Dave Lawler
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Hotels try to reclaim bookings from travel sites

John Locher / AP

According to the Wall St Journal, the hotel industry is trying to cut out middlemen like Priceline and Expedia that take 10-30% commissions on bookings, but hasn't yet figured out how to bring customers direct to them.

  • Booking sites "were crucial for hotels during down periods such as after 9/11, but they have gradually eaten into the share of overall bookings ever since."
  • Per Kalibri Labs, the commissions cost the industry "an estimated $4.5 billion for the 12 months ending last June."
  • Generation gap: "A survey conducted by travel-data firm Adara Inc. showed that 52% of U.S. travelers between the ages of 18 and 34 prefer booking hotels through online search engines... compared with 37% age 35 and older.
  • Priceline's CEO Glenn Fogel: "Free is best. Everyone would like people to come direct to their business. That's not the way the world works, though."
Featured

Exploring caves to fight superbugs​

Popular Science has an eye-opening report on scientists spelunking in caves in search of microbes that could be used in medicine. A few highlights from the report:

  • Why caves? Only about one percent of microbes have been discovered, and caves are "a rich source of new microbes."
  • The danger: They're not always easy to reach, and can be dangerous: "Several of the caves [one scientist] investigates are deep in grizzly bear country, so the scientists have to be carried in by helicopter."
  • The hope: "The idea is that if conditions are harsh they need more advantages to outcompete other microbes," and could fight infections resistant to current antibiotics.
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Merkel suggests Europe can no longer rely on U.S.

Domenico Stinellis / AP

German chancellor Angela Merkel issued a call for unity within the E.U. at a campaign event Sunday, stating that she learned over "the past few days" that "the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over."
Merkel's comments came after President Trump scolded NATO members over defense spending and was at odds with the rest of the G7 over climate change.
"We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands."
Why it matters: These are extraordinary words from Merkel, revealing fractures within the transatlantic alliance — long underpinned by close cooperation between the U.S., U.K., France and Germany — after the seismic events of Trump's election and Brexit. Times have changed — just a few months ago, Merkel was Barack Obama's closest foreign partner.
Symbolism alert: It was no accident that France's Emmanuel Macron embraced Merkel before shaking hands with Trump at the NATO summit last week. European alliances are being strengthened, and the U.S. is increasingly on the outside looking in.

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DHS Sec. Kelly: high-level classified leaks are 'borderline treason'

Susan Walsh / AP

Homeland Security Secretary Kelly said on Meet the Press Sunday that high-level classified leaks, like those over the Manchester attack in the U.K., are "borderline treason."
"I don't know where the leak came from. But I... immediately called my counterpart in the UK.... She immediately brought this topic up. And, if it came from the United States, it's totally unacceptable. And I don't know why people do these kind of things, but it's borderline, if not over the line, of treason."
He added: "I believe when you leak the kind of information that seems to be routinely leaked — high, high level of classification — I think it's darn close to treason."
On reports that Jared Kushner wanted to open a secret backchannel with Russia:
  • "I don't see any big issue here relative to Jared.... I think any time you can open lines of communication with any one, whether they're good friends or not so good friends, is a smart thing to do."
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Gianforte elected in Montana day after alleged assault

Bobby Caina Calvan,/ AP

Roughly 24 hours after being charged with assault, Republican Greg Gianforte was elected as Montana's next congressman.
Gianforte won the typically safe Republican seat — previously held by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — by about 7%.

What the results tell us: Quist cut into Zinke's 15% margin in 2016, but that was with the help of massive fundraising and support from the likes of Bernie Sanders — and moral victories will only go so far. The anti-Trump surge is formidable, but it hasn't swept any Dems into Congress as yet.

Smart take from the Washington Post's Paul Kane: "If results stay on this arc, wake-up call for Dems & activists to recruit serious, sober, quality candidates. Not quirky personalities." Quist is a folk musician and first-time candidate.

In case you missed it: Witnesses say Gianforte body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs Wednesday after becoming irritated by questions on the GOP health care plan, with audio of the incident spreading widely in the hours before polls opened. Gianforte's campaign later issued a statement, seemingly contradicted by the audio, saying it was Jacobs who had been "aggressive." Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault and is scheduled to appear in court next month.

Gianforte apologized in his victory speech: "When you make a mistake you have to own up to it... last night I made a mistake, and I took an action that I cannot take back. I'm not proud of how I acted." He then apologized directly to Jacobs and to the witnesses.

The effect: Approximately 60% of the vote came in early, before Wednesday's incident. According to 538, there may have been a small shift toward Quist on election day, but it wasn't enough to make much of a difference.

Awkward entrance: President Trump and Vice President Pence made robocalls for Gianforte, and Donald Trump Jr. was the tech entrepreneur's most high-profile surrogate. But the White House wouldn't say Thursday whether Trump or Pence still endorsed Gianforte after the alleged assault, and Paul Ryan called on Gianforte to apologize.

