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Thursday, January 24, 2013

U.N. to Investigate U.S. Drone Strikes for Possible War Crimes

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has opened an investigation into drone strikes to determine whether civilian casualties of such attacks constitute war crimes. Responding to a request from Russia, China, and Pakistan, U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson formally launched the “critical examination of the factual evidence concerning civilian casualties,” which will also make recommendations to “investigate into the lawfulness and proportionality of such attacks.” The probe will not look into the behavior of individual nations, Emmerson told Al Jazeera, but rather “the consequence of this form of technology.” The U.K. has already agreed to cooperate with the investigation. The U.S. has been asked to make “before and after” videos of drone attacks available, as well as internal documents listing casualties, including civilians.

North Korea Says Nuclear Program Aimed at “Arch-Enemy” U.S.

Two days after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) rebuked North Korea’s December missile launch, the east Asian nation announced it will carry out a third nuclear test and fire more rockets aimed at its “arch-enemy,” the U.S.  ”We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” North Korea’s National Defence Commission said through the state news agency KCNA. “Settling accounts with the US needs to be done with force, not with words.” Observing bodies in South Korea and the U.S. recently said North Korea was ready to carry out a third nuclear test. “We hope they don’t do it. We call on them not to do it,” said U.S. Special Envoy to North Korea Glyn Davies.

U.S. Jobless Claims at Five-Year Low

U.S. claims for unemployment benefits fell to their lowest level in five years, the Labor Department said today. They decreased by 5,000 to 330,000, compared with a forecast of 355,000, according to Reuters and Bloomberg surveys. While economists warn these numbers tend to be volatile due to seasonal hiring for the holidays, such a low number may indicate companies have not been deterred by tax increases that resulted from the fiscal cliff negotiations. Consumer spending, which rose in December, may have also helped sentiment. The four-week moving average for jobless claims indicates an improvement in the market as it fell 8,250 to 351,750, its lowest since March 2008. While firings have slowed, the economy is still adding jobs at a slow pace.

U.S. Senate Reaches Agreement on Filibuster

The U.S. Senate leaders of both the Republican and Democratic side have reached an agreement today to reform filibuster, a practice that uses extended debate to delay or block the passage of legislation and forces the majority to find 60 votes to bypass it rather than the 51 out of 100 that would normally be required. The deal, reached by Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, aims at limiting the ability to stall action at the beginning of a debate, after a bill passed the Senate and before debate starts in the House of Representatives. The minority would be able to propose amendments. The change would also accelerate proceedings on non-controversial bills, shortening or doing away with wait periods.  The plan has yet to be approved by the Senate as a whole.

Geneticist Bemoans Scientific Illiteracy after Neanderthal Cloning Uproar

George Church, the Harvard geneticist and synthetic biologist who theorized about cloning a Neanderthal, is now calling for more scientific literacy among the wider public. Church became the target of several weblog posts and sensationalist newspapers after he gave an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel in which he explained it would soon be technically feasible to clone a Neanderthal from ancient DNA, and detailed the necessary steps for a successful cloning procedure should society as a whole accept it as ethical. Church was deemed a “mad scientist” in headlines that claimed he was looking for a surrogate. “The public should be able to detect cases where things seem implausible,” Church told Reuters. “Everybody’s fib detector should have been going off. They should have said, ‘What? Who would believe this?’” Neanderthals went extinct 30,000 years ago.

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