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These are the Americans killed in Syria

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(CNN) — Four Americans were killed in a suicide bombing this week in Syria. They were an interpreter, an Army chief warrant officer, a Navy chief cryptologic technician and a Defense Department civilian.

Wednesday’s blast, believed to have been carried out by ISIS, occurred in the northern city of Manbij and left 14 people dead, including the Americans.

Service members were “conducting a routine patrol” at the time of the explosion, the US-led coalition Operation Inherent Resolve said.

The Pentagon identified three of those killed, while a government contractor named the fourth American victim.

The bombing, the result of a “suicide improvised explosive device,” also killed eight civilians and two fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a senior commander from the Manbij military council told CNN.

Three other US service members were injured in the attack.

The Americans killed were:

Jonathan Farmer

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, was from Boynton Beach, Florida. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

He joined the Army in 2005. Farmer served on six overseas combat tours, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, the US Army Special Operations Command said.

He was in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007 and 2009, Operation New Dawn in 2010, Operation Enduring Freedom in 2012 and Operation Inherent Resolve in 2018 and 2019.

His awards included a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.

Farmer is survived by his spouse, four children and his parents.

Shannon Kent

Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, was from upstate New York. She was a sailor assigned to Cryptologic Warfare Activity 66, based at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.

“She was a rock star, an outstanding chief petty officer and leader to many in the Navy Information Warfare Community,” said Cmdr. Joseph Harrison, commanding officer of CWA-66.

Kent graduated from Stissing Mountain Junior/Senior High School in Pine Plains, New York, in 2001. Principal Tara Grieb remembered her as “an honor student and a wonderful person.”

“Our district is extremely proud of her and her service and we support her family 100% in their time of sorrow,” Grieb said.

Kent enlisted in the Navy in 2003. Her awards included the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal and the Iraq Campaign Medal, according to the US Fleet Cyber Command/US 10th Fleet.

“Chief Kent’s drive, determination and tenacity were infectious. Although she has left us way too soon, she will not be forgotten, and her legacy will live on with us,” said Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (Collections) Denise Vola, CWA 66’s command senior enlisted leader.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Kent had followed in the steps of her father, New York State Police Col. Stephen J. Smith, when she joined the military.

“We owe her our eternal gratitude for her selfless dedication and sacrifice. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Ghadir Taher

Ghadir Taher, 27, was in Syria working with the Army as an interpreter for defense contractor Valiant Integrated Services, her family said.

The interpreter from East Point, Georgia, and her brother moved to the United States in 2001. She graduated from Tri-Cities High School and attended Georgia State University for two years before getting an associate degree through an online school.

Her brother, Ali Taher, said she had a kind heart and was used to hard work. She held multiple jobs at one point and even started her own business.

“She loved what she did. She was very passionate,” he said of his sister’s work abroad. “She said it was hard, but she was good at it and very happy doing it.”

Taher had worked for Valiant Integrated Services for less than a year, her brother said.

In a statement, a Valiant spokesman described her as “a talented and highly respected colleague loved by many.”

Scott Wirtz

Scott A. Wirtz dedicated more than a decade to serving his country.

The 42-year-old from St. Louis enlisted in the military in 1997 and served in the US Navy and as a Navy SEAL until 2005.

His awards included the SEAL Insignia, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Global War on Terrorism.

After some time away from the military, Wirtz began working with the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2017 as an operations support specialist, the agency said.

He was collaborating with troops in Syria to collect information about security and adversaries in the area. He had completed three deployments in the Middle East, it said.

Wirtz’s mother, Sandy, said her son would always talk about service with his dad, but when he wasn’t working, “He lived life to the fullest.”

When she heard about the attack, Sandy Wirtz quickly sent her son “Scottie” a text. He would usually respond immediately, she said. This time she received no response.

“At 3 p.m. that afternoon I sent another text and didn’t hear back. … I went to bed that night and didn’t think I’d be able to sleep,” she said. “At midnight we got the knock on the door. Call it a mother’s intuition, I knew it was about him.”

Scott Wirtz had spent Christmas with his parents in Missouri before traveling back to Syria before New Year’s Eve.

In a statement, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr. described Wirtz as a patriot.

“This is a stark reminder of the dangerous missions we conduct for the nation and of the threats we work hard to mitigate,” Ashley said. “As President Lincoln described on the fields at Gettysburg, this officer gave the last full measure of devotion.”

‘Missing link’ in human history confirmed after long debate

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(CNN) — Early humans were still swinging from trees two million years ago, scientists have said, after confirming a set of contentious fossils represents a “missing link” in humanity’s family tree.

The fossils of Australopithecus sediba have fueled scientific debate since they were found at the Malapa Fossil Site in South Africa 10 years ago.

