Trump administration gives notice to Congress on three planned arms sales to Taiwan

The Trump administration has alerted Congress of its intent to move forward with three advanced weapons sales to Taiwan, a congressional aide and a source familiar told CNN Monday. The move comes as the administration seeks to

bolster ties with Taipe

i amid escalating tensions with Beijing. The sales are likely to further inflame those tensions. According to the sources, the administration provided informal notification over the weekend of the proposed sales of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System — a long-range rocket artillery system that can strike targets up to 190 miles away — Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response — cruise missiles that are fired from aircraft and are designed to strike ground targets — and external sensor pods for F-16 jets. The informal notification process is a common practice in which the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee get a heads up on planned sales, allowing committee leadership to raise concerns, give their input, or place holds. Another congressional aide said that House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans received several new sales for review that they are inclined to support and as well as any additional sales that support strengthening Taiwan’s defense capacity, including the ability to counter threats across the Taiwan strait.

Senators getting the chance to question Barrett in Tuesday confirmation hearing

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham kicked off Tuesday’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing with a sustained attack on President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, seeking to preempt Democratic criticisms of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. “From my point of view, Obamacare has been a disaster for the state of South Carolina,” Graham said. “We want something better. We want something different.” Democratic and Republican lawmakers will have an opportunity on Tuesday to question Barrett, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, during a lengthy second day of Senate hearings. Graham walked Barrett through her judicial philosophy in the opening round of questions. Barrett explained that she considered the late Justice Antonin Scalia, but argued she would not be an identical justice if she is confirmed. “If I’m confirmed, you would not be getting Justice Scalia. You would be getting Justice Barrett,” Barrett said. “And that’s so because originalists don’t always agree.” Partisan battle lines were quickly drawn on Monday during the first day of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee as Democrats and Republicans offered up sharply divergent narratives of the high court fight to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In opening statements delivered on Monday, Republican senators praised Barrett’s judicial qualifications in glowing terms and emphasized her capability as a working mom, while Democrats

warned that health care protections and the Affordable Care Act

are at stake, and under threat, in the nomination fight.

Delta: ‘It may be two years or more’ for air travel recovery

Yet again, Delta Air Lines posted massive quarterly losses — and the company is warning investors “it may be two years or more” for air travel demand to return to normal. The airline posted a $2.1 billion operating loss in the third quarter, excluding special items like charges for

buyout packages

for employees who voluntarily left the company and

early retirement of aircraft

. Including those items, its net loss topped $5 billion for the second consecutive period. The third-quarter loss was larger than forecast by Wall Street analysts, and Delta shares fell 3% in premarket trading on the news. Analysts expect total

losses among US airlines

to top $10 billion for last quarter, as the pandemic continues to fuel a huge

drop in demand

. Delta is the first US airline to report results for the quarter. Delta’s revenue also fell 79% compared to the year-ago period. As bad as that is, it’s an improvement from the 88% drop in the second quarter. — From wire reports

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Monday that he’s “not a fan” of court-packing, providing his clearest position on an issue he has sought to avoid discussing following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “I’m not a fan of court-packing, but I don’t want to get off on that whole issue,” Biden told CNN affiliate WKRC in Cincinatti. “I want to keep focused. The President would love nothing better than to fight about whether or not I would, in fact, pack the court or not pack the court.” Last week, Biden told reporters he would not address the issue until after the November 3 election, but his comments Monday go further than when he has demurred in his recent answers on the issue following the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by Ginsburg. With the Republican-controlled Senate likely to confirm President Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court justice, creating a solid 6-3 conservative majority, some progressive members of the Democratic Party have floated the idea of expanding the size of the high court — and adding liberal justices — should Biden win and Republicans lose control of the Senate. Some of those in the progressive wing of the party see adding seats to the court as the only way to protect landmark decisions like the one made in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion in the US. Biden, a former longtime senator, is an institutionalist who has centered his campaign on a return to normalcy and civility. Polls show he is winning over moderates, and he is hesitant to give Trump any new ammunition to link him to his party’s progressive wing. As the so-called court-packing concept has increasingly entered the fray in recent weeks, both Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, have refused to answer questions about their positions on it, including during their respective debates with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. During the primary, Biden was consistent in his opposition to court-packing. He said during a Democratic presidential debate last October that he “would not get into court-packing,” adding, “We had three justices. Next time around, we lose control, they add three justices. We begin to lose any credibility the court has at all.” He reiterated his position and this rationale when a voter asked him about his position on expanding the court during a town hall in Iowa later in December. He also told the Iowa Starting Line earlier this year that he opposed court-packing because Democrats will “live to rue the day.” For her part, Harris would not answer questions from Pence when he pressed her on the issue during their debate last week, with the vice president saying, “You gave a non-answer. Joe Biden gave a non-answer.” “The American people deserve a straight answer, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, the straight answer is, they are going to pack the Supreme Court,” Pence claimed at the debate. CNN’s Eric Bradner contributed to this report.

