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HeadlinesApril 23, 2014

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Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Affirmative Action in Michigan Schools

Apr 23, 2014

The Supreme Court has upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action at state colleges and universities. The case centers on a 2006 voter referendum in Michigan that barred race and sex-based preferences in admissions. An appeals court previously ruled the ban violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. But in a 6-to-2 decision, the Supreme Court overruled the lower court. The ruling will likely bolster similar anti-affirmative action measures in several other states. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union said: “This case is ultimately about whether students of color are allowed to compete on the same playing field as all other students. Today, the Supreme Court said they are not.”

Ukraine Ends Easter Truce; Biden Visits Kiev

Apr 23, 2014

Ukraine says it has resumed a military operation against pro-Russian separatists after a brief pause for the Easter holiday. It is unclear what steps Ukraine will take after an internationally brokered truce reached last week called for de-escalation of hostilities. An offensive by Ukrainian troops also ended in humiliating defeat. The Ukraine government says it has U.S. backing to root out pro-Russian forces from eastern towns. The move comes one day after a visit to Kiev by Vice President Joe Biden. Following a meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister, Biden said Russia is running out of time to meet its obligations.

Vice President Joe Biden: “No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation. No nation has that right. And we will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, and neither will the world. Now it’s time for Russia to stop talking and start acting. Act on the commitments that they made: to get pro-Russian separatists to vacate buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically; to get out on the record calling for the release of all illegally occupied buildings — that’s not a hard thing to do; and to send senior Russian officials to work with the OSCE in the east.”

Separatists Kidnap Vice News Journalist in Ukraine

Apr 23, 2014

In other news from Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists have taken an American journalist hostage. Simon Ostrovsky of Vice News was covering a separatist news conference when he was seized. After initial denials, the separatists have acknowledged they are holding Ostrovsky against his will. In a statement, Vice said it is working to ensure his safety and security.

U.S. Deploys Troops for Exercises in Poland, Baltic States

Apr 23, 2014

As the crisis in Ukraine unfolds, the United States is deploying around 600 soldiers to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia for military exercises. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the operation will send a message to Russia.

John Kirby: “The United States takes seriously our obligations under Article 5 of the NATO alliance, even though these aren’t NATO exercises. It’s a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe. If there’s a message to Moscow, it is the same exact message, that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”

Monitors: Removal of Syrian Chemical Stockpile Nearly 90% Complete

Apr 23, 2014

International monitors say the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is nearly 90 percent complete. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it only has two or three shipments remaining to complete the deal that averted a threatened U.S. attack last year.

Assad Regime Accused of Chlorine Bombardments on Rebel Areas

Apr 23, 2014

The news comes as the Syrian government faces new allegations of using chemical weapons against civilians. The Assad regime is accused of dropping barrels of industrial chlorine on rebel-held areas in recent weeks. Chlorine is not on the list of banned agents under the international Chemical Weapons Convention, but its use would still be a war crime. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States is investigating.

Jen Psaki: “We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month in the opposition-dominated village of Kfar Zeita. We’re examining allegations that the government was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat use very seriously.”

Abbas Threatens Dissolution of Palestinian Authority If Talks Fail

Apr 23, 2014

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has renewed a warning to dissolve his government if peace talks with Israel fail. Abbas said Israel has deprived the PA of any real power while continuing to expand illegal settlements. Abbas said Israel should assume formal responsibility for the plight of the entire West Bank it if refuses to accept Palestinian self-determination.

President Mahmoud Abbas: “It means if Israel wants to continue its policy and if it will not give the Palestinian Authority its rights, Israel can bear the responsibilities of this authority, it can take care of this authority. We have said this to the Americans and the Israelis.”

U.S. Resumes Military Aid to Egypt with Helicopter Shipment

Apr 23, 2014

The Obama administration is easing the suspension of military aid to Egypt that followed the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi last year. The Pentagon will deliver 10 Apache attack helicopters to back Egyptian “counter-terrorism” operations in the Sinai Peninsula. To ensure the deal, Secretary of State John Kerry certified to Congress that Egypt has partially met the criteria for the resumption of U.S. aid. But the criteria do not include taking steps toward a democratic transition of government.

Egypt Trial of Al Jazeera Journalists Adjourned to May

Apr 23, 2014

The news comes as the trial of three Al Jazeera journalists detained in Cairo for months has again been delayed. Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are accused of “spreading false news” in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, deemed by the government a “terrorist group.” On Tuesday, an Egyptian judge adjourned the case until next month. The judge ignored a plea from Fahmy to receive hospital treatment for his injured arm.

