Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

July 20 2014 1:57 PM

Rebels Say They’ve Found MH17 Black Box, Begin Loading Bodies Onto Refrigerated Trains

As negotiations continue on international access to the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, the separatist rebels controlling the area, who have been accused of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines plane, say they have recovered the aircraft’s black boxes and will hand them over to the International Civil Aviation Organization. "Some items, presumably the black boxes, were found, and they have been delivered to Donetsk and they are under our control," Aleksander Borodai, prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, said in a news conference.

Meanwhile, confusion at the crash site continued on Sunday, as Agence France Presse reports, “it was immediately not clear Sunday if the rebels and the Ukrainian government were working together or at odds with each other on recovering the bodies – and from their comments, many officials didn’t appear to know either.” The rebel’s management of the crash site and the restricted, disjointed effort to investigate the scene has been a source of contention and frustration. The separatists have been criticized for their handling of the hundreds of bodies at the scene and Sunday’s efforts were similarly scrutinized as the remains of some 196 people were “loaded on to refrigerated rail wagons, to be taken to an unknown destination,” the BBC reports. "The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive," Borodai said.

"The indiscipline and chaos of the last two days have been replaced by the robust presence of former riot policemen who now form a cordon around the central area of the crash site,” the BBC correspondent in region writes. “There is still no sign of the fully fledged independent investigation which is being demanded by the international community.” “Borodai said he was expecting a team of 12 Malaysian experts and that he was disappointed at how long they had taken to arrive,” the Associated Press reports. “He insisted that rebels had not interfered with the crash investigation, despite reports to the contrary by international monitors and journalists at the crash site.”

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July 20 2014 12:55 PM

John Kerry Appears to Criticize Israel’s Gaza Offensive During Hot Mic Moment

During Secretary of State John Kerry’s tour of the Sunday morning talk show circuit Kerry was caught on a hot mic discussing the conflict in Gaza with an aide on the phone before going on air on “Fox News Sunday.” Once on air during the interview, the show’s host, Chris Wallace, played the clip of the phone conversation where Kerry comments on Israel’s ongoing offensive in Gaza, saying: "It's a hell of a pinpoint operation. It's a hell of a pinpoint operation.” 

Kerry’s remark appears to be sarcastic and, the Washington Post points out, “an apparent reference to Israel's insistence that its incursion into the region would be limited.” "It's escalating significantly and it just underscores the need for a ceasefire," the aide responded before Kerry finishes the conversation saying: "We've got to get over there. I think we ought to go tonight” calling it "crazy" to be "sitting around." After playing the clip Wallace followed up, asking: "When you said it's a hell of a pinpoint operation are you upset that the Israelis are going too far?"

July 20 2014 11:55 AM

Two-Hour Gaza Truce Falls Apart Shortly After It Begins as Fighting Resumes

A two-hour so-called humanitarian truce in Gaza fell apart not long after it began on Sunday. The mutually agreed to temporary ceasefire to allow for the evacuation of the wounded began at 1:30 p.m. local time, but the BBC reports the brief respite from the fighting didn’t even last an hour before shots were again being fired. Both sides blamed the other for reneging on the deal. “Israel's military said its forces were shot at shortly after the two-hour truce, facilitated by the Red Cross, had begun at 1:30 pm, and that it had resumed combat operations,” Reuters reports.

The ceasefire targeted Gaza's Shejaiya neighborhood, which was bombarded by Israeli forces overnight, killing at least 40 and wounding 400 others, according to Agence France Presse. “The intensity of the bombardment prevented emergency services from accessing the neighbourhood and dead bodies lay in the streets as thousands fled in terror,” AFP reports.

Here’s more on the state of Shejaiya from the BBC’s correspondent on the ground:

When we arrived at the edge of the neighbourhood, Palestinians were still fleeing in their hundreds: carrying nothing but their children, some pausing to vent their anger in front of cameras. They spoke of bodies lying in the street and the wreckage of buildings, including a mosque. After a night of ferocious bombardment, they seem traumatised and stunned. For three days, Israel had warned them to leave their homes, but Shejaiya is home to 80,000 people. Most stayed put, not expecting the ferocity of last night's bombardment.

