Category - News

Nebraska legislature leads charge to abolish death penalty

If bill overcomes veto threat, Nebraska will be the first GOP-dominated state in decades to end capital punishment.

Al Jazeera, By Naureen Khan, April 24, 2015

Nebraska’s Republican-dominated legislature is leading the charge to abolish the death penalty in the state, potentially making it the first GOP-controlled state in decades to ban the practice and setting up a confrontation with Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts.

State lawmakers approved Legislative Bill 268 late last week, which would replace the death penalty with life without parole, in a lopsided 30-13 vote, enough to overcome Ricketts’ promised veto if support holds. Backers of the bill, including several Republican advocates, are now trying to wrangle additional supporters to overcome the remaining legislative hurdles. Two more rounds of voting must take place under the rules of Nebraska’s unicameral legislature — the only one of its kind in the nation — and 33 state senators may be needed to break debate at the next stage.

“I’m actually very optimistic that we can get the votes we need for cloture to end the filibuster,” said Stacy Anderson, the executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, an advocacy group that has been lobbying legislators on the issue. “There are senators in the body who don’t support the repeal, but they support this being given an up-or-down vote. They believe a vote should be taken.”

Armenian Church to canonize 1.5 million genocide victims

AFP, By Irakli Metreveli, April 23

Yerevan – The Armenian Church prepared Thursday to canonise up to 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman forces as tensions over Turkey’s refusal to recognize the killings as genocide reached boiling point.

The ceremony, which is believed to become the biggest canonisation service in history, comes ahead of commemorations expected to see millions of people including heads of state Friday mark 100 years since the start of the killings. The Armenian Apostolic Church announced the canonisation service for the “martyrs of the Armenian Genocide,” calling for a “prayerful participation in this historic event.”

The service will be held in Armenia’s main church, Echmiadzin, an austere fourth-century edifice believed to be the Christian world’s oldest cathedral. The ceremony will run from 1300 GMT and end at 1515 GMT to symbolize the year when the massacres started during World War I.

“Today’s canonisation unites all Armenians living around the globe,” Huri Avetikian, an ethnic Armenian librarian from Lebanon who arrived in her ancestral homeland to attend the service, told AFP.

The Independent: System Of A Down perform in Armenia for the first time to mark genocide’s 100th anniversary
NPR: System Of A Down, Armenia’s Favorite Sons, On Facing History

New Pentagon cyber strategy to discuss nation’s offensive capabilities

The Baltimore Sun, By Ian Duncan, April 23

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter will lay out the military’s new strategy for fighting battles over computer networks Thursday, today, officials said, revealing what analysts say appears be a tougher, more offensive approach to cyber warfare.

It’s the first major update to the Pentagon’s cyber strategy in four years, a period during which American businesses have suffered major attacks, including the assault late last year on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The document, to be unveiled as Carter delivers a speech at Stanford University, includes descriptions of ways the military can use computers in all stages of a conflict, according to a summary provided by defense officials Wednesday — a sign that the department is opening up about its offensive capabilities.
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Bird Flu Confirmed at Iowa Farm With 5.3 Million Chickens

AP, April 20

Des Moines, IA — Up to 5.3 million hens at an Iowa farm must be destroyed after the highly infectious and deadly bird flu virus was confirmed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.

The farm in northwest Iowa’s Osceola County has nearly 10 percent of the state’s egg-laying hens. Iowa is home to roughly 59 million hens that lay nearly one in every five eggs consumed in the country.

Egg industry marketing experts say it’s too early to predict the impact on prices, but say it’s unlikely to immediately cause a spike or a shortage, because number of chickens that are to be euthanized is a little more than 1 percent of the nation’s egg layers.

“Don’t panic. Let’s wait and see,” said poultry industry consultant Simon Shane, who also teaches poultry science and veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University. He added that if 20 million to 30 million hens are infected, consumers could start seeing prices rise.

