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MUSIC NEWS

Report: Britney Spears ordered to pay ex Kevin Federline $110K

Getty Images via ABCBritney Spears has been ordered to hand over a big chunk of change to her ex-husband Kevin Federline in their continued battle over child support, E! News reports.

According to court documents obtained by E!, the singer must pay Federline $110,000 towards his legal fees.

This is the latest ruling in the ongoing child support case over their two sons, Sean Preston and Jayden James. Back in March, Federline requested an increase in the $20,000 payment he receives each month from Britney.

He sought the increase, according to legal documents, because “the kids are older and the financial circumstances of the parties are significantly different than when the child support was originally resolved.”

In May, he filed legal documents requesting that Britney cover his attorney’s fees, in addition to the increase in child support. 

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Baby, baby, baby, oh: Justin Bieber welcomes new baby sister, Bay

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images via ABCJustin Bieber is a big brother again.

The singer’s father, Jeremy, welcomed a baby girl with his wife Chelsey on Thursday. The healthy little girl, named Bay, arrived at 8:30 a.m.

Justin posted a photo of baby Bay on Instagram, writing, “Meet the newest bieber, my little sister BAY BIEBER.”

Jeremy and Chelsey got married in Jamaica this past February, and following their nuptials, announced that they were expecting their first child together.  Notably, Justin attended the wedding with Selena Gomez, not his fiancee, Hailey Baldwin.

Jeremy is also dad to 8-year-old Jaxon and 9-year-old Jazmyn with his ex Erin Wagner.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Madonna releases never-before-seen MET Gala performance as gift to fans on her 60th birthday

Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC ImagesMadonna is celebrating her 60th birthday today by releasing a never-before-seen video of her 2018 MET Gala performance.

The performance, witnessed exclusively by guests of the star-studded soiree back in May, is now on YouTube for all to experience.

Following the MET Gala’s theme of “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” the performance begins with religious imagery and chanting monks. Madonna appears in a hooded monk’s robe at the top of the museum’s stairs and launches into “Like a Prayer.”

She then removes to the robe to reveal a white, Joan of Arc-inspired outfit and begins singing a new track, “Beautiful Game,” while surrounded by female dancers also dressed in white. For her final song, she sings a haunting cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

And as previously announced, Madonna is also raising money for the children Malawi in honor of her birthday. Madonna teamed up with Facebook and Ripple — a global payment company — to encourage fans to donate to Raising Malawi, her charity foundation that helps orphans and vulnerable children in that African nation. The fundraiser runs until August 31.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

ENTERTAINMENT NEWS

Watch now: Marvel’s “Iron Fist” season 2 trailer

Netflix(HOLLYWOOD) — They’ve made fans wait until three weeks before the show returns to Netflix, but the folks at Marvel Entertainment have finally released the trailer for the second season of Marvel’s Iron Fist.

The clip is tight and action-packed and features co-stars Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick — both Games of Thrones alums — beating the living daylights out of a long string of foes. 

The trailer is available on Marvel’s official site and also straight from YouTube.

Season 2 of the Netflix original series debuts on Friday, September 7.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Scarlett Johansson named “Forbes'” highest-paid actress

ABC/Heidi Gutman(LOS ANGELES) — Scarlett Johansson made more bank last year than any other actress in the world.

That’s the official word of Forbes, which reveals that the star pocketed a cool $40.5 million between June 1 of 2017 and 2018, almost half of which came from Johansson’s $20 million paycheck for appearing as Black Widow in Marvel’s Avengers franchise.

A $20 million take is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s worth mentioning that Johansson’s Avengers salary was roughly half of her male co-star, Robert Downey, Jr.

Scarlett’s runner-ups were Angelina Jolie, who made just over $28 million, and Jennifer Aniston, at $19.5 million. 

None of these tallies include agent or management fees, or taxes.

Here’s the list of Forbes‘ top 10 highest-paid actresses:

1. Scarlett Johansson, $40.5 million
2. Angelina Jolie, $28.2 million
3. Jennifer Aniston, $19.5 million
4. Jennifer Lawrence, $18 million
5. Reese Witherspoon, $16.5 million
6. Mila Kunis, $16 million
7. Julia Roberts, $13 million
8. Cate Blanchett, $12.5 million
9. Melissa McCarthy, $12 million
10. Gal Gadot, $10 million

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus gives heartfelt thanks to “Veep” crew before season 7 shooting begins

HBO/Justin M. Lubin(LOS ANGELES) — Julia Louis-Dreyfus battled breast cancer in the last year, but the Veep star had her mind on others when she returned to the set this past week. 