The Israeli offensive, now in its twelfth day, “has killed at least 360 Palestinians and wounded some 3,000,” according to NPR.  “At least eight Israelis have been killed in the latest fighting.”

July 20 2014 10:36 AM

U.S. HIV Infection Rate Falls By a Third in a Decade

A new study shows that the rate of HIV infections diagnosed in the U.S. declined by a third over the last decade. The Journal of the American Medical Association study found 24 people out of 100,000 had HIV in 2002 and by 2011 that number had fallen to 16 people for every 100,000. During that period a total of 493,372 were diagnosed with HIV. Within the context of the overall decline “declines were also seen in the rates for men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, heterosexuals, injection drug users and most age groups,” the BBC reports. The only groups to see diagnoses increase were gay and bisexual men. The World Health Organization estimates more than one million Americans have HIV and 18 percent of them are unaware that they have it.

Another positive sign is the decline of HIV in the U.S. comes as testing has increased. “Although experts say reasons for the US decline in infections are unknown, it is in line with a global downturn in the Aids epidemic,” according to the BBC. “Last week, the United Nations said that there were 2.1 million new HIV infections worldwide in 2013, down 38% from 2001.”

July 19 2014 1:43 PM

World’s Second Richest Man Thinks You Should Only Be Working Three Days a Week

You’re working too much. Everyone in the world has certainly had that thought before. Somewhat shockingly, a billionaire 1-percenter actually agrees with you. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the world’s second richest person, thinks you should be working far less—try three days a week. There is, of course, a tradeoff; with people living longer you’re also going to have to work until later in life, Slim says. “People are going to have to work for more years, until they are 70 or 75, and just work three days a week – perhaps 11 hours a day,” Slim says.

Here’s more on Slim’s idea for a “radical overhaul” of our working lives from the Financial Times:

“With three work days a week, we would have more time to relax; for quality of life. Having four days [off] would be very important to generate new entertainment activities and other ways of being occupied.”
The 74-year-old self-made magnate believes that such a move would generate a healthier and more productive labour force, while tackling financial challenges linked to longevity. He is putting his money where his mouth is. In his Telmex fixed-line phone company in Mexico, where workers on a collective labour contract who joined the company in their late teens are eligible to retire before they are 50, he has instituted a voluntary scheme allowing such workers to keep working, on full pay, but for only four days a week.

July 19 2014 1:05 PM

400,000 People Sign Petition to #FreeArturo the “Sad” Polar Bear From Argentina Zoo

The Internet of good intentions has found a new cause to rally around. This time the cause is, in fact, a polar bear named Arturo. Arturo is a resident at the Mendoza Zoo in Argentina and therein lies the problem. Activists described “deplorable conditions,” the polar bear lives. “The bear, 29, has been seen pacing in his pen and showing behavior some have likened to depression,” according to the BBC, which has led to Arturo being nicknamed “the world’s saddest animal.”

Arturo’s plight has been ricocheting around the Internet after a Change.org petition sprung up requesting the polar bear be moved to a zoo in Canada “where a natural habitat and a better life is awaiting him.” More than 430,000 people have signed on to the petition spawning a #FreeArturo hashtag on Twitter. Newt has even joined the cause.

July 19 2014 12:11 PM

Bodies Decomposing at MH17 Crash Site as Rebels Limit Investigation

The world is still trying to piece together exactly what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but that challenge has been made even more difficult by the fact that the plane is in rebel-held territory in Ukraine. The team of international observers dispatched to the area has said the pro-Russia separatists, thought to have shot down MH13, are not giving them free reign to investigate the crash site.

