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November 14, 2017
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President Trump says, dubiously, that Republicans are preparing to pass the largest tax cut in U.S. history, but even if that's not quite true, it is incontrovertible that Republicans are trying to push through major tax overhauls at breakneck speed, at least by congressional standards. Neither of the bills are finalized, though House Republicans plan to pass their bill Thursday or Friday, and Trump publicly made suggested changes as recently as Monday. The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the official congressional tax analysts at the Joint Committee on Taxation haven't had enough time to analyze the full economic impact of the bills.

"The rush to 'get it done' — particularly on the business side, where the most sweeping changes are planned — is alarming tax specialists who warn that new and unforeseen complexity, loopholes, and glitches could come back to haunt tax collectors and taxpayers," says The New York Times, pointing out several "loopholes and tax dodges spotted so far — whether unintended or not." The loopholes could allow small and medium businesses to take advantage of offshore tax shelters, wealthy hedge fund investors could claim lower tax rates intended for pass-through businesses, and other provisions, anodyne on their own, would open up new tax dodges.

"There is not a single advantage this has, except for students of people like me, who will get paid more to figure out how to game the system," Steven Rosenthal at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, formerly with the Joint Committee on Taxation, tells The New York Times about one of the provisions. The Tax Policy Center estimates that half of the net tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent of earners. Supporters of the tax bills say the legislation will be imperfect but can be fixed once enshrined in law. Peter Weber

9:32 a.m. ET
SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty Images

America has been defeated by Russia in a struggle for influence over postwar Syria, experts told Politico. While at one time both countries were vying for influence over Damascus, President Trump has all but backed off as President Vladimir Putin continues to host talks with regional leaders, without the U.S., in the waning days of the civil war. "Putin has won," declared Ilan Goldenberg, who worked at the Pentagon and State Department under President Barack Obama.

Trump's reluctance to commit to the region reportedly stems from his belief that Syria is a failure of President Obama's. Instead, the Trump administration's foreign policy goals center on backing Iran — a regional ally of Putin's — out of having a say on Syria. "It's become quite clear that the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad-Putin-Iran gambit has almost completely won in Syria," explained the senior vice president of the Middle East Institute, Paul Salem. "[The Russians] want to show their relevance and influence beyond the military phase" by hosting further postwar talks.

One such meeting takes place Wednesday, as Putin hosts the presidents of Iran and Turkey in the Russian town of Sochi. Putin also reportedly met with Assad on Tuesday, and later called Trump to brief him on the details of the conversation. Jeva Lange

8:38 a.m. ET

The United Nations Command has released dramatic video of a North Korean military defector's escape to South Korea last week. The defector, whose name has not been released, can be seen racing toward the border in a car before crashing and fleeing on foot. North Korean soldiers opened fire on the defector — he was shot at least five times, The Guardian reports — and South Korean forces managed to crawl to where he was wounded and drag him to safety.

"The reason that he defected, risking death and facing a barrage of gunshots, was because he had positive hopes about South Korea," said the soldier's lead surgeon, Lee Cook-jong, adding: "He is fine. He is not going to die."

The United Nations Command claims the North Korean soldiers violated the armistice agreement at the DMZ by using their weapons in the region on the defecting soldier. Watch the dramatic video below. Jeva Lange

8:18 a.m. ET
Serge Ligtenberg/Getty Images

An international tribunal at The Hague on Wednesday found Ratko Mladic, the former Serb warlord known as "the Butcher of Bosnia," guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, The Washington Post reports. Judge Alphons Orie read the verdict after a trial that lasted four years, saying Mladic's crimes while commanding forces that carried out some of the worst atrocities of the Balkan wars "rank among the most heinous known to humankind." Mladic, 74, had been too ill to attend the trial, and he was removed from the courtroom before the verdict was read after shouting insults at the judge. Nearly 600 witnesses testified during the trial, including people who had been held in concentration camps during a military campaign against Bosnian Muslims. Harold Maass

7:34 a.m. ET

President Trump continued his feud with LaVar Ball, the father of a UCLA basketball player, on Wednesday following Ball's downplaying of the president's role in getting his son, LiAngelo Ball, and two other student athletes, released from shoplifting charges in China.

