Francis in China
July 4, 2014

There is an interesting article at Quartz looking at the PR problem Pope Francis could face if he tries to mend relations with Beijing.

For those of you not up to date on Sino-Vatican relations, China hasn't held official talks with the Holy See since the 1950s. The communist country actually allows a state-sponsored version of the church to exist, but it has clashed repeatedly with the Vatican. Several of its bishops were even excommunicated after they were appointed without the Vatican's approval.

There have been signs, however, that relations have been thawing — the most notable example being when Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jiping exchanged correspondence — and speculation has been growing that the pope might make a visit. (And no, it's not because Pope Francis has a natural affinity to a communist country.) At Quartz, Heather Timmons shows just what a minefield such a visit could turn out to be:

There are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China, but they are divided between the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a group created by Communist Party in 1957 that does not recognize the Vatican as its head, and an underground, technically illegal, Catholic church that recognizes the Pope (and still has millions of members).

Visiting China in an official capacity would almost certainly require a meeting with the former, but Pope Francis would be unlikely to want to come without a promised meeting with the underground group as well, which would embarrass Beijing. [Quartz]

it's a bird it's a plane
4:19 p.m. ET

Another superhero have arrived on the scene. Today, CBS unveiled the first pictures of Melissa Benoist, the star of the network's upcoming Supergirl TV series, in full costume:

At the Television Critics Association press conference in January, CBS chairwoman Nina Tassler described the network's version of Supergirl as "a very strong, independent young woman." 

"We're big feminists," said Tassler. "It's her intellect, it's her skill, it's her smarts. It’s all of those elements."

Got the wrong guy
3:58 p.m. ET

Chris Hayes at MSNBC took a deep investigative look at the Texas case of Rodney Reed, who was sentenced to die for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1996. Despite some compelling evidence against him, it turns out the case is much weaker than it seemed at the time. Reed was scheduled to be executed yesterday, but in February an appeals court stayed issued a temporary stay of execution.

Make sure to watch through to end of the third video, which carefully explains new exculpatory evidence which has come to light. —Ryan Cooper

Numbers don't lie
3:23 p.m. ET
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

A new CNN/ORC poll released ahead of the 50th anniversary of Selma, Alabama's "Bloody Sunday" march reveals that nearly 4 in 10 Americans think race relations under the Obama administration have gotten worse.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that race relations have worsened under President Obama, while 15 percent said they think race relations have improved. Forty-five percent said they think they've stayed the same.

Unsurprisingly, more Republicans (65 percent) said race relations have worsened under Obama compared to Democrats (26 percent), though only 20 percent of respondents from the president's own party said things have gotten better.

These findings are in contrast to a 2009 poll, which found that 32 percent of people thought Obama's leadership had improved race relations, 6 percent thought he made things worse, and 59 percent said nothing had changed.

Family Ties
3:08 p.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

What do Sasha and Malia want to be when they grow up? There's at least one occupation that the first daughters seemed to have ruled out: Politics.

During an interview with radio host Tom Joyner, President Obama said it's unlikely either of his teenage daughters will want to run for public office "partly because they've been listening to their mother."

The president, who will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama tomorrow, said he hopes Sasha and Malia will be "engaged and involved" in whatever they decide to do in the future.

"If they want to do it through business, then I want them to have a business that is providing employment and opportunity for people who might not otherwise get it," he said.

"If they want to do it through the arts, then I want their art to be informed by the great social issues of the day so they are illuminating that for other people and telling stories that need to be told." [The Hill]

For those who have everything
2:47 p.m. ET
Courtesy photo

Tucking in beneath an eiderdown duvet from Norvegr (from $6,714 for a double bed) has to be “one of the chicest ways to hibernate,” says Jemima Sissons at Financial Times. The down is “some of the coziest in the world,” and collecting it is a challenge. Every year, just past midsummer, Norvegr’s veteran down gatherers head to the Norwegian island of Svalbard to handpick the down left in nests abandoned by the island’s eider ducks. A good yield for one nest is 15 to 20 grams of down, and the annual yield for the entire team is less than 100 kg. Still, “what sets Norvegr apart is its bespoke service.” The firm will even vary the weight of the filling on each side of the duvet to keep both bedmates happy.

This just in
2:31 p.m. ET
Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Justice Department is reportedly preparing to bring criminal corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), sources told CNN. Menendez is accused of doing political favors for a Florida doctor, Salomon Melgen, a close friend and benefactor. CNN's sources said the official announcement from prosecutors may come within weeks. Menendez' office, meanwhile, has called the allegations a "smear campaign" and denied that the senator has done anything improper.

Coming Soon
2:20 p.m. ET

Following the unexpected resignation of the president, the fourth season of the acclaimed HBO comedy Veep sees Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) assume the presidency. It's everything she's ever wanted — but with an election around the corner, she'll need to prove herself to keep the seat, and her staff seems less than prepared for the contentious campaign:

Veep's fouth season premieres on April 12.

spoiler alert
1:38 p.m. ET

With just four episodes left in its freshman season, Fox's Batman prequel Gotham is taking a short hiatus before resuming in April. But anyone who can't wait to see how the season resolves was just dealt a major hint from star Jada Pinkett Smith, who plays the gangster Fish Mooney.

"I don't think [I'll be in the second season]," said Pinkett Smith in an interview on Live with Kelly and Michael. "I signed for a year, and the year's up."

Pinkett Smith's comments don't bode well for the fate of Fish Mooney — a major player in Gotham, but one who, tellingly, never appeared in a Batman comic book or film. If Pinkett Smith isn't booked for season two, there's a very real chance she'll be diminished or dead by the time the first season ends.

Only in America
1:17 p.m. ET

The Kansas Senate has passed a bill that would see elementary and high school teachers arrested if they assign subject matter deemed "harmful" to children. If the Republican-sponsored bill becomes law, it would ban books, artworks, and other materials that depict "nudity, sexual contact, [or] sexual excitement" from schools. Teachers found guilty of assigning such materials could face up to six months in jail.

space stuff
1:10 p.m. ET
NASA Photo

NASA's Dawn spacecraft successfully entered orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres on Friday, eight years after scientists first launched the probe on its $473 million mission.

Ceres lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and Dawn will spend 16 months exploring the dwarf planet. Ceres is the asteroid belt's largest object, an impressive 590 miles in diameter. Like Pluto, Ceres is classifed as a dwarf planet, because it's "big enough to retain a round shape but doesn't necessarily stand out in a celestial crowd," NBC News explains.

Scientists discovered Ceres more than 200 years ago, but the dwarf planet still baffles scientists. NASA hopes the new mission will reveal more about the previous Dawn images of Ceres, which showed mysterious spots on its surface. The patches, which are in the same basin, may be signs of ice or liquid water beneath Ceres' mantle. If Ceres was once suitable for life in the solar system's "early days," the mission could help scientists better understand how the solar system was formed," NBC News explains.

Dawn will begin taking new photos of Ceres in April, and its mission is scheduled to run through June 2016. Before its mission to Ceres, Dawn spent 14 months exploring Vesta, the asteroid belt's second-largest object.

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