Nation & World News

Boko Haram Suspected In New Round Of Killing And Kidnapping

By Scott Neuman on December 18th, 2014 | Last updated: December 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

Islamist extremists are being blamed for an attack in northeastern Nigeria that killed at least 33 people and resulted in the kidnapping of about 200 others.

The Associated Press quoted officials saying that the number of dead in the village of Gumsuri was 35 and that “at least 185″ had been kidnapped. The BBC said 33 had been killed and “about 200″ kidnapped.

NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, reporting from Dakar, Senegal, says the attack occurred Sunday but that “news is only now beginning to filter through.” She explains that information from the remote area where the killings and kidnappings took place is “cut off from cellphone service, and sometimes it can take days to emerge.”

Suspicion for the attack has fallen on Boko Haram, the militant group that kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in April and has carried out dozens of attacks in the same area of the country. Sunday’s raid occurred just 20 miles from Chibok, where the schoolgirls were abducted. In October, the Nigerian government claimed to have brokered a cease-fire deal with the militant group that was to have included return of the girls. However, that agreement quickly fell through.

Survivors reaching Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, where the attacks took place, say young men, children and women were abducted by the suspected Islamist insurgents. The AP quotes teenager Aji Ibrahim, who says he escaped by hiding in bushes and that he has no doubt they were Boko Haram.

“[They] were chanting ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is great) while shooting at people and torching houses,” he told the AP.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Cameroon, the military said it has killed more than 100 Boko Haram militants after the extremist group attacked a market area in the border town of Amchide.

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Pakistani Court Grants Bail To Suspect In Mumbai Attack

By Krishnadev Calamur on December 18th, 2014 | Last updated: December 18, 2014 at 2:38 pm

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has granted bail to a man accused of masterminding the deadly 2008 attack on Mumbai, India.

Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi is one of seven men charged with planning and helping to carry out the Mumbai attack that killed more than 160 people. The Associated Press reports that Judge Kausar Abbas found there wasn’t enough evidence to keep Lakhvi in custody. Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that federal prosecutors had opposed the bail plea.

Azhar Chaudhary, a government prosecutor, told India’s NDTV that the government “will appeal against bail plea and demand a stay order.”

Lakhvi was ordered to pay the equivalent of around $5,000 as bail.

The application for bail came yesterday as Pakistani lawyers were on strike to condemn a deadly terrorist attack this week on a school in the city of Peshawar.

India blames Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group, for the 2008 attack in Mumbai. Lakhvi was believed to be the group’s operational chief at the time. Pakistan arrested seven men, including Lakhvi, after the attacks, but as Dawn noted, proceedings in the trial have come to a standstill.

India expressed outrage at today’s decision.

Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, called on Pakistan to reverse the decision.

“The grant of bail to Lakhvi will serve as a reassurance to terrorists who [perpetrate] … heinous crimes,” he said.

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India Tests Crew Capsule, New Heavy-Lift Rocket

By Scott Neuman on December 18th, 2014 | Last updated: December 18, 2014 at 12:38 pm

India took a giant leap forward toward its ambitious goal of sending humans into space, launching an unmanned crew capsule aboard a powerful new rocket.

The Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO, launched the 630-ton rocket from its facility at Sriharikota on the country’s southeast coast. It was the first flight test of an improved version of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, or GSLV rocket.

Spaceflight Now reports: “It can carry up to 10 metric tons, or about 22,000 pounds, of cargo into low Earth orbit and up to 4 metric tons — 8,800 pounds — into geostationary transfer orbit once it is operational, a milestone Indian officials hope to achieve within about two years.”

Atop the rocket was the Crew Module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment, or CARE, a test version of a manned vehicle that India has been developing to carry two or more astronauts into space.

In a statement on its website, ISRO said: “The mission began with the launch of GSLV Mk-III at 9:30 am [Indian Standard Time] from the Second Launch Pad as scheduled and about five and a half minutes later, carried its payload – the 3775 kg Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) – to the intended height of 126 km. Following this, CARE separated from the upper stage of GSLV Mk-III and re-entered the atmosphere and safely landed over Bay of Bengal with the help of its parachutes about 20 minutes 43 seconds after lift-off.”