"It wasn't the White House, it wasn't the State Department, it wasn't father LaVar's so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence — IT WAS ME," Trump tweeted, taking full advantage of his 280 characters:

The president added "shoplifting is NOT a little thing," alleging incorrectly that LiAngelo could have spent "the next 5 to 10 years" in jail; Chinese law dictates the crime's maximum term would have been one to two years, with an opportunity for the sentence to be mitigated, The Washington Post reports.

Ball has claimed that if he were going to thank anyone for releasing his son, it would be Chinese President Xi Jinping. But "I don't have to go around saying thank you to everybody," he told CNN's Chris Cuomo.

Trump, though, sees things differently. For good measure, he retweeted a Twitter user claiming that "if Hillary got my kid out of prison, as much as I hate the woman, I'd thank her corrupt a--!" Jeva Lange

4:47 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File

A U.S. Navy transporter carrying 11 people crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Japan on Wednesday. Search and rescue is underway for survivors, the Japan-based Seventh Fleet said in a statement. As of Wednesday morning, eight people had been found and were in "good condition," The Washington Post reports. The crash happened while the plane was traveling to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, and the cause remains unclear.

This is the latest in a series of recent accidents for the Seventh Fleet, which is conducting exercises in response to rising tensions with North Korea. In June, seven sailors died when the USS Fitzgerald hit a container ship off the coast of Japan. And in August, 10 people were killed when the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore. Both incidents were considered avoidable and blamed on crew negligence, prompting new training exercises and examinations of how crew deal with stress and exhaustion. The Seventh Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, was removed from duty in August. Jessica Hullinger

This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.

1:26 a.m. ET

Friendships can form anywhere — including in front of the dairy section at the grocery store.

After his wife died, Dan Peterson, 83, of Augusta, Georgia, couldn't shake his grief. He tended to his garden, where his wife once grew roses, and was "just waiting it out to see how long I was going to live," he told NPR. One day last year, during a quick trip to the grocery store, he met a 4-year-old named Norah Wood, who could sense he was down. "I thought he needed a friend because he was sad," she said. Norah ran up to Peterson and said, "Hi, old person. Today's my birfday.'"

Her excitement was contagious. "When you have a little girl bouncing up and down and being so happy to be alive, you sort of change," Peterson said. Norah, her mom Tara, and Peterson began chatting, and Norah asked to take a photo with Peterson before they went their separate ways. She posted the picture on Facebook, and learned from a mutual friend that it was the first time Peterson smiled since his wife's death. Tara arranged a visit with Peterson, and after a fun afternoon, on their way out the door, Norah stopped to smell one of Peterson's red roses. "It was precious to me, the only thing I had to give back, so I got it and gave it to her," he told NPR. "That sort of sealed our friendship, I think." Catherine Garcia

12:43 a.m. ET
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LeVar Burton is not LaVar Ball, okay Twitter?

Their names are incredibly similar, but only one is the beloved host of Reading Rainbow (LeVar Burton) while the other is the outspoken father of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball and UCLA guard LiAngelo Ball (LaVar Ball). LaVar "My Son is Better than Steph Curry" Ball was on CNN Monday night, and during an interesting interview with Chris Cuomo, defended LiAngelo, who was arrested with two teammates last week in China for shoplifting. He also commented on his feud with President Trump, which started when LaVar "Shoplifting Is Cool When My Son Does It" Ball downplayed Trump's role in getting the players home from China, causing Trump to tweet, "I should have left them in jail!"

Unfortunately for LeVar "I Starred in Roots" Burton, a bunch of Twitter users thought he was LaVar "I'm Trolling All of You" Ball, and they started sending him angry messages — one man told LeVar "I Taught You How to Read" Burton that he is a "has been actor with a thief for a son and Trump is the president of the United States. Get the picture?" For the record, LeVar "I Should Probably Consider Changing My Name" Burton's Twitter handle is @levarburton, while LaVar "All Publicity Is Good Publicity" Ball can be reached at @lavarbigballer. Catherine Garcia

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