A rare star system has been found in our Milky Way galaxy, but it’s doomed to end in a massive explosion. The star system, which looks like a cosmic pinwheel, is located 8,000 light-years from Earth. But it’s so rare that astronomers never expected to find a star system like this in our galaxy. It’s known as a Wolf-Rayet star system. Only some massive stars evolve into Wolf-Rayets as they approach the end of their lives. This stage lasts a few hundred thousand years, but in the lifetime of a star, that’s very short, the astronomers said. Only one out of a hundred million stars are massive enough to be Wolf-Rayets. And a binary pair of two stars like this is even more rare, which is what astronomers first discovered when they found the system in 2018. Inside this system are two massive stars that orbit each other, as well as a single companion star bound to them by gravity. The companion star is also probably a Wolf-Rayet star that’s shedding gas, helping create the intricate shape of the dust cloud. The two stars are each about 10 to 15 times more massive than our sun, and both are more than 100,000 times more luminous. And compared to the surface temperature of the sun, which is about 9,941 degrees Fahrenheit, these stars reach a blistering heat of 45,032 degrees Fahrenheit — or more. Researchers named the system Apep after the serpentine Egyptian god of chaos. Now, astronomers have learned more about this rare gem, including that the massive stars complete an orbit of each other about every 125 Earth years, and at a distance that is comparable to the size of our solar system. The two stars release huge amounts of carbon dust, which whirls around in the screaming stellar winds created by the stars. The stars orbit each other, causing the dust to look like a dusky, glowing tail. This spiral plume is one of a few ever discovered, the researchers said. They thought the name Apep was fitting because the dust plume looked like a serpent battling the central star. These incredibly bright, hot stars are beautiful but doomed. The next step is usually a supernova explosion that results in the star becoming a black hole. “Aside from the stunning image, the most remarkable thing about this star system is the way the expansion of its beautiful dust spiral left us totally stumped,” Yinuo Han, lead study author, said in a statement. Han is an honors student in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney in Australia. “The dust seems to have a mind of its own, floating along much slower than the extreme stellar winds that should be driving it.” Han wrote the study while in lockdown due to the pandemic. The study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on Sunday.

Studying a doomed star system

The researchers were able to use the high-resolution imaging capabilities at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to study the system and analyze the process that created the spiral. “The magnification required to produce the imagery was like seeing a chickpea on a table 50 kilometers (31 miles) away,” Han said. The astronomers were able to create a model that matched the structure of the spiral in the star system, which enabled them to understand the extreme forces creating it. However, the dust spiral is expanding at a rate that is four times slower than the speeds of the stellar winds — which differs from other Wolf-Rayet discoveries in the past. “The speeds of the stellar winds produced are just mind-blowing,” Han said. “They are spinning off the stars about 12 million kilometers an hour; that’s 1 percent the speed of light.” That’s also 100,000 times faster than Earth’s hurricanes. “Yet the dust being produced by this system is expanding much more slowly, at about a quarter of the stellar wind speed,” Han said. The fast rotation of the stars is likely responsible for this, sending stellar winds in different directions and at varying speeds. “The dust expansion we are measuring is driven by slower winds launched near the star’s equator,” he said. This indicates, the researchers believe, that Apep may actually create a gamma-ray burst when it explodes. “They are ticking time bombs,” said Peter Tuthill in a statement, study coauthor and professor at the University of Sydney. “As well as exhibiting all the usual extreme behavior of Wolf-Rayets, Apep’s main star looks to be rapidly rotating. This means it could have all the ingredients to detonate a long gamma-ray burst when it goes supernova.” That has never been observed in the Milky Way before, the researchers said. Gamma-ray bursts are some of the most energetic events that occur in the universe. Luckily, this one won’t impact Earth thanks to the star system’s axis of rotation — but if it did, the burst could strip Earth’s ozone layer and expose our planet to all of the ultraviolet radiation streaming out from the sun. “There has been a flurry of research into Wolf-Rayet star systems: these really are the peacocks of the stellar world,” said Joe Callingham in a statement, study coauthor in postdoctoral position at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “Discoveries about these elegantly beautiful, but potentially dangerous objects, is causing a real buzz in astronomy.”

