Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is expected to request a longer tenure for U.S. troops in Afghanistan during a White House meeting with President Obama today. Obama has vowed to remove half of the 10,000 troops currently in Afghanistan in the coming months, and all but 1,000 by the end of his term in early 2017. But recent reports say the administration is poised to reverse that pledge. The United States is also pledging to continue funding Afghan security forces at a peak level of 352,000 personnel, at a cost of billions of dollars per year. The talks come as gunmen in eastern Afghanistan attacked vehicles on a highway, killing 13 people, and as protests have erupted over the mob killing of a woman in the capital Kabul.
The United Nations says it will broker talks in Qatar aimed at preventing Yemen from dissolving into a full-scale civil war. The country appears on the brink of collapse amid fierce clashes between Shiite Houthi rebels and military units loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has vowed to take “necessary measures” against the Houthis if a deal is not reached.
A passenger plane operated by Lufthansa’s Germanwings airline has crashed in southern France with nearly 150 people on board. The Airbus 320 was flying from Barcelona to Dusseldorf when it went down in the French Alps. French President François Hollande said there are likely no survivors.
Texas Republican senator and tea party favorite Ted Cruz has announced his candidacy for president. In a speech at the evangelical Liberty University, Cruz rolled out an agenda which includes reversing Obamacare, militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border, rolling back abortion rights and same-sex marriage and strengthening support for Israel.
Sen. Ted Cruz: “I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is why today I am announcing that I’m running for president of the United States. … Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu, imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed an emergency motion to block Wisconsin’s voter ID law after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal and left the law in place. The measure threatens to disenfranchise an estimated 300,000 people who lack adequate identification. A lower-court judge had noted there was only one documented case of voter fraud in Wisconsin over a period of eight years. Critics say the law signed by Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker and others like it nationwide seek to block votes by the poor and people of color, who tend to vote Democratic. The law will not be in effect for April elections.
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to side with the state of Texas over its rejection of a license plate bearing the Confederate flag. An attorney for the group Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans argued any type of hate speech should be allowed on license plates under the First Amendment, but the justices appeared to reject that idea.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has criticized the system of mass incarceration in the United States, saying it relies too heavily on solitary confinement and is “broken.” Kennedy, seen as the most moderate voice on the court, and often a key swing vote, made the comments before a House panel.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: “We had a case come before our court a few weeks ago. The prisoner had been in an isolation cell, according to the attorney — I haven’t checked it out — for 25 years. Solitary confinement literally drives men mad. Even Dr. Manette had his workbench and his cobblers’ tools in Tower 105 North, and even he lost his mind. And we simply have to look at this system that we have. … We haven’t given nearly enough study, nearly enough thought, nearly enough investigative resources to looking at our corrections system. In many respects, I think it’s broken.”
An Arizona woman who spent 22 years on death row has seen the murder charges against her dismissed. Debra Jean Milke was convicted of recruiting two male friends to kill her four-year-old son in a case that rested heavily on a now-discredited detective’s claim Milke had confessed. Milke has been out on bond since her conviction was thrown out in 2013, and on Monday, a judge ordered her electronic monitoring anklet removed.
Utah has become the only state to allow firing squads for executions. Gov. Gary Herbert signed the new measure allowing the state to use the firing squad if lethal injection drugs are not available. The drugs have been difficult to obtain because European manufacturers refuse to sell them for U.S. executions.
A new Justice Department report criticizes the Philadelphia Police Department over inadequate training and secrecy surrounding shootings. The probe, requested by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, found police in Philadelphia fired at people about once a week on average in recent years. In some of those years, Philadelphia saw more police shootings than New York City, a municipality with five times the number of residents and officers. Eighty percent of shooting victims were African-American. The report comes just days after prosecutors said they would not press charges against officers who fatally shot Brandon Tate-Brown, an African American they say reached for a gun during a traffic stop. His family disputes the police account.
Police in Charlottesville, Virginia, say an investigation into an alleged gang rape at a fraternity reported by Rolling Stone magazine has failed to uncover evidence of a crime. Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said the outcome “doesn’t mean that something terrible didn’t happen to [the victim] Jackie.” Rolling Stone has acknowledged discrepancies in details described by Jackie, who did not participate in the police investigation. When the article came out, UVA was already under federal investigation for its handling of sexual assault, along with a growing list which now includes more than 90 other schools.
In Japan, the governor of Okinawa has ordered a halt to construction of a new U.S. military base there. Takeshi Onaga was elected last year on a platform of stopping the base. He has given the Japanese Defense Ministry a week to stop construction following the discovery massive concrete blocks dropped into the sea as part of the project had damaged coral reefs. The Japanese government has vowed to press ahead with construction, setting up a possible legal battle. Okinawa houses about 26,000 U.S. troops, and their presence has been the subject of protests for decades.
El Salvador has marked the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero. Known as the “voice of the voiceless,” Archbishop Romero was an advocate for the poor and a leading critic of the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military government. He was killed 35 years ago today by members of a U.S.-backed death squad while he delivered mass at a hospital chapel. His assassination was ordered by Salvadoran military officer Roberto d’Aubuisson, a graduate of the U.S.-run School of the Americas. Pope Francis recently declared Romero a martyr, paving the way for possible sainthood. On Monday, Romero’s supporters marched with paper lanterns in the capital San Salvador. Evelyn López was among them.
Evelyn López: “It’s a sign to remind us of his life, to shine a light on our path, to guide what we should do, and to give us strength, too.”
An undocumented father of two who has sought sanctuary from deportation in a Denver, Colorado, church for the past five months has had his request to stay his deportation denied. Arturo Hernández García has lived in the United States for over 25 years. He plans to remain in the church and continue fighting his deportation. Click here to watch the recent Democracy Now! interview with him inside the church.
In upstate New York, a judge has dismissed charges against 42 protesters arrested for civil disobedience against plans by the firm Crestwood Midstream to expand gas storage in caverns at Seneca Lake. According to the group We Are Seneca Lake, Judge Raymond Berry dismissed the charges “in the interests of justice,” and commended the protesters, saying, “I’m very proud of you. You had a cause and you fought for it to the best of your ability.” Another 100 protesters arrested as part of the campaign will also see their charges dismissed.
The author Naomi Klein and investigative journalist David Sirota have jointly won the seventh annual Izzy Award, presented by the Park Center for Independent Media, and named for legendary dissident journalist, I.F. Stone. The judges praised Klein’s “groundbreaking book,” titled This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, and Sirota’s exposés on corruption in the pension system. Jeff Cohen, director of the Park Center for Independent Media, said in a statement, “Naomi Klein and David Sirota are the journalistic heirs of I.F. Stone, taking on the most powerful forces in society — from Wall Street to Big Oil & Gas — and giving voice to the victims of predatory capitalism.”