K. Radhakrishnan, ISRO’s chairman, called the mission a “very significant day in India’s space history.”

Although in 2003, China became the third nation — after the Soviet Russia and the U.S. — to put humans in space, India beat its Asian rival earlier this year in placing a probe in orbit around Mars. It did so at a fraction of the cost compared to a similar U.S. Mars mission.

But The Associated Press notes that “experts say it will be several years before India can send astronauts into space.”

The AP writes: “India, which is striving to become a player in the multi-billion dollar space market, has successfully launched lighter satellites in recent years, but has faced problems sending up heavier payloads.”

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Book News: The Future Of The Public Library May Lie In The Coffee Shop

By Colin Dwyer on December 18th, 2014 | Last updated: December 18, 2014 at 1:40 pm

The daily lowdown on books, publishing and the occasional author behaving badly.

For a public library to expect to survive today, it must begin to take crucial cues from coffee shops. At least, that’s the key recommendation offered by a much-anticipated report on British public libraries, which is set to be released Thursday.

The Independent Library Report for England argues that, with help from the U.K. central government, public libraries must expand digital services, such as e-lending and free Wi-Fi, if they are to continue to be viable. Commissioned in February by the U.K. government and headed by publisher William Sieghart, the report also calls for the creation of a task force to come up with a unified strategy for implementing the changes.

According to the report, those changes must include standard Wi-Fi: “The wi-fi connection should be delivered in a comfortable, retail-standard environment, with the usual amenities of coffee, sofas and toilets.”

In comments to the British paper, The Independent, Sieghart expressed the situation of libraries more bluntly: “So they’re slated for closure while everyone’s in the Costa opposite, where there’s a loo, hot drinks and internet access.”

With more than 300 library closures in the U.K. since 2011, according to the Independent, Sieghart says the changes can’t come soon enough. “We’re at a critical moment for the libraries and if we’re not careful we could lose so many. I and a lot of people think it would be an absolute disaster.”

An E-Reader’s Evolution: On the occasion of the Kindle’s seventh anniversary, The Verge plunges deeply into the e-reader’s history — and the hopes its creators have in mind for the future.

“Between the web and social media, I read more than I ever have — and yet I read fewer books than ever,” writes reporter Casey Newton. “Reading over all my notes about the future of reading, I see I have reported it out of hope that books will evolve to repair what other technologies have started to break: my ability to concentrate over hundreds of pages.”

The Ivory Tower In The ‘Wild West': In Harvard Magazine, Craig Lambert lays out the tumultuous landscape of academic publishing, where tiny revenues spell high stakes. Caught between the implicit obligation to spread knowledge and the financial necessity of selling copies, these publishers face a paradox: “the conflict between the scholarly ideal of universal, open sharing of information, and the economic model of business: to make money by selling things,” as Lambert puts it.

As muddled as the situation may be, Robert Darnton, a scholar and former publisher, tells Lambert that this problem is a call to action: “Commercial interests have taken over the communication of knowledge, and we academics have to fight back.”

Booking ‘The Fly': The Hollywood Reporter notes that David Cronenberg’s grotesque foray into horror, The Fly, will be getting a sequel — only it will be in panels, not on the big screen. In a new comic book series called The Fly: Outbreak, writer Brandon Seifert and artist Menton J. Matthews III will track the tale of the “almost-human” son of the film’s misshapen protagonist.

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2014 Saw Fewest Executions In 20 Years, Report Finds

By Eyder Peralta on December 18th, 2014 | Last updated: December 18, 2014 at 1:40 pm

There was a significant drop in the number of executions and death penalty sentences in 2014, a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center finds.

The group’s year-end accounting finds that:

— States conducted 35 executions in 2014 — the lowest since 1994.

— And the justice system sentenced 72 people to death — the lowest number in 40 years.

Of course, this comes in a year when capital punishment took center stage in the news: first, because a drug shortage forced corrections systems across the country to tweak lethal injection cocktails; and second, because three states — Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona — botched executions.

The center, which opposes the death penalty, says the lull this year is due in part to the delay caused by those states’ attempts to investigate and correct what caused those prolonged executions.

While all of those cases brought up arguments both for and against the death penalty, public opinion has not budged.

A Gallup poll in October found that 63 percent of Americans support the death penalty. That number has remained steady for the past decade.

In related news: We’re getting new documents that shed light on what exactly happened when Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett. The documents were released as part of a court hearing weighing the constitutionality of the state’s execution process.

