In a landmark decision Thursday, the Supreme Court voted against voluntary desegregation plans. The narrow 5-4 ruling rejected using race as a criteria for assigning students for different schools. The court rejected voluntary integration plans from school districts in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky, and supported white parents whose children had been denied admission to nearby schools because of their diversity policies. Dissenting Supreme Court judges said the decision betrays the promise of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that outlawed segregation in public schools. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote: “This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret.”
The Supreme Court decision was one of several issues taken up at last night’s Democratic presidential forum at Howard University. It was the first time a presidential debate was moderated by a panel consisting entirely of journalists of color. Attendees included the Reverend Al Sharpton and Princeton Professor Cornel West. The Democratic contenders roundly condemned the Supreme Court ruling. Senator Barack Obama emphasized the theme that racial equality has improved, but not nearly enough. Congressmember Dennis Kucinich drew some of the loudest applause of the night when he called for an end to the Iraq War. Former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina said he would appoint a White House envoy tasked with reporting on the progress of rebuilding New Orleans.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has dealt what is likely a fatal blow to the bipartisan immigration bill. On Thursday, Senate supporters fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to move toward a final debate. Despite support from President Bush, two-thirds of Republican senators voted against the measure. They were joined in opposition by 15 Democrats. The bill would have brought the most comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in two decades. But it drew criticism from all sides of the immigration debate. It included new provisions increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, legalizing a limited number of immigrants through increased fees and new restrictions, and putting time limits on the stays for hundreds of thousands of guest workers. Bill proponent Senator Edward Kennedy lamented the defeat but vowed to continue efforts toward immigration reform.
Sen. Edward Kennedy: “This is the issue, Mr. President, whether we are going to have a constructive and positive resolution of this issue, or are we going to be naysayers, naysayers, bumper sticker solutioners. Let’s just say, 'Oh, we are amnesty, with or against amnesty, and therefore we are against this bill.' America deserves better. This issue is too important. Now is the time. This is the place, and the Senate is the forum where we have to take this action.”
Immigrant rights groups said the defeat shouldn’t end efforts to act on immigration. John Trasviña of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said: “We now call upon the House of Representatives to address, and not ignore, our immigration policies so they can serve our families, our security and our economy.” In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon also criticized the Senate failure.
President Felipe Calderon: “The U.S. Senate has made a serious mistake by not recognizing a problem which is there and to avoid with today’s decision to give a sensible, rational and legal solution to the immigration problem that cannot be solved simply with speeches.”
Calderon spoke alongside visiting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Ortega said U.S. immigration woes should reinforce the importance of regional integration in the Southern Hemisphere.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega: “It’s a world with a sense of solidarity, of justice, of identity, of love of one’s neighbor. As Christ says, 'Love your next-door neighbor as you would yourself.' If we want a world like that, we want more importantly a unified Latin America, Caribbean. Unity is not bad for anyone.”
The Bush administration has rejected lawmakers’ demands to hand over documents related to the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. On Thursday, White House counsel Fred Fielding told Congress the president would invoke executive privilege to deny access to documents from former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor. Fielding also said neither Miers nor Taylor would testify at hearings next month as called for under their subpoenas. The rebuke could set off a new congressional showdown including efforts to cite the White House for contempt. Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy said the White House is practicing “Nixonian stonewalling.”
In Iraq, the Pentagon has announced the deaths of five U.S. troops in a coordinated attack in southern Baghdad. Ninety-nine servicemembers have been killed this month. The toll for the last three months has reached 329, making it the deadliest quarter for the U.S. military in Iraq since the invasion. On Thursday, President Bush insisted the Iraq War is showing signs of progress.
President Bush: “In Baghdad, our military reports that despite an upward trend in May, sectarian murders are now down substantially from what they were in January. We’re finding arms caches at more than three time the rate a year ago. Although the enemy continues to carry out sensational attacks, the number of suicide attacks has been down in May and June. And because U.S. and Iraqi forces are living among those who they are secure, many Iraqis are now coming forward with information about where the terrorists are hiding.”
