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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Syria executes, tortures thousands at military prison: Amnesty

The Syrian government executed up to 13,000 prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail near Damascus, rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

Amnesty said the executions took place between 2011 and 2015, but were probably still being carried out and amounted to war crimes. It called for a further investigation by the United Nations, which produced a report last year with similar accusations also based on extensive witness testimonies.

Syria’s government and President Bashar al-Assad have rejected similar reports in the past of torture and extrajudicial killings in a civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The Amnesty report said an average of 20-50 people were hanged each week at the Sednaya military prison north of Damascus. Between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Sednaya in the four years after a popular uprising descended into civil war, it said.

“The victims are overwhelmingly civilians who are thought to oppose the government,” the report said.  Read More

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Trump travel ban oral arguments: what you need to know

Three federal judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals are set to hear oral arguments at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday in the challenge to President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The lawsuit, brought by attorneys general of Washington and Minnesota, has captivated the nation since last Friday when a federal district court judge put a stop to Trump’s executive order restricting travel for foreign nationals, and as a result, temporarily opened US borders to immigrants once again.
The hearing will be by telephone and livestreamed; here’s what to listen for:

What’s the hearing about?

US District Court Judge James Robart upended Trump’s executive order nationwide Friday by temporarily halting the key provisions restricting travel for foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen) and refugee admissions.
The central question for the appellate court is whether Robart abused his discretion by putting a temporary hold on the travel ban. No court has addressed the constitutionality of the executive order thus far.

The players

The attorney general of Washington state, Bob Ferguson, filed the case and was later joined by the attorney general of Minnesota, Lori Swanson.
The suit is being defended by lawyers at the Civil Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.
The randomly assigned three-judge panel includes Judge William C. Canby Jr, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter; Judge Michelle T. Friedland; who was appointed by President Barack Obama; and Judge Richard R. Clifton, an appointee of President George W. Bush.

When is this hearing?

The appellate court has set an hour-long telephonic oral argument in the case for Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET. It will be available for live streaming through the court’s website.
Each side will get 30 minutes to make their case.

What are the states saying?

On Monday attorneys for the states that filed the lawsuit submitted their brief urging the appellate court to keep the travel ban suspension in place.
The states say that the temporary restraining order should remain in place because the President had “unleashed chaos” by signing the order.
They also argue that the government’s claim — that it would be “irreparably harmed” by keeping Robart’s temporary suspension order in place while the case proceeds to the merits — doesn’t make any sense.
To accept DOJ’s position, they argue, “would mean that until the (Executive) Order was issued, Defendants were suffering some, unspecified, ongoing irreparable harm. That makes no sense. …Preserving the status quo against sudden disruption is often in the interest of all parties.”

What is the Trump administration’s argument?

The government submitted its own brief in response Monday evening.
DOJ continues to emphasize that the states do not have the ability to sue in this case and a district court judge does not have the right to second-guess the President’s national security judgment in the immigration context.
But the government also raised a fallback argument in its latest court filing — suggesting if the appellate court is inclined to uphold the Seattle district court’s decision, then it must at least limit it to the class of people who have been previously admitted to the US — like someone traveling on a student visa. In the government’s view, aliens outside of the US who have never stepped foot on US soil have no constitutional right to enter the US.

What happens next?

The judges have a number of different options at their disposal to resolve this case, but it is unlikely that they would rule on whether the ban is constitutional (since that is not the question before them) — the central issue is whether the executive order should remain suspended for now.  Read More

Dow and Nasdaq reach record highs, but energy pressures S&P 500

U.S. equities rose on Tuesday, but traded off session highs, as energy weighed while investors focused on a slew of corporate earnings reports.

The Dow Jones industrial average briefly rose more than 100 points, hitting a new record high, before holding about 40 points higher with Boeing contributing the most gains. The S&P 500 chopped around the flatline, with energy falling more than 1 percent.

Traders work on the main trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange as the Dow Jones industrial average passes the 20,000 mark shortly after the opening of the trading session on Jan. 25, 2017.

The S&P 500 chopped around the flatline, with energy falling more than 1 percent. U.S. crude futures for March delivery fell 2 percent to $52.01 per barrel amid concerns of higher U.S. shale production.

“Today, as opposed to two years ago, we’re looking at a commodity that’s not in short supply. That makes it a lot less of a long-term investment,” said Maris Ogg, president at Tower Bridge Advisors. “This is really like a growth company that fesses up that it can’t grow anymore.”  Read More

Twitter says it’s cracking down on abuse (again)

Fairly or not, Twitter is known the Internet over as the place the trolls are.

Stung by criticism that Twitter has allowed harassment and abuse to spread unchecked and under growing pressure from Wall Street to deliver growth, CEO Jack Dorsey has pledged “a completely new approach to abuse.” Twitter’s vice president of engineering Ed Ho said last week the company will keep working on combating abuse “until we’ve made a significant impact that people can feel.”

The pledges have been met with skepticism from critics. Twitter is out to prove that it’s taking safety on the platform seriously with a new set of updates that begin rolling out Tuesday. The changes will give users more control over what they see on the social media service, Twitter says.

Chief among them: preventing people who have been permanently suspended from Twitter from creating new accounts, focusing in particular on accounts that are created “only to abuse and harass others,” Ho said in a blog post.  Read More

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