Saturday November 10, 2012

Supreme Court agrees to take a new look at key part of landmark voting rights law

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court said Friday it will consider eliminating the government’s chief weapon against racial discrimination at polling places since the 1960s.

Acting three days after the election, the justices agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to the part of the landmark Voting Rights Act that requires all or parts of 16 states with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval before making any changes in the way they hold elections.

The appeal from Shelby County, Ala., near Birmingham, says state and local governments covered by the law have made significant progress and no longer should be forced to live under oversight from Washington.

The high court considered the same issue three years ago but sidestepped what Chief Justice John Roberts then called "a difficult constitutional question."

Since then, Congress has not addressed potential problems identified by the court. Meanwhile, the law’s opponents sensed its vulnerability and filed several new lawsuits.

Up to 11,000 people flee Syria in 24-hour period due to escalating violence

BEIRUT (AP) -- As many as 11,000 people fled Syria in 24 hours, some of them desperately clambering through a razor-wire fence into Turkey on Friday to escape fierce fighting between rebels and government forces for control of a border town.

The exodus is a sign of the escalating ferocity of the violence, which has killed more than 36,000 people since March 2011. Despite the bloodshed, embattled President Bashar Assad insisted there was no civil war in Syria, saying in a rare TV appearance that he was protecting Syrians against "terrorism" supported from abroad.

The flood of Syrians into neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon was "the highest that we have had in quite some time," said Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. refugee agency’s regional coordinator for the region.

About 2,000 to 3,000 people are fleeing Syria daily, and the recent surge brings the number registered with the agency to more than 408,000, he said.

During the 24-hour period that began Thursday, 9,000 Syrians crossed into Turkey -- including 70 who were wounded and two who then died, U.N. officials said. Jordan and Lebanon each absorbed another 1,000 refugees.

Colorado, Washington await federal response to recreational marijuana measures

DENVER (AP) -- Should marijuana be treated like alcohol? Or should it remain in the same legal category as heroin and the most dangerous drugs? Votes this week by Colorado and Washington to allow adult marijuana possession have prompted what could be a turning point in the nation’s conflicted and confusing war on drugs.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was to talk Friday by phone with Colorado’s governor, who wants to know whether the federal government would sue to block the marijuana measures. Both states are holding off on plans to regulate and tax the drug while waiting to see whether the U.S. Justice Department would assert federal authority over drug law.

The Obama administration has largely turned a blind eye to the 17 states that currently flout federal drug law by allowing people with certain medical conditions to use pot, something banned under federal law.

"In a situation like this, where our law is at loggerheads with federal law, my primary job is to listen first," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Wednesday.

Hickenlooper opposed the ballot measure and has downplayed the likelihood of a commercial marijuana market materializing in Colorado.

Arrest made in rape of mentally disabled woman on Los Angeles County bus

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A man was arrested Friday in the rape of a mentally disabled woman aboard a near-empty Los Angeles County bus during rush-hour commute.

Authorities believe Kerry Trotter, 20, boarded the bus with the 18-year-old woman on Wednesday at a stop in suburban Culver City before she was followed to the back of the vehicle and assaulted.

A witness -- the only other passenger on board -- tried to alert the driver but was unsuccessful, sheriff’s officials said without elaborating.

It was the third rape so far this year on county buses that annually carry millions of people.

"This is an extremely rare occurrence," said Marc Littman, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Pentagon cracks down on SEALs troops who spill secrets about their missions for profit

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The military is cracking down on special operations troops who share knowledge of their secret missions for profit, punishing seven Navy SEALs, including one involved in the mission to get Osama bin Laden, who moonlighted as advisers on a combat video game.

Current and former SEALs, including the author of a tell-all book on the bin Laden raid, complain they’re getting mixed messages from the military, which likes to see itself on big and small screens on its own terms.

The seven SEALs are being reprimanded and having their pay docked for sharing information with the designers of "Medal of Honor: Warfighter," by video game company EA, according to military officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigations publicly.

The men will remain in the SEAL teams, but were punished for working on the video without their command’s permission, revealing classified information by sharing the tactics they use and showing designers some of their specially designed combat equipment unique to their unit, the officials said.

Four more SEALs could face the similar punishment.

Sandy relief groups forced to deal with donations of unneeded, unwanted items

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. (AP) -- Superstorm Sandy has brought out generosity far and wide in the biggest U.S. relief effort for the American Red Cross and other groups since Hurricane Katrina swamped the Gulf Coast in 2005.

And while the response is heartwarming, some of that is also helping create a "second disaster after the disaster," in the words of one expert.

It’s a common quandary after natural disasters displace lots of people and destroy homes and possessions. Relief groups need very specific things, along with cash and organization. Instead, they get vases and vacuum cleaners, or interference from well-intentioned volunteers who think they’re helping but are just hindering efforts.

"It’s really been a lot of stuff really affecting the disaster site," said James McGowan, the associate director of partnerships at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, who made the "second disaster" analogy. "They’re just showing up and they’re not coordinated with the agencies."

Ad hoc relief groups need to make sure they are taking in only items that are requested and can be distributed. Money is the best because organizations don’t have to pay to move it and can tailor spending to changing needs, McGowan said. Transporting and distributing a simple donated can of food can be $15 to $25.

European leaders take important steps to ease crisis, end sense of panic in financial markets

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- The worst of Europe’s financial crisis appears to be over.

European leaders have taken steps to ease the panic that has plagued the region for three turbulent years. Financial markets are no longer in a state of emergency over Europe’s high government debts and weak banks. And this gives politicians from the 17 countries that use the euro breathing room to fix their remaining problems.

Threats remain in Greece and Spain, and Europe’s economy is forecast to get worse before it gets better. But an imminent breakup of the euro now seems unlikely, analysts say.

"We are probably well beyond the worst," says Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London. He says occasional flare-ups in financial markets are likely, but "coming waves of turmoil will be less severe."

Evidence that Europe has turned a corner can be found in countries’ falling borrowing costs, rising stock markets and a slow but steady stabilization of the region’s banking system.