Fury over Cecil the lion also sparks race conversation

Cecil, we hardly knew ye...
The assassinated lion of Zimbabwe, killed recently under dubious circumstances by an American dentist, is being mourned with passion and fury by celebrities on social media. And the dentist is the focus of such an outpouring of contempt and hostility, he's been forced into hiding.
Meanwhile, however, a backlash is also building on Twitter from those who wonder: Where is the celebrity passion for Sandra Bland or the "Black Lives Matter" movement?
Leave it to the usually wisecracking talk-show host, Jimmy Kimmel, to sum up the anger and shame millions of Americans feel over the death of Cecil, a lion beloved in one of Zimbabwe's national parks and in Britain, where conservation scientists had been tracking him for years.
Kimmel was so upset on his show Tuesday night, he choked up even as he was telling excoriating jokes and urging viewers to donate to the Oxford wildlife conservationgroup that had been studying Cecil and his endangered kind.
Kimmel was unsparing of the Minnesota hunter/dentist, referring to him as a "jackhole," as "vomitous," and...ahem...inadequate.
"Why are you shooting a lion in the first place...how is that fun?," Kimmel demanded, addressing Walter Palmer, who paid more than $50,000 to kill Cecil with a crossbow, under circumstances now being investigated by Zimbabwe authorities as a possible poaching crime.
(The Minneapolis dentist, who has protested in vain he didn't know Cecil was a protected lion, shut down his practice and disappeared as threats and protesters multiplied on Twitter and outside his office.)
"Is it that difficult for you to get an erection that you need to kill things? They have a pill for that, it works great. Just take that and save yourself from a lifetime of being the most hated man in America who never advertised Jell-o pudding on television," Kimmel sneered.
And he was not the only one sneering and fuming. Outrage spread across Twitter in a twinkling after the news about the lion exploded Wednesday. There is already an onlinepetition, with over 400,000 signatures so far, demanding "justice" for Cecil from Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
Celebrity animal lovers, of which there are scores, have been tweeting, including known activists such as Ricky Gervais and Kaley Cuoco Sweeting.

Four-time NBA All Star Vin Baker is working at Starbucks

Vin Baker played for six different franchises over the course of his 13 seasons in the NBA. Baker was named to four NBA All-Star teams, and according to Basketball Reference made more than $97 million in salary.
Baker, 43, now works at a Starbucks in Rhode Island.
Baker struggled with alcoholism during his playing career, and in 2007 was arrested on an alcohol charge after failing a sobriety test. In a Providence Journal feature, Baker explains how he squandered his massive fortune and offers advice for young players.
“When you make choices and decisions and think that it will never end, and then you get into spending and addiction and more spending, it’s a definite formula for losing…. I would insist that you surround yourself with the person you trust the absolute most, someone who can tell you, ‘You’re wrong, don’t buy that, don’t go there, that person’s no good.’ I would also say be able to monitor every single dime that comes out of your accounts as if you’re a Starbucks barista. My check here I know exactly where my money goes. Don’t trust it with an accountant or a family friend. Make sure you’re aware and be responsible because next thing you know people are stealing from you.”
Baker is now training to become a Starbucks manager, and also serves as a minister at a church. Baker says he’s determined to rebuild his life to be an example for other troubled stars.
“I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it. For the people on the outside looking in, they’re like ‘Wow.’ For me, I’m 43 and I have four kids. I have to pick up the pieces. I’m a father. I’m a minister in my father’s church. I have to take the story and show that you can bounce back.”

