MLB Plans to Ban Home Plate Collisions
Baseball isn’t a contact sport, with one exception—collisions at home plate. But, base runners barreling into catchers will soon be a thing of the past, according to the Major League Baseball rules committee. On Wednesday, chairman of the committee, Sandy Alderson, said the committee voted to outlaw the collisions by 2015 at the latest. According to ESPN, there is a desire to have the new rule in place as early as the 2014 season. Concerns about player safety, particularly concussions, were major factors in the decision, the Associated Press reports. "The result of the vote was we will eliminate collisions at home plate by governing both catchers and runners in that situation,'' Alderson said. "The exact language and how exactly the rule will be enforced is subject to final determination.''
• Catchers will not be allowed to block home plate.
• Runners will not be permitted to target the catchers.
• The question of whether or not the plate was blocked or the runner targeted the catcher will be reviewable, with an immediate remedy available to the umpires.
• Catchers or runners who violate the new rules will be subject to disciplinary action.
The exact wording of the rule change, Alderson said, will be presented to MLB owners next month. For the change to go into effect for next season the players’ union would have to approve the changes.
India Reverses Course, Reinstates Ban on Gay Sex
In a surprising reversal, India’s Supreme Court reinstated on Wednesday a ban on gay sex in the country that dates back to over 150 years. The move reverses a 2009 ruling by a lower court that decriminalized consensual homosexual sex. Four years after that ruling, following petitions by conservative groups in the country, India’s top court said that the colonial era law was still constitutionally valid and any change to the law would have to go through parliament.
The law, section 377 of the penal code, holds a same-sex relationship to be an “unnatural offense” punishable by a 10-year prison sentence. According to the BBC, “the law has rarely - if ever - been used to prosecute anyone for consensual sex, it has often been used by the police to harass homosexuals.”
The move came as a shock to rights activists around the world, Reuters reports, who “expected the court simply to rubber-stamp the earlier ruling” after a recent string progressive rulings from the court. Here’s more on potential next steps regarding the law within the Indian government via Reuters:
India's Law Minister Kapil Sibal said the government could raise the matter in parliament. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was seen to broadly support the 2009 ruling, and some ministers said they opposed Wednesday's rollback. But it seems unlikely the government will risk taking a stand on the issue in the short term. General elections are due by next May and the socially conservative Hindu nationalist opposition is already gathering momentum.
George Zimmerman Won't Be Prosecuted For Domestic Assault After All
George Zimmerman won't be prosecuted in connection with a domestic dispute with his girlfriend that led to his arrest last month, via the Orlando Sentinel:
In a statement, [Seminole-Brevard State Attorney Phil] Archer said that at the time of the arrest, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office did have probable cause to take Zimmerman into custody on aggravated assault and other charges. "However, upon reviewing the recent affidavit... and taking into account the conflicting statements about what occurred, the failure to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, and a lack of any other corroborating evidence or witnesses, there is no reasonable likelihood of successful prosecution," Archer said. ...
After prosecutors filed paperwork declining to file charges, Zimmerman was released from his court-ordered bond conditions. That means he'll no longer have to stay away from Scheibe, or wear a GPS device.
The announcement comes less than a week after Zimmerman's girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, signed an affidavit saying that she didn't want Zimmerman to be charged and that she "felt very intimidated" when being questioned by police after the incident. "I believe that the police misinterpreted me and that I may have misspoken about certain facts in my statement to police," she claimed.
According to police, Scheibe originally alleged that Zimmerman pointed a shotgun at her face during the domestic dispute, and also broke a table, pushed her out of the home and then barricaded the door with furniture. (Prosecutors also say that Scheibe later told them that he tried to choke her about a week before the incident.) Zimmerman denied that's how things played out, and used his own 911 call on the day of the dispute to tell a police dispatcher that his girlfriend went "crazy on [him]."
Prosecutors could have pressed forward with police reports and 911 transcripts to build a case against Zimmerman, but with Scheibe unwilling to cooperate they faced an uphill battle in earning a conviction.
Zimmerman was facing a third-degree felony aggravated assault charge, which carried with it up to 5 years in prison, and a pair of misdemeanors. He was granted bail last month and ordered to stay clear of Scheibe and her home, and not possess guns or ammunition while he awaits trial—restrictions he will no longer be subject to.
The November incident was Zimmerman's latest brush with the law since he was acquitted this summer after shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. In September, he was temporarily taken into custody after his estranged wife, Shellie, called 911 to say that he had punched her father in the face and threatened her with a gun. She, too, would later change her story, and police declined to press charges.
