Tensions have escalated with North Korea over the passage of new U.N. sanctions. On Thursday, the North Korean regime said it would cancel its peace pacts with South Korea and cut off a hotline between the two countries. The regime also threatened to launch preemptive attacks on the United States. The moves came as the Security Council approved a new round of sanctions drafted by the United States in response to North Korea’s third nuclear test last month. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, dismissed North Korea’s latest threats.
Susan Rice: "North Korea will achieve nothing by continued threats and provocations. These will only further isolate the country and its people and undermine international efforts to promote peace and stability in northeast Asia."
The new sanctions add more North Korean government officials to a U.N. blacklist and tighten controls on North Korean finances. An annual U.S.-South Korea military drill is underway, and both North Korea and South Korea are planning more military exercises next week, heightening fears of an incident on the border.
The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is being laid to rest today at a state funeral in Caracas. The Venezuelan government says more than two million people have already come to view his casket as he lies in state. On Thursday, acting President Nicolás Maduro announced a seven-day extension of the country’s mourning period. Chávez’s body will be embalmed and displayed in a military museum after the funeral.
The Senate has approved the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, ending a prolonged confirmation process that lagged over the Obama administration’s targeted assassination program. Brennan was confirmed with a 62-to-34 vote. Dubbed by critics President Obama’s "assassination czar," Brennan has overseen U.S. targeted killings overseas. A vote on his bid was delayed several times over the administration’s refusal to release Justice Department memos explaining the drone program’s legal basis. Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Jeff Merkley and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders broke with the Democratic caucus to vote against Brennan’s nomination.
The vote was held one day after Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s nearly 13-hour filibuster seeking to block Brennan’s nomination. Paul challenged Brennan’s bid over the Obama administration’s refusal to rule out drone strikes on U.S. soil. On Thursday, Paul received a new letter from Attorney General Eric Holder clarifying the administration’s stance. Holder wrote: "'Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' The answer to that question is no." Paul says he is satisfied with the answer.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a measure that would for the first time make it a crime to illegally purchase firearms for another person. The vote came as the panel began debating a proposal to ban military assault rifles, an effort that has far less support. The bill’s author, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, spoke in favor of its passage.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: "While homicides, in general, are down in this country, mass killings are not. And the fact is that these assault weapons have a great attraction for grievance killers, the people that go into law offices, as they did in San Francisco, and shoot down 40 — 14 people, the man who went into the Aurora theater just to kill people with a 100-round drum in an assault weapons. And we’ve seen it in universities. We’ve seen them in elementary schools. And now we have seen them used against first graders. The time has come, America, to step up and ban these weapons."
President Obama has signed into law an expanded reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, with new provisions for Native American and LGBT people. Initially passed in 1994, the bill lapsed in 2011 after Republicans blocked it over the new protections. The measure was approved after House Republicans finally allowed a vote last week. Obama signed the bill on the eve of International Women’s Day.
The son-in-law of Osama bin Laden is due to appear in a New York federal court today to face terrorism charges following his extradition from Jordan. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was reportedly detained by Turkey last month after he crossed over from Iran. Turkish officials apparently rejected Washington’s demands that Abu Ghaith be handed over to U.S. custody. He was instead deported to Kuwait, but U.S. agents seized him during a stopover in Jordan. He is reportedly being charged with conspiracy to kill Americans, although he is not accused of taking part in any plots, including the 9/11 attacks. Abu Ghaith is said to be the most senior al-Qaeda figure to face criminal trial in New York since 9/11.
A Philadelphia commission has voted to close 23 of the city’s public schools, around one-tenth of its total. Citing a massive budget crunch, the panel rejected the district’s proposal to close just four of the 27 schools up for review. At least 19 protesters were arrested at the public session before the vote, including Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. Hundreds more rallied against the closures outside, chanting and blocking a major road. The school district says the closings are needed to close a budget deficit of $1.35 billion over five years. Opponents say the closures will further overcrowd the education system and threaten students forced to walk through dangerous neighborhoods farther from home.
The Wisconsin State Assembly has approved a measure backing the opening of a controversial iron ore mine. The mining company Gogebic Taconite is seeking to develop a $1.5 billion mine in portions of northwestern Wisconsin. Critics say it will endanger public health through the pollution of air and groundwater. If signed into law by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the measure would create a 420-day window for state officials to approve or deny the mine’s permit.
A homeless woman in Connecticut has been sentenced to prison for using a fake address to enroll her son in a public school outside of her former district. Tonya McDowell, who is black, listed her babysitter’s address so her son could attend a school in Norwalk, instead of Bridgeport, where she used to live. Now living out of a van, McDowell occasionally has stayed at a homeless shelter in Norwalk. She was accused of stealing over $15,000 in "free" educational services for her son. Coupled with other charges for selling illegal drugs, she was given a 12-year sentence in prison, suspended after she serves five years. Her attorney, Darnell Crosland, said: "You shouldn’t be arrested for stealing a free education. It’s just wrong."
A Palestinian demonstrator shot by Israeli forces last month has died of his wounds. Twenty-two-year-old Mohammed Asfour was taking part in West Bank protests over the death of Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian prisoner who died in Israeli custody. The Israeli government claims Jaradat died of a heart attack, but Palestinians say he succumbed to wounds sustained during a brutal torture. Asfour died from wounds sustained when Israeli troops shot him in the head with a rubber-coated bullet.
New figures show global temperatures have reached their hottest point in at least 4,000 years. Previous research extended back 1,500 years. In an article published in the journal Science, the study’s authors warn the coming decades are likely to surpass heat levels not seen since before the last ice age.