And now researchers have established that they are closely linked to the Homo genus, representing a bridging species between early humans and their predecessors, proving that early humans were still swinging from trees 2 million years ago.

The Malapa site, South Africa’s “Cradle of Humankind,” was famously discovered by accident by nine-year-old Matthew Berger as he chased after his dog.

That stroke of luck eventually led to this week’s finding, detailed in the journal “Paleoanthropology.”

The findings help fill a gap in humankind’s history, sliding in between the famous 3-million-year-old skeleton of “Lucy” and the “handy man” Homo habilis, which was found to be using tools between 1.5 and 2.1 million years ago.

They show that early humans of the period “spent significant time climbing in trees, perhaps for foraging and protection from predators,” according to the study in the journal “Paleoanthropology.”

“This larger picture sheds light on the lifeways of A. sediba and also on a major transition in hominin evolution,” said lead researcher Scott Williams of New York University.

‘Still so much to discover’

Two partial australopith skeletons — a male and a female – were found in 2008 at a collapsed cave in Malapa, in South Africa’s “Cradle of Humankind.”

“Australopithecus” means “southern ape,” a genus of hominins which lived between around 4 and 2 million years ago.

Their discovery set off years of debate in the scientific community, with some rejecting the idea that they were from a previously undiscovered species with close links to the homo genus and others floating the idea that they were from two different species altogether.

But the new research has laid those suggestions to rest, and outlined “numerous features” the skeletons share with fossils from the homo genus.

Australopithecus sediba’s hands and feet, for instance, show it was spending a good amount of time climbing in trees. The hands have grasping capabilities, which are more advanced than those of Homo habilis, suggesting it, too, was an early tool-user.

The researchers of the paper to highlight the remarkable story of how the fossils were found, pointing out that other dramatic clues to humanity’s history are still waiting to see the light of day.

“The first fossil of Au. Sediba was discovered by Matthew Berger, then a nine-year-old, who happened to stop and examine the rock he tripped over while following his dog Tau away from the Malapa pit,” they wrote.

“Imagine for a moment that Matthew stumbled over the rock and continued following his dog without noticing the fossil,” they added.

“If those events had occurred instead, our science would not know about Au. sediba, but those fossils would still be there, still encased in calcified clastic sediments, still waiting to be discovered.”

“The fortuitous discovery of the Malapa fossils and other similarly fortuitous recent finds should be reminders to us all that there is still so much to discover about our evolutionary past,” the authors concluded.

Illinois State University to receive $9.6M to repair arts buildings

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) — Illinois State University is to receive $9.6 million in state money to pay for emergency repairs to its fine arts buildings.

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reports former Gov. Bruce Rauner released the funds. ISU media relations director Eric Jome says the money will be used for heating, air conditioning, ventilation work and plumbing repairs. Jome called the funding “a nice end-of-term infusion.”

ISU has been waiting a decade for nearly $62 million in state money to tear down the school’s Center for the Visual Arts and Centennial West and build a facility next to Centennial East, where the School of Music and other arts facilities are located. Centennial East would undergo extensive renovations under that project.

Jome says the school remains hopeful for that money to be released.

Trump plans to make Democrats an offer to end shutdown, not declare national emergency, in Saturday speech, official says

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(CNN) — President Donald Trump plans to offer Democrats another proposal to end the shutdown when he addresses the nation from the White House on Saturday afternoon — what officials are describing as his third offer to end the shutdown, according to a senior administration official.

The official told CNN that Trump’s idea is to put something on the table to get Democrats to engage with negotiations. Trump is not expected to back down from his demand for a border wall, but the plan will seek to entice Democrats by offering other concessions.

However, this plan is not based on negotiations with Democrats and White House officials are pessimistic that it will change much in stalled talks, because Democrats have previously refused to counter the White House’s proposal. Instead they have insisted that the President reopen the government, then engage in negotiations over border security.

The official added that discussions about a national emergency are ongoing in the administration and the President is not expected to announce a decision on that during Saturday’s speech. However, nothing is definite until it’s announced by the President.

Trump announced earlier Friday evening that he would be making a statement to the nation at 3 p.m. Saturday from the White House. The speech will come on the 29th day of the government shutdown, which began last month when congressional Democrats and Trump failed to reach a deal to fund roughly a quarter of the government.

Negotiations have been at an impasse for weeks over Trump’s demand for money to fund his border wall. Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have been adamant that they do not want to give Trump any funding for a wall along the southern border.

When asked about the announcement by reporters Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders wouldn’t shed much light on what Trump would say, declaring, “I’m not going to get ahead of the President.”

She said the announcement will be made in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House.

