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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Supreme Court Justices Question Validity of Voting Rights Act

Conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court expressed skepticism today on the validity of a central element of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 5, which compels nine (mostly southern) states and certain jurisdictions to obtain federal permission, or “preclearance,” to change their voting procedures because of their history of racial discrimination, is a “perpetuation of racial entitlement,” according to Justice Antonin Scalia. Chief Justice John Roberts asked whether people in the South are more racist than in the North. How long must Alabama live “under the trusteeship of the United States government,” asked Justice Anthony Kennedy. “The problem to which the Voting Rights Act was addressed is solved,” said Bert Rein, the lawyer for Shelby County in Alabama, which has challenged this rule. Liberal members of the Supreme Court said discrimination is still an issue. “It’s an old disease,” Justice Stephen Breyer said. “It’s gotten a lot better. A lot better. But it’s still there.” At the 2012 presidential elections, a number of Republican-led states and counties attempted to create voting rules whose effects included curbing minority voting, which tends to favor Democrats.

Islamic Ennahda Party Cedes Key Posts in New Tunisia Government

Tunisia’s ruling Islamic party Ennahda said today it will cede “sovereign” ministerial appointments in hopes to find a compromise with its non-religious opposition. The move comes over a week after Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, Ennahda’s secretary general, resigned after his attempt at creating a technocratic cabinet failed. Tunisia has been mired in a political crisis since secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated outside his home on February 6. Ennahda has been criticized for failing to contain religious fanaticism and violence in the moderately Muslim nation. “We confirm the neutralization of the four departments of sovereignty, including the Interior Ministry, which will not be under political parties,” said Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s co-founder and intellectual leader. Other such posts include the justice, finance and defense ministries. Jebali’s replacement Ali Larayedh was given 15 days to form a new government.

Greek Pharmacies Run Out of Medicines

More than 200 drugs, including medicines for hepatitis C, cholesterol regulation, antibiotics, and antipsychotics, are in short supply in Greece as pharmaceutical companies have stopped or slowed shipment due to low prices, according to the nation’s drug regulator. Meanwhile, the Red Cross said yesterday it has halted delivery of donor blood because the country has failed to pay its bills. Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca were included in the government’s list of more than 50 corporations who have ceased or will cease to send drugs to Greece. Pharmacists have described how patients run from shop to shop, desperate to find the medicines prescribed to them. “Companies are ceasing these supplies because Greece is not profitable for them and they are worried that their products will be exported by traders to other richer countries through parallel trade as Greece has the lowest medicine prices in Europe,” said National Organization for Medicines President Yannis Tountas.

New App Tests Urine for 25 Conditions

A new smartphone app that allows individuals to test their urine was presented at the TED (Technology, Education, Design) conference in Los Angeles. Myshkin Ingawale, the co-founder of an Indian medical tech company called Biosense Technologies, introduced his team’s latest creation, Ucheck, which works with test strips and a color chart to check levels of glucose, proteins, nitrates, and other elements to help identify diseases like urinary tract infections, diabetes, liver problems, and even cancer. The iPhone version of the app will go on sale at the end of March for $20, including the chart and five strips. It will also be tested for accuracy by the King Edward Memorial hospital in Bombay. “If it does well we can make it available to mobile clinics. Instead of buying a $10,000 machine they can use their existing smartphones,” Ingawale said. Ingawale is also the inventor of a cheap portable, non-invasive device that tests for anemia, presented last year at TED.

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