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April 18 2015 8:11 PM

ISIS Appears to Carry Out First Major Attack in Afghanistan, Kills 35

ISIS, or militants with ties to the group, appears to have carried out a suicide bomb near a bank in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad that killed at least 35 people and injured more than 100. If ISIS involvement is confirmed it would mark a terrifying milestone: the first time militants loyal to the Islamic State in Afghanistan have carried out such a major operation, reports the Washington Post. President Ashraf Ghani directly blamed ISIS militants for the attack, which took place outside a bank where government workers collect their wages.

“Today the deadly attack in Nangarhar Province — who claimed responsibility?” said Ghani, speaking on national television, according to the New York Times. “Taliban did not claim responsibility, but Daesh claimed responsibility.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS. A pro-Islamic State Group that goes by the name Province of Khurasan released a photo of the alleged suicide bomber, reports the Wall Street Journal. “Many congratulations to all on the first fedayeen attack by the Wilayah Khurasan,” noted a statement on Twitter using fedayeen to refer to suicide attackers.


Taliban insurgents denied responsibility for the group and even said they were opposed to the carnage. "It was an evil act. We strongly condemn it," the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters. Although the Taliban is still seen as the major threat to safety in the country, the ability of the ISIS Afghan affiliate “to strike at will would mark a new threat for the country to contend with as U.S. and NATO forces ended their combat mission at the start of the year,” notes the Associated Press.

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April 18 2015 3:48 PM

Tampa Police Target Black Bicyclists

Tampa police seem to have an obsession with cyclists, writing 2,504 bike tickets over the past three years. And looking at the data it would seem blacks are particularly bad bicyclists, receiving eight out of every 10 tickets, according to an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times, even though they make up about a quarter of the city’s population. Analyzing the tickets awarded to bicyclists, the newspaper concludes that “Tampa police are targeting poor, black neighborhoods with obscure subsections of a Florida statute that outlaws things most people have tried on a bike, like riding with no light or carrying a friend on the handlebars.”

These violations are used as an excuse to stop and question bicyclists, with a particular focus on high-crime neighbourhoods. Although the police say bike stops are part of a crime prevention strategy, the vast majority of tickets did not include arrests. And when they did, it was usually for a small amount of drugs or a misdemeanor, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The paper notes the actions are hardly a coincidence:

Internal police department records show a sustained effort to encourage bike stops as a means to reduce more serious crimes.
Officers get yearly "productivity reports," calculating, in part, how many tickets they give. One personnel file detailed a "red grid patrol" in which officers are encouraged to "engage and identify offenders through street checks, bike stops and traffic stops."
In another file, a supervisor told a new officer he should learn rarely used traffic statutes. The fact that he wasn't familiar with them was noted as a "significant weakness" in his 2012 performance review. The next year, the new officer impressed his bosses with his "dramatic increase" in "self-initiated activity."

Even if the stop doesn’t lead to a ticket it is often still a humiliating experience.

"It's always the light, or to run your VIN number," 31-year-old Anthony Gilbert said. "'Let's have your ID. Just stand in front of my cruiser.' Now, you're being humiliated. Your friend's riding by. Your reverend might be riding by. Now, you've got to go to church. The pastor's going to be like, 'What happened, son?'"

April 18 2015 12:41 PM

Watch: Surgeon General Tells Elmo to Get Vaccinated

Newly appointed Surgeon General Vivek Murthy teamed up with Elmo to promote vaccines amid concern from the Departmetn of Health and human Services that declining vaccination rates across the country could lead to the resurgence of preventable diseases. HHS released a 30-second video in which Murthy tells Elmo to get vaccinated. “It’s my job to help everyone stay health,” Murthy tells Elmo, who then wonders: “Can Elmo help too?” At which point Murthy tells him that the way to help is to “get all your vaccinations on time” and get all his Sesame Street buddies to get vaccinated as well.

The more entertaining video though is a longer one produced by the Daily Dot that appears to be more directly targeted at anti-vaccination advocates “I was worried about getting a shot,” Elmo says and wonders why he even needs vaccines anyway. “Let me ask you this: do you carry an umbrella when it rains?” Murthy answers. “Of course—Elmo likes to stay dry.” Murthy then compares getting vaccinated to wearing a helmet before suggesting to Elmo that he sing a little song while he’s getting the shot. “Why doesn’t everybody get a vaccination?” Elmo wondered when he realized it wasn’t that big of a deal. “That’s a good question, Elmo,” Murthy answered. “That’s a good question.”


In a blog post introducing the videos, Murthy explains the importance of vaccines:

Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools we have for preventing disease and death. They not only help protect vaccinated individuals, but they also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases. Among children in the U.S. born between 1994 and 2013, routine vaccinations will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations, and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes.