Muslim Plaintiffs Claim “No-Fly” List Retaliation for Refusing to Spy for FBI

Apr 23, 2014

A new lawsuit accuses the FBI of placing four people on the U.S. “no-fly list” after they refused to become government informants. All four of the plaintiffs are Muslim residents of the United States. They say they were barred from flying despite not being accused of any crime, but because they refused government requests to spy on their communities. The lawsuit seeks their removal from the no-fly list as well as a new legal mechanism to challenge placement on it.

Judge Orders Disclosure of CIA Secret Prison Secrets

Apr 23, 2014

A military judge presiding over the case of a USS Cole bombing suspect has ordered the CIA to release tightly held secrets about its secret prisons overseas. Guantánamo prisoner Abd al-Nashiri claims he confessed to orchestrating the Cole bombing after suffering repeated torture in U.S. captivity. U.S. Army Colonel James Pohl has ordered the CIA to release details about its treatment of al-Nashiri, including the names of personnel who worked at the so-called “black sites” where he was tortured. The ruling has been hailed as a milestone in exposing the U.S. detention and interrogation of terror suspects overseas. While the information would be released to al-Nashiri’s defense attorneys, it would not be made public. The CIA is likely to appeal.

Missouri Executes Prisoner After Drug Secrecy Challenge Fails; Oklahoma Gov. Overrides Court Stay

Apr 23, 2014

Missouri has executed a death row prisoner after the Supreme Court rejected a last-minute attempt for a stay. William Rousan was convicted of killing an elderly couple in 1993. His attorneys had challenged his execution over the secrecy surrounding the drugs used in his lethal injection. Earlier this week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a stay for two death row prisoners who had filed a similar challenge. On Tuesday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin sowed legal confusion after issuing her own stay in one the cases. Overriding the court, Fallin’s stay lasts just seven days.

Obama Tours Washington Landslide Area as Toll Hits 41

Apr 23, 2014

The death toll from last month’s landslide in Washington state has reached 41, with two still missing. On Tuesday, President Obama toured the area and met with the victims’ families.

President Obama: “There are still families who are searching for loved ones. There are families who have lost everything, and it’s going to be a difficult road ahead for them. And that’s why I wanted to come here, just to let you know that the country is thinking about all of you and have been throughout this tragedy.”

County officials are now reportedly considering a six-month ban on new construction in landslide-prone areas. Construction projects were previously approved despite a 1999 report for the Army Corps of Engineers that warned of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure.”

Georgia Sued over Gay Marriage Ban

Apr 23, 2014

Georgia has become the latest state and the first in the U.S. South to face a lawsuit over its ban on same-sex marriage. Two of the plaintiffs are female police officers who married in Connecticut but want state recognition of their union.

Utah Mother Accused of Murdering 6 Babies

Apr 23, 2014

A Utah woman has made her first court appearance on charges of killing six of her newborn babies over the course of a decade. Megan Huntsman was arrested earlier this month after the infants’ bodies were found stuffed inside boxes in the garage of her former home. A seventh body was also found, but authorities say the child was stillborn. Police say Huntsman has admitted to the murders under questioning. She had apparently delivered birth without medical assistance after managing to conceal her pregnancies.

Native Groups, Ranchers Launch D.C. Protest Against Keystone XL Pipeline

Apr 23, 2014

A coalition of ranchers, farmers and native groups have begun arriving in Washington, D.C., for a week-long encampment in protest of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance arrived on horseback Tuesday to set up teepees in preparation for the protest, dubbed “Reject and Protect.”

Billy Redwing Tayac: “You sure can’t eat oil. So remember that if you go pro-pipeline. And when it spills and damages crops, lands, etc., where do we go? It’s our obligation to protect the Earth Mother.”

Chas Jewett: “You know, we like to make decisions based upon the seventh generation, and the seventh generation is the future. And we’re responsible. Every decision we make, they feel that. And we just want President Obama to know that, and Secretary Kerry, that this decision will be heard for generations.”

Tom Genung: “We’re here to do the best we can to help the president make the decision that obviously needs to be made about this particular step in the process. And that step happens to be to out and out deny — there’s no reason not to deny — the permit for the TransCanada pipeline.”

The Reject and Protect encampment comes days after the Obama administration delayed its decision on the Keystone XL for the third straight year, this time until after the midterm elections.

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