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Report: FBI thinks Kushner has key information for Russia probe

Andrew Harnik / AP

Jared Kushner is under FBI "scrutiny," because the bureau believes he has "significant information" relevant to the Russia investigation, NBC News reports. The Washington Post previously reported that a senior official close to Trump was a "significant person of interest" for the FBI.

Kushner had contact last year with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, as well as a Russian banker. There is no indication that he is suspected of breaking any laws.

Why it matters: Unlike Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, Kushner is not a subject of the investigation. But the investigation could grow increasingly uncomfortable for President Trump as it reaches into his inner circle.

Kushner's lawyer responds: "Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry."

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Lieberman withdraws from consideration for FBI Director

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Joe Lieberman, the former senator who had been considered the front-runner to replace James Comey at the helm of the FBI, has removed himself from consideration. He cited a potential conflict of interest, as he works for the same law firm as Marc Kasowitz, the lawyer Trump has retained to help him navigate the investigations into links between his campaign associates and Russia.

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GOP congressional candidate charged with assault

AP / file

Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for Montana's vacant House seat, allegedly bodyslammed a reporter for The Guardian on the eve of Thursday's special election.

In a statement Wednesday night, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said misdemeanor charges had been filed against Gianforte, who is due to appear in court early next month.

Ben Jacobs, the reporter, tweeted: "Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses." Gianforte's campaign has since claimed "aggressive behavior" by Jacobs caused the incident.

Audio from the incident appears to capture Gianfante shouting at Jacobs to "get the hell out of here," and a witness said Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck and threw him to the ground.

Jacobs also called in to MSNBC's All in With Chris Hayes to tell his story:

Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna witnessed the incident. An excerpt from her account:

"Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon. At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of "I'm sick and tired of this!"
To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff's deputies."

Alexis Levinson, a reporter for Buzzfeed News, was just outside the room. She described Jacobs receiving treatment, police taking statements and Gianforte waiting in a car before driving off more than an hour before the event was scheduled to end.

Whitney Bermes, a crime reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, said Jacobs had reported the incident to the police, who had confirmed "they are investigating assault involving Gianforte."

Why it matters: Gianforte, a tech entrepreneur, had consistently led in the polls in the historically red district. Buoyed by massive fundraising and high-profile support from the likes of Bernie Sanders, Democrat Rob Quist had cut Gianforte's lead to single digits. Now this throws another unknown into the race just hours before polls open.

Full statement from Gianforte campaign

"Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoving a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."

Transcript of the audio recording

Jacobs: "... the CBO score, because you know you've been waiting to make your decision about healthcare until you saw the bill and it just came out."

Gianforte: "We'll talk to you about that later."
Jacobs: "Yeah but there's not going to be time I'm just curious about..."
Gianforte: "Ok, speak with Shane please."
Jacobs: "But you... "
Gianforte: "I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last guy that came in here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?"
Jacobs: "Yes and you just broke my glasses."
Gianforte: "The last guy did the same damn thing."
Jacobs: "You just bodyslammed me and broke my glasses."
Gianforte: "Get the hell out of here."

Jacobs: "You'd like me to get out of here, I'd also like to call the police."

Featured

Trump praised Duterte for "great job" on drugs, per transcript

Alex Brandon / AP

A transcript of a phone call between President Trump and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines made by the Philippines government, obtained by the Washington Post and published in full by the Intercept includes praise from Trump for Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs:

"I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I wanted to tell you that."

Later in the May 2 conversation, according to the transcript, Trump said: "anytime if you are in D.C. or anywhere, come see me in the Oval Office."

The context: Duterte has urged citizens to kill suspected drug dealers and addicts, and since he took office there have been thousands of extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs. Trump's friendly call and invitation to Washington are controversial moves that show his willingness to interact with authoritarians on friendly terms.

On Kim Jong-un

Trump: "Are we dealing with someone that's stable or not stable?"

Duterte: "He is not stable Mr President...."

Trump asked Duterte if China had leverage over Kim Jong-un and then said, "if China won't do it, we will do it."

"We can't let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that," Trump said.
Featured

Duterte declares martial law

Pavel Golovkin / AP

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law on the island of Mindanao following a violent clash between government security forces and the Maute rebel group that, according to the military, left three security personnel dead and 12 wounded.

The government says the Maute group, an militant Islamist faction, has aligned itself with ISIS and is responsible for a bombing in Duterte's hometown of Davao. Duterte cut short a visit to Moscow after the clashes.

Mindanao is home to 22 million people, including multiple Muslim rebel groups that want more independence from Manila.
Why it matters: Duterte has launched a brutal crackdown on crime and drugs since taking office last year, but never before declared martial law. It is unclear what tactics the government will employ in the 60 days in which the measures will be in place.