As the Tulsa World Herald reports, at the time of the execution, officials disputed the accounts of reporters who saw Lockett writhing and jerking. But testimony made public earlier this week described the execution as “a bloody mess.”

The Herald adds:

“Another witness said the scene ‘was like a horror movie’ as Lockett was bucking and attempting to raise himself off the gurney when he was supposed to be unconscious and dying.

“The paramedic who struggled to start numerous IVs that night told state investigators that ‘the process that day as a whole’ was ‘a cluster.’ ”

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Putin: Sanctions, Falling Oil Prices Causing Ruble’s Tumble

By Scott Neuman on December 18th, 2014 | Last updated: December 18, 2014 at 11:39 am

Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at the West in a year-end news conference today, blaming international sanctions and a steep plunge in oil prices for the precipitous drop in the value of the ruble.

Putin, speaking during a more than three-hour news conference attended by some 1,200 journalists, “promised never to let the West chain or defang his proud nation,” according to The Associated Press.

It was the second time this month that Putin has spoken in a nationwide forum about the country’s economic woes, and the Russian leader echoed and expanded on many of the points he espoused in his Dec. 4 “state of the union speech.”

He blamed “external factors,” including sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU over the Ukraine crisis as a key factor in the decline of the ruble, which plunged 19 percent in a single day on Tuesday, but has since shown signs of firming. Putin said the sanctions were about 25 to 30 percent of the ruble’s troubles.

NPR’s Corey Flintoff reports that Putin said the worst-case scenario would mean two years of economic unease, but that the government would protect pensions and government salaries until then. He also said the crisis will force Russia’s economy to diversify away from only exporting oil and gas.

According to the AP: “Putin displayed his traditional defiant stance toward the West, which he insisted is trying to destroy Russia to grab Siberia’s great natural resources.”

Referring to the annexation of Crimea and Russian support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, Putin said “I believe that we were right,” adding, “And I believe our Western partners are not right.”

The Kremlin’s moves in Ukraine came as Kiev mulled the possibility of joining NATO. The expansion of the Western alliance, Putin said, was akin to a new Berlin Wall — dividing East and West.

But the Russian leader hinted at conciliation with Ukraine. The New York Times writes:

Mr. Putin recognized the efforts of President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine in ending the conflict in the southeast of that country, but he suggested that others in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, may be trying to prolong the conflict.

“Undoubtedly, the president of Ukraine certainly wants a settlement, and I have no doubt that he is striving for this,” Mr. Putin said.

“But he’s not alone there,” he added, referring to more hawkish officials.

The Guardian notes that Putin: “said that it was illogical to blame him for current frosty relations with the west. Referring to the number of US military bases around the world and its deployment of anti-ballistic missiles in Europe, he asked how Russia could possibly be seen as the aggressor.”

The Russian leader said it was too early for him to decide if he would run for president in 2018.

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New Era For Cuba? Voices From Miami And Havana

By Eyder Peralta on December 18th, 2014 | Last updated: December 18, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Just hours after the United States and Cuba announced they were moving toward normalizing relations, crowds gathered in Havana and Miami trying to come to grips with a historic shift.

NPR covered the reaction in those two places with two pieces on Morning Edition.

NPR’s Greg Allen reported from Miami:

And NPR’s Lourdes Garcia Navarro spoke to Cuban dissidents from her perch in São Paulo:

Both places — Miami, the capital of the Cuban diaspora in the United States, and Havana, the seat of the Cuban government — had one thing in common: There was disagreement as to what this new era meant.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party in Cuba, reported that young people crowded the streets of Havana to celebrate the release of three Cuban spies.

The paper quotes Randy Pérez, who works at a bank, as saying: “We’re in a state of shock. This all has a huge psychological effect for all us Cubans because we’ve lived through years of uncertainty and tensions between Cuba and the United States. Suddenly, it appears everything will change. The speeches of President Castro and President Obama fill us with optimism.”

Yusnaby Perez, a Cuban blogger and dissident, responded on Twitter with humor tinged with cynicism:

Yoani Sánchez, perhaps Cuba’s most well-known dissident, wrote an op-ed piece in English, saying this plays directly into the Castro regime’s hand.

