Fox News Host Taking Leave After Mocking School Shooting Survivor

Fox News show host Laura Ingraham announced on her show late Friday that she is taking next week off, after almost a dozen advertisers dropped her show after the conservative pundit mocked a teenage survivor of the Florida school massacre on Twitter.

Eleven companies so far have pulled their ads after a pushback by Parkland student David Hogg, 17, who called for a boycott of her advertisers.

A Fox News Channel spokeswoman said Ingraham was taking a pre-planned spring vacation with her children.

Hogg took aim at the host’s show, “The Ingraham Angle,” after she taunted him on Twitter on Wednesday, accusing him of whining about being rejected by four colleges to which he had applied.

Hogg is a survivor of the February 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland suburb of Fort Lauderdale. He and other classmates have become the faces of a new youth-led movement calling for tighter restrictions on firearms.

Hogg tweeted a list of a dozen companies that advertise on “The Ingraham Angle” and urged his supporters to demand that they cancel their ads.

On Thursday, Ingraham tweeted an apology “in the spirit of Holy Week,” saying she was sorry for any hurt or upset she had caused Hogg or any of the “brave victims” of Parkland.

But her apology did not stop companies from departing.

The companies announcing that they are cancelling their ads are: Nutrish, the pet food line created by celebrity chef Rachael Ray, travel website TripAdvisor Inc, online home furnishings seller Wayfair Inc, the world’s largest packaged food company, Nestle SA, online streaming service Hulu, travel website Expedia Group Inc and online personal shopping service Stitch Fix.

According to CBS News, four other companies joined the list Friday: the home office supply store Office Depot, the dieting company Jenny Craig, the Atlantis, Paradise Island resort and Johnson & Johnson which produces pharmaceuticals as well as consumer products such as Band-Aids, Neutrogena beauty products

and Tylenol.

Hogg wrote on Twitter that an apology just to mollify advertisers was insufficient.

Ingraham’s show runs on Fox News, part of Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.

 

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Scientists Track Chinese Space Station’s Final Hours in Orbit

Scientists are monitoring a defunct Chinese space station that is expected to fall to Earth sometime this weekend — the largest man-made object to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in a decade.

The head of the European Space Agency’s debris office, Holger Krag, says China’s Tiangong-1 space station likely will fall to Earth Sunday.

Krag said it still not yet known where the space station will hit Earth, but said it would be extremely unlikely for anyone to be injured when it does.

“Our experience is that for such large objects typically between 20 and 40 percent of the original mass, of 8.5 tons, will survive re-entry and then could be found on the ground, theoretically,” he said.

“However, to be injured by one of these fragments is extremely unlikely. My estimate is that the probability to be injured by one of these fragments is similar to the probability of being hit by lightning twice in the same year,” Krag added.

China’s first space lab, Tiangong-1 — or “Heavenly Palace 1″ — was launched in 2011 as a facility for testing docking capabilities with other Chinese spacecraft and to explore the possibilities for building a larger permanent space station by 2023.

Chinese astronauts visited it several times flying aboard the Shenzhou spacecraft.

It was scheduled for a controlled de-orbit and eventual crash into the Pacific Ocean, but in September 2016 China’s space agency conceded it had lost contact with the station.

Krag, says the 8-and-a-half ton craft will re-enter the atmosphere at a speed of 27,000 kilometers per hour.

He said the space station is expected to fall between the areas of 43 degrees south and 43 degrees north, and everything outside that zone is considered safe.

“Northern Europe including France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland are definitely on the safe side. Southern Europe, the southern part of North America, South Asia, Africa, Australia and also South America are still within the zone today,” he said.

The re-entry area covers huge parts of the Earth’s oceans, so any surviving pieces of the space station are most likely to end up at the bottom of the sea.

 

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Scientist, Pop Culture Icon Stephen Hawking Mourned at Cambridge Funeral

Crowds lined the streets of Cambridge, England, on Saturday for the funeral of one of the world’s most famous scientists: physicist Stephen Hawking, who died March 14 at age 76.

The scientist, confined for decades to a wheelchair and voice synthesizer because of the disease ALS, was known for his charisma, curiosity, and a crackling sense of humor. His science books and television cameos made him a pop-culture icon.

