The Slatest
Your News Companion

April 20 2015 11:07 PM

U.S. Stations Aircraft Carrier Off Yemen Coast to Deter Iranian Support for Rebels

The U.S. Navy on Tuesday dispatched an aircraft carrier to the waters around Yemen as a heightened response to Iran supplying Houthi rebels in their fight against the U.S.-backed Yemeni regime that is currently in hiding. The USS Theodore Roosevelt is meant to be a deterrent in the Gulf of Aden after the U.N. Security Council voted last week to impose an arms embargo on the Shiite rebel group.

“The U.S. Navy has been beefing up its presence in the Gulf of Aden and the southern Arabian Sea in response to reports that a convoy of about eight Iranian ships is heading toward Yemen and possibly carrying arms for the Houthis,” according to the Associated Press. “Navy officials said there are about nine U.S. warships in the region, including cruisers and destroyers carrying teams that can board and search other vessels.”

Advertisement

The strategic positioning of military assets comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-Iran relations. The U.S. has provided logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led military campaign against the Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. The U.S. and Iran are currently deep into delicate nuclear negotiations. A Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian has also been charged with espionage after nearly a year in detention.

Video Advertisement

April 20 2015 9:58 PM

Largest Bird Flu Outbreak in U.S. Poultry; At Least 3.8 Million Iowa Hens to Be Euthanized

The Department of Agriculture announced on Monday the U.S.’ largest outbreak of avian influenza, or bird flu, in Iowa at a commercial egg laying facility that is home to 3.8 million hens. The deadly strain of the virus means as many as 5.3 million birds could need to be euthanized, the Des Moines Register reports. The deadly virus is capable of killing an entire flock in 48 hours. The infected birds were being raised at Sunrise Farms, an affiliate of Sonstegard Foods Company, according to Reuters.

Iowa is the top egg producer in the U.S. with nearly one-in-five eggs consumed in the U.S. coming from the state. The affected farm accounts for 10 percent of the state’s egg-laying hens, according to the Associated Press. Iowa is one of 12 states to have confirmed cases of bird flu this year; Wisconsin declared a state of emergency to try to contain the outbreak there. “Several Midwestern states have been affected by the outbreaks, costing turkey and chicken producers nearly 7.8 million birds since March,” according to the AP. “The virus was first detected in Minnesota, the country's top turkey-producing state, in early March.”

Advertisement

“Federal and state health officials consider the risk to people to be low from these infections in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry,” according to the Register. “No human infections with the virus have ever been detected.”

April 20 2015 8:08 PM

U.S. Government Wants Humpback Whales Off Endangered Species List

The U.S. government on Monday recommended taking the humpback whale off the endangered species list 45 years after they were first listed as endangered. The change reflects the general success of conservation efforts that have helped the whale population rebound, as well as a growing understanding of the species and its existence in distinct populations that have recovered at differing rates and face distinct challenges in conservation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries proposed “reclassify[ing] the humpback whale into 14 distinct population segments under the Endangered Species Act, providing a more tailored conservation approach.” Here’s more from NOAA on the reasoning behind the suggested change:

Protection and restoration efforts over the past 40 years have led to an increase in numbers and growth rates for humpback whales in many areas. The humpback whale is currently listed as endangered throughout its range. The proposed rule finds that ten of those 14 populations do not warrant ESA listing… Also under the proposal, two of the other four populations would be listed as endangered and the remaining two would be listed as threatened. If the proposal is finalized, the humpback whale populations that would no longer be listed under the ESA would remain protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act… The two populations proposed as threatened – the Central America and the Western North Pacific – at times enter U.S. waters. Two other populations that do not enter U.S. waters – in the Arabian Sea and off Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa – would remain listed as endangered.
Advertisement

The humpback whale was first listed as endangered in 1970 following a global ban on commercial whaling.

April 20 2015 7:05 PM

Accused of Retaliating Against Workers, Walmart Says It Closed Stores Over Plumbing Problems

Following the abrupt shutdown of five stores for what the company calls plumbing problems, Walmart is the subject of a complaint lodged Monday with the National Labor Relations Board alleging the closures are a "retaliatory" move meant to punish workers for demanding better pay and conditions.

Forbes reports that the history of activism at the now-closed Pico Rivera, California store, the site of the earliest wage protests in 2012 of worker group OUR Walmart and a target for demonstrations ever since, might have played a role in Walmart's decision to include Pico Rivera in the list of locations marked for extended closure.

[T]he retail giant, which employs 1.3 million workers in the United States, temporarily closed five stores—two in Texas and one each in California, Florida, and Oklahoma—for six months of plumbing repairs. The stores closed at 7 p.m. on April 13, which gave workers just a few hours notice that they were losing their jobs. The company provided two months of paid leave for both full-time and part-time workers. Employees could try to transfer to a different Walmart location during that time. Full-time workers who fail to find another Walmart job are eligible for severance starting June 19, but part-time workers aren’t entitled to that benefit.
Advertisement

A Walmart spokeswoman told NBC that the lost jobs were "not layoffs" and that rather than being recalled, employees will have to reapply as new applicants when the stores reopen. The NLRB complaint, filed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, asks for an injunction forcing Walmart to reinstate the 2,200 workers displaced by the closures. 