“In the game of politics, totalitarian regimes manage to win over democracies because the former control the public opinion inside their countries, determine all legal results to suit their purposes, and can continue to waste their nation’s resources trying to free the moles they sent to their adversary’s camp,” she wrote. “Democracies, however, end up conceding because they must answer to their own people, they must live with an incisive press that criticizes them for making or not making certain decisions, and because they are forced to do everything possible to bring their dead and alive back home.”

On Twitter, however, she took a markedly different view, saying that even though Raul Castro didn’t say it, all of this had the “bitter taste of defeat.”

In Miami, The Miami Herald found a hard line drawn between older Cuban immigrants and the younger crowd.

The paper headed to the hub for political conversation in the city: the cafe outside Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana. Here’s video of the confrontations:

Most of the interactions are in Spanish, but the gist is that one group is arguing that the policies implemented by the United States since the Cuban Revolution haven’t worked, and the other side is arguing that Obama is taking the side of a communist regime.

Still, as we also pointed out yesterday, the Herald notes that Miami has changed. In the past, thousands would have flooded the streets over a move like this. On Tuesday, however, the crowd was contained to Versailles:

“The largely tempered reaction showed this was not the Miami of 14 years ago, when people flooded the streets after federal agents seized young Elián González to return him to his father in Cuba.

“The man who was mayor at the time, Manny Diaz, said that was no surprise. People like him, a Cuban-born son of a political prisoner, are ‘just sick of the policy that has produced absolutely no change on the island.’

” ‘We have continued to be the scapegoat for a failed economic system in Cuba,’ said Diaz, a Democrat. ‘People continue to back a position that we took — rightfully so — back in 1961, at the height of the Cold War. But that was the Cold War, and this is today.’ ”

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Supreme Court Refuses To Block Arizona Driver’s Licenses For ‘Dreamers’

By Lauren Hodges on December 18th, 2014 | Last updated: December 18, 2014 at 10:40 am

Arizona hoped an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would prevent the state from having to grant driving permits to young undocumented immigrants, also known as “dreamers,” who entered the country as children. A federal appeals court ruled in July of this year that Arizona must start issuing the licenses to dreamers, who under Obama administration policy are permitted to remain in the United States.

NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported on the Supreme Court’s Wednesday decision and the background of the legal dispute:

“When Arizona refused to allow dreamers to get driver’s licenses, a group of these young adults challenged the action in court. A federal appeals court ruled that since the dreamers were likely to prevail, the state must go ahead and grant the licenses while the case is litigated. Arizona then appealed to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to block that order.”

The court’s decision, she says, ultimately did not go in the state’s favor.

“The justices, by a 6-to-3 vote, refused to intervene, at least for now. The three dissenters were Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito.”

The state has been fighting for more than two years to deny the licenses, beginning with an executive order by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in August 2012. The Arizona Republic published a timeline of the state’s legal actions surrounding the issue, showing Brewer issued the order on the same day President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program took effect. The program allows those undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. for two years in order to apply for immunity.

The Tucson Sentinel reported in November that a three-judge federal panel ruled that the state’s actions to deny licenses to dreamers was illegal and in violation of the president’s deferred action program.

“Over the summer, a three-judge panel said there was no legitimate interest in treating the Dreamers differently. Arguing that the state’s policy appears to be motivated by animosity to the young immigrants and is likely unconstitutional, the court ordered an injunction blocking Gov. Jan Brewer’s 2012 executive order.

” ‘We discern no rational relationship between defendants’ policy and a legitimate state interest,’ wrote Judge Harry Pregerson for the panel.”

The Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene clears the way for as many as 22,000 dreamers in Arizona to obtain legal permits to drive.

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S.C. Judge Says 1944 Execution Of 14-Year-Old Boy Was Wrong

By Bill Chappell on December 17th, 2014 | Last updated: December 18, 2014 at 10:39 am

An African-American boy, George Stinney Jr., who was executed at age 14 in the killing of two young white girls has been exonerated in South Carolina, 70 years after he became the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 1900s. A judge ruled he was denied due process.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Stinney’s sister, Katherine Stinney Robinson, 80, tells local newspaper The Manning Times. “I’m just thrilled because it’s overdue.”

In her ruling, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen wrote that she found that “fundamental, Constitutional violations of due process exist in the 1944 prosecution of George Stinney, Jr., and hereby vacates the judgment.”

