The Supreme Court has upheld an Indiana law requiring voters to show photo identification. In a 6-to-3 ruling, the court agreed with Republican supporters that the voter ID law was necessary to prevent voter fraud and safeguard public confidence in the integrity of elections. Democrats and civil rights groups have opposed the law, saying it is a thinly veiled effort to suppress elderly, poor and minority voters — those most likely to lack proper ID and who tend to vote for Democrats. In his dissent, Justice David Souter said Indiana’s voter ID law “threatens to impose nontrivial burdens on the voting rights of tens of thousands of the state’s citizens.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Indiana has not prosecuted a single case of in-person voting fraud in recent history. Indiana is one of over twenty states that have passed voter ID laws. Other states are considering similar legislation.
On Capitol Hill, House Democratic leaders are putting together the largest Iraq war spending bill to date. The bill is expected to provide $178 billion for the war, enough to fund the war through the end of the Bush presidency and for nearly six months into the next president’s term. The San Francisco Chronicle reports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is plotting a so-called “guns-for-butter” strategy to try to force Bush to accept some new domestic spending in exchange for the money he needs to fight the war. Pelosi’s strategy has been criticized by several antiwar lawmakers. Congresswoman Barbara Lee said, “It just wouldn’t make sense to force (members of Congress) to choose between providing food stamps for people who are hurting and need help during this terrible time and funding an occupation that people do not support.”
Meanwhile, the peace activist Cindy Sheehan has taken out papers to run against Nancy Pelosi in November. Sheehan has been a vocal critic of Pelosi’s support to continue funding the war, her refusal to push for the impeachment of President Bush and her opposition to a single-payer healthcare system.
The US death toll in Iraq for the month of April has reached forty-four, making April the deadliest month for US forces since September. On Monday, four US soldiers were killed in Baghdad.
In Gaza, hundreds of mourners on Monday carried the bodies of four children and their mother killed by Israeli forces through the streets of Beit Lahia in northern Gaza. Medical officials and residents said an Israeli projectile smashed through the ceiling of a one-story house where the family was having breakfast. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the Israeli shelling.
Sami Abu Zuhri: “The massacre committed by the occupation this morning in northern Gaza, which left seven dead, mostly children, this is proof that the Israeli occupation is not concerned with any calm and is insisting on the continuation of the aggression against our Palestinian people.”
Israel officials have admitted to firing missiles near the family’s home, but Israeli Army spokesperson Avital Leibowitz claimed the family was killed by a secondary explosion caused by detonated explosive devices carried by Palestinian militants.
Avital Leibowitz: “This initial investigation proves with no doubt that we did not target the house. The cause of the death of this Palestinian family was solely the explosion that occurred from the backpacks that were full of explosives that these terrorists carried on their backs.”
In other news from the region, the Lebanese army has accused twelve Israeli Air Force warplanes of violating Lebanese airspace. The warplanes were seen flying over several cities, including Beirut.
In campaign news, much of the national media’s focus over the past forty-eight hours has focused not on any of the three main candidates but Senator Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. On Monday, Wright spoke before the National Press Club and was repeatedly questioned about his sermons on US foreign policy, Israel, Louis Farrakhan and race. Wright was also asked about what he meant when he said after the September 11 attacks that America’s chickens are coming home to roost for its own acts of terrorism.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright: “If you heard the whole sermon, first of all, you heard that I was quoting the ambassador from Iraq. That’s number one. But number two, to quote the Bible, 'Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatsoever you sow, that you also shall reap.' Jesus said, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles.”
Wright accused the media of taking his comments out of context.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright: “This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. This is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African American religious tradition.”
After Wright spoke, Obama held a new conference in North Carolina in an effort to further distance himself from his former pastor. Obama said, “He does not speak for me. He does not speak for the campaign.”
The private security company Blackwater has announced plans to build an indoor training center in Otay Mesa, California, just across from the Mexican border. Blackwater recently abandoned plans to build a larger facility on a ranch in Potrero, California. Democratic Congressman Bob Filner said he is concerned that Blackwater is attempting to become better situated to win border security contracts. Filner said, “This is a very sensitive area when it comes to human and civil rights. We don’t need people who have no regard for human and civil rights to be part of that enforcement. It’s dangerous, literally, to the lives of my constituents.” Blackwater officials say they’ll use the 61,000-square-foot site to train Navy and Coast Guard sailors.
The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, has called for the suspension of biofuels production. He said it is a major cause for the food crisis that has thrown millions into poverty.
