Happy Thursday! Live within driving distance of Milwaukee? Join Steve, Drucker, Audrey, and fellow members of the Dispatch community for an informal meet-and-greet at Cafe Hollander in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin on August 22—the day before the first Republican presidential primary debate. We’ll provide appetizers and cover beer and wine for a good chunk of the gathering, which will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. CDT.
Members are welcome to bring their significant others, and encouraged to invite nonmembers who might be interested in The Dispatch—we’ll be offering special three-month free trials for anyone who attends as the guest. Keep an eye on your inbox today for an email with additional information and registration details, as well as an update on our plans for in-person events this fall.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Investigators are still determining an official cause, but video footage and power grid data from early last week suggests the earliest reported blaze on the island of Maui, Hawaii—what is now the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century—was likely caused by downed power lines, toppled in high winds that had been forecasted for days ahead of time. Lawyers representing some residents of Lahaina—the devastated town on the west side of the island—are suing the state’s main utility company, Hawaiian Electric, which is facing increased scrutiny for its decision to keep aging power lines active prior to last week’s strong winds. State officials believe the death toll, now more than 100 people, will continue to rise.
- An explosion at a gas station in Dagestan, a region in southern Russia, killed 35 people and left 115 injured, Russian officials reported Tuesday. The country’s health ministry said 65 of those injured people were hospitalized as of midday Tuesday, with 11 in grave condition. The Monday night explosion was triggered after a fire from a car repair shop spread to a nearby gas station in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on the phone with Paul Whelan on Wednesday, according to CNN, connecting with the former marine who has been wrongfully detained at a remote prison camp in Russia for more than four years. The call—during which Blinken reportedly told Whelan to “keep the faith” and that the U.S. is “doing everything we can to bring you home as soon as possible”—follows news last week of a deal to return five Americans detained in Iran. This is apparently Blinken’s second call with Whelan; the two men spoke for the first time in December.
- North Korea confirmed on Wednesday for the first time that it had detained U.S. Army Pvt. Travis King, who sprinted into the country last month while on a tour of the demilitarized zone. North Korean state media criticized the U.S. in its announcement, alleging King had fled to the country to escape “inhuman mistreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.” There is no verification that King, who had just been released from a South Korean prison after being held on assault charges, actually listed racism as his reason for bolting across the border.
- Fighting between rival militias in Libya’s capital of Tripoli broke out late on Monday and continued into Tuesday, killing 45 and injuring 146 people. The clashes began after the leader of the 444th Brigade militia group was captured by another group, the Special Deterrence Force. The conflict dwindled by Wednesday, with Libyan military troops deploying throughout the city.
- In a court filing on Wednesday, District Attorney Fani Willis of Fulton County, Georgia, proposed a March 4, 2024 trial date for former President Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants following their indictment Monday related to efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. If the trial did begin on that date—far from a given, considering the various delays and complications expected—it would likely overlap with Georgia’s March 12 presidential primary, and potentially Trump’s late-March trial date in New York on charges of falsifying business records.
- The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held Wednesday that the abortion drug mifepristone can’t be prescribed via telehealth or shipped in the mail, finding that the Food and Drug Administration’s loosened regulations on access to the drug were unlawful. The decision, however, will not go into effect until the Supreme Court has reviewed the ruling.
- The Republican-led state legislature in North Carolina on Wednesday successfully overrode six vetoes from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, passing into law three measures having to do with gender and sexuality. One law bars transgender girls and women in the state from competing in women’s sports at the middle, high school, and college level, while another bans gender-transition treatment for minors with limited medical exceptions. One law, modeled on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act—the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill—requires educators to notify parents if a student has asked to be referred to by different pronouns or names.
- GOP Rep. Don Bacon said Monday the FBI had notified him that Chinese spies accessed his emails in a recent hack of Microsoft software. The Washington Post reported last month that the hacking campaign also targeted Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and employees of the State Department.
Afghanistan, Two Years Later
Two years ago, 31-year-old Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin Taylor Hoover texted his mom from Kabul.
“Mamma I’m safe,” he wrote. “I love you.”