Trump vetoes measure blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump vetoed three bipartisan measures passed by Congress intended to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the White House said in a statement.

“This resolution would weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners,” Trump said in a message to lawmakers released by the White House on Wednesday.

With his third veto — and second related to Saudi Arabia — Trump again rebuffed congressional efforts to punish Saudi Arabia for the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi and turned back criticism over the kingdom’s prosecution of its war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

In April, Trump vetoed a resolution backed by Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress that would withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Trump issued his first veto earlier this year of a measure aimed at ending his national emergency declaration used to fund a wall along the southern border.

This latest dispute over Saudi arms sales dates to late May when the administration cited a national emergency under the Arms Export Control Act to overrule congressional objections to $8.1 billion in arms sales. That decision has been the subject of House and Senate hearings in which lawmakers of both parties questioned the administration citing tensions with Iran as a national emergency.

— Bloomberg News

House clears bill to relieve onslaught of robocalls plaguing Americans

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and their constituents are fed up with the bombardment of nuisance and scam calls plaguing their cellphones and on Wednesday the House passed a bipartisan measure to combat robocalls.

The House voted 429-3 to pass a bill that would require phone companies to offer screening technology to customers at no cost that would identify and block spam robocalls. It would also double, to four years, the time period that parties can be prosecuted for illegal robocalls.

New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone Jr. teamed up with Oregon Republican Greg Walden to sponsor the measure, which would require the Federal Communications Commission to give Congress an annual report on its robocall enforcement activities, and provide legislative proposals to decrease their frequency.

“Illegal, unwanted robocalls threaten the foundational ways we communicate with one another and, in my opinion, that’s dangerous. It chips away at our community and public safety,” Pallone said.

Under the measure, the FCC to would need to update what it considers a “robocall,” which would require more businesses to obtain consent from customers before making automated calls.

— CQ Roll Call

Ponzi-scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff seeks clemency from President Trump

NEW YORK — Bernie Madoff is seeking President Donald Trump’s mercy.

The notorious Ponzi schemer has submitted paperwork asking for a commutation of his 150-year prison sentence for a $65 billion fraud.

Madoff’s basis for the request was not available. The Department of Justice website only notes that he’s seeking “commutation of sentence,” which could mean a complete or partial reduction.

Clemency could also impact the $170 billion in restitution Madoff, 81, was ordered to pay after being sentenced in 2009. The application would have to be approved by Trump himself. It wasn’t clear when Madoff submitted the request, which was listed as “pending.”

“It is hard to imagine a less sympathetic nonviolent offender than Bernard Madoff. His tens of thousands of victims still continue to feel the profound and devastating harm from his decadeslong fraud to this day. The president can surely find more deserving recipients of his commutation power,” said Matthew Schwartz, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner and former prosecutor who investigated Madoff.

When Judge Denny Chin sentenced Madoff, he called his crimes “extraordinarily evil.”

Madoff apologized to his victims, telling them “I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t help you.

“How do you excuse betraying thousands of investors who entrusted me with their life savings? How do you excuse deceiving 200 employees who spent most of their working life with me?” he said.

But he’s subsequently blamed some of his wealthiest investors, saying their need for big returns drove him to defraud others.

Madoff’s former lawyer Ira Lee Sorkin had no information on the application, according to CNBC, which first reported the request.

— New York Daily News

Meek Mill’s conviction vacated by Pennsylvania court

PHILADELPHIA — The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled Wednesday that Meek Mill’s decade-old conviction on gun and drug charges should be vacated, the most significant step in the celebrity rapper’s long fight to overturn a case that even prosecutors have since conceded was riddled with problems.

The decision, issued in an 18-page opinion signed by President Judge Jack A. Panella, does not clear every hurdle for the Philadelphia-born Mill, 32, whose given name is Robert Rihmeek Williams. Technically, he is entitled to a new trial on those charges if the district attorney’s office decides to pursue them.

DA Larry Krasner’s office declined to say Wednesday whether it planned to retry Mill, but prosecutors made clear at a hearing earlier this month that they had significant questions about the credibility of Mill’s arresting officer, now-retired police officer Reginald Graham, and about the evidence used to convict Mill.

And the Superior Court, in its opinion, said that prosecutors had stated in court documents that they did not believe the trial testimony of Graham — the only witness to take the stand — and would “never again call Graham” to court.

Should prosecutors decline to pursue a retrial, Mill’s long entanglement with the Philadelphia criminal justice system would be over.

In a statement Wednesday, Mill said: “The past 11 years have been mentally and emotionally challenging, but I’m ecstatic that justice prevailed.” He also tweeted shortly after the opinion was issued: “Life blessings just keep coming.”

— Philadelphia Inquirer

Study: Earth warmed faster in the last few decades than the previous 1,900 years

It’s not just humans who track long-term trends in the weather. The history of our planet’s climate is recorded by nature herself — written in tree rings and arctic ices, corals and deep ocean sediments.

Each of these records tell only a small piece of the Earth’s climate story, but together they form a sprawling and complex novel of the past, helping scientists better understand how and why certain trends emerged, and foreshadowing what we might expect the Earth’s climate to look like in the future.

In 2017 an international consortium known as PAGES (Past Global Changes) published its largest database yet of climate temperature records, stretching from the present day back 2,000 years, by the start of the Common Era.

The data points were recorded by trees, ice, lake and ocean sediment, and mineral deposits in caves, as well as by humans. They come from 648 locations across the globe, including all the continents and major ocean basins.

Scientists have only just begun to mine the PAGES data for insights into trends of the past, but already they have made some intriguing discoveries.

After analyzing 2,000 years of detailed records kept by both nature and humans, researchers have discovered that the average surface temperature of the Earth has warmed faster in the past few decades than it did in the previous 1,900 years, proving once again that the current warming the planet is experiencing is unprecedented in the past two millenniums. What’s more, the data also suggest that the warming in the most recent decades has been uniform across all regions of the planet, a phenomenon that scientists say has not been seen in the past 2000 years.

A third study based on the same data shows that for most of the Common Era volcanic events have been the primary driver of global temperature change. Today, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere play a more dominant role in driving global temperature, the authors said.

Raphael Neukom, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland who led two of the three studies said the trio of papers, published Wednesday in the journals Nature and Nature Geoscience, all suggest the same thing: “Climate variability in the pre-industrial period is totally different from what we observe today.”

Some of the findings reported Wednesday contradict, or at least complicate, previously held truths.

— Los Angeles Times

North Korea fires 2 missiles into the sea, ratcheting up tensions

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired two missiles off its east coast early Thursday, the South Korean military said, appearing to escalate tensions as nuclear talks with the U.S. were to resume after President Donald Trump’s surprise summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The missiles were fired at 5:34 and 5:57 a.m. and traveled about 270 miles before landing in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan, according to the South Korean military. The test, the third since May, followed complaints in North Korean state media about joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea slated to take place in August.

North Korea this week unveiled a “newly built” submarine probably capable of carrying ballistic missiles. State media showed Kim inspecting the site, accompanied by his weapons experts.

Trump, after an impromptu, heavily photographed meeting with Kim at the border between North and South Korea late last month, had said working-level talks to hammer out a nuclear deal would resume in a few weeks. The talks had been on ice since the second summit between Trump and Kim, held in Hanoi in February, ended without a deal.

This week’s escalations appear to cast doubt on the resumption of talks, yet stopped short of violating Kim’s self-imposed moratorium on the testing of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

— Los Angeles Times