In a tweet, Louis-Dreyfus can be seen in a set hotel room just before shooting. She addresses her crew and says, “I really appreciate everyone coming back and working it out to come back. I’m very grateful. Thank you very much. Love you guys. Season seven!”

She posted the video with the caption, “Before the first shot of season 7 of @veephbo. So deeply grateful to be back together with all these superb people.”

Production on Veep for its seventh and last season was delayed for months while the former Seinfeld star underwent chemotherapy following her cancer diagnosis last September. Though she hasn’t officially announced that she’s cancer-free, Louis-Dreyfus posted on Twitter this past winter that her surgery yielded “great results.”

Season 7 of Veep will air in 2019 on HBO.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

SPORTS NEWS

Penn State-bound athlete shot dead days before departure to start freshman year

iStock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) — A freshman set to begin his college athletic career at Penn State next week has been shot dead in his home city of Philadelphia.

Kristian Marche, a track and field athlete, was shot in the head on his own street Monday night, according to Philadelphia police.

Marche, 18, was found in a back driveway and taken to a hospital where he died, authorities said.

“There is no suspect description at this time,” police said Thursday.

“We believe this was targeted. We have no reason to believe that this was a random act,” Philadelphia Police Lt. Norman Davenport told ABC Philadelphia station WPVI-TV. “There was nothing in Kristian’s past that would suggest that this crime should have occurred. That’s why we’re making this appeal because this case needs to be solved.”

Marche was an incoming Penn State freshman on a partial scholarship with the track and field program, a Penn State Athletics spokesman told ABC News.

He was set to start classes next Monday.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy; another young person taken from his loved ones far too early,” Penn State Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with Kristian’s family and friends; we will do what we can to support them and our track and field students and staff during this very difficult time.”

Jackson Duncan, whose nonprofit helps inner-city high school athletes, told WPVI that his student Marche “did his SATs, went to school, got good grades. He took care of his teammates. The kid did everything right.”

He added: “For him to end like this; it’s heartbreaking.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Parents of University of Maryland football player who died call for firing of head coach

ABC News(COLLEGE PARK, Md.) — The parents of the college football player who died after a grueling practice are calling for the firing of the head coach.

Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman for the University of Maryland’s Terrapins football team, collapsed during an outdoor workout on May 29. The scholar-athlete died on June 13 from complications related to extreme exhaustion and heatstroke, school officials said.

University of Maryland athletic director Damon Evans told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that preliminary findings indicate McNair didn’t receive appropriate medical care, best practices were not followed and mistakes were made by the athletic training staff. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh said the school accepts “legal and moral responsibility” for the mistakes.

Loh said an external sports medicine and athletic training expert is conducting a “comprehensive review” of the circumstances in McNair’s death, as well as of the policies and protocols followed by the school’s certified athletic trainers in preventing, recognizing, and treating heat-related illness. The full report, which will be made public, is expected to be completed by mid-September, according to Loh.

Rick Court, the strength and conditioning coach, was placed on leave Aug. 12 and turned in a letter of resignation a day later. Wes Robinson, the head football trainer, and Steve Nordwall, director of athletic training, were placed on administrative leave Aug. 10.

DJ Durkin, the head football coach, was placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 11 as the school investigates McNair’s death and allegations of abuse and disparagement in the program, ESPN reported.

Durkin, Robinson and Nordwall did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

For their part, McNair’s parents said Durkin should be fired immediately.

“He shouldn’t be able to work with anybody else’s kids,” his father, Martin McNair, said in an interview Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with co-anchor Michael Strahan. “I’m giving my child to you, keep them safe, and they did anything but that, so of course he should be fired.”

The grieving parents were shocked when they first got the call that their son was in the hospital. He was a four-star recruit from McDonough School’s class of 2017 in Owings Mills, Maryland.

“This was the first time he’s been in the hospital since he was born. Never missed a practice, worked hard every day at all games, never missed a game,” Martin McNair said. “So initially, it was kind of hard to understand or wrap my mind around.”

“Jordan was the type of person that he would give his all, he would give his best because someone asked him to do something. He wouldn’t have stopped,” his mother, Tonya Wilson, said.

The parents’ lawyer, Hassan Murphy, said “there’s no doubt” there was a “toxic culture” within the school’s football program.

