Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

July 28 2014 7:45 PM

Feeling Left Out of Global Turmoil, North Korea Threatens Nuclear Strike on White House

As if the world needed another theatre of global conflict, North Korea, as if on cue, threatened a nuclear strike on the White House and Pentagon on Sunday. The threat came from Hwang Pyong-So, director of the military's General Political Bureau, who was presumably playing to the audience by dishing out some serious red meat to what Agence France Presse described as “a large military rally in Pyongyang.” "If the US imperialists threaten our sovereignty and survival... our troops will fire our nuclear-armed rockets at the White House and the Pentagon -- the sources of all evil," Hwang said in his speech broadcast Monday on state television, according to AFP.

The over-the-top rhetoric came after North Korea test fired a short-range ballistic missile into the sea over the weekend and analysts "say Kim Jong-Un won't order troops to stop testing weapons unless rival South Korea and the U.S. make a major concession such as downsizing their regular joint military drills or conducting them in a low-key manner,” according to the Associated Press. Simultaneously, according to the AP, “North Korea is seen by foreign observers as pushing for better ties with South Korea and other countries as a way to lure international investment and aid to revive the country's stagnant economy.” North Korea’s people skills may need some work. This is not the first time North Korea has threatened to stage a nuclear attack on the U.S., but AFP reports, “most experts believe it is still a long way from developing a viable intercontinental ballistic missile with the required range.”

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July 28 2014 6:35 PM

Judge Rules Against Donald Sterling, Approves Sale of Clippers

A Los Angeles court ruled against Donald Sterling’s effort to block the sale of the Clippers on Monday. The probate court ruled in favor of Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, allowing the $2 billion sale she brokered with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to go through.

“The central question in the case was whether [Shelly] Sterling acted properly in removing her estranged husband from their trust,” according to the New York Times. Donald Sterling was examined by two doctors who declared him mentally incapacitated, allowing him to be removed as a trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers. Donald Sterling’s lawyers claimed he was duped into taking the tests as part of a larger plot to strip him of the franchise.


Here’s more on the trial and ruling from the Associated Press:

[Shelly Sterling] sought approval from a probate judge for the deal she struck after removing her husband from the trust that owned the team when doctors found he had signs of Alzheimer’s disease and couldn’t manage his affairs… He later revoked the trust after she negotiated the record-setting sales price and his lawyers argued that the move killed the deal. They said the case didn’t belong in probate court because the trust had been dissolved… Lawyers for Shelly Sterling and Ballmer had urged the judge to let the sale go through because it was in the best interest of the family trust. They said an auction was less likely to bring such a high price and that coach Doc Rivers, key players and sponsors were likely to walk if Donald Sterling’s ownership was prolonged.

“The judge, Michael Levanas, said that he found [Shelly] Sterling to be a more credible witness than her husband, who acted erratically during several days of testimony, raising his voice at lawyers from both sides, and referring to his wife as ‘a pig,’” according to the Times. "The court doesn't find any evidence of a 'Secret Plan B' to remove Donald as a trustee," the judge said.

July 28 2014 4:45 PM

Lionel Messi is Being Prosecuted for Tax Evasion in Spain

Authorities in Spain are moving forward with their prosecution of soccer super-megastar Lionel Messi for tax evasion, reports say. A judge rejected prosecutors' requests to limit the case to Messi's father, who apparently handles his finances. (Messi is Argentinian, but plays professionally in Barcelona.) From the Spanish sports daily Marca:

The judge rejected calls by prosecutors to dismiss the case against Leo Messi and to only try his father because he believes that there is "sufficient reason" to suggest that the player "could have known about and consented to the creation and maintenance of a fictitious company structure, whose sole aim was to evade the fulfilment of tax obligations resulting from the income generated from the exploitation of his image rights."

Past reports on the case have said that Messi could theoretically face up to six years in jail if convicted but would likely avoid jail time if he pays a fine.

