In a historic ruling, the Supreme Court has struck down a handgun ban in Washington, DC. On Thursday, justices ruled the Second Amendment enshrines the constitutional right of an individual to own and keep a loaded handgun at home for purposes of self-defense. The five-to-four decision overturns the thirty-two-year-old ban on handguns in the nation’s capital. It’s the Court’s most significant ruling on the Second Amendment in nearly seventy years. Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty criticized the ruling but said it will be respected.
Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty: "As mayor, although I am disappointed in the Court’s ruling and believe, as I said for the past year, that more handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence, it is important to both respect the Court’s authority and then to act quickly. And today I have already directed the Metropolitan Police Department to implement an orderly process for allowing citizens to register handguns for lawful possession in their homes.”
In another judgment, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of campaign finance reform regulating how wealthy candidates finance their campaigns. The so-called “millionaire’s amendment” forces candidates to disclose additional information and allows opponents to raise more money. In a five-to-four ruling, the Court said the amendment is unconstitutional because it unfairly restricts wealthy candidates.
North Korea has reportedly destroyed a cooling tower at its main nuclear facility as part of a new agreement to abandon nuclear activities. The tower’s destruction was seen as largely symbolic as the plant had already been inactive. The move comes one day after North Korea pledged to begin disarmament in return for a partial lifting of sanctions from six other countries including the United States. The Bush administration agreed to remove North Korea from its list of states sponsoring terrorism. President Bush cautiously welcomed the agreement at the White House.
President Bush: "If they don’t fulfill their promises, more restrictions will be placed on them. This is action for action. This is, you know, we will trust you only to the extent that you fulfill your promises. So I’m pleased with the progress, under no illusions that this is the first step. This isn’t the end of the process; this is the beginning of the process of action for action."
Bush had famously labeled North Korea part of the so-called “Axis of Evil” along with Iran and Iraq in his State of the Union address in January 2002. The administration had initially rejected diplomacy with the North Korean regime. But some government officials say the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and its loss in the 2006 congressional elections motivated the White House to reach an agreement before Bush leaves office. Carolyn Leddy, a former National Security Council counter-proliferation official under President Bush, said, “There’s certainly a desire on the legacy issue here.” Former UN ambassador John Bolton, a leading neoconservative in the Bush administration until his exit two years ago, said, “I think it’s a very sad day... It reflects the collapse of the Bush doctrine.”
In Iraq, at least forty-one people were killed in separate bombings Thursday. Twenty Iraqis were killed along with three US Marines at a tribal council meeting in Anbar province. Another eighteen people were killed and eighty wounded in a car bomb attack in the northern city of Mosul. Thirteen Americans, including two civilians, have died in Iraq since Monday. Twenty-nine US servicemembers have been killed in June, making it one of the bloodiest periods for the US military in several months. At least fifty Iraqis have died in the same stretch.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, June has become the deadliest month for foreign troops there since the 2001 invasion. On Thursday, a roadside bomb killed three servicemembers in a foreign convoy, bringing this month’s troop toll to thirty-nine.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has overwhelmingly approved a measure funding the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The final vote was ninety-two to six. The $257 billion emergency supplement funds the wars through the end of President Bush’s term and beyond. The House passed its version of the bill last week. Democrats agreed to back the measure after winning Republican concessions on benefits for veterans.
In other news from Washington, the Senate has delayed a vote on a controversial measure to rewrite the nation’s surveillance laws and grant immunity to phone companies involved in President Bush’s secret domestic spy program. The legislation gives the government new powers to eavesdrop on both domestic and international communications. The Democratic-controlled House approved its version of the bill last week. But on Thursday, Senate Democrats said they would delay debate following objections from Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Democrats say they’ll take up the measure when senators return from recess in July.
Zimbabwe is proceeding with a controversial run-off election today despite local and international allegations of a rigged vote. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of elections in March but withdrew from the run-off late last week. He has sought refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare out of what he says is concern for his life. On Thursday, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe rejected foreign criticism.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe: "We remain open to discussion. If there are any proposals that the other party’s would want to make to us, in good spirit, we will listen to those proposals, discuss them with them. AU [African Union], it has no right in dictate to us what we should do with our constitution and how we should govern this country."
In Bolivia, controversy is growing over alleged US political interference to undermine the government of President Evo Morales. This week six coca grower federations announced they would expel officials with the State Department agency USAID for allegedly funneling money to government opponents. On Thursday, Morales decried what he called a conspiracy against his presidency.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "The conspiracy, as they say, against the Indian, against the government, against Evo Morales, is USAID. It’s the US embassy. We said, comrades, that we would never break relations. We are the culture of dialogue. Instead, we should be a territory free from US imperialism. This is our great desire, that of the tropical zone of Cochabamba. It’s the conscience of our peoples."
Tensions have risen since former Bolivian Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín said he had been granted asylum in the United States. Berzaín is wanted for his alleged role in a 2003 government crackdown that left sixty-seven people dead and more than 400 wounded.
Back in the United States, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton made their first joint appearance in Washington Thursday since Obama won the Democratic nomination earlier this month. The private event was filled with Clinton supporters and seen as the first step towards reconciliation between the two campaigns. Under questioning from audience members, Obama said he acknowledged sexism had played a role in Clinton’s defeat. Obama and Clinton are set for their first joint public appearance today in Unity, New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, Obama has engaged in his first public spat with independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader following Nader’s criticism of his campaign. In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News, Nader said Obama is trying to appease white voters while ignoring African Americans.
Ralph Nader: "There’s only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate: he’s half African American. Whether that will make any difference, I don’t know. I haven’t heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos — payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. You know, what’s keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn’t want to appear like Jesse Jackson? We’ll see all that play out in the next few months and if he gets elected afterwards."
On Wednesday, Obama dismissed Nader’s criticism.
Sen. Barack Obama: “First of all, what’s clear is Ralph Nader hasn’t been paying attention to my speeches, because all the issues that he talked about, whether it’s predatory lending or the housing foreclosure crisis or what have you, are issues that the traveling press can tell you I’ve devoted multiple speeches, town hall meetings to throughout this campaign. Ralph Nader is trying to get attention. He has become a perennial political candidate. I think it’s a shame, because if you look at his legacy in terms of consumer protections, it’s an extraordinary one. But at this point, he’s somebody who’s trying to get attention and whose campaign hasn’t gotten any traction."
And supporters of the jailed Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian are voicing outrage over another new indictment against him in a case unrelated to his original jailing. On Thursday, prosecutors indicted Al-Arian for refusing to appear before a grand jury probing an Islamic charity in Northern Virginia. Al-Arian has already spent an additional eighteen months in prison for refusing to testify. He was due to be released in April after serving five years on charges that he was a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He had accepted that sentence after reaching a plea agreement to avoid a second trial. In his original trial, a Florida jury failed to return a single guilty verdict on any of the seventeen charges brought against him.