Brian Nick, Walmart's Director of National Media Relations, told Slate by email that "it would be unfortunate if this outside group [UFCWI] attempts to slow this process down for our associates and customers." Nick further stated that while closing down a store with only a few hours of notice might be unusual, it was nothing nefarious.

To your question, this is not a typical occurrence but a decision that wasn’t taken likely to address serious issues at these stores. We did close a handful of stores this year that will not reopen, unlike these five stores that will reopen with improvements. All associates were notified at once. The difficult decision to temporarily close these stores were made for the stated reasons and not any other motives.  

While Walmart has announced a few initiatives recently to ease tensions with its lowest-paid workers—including instituting a modest wage hike and eliminating a layer of management for workers to navigate at the store level—the company continues to strenuously resist efforts at unionization. The support garnered by OUR Walmart over the past three years represents the closest Walmart employees have come to formally joining a union.

Walmart insists the affected workers can ask for their jobs back when the stores reopen with buildings equipped to "better serve our customers and the community in the long run." There's no telling exactly how long that will take; an ABC affiliate in Tampa reports that Walmart has not sought any permits to perform plumbing work at those locations.

April 20 2015 5:45 PM

Dr. Oz Critic Was Once Jailed for Medicaid Fraud

Last week ten prominent physicians wrote a letter to Columbia University calling the school's employment of heart surgeon and television personality Mehmet Oz "unacceptable" in light of Oz's frequent endorsement of dubious weight-loss pills and other products with no known medical value. In an April 17 blog post, one Oz critic who didn't sign the letter noted that some of those who did were affiliated with a controversial group called the American Council on Science and Health, which accepts corporate funding and has been described as "pro-industry." (As in pro-pharmaceutical industry, pro-agribusiness industry, etc. Dr. Oz has been criticized for unsupported skeptcism of certain agricultral practices.)

As it turns out, one of the ACSH signatories—Gilbert Ross, its executive director—spent time prison on Medicaid-fraud charges. From Mother Jones:

Instead of tending to patients, Ross spent all of 1996 at a federal prison camp in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, having being sentenced to 46 months in prison for his participation in a scheme that ultimately defrauded New York's Medicaid program of approximately $8 million. During a three-and-a-half-week jury trial, federal prosecutors laid bare Ross' participation in an enterprise, headed by one Mohammed Sohail Khan, to operate four sham medical clinics in New York City. For his scam to work, Khan needed doctors who could qualify as Medicaid providers, and Ross responded to an ad in the New York Times promising "Very, very good $$."
Advertisement

The clinics reportedly scammed the government by conducting (and being reimbursed for) unnecessary procedures and tests on "indigent patients." In addition to the prison sentence, Ross had his medical license revoked (it has since been reinstated). He began working for the ACSH in 1998.

April 20 2015 4:40 PM

ISIS’s Violence Is Its Message

With its kneeling prisoners in orange jumpsuits and masked, knife-wielding executioners, the video of the shooting and beheading of 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya, released today, features all the trademarks ISIS has become known for. Even before ISIS was ISIS, beheading videos earned Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of what was then called al-Qaida in Iraq, the nickname Sheikh of the Slaughterers.

But these videos also earned Zarqawi a rebuke from his boss, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who told him in a 2005 letter that “We are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma,” and that the “zealous young men” surrounding him “do not express the general view of the admirer and the supporter of the resistance in Iraq,” who would never find such gory spectacles “palatable.” Zarqawi didn’t take the advice.

Advertisement

Nine years later, when social media is allowing videotaped snuff films like today’s to reach an audience Zarqawi could only have dreamed of, it seems that both jihadist leaders had a point. ISIS’s boastful savagery has enraged public opinion in the Muslim world, including among some who might otherwise support its fight against Western-backed governments and efforts to establish Shariah. At the same time, while ISIS doesn’t have much outside support, it does have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of “zealous young men”: The number of foreign fighters flocking to join the group is increasing at an alarming rate. They do not seem put off by beheading videos.

ISIS isn’t the first terrorist group to film acts of torture and violence against prisoners, but the “deliberate cultivation of ultraviolence” is more central to its propaganda than it was to its predecessors. One of its foundational texts is titled Management of Savagery. The U.S. government condemned the Libya video, saying it “lays bare the terrorists’ vicious, senseless brutality,” but that brutality is exactly the point. The group’s “theater of cruelty,” as Hussein Ibish has called it, is aimed less at its enemies than at these potential recruits, and the gore as much as the group’s ideological message appears to be what’s drawing all disaffected angry young men—and some women—to fight with them.   

Zawahiri saw ISIS’s vicious videos as a liability for the al-Qaida brand, but it’s ISIS that’s winning the propaganda and recruitment war. This was underlined by today’s arrest of six Somali Americans, charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, and allegedly recruiting for ISIS in Minneapolis and San Diego. Authorities once focused on the Somali communities in these cities as potential recruitment pools for Somalia’s al-Shabaab, but as a report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point from last fall noted, “reports indicate that ethnic Somali men who might once have been lured by the cultural appeal of [Shabaab] are now instead heading to the unlikely destination of Syria.”

An attack that killed 33 civilians outside a bank in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, over the weekend—the first attack claimed by ISIS in the country—also underlined what experts had been warning of for months: that factions of the Taliban are breaking off to form new groups dedicated to the Islamic State’s brand of media-savvy carnage.

At the moment, it seems less like ISIS is a group using violence to advance a message, than a group whose message is violence, and unfortunately, it’s finding a growing audience.

April 20 2015 4:32 PM

Police Report Says Baltimore Man Who Died Was Arrested "Without Force or Incident"

A police report about the arrest of Freddie Gray—a Baltimore man who suffered a spinal injury shortly after being arrested on April 12 and died a week later—says Gray was detained "without force or incident," the Baltimore Sun reports. Gray was chased and arrested because he "fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence," court documents say, and was found with a switchblade clipped to the inside of his pants. (It's illegal to carry a concealed switchblade in Maryland.) He was injured "during transport" and later taken to a hospital with one or more broken vertebrae. He died Sunday.

Some officers involved in the case have reportedly been suspended, and police commissioner Anthony Batts and mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have promised investigations. From the Sun:

Police are assembling a task force to review the incident, expected to include personnel across a range of departments, including training and lab prep personnel, as well as teams from homicide investigators and force investigation, Batts said.
An independent board also will review the administrative case against the officers, after State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby decides whether or not to file criminal charges and that case concludes.
Advertisement

The Baltimore police department and the federal Department of Justice are already engaged in a "collaborative review" of city officers' use-of-force practices, a process that began after the Sun reported that the city has paid nearly $6 million in judgments and settlements since 2011 in 102 civil suits alleging police misconduct.

April 20 2015 2:12 PM

Here’s What a Ton of Confiscated Elephant Tusks Looks Like

Customs authorities have seized 4 tons of elephant tusks smuggled from Congo in what they say is the Thailand’s largest-ever ivory bust, the AP reports. The shipment—labeled as “beans” and transported in bean sacks—was headed for Laos, from where it would have been distributed to “buyers in China, Vietnam and Thailand.” Some 739 tusks were seized; there are about 220 in the picture above, meaning that the photo shows about a ton of ivory on the ground. The total shipment was said to have a value of $6 million. 

A close-up:

470421310

Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty

Advertisement

The Atlantic investigated the origins of the demand for illegal ivory in 2012, writing that the substance has “little inherent value but prized social significance” as a raw material out of which luxury items are made.

April 20 2015 12:58 PM

Watch Caroline Rotich Win the Boston Marathon in Crazily Dramatic Finale

Kenya’s Caroline Rotich outsprinted Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia to claim victory in a dramatic finish to the Boston Marathon on Monday.

You can watch Rotich power ahead of Dibaba in the last 100 yards of the race, with the two runners having gone neck and neck down Boylston Street until the very last gasp.

Advertisement

Rotich claimed victory in a time of 2:24:55, with Dibaba just four seconds back in second-place. Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia finished third at 14 seconds behind Rotich after finishing in an incredibly tight final pack. Desiree Linden was the top American finisher, claiming fourth at 44 seconds behind Rotich. Six runners finished within two minutes of Rotich in the thrilling women’s race, and eight runners finished within three minutes of Rotich.

Down the home stretch, things were so close that she said she thought Dibaba might stay ahead of her.

“It got down to three [runners] and I was like, ‘I’m not going to let it go,’ ” Rotich said of the tight conclusion.

In the men’s race, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa won in a time of 2:09:17 to claim his second Boston Marathon win.

Desisa won for the first time in 2013, the year the race was attacked by a bombing that killed three people and injured more than 250 others. That year he returned his victory medal to the city of Boston, but one would imagine he’s going to keep it this time around.

April 20 2015 12:52 PM

Washington Post Reporter Jason Rezaian Is Charged With Espionage in Iran

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage in Iran, the paper says, citing his lawyer. Rezaian is the Post’s Tehran bureau chief and was arrested in July 2014.

Providing the first description of the precise charges against Rezaian since his arrest nine months ago, the lawyer said that an indictment alleges Rezaian gathered information “about internal and foreign policy” and provided it to “individuals with hostile intent.”
The statement, issued from Tehran by Rezaian’s attorney, Leila Ahsan, was provided to The Post by the family of the imprisoned reporter.
Advertisement

Ahsan is “believed to be the only person outside the judiciary” to have read Rezaian’s indictment, and the Monday meeting between the two was the first time since his arrest that he was allowed to consult with a lawyer.

Rezaian is expected to be tried soon by Iran’s “Revolutionary Court.” The State Department says it has “repeatedly” asked Iran to release him during recent negotiations with moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s administration; the Guardian has reported that the case against Rezaian is being pushed by Iran’s intelligence service in an attempt to undermine Rouhani.

The State Department has also called for Iran to release former Marine Amir Hekmati (who is accused of espionage) and pastor Saeed Abedini (who is accused of attempting to create “a network of churches in private homes”).

READ MORE STORIES