The case was brought by Stinney Robinson and two of her surviving siblings.

“It took less than a day for a jury to convict George Stinney Jr. and send him to the electric chair,” NPR’S Hansi Lo Wang reports. “He was convicted of the deaths of 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames in deeply segregated Alcolu, S.C.”

Matt Burgess, an attorney for the Stinney family, tells Hansi, “There were no African-American people in that courthouse. It was a jury of 12 white men. Everyone in that courthouse was white.”

Stinney’s family has maintained he was innocent, insisting that he was too small to carry out such a crime and too naive to handle the pressure put on him by law enforcement officials.

Bolstered by a key ally in local historian and school board member George Frierson, family members have insisted that they didn’t want Stinney to be pardoned for a crime they believed he didn’t commit.

“There’s a difference: A pardon is forgiving someone for something they did,” Norma Robinson, George Stinney’s niece, tells the Manning Times. “That wasn’t an option for my mother, my aunt or my uncle. We weren’t asking forgiveness.”

George Stinney Jr. was executed less than three months after the two girls were murdered. His trial lasted just one day. After the jury needed less than 10 minutes to declare him guilty, no appeals were filed on his behalf.

“His executioners noted the electric chair straps didn’t fit him, and an electrode was too big for his leg,” The State newspaper reports. The paper adds, “It took Mullen nearly four times as long to issue her ruling as it took in 1944 to go from arrest to execution.”

The Manning Times notes that in her decision, Mullen granted a “writ of coram nobis, a rare legal doctrine held over from English law that ‘corrects errors of fact’ when no other remedy is available to the applicant.”

Back in 2004, NPR marked the 60th anniversary of Stinney’s death with a Sound Portrait featuring interviews with his sister, Katherine Stinney Robinson, and Lorraine Bailey, the sister of Betty June Binnicker.

The two women’s recollections are strikingly different — except in some aspects.

For instance, both of them recalled how fond they were of the siblings they lost. And they both think it’s possible their mothers “never got over it,” as Stinney Robinson said.

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U.S. Officials Believe North Korea Was Behind Sony Hack

By Bill Chappell on December 17th, 2014 | Last updated: December 17, 2014 at 9:38 pm

The recent attack on Sony Pictures’ computer network that resulted in a flood of embarrassing emails and pirated movies has its origins in North Korea, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

More details about the U.S. investigation into the hacking attack could emerge as early as Wednesday night.

Within days of the hacking attack, many began to speculate that it might have been the work of North Korea, sparked by anger over the Sony film The Interview, a spoof comedy in which James Franco and Seth Rogen attempt to assassinate Kim Jong Un.

Update at 9:25 p.m. ET: U.S. Is ‘Weighing A Potential Response’

Responding to numerous requests for comment, National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan released a statement that did not directly address the topic of North Korea’s role. It reads, in part:

“The United States is investigating attribution and will provide an update at the appropriate time. The U.S. government is working tirelessly to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, and we are considering a range of options in weighing a potential response.”

Meehan also noted that the FBI is leading the investigation.

Our original post continues:

The news comes hours after Sony said it will cancel the Christmas Day release of The Interview, citing threats made by a group that has claimed responsibility for the hack. Those threats had already led to reports that five large U.S. film distributors would not show the film in their theaters.

As NPR’s Krishnadev Calamur reported earlier for the Two-Way:

“A hackers group called Guardians of Peace, in a statement on Tuesday, warned theaters against screening the film.

” ‘The world will be full of fear,’ the group said. ‘Remember the 11th of September 2001.’

“The Department of Homeland Security, however, has said that it does not perceive a credible threat.”

In the weeks since the computer breach, the hackers have released scripts of future Sony movies as well as copies of several full-length films that have already been made but not released in theaters. They also released personal information about Sony employees.

Responding to reports that several theater chains wouldn’t screen The Interview, director Judd Apatow called the decision “disgraceful.” Earlier, he had tweeted, “I am not going to let a terrorist threat shut down freedom of speech. I am going to The Interview.”

Apatow tells The Los Angeles Times:

“There may be credible evidence of imminent violence that I don’t know about. But if they don’t really have that information, how many movies are they willing not to release? Our community is based on freedom of expression. Are we going to suppress ourselves every time someone posts something online? It’s a dark future.”

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