Category - USA

United States of America

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.”

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.

Does a US child go missing every 90 seconds?

BBC News, By Hannah Moore, April 21

When there’s a news report of a child going missing it’s easy to jump to the worst conclusions, but sometimes the reality is not quite so alarming. It’s a similar story with one widely used statistic about missing children in the US – it is not quite what it may seem.

A television news channel in Washington DC recently launched a safety awareness campaign using the hashtag #every90seconds, claiming that one child goes missing in the US, on average, every one-and-a-half minutes.

It’s a figure that’s been widely quoted in US media over the past few years, often for the best of reasons, as in this case. It sounds worrying, because you might reasonably assume it refers to kidnappings, or children in real danger.

[…]

“The number of kids who are actually kidnapped by strangers is quite small,” says Finkelhor.

Just 115 of the 797,500 children were subject to what Finkelhor and his co-authors define as a “stereotypical” kidnapping – that is, they were abducted by a stranger and detained overnight, perhaps permanently, or taken at least 50 miles away.

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.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Toward Absolutist Capitalism

Naked Capitalism, By Lambert Strether, April 20

There are many excellent arguments against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), two of which — local zoning over-rides, and loss of national sovereignty — I’ll briefly review as stepping stones to the main topic of the post: Absolutist Capitalism, for which I make two claims:

1) The TPP implies a form of absolute rule, a tyranny as James Madison would have understood the term, and

2) The TPP enshrines capitalization as a principle of jurisprudence.

Zoning over-rides and lost of national sovereignty may seem controversial to the political class, but these two last points may seem controversial even to NC readers. However, I hope to show both points follow easily from the arguments with which we are already familiar. Both flow from the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, of which I will now give two examples. more

MoJo Explicator: Here’s What You Need to Know About the Trade Deal Dividing the Left

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.”

Three Charts Explain the Student Loan Mess

Bloomberg Business, By Noah Smith, April 17

Here are three charts about student loans that have me worried. First, the total amount of student loans in the U.S. has risen steadily, doubling just since the financial crisis:

This is troubling, although by now it’s a story that most people know. But what fewer people realize is that the federal government has rapidly taken over almost the entire student-loan market since the crisis. Federally owned student loans rose from zero in the mid-1990s, to a bit more than $100 billion on the eve of the crisis, to about $850 billion in late 2014:

…Student debt now comprises 45 percent of federally owned financial assets. Oy!

First in Flight? Connecticut Stakes a Claim

New York Times, By Kristen Hussey, April 17

Bridgeport, CT — Connecticut lawmakers are wrestling with difficult issues — a budget deficit, assisted suicide, judicial reform.

But this legislative session, and for the previous two, one topic has enjoyed bipartisan support: Gustave Whitehead.

In 2013, a well-regarded aviation publication surprised historians by declaring that Mr. Whitehead, a Bridgeport resident, had flown two years before Orville and Wilbur Wright skimmed the dunes of Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina in 1903.

“Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied,” read the headline in the publication, IHS Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. “Whitehead has been shabbily treated by history,” it said.

Mr. Whitehead, a German immigrant, flew his own aircraft above Bridgeport and nearby Fairfield on Aug. 14, 1901, climbing 50 feet into the air and traveling more than a mile, according to the article, which was written by Paul Jackson, the editor of Jane’s.

Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico is far worse than previously reported: investigation

AP, April 16

OVER THE GULF OF MEXICO — Down to just one full-time employee, Taylor Energy Company exists for only one reason: to fight an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that has gone largely unnoticed, despite creating miles-long slicks for more than a decade.

The New Orleans-based company has downplayed the leak’s environmental impact, likening it to scores of minor spills and natural seeps that the Gulf routinely absorbs.

But an Associated Press investigation has revealed evidence that the spill is far worse than what Taylor — or the government — has publicly reported. Presented with AP’s findings, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that is about 20 times greater than one recently touted by the company.

