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One Year Later, Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram Still Missing
One year after the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by terror group Boko Haram, more than 200 kidnapped children remain missing.
The kidnapping on April 15, 2014, provoked international outrage and a viral twitter hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls. Many prominent personalities — including First Lady Michelle Obama and comedian Ellen DeGeneres — joined the global outcry, prompting Nigeria to launch a military offensive against the group. Also in the last year, the U.S. military and others have offered Nigeria assistance in finding the children.
But few children to date have escaped from what is widely counted among the most ruthless terror groups operating in North Africa.
According to NBC:
"The Chibok girls were just one group of many, many others who have been kidnapped since last year," said Biu, a woman's rights activist and professor in Maiduguri, Nigeria. "I cannot say that the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has made women and young girls in the northeast feel any safer."
While a few dozen of the Chibok girls have escaped Boko Haram captivity, more than 200 are still missing. To Biu, the international campaign to release the girls did little to bring them home — or stop countless others from being taken since.
Since then, NBC reports, Boko Haram's campaign of terror has continued "largely unabated."
Read more here.
Preliminary Deal on Iran Nuclear Program Reached
The United States and Iran agreed to a preliminary deal on Iran's nuclear program today, Politico reports. The hotly anticipated deal, following stop-and-start negotiations and vocal concern from Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will include Iran dismantling two-thirds of its centrifuges and allowing rigiourous inspections by the IAEA through 2035 and beyond. In exchange for Iran's compliance, the U.S. and the E.U. will lift longstanding economic sanctions.
President Obama was optimistic but pragmatic, saying the plan was a "good deal," according to Politico:
"'[It is] a historic understanding with Iran which, if implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final deal, it will make our country and the world safer,' Obama said in a statement in the White House Rose Garden. The deal would 'cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.'
... Obama stressed in particular the inspection and verification aspects of the agreement. 'If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see anything suspicious, we will inspect it,' Obama said.
...'If there is backsliding on the part of the Iranians,' he said, 'there will be no deal.'"
The Win Without War coalition called the preliminary deal "huge news" in a statement, also released today:
"At a time when much of the Middle East is engulfed in war, the United States is on the verge of achieving one of our most pressing national security goals without dropping a single bomb. Today's progress towards a comprehensive, historic agreement between Iran, the United States, and our P5+1 partners not only ensures that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, but it demonstrates precisely how America can win without war."
Details of the plan are anticipated in late June. Read more at Politico.
White House Releases Blueprint for Cutting U.S. Greenhouse Gas Pollution 26-28 Percent by 2025
On Tuesday, the White House revealed President Obama’s blueprint for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by 26-28 percent before 2025. The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is in accordance with the United Nations formal effort to come to forge an international climate agreement in Paris in December.
In November, the United States released a historic joint agreement with China that both countries would work toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions but until this morning no further details of this agreement had been seen.
The release of INDC has generally been supported by the environmental community because the pollution cuts in the Administration’s plan can be achieved without new action from Congress. As Greenpeace representative Kyle Ash said, “By announcing its plan ahead of Paris as agreed, the U.S. has at least shown it is committed to the negotiation process and willing to push the other nearly 200 countries to deliver.”
Ash continues that there is still much room for improvement in the outline:
“We welcome the US submission as a first step, but it would not do enough to avert global catastrophe…The Obama Administration’s [plan] begins to treat the wound, but does not stop the bleeding. As the world’s second largest emitter, the US must strengthen its commitment to climate solutions before Paris to ensure an agreement that immediately spurs the necessary transition away from fossil fuels and towards 100 percent renewable energy.”
In preparation for the Paris 2015 Climate Negotiations, all countries were asked to by the United Nations to submit individual outlines for greenhouse gas reduction by April 2015. So far only the European Union, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and now the United State have submitted their national plans to the U.N. It is hoped that the announcement of the United States’ reduction plan will spur other countries to announce their own contributions to the U.N. negotiations.