“I’m not going to get ahead of the President but I can assure he’s going to continue fighting for border security, he’s going to continue looking for the solution to end the humanitarian and national security crisis at the border,” Sanders told reporters at the White House.

Asked specifically whether the humanitarian and national security crisis at the border constituted a national emergency, Sanders again declined to comment.

“Again, I’m not getting ahead of the President. He’ll make that announcement tomorrow afternoon. I suggest everybody tune in,” she said.

Women’s marches kick off with focus on 2020 and progressive policies

WQAD News -

(CNN) — Demonstrators are gathering for the Women’s March in Washington and related rallies across the country Saturday, with many of the movement’s supporters looking to channel two years of momentum and common cause against President Donald Trump into progressive policies.

The national Women’s March group was to kick off late Saturday morning at Freedom Plaza in the US capital.

In addition to that march, rallies and demonstrations were to be held across the country by different groups — some affiliated with the national Women’s March Inc. organization and others that aren’t.

It is the third year for the women’s marches. The first, in January 2017, started as a display of resistance to Trump’s election. In 2018, the movement shifted to focus on midterm elections.

The Washington organizers in particular say this year is about not only commemorating victories such as unprecedented wins for the Democratic Party by women of color in the midterms, but also agitating for progressive laws and positions they say will benefit women across race, class, sexual orientation and other identities.

That includes pushing for a policy document they call the “Women’s Agenda,” addressing issues including immigrant rights, violence against women, civil rights and liberties, and climate justice, among others.

“The agenda is specifically focused on legislative and policy actions that are achievable by 2020,” Women’s March Chief Operating Officer Rachel Carmona said.

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, described the agenda as a policy tool that organizers in different cities can use to take on issues that matter to their communities.

What makes it unique is how it takes typically gender-neutral issues such as immigration and offers policy solutions that specifically benefit women and families, she said.

“It’s about looking at different identities among women and femmes and the policy solutions to address attacks on those identities,” she said.

In New York, demonstrators packed part of Foley Square for a “Women’s Unit Rally” on Saturday. Organizers said they aim “to demand equal justice for black women, immigrant women, women of color, and gender nonconforming people.”

Scheduled speakers there include New York City first lady Chirlane McCray, women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem and US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman lawmaker whose following among progressives nationwide has made her one of the most high-profile Democrats in the House.

Concerns about diversity, inclusion and allegations of bigotry

The marches come as concerns about diversity and inclusion have rattled groups across the country. Allegations of bigotry against leaders of Women’s March Inc., the national group formed by organizers of the 2017 march, threaten to overshadow the work of grassroots activists.

One of the national group’s leaders was been criticized in particular for her association with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan, who has led the black nationalist group since 1977, is known for hyperbolic hate speech aimed at the Jewish community, and made remarks such as “the powerful Jews are my enemy” in February.

The group has released numerous statements condemning anti-Semitism and vowing to learn from its missteps through training and discussions — pledges that people associated with the group say are underway.

Author advocates for ‘younger generations,’ says there’s a trick to bridging the gap

WQAD News -

MOLINE, Illinois -- Author Mark C. Perna is attempting to bridge the gap between generations with his book "Answering Why."

Perna made a visit to the Quad Cities in mid-January to speak about his book and give his thoughts on how to connect with Generations Y and Z, or as he calls them, the "younger generations."

He said the "younger generations" are a tremendous resource, it's just a matter of learning how to connect.

"Our challenge though as parents, educators and employers is getting them to want something," he said. "They're looking for the answer why."

Click here to check out the book for yourself.

How much snow fell; timeline of tumbling temps tonight

WQAD News -

This will go down as the third biggest snowstorm of the Winter season so far, but we are far from done as our attention turns to a very chilly night ahead.

Snowfall reports coming in on Saturday morning were right in the forecast range of 4-8 inches that James, Andrew, and I forecast. As expected, the winds really gusted up, causing some drifts to be reported in the 14-18 inch range around Muscatine.

We will still have poor road conditions on those east-west thoroughfares...mainly the ones that have the ability for the wind to blow across them. But as road crews lay road salt, these will improve as the afternoon wears on.

From this point forward, we will focus on the bitterly cold temperatures. You'll definitely want to shovel and snow-blow the drive now because it gets downright frigid tonight. Temperatures will drop to around zero overnight with chills as cold as -10 degrees.

We'll only bounce back into the teens on Sunday with a very fluffy inch of snow possible.

-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen

LIVE BLOG: Eric is tracking the snow right now

WQAD News -

Winter Storm Warning continues through noon today for all of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. Snow has fallen 4-8 inches across most of the area with winds 20-25 mph. Blowing and drifting is being reported and is making roadways hazardous. Use extreme caution in urban areas. Travel in rural areas should only be performed with four-wheel-drive.


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