April 18 2015 10:33 AM

Dr. Oz Defends Himself: I’m Just Helping People “Be Their Best Selves”

Dr. Mehmet Oz is firing back at the group of doctors who wrote a strongly worded letter to Columbia University saying the heart surgeon and TV personality should not be part of the university’s medical faculty. "I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves," Oz said in a statement published on Twitter and Facebook. "We provide multiple points of view, including mine, which is offered without conflict of interest. That doesn't sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts."

I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves. We provide multiple points of...

Posted by Dr. Mehmet Oz on Friday, April 17, 2015

In the letter, published in full by Slate on Friday, the doctors say one of the reasons they are opposed to Oz’s affiliation with the university is his “baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops.” That characterization, however, is exaggerated, insists Oz. “I do not claim that GMO foods are dangerous, but believe that they should be labeled like they are in most countries around the world,” he said.


The university has made clear it plans no action against Oz. "The university does not regulate faculty engagement in public discourse," a Columbia spokesman told USA Today. The author of the letter to Columbia, Dr. Henry I. Miller of Stanford University, responded to the university by saying that "freedoms end where patient safety begins, and Oz's promotion of worthless products that might have side effects and that delay patients' seeking safe and effective therapies threatens public safety." Miller called Oz “a quack and a fake and a charlatan,” according to the New York Daily News.

April 18 2015 9:00 AM

The Week in Photos

An aerial view of flower fields is seen near the Keukenhof park, also known as the Garden of Europe, in Lisse, Netherlands, on April 15, 2015. Keukenhof, which employs some 30 gardeners, is considered to be the world’s largest flower garden, displaying millions of flowers every year.


Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

An Indian farmer dries maize following unseasonal overnight rains in Toopran Mandal in Medak District, near Hyderabad, India, on April 13, 2015. Three people were killed as heavy rains caused widespread damage to standing crops in several parts of the southern Indian state of Telangana.


Photo by Daniel Roland/AFP/Getty Images


A woman jumps on a table and throws papers and confetti as she disrupts a press conference by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi (center) following a meeting of the Governing Council in Frankfurt, Germany, on April 15, 2015. The woman who charged at Draghi calling for an “end to the ECB dictatorship” was quickly escorted out of the premises by security officers before the news conference resumed.


Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The grounds crew prepares the infield before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Nationals at Fenway Park on April 13, 2015, in Boston.


Photo by Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Yemeni refugees play on April 12, 2015, at a boarding facility run by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Obock, a small port in Djibouti on the northern shore of the Gulf of Tadjoura, where it opens out into the Gulf of Aden. The U.N. said at least 900 people had arrived in the Horn of Africa in the past 10 days, including 344 Yemenis who sought refuge in Djibouti even as fresh Saudi-led airstrikes pounded rebel positions across south Yemen on Monday.


Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

An Iraqi man kisses a body bag lying amidst others containing the remains of people believed to have been slain by ISIS jihadists lying on the ground at the Speicher camp in Tikrit, Iraq,  on April 12, 2015. ISIS executed hundreds of mostly Shiite recruits last June in what is known as the Speicher massacre, named for the military base near which they were captured.


Photo by China Daily via Reuters

A couple wearing masks kiss along a street during a sandstorm in Beijing on April 15, 2015.


Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images

Hindu devotees take a break from performing rituals during a religious rally  to celebrate the Gajan festival in Kolkata, India, on April 13, 2015. The Gajan festival falls on the last day of the Bengali calendar, which also coincides with the birth of Lord Shiva, according to Hindu mythology.


Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Squatters wait to move out from inside an occupied apartment building the day of their eviction in the Flamengo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro on April 14, 2015. More than 100 squatters who had been evicted from the city’s port area last month invaded the building that was once owned by Brazilian businessman Eike Batista, once Brazil’s richest man, a week ago.


Photo by Richard Bouhet/AFP/Getty Images

Several hundreds of people gathered on April 12, 2015, on the beach in Les Aigrettes on the western coast of the French Indian Ocean island of La Réunion to pay tribute to a 13-year-old boy who was attacked and killed by a shark Sunday. The shark tore off the boy’s limbs and part of his stomach as he was swimming in an off-limits section of the ocean off the west coast of the island. It was the 16th shark attack on the island since 2011 and the seventh loss of life.


Photo by Ed Jones/Pool via Reuters

A relative of a victim of the Sewol ferry disaster sits on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry, off the coast of South Korea’s southern island of Jindo on April 15, 2015.


Photo by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/Getty Images

Clouds hover in the sky over Ebersbach in southern Germany, on April 14, 2015.

April 17 2015 5:43 PM

Oklahoma Legalizes “Nitrogen Asphyxiation” as Execution Method

With the Supreme Court set to review the constitutionality of Oklahoma's preferred exeuction method (lethal injection), the state has enacted a law authorizing "nitrogen asphyxiation" as an alternate means of carrying out death sentences. From NewsOK:

Nitrogen gas could be administered through a mask or the condemned convict could be placed in a tent. The nitrogen would displace oxygen. Loss of consciousness would occur within 10 seconds and death would occur within a few minutes, said Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, author of the bill.
Christian said it would be “a humane, quick and painless death” and would be easy to perform.