Obama Vetoes Keystone XL
“This veto is conclusive proof that activism works.”
That’s what May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in response to Obama’s veto, which was only the third of his presidency. President Obama rejected the construction of the Keystone XL Feb. 24, angering the Republican majority in Congress and inspiring environmental activists.
“After four years of rallies, marches, sit-ins, and civil disobedience, we’re thrilled to see President Obama take an important first step by vetoing this love letter to Big Oil,” she continued.
Boeve’s comments declare hope to a generation of environmental scientists and activists who have often struggled to draw serious political attention to climate change.
Republicans in Congress, on the other hand, were deeply disappointed with Obama’s behavior.
Three Muslim Students Shot Dead in North Carolina
Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old white male, has been charged with three counts of first degree murder, according to a Chapel Hill Police Release. After shooting three students in the head early Tuesday evening, Hicks turned himself in at a local police department in Pittsboro. The victims included a married couple – Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21 – and their sister, Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.
All three were currently attending or planning to attend schools in Chapel Hill. Although reports of previous of a conflict between the shooter and the victims are not confirmed, many have speculated religious bias played a significant role in the crime.
Christians Strip on Court Steps to Protest Detention of Asylum Seekers
A group of Christians protesting detention for asylum-seeking children stripped off their clothes on the steps of the magistrate's court in Perth, Australia on Wednesday.
The group, Love Makes a Way, had just pleaded guilty to trespassing in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's electorate office in December, where they had staged an eight-hour peaceful sit-in and several members were reportedly strip-searched.
From the court steps, National Director of Common Grace and Sojourners contributor Jarrod McKenna quoted from the book of Matthew before he and others in the group began stripping off their garments — this time, willingly.
The NFL’s Chilling New Anti-Domestic Violence Ad Will Make You Stop and Listen
After the high-profile domestic violence cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the NFL is speaking out with a new Super Bowl Ad. The commercial features a woman pretending to order a pizza in a call to a 911 operator as the camera rolls over shots of a disheveled home. The operator eventually comes to understand that the woman is trying to ask for help without alerting her abuser.
The NFL created the ad in partnership with No More, an umbrella organization that connects groups working to end domestic violence and sexual assault.
When Florida Police Used Mug Shots of Black Men as Target Practice, Clergy Responded with #UseMeInstead
National Guard Sgt. Valerie Deant found mugshots of black men, including one of her brother, riddled with bullet holes at a police range in south Florida last month. After outraged critics drew attention to the police department, clergy across the country began to post photos of their own faces with the hashtag #UseMeInstead. The Washington Post explains why the hashtag began:
The effort was “motivated by our service to Christ and his call to love our neighbors,” Gonnerman told The Post.
“We initially started thinking if a whole lot of us, in our clergy collar and worship attire, sent our photos to them, it would make a really powerful statement,” Rev. Kris Totzke, a pastor in Texas, told The Post. “Then, it really snowballed, and we got people all over the country and of all different faiths.” …
“It’s such a desensitization thing, that if you start aiming at young black men, and told to put a bullet in them, you become desensitized,” Gonnerman said. “Maybe, to change the picture, it’s you know what, dare ya, shoot a clergy person.”
President Obama's 2015 the State of the Union Remarks
Editor's Note: President Obama delivered his seventh State of the Union address last night (January 20, 2015). Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:
We are fifteen years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.
But tonight, we turn the page.
Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.
Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service.
America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:
The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.
FBI Investigating Explosion Near NAACP Yesterday; Twitter Protests Lack of News Coverage
A makeshift bomb placed outside a local chapter of the NAACP in Colorado went off yesterday, releasing smoke but failing to ignite a gasoline can placed beside it, Newsweek reports. There were no injuries.
The FBI has declared the bombing "deliberate," but is still investigating whether the NAACP was the intended target. The building's other tenant, a hair salon, does not appear to have been the target.