Slatest PM: Boehner Lashes Out at Conservative Groups
House GOP Defends Budget Deal: Washington Post: "House Republican leaders defended a new bipartisan budget agreement Wednesday, as some conservatives and liberals voiced objections to an $85 billion compromise that would fund federal agencies through the fall of 2015. The deal, announced late Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), immediately came under criticism from conservatives on and off Capitol Hill, with some outside groups such as the influential Heritage Action for America announcing their opposition a full day in advance. The agreement is aimed at averting another government shutdown and ending the cycle of crisis that has paralyzed Washington for much of the past three years."
Boehner Lashes Out: NBC News: "House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, lashed out at conservative advocacy groups that have encouraged GOP lawmakers to oppose a budget framework .... 'They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals,' an animated Boehner told reporters at the Capitol. 'This is ridiculous.' ... If conservatives balk at supporting the legislation, Boehner would need to turn to Democrats to help advance the package through the House. The speaker did just that in passing legislation to end the government shutdown earlier this year."
Floor Timing: USA Today: "The U.S. House is on track to vote Thursday on [the] bipartisan budget deal....The House will adjourn for the year on Friday. The Senate is expected to vote on the package next week, and President Obama said Tuesday that he will sign it."
Saving Paul Ryan: Politico: "House conservatives are blasting the bipartisan budget deal — but not its architect, Rep. Paul Ryan. The Wisconsin Republican, who chairs the Budget Committee and was his party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, doesn’t seem to be losing support from the far right members of his party even as they bemoan the deal he crafted with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) for doing too little to tame the deficit. ... Some simply wonder whether Ryan is putting too much faith in Democrats to be able to deliver votes. Some Democrats are just as upset about the budget deal as Republicans, frustrated that it doesn’t extend emergency unemployment benefits."
GOP Senator's Top Aide Subject of Child Porn Allegations
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander announced today that he's placed his Washington chief of staff on administrative leave without pay after learning that the top aide's home had been searched by authorities as part of a child pornography investigation.
"I was just informed by the United States Senate legal counsel's office that law enforcement agents are conducting a search of the personal residence of Ryan Loskarn, the chief of staff of my Washington, D.C., office regarding allegations involving child pornography," Alexander said in a statement. "I am stunned, surprised and disappointed by what I have learned. Based on this information, I immediately placed Mr. Loskarn on administrative leave without pay. The office is fully cooperating with the investigation."
At the moment, we don't know much else about the investigation. The Postal Inspection Service, which is heading up the operation, has so far declined to comment. Prior to becoming Alexander's chief of staff, Loskan served as the staff director for the Senate Republican Conference. In 2009, he was named as one of Roll Call's "Fabulous 50," a list of the top staffers on Capitol Hill.
Photographer Tells the Story Behind the Obama Selfie, Laments We All Made a Big Deal About It
Roberto Schmidt, the AFP photojournalist who snapped a photo of President Obama and a pair of other world leaders posing for a three-way selfie at the Mandela memorial, has a blog post up today detailing the story behind his photo that sent the Internet into a tizzy on Tuesday. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing bout Schmidt's account is that he says he didn't think he had captured anything particularly newsworthy—a position he still holds one day later—as he was snapping the photos of a playful Obama:
I captured the scene reflexively. All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed – I didn’t see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not. ...
I took these photos totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have. At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium. For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural. I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place. The AFP team worked hard to display the reaction that South African people had for the passing of someone they consider as a father. We moved about 500 pictures, trying to portray their true feelings, and this seemingly trivial image seems to have eclipsed much of this collective work. ...
I confess too that it makes me a little sad we are so obsessed with day-to-day trivialities, instead of things of true importance.
It's also worth pointing out that Schmidt refutes the general narrative that Michelle Obama was upset that her husband was taking part in the selfie. "In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, [British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt] included," the photographer writes. "Her stern look was captured by chance."
You can read his full post here.
Obamacare Enrollment Doubled in November, but Still Far Short of Pre-Launch Projections
The White House this morning is out with the official Obamacare enrollment numbers for last month. They represent a major improvement over October's dismal figures, but are still no where near where the White House had originally suggested they'd be two months into the rollout of the online exchanges, via Reuters:
The number of people seeking health insurance under Obamacare more than doubled in November to around 250,000, according to a government report on Wednesday, showing the landmark healthcare law is still far from its goal of extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.
The new tally brought the cumulative total for October and November to 365,000 people who have selected health plans in new online marketplaces set up in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Just over 800,000 have been determined eligible for government health coverage including the Medicaid program for the poor. ...
Prior to the Oct. 1 launch of the online exchanges, as the Washington Post reminds us, the White House had projected about 1.2 million people would have bought private insurance through the exchanges in the first two months. The new numbers come as the White House is in the midst of a three-week blitz to relaunch and reboot the Obamacare website ahead of the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for Jan. 1 coverage.
