News in Brief from Democracy Now (April 3)
HAVANA TIMES – We present the news in brief from Democracy Now for Wednesday April, 3, 2013.
U.N. General Assembly Approves 1st Global Arms Treaty
The United Nations General Assembly has approved the first-ever treaty to regulate the global arms trade. After over six years of talks, the pact was authorized Tuesday by a vote of 154 to 3. Iran, North Korea and Syria were the countries opposed. The treaty will have no impact on domestic gun laws but will bring new regulations to the sales of conventional arms. Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott, the head of the Arms Trade Treaty Conference, said the treaty would have a positive impact notwithstanding the compromises that assured its passage.
Peter Woolcott: “The final draft text is a compromise text which represents the broadest possible input of delegations. That text would make a difference to the broadest range of stakeholders. It would establish new common international standards in the conventional arms trade. It would also establish a forum, the Conference of States Parties, for transparency and accountability. That text would also make an important difference by reducing human suffering and saving lives.”
The Obama administration voted with the majority after blocking the treaty last summer during President Obama’s bid for re-election. According to reports, the United States helped weaken the text by limiting the list of weapons subject to regulation and by successfully opposing limits on the sale of ammunition. The treaty will now come up for ratification in the U.S. Senate, where it likely faces intense opposition from lobbyists, including the NRA.
U.S. Deploys 2nd Warship in Pacific to Confront North Korea
The United States continues to increase its military posture toward North Korea amidst growing tensions with the regime. On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesperson George Little confirmed two guided-missile destroyers have been deployed in the Pacific to prepare for operation off the Korean Peninsula.
George Little: “On the Decatur and the McCain, they have arrived at predetermined positions in the western Pacific, where they will be poised to respond to any missile threats to our allies or our territory.”
Military posturing by both the United States and North Korea has increased since the U.N. Security Council approved U.S.-backed sanctions last month in response to North Korea’s third nuclear test. On Tuesday, North Korea vowed to restart a shuttered nuclear reactor. Earlier today, the regime also closed off access to a joint industrial zone with South Korea.
Kerry Denounces “Unacceptable Rhetoric” from North Korea
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced North Korea for recent threats of nuclear strikes on the U.S. and its allies.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “We’ve heard an extraordinary amount of unacceptable rhetoric from the North Korean government in the last days. So let me be perfectly clear here today: The United States will defend and protect ourselves and our treaty ally, the Republic of Korea.”
ExxonMobil Ordered to Take Corrective Action on Oil Spill
The federal government has ordered ExxonMobil to take corrective action for the oil spill that’s leaked thousands of barrels near Mayflower, Arkansas. ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada when it ruptured last week, flooding the streets of a housing development with thick black crude and forcing at least 22 evacuations. The Transportation Department says ExxonMobil has estimated a spill so far of up to 5,000 barrels of oil. Arkansas officials, meanwhile, have officially launched a probe of the rupture, asking ExxonMobil to preserve all relevant information “for any future litigation.” The ExxonMobil spill comes as the Obama administration prepares to issue a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would expand the transport of Canadian tar sands oil on a massive scale.
Anti-Abortion Measures Advanced in Alabama, Indiana
Republican lawmakers continue to advance anti-abortion bills in several states. On Tuesday, the Alabama state Senate approved a measure forcing clinics to have a state-licensed physician present at every abortion. Such doctors would also have to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a step that can be impossible for abortion providers. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign the bill after it is reconciled with the state House version approved earlier in the year. A similar effort in Mississippi is threatening the closure of the state’s lone abortion clinic. The Indiana House, meanwhile, has approved a bill forcing clinics that provide the abortion pill to have full surgical facilities on hand. If enacted, Planned Parenthood says the measure would halt abortions at its clinic in the town of Lafayette. The measures follow recent laws in North Dakota and Arkansas banning abortion well before the constitutional right of 24 weeks.
Arkansas GOP Overrides Veto of Voter ID Law
Republican lawmakers in Arkansas have completed their effort to override Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of a bill requiring voters to show photo ID before casting a ballot. The state Senate overrode the veto last week and the state House followed suit on Monday.
Defying State Threats, Arizona Town Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions
The Arizona town of Bisbee has become the state’s first to allow same-sex civil unions. The Bisbee City Council defied a threat of legal action from the state government on Tuesday to approve civil unions in a 5-to-2 vote. Arizona’s state attorney general says he will try to block the measure in court.
New York Lawmakers Indicted for Bribery Scandal
Two New York lawmakers and several other state political figures have been indicted for a corruption scheme aimed at rigging New York City’s upcoming race for mayor. State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, is accused of enlisting the help of New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Republican, to bribe GOP officials so that Smith could run as their candidate. Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, unveiled the indictment.
Preet Bharara: “The charges we unsealed today demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government. At the heart of the allegations is a sitting Democratic senator from Queens, Malcolm Smith, who believed he could, and should, be the mayor of New York City, and who, in the service of that ambition, tried to bribe his way to a shot at Gracie Mansion. As the complaint describes, Senator Smith drew up the game plan, and Republican Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked it by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receive bribes.”
Others charged include Bronx Republican Party Chair Jay Savino and Queens Republican Party leader Vincent Tabone, who are accused of accepting a bribe of $40,000.
Schumer Protested for Stance on Immigration Reform, Private Prison Ties
Latino and immigrants rights groups held protests Tuesday against Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York over what they called his extreme stance on immigration reform. Protesters in several cities criticized Schumer for prioritizing enforcement and border security over keeping families together, and called on him to return tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the private prison industry. Esther Portillo-Gonzales of the group Families for Freedom joined the protest in front of Schumer’s New York office.
Esther Portillo-Gonzales: “We are targeting Senator Schumer because of his ties with prison companies that are incarcerating thousands and millions of immigrants. So one of our major demands is that his ties with prison companies come to an end and that his comprehensive immigration reform bill be based on family unity and not on detention and deportation, as it currently stands.”
Texas Death Row Prisoner Wins 2nd Reprieve over Racial Bias in Jury Selection
A Texas prisoner has won her second stay of execution amidst debate on new legislation on how juries are selected. Kimberly McCarthy had been scheduled to be put to death today for the 1997 murder of a neighbor. But prosecutors say they have granted her a reprieve until June while lawmakers consider a new bill affecting the composition of juries. McCarthy, who is black, was convicted by a jury of 11 whites and one African American. Defense attorneys say the jury was improperly selected on the basis of race. McCarthy would have been the first woman put to death in the United States since 2010. She previously won a stay of execution in January.
Top Climate Scientist James Hansen Retires to Focus on Activism
The nation’s leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, is retiring after more than 40 years to focus on activism around fighting global warming. For over 25 years, Dr. Hansen has headed the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA’s premiere climate research center. His testimony to a Senate committee in 1988 first brought the threat of global warming to the world’s attention. Under the George W. Bush administration, he went public to reveal the White House tried to silence his warnings about the urgent need to address climate change. He has since been arrested outside the White House for protesting mountaintop removal and the Keystone XL pipeline. Hansen says he now plans to devote his time to campaigning in the United States for the reduction of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.