A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 126
Voice of America photoPro-life demonstrators wave signs and make their
voices heard after the Supreme Court upheld
abortion rights in a 5-3 decision in front of the
Supreme Court building.
Supreme court voids law
restricting Texas abortions
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld abortion rights Monday, ruling that states across the country had no right to curb the constitutional right of women to end their pregnancies by imposing an undue burden on them to limit their access to abortion clinics.
The 5-3 decision was perhaps the court's most important abortion rights ruling in a quarter century.
The majority overturned a law in the southwestern state of Texas, similar to that enacted in other states, that required abortion doctors to have patient-admitting privileges at hospitals near their abortion clinics and that their clinics be equipped with costly hospital-grade healthcare equipment.
Writing for the court majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said that the state's regulations were medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limited a woman's right to an abortion.
"The surgical-center requirement, like the admitting-privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an undue burden on their constitutional right to do so," said Breyer.
The Supreme Court ruling, coming on the last day of the court's current term before its summer recess, could affect thousands of women in Texas alone, and many more throughout the U.S.
Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the clinics, said, "The Supreme Court sent a loud and clear message that politicians cannot use deceptive means to shut down abortion clinics."
But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton denounced the ruling, saying, "It's exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women's health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly elected representatives."
Abortion rights advocates say the ruling could particularly benefit poor and minority women in Texas, giving them access to abortion clinics in their rural communities or small towns where they live, rather than seeing the clinics close because their operators said it was too costly to meet the requirements of the state law.
The abortion advocates said that the 2013 law had already forced the closure of about half of the state's 40 abortion clinics and that more were set to close if the law's constitutionality had been upheld, forcing women to travel hundreds of kilometers to the state's remaining clinics in big cities.
The decision is likely to immediately reverberate through the country's 2016 presidential race. The presumptive Democratic nominee, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, supports a woman's right to end a pregnancy.
Republican presidential contender Donald Trump says he is pro-life, opposed to abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is at stake. Years ago, he supported abortion rights.
Mrs. Clinton called the decision "a victory for women in Texas and across America."She said a "safe abortion should be a right, not just on paper, but in reality." Trump had no immediate reaction.
The decision was made by the Supreme Court's eight justices, with the court left with a vacancy when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, shortly before lawyers for Texas and abortion rights groups made their arguments in the case. Scalia, a stalwart conservative on the court for nearly 30 years, was an ardent abortion foe.
In Monday's ruling, the court's four liberal justices sided with abortion rights groups and were joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative justice who nonetheless over the years has mostly sided with abortion rights justices on the court. Kennedy had suggested at the March hearing on the dispute that lower courts might need to hear more evidence in the case.
The court's three other conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, dissented from the ruling, voting to uphold the Texas law. If the court had deadlocked 4-4, the Texas law would have been upheld, although no national precedent would have been set.
Writing in dissent, Alito, said the court majority had overstepped its authority in the way it considered the case, when it could have limited the scope of its ruling.
"Federal courts have no authority to carpet-bomb state laws, knocking out provisions that are perfectly consistent with federal law, just because it would be too much bother to separate them from unconstitutional provisions," Alito wrote.
Kennedy's vote was also the decisive one in a 1992 case upholding abortion rights. Abortion was first ruled constitutional in a landmark 1973 decision that to this day is a contentious issue in American politics and society at large.
The 1992 ruling had a direct bearing on the Texas dispute since it set the standard that states could regulate abortion as long as they did not impose an undue burden on a woman's right to the medical procedure. The court decided that the Texas law imposed such a burden.
With better birth control measures, the number of abortions in the U.S. has been falling in recent years, now down to below a million a year. But conservative states, where lawmakers are opposed to the medical procedure, have enacted more than 250 anti-abortion laws since 2010 aimed at cutting the number of pregnancies that are terminated.
Some of these laws could be affected by Monday's Supreme Court ruling, while legal challenges to other state abortion restrictions could eventually reach the high court in the years ahead.
Virginia governor’s conviction
overturned for lack of action
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously overturned the corruption conviction of a former state governor, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, in a ruling that could make it harder to prosecute public officials for alleged wrongdoing.
McDonnell, once the Republican chief executive of the mid-Atlantic state, was convicted in 2014 of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts, vacations and loans from a business executive in exchange for promoting his dietary supplement.
But McDonnell contended he had not violated any bribery laws because he took no official actions on behalf of the businessman, only offering him access to state officials to promote his product, much like other political figures routinely do.
Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said, "There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is, instead, with the broader legal implications of the government's boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute."
Roberts said that if a lower court "determines that there is sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Governor McDonnell of committing or agreeing to commit an official act, his case may be set for a new trial. If the court instead determines that the evidence is insufficient, the charges against him must be dismissed. We express no view on that question."
The court said that "setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an official act."
Numerous U.S. political figures, both Republicans and Democrats, had urged the court to reach the decision it did, on grounds that McDonnell had not offered the business executive any official state action to benefit him.
Analysts who followed the McDonnell case and other corruption cases against U.S. public officials said the ruling could make it harder in the future to prosecute such cases without a specific agreement from a public figure that he would do something for a citizen in exchange for a bribe.
McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison in the case, but was free pending the outcome of his appeal. His wife, Maureen, was also convicted in the case and sentenced to a year and one day in prison. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, her lawyers immediately called for dismissal of the case against her.
French open criminal probe
in Mediterranean air crash
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
French prosecutors have opened a manslaughter probe into the May 19 crash of an EgyptAir jetliner that went down in the eastern Mediterranean killing all 66 people on board.
Monday's probe announcement in Paris stressed that the inquiry was launched as an accident investigation and not as a terrorism probe. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office said authorities were not currently leaning toward the theory that the Paris-to-Cairo flight had been brought down deliberately.
There was no distress call from the pilots and no one has claimed responsibility for causing the crash.
In a related development, memory cards recovered by Egyptian investigators from the doomed plane's damaged flight recorders arrived Monday in Paris in hopes that French engineers can salvage critical data about the crash.
French analysts attempting to retrieve chip data from the damaged black boxes of Flight MS804 are part of the same unit that succeeded in extracting critical flight recorder data from a Rio de Janeiro-to-Paris flight that crashed in the Atlantic in 2009. Those black boxes were submerged thousands of meters below the ocean surface for nearly two years before being recovered.
Egyptian investigators have already determined the May 19 flight made a sharp left turn, followed by a 360-degree sweep to the right before plunging into the sea. French aviation experts say the plane sent automated messages indicating smoke in the cabin and trouble with a flight control unit shortly before disappearing from radar.
California melee at capitol
still under investigation
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Law enforcement authorities are continuing to investigate a white nationalist rally that turned violent Sunday in the western city of Sacramento, California, leaving at least 10 people injured, two of them critically.
California Highway Patrol spokesman George Granada said a heightened investigation is underway, as police seek information from witnesses, video and the community at-large.
A rally outside the California State Capitol by a group of about 30 members of a white nationalist group known as the Traditionalist Worker Party became violent when about 400 counter protesters arrived and fights broke out.
Officials say people were treated for cuts, bruises and stab wounds. Videos published online showed dozens of people being punched, kicked and hit with sticks and wooden bats. The two critically injured people suffered stab wounds, according to the Sacramento Fire Department.
The rally had been scheduled and the group received a permit to protest for two hours in front of the capitol. Police were aware of the counter protest and deployed more than 100 officers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which follows hate groups, said the party was created last year as the political arm of the Traditionalist Youth Network, which aims to attract young people to white nationalism.
A recent post on the network's Web site said members planned the rally in Sacramento to protest globalization and defend their right to free expression.
"We concluded that it was time to use this rally to make a statement about the precarious situation our race is in," the network said. "With our folk on the brink of becoming a disarmed, disengaged and disenfranchised minority, the time to do something was yesterday!"
Two cities are gearing up
for political conventions
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Federal, state and city officials are finalizing plans to address potential unrest and extinguish any threats at the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions, where the two parties will officially nominate their candidates for the U.S. presidency.
Some 50,000 people, including about 6,000 protesters, are expected to converge on the midwestern city of Cleveland, Ohio, for the Republican National Convention from July 18 to 21, and nominate Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee.
The Cleveland mayor’s office says the size and significance of the convention creates unique challenges for the city, prompting officials to implement special restrictions.
A handful of physical altercations involving Democratic and Republican protesters has occurred at Trump’s rallies during the campaign season, and law enforcers are planning for the possibility of more at the Republican convention in Cleveland.
As Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton verbally attack each other, resentment deepens among their followers and that could have consequences at the two conventions.
“If individuals or groups decide to act unlawfully, plans have been put in place to efficiently address them. We understand the nature . . . and have anticipated the number of individuals we may encounter,” U.S. Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor said.
