The U.S.-Israeli relationship hit a rare rocky patch under President Trump on Monday when the U.S. flatly denied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that he had been discussing annexing part of the West Bank with the Trump administration "for some time now." The White House apparently privately demanded and publicly received a walking-back of that claim, which Netanyahu aides said the prime minister made in a meeting with a faction of his Likud party. "The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president's focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative," White House spokesman Josh Raffel said.
Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, spearheaded by son-in-law Jared Kushner and envoy Jason Greenblatt, is stalled after Trump announced U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, prompting the Palestinian Authority to disengage. Now, Trump appears to have added a new Mideast peace envoy: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In Moscow on Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated to Putin that "from now on we refuse to cooperate in any form with the U.S. in its status of a mediator, as we stand against its actions." Putin told Abbas that he had "just spoken over the phone" with Trump, and "naturally, we spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli settlement," according to Russia's official TASS news agency. "I would like to convey to you his best wishes," Putin told Abbas. Abbas said the Palestinians would be willing to participate in an international peace conference in which the U.S. was just one player, along with Russia, the European Union, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Arab states. Peter Weber
The North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, indicated "North Korea is willing to have talks with the U.S., and the North agrees that inter-Korean relations and North Korea-U. S. relations should advance together," said a statement from South Korea's presidential administration Sunday. South Korean President Moon Jae-in "pointed out the urgency to hold dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. in order to fundamentally the resolve the issues on the Korean Peninsula and to improve inter-Korean relations," the statement reported.
In a public statement earlier Sunday, however, the North Korean regime condemned the United States' latest round of sanctions against North Korea, announced Friday. "The two Koreas have cooperated together and the Olympics was held successfully," Pyongyang said via state-run media, "but the U.S. brought the threat of war to the Korean peninsula with large-scale new sanctions."
President Trump has repeatedly expressed an interest in direct negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. However, he frequently vacillates toward more aggressive rhetoric. On Friday, he suggested that if these sanctions fail, he will move on to an unspecified "Phase 2" which could be "rough" and "very unfortunate for the world." Bonnie Kristian
Trump declares House Democrats' counter-memo 'a nothing' — while claiming it proves surveillance abuses against his campaign
House Intelligence Committee Democrats on Saturday published their counter to the Nunes memo, a controversial document compiled under Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the committee chair, and released earlier this year.
The Nunes memo alleges the FBI acquired FISA court permission to spy on Trump campaign aide Carter Page using the Steele dossier, which was created with funding from a Clinton campaign lawyer, not telling the court the information's source.
The new memo defends the FBI, claiming the agency was conducting its own probe of the Trump campaign for seven weeks before obtaining the Steele dossier. The dossier was only narrowly used in the surveillance application, the counter-memo says, with proper identification of its political provenance.
President Trump promptly denounced the counter-memo, calling it "a nothing" and "really fraudulent" in a Fox News interview Saturday night. On Twitter, he misquoted Fox to attack Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who oversaw the counter-memo's creation and release. He also declared the counter-memo proves his own campaign's persecution. "Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done," Trump wrote. "SO ILLEGAL!"
Read the counter-memo below. Bonnie Kristian
Syrian government strikes have killed some 500 civilians, including about 120 children, over the course of a week in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The activist group says Russian planes are assisting with the attacks, but Russia denies direct engagement.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces reportedly used barrel bombs and artillery shells to target the area where some 400,000 people have no option of escape. Civilians are "being forced into bunkers and many of them can't even find the time to bury their dead," reports NPR's Lama Al-Arian. The Assad regime says its goal is to liberate civilians from a nearby rebel enclave.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pushing for a U.N. resolution implementing a 30-day ceasefire so humanitarian aid can be delivered to East Ghouta. "I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population," he said, describing the situation as "hell on Earth." If the resolution passes — Moscow is demanding edits in exchange for its support — its prospects for enforcement are dubious.
Delta and United Airlines on Saturday announced they are cutting ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Delta is reaching out to the NRA to let them know we will be ending their contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from their website.
— Delta (@Delta) February 24, 2018
United is notifying the NRA that we will no longer offer a discounted rate to their annual meeting and we are asking that the NRA remove our information from their website.
— United Airlines (@united) February 24, 2018
The airlines join the Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National car rental brands as well as First National Bank of Omaha, Best Western hotels, MetLife insurance, and more than a dozen other companies in ending deals with the NRA. Delta previously offered discounted airfare for NRA members, and United offered discounts on flights to and from the organization's annual conference.
Companies are distancing themselves from the NRA in response to outrage following last week's mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Customer responses to the tweeted announcements were predictably mixed. Bonnie Kristian
A daring squirrel narrowly cheated death Saturday while attempting to sprint across the course of the women's parallel giant slalom competition at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Austrian snowboarder Daniela Ulbing just barely maneuvered around the animal, which appeared to reconsider its choices after she passed. Watch the squirrel's moment of destiny below. Bonnie Kristian
WATCH OUT SQUIRREL. pic.twitter.com/rtQ94MQeDj
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 24, 2018
Billionaire Warren Buffett published his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway on Saturday. Berkshire's net worth grew by $65.3 billion in 2017, Buffett said, but $29 billion of that gain came from savings effected by the Republican tax plan passed in December. The new tax law lowered the nominal corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent.
For individual investors, Buffett cautioned against going into debt to purchase stock because the market may drop. "There is simply no telling how far stocks can fall in a short period," he wrote. "Even if your borrowings are small and your positions aren't immediately threatened by the plunging market, your mind may well become rattled by scary headlines and breathless commentary. And an unsettled mind will not make good decisions."
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday began soliciting public input on restoring work requirements for food stamp recipients in high-unemployment areas where rules were waived in recent years.
"Long-term dependency has never been part of the American dream," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. "USDA's goal is to move individuals and families [using food stamps] back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty."
Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) are eligible for only three months of food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) unless they spend at least 80 hours per month working or at a qualified training. In five states — Alaska, California, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico — and economically struggling localities in 28 other states, that rule is currently suspended.
No changes have been formally proposed at this time, but the USDA estimates about 2.9 million ABAWDs are currently unemployed and would therefore be affected if the waiver were rescinded. They make up about 7 percent of the 43.6 million people who used food stamps in 2017. Bonnie Kristian