Michael Bociurkiw, one of the monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe team, said the restrictions on their work counter the access rebel leaders had promised. "A visibly intoxicated armed guard fired his rifle in the air when one of the observers walked out of the prescribed area," Bociurkiw said. “The 25 monitors withdrew after just over an hour, having been unable to set up an access corridor for specialist teams to investigate the crash, he added, according to a BBC report. “Several bodies had been marked but left exposed to the elements, Mr Bociurkiw said, and rescue workers were unable to indicate whose responsibility it would be to remove them.”

Here’s more on the state of play at the crash site from the Wall Street Journal:

When international observers arrived for the first time at the Flight 17 crash site outside this separatist-held capital on Friday afternoon, they found what they described as a field of already decomposing body parts and debris, lacking a secure cordon or any discernible on-site management. It was guarded by armed irregulars, some of whom the observers accused of being drunk.
The visit of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, limited to 75 minutes and two areas of debris, and marked by rebel gunfire into the air, didn't bode well for the prospects of the thorough, objective investigation into the Boeing 777's crash that the international community has demanded. Their experience underscored the challenges of securing and investigating such a complex disaster in a self-declared republic in the throes of conflict.
Rain started to fall on Friday and the temperature dropped as body parts, suitcases and personal belongings remained strewn across the landscape. Rebel militiamen guarded the territory and stood by some of the central pieces cordoned off with tape, according to one person who visited the area, but the OSCE said the territory didn't have the sort of full secure perimeter expected of an investigation site.

CNN reports two days after crash, “some bodies remained strapped in seat belts -- wearing inflight headphones.” Here’s more from CNN:

Conspicuously missing at the crash site near Torez were international forensic workers needed to secure and sort the wreckage, and a recovery crew to identify and remove with dignity the bodies… A few things have been moved. Luggage was stacked in piles; mementos, children's toys were handled. Most everything is unguarded, there for the curious -- or for the taking.

July 18 2014 5:05 PM

NYPD Suspect Dies After Being Put in Chokehold, a Move Prohibited by NYPD's Own Rules

A 43-year-old man named Eric Garner being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes died after an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold—a move prohibited by NYPD rules—and the incident was captured on video obtained by the New York Daily News during which Garner can be heard telling officers he is unable to breathe.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio issued his "deepest condolences" to Garner's family and said that the NYPD and local prosecutors are investigating the incident.

July 18 2014 4:29 PM

Rebel Leader Suggests Some MH17 Victims Were Killed Before Plane Took Off

Igor Girkin, identified by the Associated Press as a "top pro-Russia rebel commander," is promoting a conspiracy theory about the crash of MH17:

The pro-rebel website Russkaya Vesna on Friday quoted Igor Girkin as saying he was told by people at the crash site that "a significant number of the bodies weren't fresh," adding that he was told they were drained of blood and reeked of decomposition.

Girkin, who also goes by the name Igor Strelkov, says "a large amount of blood serum and medications were found in the wreckage."

The veracity of Girkin's assertions depend, of course, on how much stock you put in secondhand accounts of forensic conclusions drawn by untrained Russian nationalists who have spent less than a day studying the widely scattered wreckage of an airplane that has just fallen 30,000 feet.

July 18 2014 3:53 PM

The United States Executes a Tiny Percentage of the People it Sends to Death Row

On the heels of a California judge's ruling that the state's death penalty is unconstitutional because its death sentences are so rarely and arbitrarily carried out, the New York Times' Upshot site looks at the large disparity nationwide between the number of convicts sent to death row and the number that are actually executed.

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New York Times

With over 3,000 individuals on death row and the country executing about 50 prisoners a year, it would take around 60 years just to close all current death penalty cases. Many convicts die of natural causes before their sentences are carried out—and Times writer Justin Wolfers, an economist, points to a study that suggests life inside prison might actually be safer than life outside it for the demographic of (ostensibly) violent and unhealthy individuals who end up on death row. Wolfers calls the slow rate of executions a "political equilibrium" for a citizenry that supports executions in theory but is made uncomfortable by actually seeing them carried out—and by his estimate, if we actually captured and executed everyone who committed a crime hypothetically punishable by death, there would be around seven executions in the United States every day.

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