Jean Ziegler: “Biofuels, with today’s current production methods, are a crime against a great part of humanity. They’re an intolerable crime, and I requested the United Nations General Assembly in New York in my last report to the Human Rights Council that a moratorium be imposed as a five-year ban against this transformation.”
According to Jean Ziegler, the United States burned 138 million tons of corn last year and transformed it into bioethanol and biodiesel. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ziegler said, “Burning food today so as to serve the mobility of the rich countries is a crime against humanity.” Ziegler’s comments came while the UN held an emergency summit in Switzerland to tackle the global food crisis.
On Monday, oil prices hit a new record of nearly $120 dollars a barrel, but OPEC’s president Chakib Khelil of Algeria warns oil prices could eventually hit $200 a barrel. Khelil blamed record oil prices on the weak dollar and global political insecurity.
The oil giants Shell and BP reported making record profits in the first three months of the year. Shell earned $9 billion in the first quarter. BP’s income rose 63 percent to $7.6 billion.
On the campaign trail, Senator Hillary Clinton has joined Senator John McCain in calling for the temporary elimination of the roughly eighteen-cent-a-gallon gas tax over the summer. Senator Obama has opposed the elimination of the tax. While Clinton and McCain have framed the tax cut as a way to help working class families, many economists question who would benefit from the tax cut. According to economist Dean Baker, the tax cut would result in higher profits for the oil industry but would not change the price of gas paid by consumers.
In other economic news, the number of vacant US homes has hit a record of 18.6 million. This is because more homes are in foreclosure and many homeowners are finding it increasingly difficult to find buyers. Nearly three percent of all owner-occupied homes in the country are now empty.
Meanwhile, Wells Fargo Bank is coming under new scrutiny for its lending practices. Members of the group Responsible Wealth plan to present a shareholder resolution at the bank’s shareholders meeting today requesting that the company explain racial and ethnic disparities in its subprime loans. According to bank data, African Americans were almost four times more likely than whites to receive high-cost subprime loans from Wells Fargo in 2006. Latino borrowers were almost twice as likely as whites to receive the high-cost loans.
In labor news, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has presented 85,000 petition signatures to the headquarters of Burger King. The coalition is urging Burger King to pay farmworkers an additional penny per pound of tomatoes picked. Burger King has so far refused the demand, despite similar agreements between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Yum Brands and McDonald’s. Meanwhile, the Fort Myers News-Press has revealed new information on Burger King’s covert attack on the farmworkers. The daughter of Burger King’s vice president admitted to the newspaper that her father used her email account to post online messages vilifying the farmworkers.
In labor news, the International Longshore & Warehouse Union is planning to shut down all of the nation’s West Coast ports on Thursday to condemn the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The eight-hour shutdown will affect twenty-nine ports. The union workers are calling for an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of US troops from the Middle East. The protest will occur on May 1, May Day.
And Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has publicly claimed that the torture of prisoners does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” Scalia’s comment came during an interview with Lesley Stahl on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
Justice Scalia: “I don’t like torture. I’m — although defining it is going to be a nice trick. But, I mean, who’s in favor of it? Nobody. And we have a law against torture. But if the — everything that is hateful and odious is not covered by some provision of the Constitution.”
Lesley Stahl: “If someone’s in custody, as in Abu Ghraib, and they are brutalized by a law enforcement person, if you listen to the expression, 'cruel and unusual punishment,' doesn’t that apply?”
Justice Scalia: “No, no.”
Stahl: “Cruel and unusual punishment?”
Justice Scalia: “To the contrary. You think — you think that you would — has anybody ever referred to torture as punishment? I don’t think so.”
Stahl: “Well, I think if you’re in custody and you have a policeman who’s taken you into custody —”
Justice Scalia: “And you say he’s punishing you?”
Justice Scalia: “What’s he punishing you for? You punish somebody —”
Stahl: “Well, because he assumes you, one, either committed a crime —”
Justice Scalia: “No, no.”
Stahl: “— or that you know something that he wants to know.”
Justice Scalia: “Ah, it’s the latter. And when he’s — when he’s —- when he’s hurting you in order to get information from you -—”
Justice Scalia: “—- you don’t say he’s punishing you. What’s he punishing you for? He’s trying to extract -—”
Stahl: “Because he thinks you’re a terrorist, and he’s going to beat the you-know-what out of you.”
Justice Scalia: “Anyway, that’s my view. And it happens to be correct.”