'Obama Eight' adjust to life after life sentences

WASHINGTON — One is a high school counselor. Two or three work in restaurants. Some can't find a job. Others have slipped into obscurity.
The Obama Eight, as they call themselves, don't fit into easy categories, except for this: They were all convicted of drug crimes, and they were among the first to have their sentences commuted by President Obama.
And as Obama prepares to issue even more commutations in the last months of his presidency — part of an aggressive attempt to use his pardon power to shorten long drug sentences — many of them say they feel the weight of criminal justice reform on their shoulders. If any one of them returns to prison, it could taint the clemency initiative and make it harder for other deserving inmates to be released, they say.
They've become leading voices for leniency, especially for drug crimes. Last year, many of them came to Washington to lobby members of Congress and meet with Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff, the Justice Department official whose job it is to make clemency recommendations to the president.
After nearly three years without commuting a single sentence, Obama has now issued 89 commutations as president. It's a record that still ranks as one of the "least merciful" in presidential history, said P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who blogs about the president's pardon power.
Of those 89, one died shortly after her release. 47 have yet to be released, while 21 were released Tuesday. The 46 sentences Obama commuted this month won't be completed until Nov. 10. (As recently as the Clinton administration, people whose sentences were commuted were released the same day.)
The other 20 are free. The Obama Eight have been out the longest, most of them a little more than a year.
In many ways, the challenges they face are not unlike anyone else released from prison after a long sentence. Finding a job, reuniting with relatives, getting a driver's license and adjusting to the speed of an Internet-driven world that barely existed when they were sent away.

Islamic State recruiting offsets 15,000 killed by airstrikes in past year

WASHINGTON — In a sign of its resilience, the Islamic State appears to have recruited new fighters to offset 15,000 militants killed in a U.S.-led airstrike campaign approaching its first anniversary, U.S. military and intelligence estimates show.
More than 5,500 airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria that began Aug. 8, 2014, have forced the extremist organization to disperse its fighters into smaller groups, making them less of a threat to seize large chunks of territory, according to the military estimates. Despite the lethal strikes, the group continues to attract new recruits and replace leaders, highlighting the difficulty of fighting a movement that draws support from Muslims around the world.
A year ago, the CIA said it believed the Islamic State had between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria. The estimate remains the same this year, according to a U.S. intelligence official, who asked not to be named since he was not authorized to discuss the issue.
The U.S.-led coalition confirmed the 15,000 casualty number but would not discuss it publicly. The deaths are tracked as part of daily battle damage assessments and coalition efforts to avoid civilian casualties. Aerial surveillance is used to assess the impact of airstrikes, including enemy casualties.
One reason the military does not trumpet enemy death estimates is lingering embarrassment from the Vietnam War, when the Pentagon announced daily enemy death figures as a sign of military progress. Yet those counts proved to be exaggerated and U.S. troops ultimately withdrew from Vietnam, having failed to defeat the army of communist North Vietnam.
In the current conflict, the U.S. military has warned that casualty numbers are a poor measure of progress in the conflict. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told American servicemembers in Iraq this month that battling the Islamic State will last for years and will involve countering its brutal ideology in addition to battlefield showdowns.
Commanders said the daily air campaign, combined with successes on the ground by Iraqi and Kurdish forces, have weakened the militant organization and reversed the increasing strength it once enjoyed. “The tide of momentum has begun to creep against them,” said Brigadier James Learmont, a British coalition official in Baghdad.
When Islamic State militants swept through Iraq last year, capturing the country’s second-largest city of Mosul in June, they appeared invincible. Now “there is a sense of paranoia that is starting to creep into their rank and file,” Learmont said, adding there is evidence militants are being assassinated if they attempt to desert.
Military analysts disagree about the wisdom of withholding casualty counts. “If that was a good measure we would have won the Vietnam War,” said Andrew Krepinevich, an analyst at the Center for Budgetary Assessments. “Body counts didn’t work. They don’t show any signs of running out of people.”
But others say it is at least one measure of progress. “The magnitude of that number is pretty damn big,” said David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who served as deputy Air Force chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. “It does have an enormous psychological impact” on the enemy.