China to test 9 million people as coronavirus cluster detected in city of Qingdao

The Chinese port city of Qingdao plans to test some nine million people in the coming five days, after 12 locally-transmitted coronavirus cases were reported sparking concerns of a wider outbreak. China

has been largely coronavirus free

since mid-August, with all cases reported by the country imported from elsewhere. But as of October 11, Qingdao has reported a dozen locally transmitted cases, all of which have been linked to a hospital treating imported infections, the city’s Municipal Health Commission said in a statement Monday. Mass testing has already been carried out at the Qingdao Chest Hospital, which has been placed on lockdown, with 114,862 people, staff and patients, having tested negative as of Monday.

Malaysia detains Chinese vessels for trespassing in territorial waters

Maritime authorities in Malaysia said they stopped six Chinese fishing vessels in Malaysian territorial waters Saturday, as Beijing increases its presence

throughout the South China Sea

.

According to a statement

, 60 Chinese nationals were detained during an operation off the eastern coast of Johor, the southern Malaysian state which borders Singapore. Their vessels, all of which were registered in Qinhuangdao, a port in northern China, were en route to Mauritania, West Africa, when they trespassed in Malaysian waters, the country’s maritime authorities said. Malaysia reported 89 intrusions by Chinese coastguard and navy ships between 2016 and 2019, as tensions continue to escalate between the United States and China over Beijing’s claims to most of the resource-rich South China Sea, which is also a major trade route.

Another 24,000 retail jobs at risk as UK fashion group faces collapse

The owner of

Edinburgh Woollen Mill

, the Scottish heritage brand that sells

cashmere sweaters

and coats made from

Harris Tweed

, has warned of major job cuts as it struggles to save the business from collapse. EWM Group, owned by retail entrepreneur Philip Day, said in a statement that it plans to appoint administrators to restructure the company, which also owns the

Peacocks

and

Jaeger

clothing brands. It is considering selling parts of the group, which employs 24,000 people. “We have applied to court today for a short breathing space to assess our options before moving to appoint administrators,” said CEO Steve Simpson. “There will inevitably be significant cuts and closures as we work our way through this,” he added.

— From wire reports

‘The Batman’ production back in full swing

“The Batman” is back.

Robert Pattinson, Colin Farrell, Zoë Kravitz were spotted filming the Matt Reeves blockbuster in Liverpool, England.

Fans got a peek of Kravitz as Catwoman, dressed in a shiny black trench coat and matching headpiece. Farrell looked into his role as The Penguin, complete with face scars and prosthetic wrinkles.

Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne was also spotted on set.

“The Batman” took a break from production last month when Pattinson tested positive for Covid-19. That was the second delay after production was halted in March, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Vanessa Bryant wishes Kobe and Gigi were here to see Lakers win

As the Los Angeles Lakers became NBA champions Sunday night, there were two people whose presence was especially missed.

Vanessa Bryant congratulated the team on Instagram Sunday in a heartfelt post, remembering her husband and her daughter.

“Wish Kobe and Gigi were here to see this,” Bryant wrote on Instagram.

It’s been almost nine months since Kobe Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, died in a helicopter crash January 26.

The Lakers beat the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals Sunday night. It was the Lakers’ first NBA Finals appearance since Kobe Bryant won his fifth and final NBA title.

Bryant shared a photo of her late husband with Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka along with the message.

“Congratulations Uncle P!” Bryant wrote. “Congratulations @lakers Kobe was right, RP! ‘Stay the course-blockout the noise.’”

The team’s win coincided with Father-Daughter Day on Sunday. Bryant remembered the daddy-daughter duo on Instagram with a throwback image of Kobe holding Gianna in his arms after the Lakers won the 2009 NBA Championship.

Matthew McConaughey reunited ‘Dazed and Confused’ cast to support voting

Matthew McConaughey and the crew did “Alright, alright, alright” Sunday night during a virtual table read of “Dazed and Confused.”

McConaughey and fellow cast members of the beloved 1993 comedy, including Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Parker Posey and Anthony Rapp, came together for charity.

The event was organized to support the March for Science, the Voto Latino Foundation, and increase awareness about voting in Texas.

It was one of several virtual table reads that have been held in support of charities and getting out the vote for the upcoming November 3 election.

McConaughey often finds ways to honor his roots in the Lone Star State.

— From wire reports

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