“The toxic culture is what led to them to push Jordan beyond what his body could tolerate. It pushed them to look at him as being exhausted and out of shape, to curse at him as he was literally failing. That’s toxic,” Hassan said on “GMA” Thursday morning.

In their son’s honor, McNair’s parents have set up the Jordan McNair Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to “promote awareness, educate, and advocate for parents and student-athletes about heat-related illness at the youth, high school, and collegiate levels.”

“This particular injury isn’t something that just happened to Jordan; it happens all the time,” Martin McNair said. “This is our opportunity to speak for all the parents that haven’t had access to a forum such as this.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

FiveThirtyEight: The NBA’s small guys are getting bigger, and that’s bad news for Isaiah Thomas

Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesBY: Chris Herring and Dimitrije Ćurčić

(NEW YORK) — Of all the shocking NBA free-agency moves this summer, Isaiah Thomas’s deal with Denver — for just one year, at the minimum salary for a veteran player — might have been the most telling, in terms of where the league is heading.

This time last year, Thomas — one of the NBA’s most underpaid players even then, at just over $6 million — was saying openly that the Celtics “know they’ve got to bring the Brink’s truck out,” a reference to the nine-figure max contract he felt he deserved. And on some level, it would have been difficult to argue with him. At 28 years old, the diminutive point guard was coming off a banner season in which he finished fifth in MVP voting while averaging almost 29 points per game (on one of the league’s best true shooting percentages) and led the Celtics to the East’s best record.

It’s no secret that much of the market collapse for Thomas’s services stemmed from questions about the torn labrum in his hip, which cost him months of rehab time before he ever suited up for the Cavs, then required surgery in March (while he was playing for the Lakers). But it also appears that the ever-changing NBA flipped its script entirely just before Thomas could cash in on a deal that scorers of his caliber generally get. The about-face highlights the fear teams have about committing big money to someone as short as Thomas, given the challenges his height creates in yet another league where an increasing number of players are roughly the same size.

Point guards and centers were closer in height last year than they’ve ever been, separated by an average of just 8.3 inches — down 21 percent from the 10.5 inches or so that stood between them during the mid-to-late 1990s, according to data from Basketball-Reference.com.

Basketball-Reference.com

Those shifts affect Thomas in two meaningful ways. First, the Tacoma, Washington, native — who, at just 5-foot-9, is the shortest player in the NBA — isn’t even close to the average size for a point guard of 6 feet, 2.5 inches. Which brings up the second issue: As such an outlier, the undersized Thomas becomes an even bigger liability on defense when his team is forced to switch on screens at that end of the floor — something that’s become far more common in the past five years alone. The median number of switches leaguewide has more than doubled over that span, from 4.3 per 100 possessions in 2013-14 to 9.1 switches per 100 possessions this past season, according to Second Spectrum.

“To even have a chance against a team like Golden State, you have to make a point of not being put into rotations,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told me in May. “They’ll kill you that way.”

Certain teams are better equipped to play that kind of defense than others — the Rockets and Warriors, widely considered the league’s best teams, led the NBA in switch frequency — but the process doesn’t always work as well when Thomas is in the midst of it. The Celtics were 5 percent more efficient defensively in switch scenarios when Thomas was off the floor than on in 2016-17, according to Second Spectrum. And while Thomas’s departure coincided with a slew of other changes in Boston prior to last season, the team’s jump to from No. 12 to No. 1 in defensive efficiency after dealing Thomas supports the notion that a merely solid defensive team can become great on that side of the ball once it removes its weakest link.

With teams vying to become switchier in an increasingly versatile league (and some clubs perhaps having pushed the envelope too far on that front), it raises the dilemma of how to integrate Thomas into a defensive gameplan without torpedoing it altogether.

Even on offense, where Thomas is undoubtedly a boon, his greatest strengths are ones accentuated by a particular style of play. With Boston, he made use of direct-dribble handoffs more than anyone — a play that worked well alongside screen-setter Al Horford in part because coach Brad Stevens was committed to building an offense in which Thomas could thrive. The plays didn’t work as well in Cleveland, where the Cavs ran them about half as often and with less efficiency. (The same was true during his stint with the Lakers, according to Second Spectrum.)

Taken together, this suggests that Thomas — like most players but perhaps unlike most stars — needs a specific ecosystem around him in order for him to thrive, or for him to be the max-level talent he believes himself to be. He could be that player in Boston, where the Celtics had good defenders and players that could not only screen but also space the floor for him. The likelihood of that being true on a team with far less talent seems remote.