Hawking described his research as seeking “a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

Hawking’s funeral was held Saturday at the Cambridge University church known as Great St. Mary’s. As the funeral procession arrived, bells rang 76 times — once for each year of Hawking’s life.

In addition to Hawking’s family members, caretakers, former students, and admirers, the ceremony was attended by a number of famous faces. Among them was actor Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking in an award-winning film biography of his life called The Theory of Everything, released in 2014.

Redmayne’s co-star, Felicity Jones, model Lily Cole, Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May, and Britain’s Astronomer Royal, the Lord Rees of Ludlow (Martin Rees), were also there.

The eulogy, read by professor Faye Dowker, praised Hawking as someone “revered for his devotion as a scholar to the pursuit of knowledge.”

Hawking will be given one last high honor: his remains are to be interred in Westminster Abbey among some of Britain’s most legendary intellectuals. Hawking will take his place next to 17th-century mathematical scientist Isaac Newton and near 19th-century evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin.

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Russia’s World Cup Drives Some Students to Rare Protests

Many students would be delighted to have the World Cup in town, but not Maria Cheremnova.

 

The 20-year-old physics student in Moscow is one of thousands campaigning against the June 14-July 15 soccer tournament, which is set to disrupt academic life across the country.

 

There will be a 25,000-capacity fan zone outside the main building at Russia’s prestigious Moscow State University during exam season. In other cities, exams have been brought forward and thousands of police are set to move into dorm rooms.

 

The Moscow fan zone – a public viewing area with a big screen, beer and music – is on prime real estate near the vast Luzhniki arena, the river and the main university building, a Stalin-era colossus that ranks among the Russian capital’s most recognizable structures.

 

 The building is also home to around 6,500 students. Residents say it doesn’t have great soundproofing.

 

“I came to university to study, not to watch football and listen to that noise,” Cheremnova said. “Imagine 25,000 people and the events at night. It’ll all be visible, with lights, a big screen, music and fans, who aren’t very quiet guys. It’s going to stop people sleeping before their exams. It’s just awful.”

 

 It will also mean extra strain on already struggling transport networks – the fan zone is two subway stops from Luzhniki stadium – and fans could damage a nearby nature reserve, Cheremnova claimed.

A group of Moscow State University students and recent graduates has gathered more than 4,600 signatures demanding the fan zone be moved to another location. They said more students and staff would have signed but feared retaliation from the university administration. When attempting to deliver the petition to the rector’s office, security guards blocked the way and elevator access was cut to that floor only, supposedly for repair.

 

Russian universities have little tradition of student protest. While they were hotbeds of activism before the Russian Revolution of 1917, in Soviet times access to a college education was closely linked to political loyalty and membership of groups like the Young Communist League.

 

World Cup organizers have revised earlier plans for Moscow’s fan zone to be larger and closer to the university. FIFA said “to lessen the impact of the event on students and the adjacent infrastructure of the university, it was agreed to move the stage away from the main building by several meters, to reduce the capacity to 25,000 spectators and to change access flows.”

 

Opposition not only in Moscow

Across Russia, the tournament has brought upheaval for students.

 

The Russian academic year often runs well into the summer months, and late June is usually prime time for exams.

 

In most of the 11 host cities, university dorms are due to turn into temporary barracks for police and National Guard troops brought in from out of town for the tournament.

 

Many universities have brought forward examinations, often by more than a month, to avoid the World Cup and free up dorm space for security forces.

 

That means semesters have been cut short with little warning, forcing students to cram more studies into less time. Cheremnova said that some Moscow State University students were told to prepare for earlier examinations, only for the decision to be reversed.

At the Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, semesters run back-to-back since “the winter vacation was postponed until the summer period,” according to spokesman Andrei Svechnikov.

 

What’s angering students more than anything else is the prospect of being forced to move out of rooms they’ve paid for.

 

Despite official denials from the Education and Science Ministry that any students will be kicked out to make way for security forces, more than 2,800 students have signed a petition against alleged removals.

 

“There will be no forced eviction of students under this process,” the ministry told The Associated Press, adding that security forces will “not disrupt the learning process.”

 

The AP contacted 17 universities cited in local media reports as planning to evict students for the World Cup. Of those, six said no students would be forced to move, one said a small number would be required to move to other dorms, and 10 failed to reply.

