The White House has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the legality of President Obama’s signature healthcare law, following a series of challenges from Republicans in lower courts. Republican state governments, as well as private groups, have filed suits seeking to block or opt out of the law since its approval last year. In a statement, the White House said: "We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional [and] are confident the Supreme Court will agree."
A federal judge has upheld key portions of Alabama’s controversial immigration law, even those that have been blocked in other states. On Wednesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn backed provisions that would require police to arrest anyone they suspect of being in the country without legal status, prevent courts from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants, and allow public schools to determine the immigration status of enrolled students. Judge Blackburn blocked a small number of provisions, including one that would make it a crime to knowingly harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant. The law is widely acknowledged to be the harshest anti-immigration measure in the country.
A new study shows Hispanics now make up the largest group of children living in poverty in the United States. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, some 6.1 million Hispanic children are poor, compared with five million white children and 4.4 million black children. The poverty rate for Hispanic children was 35 percent; for black children, 39 percent; and for white children, 12 percent. Analysts say the figures underscore conclusions that Hispanics have been the hardest-hit ethnic group during the economic recession.
New figures show violence in Afghanistan continues to hit record levels. According to the United Nations, violent incidents have increased by nearly 40 percent over last year. In a rare move, the U.S.-led NATO occupation force disputed the figures, calling them "inconsistent" with NATO records. The number of civilians killed over the summer was up five percent from the same period last year. The United Nations reported in June that 2011 is on track to become the deadliest year of the decade-long U.S. occupation. Some 130,000 people were also displaced this year as of the end of July.
The State Department says it is nearing a decision on whether to designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani network a foreign terrorist group. The move could further heighten tension with Pakistan, which has been accused of backing Haqqani’s operations in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a decision is coming soon.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "With respect to the Haqqani network, we are in the final formal review that has to be undertaken to make a government-wide decision to designate the network as a foreign terrorist organization. But remember, we’ve already designated the key leaders. We have already—I did that some time ago to make it clear that the leaders of the organization fell under the foreign terrorist designation."
The U.N. Security Council has taken its first step in evaluating the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations. The application has been forwarded to a special committee that will review the request in the coming weeks. The United States has pledged to veto any resolution backing Palestinian statehood despite claiming to support a two-state solution. The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, urged the council’s approval.
Riyad Mansour: "As you see, the process is moving forward, step by step, and we hope that the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility and to approve our application and to send a recommendation to the General Assembly for the admission of Palestine to the United Nations."
President Obama has formally rejected lifting the U.S. embargo of Cuba. On Wednesday, Obama said Cuba has failed to take constructive steps towards a more open government.
President Obama: "What we’ve tried to do is to send a signal that we are open to a new relationship with Cuba, if the Cuban government starts taking the proper steps to open up its own country and its own—and provide the space and the respect for human rights that would allow the Cuban people to determine their own destiny."
In Bahrain, 20 medical workers who treated demonstrators during anti-government protests earlier this year have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Thirteen doctors and nurses were given 15 years behind bars while the remaining seven were sentenced to between five to 10 years. Most of the medics worked at a hospital in the capital Manama that was stormed by government forces in mid-March. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally in the Middle East, hosting the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
A prisoner held at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay accused of orchestrating the deadly attack on the U.S.S. Cole has been ordered to face the death penalty before a military commission. Abd al-Nashiri faces charges alleging he oversaw the planning of the October 2000 attack, which killed 17 sailors and wounded 40 others. Nashiri’s case will mark the first death-penalty war crimes trial at Guantánamo under President Obama. The military tribunal was initially canceled in 2009 as part of Obama’s pledge to close the prison. But trials have resumed after Obama reversed his position earlier this year. Nashiri has claimed he confessed to the Cole bombing after undergoing repeated torture in U.S. custody. He was waterboarded dozens of times.
A Massachusetts physics graduate has been arrested on charges of planning to build explosives-laden drones to attack the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol. The FBI says Rezwan Ferdaus conducted detailed surveillance to map out the attack and acquired a small aircraft as part of his plan to carry it out. The plot would have marked the first time that militants deployed the drone technology used by the United States to strike targets in foreign countries for an attack on the United States. Ferdaus was caught with the help of undercover agents posing as al-Qaeda operatives who gave him the money to buy the drones, a tactic that has led to allegations of entrapment from defense attorneys in previous cases.
A Pennsylvania prison guard has been arrested on allegations of sexually or physically assaulting more than 20 prisoners and trying to cover up his crimes. Harry Nicoletti faces 92 charges for acts against inmates under his watch, including rape, threats, and using some prisoners to target others by having them contaminate bedding and food with bodily fluids. His alleged victims include a transsexual prisoner who has accused Nicoletti of rape and shouting racial epithets. Nicoletti has denied the charges, and his union has offered its support, saying prison guards are often falsely accused.
The media reform group Free Press has filed a petition to review new Federal Communications Commission internet guidelines. Published last week, the FCC’s new rules would forbid broadband providers from blocking legal content, but would allow them to otherwise manage networks as they see fit. Free Press argues the new measures do not protect wireless traffic from interference by phone companies. The rules are scheduled to go into effect on November 20.
Public hearings are being held from Montana to the Gulf Coast as the State Department weighs the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands fields to refineries in Texas. A hearing tonight in Atkinson, Nebraska, is expected to double the town’s population of 1,300 people. The State Department is preparing to issue a final ruling on the pipeline after signaling its support one month ago.
The New York City Police Department is reportedly investigating the conduct of a senior officer who was filmed pepper-spraying a number of individuals during the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest last weekend. On Wednesday, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced his department’s internal affairs division is investigating the conduct of Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, who was identified in a video that depicts four young women trapped behind a police net being indiscriminately pepper-sprayed. A second video has now surfaced that shows Bologna pepper-spraying a separate group of individuals on Saturday, including a man wearing a press pass. Bologna is currently the subject of pending legal action brought by a protester involved in the 2004 demonstrations at the Republican National Convention. The Occupy Wall Street campaign has based itself in New York City’s Financial District and drawn thousands of supporters from around the world over the course of the last 12 days, including prominent figures such as Michael Moore and Cornel West. The demonstration is based at a privately owned, public plaza approximately 1,000 yards from Wall Street itself.