Happening Today: Syria, Trump, Penn State, Travel Ban, Diesel Pollution, Jim Parsons

What to Know

  • The United States accused Syria of executing thousands of imprisoned political opponents and burning their bodies in a crematorium
  • Pollution from diesel trucks, buses and cars globally is more than 50 percent higher than levels shown in government lab tests, a study says
  • Jim Parsons and Todd Spiewak are married, a rep for the Emmy-winning star of "The Big Bang Theory" confirmed to People

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Syria Burning Bodies to Hide Proof of Mass Killings, U.S. Says

The United States accused Syria of executing thousands of imprisoned political opponents and burning their bodies in a crematorium to hide the evidence. The allegation could test the Trump administration's willingness to respond to atrocities, other than chemical weapons attacks that it blames on President Bashar Assad's government. The allegation of mass killings came as President Trump weighs options in Syria, where the U.S. launched cruise missiles on a government air base last month after accusing Assad's military of killing scores of civilians with a sarin-like nerve agent. Trump kicked off a week of meetings with Middle East leaders, sitting down with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi a day before he hosts Turkey's president. Trump flies to Saudi Arabia later this week. All are governments that have pressed the United States over six years of civil war in Syria to intervene more forcefully. Trump had backed away from President Barack Obama's calls for regime change in the Arab country, with the new president's officials pointedly saying leadership questions should be left to Syria's citizens, until his intervention last month. His administration now says Assad cannot bring long-term stability to Syria.

Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information to Russians, Report Says

President Trump revealed highly classified information about Islamic State militants to Russian officials during a meeting last week, The Washington Post reported, prompting strong condemnation from both Democrats and Republicans. Three White House officials who were in the May 10 meeting strongly denounced the story, saying no intelligence sources and methods were discussed — but they didn't deny that classified information was disclosed. Citing current and former U.S. officials, the Post said Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. The anonymous officials told the Post that the information Trump relayed during the Oval Office meeting had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement. They said it was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government.

Penn State Death: Son Treated Like “Road Kill,” Parents Say

The parents of a Penn State University student who died after a fatal fall during an alcohol-fueled hazing ritual likened their son’s death to “torture” and said fraternity members “treated our son as road kill and a rag doll.” Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, died less than two days after he fell and hit his head several times during a pledge acceptance ceremony at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in February. “This wasn’t boys being boys,” Timothy's father, Jim Piazza, said Monday on the “Today” show. “This was men who intended to force feed lethal amounts of alcohol into other young men and what happened throughout the night was just careless disregard for human life.” Piazza had a blood-alcohol level of 0.40, five times the legal limit, after being plied with drinks along with other pledges at the event, according to police. Piazza apparently fell down a flight of stairs. Piazza later died as a result of severe head injuries and suffered other injuries that included internal bleeding from a shattered spleen.

Federal Judges Ask if Travel Ban is Biased Against Muslims

Federal judges peppered a lawyer for President Trump with questions about whether the administration's travel ban discriminates against Muslims and zeroed in on the president's campaign statements, the second time in a week the rhetoric has faced judicial scrutiny. Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, defending the travel ban, told the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the executive order should be reinstated because it falls well within the president's authority. Further, Wall said the president had backed off the comments he made during the campaign, clarifying that "what he was talking about was Islamic terrorist groups and the countries that sponsor or shelter them." The 9th Circuit panel was hearing arguments over Hawaii's lawsuit challenging the travel ban, which would suspend the nation's refugee program and temporarily bar new visas for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The judges will decide whether to uphold a Hawaii judge's decision in March that blocked the ban.

Diesel Pollution Worse Than Global Tailpipe Tests Estimate, Study Says

Pollution from diesel trucks, buses and cars globally is more than 50 percent higher than levels shown in government lab tests, a new study says. That extra pollution translated to another 38,000 deaths from soot and smog in 2015, the researchers estimated. The work published Monday in the journal Nature was a follow-up to the testing that uncovered the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal. Researchers compared the amount of key pollutants coming out of diesel tailpipes on the road in 10 countries and the European Union to the results of government lab tests for nitrogen oxides. They calculated that 5 million more tons was being spewed than the lab-based 9.4 million tons. Governments routinely test new vehicles to make sure they meet pollution limits. Experts and the researchers don't accuse car and truck makers of cheating, but say testing is not simulating real-world conditions.

School Districts Brace for Changes in Medicaid Distributions

For school districts still getting their financial footing after the Great Recession, the Medicaid changes being advanced as part of the health care overhaul are sounding familiar alarms. Administrators say programming and services even beyond those that receive funding from the state-federal health care program could be at risk should Congress follow through with plans to change the way Medicaid is distributed. They say any reduction in the estimated $4 billion schools receive in annual Medicaid reimbursements would be hard to absorb after years of reduced state funding and a weakened tax base. Districts would have to look at non-mandated positions and programs if forced to bear more of the costs for services for poor and disabled students required by federal law, said Thomas Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association. The Senate is up next in efforts to do away with President Obama's health law, and school leaders are watching to see whether the changes advanced by the House survive.

“Big Bang Theory” Star Weds Long Time Partner

Jim Parsons and Todd Spiewak are married, a rep for the Emmy-winning star of "The Big Bang Theory" confirmed to People. The two tied the knot at the Rainbow Room in New York City, Page Six reported. Last November, Parsons and Spiewak, a graphic designer, celebrated 14 years together. "I met this guy (the one with the mic) 14 years ago today and it was the best thing that ever happened to me, no contest," Parson said on Instagram at the time. Parsons told James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio in 2015 that he and his partner met on a blind date in 2002 at a karaoke bar. The first song the actor sang was "I Found Someone." Parsons' sexuality was revealed publicly in a 2012 New York Times article, which stated he was gay and in a 10-year relationship.

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