The media's slow-to-silent response to the incident has raised ire on Twitter, with many concerned that the bombing did not make news on mainstream outlets until today.
"Thankfully, no injuries were reported, but the fear it struck in the local community and in citizens concerned for issues of racial justice everywhere were felt immediately ... In a time when racial tensions in our country appear to be growing, the troubling nature of this act of domestic terrorism should be blatantly obvious, but the lack of mainstream media coverage of the bombing ... was downright disturbing," wrote Shaun King, staff writer for the Daily Kos.
According to Newsweek, the FBI has asked that anyone with information call its Denver tip line at 303-435-7787.
#IfTheyGunnedMeDown: A Public Reflection on the Power of a Picture
In response to the death of Michael Brown, many people are using the hastag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown on Twitter to consider the role that images used by the media have on the public's perception of vicitms.
Here's more according to the Washington Post:
The concern is how media will portray a dead child’s life after he’s slain by police officers. This is the stuff of#IfTheyGunnedMeDown, a Twitter hashtag that trended Sunday as part of the conversation surrounding the death of Michael Brown. Brown, 18, was an unarmed black teenager slain in Ferguson, Mo. He’d recently graduated high school. Black users shared pictures of themselves at their best — in uniforms or caps and gowns — juxtaposed with images that would garner less sympathy and perhaps paint more tawdry pictures of their lives.
Acts29 to Mark Driscoll: 'Please Step Down from Ministry'
Controversial Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll has been removed from membership in Acts29, an international church planting network that Driscoll helped found. The notice to Driscoll and his church comes in the midst of rising anger from Mars Hill parishioners over revelations of Driscoll's unethical conduct, which include using church funds to boost sales of his book Real Marriage to bestseller lists and using a pseudonym to publish vulgar and sexist commentary to his church forum.
"In response, we leaned on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability to take the lead in dealing with this matter," says the letter from Acts29, which also removed Driscoll's church from membership.
"But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action."
"Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29."
Read more here.
California Judge Rules the Death Penalty Unconstitutional
A U.S. District Court judge declared the death penalty "unconstitutionall" in the State of California.
In the ruling that was released today, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney wrote that, an "inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State."
NBC Bay Area first reported the ruling:
In his 29-page ruling on the Jones vs. Chappell case, Carney wrote that when an individual is condemned to death in California, the sentence carries with it the promise that it will actually be carried out.
That promise is made to citizens, jurors, victims and their loved ones and to the hundreds of individuals on death row, he wrote.
However, Carney argues, “for too long now, the promise has been an empty one.”
Read the full story here.
Detained Journalist, Activist Jose Antonio Vargas Has Been Released
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, detained earlier today by border patrol at McAllen-Miller International Airport in Texas after having visited the border town‘s shelter for unaccompanied Central American refugees, has been released, reports say.
His trip included participating in a vigil to honor the children who have embarked on a dangerous journey to the U.S. to save their lives.
Vargas wanted to shed light on the crisis occurring at the border and highlight the need to address the issue in a humanitarian way.
“I’m the most privileged undocumented immigrant in the country," Vargas said to the Dallas Morning News on Sunday.
"And with that privilege comes responsibility—the responsibility of tying my specific story to the story of 11 million undocumented people like me and using every skill and resource I have to tell stories and insist that we talk about this issue humanely and fairly.”
Read the full story here.
SCOTUS Rules in Favor of Hobby Lobby
Closely held corporations cannot be compelled to pay for contraception coverage, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in its highly anticipated Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case. The "contraceptive mandate" in the federal health care law was challenged under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the government show that a law doesn't "substantially burden" religious exercise.
According to SCOTUSBlog, the Court ruled that the government "has failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control."
But the decision is applicable only to the contraceptive mandate, and does not apply to other health care mandates.
From Washington Post :
The justices’ 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies’ health insurance plans.