 

In many cities, students report mixed messages from university officials over accommodation and study schedules.

 

Zhokhangir Mirzadzhanov, a student in the western city of Kaliningrad, said his university initially offered to buy tickets for students to leave the city and free up dorm space for the tournament but details remained unclear.

 

“There are a lot of simple issues that they still can’t answer,” he said. “What comes next, no one knows.”

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Tibetans Mark 60th Year of Dalai Lama’s Arrival in India

As New Delhi seeks to revive its frayed ties with China, the Tibetan government-in-exile in India launched year-long celebrations Saturday to mark the 60th year of the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s arrival in India, in the hill town of Dharamsala — instead of the Indian capital, as originally planned.

 

Accusing the Chinese of destroying Tibetan civilization, culture and identity, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, urged Tibetans to strengthen efforts to make the return of the Dalai Lama to his native land a reality.

 

“Thousands and thousands of Tibetans have been killed and have died for the cause of Tibet. Many have burned themselves alive,” he said.  

Saying that he had fled Tibet under difficult circumstances, the Dalai Lama said it has been a time of mixed feelings of both sadness and happiness. “At the time, we had no idea what would happen in next 40 to 50 years. But today, we are commemorating 60 years in exile, so now we could see to a certain extent what would happen in the near future,” he said without elaborating.

 

The “Thank You India” event was moved out of the Indian capital to Dharamsala following a note by India’s top bureaucrat last month advising senior ministers and officials to stay away from the function, saying it coincided with a “very sensitive time” for relations with Beijing.

 

New Delhi’s caution toward a series of events planned by the Tibetans is seen as part of efforts to tone down its assertive stand toward China following a year when tensions between the Asian neighbors spiraled downward.  

‘Readjustment of China policy’

It marks a departure from India’s stance last year, when, ignoring strong protests from Beijing, New Delhi allowed the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh state, a territory disputed between the Asian giants.  

 

“These signals looked very hard line and hawkish,” says Manoj Joshi at the Observer Research Foundation. “I think there is a learning curve for the Modi government that one needs to be a bit careful in dealing with the Chinese on some of these issues. So there is a kind of readjustment of China policy.”

 

Besides moving the “Thank You India” function from New Delhi to Dharamsala, two other events have been scrapped — an interfaith prayer to be led by the Dalai Lama in New Delhi and a World Parliamentarians convention on Tibet.

 

Paying heed to Chinese sensitivities on the Dalai Lama, termed by Beijing a “dangerous separatist,” is a message from New Delhi to calm ties ahead of a series of meetings between Indian and Chinese officials, according to analysts.

 

India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, visits Beijing in April and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a regional summit in June.

Relations between India and China hit their lowest point when troops from both countries were locked in a 70-day standoff on their Himalayan borders. But of late, the tone has been more positive as they try to reset ties.

New Delhi, however, did not completely ignore the “Thank You India” event meant to show gratitude to the Indian government and its people for their support of Tibetan refugees.

Junior Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma and a senior leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Ram Madhav, attended the function as the exile community sang songs thanking India for providing a home to the more than 125,000 Tibetans that live in the country.

 

Madhav hoped that the Dalai Lama would be able to find a solution to the Tibetan issue “through peaceful and democratic means that will facilitate your honorable return to your homeland.”

 

The Dalai Lama crossed into India from Lhasa on March 31, 1959, and has made India his home ever since.

 

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Trump’s Talk of a Syria Pullout Nothing New

President Donald Trump’s unscripted remark this week about pulling out of Syria “very soon,” while at odds with his own policy, was not a one-off: For weeks, top advisers have been fretting about an overly hasty withdrawal as the president has increasingly told them privately he wants out, U.S. officials said.

 

Only two months ago, Trump’s aides thought they’d persuaded him that the U.S. needed to keep its presence in Syria open-ended – not only because the Islamic State group has yet to be entirely defeated, but also because the resulting power vacuum could be filled by other extremist groups or by Iran. Trump signed off on a major speech in January in which then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the new strategy and declared “it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.”

 

But by mid-February, Trump was telling his top aides in meetings that as soon as victory can be declared against IS, he wanted American troops out of Syria, said the officials. Alarm bells went off at the State Department and the Pentagon, where officials have been planning for a gradual, methodical shift from a military-led operation to a diplomatic mission to start rebuilding basic infrastructure like roads and sewers in the war-wracked country.

