppola is a fan and has invested in the Grenoble-based parent, Short Edition. Read all about it in The New York Times.

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