Sunday news round-up: July 20th-26th

Top Story: NASA announces discovery of Earth’s “close cousin”: Scientists at NASA have announced the discovery of Kepler 452B, a planet some 1,400 light years away that bears striking resemblances to our home planet and could possibly be host to life. Kepler 452B, named after the telescope used to find it, is about 60% larger than Earth an occupies the so-called Goldilocks Zone, the ideal distance from the sun that is neither too hot nor too cold to sustain life, and the sun which it orbits is said to be in the same age range as our own. While NASA still has data to analyse and observations to make, its admittance that Kepler 452B bears resemblances to Earth make it the most likely candidate for extraterrestrial life (whether it be microbes or mammals) discovered thus far. Sadly, travelling to and from Kepler 452B is impossible with current technology due to the sheer distance between it and our solar system.

Japanese Constitution set for constitutional de-pacification: “Dark and creepy” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has successfully pushed his constitutional reform bill through committee stage, advancing a controversial repeal of Article 9. Article 9 essentially forbids Japan from declaring war or having large armed forces, and was enacted in the aftermath of WWII, but Abe’s bill seeks to repeal it and allow Japan to issue declarations of war. Public, media, scholarly, and political opposition to the repeal is enormous, but Abe’s government has expressed little concern for their growing unpopularity. Vice Prime Minister Taro Aso has suggested that Japan should learn from the Nazis and change the constitution without telling them. Critics of the bill allege that Abe wishes to fight alongside wars with the United States.

Israeli assault on Iran “huge mistake”, says Kerry: Belligerent military or cyber activity against the Islamic Republic of Iran on the part of Israel would be a “huge mistake with consequences”, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. In an interview about the long-awaited nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, Kerry said that an Israeli attack on Iran would destabilize the region and have severe consequences for the long-time U.S. ally, which paints itself as a secular democracy and the homeland of the Jewish people simultaneously. Kerry urged Congress to accept the deal when it comes before them, arguing that it has reduced Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities down to 0%, where it will stay. Tensions between the far-right Netanyahu government and Washington have increased in recent years, although the U.S. continues to lend diplomatic and military arsenals to Zionism.

David Cameron announces suspicious anti-Islam initiatives: British Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected suggestions that Western foreign policy is responsible for the rise of extremist groups like ISIS. In a speech announcing his plans to combat Islamic extremism (but no other types of extremism), Cameron said “softer interventions” on law-abiding citizens are needed to ensure the national security of the UK, as part of his wider ideology of rejecting what he calls “passive tolerance” of people who abide by the law. What exactly this authoritarian assault on civil liberties will mean has yet to manifest itself. In his speech, Cameron also drew comparisons between Islam, Nazism, and fascism, not making clear the distinction between the Islamic faith and terrorism, only paying lip service to left-wing Muslim voices, which he painted as a minority.

Finland’s gender neutral marriage under attack by petition: Finland’s petition initiatives allow for a relatively small number of signatures on a motion in order to force a Parliamentary debate, but it is that democratic process which now threatens Finnish marital law, which as of last year makes no mention of gender. The petition, started by the Association for “Real” Marriage, garnered the necessary 50,000 signatures to re-open a Parliamentary debate into same-sex marriage, threatening a law which will not come into effect until 2017. Despite occupying a place on the highly progressive Scandinavian peninsula, Finland has been behind its close neighbours on the issue of LGBT rights, in no small part thanks to the influence of nationalism and intolerance from successive Russian governments. The Finnish Parliament is now required by law to reconsider its passing of gender neutral marriage.

U.S. threatens Kyrgyzstan after cancellation of treaty: Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariev has ordered the cessation of a cooperation treaty with the U.S. that has been in effect since 1993. The cancellation is seen as retaliation for a recent State Department decision to hand a Human Rights Defenders Award to Azimzhan Askarov, who is serving jail time for murdering a Kyrgyz police officer and fostered ethnic riots between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Kyrgyz commentators allege that the decision was a facile attempt to support the opposition to the country’s current government. As a result of the cancellation, the U.S. says aid to Kyrgyzstan will no longer be free from taxes and other custom duties, which could have a humanitarian impact.

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