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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Senate Eliminates Filibusters on Most Presidential Nominees

In the face of continued Republican filibustering of President Obama’s picks to cabinet posts and the federal judiciary, the Senate voted today to allow a simple majority vote to confirm judicial and executive nominees short of the Supreme Court, thereby removing the possibility of filibustering them. Legislation will still require 60 votes to pass. It is the most significant change to the way the Senate functions since 1975, when the requirement to end any filibuster was decreased from two-thirds of all senators.

Republicans have used the filibuster with unprecedented frequency to prevent new laws they didn’t like from being enacted and to effectively repeal existing ones. 3 in 10 of all cloture motions (the procedure used to break a filibuster) filed in the history of the Senate were filed after Republicans lost control of the Senate in 2007.

China’s Supreme Court Calls for Ban on Torturing Suspects

China’s Supreme People’s Court banned the police from using torture to extract confessions - a widespread practice in the country’s notoriously abusive legal system – and ordered lower courts to exclude evidence obtained through torture from consideration. It named “the use of cold, hunger, drying, scorching, fatigue” as among the interrogation methods to be eliminated. The court also introduced more stringent rules for death penalty cases, saying they must only be handled by experienced judges and adequate evidence must be furnished.  China is suspected of executing more people each year than all other countries combined.

Whether these recommendations will be functionally implemented, however, is a different question. China’s judicial and law enforcement agencies have issued pledges to stop torturing suspects for years. According to the US State Department, Chinese courts currently find 99.9% of all defendants guilty.

 Ukraine Abandons EU Trade Pact

The Ukraine abruptly halted negotiations on signing a landmark trade agreement with the European Union, saying it would instead revive talks with Russia. The statement followed just hours after the Ukrainian parliament’s refusal to pass bills that would have allowed the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for medical treatment abroad. Russia has been working aggressively to derail the pact, offering loans and price discounts as well as imposing painful restrictions on Ukraine’s exports. Ukrainians had also been worried about energy sanctions.

Opposition leaders have said that refusing to sign the EU pact would constitute “state treason and grounds for impeachment”; they  are now calling for President Viktor Yanukovich’s resignation.

Central African Republic “On the Verge of Genocide”

France has asked the UN to give permission for African forces, the African Union and France to intervene in CAR, worried that escalating tensions between communities could lead to “uncontrollable sectarian violence.”

Further complicating the country’s multitude of problems is the fact that notorious warlord and leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, is likely currently in CAR, negotiating with the government. Kony claims he wants to surrender, but as he has spent decades successfully avoiding capture, he may simply be using the talks as a way to relocate his fighters to the country.

Rival Militias Leave Tripoli

Two rival militias – the Islamist-leaning Supreme Security Committee and the al Qaqaa brigades – handed over their bases to the army and left Libya’s capital city today. The Gharghour Brigades, which fatally clashed with protesters on Friday, left Tripoli on Monday under instructions from their leaders. Reacting to popular anger against their refusal to disarm, a spokesman for one of the SSC militias said that its members would sign up for the police as individuals. The Libyan military is still massively outgunned by the country’s militias, but hopefully, this is a step in the right direction.

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