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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which identifies the (mostly Southern) states that must receive federal approval before making any changes to voting procedures. The court  argued that the Voting Rights Act had worked and was therefore no longer needed. States can now change voting laws at will and victims will have to prove discrimination after the fact. As a result, many laws proposed before the 2012 elections that were ruled discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act (like strict voter ID laws) will immediately go into effect. Congress can still hypothetically impose federal oversight, but has to use contemporary data to determine which states have put voting rights at risk. The court did not strike down Section 5 – which sets out the pre-clearance requirement itself – but without Section 4, it has no significance. Until now, the Supreme Court had repeatedly upheld the Voting Rights Act since it was passed in 1965.

Taliban Attacks Presidential Palace Compound in Kabul

Disguised in foreign military uniforms and carrying fake IDs, eight  militants staged an attack on the presidential palace compound, which also includes a well-known CIA outpost. The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility, saying they were targeting the presidential palace, the CIA outpost and the Defense ministry. The attackers were armed with rockets and hand grenades and included suicide bombers. Three Afghan security checkpoint guards and all eight militants were killed. The attack was timed to correspond with President Hamid Karzai’s scheduled speech to journalists about negotiations with the Taliban. It has only been one week since the Taliban established its embassy in Qatar and declared itself open to peace talks. Those talks have  been thrown into further doubt since the attacks.

Obama Announces Climate Change Goals

President Obama announced a series of sweeping measures to reduce greenhouse gases and prepare the nation for the damaging weather climate change has brought about. The plan includes new federal spending on renewable resource technology and spending to protect cities from droughts and storms. Since passing climate change legislation through the politically deadlocked Congress would be impossible, Obama declared that he would use his executive powers to force companies to cap their carbon dioxide missions. He was less explicit on his plans for the controversial Keyline XL pipeline, saying it would only be allowed if it had no influence on the environment.

 Edward Snowden in Transfer Area at Moscow Airport

After days of confusion, President Vladimir Putin announced that Edward Snowden is currently in the transit area of the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow (although he has yet to be seen there). The Obama administration urged Russia to extradite Snowden, but Putin refused, noting that technically, Snowden is not on Russian soil as he has not left the transit area. He also denied that Russia had been in contact with Snowden at all, that Snowden would stay in Russia and that he had received special treatment – since he has not left the transit hall, he technically does not need a visa or any documentation. This recent twist has marked a further deterioration of ties between China, Russia and the United States – three countries whose support will be necessary to negotiate any meaningful peace in Syria’s civil war.

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