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December 9


United States resumes executions following hiatus

The United States, the only Western country with the death penalty still on the books, resumes federal executions after a 20-year hiatus. Outrage can be expected, some of it based on the accusation that the announcement by U.S. Attorney General William Barr was a political ploy.

Daniel Lewis Lee is the first of five men convicted of murder who are due to be executed in December and January. A member of a white supremacist group, he was found guilty of murdering three members of a family, including a child. The other four men are Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey, Alfred Bourgeois and Dustin Lee Honken, who have also been convicted of crimes that are horrifying in their details. There are 62 federal inmates on death row, including Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who planted a deadly bomb at the Boston Marathon in 2013.

Criticism of capital punishment includes the charge that it is barbaric in a civilized society, that individuals erroneously convicted have been executed, and that it is racially unfair: the Supreme Court found in 1972 that blacks were far more likely to be executed than whites. Questions about the three-drug cocktail used in executions have also weighed arguments against it.

NBC reported the political angle, noting that President Donald Trump’s administration announced it would execute the five prisoners two days after Sen. Joe Biden reversed course on the death penalty. The announcement linked Biden, a Trump rival for the presidency in 2020, and several prominent Democrats to the highly-controversial resumption of executions as they had pushed through the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The 1994 bipartisan bill expanded the offenses that are eligible for the death penalty.

#23190 Published: July 31, 2019

December 9


Russian and Ukrainian presidents meet for talks on eastern Ukraine conflict

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin of Russia meet in Paris for talks aimed at ending the fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Zelensky won the presidency in April on a pledge to end the fighting.

France and Germany are acting as mediators. The Elysee Palace said there had been "major advances" in negotiations since summer, including troop withdrawals by both sides and prisoner exchanges. In October, Ukraine signed a tentative agreement with the rebels on holding elections in the separatist-held areas. German broadcaster DW reports that the agreement led to criticism from some Ukrainians who claimed it amounted to a capitulation to Russia.

The conflict, which has claimed more than 13,000 lives, began with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its intervention in eastern Ukraine in 2014, after pro-European protests in Kiev toppled Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president.

France and Germany brokered a 2015 peace agreement, which was signed in Minsk, Belarus, that envisaged Ukraine regaining full control of its border with Russia only after the rebel regions receive broad autonomy and elected local leaders and legislatures. Many Ukrainians resented the provision.

#23332 Published: November 19, 2019

December 10


Wyoming legislators made history with women’s vote 150 years ago

The Western territory of Wyoming made history 150 years ago by giving women the right to vote 51 years before the United States gave them voting rights. A century-and-a-half later U.S. women have made electoral history for themselves – but still might feel sidelined.

The legislature of the now state of Wyoming had first convened in Oct 1869. The territory’s history-making didn’t stop with the voting rights: within a few months, it had sworn in the country’s first female jurors and appointed its first female justice of the peace, Esther Morris. relates that most Wyoming legislators supported the proposed bill to grant women political representation because they thought it would win the territory free national publicity and might attract more single marriageable women to the region. In Wyoming, some men were also motivated by sheer loneliness – in 1869, the territory had over 6,000 adult males and only 1,000 females, and men hoped women would be more likely to settle in the rugged and isolated country if they were granted the right to vote.

As a result of the U.S. mid-term election in Nov 2018 more women than ever before are serving in legislatures across the country, and three women are among the top contenders in the 2020 presidential race. In Jan 2019 at least 99 will have taken the Oath of Office for the 435-seat House of Representatives, up from 83, and as many as 24 in the 100-seat Senate, up from 23. Even at the encouraging numbers in 2019, women, who represent some 50 per cent of the country’s population, will hold fewer than one-quarter of the seats in Congress. A check of the state and local election results is likely to show a similar male-female gap in representation. A century after Wyoming made history, arguably, the country’s power structure remains unchallenged.


December 10


WTO Appellate Body loses two judges and might cease functioning

The expiration of the terms of two judges on the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body looms as a mortal blow to the court. The United States has blocked the appointment of new judges, which leaves the seven-member body down to just one after the December date.

The Appellate Body acts as an appeal court of sorts for the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body. The departure of judges Ujal Singh Bhatia, from India, and Thomas R. Graham from the United States leaves only Judge Hong Zhao from China on the court. With only one judge, the court will cease functioning.

Thirteen countries that are like-minded about reforming the WTO met In Oct 2018 to explore ways to save the court. China and the United States were not invited. The closed-door session looked at safeguarding and strengthening the dispute settlement system, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the WTO monitoring function and modernizing trade rules for the 21st Century. A European Union proposal calls for strengthening the court’s mandate, increasing its size from seven to nine members, and giving it more resources.

In July the EU and Canada agreed to a workaround. It is a new trade dispute resolution system as a temporary substitute to the WTO appeal court, and once the official WTO court collapses, appeals will instead be heard by retired appellate body judges. Individual judges for each case will be chosen by the WTO’s director-general from a pool of available former judges. 

Reuters reports that U.S. President Donald Trump faces a barrage of disputes at the WTO against his trade policies, including global tariffs on steel and a tariff war with China. Since he came to power, Washington has blocked all appointments to the appeals chamber as existing judges’ terms end.

The Atlantic Council explains that U.S. concern about the power of the Appellate Body has led it to reject the European proposal and other measures to strengthen the court. Meanwhile, according the publication, the United States is still bringing cases to the WTO to refute the rights of other countries to retaliate against its unilateral tariffs.

Reforms have been largely elusive for the WTO, but hostile rhetoric towards the organization from Trump is giving the quest added urgency.


December 10


Marlon Brando Rolex watch from Apocalypse Now goes under the hammer

The Rolex GMT Master wristwatch that was owned and worn by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now goes under the hammer at Phillips’ Game Changers auction in New York. Because of its association with the two-times Academy Award winning actor in the 40th anniversary year of the celebrated Francis Ford Coppola film, the watch is expected to fetch six figures – at least.

Paul Newman’s famous Rolex Daytona made headlines when it resurfaced in 2017. Auctioned off for charity, it fetched US 17.8 million.

According to the auctioneer, the Brando watch was seen by millions on the wrist of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz – the character played by the actor – and long thought to have been lost. Brandon engraved his name on the caseback of the watch.

The New York Times reports that in 1995 Brando gave the timepiece to Petra Brando Fischer, his adopted daughter. She will donate part of the proceeds from the sale to a new foundation for children suffering abuse, hardship and neglect to honor Brando’s activism in similar areas.

#23192 Published: July 31, 2019

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