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The Coldest Winter Ever: Death toll climbs in Midwest

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A total of six deaths have been reported in connection to the polar vortex since making landfall on Wednesday.

According to USA Today, the reports include a man killed by a snow plow in the Chicago area, a young couple who passed away after a deadly accident on a snow-covered road in northern Indiana and in Milwaukee, and a man who froze to death in the garbage.

A high percentage of flights around in the region have been delayed or canceled, with over 1,000 flights at Chicago airports.

Homeless shelters and warming centers are at capacity across the region. Chicago officials have added 500 shelter beds and brought in more than 100 religious leaders to make daily to check on senior citizens. Five Chicago Transit Authority buses were reportedly dispatched to provide homeless people a place to warm up who may not have access to a shelter.

“Everyone of us has a role to check on somebody who is maybe a neighbor on the block who is elderly, infirm or needs extra help,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

The mayor has also instructed the department Commissioner Judy Frydland to use her authority to “restore heat in buildings where landlords are failing to do their jobs,” Emanuel said in a press release on Wednesday.

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Elizabeth Warren wants to help you get rid of Student Debt

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U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential election, wants to cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt and make college cheaper for students going forward. Warren, in a post on the website Medium, proposed cancelling $50,000 in student loan debt for anyone with annual household income under $100,000, which her campaign said would amount to 42 million Americans. It would also cancel some debt for those with household incomes between $100,000 and $250,000.

Warren, who has long advocated in Congress for providing debt relief to students, called student loan debt a “crisis.” She said cancelling debt for millions of people would help close the nation’s racial and wealth gap, and also proposed making all two-year and four-year public colleges free. “The first step in addressing this crisis is to deal head-on with the outstanding debt that is weighing down millions of families and should never have been required in the first place,” Warren wrote.

Warren is competing in a crowded field of more than 20 Democrats vying for their party’s 2020 nomination and has sought to distinguish herself by offering numerous, expansive policy proposals. Anticipating Republican criticism that her proposal would be too expensive, Warren said her debt cancellation plan and universal free college could be paid for through an “Ultra-Millionaire Tax,” which would impose a 2 per cent annual tax on families with $50 million or more in wealth.

Education has been a topic on the campaign trail for some of Warren’s rivals as well. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, another contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, released a plan last month that would use $315 billion in federal money over 10 years to give the average teacher a $13,500 raise, or about a 23 per cent salary increase.

(With inputs from agencies.)

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Death Toll rises in Sri Lanka Explosions

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Reuters

Several Americans were among the victims as the death toll climbed to 290 in a series of blasts that slammed Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the State Department said.

  • Death toll rises to almost 300; more than 500 hurt in blasts
  • At least 7 suspects have been arrested in connection to bombings
  • Officials say 9 blasts targeted churches, luxury hotels

“While many details of the attacks are still emerging, we can confirm that several U.S. citizens were among those killed,” said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in a statement, who condemned the attacks, calling them “vile.”

A Dutch national and British citizens were also caught in the bombings, which left more than 500 wounded.

The nine blasts targeted churches and luxury hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo.

Muslim and Catholic leaders both condemned the bombings that Sri Lankan authorities called a terrorist attack by religious extremists. However, no further details of who is responsible for the attacks have been released.

Officials say seven suspects have been arrested, and two of the blasts are thought to have been carried out by suicide bombers. 

Meanwhile, authorities imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. 

The spokesman, Brig. Atapattu, says a seventh blast occurred at a guesthouse in Dehiwala, killing at least two people. Atapattu says an eighth blast occurred in Dematagoda on the outskirts of Colombo. 

According to a police spokesman, three police officers were killed during a house raid in Dematagoda, Colombo, CNN reported. 

St. Anthony’s Shrine and the three hotels where Sunday’s blasts took place are in Colombo, the capital, and are frequented by foreign tourists. A National Hospital spokesman, Dr. Samindi Samarakoon, told The Associated Press that they received 47 dead there, including nine foreigners, and were treating more than 200 wounded.

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels.

The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space.

A police magistrate was at the hotel to inspect the bodies recovered from the restaurant. From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.