Thomas’s new situation in Denver splits the middle from that standpoint. He will be in an up-tempo system with an abundance of talented players, including Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and FiveThirtyEight favorite Gary Harris, among others. Thomas has also played previously for coach Michael Malone, the first NBA head man to coax 20 points per game out of him. But there’s a catch: The Nuggets, like last year’s Cavs, play almost no D, meaning Thomas won’t be able to expect much help on that end as he works to rebuild his value as a sixth man.

Again, the tactical constraints of Thomas’s size are far from the only question marks surrounding him. The health of his hip is key, obviously. The Cleveland situation — a particular challenge because of the win-now pressure created by LeBron James’s pending free agency — was disastrous for Thomas: The team’s awful defense made him a bad fit, and his penchant for taking shots at either teammates or coaches became problematic. His difficulties were compounded by the seesaw nature of the free-agent money that’s changed hands in recent years.

When Thomas began talking about being paid handsomely, it was during the summer of a massive salary-cap increase, when players like Evan Turner, Bismack Biyombo and Nicolas Batum — who’ve never been All-Stars — got $70 million, $72 million and $120 million, respectively. Mistakes from 2016 are still being felt by certain teams, and it doesn’t help that some are keeping the books clear ahead of next year, when several stars are expected to hit the market. So, much of this boils down to Thomas’s free agency coming at the worst time.

“You can always play the what-if game, but man, I’ve been F’ed over so many times,” Thomas told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, while acknowledging that potential suitors were undoubtedly concerned about the health of his hip. “But of course I think about [the money]. I’m human.”

If there’s a bright side, or at least a glass-half-full equation, it’s that Thomas can still redeem himself. He is, or at least can be, a supremely gifted scorer. Yes, he gets his shots blocked often, but Thomas has learned how to use angles as leverage, and he displays bursts of quickness to outsmart defenders. Prior to his truncated 2017-18, he was driving to the basket more than almost anyone, and he connected on a high percentage of his shots around the rim. He’s still proven to be automatic from the line. And in the past, Thomas has shown he can catch fire from deep.

As he’s done so many times before, Thomas, famously the last player picked in the 2011 draft, will have to overcome the odds. He may not even need the absolute perfect fit to begin building his value again. Instead, Thomas may just need the ever-shifting NBA to sit still just long enough for him to find a new normal.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

NATIONAL NEWS

Community sends couple whose car accidentally started the Carr Fire in California messages of sympathy

iStock/Thinkstock(REDDING, Calif.) — Instead of anger and hate, the couple who accidentally started the deadly Carr Fire in Redding, California, has been getting flooded with messages of love and support from the very community devastated by the fire.

When Rachel Pilli heard that it was a couple whose trailer’s flat tire caused the fire igniting sparks she thought about how awful they must be feeling and started to pray for them.

While at church this past Sunday, Pilli overheard a firefighter she knew talking about the same couple, who happened to be his mother’s neighbors, so she asked him to bring them a card from her.

But when she got home that night she thought her friends might be interested in doing the same, so she posted her idea in a private Facebook group, comprised of mostly mothers.

“I personally know someone whose mom is a neighbor to the man whose trailer accident led to #CarrFire,” she wrote. “Many of us have been praying for this man (81 yr old). I learned that his wife is blaming herself for the #CarrFire, because she asked him to take the trailer in the first place. She has been crying day and night on her couch.”

She went on to write: “Do you think we can love on them and break off the shame/guilt that the enemy is trying to cover her in? Would you like to send her a card? If so, please drop it to me.”

When Pilli saw the overwhelming response she received, she was in tears.

“I was crying reading the comments, the comments were just filled with compassion and grace,” Pilli told ABC News.

Her friend, Hope Seth, who’s the founder of a Facebook page called “Carr Fire Stories,” re-posted the request asking for positive messages, and within a few days hundreds of comments poured in.

Seth, a mother of four kids, said she created to page to “collect, preserve and share our communities’ experiences from the fire,” and she wanted to use that platform to help garner comfort and support for the couple.

The post received over 600 comments, almost all of them sending the same message: It was an accident, and it wasn’t your fault.

People from all over the country showed their support and empathy, from those who have lived through other fires, to those who faced similar troubles with their RVs — even those who lost everything in the Carr Fire.