July 28 2014 2:43 PM

Reported Number of Ground Zero Responders With Cancer Has Doubled Since Last Year

In its latest tally, the World Trade Center Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital counts 1,655 responders with cancer among the 37,000 cops, hard hats, sanitation workers, other city employees and volunteers it monitors, officials told The Post.
The tragic sum rises to 2,518 when firefighters and EMTs are added. The FDNY, which has its own WTC health program, said Friday it counts 863 members with cancers certified for 9/11-related treatment.

The paper reports that, per epidemiologists, "9/11 workers have gotten certain cancers at a significantly higher rate than expected in the normal population — prostate, thyroid, leukemia and multiple myeloma." Affected individuals are eligible to receive cash benefits and health treatment from the federal September 11th Victims Compensation Fund and World Trade Center Health Program.

July 28 2014 1:30 PM

Congressional VA Reform Plan Would Pay for Care at Non-VA Facilities

This spring, reports of outrageously long waits for care at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities—and of the VA's systematic coverup of its own failures—created a national scandal. Now, the Washington Post reports that Senate-House negotiations on a reform bill have produced a compromise plan that will fund the hiring of new VA employees and allow some veterans to receive VA-funded care from outside providers, among other provisions. From the Post:

According to a draft summary of the measure provided by House aides, Congress would give eligible military veterans a “Veterans Choice Card” and allow them to seek health care outside the VA medical system from Medicare-eligible providers, other federally qualified health centers or facilities operated by the Defense Department or federal Indian Health Service centers...A veteran could leave the VA system if they’re unable to receive an appointment within 14 days — the current VA wait-time goal, or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

The bill would authorize a total of $15 billion in funding, and legislators have said they would like to pass it before Congress begins a five-week recess on Friday.

July 28 2014 12:21 PM

New England Supermarket Employees, Customers (!) Take Sides in Corporate Power Struggle

Employees and unusually loyal customers of New England supermarket chain Market Basket have taken sides in a corporate power struggle via work slowdowns, protests, and boycotts, leaving shelves and stores empty—and parking lots filled with rabble-rousing.

From the Boston Globe:

At the cramped Somerville store, where a typical weekend shopping trip means circling for a parking space, weaving through cart-clogged aisles, and waiting in long lines to pay, the parking lot and store were nearly empty Saturday. A group of about 25 employees and customers led chants on the sidewalk out front.
The scene was similar inside the Chelsea store, where the typical torrent of weekend shoppers had dwindled to a trickle. A few shoppers pushed carts through mostly deserted aisles, scouring half-empty shelves. Checkout lines consisted of just one or two customers.

The firing of popular Market Basket President Arthur T. Demoulas in June pushed many employees to protest by striking or refusing to carry out regular tasks; irate customers joined in by boycotting the store and joining employee rallies.

Demoulas was ousted by a group led by his cousin—also named Arthur Demoulas. The cousin is Arthur S. Demoulas, and as this Globe article recounts, their feud goes back decades; the two Arthurs' fathers used to run the company together.

Arthur T. has made an offer to buy back control of the 71-store chain, and its board of directors is currently considering the offer, which may be in the neighborhood of $3 billion.

July 28 2014 10:23 AM

Doctors Threatened With Violence as Distrust Compounds West African Ebola Outbreak

Widespread distrust of health workers in rural areas is making an Ebola outbreak that has already killed at least 670 people in West Africa even more dangerous, the New York Times reports today:

Workers and officials, blamed by panicked populations for spreading the virus, have been threatened with knives, stones and machetes, their vehicles sometimes surrounded by hostile mobs. Log barriers across narrow dirt roads block medical teams from reaching villages where the virus is suspected. Sick and dead villagers, cut off from help, are infecting others.
“This is very unusual, that we are not trusted,” said Marc Poncin, the emergency coordinator in Guinea for Doctors Without Borders, the main group fighting the disease here. “We’re not stopping the epidemic.”