Alex Agieleson, who was near the shrine, said buildings shook with the blast, and that a number of injured people were carried away in ambulances.

Other blasts were reported at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa. St. Sebastian’s appealed for help on its Facebook page.

The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at St. Sebastian’s, where people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, TV footage showed.

Sri Lankan security officials said they were investigating. Police immediately sealed off the areas.

The magnitude of the bloodshed recalled Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, when separatist Tamil Tigers and other rebel groups targeted the Central Bank, a shopping mall, a Buddhist temple and hotels popular with tourists.

Sri Lanka has long faced a bitter ethnic divide between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, fueling the civil war as Tamil militants tried to carve out their own homeland.

But in the years since the war ended in 2009, a religious divide has grown, with the rise of Buddhist nationalist groups that stoke anger against the minority Muslims, saying they are stealing from Buddhist temples or desecrating them, or forcing people to convert to Islam. Muslims also own many of Sri Lanka’s small shops, and many Muslims suspect small-town jealousy has led to some attacks.

Sinhalese are overwhelmingly Buddhists, while Tamils are mostly Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

Security expert Dave Benson, who served as regional security officer and chief security officer to the U.S embassy in Colombo in the 90’s, told Spectrum News it was difficult for him to see a place where he has lived and worked targeted.

“It’s heartbreaking on two levels: Personally, my family and I grew to really love the island and the Sri Lankan people, but violence, they are not immune to violence. Terrorism has been alive and well there for decades although not the type that we saw today. So, to see some very common places we’ve been to and attended blasted like that was very difficult to see,” he shared.

Benson also shared his thoughts why soft targets like hotels and churches were targeted in the coordinated attack.

“It’s way too early to determine if it’s in retaliation for what happened in other places around the world like in New Zealand. But clearly it’s very unusual in Sri Lanka to target houses of worship for this type of terrorist activity, so that’s particularly troubling but we’re seeing a real spike in vulnerability for houses of worship worldwide,” Benson described.

Since the attack, the Sri Lankan government has cut off all social media inside their country.

Benson says he doubts this attack was homegrown and hopes the country reaches out to the FBI to help investigate where the planning for this attack originated from.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe convened Sri Lanka’s top military officials at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council following the blasts. Wickremesinghe tweeted that “the government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation.”

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on Sri Lanka’s government to launch a “very impartial strong inquiry” and to punish those found responsible “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that.”

There was an outpouring of condemnation from around the world following the attacks.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the blasts “an assault on all of humanity,” while Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced them as “cruel and cynical.”

British Prime Minister Teresa May said on Twitter, “We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to (practice) their faith in fear.”

Foreign Minster of Iran Javad Zariff tweeted his condolences.

President Donald Trump offered his own words of comfort, but mistakenly stated that 138 million died. He then sent a corrected tweet.

It has been a devastating week for Christians. Just last week, the beloved Notre Dame Cathedral suffered a massive fire that destroyed parts of the 12th-century landmark.

Sri Lankan security forces in 2009 defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought to create an independent homeland for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils. The U.N. initially estimated the death toll from 26 years of fighting to be about 100,000 but a U.N. experts’ panel later said some 45,000 ethnic Tamils may have been killed in the last months of the fighting alone.

Government troops and the Tamil Tigers were both accused of grave human rights violations, which prompted local and international calls for investigations.

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YNW Melly facing Death Penalty in Murder Case

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YNW Melly‘s murder case has significantly ramped up as the State of Florida is seeking the death penalty.

The controversial rapper was previously charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Cops reported Melly fatally killed two of his friends in October of last year, and allegedly staged the crime scene to look like a drive-by shooting.

According to new legal docs, obtained by TMZ, the State now intends to seek the death penalty against Melly.

In the docs, the State says it believes it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Melly killed his friends for financial gain, the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, and he committed homicide in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner. The State also believes Melly is a criminal gang member. 

Additionally, cops say YNW Melly and his friend, Cortlen Henry, shot victims Anthony Williams and Christopher Thomas Jr. in the head, torso and back. Police say Melly and Henry shot up their own car to make it look like a drive-by, and then dropped the victims off at the ER, where they were pronounced dead.

Florida is one of 30 States where capital punishment is legal. 

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