“I live in Redding and my family was affected by the fire in varying degrees,” one resident wrote. “I want you to know that I have not heard anyone blame you and we certainly do not.”

Another resident who lost their home also wrote a sweet comment.

“We would in no way blame those folks,” the resident wrote. “No one could have ever guessed it, no blame here, not at all.”

Seth printed out the comments and brought them along with a bouquet of flowers donated by her friend to Care Net Pregnancy Center where Pilli serves as the executive director.

“We had over 650 cards, printed messages and packages in less than 48 hours and more are still coming,” Pilli said.

The mail went out for delivery Wednesday and they’re hoping the couple will receive it by next week.

The Carr Fire started on July 23 and has burned more than 200,000 acres causing 7 deaths, including 3 firefighters, according to the National Park Service.

Officials have not yet released the names of the couple.

Though it has become one of the most destructive fires in California history, so many stories of kindness and courage similar to this one emerged from the tragedy, Seth said.

“It’s been beautiful to see hope and stories of heroes that other people don’t see,” Seth added.

In the wake of the fire, there have been heroes like the firefighters who left handwritten notes at residents’ homes and took care of their gardens and animals, Seth recalled.

Pilli, too, is in awe of their community’s reactions.

“It really demonstrates the compassion and kindness of our communities,” Pilli said.

“This fire has forced us to look into each other’s eyes,” Pilli added, “and discover the human kindness in us.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

‘He fooled us’: Friends of man who allegedly killed pregnant wife, daughters speak out after shocking arrest

Weld County Sheriff(DENVER) — After Chris Watts’ pregnant wife and two young daughters were reported missing in their Colorado town Monday, his friends, Nick and Amanda Thayer, rushed to his side.

Watts even spent Tuesday night at the Thayers’ home — before Watts was arrested on Wednesday, accused of killing his wife, Shanann Watts, and the couple’s daughters, Celeste, 3, and Bella, 4.

“We feel so stupid… trusting him to stay the night in the same house as our daughter,” Nick Thayer told ABC News on Thursday, overcome with emotion. “I’ll never let that go.”

“In the 48-to-72 hours we were with him … he was his normal self,” Amanda Thayer added. “He never once cried.”

Chris Watts had initially told reporters that his wife, 34, disappeared without a trace, leaving her purse and keys at home.

“When I came home and then walked in the house, nothing. Vanished. Nothing was here,” Chris Watts told ABC Denver affiliate KMGH-TV Tuesday. “My kids are my life. … I mean, those smiles light up my life.”

Nick Thayer said he and his wife spent Tuesday at the Watts’ home, helping their friend through ideas on how to find his missing wife and daughters. Nick Thayer said it didn’t cross their minds to ask Watts if he was involved.

“He fooled us. And I’m so sorry. We just thought we were doing the right thing by being a good friend,” Nick Thayer said. “We were duped.”

“It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why we were there with him because all the times we were with him it was nothing but love,” he said, adding that Watts was a “hands-on dad.”

“He and Shanann were always hugging, kissing and smiling. They were just a picture of in love,” added Amanda Thayer. “I want to know why.”

“She was an amazing person,” Amanda Thayer said of Shanann Watts. “She uplifted everyone around her. She listened to your thoughts, your concerns, your life. And never judged you. She gave you great advice.”

A body believed to be Shanann Watts has been recovered, officials said Thursday.

Authorities have a “strong reason to believe” they know where the girls’ bodies are and recovery efforts are underway, officials added.

Chris Watts, 33, has been booked on three counts each of first-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence.

“The suspect is presumed innocent until otherwise proven guilty in the court of law,” Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said at a news conference Thursday.

Authorities have declined to comment on a potential motive.

“Our role now is to do everything we can to determine exactly what occurred and assist in filing the thorough case,” added Colorado Bureau of Investigation director John Camper.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

National Guard using Reaper drone to fight wildfires

Tech. Sgt.Gregory Solman/California National Guard(SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) — As wildfires rage across the state, about 1,000 California National Guard soldiers are supporting response efforts, providing unique military capabilities to contain the fires.

Massive wildfires, including the Mendocino Complex Fire and Carr Fire, currently cover about 760,000 acres of California — the size of the state of Rhode Island or 60 times the size of the island of Manhattan, California National Guard officials said on Wednesday.

Guardsmen are using 22 aircraft to help civil authorities fight the fires, including the MQ-9 Reaper, a remotely piloted drone that can fly up to 24 hours each day.