Today's numbers include people who have enrolled through either the federal exchange or the 14 state-specific ones. Roughly 137,000 November enrollees managed to sign up through healthcare.gov, a figure that more than quadruples October's total for the troubled federal website.
While the early numbers haven't lived up to the White House's pre-launch expectations, the trend we're seeing now—a sharp rise in the number of people signing up for insurance relatively late in the enrollment game–is more or less what the administration had been projecting all along (albeit obviously without the early disaster that was federal website during its first month). Unofficial estimates from earlier this month suggest that as many 29,000 people signed up through the federal exchange in the first two days of December alone.
The Sign Language Interpreter at the Mandela Memorial Was a "Fake"
Tuesday's massive Mandela memorial in South Africa gave the Internet plenty to talk about: There was Obama's rousing speech itself, his much-noticed (and, in some spheres, heavily freaked-out-about) handshake with Raul Castro, and of course his three-way selfie with a pair of European prime ministers. And now this, via the Associated Press:
A man who provided sign language interpretation on stage for Nelson Mandela's memorial service, attended by scores of heads of state, was a "fake," the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa said on Tuesday. The unidentified man seen around the world on television next to leaders including United States President Barack Obama "was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for," Bruno Druchen, the federation's national director, told The Associated Press.
Druchen along with three other sign language experts say the man in question wasn't signing in South African or American sign language. They also say they can rule out any other known sign language because there appeared to be absolutely no structure to the way he was waving his arms and hands around during the speeches. (Another giveaway, experts say, is that the man used no facial expression to convey the emotions of the speaker, a key element in signing.)
As bizarre as the whole thing is, maybe the craziest part about the whole thing is that it doesn't appear to be the first time the man has passed himself off as a professional signer: Druchen says the same man pulled a similar stunt at an event last year that was attended by South African President Jacob Zuma.
Ukraine Police Storm Protester Camps in Capital
Thousands of Ukrainian police stormed an anti-government protest camp in Kiev early Wednesday morning setting off another round of skirmishes. Police dismantled barricades in the city’s Independence Square as protestors shouted “Shame!” and “We will stand!”
The chaotic scene came on the heels of Western diplomats arriving in the city for meetings with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the New York Times reports, “in an effort to defuse both the country’s slide into a political chaos as well as a deepening financial crisis.”
Here’s more from the streets of Kiev from the Times:
As the security forces spread throughout the square, a large crowd of protesters brandishing sticks, clubs, metal rods and anything else they could find massed in front of the Trade Unions Building, which leaders of the demonstration had turned into the headquarters of what they call the National Resistance. Fistfights and shoving matches broke out on streets that the demonstrators had slicked with water that swiftly turned to ice… Protesters in construction hats, bicycle helmets and other protective gear then rushed toward the police, with blows being landed by both sides. The police also began deploying canisters of tear gas, creating plumes of smoke around the swirling crowds.
The protests began last month when President Yanukovych withdrew from a free-trade deal with the European Union that would have deepened the country’s ties with the bloc, tilting the former-Soviet republic towards Western Europe and away from Russia. According to the Associated Press, “Moscow has worked aggressively to derail the deal with the EU and lure Kiev into its own economic group by offering price discounts and loans as well as imposing painful trade restrictions.”
There was no apparent reason for the police advance on the square, according to the Times.
Uruguay Goes All in, First Country to Legalize Entire Marijuana Industry
Uruguay’s Senate, on Tuesday, approved the legalization of marijuana in the country—including the growing, sale and smoking—making it the first nation to sanction all aspects of the pot industry. Previously, the use of marijuana was legal in the South American country, but cultivation and sale of the drug were not.
The newly passed, government-backed bill will now provide for government regulation of all aspects of the marijuana trade with an eye on “wresting the business from criminals,” according to Reuters. “The bill gives authorities 120 days to set up a drug control board that will regulate cultivation standards, fix the price and monitor consumption.” Uruguayan president Jose Mujica is a supporter of a legal national market for marijuana, but the measure has yet to win over a majority of the 3-plus million people in the country. A recent poll, Reuters reports, found that 58 percent of Uruguayans are opposed to legalization.
Here’s more from Reuters on what the law will look like on the ground once it goes into effect:
Cannabis consumers will be able to buy a maximum of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) each month from licensed pharmacies as long as they are Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 and registered on a government database that will monitor their monthly purchases. When the law is implemented in 120 days, Uruguayans will be able to grow six marijuana plants in their homes a year, or as much as 480 grams (about 17 ounces), and form smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that can grow up to 99 plants per year. Registered drug users should be able to start buying marijuana over the counter from licensed pharmacies in April.