December 2, 2019

There's no indication of a quid-pro-quo here, but the delay in getting U.S. military aid to Lebanon still baffled some observers.

The Trump administration released more than $100 million in military assistance to Lebanon before Thanksgiving, two congressional staffers and an administration official confirmed to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

The money was caught in limbo at the Office of Management and Budget for months despite the State Department alerting Congress in September that it would be spent. The reason behind the holdup remains unclear despite members of Congress pressing the White House for an explanation, but there isn't any evidence anything shady was going on. Still, David Hale, the no. 3 official in the State Department, testified in the impeachment inquiry related to the administration's decision to withhold aid to Ukraine that the Lebanon situation was also frustrating diplomats.

Not everyone in Congress loves the idea of sending aid to Lebanon, despite its approval from the national security community and the Defense Department. It's intended to help curb Iranian influence, but some, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), want to put a stop to it as long as the Tehran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement remains part of Beirut's government. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

11:00 p.m.

A sad milestone was reached this week, with the Ray Pfeifer Foundation reporting that 200 New York City firefighters have now died from "9/11 illness."

The foundation, which provides assistance to 9/11 first responders with medical bills not covered by insurance, said that Dennis Gilhooly, a retired FDNY captain, and Brian Case, a retired firefighter, are the 199th and 200th FDNY deaths related to the attacks on the World Trade Center, CBS News reports.

Toxins were released when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, and more than 50,000 people who were exposed have become sick, CBS News says. Studies have found a high number of deaths from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and brain malignancies among 9/11 first responders and others who were exposed to the dust cloud after the towers fell. Catherine Garcia

10:09 p.m.

Uber released a startling 84-page review on Thursday outlining how many reports of sexual abuse the ride-hailing service received in 2018.

In the United States, there were 235 reports of rape, 280 reports of attempted rape, 1,560 reports of groping, and 970 reports of unwanted kissing. "Each of these incidents represents an individual who has undergone a horrific trauma," Tony West, Uber's chief legal officer, told NBC News.

Uber says the victims included both drivers and riders, with passengers accused of sexual assault in 45 percent of cases. "We do four million rides a day," West said. "And when you're operating at that kind of scale, thankfully, 99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever." Uber said it has enacted stricter background checks for drivers and added more safety features in the app, including a button that lets users call 911. Catherine Garcia

9:04 p.m.

A satellite image captured Thursday shows activity at a rocket launching site North Korea had previously dismantled, CNN reports.

The image of Sohae Satellite Launching Station, obtained by CNN and analyzed by experts, shows a large shipping container at the facility's test stand, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute, said. This was the first time analysts have seen this container, he added, and it could indicate that North Korea will soon start conducting engine tests at the site again. These engines would be used to power satellite launchers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, CNN reports.

While at the NATO summit in London on Tuesday, Trump mused that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "really likes sending rockets up, doesn't he? That's why I call him Rocket Man." Trump also said he has a "good relationship" with Kim, but his remarks still irked Choe Son Hui, North Korea's first vice-foreign minister. North Korean state media reports Choe declared that "if any language and expressions stoking the atmosphere of confrontation are used once again on purpose at a crucial moment as now, that must really be diagnosed as the relapse of the dotage of a dotard." Catherine Garcia

7:38 p.m.

Several West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees have been suspended following the leak of a photo showing more than 30 members of a basic training class giving a Nazi salute, WCHS reports.

Basic Training Class #18 was held Oct. 21 through Nov. 27, and WCHS recently obtained a copy of the photo, with blurred faces, from the office of Gov. Jim Justice (R). In a statement released Thursday, Justice said he has ordered "the termination of all those that are found to be involved in this conduct. This will not be tolerated on my watch, within the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation or within any agency of state government."

Jeff Sandy, the cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, sent a letter on Wednesday to employees of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, condemning the photo. "It is distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive, and completely inappropriate," he said. Sandy also announced that Betsy Jividen, the commissioner of the state Division of Corrections, has directed all copies of the photo "be destroyed, sent to this office, or otherwise taken out of circulation to keep its harm from spreading." Catherine Garcia

5:12 p.m.

If you want to get shredded like Star-Lord, why not cut out the middleman?

Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World star Chris Pratt has opened his own Amazon storefront hawking a wide variety of health and fitness products, including rowing machines, boxing gloves, and protein powders. Unfortunately for those who really want to get motivated for their next run, the lineup of products doesn't currently include any live dinosaurs.

Read more at People. Scott Meslow

4:40 p.m.

Earlier this year, superhero fans faced the terrifying possibility of a world where the seemingly limitless roster of Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes didn't include Spider-Man, who was caught up in the messy web of a rights and profit-sharing dispute between Sony and Disney.

Spider-Man has since been added back into the Marvel fold — and as it turns out, the hero in this story is none other than Spider-Man himself, Tom Holland, who says he sealed the deal by getting drunk and crying in a phone call with Disney CEO Bob Iger.

For a superhero, it's an admittedly unconventional strategy for saving the day, but hey, who can argue with the results? Read more at Indiewire. Scott Meslow

4:35 p.m.

Congratulations to Emma Stone on her brand-new rock!

The Oscar-winning La La Land actress is engaged to Dave McCary, a segment director she met while filming a sketch for Saturday Night Live back in 2017, reports CNN. Who says workplace romances between attractive, talented people who spend a whole day making each other laugh can't work out?

Read more at CNN. Scott Meslow

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