The Reaper maps the behavior of a fire in real time, recording thermal imagery that can be analyzed and shared with California Fire chiefs.

While it can’t fly during certain wind conditions, the Reaper isn’t hindered by heavy smoke that can affect piloted aircraft.

The drone’s infrared capability allows it to “see through” smoke that could otherwise hinder visual sight.

While the California National Guard regularly assists in wildfire response, one its top leaders told reporters on Wednesday that the scale of this year’s fires is “extraordinary.” “These fires are getting bigger. They’re burning more erratically,” Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, the deputy adjutant general for the California Guard, said at a Pentagon briefing.

He credited dry fields from a lack of snowfall as a major contributor to the scale of this year’s fires. Beevers estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the state’s worst fires are now contained.

In addition to aviation and airlift capabilities, the National Guard conducts medical evacuations, as well as assists with transportation and security needs.

The states of Oregon, Washington, and Colorado have mobilized Guardsmen to support wildfire response operations in their states.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

WORLD NEWS

Pompeo launches Iran task force as US tries to shore up support for its pressure campaign

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration is launching a new task force to focus on Iran, highlighting the threat from the country as a top foreign policy priority.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his team would spearhead the Iran Action Group to coordinate all “Iran-related activity” across his department and the federal government. The group, led by the new Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, “will drive daily progress” toward the administration’s goal of changing Iran’s behavior, from support for groups like Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels to pursuit of ballistic missiles and nuclear capabilities, Pompeo said.

But critics charge the change does little to boost the administration’s Iran policy, which has isolated it from European allies and done little to alter Iran’s activity in the Middle East.

In May, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers that restricted its nuclear pursuit in exchange for sanctions relief. The Trump administration said the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, was insufficient because it did not deal with Iran’s other “malign activities,” or ultimately stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

In its place, Pompeo said the U.S. is pursuing a “campaign of pressure, deterrence, and solidarity with the long-suffering Iranian people” to force the Iranian government to meet 12 points that Pompeo laid out in a speech in May. That includes sanctions that snapped back into place 10 days ago on precious metals, Iran’s currency and the automobile sector, and more sanctions that will snap back on November 5, on Iran’s oil exports and central bank and financial transactions.

In particular, Hook will also be tasked with building international support for the administration’s new campaign — a tall task as European allies have consistently criticized the decision to withdraw and taken steps to protect European companies from U.S. sanctions. Other countries, like Russia and China, have said they will continue their business with Iran, including the purchases of Iranian oil that are crucial to Iran’s economy.

Hook told reporters Thursday the U.S. has “a lot more diplomatic freedom” outside of the deal, but so far it remains alone in withdrawing and lonely in its pursuit of economic pressure.

In the face of that opposition, State Department teams have visited 24 countries to explain U.S. sanctions and demand that countries reduce their Iranian oil imports to zero by November 5 or face U.S. sanctions, Hook said, adding, “That work will continue in the coming months.”

Before Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, Hook had been the lead negotiator with European allies, trying to come up with a side agreement that would keep the U.S. in the deal. After months of talks that made real progress, the U.S. walked away and Trump pulled the U.S. out because the administration wanted to make changes that the Europeans saw as violating the deal’s terms.

“We didn’t get there,” a senior State Department official said at the time.

Critics say that Hook lost his credibility with those countries — France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — because of that: “Hook alienated allies in negotiations in the run up to America’s withdrawal from the Iran Deal… They will not view him as a credible counterpart,” said Brett Bruen, a former diplomat who served as White House Director of Global Engagement and now president of the Global Situation Room.

But Hook said that he had meetings in London with senior officials from the three countries Wednesday and that allies around the world share U.S. concerns about “the range of Iranian threats, especially around missiles and cyber, maritime aggression and terrorism.”

A European diplomat in Washington told ABC News that the past negotiations were not a problem for future talks: “We have very good relations with Brian Hook, and I don’t think it’ll impact how we work with him,” they said.

Still, there is concern that the Trump administration is seeking to undermine or even overthrow the Iranian regime, despite consistent denials from the administration that regime change is what they’re pursuing. The announcement of the Iran Action Group even came at the same time as the 1953 American- and British-backed coup that overthrew Iran’s first democratically elected government — something Hook called a “coincidence.”