Outside experts say the spill could be even worse — possibly one of the largest ever in the Gulf, albeit still dwarfed by BP’s massive 2010 gusher.

To shield tech executives, California’s biggest water users are secret

Reveal News, By Katharine Mieszkowski & Lance Williams, April 16

In the midst of a historic drought, Californians have no way of knowing who’s guzzling the most water.

That’s not an accident. It’s by design, thanks to an obscure 1997 measure that weakened one of the state’s chief open government laws, the California Public Records Act.

For the source of this legislation, look no further than Silicon Valley, where the city of Palo Alto decided it needed to do more to protect the privacy of the tech elite.

“Palo Alto, even then, was home to a number of very high-profile tech-­related residents,” said Ariel Calonne, who was the city attorney at the time. “We had fairly extensive databases that covered a lot of sensitive information for a lot of noteworthy people, and that became a concern for our utility managers.”

Thousands in Germany protest against Europe-U.S. trade deal

Reuters, By Noah Barkin, April 18

Berlin – Thousands of people marched in Berlin, Munich and other German cities on Saturday in protest against a planned free trade deal between Europe and the United States that they fear will erode food, labor and environmental standards.

Opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is particularly high in Germany, in part due to rising anti-American sentiment linked to revelations of U.S. spying and fears of digital domination by firms like Google.

A recent YouGov poll showed that 43 percent of Germans believe TTIP would be bad for the country, compared to 26 percent who see it as positive.

The level of resistance has taken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and German industry by surprise, and they are now scrambling to reverse the tide and save a deal which proponents say could add $100 billion in annual economic output on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sputnik News: Some 22,000 Participated in Anti-TTIP Protests Across Austria – Organizers

How Corporate America Invented Christian America

Inside one reverend’s big business-backed 1940s crusade to make the country conservative again.

Politico, By Kevin M. Kruse, April 16

In December 1940, as America was emerging from the Great Depression, more than 5,000 industrialists from across the nation made their yearly pilgrimage to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, convening for the annual meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers. The program promised an impressive slate of speakers: titans at General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, Mutual Life, and Sears, Roebuck; popular lecturers such as etiquette expert Emily Post and renowned philosopher-historian Will Durant; even FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Tucked away near the end of the program was a name few knew initially, but one everyone would be talking about by the convention’s end: Reverend James W. Fifield Jr.

Handsome, tall, and somewhat gangly, the 41-year-old Congregationalist minister bore more than a passing resemblance to Jimmy Stewart. Addressing the crowd of business leaders, Fifield delivered a passionate defense of the American system of free enterprise and a withering assault on its perceived enemies in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Decrying the New Deal’s “encroachment upon our American freedoms,” the minister listed a litany of sins committed by the Democratic government, ranging from its devaluation of currency to its disrespect for the Supreme Court. Singling out the regulatory state for condemnation, he denounced “the multitude of federal agencies attached to the executive branch” and warned ominously of “the menace of autocracy approaching through bureaucracy.”

It all sounds familiar enough today, but Fifield’s audience of executives was stunned. Over the preceding decade, as America first descended into and then crawled its way out of the Great Depression, the these titans of industry had been told, time and time again, that they were to blame for the nation’s downfall. Fifield, in contrast, insisted that they were the source of its salvation.

They just needed to do one thing: Get religion.


Shades of Jeff Sharlet’s The Family, as updated

— and Lindsay Bayerstein interviews Jeff Sharlet here: Worse Than Fascists: Christian Political Group ‘The Family’ Openly Reveres Hitler

Sen. Hillary Clinton has been involved with the Family since 1993 when, as first lady, she joined a White House prayer circle for political wives. Clinton has also sought spiritual counseling from the current head of the Family, Doug Coe. Sharlet argues that Clinton’s longtime association with the Family has helped her forge working relationships with powerful religious conservatives such as Family member and anti-abortion crusader Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

The National Memo: Book Review: ‘One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America’ By Sarah Posner, April 12

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