Midday Roundup: Singing hymns, convicts face Indonesian firing squad

by Leigh Jones
Posted 4/29/15, 12:03 pm

Joyful in death. Indonesia on Tuesday executed seven men convicted of smuggling drugs out of the country. At the last minute, the government pardoned the one woman also sentenced to die after someone came forward and admitted duping her into being a drug mule. Two of the men executed by firing squad were Australians, and the government in Canberra has withdrawn its ambassador from Jakarta in protest. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran admitted to being the drug gang’s ringleaders, but said they had reformed after 10 years in prison. Chan was ordained as a minister in February and married his girlfriend, also a pastor, just a few weeks ago. According to reports, the condemned men refused blindfolds and sang “Amazing Grace” and other hymns as they were led to their deaths. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the executions were “both cruel and unnecessary.”

Long time coming. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed a joint session of Congress today, the first Japanese leader ever to do so. Abe expressed his condolences to the families of soldiers killed in World War II, but stopped short of apologizing for Japan’s actions during the war. Despite Japan’s 70-year history of close ties with the United States following World War II, lawmakers in Washington continue to be frustrated by its leaders’ refusal to stop making official visits to a wartime memorial that includes those accused of war crimes. In 2006, then-Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi thought he would be the first Japanese leader to address Congress. But then-Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chair of the House International Relations Committee at the time, objected, and Koizumi didn’t get an invite after all.

Nuclear debate. The Senate began debate Tuesday on a bipartisan bill giving Congress a say on the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill gives Congress a vote on any final deal to limit Iran’s nuclear development. “It also provides for immediate re-institution of the sanctions should Iran breach the terms of the agreement,” he said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said preventing the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism from gaining nuclear weapons “should be the goal of all senators, no matter what party they belong to.” But conservative Republicans want to add amendments to force Iran to stop funding terrorism and to recognize Israel—language that could threaten the bill’s passage. President Barack Obama has given his tentative approval for the bill, as long as it makes it through Congress without major changes.

Paybacks. If you received government help to buy an Obamacare health plan, odds are you had to pay some of it back. An H&R Block analysis shows two-thirds of its customers who received subsidies to buy health insurance had to reimburse the government an average of $729. “People aren’t always clear on what their income is going to be at the beginning of the year, and that’s always been a problem with how the administration was going to do these subsidies,” said Merrill Matthews of the Institute for Policy Innovation. Obamacare initially had a repayment cap of $250, but Congress lifted it to allow the government to recoup payments to people who later got jobs that increased their income. While the subsidies provided this year’s surprise, next year’s unexpected expense could be worse. The healthcare law calls for a healthy hike in the penalties for not having insurance, which likely will catch some taxpayers unaware.

High-flyer. Daredevil Nik Wallenda completed another death-defying stunt this morning, taking a 4-minute walk atop Orlando’s latest attraction—a 400-foot tall Ferris wheel. The event, broadcast live on NBC, was part of a publicity campaign ahead of the Orlando Eye’s opening, scheduled for May 4. “It’s a little windy,” Wallenda, 36, told NBC’s Today show, which broadcast the event. He said the structure was “really wet” as he began his walk. Wallenda is a member of the Flying Wallendas, a family of acrobats, and a professed Christian. He has successfully completed several cringe-inducing stunts in the last few years, including walks across Niagara Falls and a Grand Canyon–area gorge.

WORLD Radio’s Jim Henry and Mary Reichard contributed to this report.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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