The administration says it is still open to direct talks with Iran to reach a “new agreement,” but Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini rejected that earlier this week, saying the country will never negotiate with the Trump administration. Khomeini and his regime have faced a wave of consistent protests since December over the economic troubles that have gripped Iran.

Either way, the Iran Action Group will seek to strengthen that mission by more closely coordinating the administration’s policy.

Critics say it will make little difference. Bruen called it “a typical Washington move to create the appearance of action by putting [it] in the title,” while Robert Malley, the senior White House advisor for the JCPOA negotiations, said in a statement, “Better inter-agency coordination to implement a policy that is rooted in wishful thinking about the imminent collapse or surrender of the Iranian regime and a non-existent international consensus won’t make the United states any safer.”

Hook has been the department’s Director of Policy Planning, the in-house think tank that debates and develops policies on the world’s challenges. Under former Secretary Rex Tillerson, Hook and his team took on an outsized role and often sidelined the department’s rank and file. While Pompeo kept Hook on initially, he will now transition out of that role and focus solely on the Iran Action Group, a senior State Department official said.

In his place, Pompeo is expected to bring on board Kiron Skinner, a foreign policy academic who advised Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. A Fox News contributor, she also served on Trump’s transition team and briefly at the State Department at the start of his term.

It’s unclear when that transition will take place.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Brussels rolls out stunning flower carpet

Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(BRUSSELS) — For a few days every two years, the Grand-Place in Brussels rolls out the red carpet — of flowers, that is.

This year’s masterpiece contains more than 2,000 square yards of begonias, dahlias, grass and bark. The impressive display was created in less than four hours by 120 hard-working volunteers and is composed of nearly 1 million begonias, according to organizers.

The first flower carpet in Brussels was created in 1971 by landscape architect Etienne Stautema, and this year’s floral designer is Mexico’s Ana Rosa Aguilar Aguado. Aguado’s carpet is dedicated to the Mexican region of Guanajuato, which, much like Brussels, is “known for its rich floral culture and tradition,” organizers said.

The Grand-Place is also marking two decades as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The entrance fee is about $7 and the carpet will be on display until Sunday.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Deadly bridge collapse in Italy prompts finger-pointing over design flaws, funding

iStock/Thinkstock(GENOA, Italy) —  As rescue efforts continue for people still missing after the deadly Morandi Bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy, the questions of who bears responsibility for the accident remain unanswered.

Families of victims are preparing for funerals in the coming days, while a political dispute escalates over who is to blame.

Senior figures in Italy’s populist government have placed blame on both the EU’s austerity cuts and Autostrade, the private company given government contracts to run Italy’s toll highways.

The parent company for Autostrade Atlantia saw its shares plummet as the government issued threats to withdraw its license to operate, which runs until 2042. Italian media quoted Atlantia executives saying the company would be entitled to tens of billions of euros in compensation if the government breaks the contract early.

That prompted interior minister Matteo Salvini to accuse the firm of talking money while bodies were still to be identified and families were mourning loved ones.

Meanwhile, the EU Budget commissioner in Brussels addressed Italian accusations that EU rules prevented Italy from properly funding infrastructure projects.

 The EU has a large fund for infrastructure of more than $300 billion, which it divides among member states and spends on renewing and upgrading roads and transport.

The budget minister Gunther Oettinger tweeted Thursday, “it is very human to look for someone to blame when terrible accident happens at Genova. Still, good to look at facts: in past 7 years, @EU_Regional paid €2.5 million for roads and trains in Italy and €12 billion from #EUinvest, and EU gave green light to national funding for €8.5 billion.”

The fees that national governments pay towards the EU budget go, in part, back to member states. Brussels also advises states on how to allocate spending. Eurosceptics say Brussels’ interference with national government spending infringes upon sovereignty.

Salvini, who is also Italy’s deputy prime minister, is part of the far-right League party, which is in coalition with the populist 5-Star Movement. The government has pledged to lobby against EU Budget restraints that were put into place to allay overspending that led to the Euro crisis in 2010.

 Meanwhile, as pressure heats up on Autostrade and its parent company Atlantia, Italians who blame the private firm are calling for boycotts of clothes company Benetton. The fashion brand was founded by the influential Benetton family who hold the major proportion of shares in Atlantia.

Atlantia, responding to criticism from the government, argued that it has consistently provided maintenance on the Morandi bridge and carried out checks on it every quarter as legally obliged.

However, warnings from engineers two years ago who criticized the sustainability and possible longevity of the bridge due to its design have re-emerged.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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