For the past 18 months, the Secret Service has been collaborating with numerous local and federal law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to prepare for the conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
Preparations are based on an all hazards approach, Ross Bulla, president of the Charlotte, N.C.-based private security firm The Treadstone Group, said in an interview. The most likely disruptive events, said Bulla, would probably be physical acts of civil disobedience, anarchist style events such as blocking streets, disabling police vehicles and attempts to bait police into verbal or physical altercations.
Like the law enforcement agencies, Bulla said some protesters devote a lot of time to train as well. As the agencies plan how to deploy their equipment so, too, do anarchists. They may stash caches of weapons ahead of time in trash receptacles, planters or newspaper racks, Bulla said.
Law enforcers are also preparing for extraordinary crimes such as terror and cyber attacks, added Bulla, who is consulting with several private sector entities involved in security planning for the conventions.
Of those crimes, cyber attacks are the most significant threat, said Bulla. Law enforcement officials are working with local infrastructure providers to thwart hackers’ attempts to cut off phones and lights and even disrupt water supplies.
Despite recent high-profile terrorist attacks in Orlando, Florida and Brussels, Belgium, Bulla said the threat of terrorist attacks does not rank as high as threats of cyber attacks and civil disobedience.
At the Republican convention, Bulla said there may be more opportunity for disruption and violence.
Fervent protesters on the far left fringes are more likely to travel long distances to cities such as Cleveland and carry out anarchist type activity, he said, particularly if they accost Trump protesters who may be rather passionate themselves.
Cleveland city officials plan to enforce strict rules to control demonstrators. The city will limit marches to 50 minutes, primarily during the morning hours before delegates convene. The planned parade route for demonstrators crosses a bridge in a direction away from Quicken Loans Arena, the convention site.
Officials say an unspecified area around the arena will be cordoned off.
Meantime, a federal judge on Thursday struck down city rules for protesters within the 5.6 kilometer event zone around the area, declaring them unconstitutional. The rules would have banned items such as large backpacks, adhesive tape and string. They would have also limited where demonstrators could speak within the zone. Cleveland officials say they will appeal the ruling.
A week after the Republican convention, tens of thousands of people, including 30,000 delegates and 15,000 journalists, will gather in the northeastern city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to elect Hillary Clinton as their party’s presidential candidate.
Officials in Philadelphia are taking a different approach than their counterparts in Cleveland. Philadelphia will allow supporters of long shot Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to rally throughout the day in a park across the street from the convention site at Wells Fargo Arena.
The arena will be protected by a newly constructed perimeter more than 1.5 meters high.
Thousands of Sanders supporters are expected to congregate in Philadelphia for the convention on July 25 to 28. Through demonstrations, they hope to convince the party establishment to reform the presidential nominating process by rejecting the growing influence of corporations in the electoral process.
IMAX Entertainment photo via Voice of AmericaWhat space station crews see from the window.
Earth is main actor and star
in a new film from space
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Getting perspective on life: This is how filmmaker Toni Meyers described her feelings when looking at planet Earth from the International Space Station 400 kilometers away.
There are no borders or nations as the blue planet rotates in silent dark space. But when one looks at the Earth through the IMAX lenses used by the ISS crew, it is clear that humans are having a profound impact on the planet's surface.
The award-winning filmmaker demonstrated her gear at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Included was one of the first IMAX cameras, a big bulky, heavy machine that she used to shoot her 2010 documentary Hubble 3D IMAX, a film chronicling the effort of seven astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
Now, as then, Ms. Meyers trained the astronauts to film in their spacesuits in zero gravity. She says that her film, “A Beautiful Planet,” was easier to shoot because the new digital IMAX cameras are much lighter, smaller and they don’t run out of film so quickly.
Her goal was to show audiences Earth as if they were looking at it from the space station. She did not just do it for esthetic purposes. Ms. Meyers said she wanted to show people how they are affecting their home planet.
“You do see that there is a lot of pollution in the air, over particular industrialized nations, which comes of course from the amount of fossil fuels we are burning. You also see the extent to which fossil fuels are being exploited, certainly in Texas and the Gulf states," she said.
"You see that the rainforest continues to be cut down and burned, although there are programs to contain that spread, but you also see areas that have been reclaimed, like the Chesapeake Bay which was a mess in the 1970s and it is now completely turned around to a healthy environment. And so we want to show people that when you get together and put their heads together to solve a problem, it can be solved.”
A celebrity in her own right, Ms. