11.20.2019

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Need To Know
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Sweden Drops Charges Against Assange
Swedish officials dropped a rape investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange yesterday, saying the length of time since the alleged assault made prosecution difficult. The case centers on reports made by two women who claim Assange assaulted them separately in 2010 in Stockholm (background here) and he fought the charges for nearly two years before entering the Ecuadorian Embassy in London seeking asylum. At the time, Assange claimed the Swedish charges were a pretext to have him extradited to the US, where a criminal probe had been launched into WikiLeaks' publishing of classified documents. Sweden dropped the charges during the seven years Assange spent in the embassy but reopened them in May when Ecuador forced him to leave. The decision puts the spotlight squarely on the US case, where Assange faces 18 charges made under the 1917 Espionage Act - a decision which drew significant backlash. A date has yet to be set for the trial.
Sondland Testifies
Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union, is scheduled to publicly testify in the ongoing impeachment inquiry this morning. One of the most anticipated witnesses to date, Democrats have sought to use Sondland's interactions with Ukrainian officials to tie President Trump closer to attempts to have Ukraine investigate domestic political opponents. Previous witnesses have testified they heard Sondland call the president directly from a Kyiv restaurant to provide a status update on the efforts. The appearance follows testimony from four witnesses yesterday, including national security staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who reported concerns over a call between Trump and Ukrainian officials to White House legal staff (catch up here). Pentagon official Laura Cooper and State Department Undersecretary David Hale will join in the afternoon; the former said Ukraine raised the issue of delayed military aid directly to the Defense Department in August. 

Watch Vindman's opening statement - with a touching nod to his father - here.
Epstein Guards Charged
Two correctional officers overseeing convicted sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein the night of his death are facing federal charges of conspiracy and falsifying records, officials revealed Tuesday. The pair allegedly failed to check on Epstein for hours on Aug. 10, despite being required to do so every 30 minutes. Prosecutors say the guards spent their time shopping online and sleeping; the indictment states video evidence shows no one else entering the wing the night Epstein hanged himself. The 66-year-old billionaire, who was accused of operating an extensive sex trafficking network of underage girls, counted a number of wealthy and powerful people as friends. His death was a high-profile embarrassment for the Bureau of Prisons and sparked a number of conspiracy theories (fueled by a disputed autopsy) as he had been considered at high risk of suicide. 
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In The Know
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Sports, Entertainment, & Culture
> Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Felipe Vazquez charged with 21 new felony charges stemming from alleged sexual assault of a minor (More) | More than 100 members of Congress send letter opposing MLB plan to eliminate 40+ minor league teams nationwide (More)
> US-born giant panda Bei Bei departs DC's National Zoo for China; any panda born in the US must be sent to China at age four per an agreement with the Chinese government (More)
> 2020 Grammy nominations to be announced this morning (8:20 am ET, CBS) (More) | Don't want to wait? See predictions here (More)
Science & Technology
> Amazon says it will let police access videos from its Ring doorbell cameras that are up to 45 days old and up to 12 hours long (More)
> More than 3,700 square miles of Amazon rain forest lost to deforestation in the past year, a 30% increase over previous year and highest rate since 2008 (More)
> In research first, scientists find evidence of rare bird by detecting trace DNA found in the wild; highlights the promise of "environmental DNA" in species tracking and preservation (More)
Business & Markets
> Boeing to revamp parts for thousands of 737 jets after National Transportation Safety Board calls for redesign to withstand engine failures following deadly blast on Southwest flight last year (More)
> Dreamforce, the world’s largest software conference hosted by Salesforce, kicked off in San Francisco yesterday with more than 170K attendees; keynote speakers include President Obama and Apple CEO Tim Cook (More)
Microsoft announces its collaboration tool Teams now has 20M daily users, recently public competitor Slack’s stock falls 8% (More) | Kohl’s stock falls 19% after lowering profit forecast (More) | Home Depot misses sales expectations, shares slide 5% (More)
Politics & World Affairs
> Fifth Democratic presidential primary debate to be held tonight; South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg takes stage surging in the polls (More) | Who will come out on top? (More)
> British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn face off in first televised debate ahead of Dec. 12 snap election (More)
> Syracuse University tightens security after white supremacist manifesto electronically distributed to students; follows series of racist incidents over past two weeks that have roiled campus (More)
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Etcetera
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Microsoft's Satya Nadella leads the list of top people in business
The top ten emerging technologies from 2019 ($$, SciAm). 
Microdosing LSD may be the new productivity hack.

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