Several Midwestern states have been affected by the outbreaks, costing turkey and chicken producers nearly 7.8 million birds since March. The virus was first detected in Minnesota, the country’s top turkey-producing state, in early March and the H5N2 virus has since shown up on commercial farms in Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. On Monday, the virus was confirmed in another turkey farm in Minnesota and a backyard flock of mixed birds in Wisconsin.

Storm of the century batters Sydney and the Hunter, leaving three dead and homes destroyed

Sydney Morning-Herald, By Nick Ralston, Peter Hannam, Lucy Cormack & Ella Rubeli, April 21

The biggest storm to hit Sydney and the Hunter region this century swept along the coast, leaving at least three people dead, dozens of others needing rescue and entire homes washed away in floodwaters.

Heavy rain and cyclonic winds saw power cut to hundreds of thousands of homes, as well as three hospitals, and the closure of 100 schools.

It also caused chaos on the roads and public transport, with felled trees, blown over power lines and slippery conditions making it a nightmare commute in the morning and afternoon peaks.

The destructive winds, which topped 130km/h, dumped blankets of sand from Sydney’s beaches onto nearby streets and carparks. The storm also forced the closure of the Sydney Harbour port, leaving passengers on board the Carnival Spirit cruise ship stranded in swells of up to nine metres outside Sydney Heads.

RT: 3 killed, 200,000 homes without power as ‘worst in decade’ storm rages in Australia

RT: Aftermath video.

Yemen crisis: US beefs up naval patrols as Iran convoy approaches

BBC, April 21

The US is sending an aircraft carrier to boost its patrols in the waters off Yemen, amid suspicions that an Iranian naval convoy in the area is carrying arms intended for Yemeni Houthi rebels.

The US has warned Iran against arming the rebels – but a US spokesman said the ships would not stop the convoy.

The US navy, which already has seven boats in the area, says its deployment aims to secure shipping lanes.

Meanwhile, BBC: Saudi Arabia’s new muscular foreign policy

But almost every conversation with Saudis about the Yemen military operation leads to a wider discussion about the region, the kingdom’s new role as the leader of a military coalition and in many cases, people’s desire to see this translate into action elsewhere.

At a bowling alley in Riyadh one evening, I met a young couple enjoying an evening out. The man was in the military so he would only give his name as Hamed. His eyes lit up when I asked him whether he supported the war.

“We support the king’s decision to go to war 100%, it’s long overdue. Hopefully, we will move to help Syria next, and bring down President Assad who has been causing so much death and destruction for his people,” he said.

Moon of Alabama: What Is The Purpose Of This U.S. Fleet Concentration Next To Iran?

CFR: The New Saudi Foreign Policy
Reuters: Yemen foes fight on despite declared end to Saudi strikes


First Time in World History Judge Recognizes Two Chimpanzees as Legal Persons, Grants them Writ of Habeas Corpus

Nonhuman Rights Project, April 20

New York, NY – For the first time in history a judge has granted an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a nonhuman animal. This afternoon, in a case brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe issued an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, who are being used for biomedical experimentation at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York.

Under the law of New York State, only a “legal person” may have an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus issued in his or her behalf. The Court has therefore implicitly determined that Hercules and Leo are “persons.”

FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades

Washington Post, By Spencer S. Hsu, April 18

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

Bernie Sanders ‘making sure’ of enough money to challenge Clinton

Politico, By Kyle Cheney, April 19

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday he’ll make a decision on running for president “pretty soon” and suggested his determination hinges on whether he can raise enough money for a Democratic primary bid against Hillary Clinton.

“Making sure you have the money to run a credible campaign is very important,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re working on it. And we will make the best decision we can in the near future.”

China makes big cut in bank reserve requirement to fight slowdown

Reuters, April 20

Beijing – China’s central bank on Sunday cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves, the second industry-wide cut in two months, adding more liquidity to the world’s second-biggest economy to help spur bank lending and combat slowing growth.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) lowered the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for all banks by 100 basis points to 18.5 percent, effective from April 20, the central bank said in a statement on its website www.pbc.gov.cn.