Supreme Court oral arguments on the lethal-injection issue are set for April 29, and the court has ordered that, until it rules, the three plaintiffs in that case cannot be executed using a specific drug cited in the lawsuit, midazolam. The plaintiffs argue that the combination of lethal-injection drugs Oklahoma uses can cause cruel and unusual extended pain before death.

All three plaintiffs' initially scheduled dates of execution have already passed, but the nitrogen asphyxiation bill won't go into effect until November 1, by which time the Supreme Court should have already issued a ruling on midazolam. Oklahoma's current statute lists electrocution and firing squad as alternative execution methods, but the state hasn't used either technique for over four decades.

April 17 2015 4:00 PM

Bystander Who Filmed Walter Scott’s Death Seeks Payment from News Organizations

The now-infamous video of a South Carolina police officer shooting Walter Scott in the back this month has been viewed more than one million times on YouTube, and countless more around the Web and on television. But moving forward any news outlet that wants to run it may need to pay $10,000 to the man who recorded it—at least if his legal team has its way.

The New York Times reports that an Australia-based “publicity and celebrity management company” sent out cease-and-desist letters to news outlets around the world this week letting them know that the video remains the property of Feidin Santana, the bystander who recorded the film on his smartphone when North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager shot and killed Scott on April 4. Here’s the Times with more on legal case, which appears to be a strong one for Santana:

Copyright experts agreed that although news agencies are allowed to use even copyrighted material under what is called “fair use” clauses in the law that time period has passed.
“At some point it’s not newsworthy anymore and you are using it for commercial benefit,” said Frederic Haber, a vice president and general counsel of the Copyright Clearance Center, a collective licensing organization that works on behalf of copyright holders such as The New York Times. The issue could change once the video is played in court during a trial, he said.

While it may seem opportunistic to try to make money off a video of someone’s death, Santana’s lawyer told the paper that it was only fair that his client get paid since the news outlets themselves were trying to capitalize on it. Perhaps more important to some will be the fact that Walter Scott’s family are said to have no problem with Santana’s efforts. “Without the video, we would not be where we are right now,” Justin Bamberg, one of the family’s lawyers, said.

Regardless of how you feel about Santana trying to cash in, if nothing else it provides another incentive—albeit a less noble one—for bystanders to whip out their phones and start filming when they see a police confrontation.

Elsewhere in Slate:

April 17 2015 2:38 PM

ISIS-Claimed Bomb Kills at Least Three Outside U.S. Consulate in Irbil, Iraq

ISIS has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing outside the United States consulate in the Kurdish city of Irbil, Iraq, that reportedly killed at least three people Friday. None of the reported casualties are United States personnel, a State Department official says.

It's the first attack on a U.S. facility since ISIS's attacks in Iraq began. Irbil is the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish government and is "considered so safe that the United States moved many of its diplomats here from Baghdad when the Islamic State captured Mosul and threatened Baghdad last year," according to McClatchy. The American facility houses diplomats and a military command center.

April 17 2015 1:39 PM

Loose Zebras Terrorize Belgium

Loose zebras! There they go.

No one knows where they came from, and no one knows where they were going.* They just ran and ran, a vision in the streets of Brussels, leaving the rest of us behind to wonder if sometimes cages aren't made of iron bars but of routines and obligations. Fare thee well, Belgian Freedom Zebras.


* This sentence is completely untrue. They had escaped from a local ranch and have been recaptured.

April 17 2015 1:20 PM

Could Next Week Finally Be the Week the Senate Confirms Loretta Lynch?

The Senate left town yet again on Thursday without holding a vote on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be U.S. attorney general. This was hardly a surprise given that it’s been more than five months since President Obama formally tapped her to replace Eric Holder, but the promising news is that there are signs that an end to Lynch’s historic wait may finally be on the horizon.

Senate Democrats and Republicans appear to be inching closer to a deal that would end a standoff over abortion funding in an unrelated human trafficking bill—which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has for unexplained reasons made a prerequisite to a Lynch vote. McConnell said Thursday that it is his “hope” that the Senate will finish work on that legislation next week, allowing the chamber to pivot to Lynch. Minority Leader Harry Reid, while less effusively optimistic, agreed that "progress has been made." While McConnell has made similar comments in the past, lawmakers tasked with negotiating the compromise are also sounding more optimistic.

Lynch supporters—some of whom have launched a hunger strike on her behalf—shouldn’t start celebrating just yet. She was on pace for a vote earlier this year before the human-trafficking bill indefinitely delayed her nomination. The legislation itself only became disputed after Democrats discovered the controversial abortion provision late in the process. Even if negotiators are able to hammer out a deal next week, it’s a safe bet that lawmakers will want to take the time to actually read the bill this time to make sure there are no more surprises.

A human-trafficking deal would provide the most obvious path to a vote on Lynch’s confirmation, but it’s not the only one. Harry Reid suggested on Thursday that he was prepared to break Senate tradition if necessary to get the job done.