This just in
August 21, 2014
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Iran says it will help the U.S. and its allies fight the Sunni militants who have swept across Iraq — but only in exchange for the removal of crippling sanctions aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"If we agree to do something in Iraq, the other side of the negotiations should do something in return," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, according to the IRNA news agency.

"All the sanctions that are related to Iran's nuclear program should be lifted," he added.

The sanctions are at the heart of ongoing multilateral negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. After the talks missed the original July 20 completion deadline, they've limped forward with little progress.

Back in June, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. was open to working with Iran to some degree, though he ruled out military cooperation.

This doesn't look good
1:15 p.m. ET

Amnesty International has released its annual review of the world's use of the death penalty, and it paints a grim picture.

Amnesty claims that in 2014, there was an "alarming" rise in global death sentences, BBC News reports. Increased death sentences in China and Nigeria are largely responsible. Amnesty notes that Nigeria recorded 659 death sentences in 2014, an increase of more than 500 death sentences from 2013.

On a slightly better note, though, the number of executions actually decreased in countries other than China. Amnesty reported that 607 executions, not including those in China, occurred in 2014, which is almost a 22 percent decrease from 2013.

According to the report, the most executions occurred in Iran, with 289 official executions. Amnesty noted that more than 450 additional executions were "not acknowledged by the authorities," BBC News reports. After Iran, the highest rates of executions were seen in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the U.S.

This just in
11:51 a.m. ET
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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Wednesday announced he would not sign the religious freedom bill passed by the state legislature because it did not include adequate protections against discrimination.

"The bill that is on my desk at the present time does not precisely mirror the federal law," he said.

Unlike the federal law and most state-level iterations around the country, the Arkansas bill would not require the government to be a party in litigation over alleged encroachments on religious freedom. As a result, critics fear it could be used by people and businesses to discriminate against gays — for instance, a bakery could theoretically refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. So saying the legislation had "divided families," Hutchinson said he asked the legislature to recall the bill and tweak it to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Responding to fierce criticism over his state's recently enacted religious freedom law, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) on Tuesday announced he would push for a similar "fix" to bar discrimination.

injustice system
11:36 a.m. ET

A Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found that the Baltimore City Detention Center was putting teenagers awaiting trial as adults into solitary confinement for months on end. While the average time in isolated confinement was 13 days, at least one teen spent as much as 143 days — more than four months — alone.

"This is grossly excessive and violates basic principles of Due Process," the DOJ report concluded. "It is even more troubling for the 24 percent of juveniles in seclusion who are ultimately found not guilty under the disciplinary process."

Solitary confinement is particularly dangerous for adolescents, whose brains are still developing.

Tax Day
11:22 a.m. ET

Come April 24, you'll finally start making money this year — money you get to keep, that is. That's because April 24 is Tax Freedom Day, an annual calculation made by the Tax Foundation. This year, the 114 days before April 24 represent the average number of days Americans will work just to pay their tax bills.

On a state-by-state basis, Tax Freedom Day actually varies by more than a month:

(Tax Foundation)

The Tax Foundation also found that, collectively, Americans will spend more to pay taxes this year than we'll spend on food, housing, and clothing costs put together.

Signed sealed delivered
10:30 a.m. ET
Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images

President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against people, businesses, and governments that "engage in malicious cyber-enabled activities" against the U.S.

"Cyber threats pose one of the most serious economic and national security challenges to the United States, and my Administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront them," Obama said in a statement.

The first of its kind, the sanctions program would allow the Treasury Department to freeze assets and restrict the financial transactions of those deemed to have used cyberattacks to conduct espionage or disrupt U.S. commerce. The announcement comes months after the federal government last year accused North Korea of carrying out a cyberattack against Sony Pictures.

This is incredible
10:27 a.m. ET

One New Zealand woman is living out the real-life version of the film Nebraska — but with a much happier ending.

A BMW dealership placed an advertisement in the New Zealand Herald promising a new car to the first customer to trade in their current car on April 1. Most people saw the date and assumed the ad was an April Fool's joke, but Tianna Marsh decided to take the bait.

Marsh showed up at the dealership at 5:30 a.m. to exchange her 15-year-old Nissan Avenir. The dealership gave her a new BMW that's worth almost $50,000. The best part? The license plate on the new ride reads "NoFooL."

"The ad was intentionally vague and definitely appeared too good to be true, but in this case we wanted to turn the tables and reward the first person who was willing to take the chance," BMW spokesman Ed Finn told the New Zealand Herald. The paper called the advertisement a "double-bluff."

The dealership had hired security guards in case there were riots or crowds responding to the ad, but not many people believed it was real. The company is selling Marsh's old Nissan and donating the proceeds to GoBabyGo, a charity that provides disabled children with small ride-on cars.

Today in Jersey
10:17 a.m. ET

Every so often you find one of those Wikipedia labors of love. Today's version (and no, it isn't a prank) is this article on Action Park, a famously dangerous amusement park in New Jersey. Written with great skill and attention to detail, as well as extensive sourcing per Wikipedia standards, it's a classic Jersey story. A few excerpts:

-The sleds were a large factor in the injuries. A stick that was supposed to control speed led, in practice, to just two options on the infrequently maintained vehicles: extremely slow, and a speed described by one former employee as "death awaits".

-The karts were meant to be driven around a small loop track at a speed of about 20 mph (32 km/h) set by the governor devices on them. However, park employees knew how to circumvent the governors by wedging tennis balls into them, and they were known to do so for park-goers. As a result, an otherwise standard small-engine car ride became a chance to play bumper cars at 50 mph (80 km/h), and many injuries resulted from head-on collisions.

-[The waterslide had] a complete vertical loop of the kind more commonly associated with roller coasters. Employees have reported they were offered hundred-dollar bills to test it. Tom Fergus, who described himself as "one of the idiots" who took the offer, said "$100 did not buy enough booze to drown out that memory." [Wikipedia]

Treat yourself today and read the whole thing.

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