 

In one sign that Trump is serious about reversing course and withdrawing from Syria, the White House this week put on hold some $200 million in U.S. funding for stabilization projects in Syria, officials said. The money, to have been spent by the State Department for infrastructure projects like power, water and roads, had been announced by Tillerson at an aid conference last month in Kuwait.

 

The officials said the hold, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is not necessarily permanent and will be discussed at senior-level inter-agency meetings next week.

 

The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly and demanded anonymity.

 

The State Department said it continually reviews appropriate assistance levels and how best they might be utilized. And the agency said it continues to work with the international community, members of the Coalition, and our partners on the ground to provide much needed stabilization support to vulnerable areas in Syria.

 

“The United States is working everyday on the ground and with the international community to help stabilize those areas liberated from ISIS and identify ways to move forward with reconstruction once there has been a peaceful political transition away from [Syrian President al-Bashar] Assad,” according to a statement from the State Department.

‘Very soon’

Trump’s first public suggestion he was itching to pull out came in a news conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on February 23, when Trump said the U.S. was in Syria to “get rid of ISIS and go home.” On Thursday, in a domestic policy speech in Ohio, Trump went further.

 

“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon – very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said.

 

The public declaration caught U.S. national security agencies off-guard and unsure whether Trump was formally announcing a new, unexpected change in policy. Inundated by inquiries from journalists and foreign officials, the Pentagon and State Department reached out to the White House’s National Security Council for clarification.

 

The White House’s ambiguous response, officials said: Trump’s words speak for themselves.

 

“The mission of the Department of Defense to defeat ISIS has not changed,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman.

 

Still, without a clear directive from the president, planning has not started for a withdrawal from Syria, officials said, and Trump has not advocated a specific timetable.

 

For Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” mantra, Syria is just the latest foreign arena where his impulse has been to limit the U.S. role. Like with NATO and the United Nations, Trump has called for other governments to step up and share more of the burden so that Washington doesn’t foot the bill. His administration has been crisscrossing the globe seeking financial commitments from other countries to fund reconstruction in both Syria and Iraq, but with only limited success.

 

Yet it’s unclear how Trump’s impulse to pull out could be affected by recent staff shake-ups on his national security team. Tillerson and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both advocates for keeping a U.S. presence in Syria, were recently fired, creating questions about the longevity of the plan Tillerson announced in his Stanford University speech in January. But Trump also replaced McMaster with John Bolton, a vocal advocate for U.S. intervention and aggressive use of the military overseas.

 

The abrupt change in the president’s thinking has drawn concern both inside and outside the United States.

 

Other nations that make up the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State fear that Trump’s impulse to pull out hastily would allow the notoriously resourceful IS militants to regroup, several European diplomats said. That concern has been heightened by the fact that U.S.-backed ground operations against remaining IS militants in Syria were put on hold earlier this month.

‘Serious and growing concern’

The ground operations had to be paused because Kurdish fighters who had been spearheading the campaign against IS shifted to a separate fight with Turkish forces, who began combat operations in the town of Afrin against Kurds who are considered by Ankara to be terrorists that threaten Turkey’s security.

 

“This is a serious and growing concern,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this month.

 

Beyond just defeating IS, there are other strategic U.S. objectives that could be jeopardized by a hasty withdrawal, officials said, chiefly those related to Russia and Iran.

 

Israel, America’s closest Middle East ally, and other regional nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are deeply concerned about the influence of Iran and its allies, including the Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, inside Syria. The U.S. military presence in Syria has been seen as a buffer against unchecked Iranian activity, and especially against Tehran’s desire to establish a contiguous land route from Iran to the Mediterranean coast in Lebanon.

 

An American withdrawal would also likely cede Syria to Russia, which along with Iran has been propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and would surely fill the void left behind by the U.S. That prospect has alarmed countries like France, which has historic ties to the Levant.

 

In calling for a withdrawal “very soon,” Trump may be overly optimistic in his assessment of how quickly the anti-IS campaign can be wrapped up, the officials said. Although the group has been driven from basically all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and 95 percent of its former territory in Syria, the remaining five percent is becoming increasingly difficult to clear and could take many months, the officials said.

 

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