Hobby Lobby is an evangelical family-owned chain, and CEO David Green says that the Affordable Care Act infringed upon the family's religious freedom by compelling them to pay for certain contraceptives the family considers to be abortifacients, such as versions of the morning-after pill and IUDs.
Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan dissented.
Read the decision HERE.
Seattle Pacific Shooting Hero Hopes Shooter Finds 'the Grace of God'
Jon Meis, the first person to respond to the campus shooting at Seattle Pacific University, released a statement thanking other early responders this morning. During the June 5 shooting, Meis tackled the suspect and used pepper spray to subdue him. In his statement published by KIRO news, Meis requested that all further donations be given to the victims through Seattle Pacific. He laments the necessity of a tragedy to make a hero and encouraged all to meet hate with love:
However, what I find most difficult about this situation is the devastating reality that a hero cannot come without tragedy. In the midst of this attention, we cannot ignore that a life was taken from us, ruthlessly and without justification or cause. Others were badly injured, and many more will carry this event with them the rest of their lives. Nonetheless, I would encourage that hate be met with love. When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man. While I cannot at this time find it within me to forgive his crime, I truly desire that he will find the grace of God and the forgiveness of our community.
In his opinon column published on June 6, George Will suggests that colleges have "become the victims of progressivism," blaming a proliferation of victims on government overreach. In his first paragraph, Will disregards the validity of sexual assult on campuses, as he says:
[Colleges and universities] are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.
In response to his article, survivors have taken to Twiter with #SurvivorPrivilege.
Japanese-American Human Rights Activist Yuri Kochiyama Dies at 93
Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese-American human rights activist, died on Sunday at the age of 93. Kochiyama's family was among those Japanese-Americans interned by the United States during World War II.
NPR reports on her work:
Living in housing projects among black and Puerto Rican neighbors inspired her interest in the civil rights movement. Kochiyama held weekly open houses for activists in the family's apartment, where she taped newspaper clippings to the walls and kept piles of leaflets on the kitchen table. "Our house felt like it was the movement 24/7," said her eldest daughter Audee Kochiyama-Holman.
Kochiyama is also known for rushing towards Malcom X after his assination, where she appeared images of the incident, according to NPR:
Minutes after gunmen fired at Malcolm X in 1965 during his last speech in New York City, she rushed towards him and cradled his head on her lap. A black-and-white photo in Life magazine shows Kochiyama peering worriedly through horn-rimmed glasses at Malcolm X's bullet-riddled body.
Author and Poet Maya Angelou Dies at 86
Maya Angelou, a renowned author, poet and civil right activist, has died at 86. Angelou, know for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, also authored six other autobiographies along with numerous collections of poems.
Throughout her career, Angelou she was active in the Civil Rights movement, working with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She also served a one point as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group founded following the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dr. King and others.
NBC News reports her numerous achievements:
Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, under the name Marguerite Annie Johnson. She grew up to become a singer, dancer, actress, writer and Hollywood's first female black director.
Angelou had an impressive list of accolades: She was a three-time Grammy winner and was nominated for a Pulitzer, a Tony, an an Emmy for her role in the groundbreaking television mini-series "Roots."
United States' National Security Council Condemns Apostasy Sentencing of Sudanese Christian Woman
Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, a Sudanese Christian woman, was sentenced to be flogged for adultery and to be hanged to death for apostasy because she married a Christian man. Ibrahim, 27, is eight months pregnant and currently in detention with her 20-month-old son, according to Fredrick Nzwili of Religion News Service.
United States' National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden released this statement in response to the sentancing.
We strongly condemn this sentence and urge the Government of Sudan to meet its obligations under international human rights law. We call on the Government of Sudan to respect Ms. Ishag’s right to freedom of religion, a universal human right enshrined in Sudan’s own 2005 Constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Since 1999, Sudan has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern for its ongoing, egregious, and systematic violations of religious freedom. We continue to urge Sudan to fulfill its constitutional promise of religious freedom, and to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of all its people.