The president went on to say he views Israel as a model for what Iraq should become. Bush said Israel is able to carry out its democratic functions despite the constant threat of attacks. In response, the Middle East analyst Juan Cole writes: “These words may be the stupidest ones ever uttered by a U.S. president. Given their likely impact on the U.S. war effort in the Middle East, they are downright criminal.”
The European Union has approved a deal that will allow the Bush administration to continue its secret monitoring of international financial transactions. The records have been obtained through SWIFT, which directs trillions of dollars in international bank transfers each day. The program came to light last year and has drawn criticism for violating privacy rights. European Union spokesperson Frisco Abbing said those concerns have been addressed.
Frisco Abbing: “I think we have found now an approach which is satisfactory, both for ensuring that the EU also remains a reliable partner with the United States in the fight against terrorism, including the financing of terrorism, whilst on the same time very much catering for the very legitimate data protection concerns and needs which we have put forward.”
But civil liberties advocates are voicing concern over the deal.
Amnesty International Belgium Director Philippe Hensmans: “What is important is that people know that their data will be transferred to the United States and possibly to other countries, or at least to other organizations within the United States, and that those data could one day be used, be interpreted and used against them. As far as the use of data is concerned, we just gave a blank check to the Americans.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in Russia at the start of a tour that will also take him to Belarus and Iran. Speaking in Moscow Thursday, Chavez assailed U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “They should withdraw their troops from Iraq. They have to refuse to threaten Iran. Iran has all the rights. Why can they not develop their nuclear industry for peaceful purposes? Two days ago I read that Lula [Brazilian president] is going to reopen their nuclear project, and he has the right to do so. Argentina has the right to do the same, and so does Venezuela.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel has expanded its assault on Gaza into the West Bank. On Thursday, the Israeli military imposed a curfew on the city of Nablus, sending in 50 armored vehicles and conducting house-to-house searches. The raid follows Wednesday’s attack on Gaza that killed at least eight Palestinian militants and a 12-year-old boy. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ appointed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad denounced the operations.
Salam Fayyad: “All this aims to undermine what we are trying to do–to end the security chaos and promote safety for the citizens. Moreover, we condemn this, what happened, and what’s going on. We still insist that this is an attempt to undermine our effort to spread security and safety.”
In South Africa, the anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu has leveled some of his strongest criticism to date of the ruling ANC government. In an interview with Financial Times, Tutu says the ANC’s economic policies are widening the gap between rich and poor in South Africa because apartheid’s economic legacy has been kept mostly in place. He said: “I’m really very surprised by the remarkable patience of people. [It’s hard] to explain why they don’t say to hell with Tutu, [Nelson] Mandela and the rest and go on the rampage.” Tutu’s comments follow a nearly month-long strike by South Africa’s public-sector workers. The strike ended Thursday after their unions agreed to a pay raise.
Noluthando Sibiya, president of South Africa’s National Health and Allied Workers Union: “It is winning situation, the fact that also members on the ground have been united irrespective of which union they came from, you know, in their resolve, to ensure that they support the demands that were on the table, so we think that it is a strength, it is also a win for us as unions.”
In Colombia, the rebel group FARC has announced 11 lawmakers abducted five years ago have been killed during a military raid on the camp where they were being held. FARC said the hostages died in the crossfire during fighting last week. The group expressed its regret to the families of the victims and said it would try to return their remains. Family members have criticized both the government and the rebels for failing to reach agreements that could have set the hostages free.
And in media news, reporters at The Wall Street Journal staged an early morning walkout Thursday to protest a rumored sale to News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch and proposed cuts to their health benefits. In a statement, Wall Street Journal staffers said the prospect of Murdoch ownership threatens the paper’s “long tradition of independence” and “editorial integrity.”