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The Supreme Court has dealt a blow to campaign finance reform by throwing out part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that placed restrictions on corporations and unions from buying television ads close to elections. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-to-4 decision. He said that the prohibition against corporate ads mentioning a candidate’s name in the days before an election was an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of corporations. The ruling is expected to affect the 2008 presidential election and will likely encourage a financial arms race between special interest groups. Mary Wilson of the League of Women Voters said: “This is a big win for big money. Chief Justice Roberts has reopened the door to corruption.” Voting with Roberts were Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy.
The same majority of the high court also ruled on Monday that public schools can prohibit student expression that can be interpreted as advocating drug use. The case centered on a high school student in Alaska who was suspended for holding a sign that read Bong Hits 4 Jesus at a parade during a school trip. In his dissent, John Paul Stevens criticized the majority of the court for inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs.
In another five-to-four ruling, the Roberts court handed a victory to President Bush’s faith-based initiatives program. The court ruled that ordinary taxpayers cannot challenge the constitutionality of White House efforts to help religious groups obtain government funding for their social programs. In another case that was closely watched by environmental groups, the court ruled that the federal government can avoid its responsibility to protect species under the Endangered Species Act by handing off authority to the states.
In Iraq, four pro-U.S. Sunni sheikhs were killed Monday in a suicide bombing in a Baghdad hotel. All four sheikhs were meeting to discuss their alliance with the United States to fight al-Qaeda in Anbar province.
In Washington, another prominent Republican senator has split with President Bush over the war. Senator Richard Lugar said the president’s so-called surge is failing and that the number of troops in Iraq should be cut.
Special envoys of the European Union, Russia, United Nations and United States are meeting today at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem to discuss the situation in the Occupied Territories. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Egypt to discuss how Israel could bolster Fatah forces aligned with Abbas. Olmert agreed to release 250 Palestinian prisoners — all of whom are tied to Abbas’ Fatah faction. Many Palestinians criticized Olmert for not freeing more of the 11,000 Palestinians being held in Israel.
Mother of Palestinian prisoner: “I wish for my son and all the prisoners an immediate release — for both Fatah and non-Fatah. What does 250 prisoners out of many thousands of prisoners mean? I hope they will release all the prisoners.”
A Hamas spokesperson dismissed Monday’s talks and accused Fatah of partnering with Israel.
Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesperson: “Sharm el-Sheikh summit only represents going in circles and bypassing mirage solutions. This summit did not present or offer anything new to our Palestinian people except empty promises like the discussion about the release of some of the money that rightfully belong to our Palestinian people. Also, the discussion about the release of 250 prisoners, all from the Fatah faction, means that they are talking about a partnership that is not between Hamas and Fatah, but unfortunately between the leaders of the authority and the Israeli occupation.”
Meanwhile, the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat of Fatah called on Israel to take more steps to help Fatah.
Saeb Erekat: “We need to see the settlement activities stopped. And this was discussed thoroughly. And we hope to see [results] on the ground. Secondly, restoring the situation to that which existed prior to September 28, 2001, in the West Bank, meaning restoration of the political status of area A and B, meaning the fugitives’ files and the deportees. And then the release of Palestinian prisoners. We need genuine moves, and we hope to see the results of what was discussed and what was agreed and what was put under consideration.”
A new United Nations report has found opium production in Afghanistan has jumped by nearly 50 percent over the past year. Afghanistan now accounts for 92 percent of the world’s illicit opium production. Much of the opium is converted into heroin and morphine and distributed around the world.
U.N. inspectors are in North Korea today to discuss plans to shut down the country’s main nuclear reactor. On Monday, the State Department’s Christopher Hill said North Korea has agreed to address questions over its highly enriched uranium program. Hill spoke in Washington after returning from a surprise visit to Pyongyang.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs: “So we have a long way to go. What we are looking for in terms of shutting down this reactor, shutting down this complex in Yongbyon is just the first step of many steps. But if all goes well, we would hope that by the end of the calendar year ’07, we will have the facility shut down and disabled. We would have a peace process, a peace mechanism talks underway in the Korean Peninsula.”
New government statistics show over 54 million people had no health insurance for at least part of last year. Texas had the largest percentage of uninsured people — nearly a quarter of the state’s population has no health insurance.
Meanwhile, The New York Sun is reporting the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are readying a multifaceted counteroffensive against Michael Moore’s new film Sicko. Several think tanks and front groups are being bankrolled to attack Moore’s critique of the healthcare industry. According to the Sun, the groups involved in the campaign include the Cato Institute; the Manhattan Institute; the Galen Institute; Pacific Research Institute; the Heritage Foundation; and FreedomWorks, which is run by former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey.
German prosecutors are requesting 13 CIA agents be extradited from the United States to stand trial for the kidnapping of German citizen Khalid el-Masri. El-Masri was seized in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan where he was held in a secret prison and tortured. El-Masri was released after U.S. officials realized they had seized an innocent man.
Meanwhile, protests are continuing over the Bush administration’s support for torture. On Monday, the president was personally presented a letter signed by 50 high school seniors in the Presidential Scholars program. The letter said: “We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the president was not expecting the students’ letter but read it and then told the students that that United States does not torture and that the country values human rights. Meanwhile, protests are taking place today across the country to mark the U.N.’s International Day to Remember the Victims of Torture. In Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union is organizing a Day of Action to Restore Law and Justice.
The World Bank’s board has unanimously approved Robert Zoellick to become the bank’s next president replacing the outgoing Paul Wolfowitz. President Bush personally handpicked Zoellick for the job. Under an informal agreement, the United States always selects the head of the World Bank. Zoellick’s record as former U.S. trade negotiator has been criticized. David Waskow of Friends of the Earth said, “When he was the U.S. trade czar, Zoellick was known for repeatedly rejecting developing countries’ concerns on issues like agriculture, access to medicines, and protecting biodiversity.”
In political news, Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign team in South Carolina is facing another setback. Last week the chair of Giuliani’s state campaign, Thomas Ravenel, stepped down after he was indicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. On Monday Giuliani named Ravenel’s father, Andrew Ravenel, to serve as the state’s new campaign co-chair. The elder Ravenel is no stranger to controversy himself. In 2000 he called the NAACP the “National Association for Retarded People.” When asked about the comment, Ravenel claimed he had misspoken. He said: “I made a rhetorical slip, and they want to lynch me for it.”
And in education news, students at DePaul University have begun a hunger strike to protest the school’s decision to deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee.