5 things you need to know today

Steve Almasy and Dorrine Mendoza


(CNN) — American forces are waiting on the word to attack Syria, we mark the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, and a high school teacher in Montana gets a one-month sentence for raping a student — after the student had killed herself.

It’s Wednesday, and here are “5 Things to Know for Your New Day.”

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Every weekday morning, we’ll hit the top five stories of the day and clue you in on a few other buzzy items.


“We are ready to go”:

Warships armed with cruise missiles plow the waters of the Mediterranean. Cabinet-level officials hold a National Security Council meeting at the White House on Tuesday night. And U.S. officials all but tell U.N. inspectors in Syria to get out of the way.

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A flurry of comments and activity seem to be laying the groundwork for a military strike. A Defense Department official says a strike could be completed “within several days.”

Moscow’s telling the U.S. to stand down. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime says there’s no evidence that it was behind last week’s chemical attack. But the U.S. says the Syrian government forces are “the only ones that have the weapons.”


The dream lives on:

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It was a half-century ago today when our nation changed forever as a Southern pastor told America, “I have a dream.” The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech came at a time when “there was so much fear, people were afraid to be afraid,” says John Lewis, the Georgia congressman who was a civil rights figure. Lewis says that 50 years later, we’re a better nation, but there’s still progress to be made.

America’s first black president, Barack Obama, has similar words.

Obama will speak at the big event in Washington marking the anniversary. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will be there, too, as will members of King’s family.


The threat keeps growing:

Thousands of firefighters continue to duke it out with a huge wildfire that looks like it’ll continue to burn for days. The numbers — 184,000 acres, 4,000 firefighters, thousands of structures threatened — are staggering, and the prospects are scary as the still-growing California wildfire menaces Yosemite National Park and San Francisco’s water supply.

But fortunately, the tourist hotspot Yosemite Valley and its iconic attractions, including the El Capitan rock formation, are safe for now, miles from the nearly two-week-old Rim Fire’s reach.


Say what?

A 49-year-old teacher has sex with a 14-year-old student. The man is charged with rape, and as the case inches its way through the legal system, the girl commits suicide. This week, the man learned his sentence: 15 years — with 14 years, 11 months suspended. That’s right, one month.

The girl’s mother is furious with the judge, whose choice of words about the victim in the case was interesting: “She seemed older than her chronological age.”

Here’s another: “It’s not probably the kind of rape most people think about. It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies.”


Suspect’s sister: ‘She’s trouble’:

Lora DiMaggio doesn’t buy it. Her brother just couldn’t have lived four decades as a great guy, as her closest friend, then suddenly turn into a monster one day.

Instead, she’s critical of Hannah Anderson, who disappeared earlier this month, reportedly kidnapped by James DiMaggio.

In an interview with Piers Morgan, Lora DiMaggio says she told her brother well before his death that Anderson was bad news. “I said, ‘You need to watch out for that one.’ ” DiMaggio added that her brother might have been trying to get the 16-year-old out of a jam — and “gave his life to protect her.”

Those are your five biggies for the day. Here are a few other stories that are brewing and have the Internet buzzing.

— Ununpenti-what?

When we were kids, there were nine planets, and the periodic table had only 117 elements. And we liked it that way.

Well, now Pluto’s no longer a planet — and there’s one more thing to remember for that dreaded chemistry table. Swedish researchers made it in a lab by slamming calcium into americium.

This confirms the work done by researchers in Russia who created the same thing years ago. They called the new element Ununpentium.

— Right there before twerp:

“Twerk,” congratulations. You are now official. The Oxford University Press people, the ones who make the big dictionaries they keep in libraries, say you are an honest-to-goodness word.

Word nerds, take note, among the 40-plus entries joining “twerk” in the club are digital detox, fauxhawk, jorts, selfie and srsly. Yes, seriously.

— He plays from the heart:

He goes to auditions, and band members can’t believe their eyes. Dean Zimmer is a rock drummer, and he uses a wheelchair.

He has a birth defect called arthrogryposis. And even after nine surgeries, he doesn’t have full use of his arms and can’t walk well. But man, can that guy rock the drums.

Ross Harris and Stanley Gonzales shared Zimmer’s story on YouTube.