Wing debris same as missing Malaysia plane

Aircraft debris found off the coast of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean appears to belong to the same type of plane as Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished more than a year ago, a U.S. official told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters at the United Nations that he sent a team to identify the wreckage.
Malaysia is heading up the investigation with the help of Boeing, the National Transportation Safety Board, French authorities and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said in a statement.
"In the event that the wreckage is identified as being from MH370 ... it would be consistent with other analysis and modelling that the resting place of the aircraft is in the southern Indian Ocean," he said in the statement.
French aviation experts will examine an aircraft wing tip — possibly a flap — and other debris to determine whether it came from the Boeing 777-200ER, which disappeared after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 8, 2014, bound for Beijing with 239 people aboard. No trace of the plane has been found despite months of aerial and sea searches over thousands of square miles of the southern Indian Ocean.
Truss, who has overseen the search in the ocean 1,000 miles west of Perth, said Malaysia is examining the debris with help from Boeing and crash investigators from France, the United States and Australia.
"The debris is being examined by experts to determine its origin," Truss said. "In the event that the wreckage is identified as being from MH 370 on La Reunion Island, it would be consistent with other analysis and modeling that the resting place of the aircraft is in the southern Indian Ocean."
"Any new evidence will be used to further inform and refine ongoing search efforts," Truss added.
Investigators have a "high degree of confidence" that a photo of the debris shows a wing component unique to the Boeing 777, said the official, who was not identified.

3-hour Canadian tornado likely one of world's longest

The massive tornado that roared across the Canadian province of Manitoba late Monday was on the ground for nearly 3 hours — likely one of the longest-lasting on record in Canada and perhaps the world. No injuries or deaths were reported.
The longest tornado recorded is the infamous Tri-State tornado that lasted for about 3.5 hours, ravaging the Midwest in March 1925 and leaving hundreds of people dead in its wake.
"The path length distance of the Manitoba tornado might be shorter, but the duration may be comparable," Randy Cerveny, rapporteur of climate and weather extremes for the World Meteorological Organization, said, referring to reports that the Canadian tornado may not have moved as far distance wise as the 1925 twister.
The tornado tore a path through rural southwest Manitoba, reported Environment Canada, the Canadian version of the USA's National Weather Service. While it damaged trees, power poles, farms and roads, it missed every town in its path.
"This was probably one of the longest on the ground tornadoes we have had in Manitoba or on the Prairies," Natalie Hasell, Environment Canada’s warning preparedness meteorologist, told the Winnipeg Free Press.
David Wills, an expert on tornadoes with Environment Canada, said if it is determined that the tornado was on the ground for three hours, "that would likely be among the longest tornado tracks in Canada ... Perhaps the longest," he told the Winnipeg newspaper.
Environment Canada meteorologist Mike Macdonald called it a "rare" event because tornadoes rarely stay on the ground longer than a few minutes in Canada.
"To be on the ground for 2½ to three hours is phenomenal ... and to miss everything is basically a miracle," he told the CBC.
The tornado was part of a wild weather system that brought also snow and cold to parts of the U.S. Rocky Mountains and ferocious winds and accumulating hail to the northern Plains.

Senate confirms Marine general as Joint Chiefs chairman

The Senate confirmed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday after a brief dispute between Pentagon leaders and the chamber's leading critic of military sexual assault policy.
The spat between Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and military officials had nothing to do with Dunford's credentials but instead centered on data of sexual assaults at large military bases, information she has been seeking for years.
She stalled the confirmation process for about two days until Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered assurances to her Wednesday morning that the information would be made available soon.
Dunford, who has served as commandant of the Marine Corps for the last year, was confirmed without opposition just a few hours later.
He received near universal praise from senators after he was tapped for the post, and most of the criticism at his confirmation hearing focused not on him but the White House's national security strategy.
Dunford served as commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan from February 2013 to August 2014, and previously commanded the 5th Marine Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His career ascent has been rapid, going from a one-star general to four stars in about three years. He'll take over the top military spot in September, when Gen. Martin Dempsey is slated to retire.
The Senate vote comes amid a slate of confirmations in the waning days of the summer session.
Earlier this week, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva was confirmed as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Darren McDew to replace him as the new head ofU.S. Transportation Command.