“Though the growth in the first quarter met the official target of around 7 percent for 2015, the slowdown in several areas, including industrial output and retail sales, has caused concern,” said a report published by the official Xinhua news service covering the announcement.

The latest cut, the deepest single reduction since the depth of the global crisis in 2008, shows how the central bank is stepping up efforts to ward off a sharp slowdown in the economy.

“The size of the cut is more than expected,” said Shenwan Hongyuan Securities analyst Chen Kang.

“It’s going to release around a trillion yuan (in liquidity) at least.”

Large explosions rock Yemeni capital Sanaa

Mushroom clouds rise in the sky in western Sanaa where the capital’s largest weapons caches are located.

Al Jazeera, April 20

Powerful explosions have rocked the Yemeni capital, shattering windows and damaging structures, as Saudi-led air strikes targeted suspected weapon caches and missiles held by Houthi fighters.

Mushroom clouds on Monday rose in the sky over Fag Atan, in western Sanaa, where the capital’s largest weapons caches are located.

One of the air strikes reportedly targeted a Scud missile base held by the Shia Houthi rebels in Fag Atan Mountain beside Hadda district, where the presidential palace and many embassies are located. Nearby homes were being evacuated.

“This was by far the strongest explosion witnessed in Sanaa so far. Hundreds, if not thousands of homes have been damaged, sending thousands of people to flee the area.” Hakim al-Masmari, the editor-in-chief of Yemen Post, told Al Jazeera.

South Africa arrests hundreds over xenophobic violence

Police arrest more than 300 for crimes against migrants, after violence kills eight and displaces more than 1,000.

Al Jazeera, April 20

South Africa’s government has vowed to crack down on xenophobic violence, after arresting more than 300 people for a range of crimes against migrants.

Authorities said on Sunday in Johannesburg that 307 suspects had been arrested for a range of xenophobic-related crimes.

Security agencies have also increased the police presence on the ground after at least eight deaths in anti-immigrant violence in the past week.

“They have actually pushed other people to leave their own comfort zones, their homes,” David Mahlobo, the minister of state security, said.

More than 1,000 people have been displaced after violence against foreign nationals flared up on March 30 in the country’s coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal, whose capital is Durban.

15,000 troops pledge loyalty to Yemen govt

Reuters, April 19

Aden – The Yemeni commander of a vast military district covering half the country’s border with Saudi Arabia pledged support on Sunday to exiled President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi, local officials said.

The announcement puts at least 15,000 troops in the desert and mountain border area on the same side as Saudi Arabia, which backs Hadi and has waged an inconclusive three-week bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen who are allied with Iran.

“Brigadier General Abdulrahman al-Halily of the First Military District announced today his support for constitutional legitimacy as represented by President Hadi,” one of the officials told Reuters.

The declaration was also broadcast on official radio in the city of Seiyun, the main city of the Hadramawt valley area where the district’s main military base is located.

IMF tells regulators to brace for global ‘liquidity shock’

Financial engineering that preceded the last two financial crises is back, International Monetary Fund warns

The Telegraph, By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, April 15

An illusion of liquidity has beguiled financial markets across the world and spawned some of the worst excesses seen on Wall Street in modern times, the International Monetary Fund has warned.

Investors are borrowing money to buy shares on the US stockmarket at a torrid pace and are resorting to the same sorts of financial engineering that preceded the last two financial crises.

“Margin debt as a percentage of market capitalisation remains higher than it was during the late-1990s stock market bubble. The increasing use of margin debt is occurring in an environment of declining liquidity,” said the IMF in its Global Financial Stability Report.

“Lower market liquidity and higher market leverage in the US system increase the risk of minor shocks being propagated and amplified into sharp price corrections,” it said.
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