The Doctors Without Borders organization—which, it's worth remembering, specializes in working in chaotic crisis conditions—has classified 12 Guinean villages as too dangerous to access, the Times says. Meanwhile, Liberia has closed many of its border crossings in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, which has infected two American health workers in the country in recent days.

July 27 2014 1:28 PM

American Doctor in Liberia Contracts Ebola, Recognizes Own Symptoms and Goes Into Isolation

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa continues to spin out of control since symptoms were first observed in the region four months ago. More than a thousand cases have been suspected, and many confirmed, with 660 deaths so far, according to the World Health Organization. On Saturday, an American doctor working in the region contracted the deadly virus, according the Associated Press.  

Kent Brantly, 33, has been working in Liberia for the North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse since October 2013 and “recognized his own symptoms and confined himself to an isolation ward,” according to Reuters. The organization issued a news release confirming that Brantly had contracted the virus and was being treated at a hospital in Monrovia. Here’s more on Brantly from the AP:

The highly contagious virus is one of the most deadly diseases in the world. Photos of Brantly working in Liberia show him in white coveralls made of a synthetic material that he wore for hours a day while treating Ebola patients. Brantly was quoted in a posting on the organization's website earlier this year about efforts to maintain an isolation ward for patients. "The hospital is taking great effort to be prepared," Brantly said. "In past Ebola outbreaks, many of the casualties have been healthcare workers who contracted the disease through their work caring for infected individuals."

It is not clear how Brantly contracted the virus that historically kills 90 percent of those who catch it. Earlier this week, another medical worker, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, one of the leaders of the anti-Ebola effort in Sierra Leone, also tested positive for the virus.

July 27 2014 11:55 AM

Boko Haram Kidnaps Cameroon Vice Prime Minister’s Wife in “Savage Attack”

The Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram continued their reign of terror, this time crossing into Cameroon to stage an attack and kidnapping the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister. Cameroonian officials described the group’s cross-border offensive as “a savage attack” that targeted Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali’s home. Ali, however, “was breaking his fast for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the time of the attack, managed to escape to a neighboring town,” a Cameroonian commander in the region told Reuters. The mayor of the town, Kolofata, was also abducted.

Boko Haram "has stepped up cross-border attacks into Cameroon in recent weeks as Cameroon has deployed troops to the region, joining international efforts to combat the militants,” according to Reuters. This is the third attack carried out by the group in Cameroon in as many days. Previously, the group has abducted foreign nationals in northern Cameroon, including 10 Chinese workers in May. "The situation is very critical here now, and as I am talking to you the Boko Haram elements are still in Kolofata town in a clash with our soldiers," said Colonel Felix Nji Formekong told Reuters.


Boko Haram has intensified its campaign against the Nigerian government of late, staging repeated attacks in northeastern Nigeria, including the mass abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls earlier this year.

July 27 2014 11:08 AM

D.C. Handgun Ban Ruled Unconstitutional, Capital Must Allow Guns in Public

A federal judge ruled Washington, D.C.’s ban on carrying a handgun in public is unconstitutional. In his ruling released on Saturday, Judge Frederick Scullin wrote “[t]here is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia's total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny.” The ruling, Reuters notes, effectively orders “the city to allow residents to carry handguns outside their homes and to let non-residents carry them as well.”

Here’s more on the erosion of the District’s attempts to limit access to guns in the city via WJLA:

It's the second time in recent years that the District's strict gun laws have been reversed by the courts for violating the Second Amendment; a 2008 Supreme Court ruling tossed out D.C.'s ban on handgun ownership altogether, however a federal appeals court in 2011 did uphold gun registration requirements.
Saturday's ruling was the culmination of a five-year legal challenge by gun law opponents against the District, which the judge noted is the only jurisdiction in the nation to currently impose a total ban on carrying guns in public. The lawsuit was brought by several District residents and non-residents, all of whom said they wanted to carry handguns for self-defense but were denied gun carry permits.