May 19, 2017

Cold War-era nuclear tests conducted by the United States and Russia at high altitudes negatively affected the weather in space, reveals a new paper published in Space Science Reviews using recently declassified data.

Among other effects, the tests "created artificial radiation belts near Earth that resulted in major damages to several satellites." The radiation also damaged power stations in Hawaii and produced aurora (commonly called "Northern Lights") at the equator instead of close to the Earth's North and South Poles.

"The tests were a human-generated and extreme example of some of the space weather effects frequently caused by the sun," said Phil Erickson of MIT, one of the paper's authors, in an interview with NASA. Still, he added, the weather distortion offers scientists useful information today: "If we understand what happened in the somewhat controlled and extreme event that was caused by one of these man-made events, we can more easily understand the natural variation in the near-space environment."

Watch a one-minute explanation of the study's findings below. Bonnie Kristian

12:03 p.m. ET

On Tuesday, Reuters published a report on the modernization of the United States' nuclear weapons arsenals and frankly, it's pretty terrifying. In 2011, Russia and the U.S. signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to mutually reduce their nuclear weapons stockpile to 1,550 warheads by 2018 — but soon after, both countries got to work improving their remaining arms.

Cherry Murray, the former top official at the U.S. Energy Department, summed up America's strategic thinking to Reuters: "When you get down to that number we better make sure they work. And we better make sure our adversaries believe they work."

In 2010, President Obama came to a compromise with congressional Republicans to spend $85 billion on a 10-year nuclear modernization program to ensure Republican support for ratifying the New START treaty. Reuters reports that over the next 30 years, the U.S. will in fact spend at least an additional $1.25 trillion on nuclear modernization.

So what type of weapons does that chunk of change get you? The new and improved B61 bomb — which costs nearly $21 million a pop — can "level cities with a 340-kiloton blast with 23 times the force of Hiroshima's," Reuters wrote, in one example of the amplified technology Washington is working on. The Air Force is planning to develop 480 of these souped-up B61 bombs, for a total price of almost $10 billion.

Read the full special report on the U.S.'s nuclear weapons modernization at Reuters. Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:31 a.m. ET

Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, preempted impeachment proceedings by announcing his resignation Tuesday, The New York Times reports. Mugabe, 93, has ruled the nation since its independence in 1980.

On Sunday, the ruling Zanu-PF party ousted Mugabe as party leader. Mugabe stunned Zimbabweans by refusing to resign in a rambling televised speech. He said Tuesday that his decision to finally step down was out of concern for "the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and the need for a peaceful transfer of power," and residents reportedly took to the street of Harare, the capital, to celebrate:

Emmerson Mnangagwa, who served as Zimbabwe's vice president until Mugabe fired him this month, was chosen as the new party head, but he had fled to South Africa for safety. Mnangagwa is expected to be Mugabe's successor. Jeva Lange

10:46 a.m. ET
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

In early October, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG), an internal watchdog, completed an extensive report on the implementation of President Trump's original travel ban, Executive Order 13769, which in late January caught customs agents by surprise and led to people getting trapped at airports. But in a letter to lawmakers Monday, the OIG accused DHS leadership of intentionally delaying release of the report for more than six weeks, perhaps because the Trump administration insisted the travel ban rollout was "a massive success story ... on every single level."

As the OIG letter explains, DHS officials have indicated they may invoke "deliberative process privilege," an unusual response to this sort of report that would permit the agency to keep the document private. This is a troubling prospect, the letter says, because it "can mask discovery of decisions made based on illegitimate considerations, or evidence of outright misconduct." If DHS does invoke this privilege, it would "significantly hamper" the DHS watchdog's ability to keep Congress well-informed about the department's aims and activities.

Download the full letter here to read a partial summary of the report's findings, including the allegation that customs agents "violated two court orders" in the implementation process. Bonnie Kristian

10:39 a.m. ET

Even if you've had location services turned off on your Android phone, Google knows where you've been. Quartz reported Tuesday that for nearly a year, Android phones have been sending the location of nearby cell towers to Google even when location services are disabled and there is no SIM card in the phone.

By collecting relevant cell phone tower data, Google can identify an Android user's location within a certain range. And while it might seem comforting that Google doesn't know your exact location, Quartz notes that every time you pass a cell phone tower and are using cellular data or WiFi, your Android phone sends identifying data to Google. This may not happen as frequently in big sky country, but people living in cities are far more likely to pass by cell phone towers multiple times per day.

Google confirmed to Quartz that it had collected Android user data by analyzing the location of nearby cell towers, but stressed that it did so to send Android users push notifications and messages. In an email, a Google spokesperson added, "We never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated it to no longer request Cell ID." Reassuring! Kelly O'Meara Morales

10:30 a.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been formally accused by approximately a dozen of his own department's officials of violating federal child soldier laws, Reuters reports. The State Department publicly acknowledges that Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan have child soldiers, although Tillerson removed the three countries from the U.S. list of offenders in June. "Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance," Reuters explains.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act bars countries known to have soldiers under the age of 18 from receiving aid, weapons, or training from the United States. Special exceptions can be made, such as when the Obama administration issued waivers for Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Somalia in 2016, a move that was criticized at the time by organizations like Human Rights Watch.

"The dissenting U.S. officials stressed that Tillerson's decision to exclude Iraq, Afghanistan, and Myanmar went a step further than the Obama administration's waiver policy by contravening the law and effectively easing pressure on the countries to eradicate the use of child soldiers," Reuters reports. Tillerson's adviser, Brian Hook, defended the decision, claiming that while Afghanistan, Iraq, and Myanmar may still have child soldiers, they are "making sincere — if as yet incomplete — efforts" to curb the practice.

The State Department officials used a "dissent channel" to express their disapproval of Tillerson's decision. The memo was sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the State Department's inspector general's office. The ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), said Tillerson's actions "sent a powerful message to these countries that they were receiving a pass on their unconscionable actions." Read more about the memo and federal child soldier laws at Reuters. Jeva Lange

10:17 a.m. ET

President Trump has long lauded his own tweeting habits as an important way to spread his views directly to the public. "When somebody says something about me, I am able to go 'bing, bing, bing' and I take care of it," he said of Twitter in an October interview, suggesting that those who don't want him tweeting "are the enemies," and that he would not be in the Oval Office were it not for his Twitter account.

Republican fundraisers like the tweets, too, Andrew Malcolm at McClatchy reports, finding them a lucrative outreach tool for the GOP base:

Surprisingly, President Trump's often argumentative, abrasive tweets that bother so many, especially in the GOP establishment, have actually proven to be quite effective fundraising tools. Recited by fundraisers, the tweets are well-received by supporters as candid insights into the unorthodox president's thinking. And they've fueled an historic flow of donations into the Republican National Committee. [McClatchy]

How effective are the tweets? Well, since Trump took office, the GOP has raised $113.2 million, the bulk of it from small-dollar donors giving $200 or less per donation, and much of it from first-time contributors. The Republican National Committee closed the third quarter of 2017 with $44 million on hand to the Democratic National Committee's $7 million. Bonnie Kristian

9:52 a.m. ET

Alabama's Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones is using powerful GOP voices to take down his Republican opponent, Roy Moore.

Moore is accused of sexually assaulting or harassing multiple teenage girls as young as 14. "There is a special place in hell for people who prey on children," Jones' new TV ad quotes Ivanka Trump as saying. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is quoted saying, "I have no reason to doubt these young women," and Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.) is quoted saying he will "absolutely not" vote for Moore.

"Conservative voices putting children and women over party," the voiceover adds. "Doing what's right." Watch the spot below. Jeva Lange

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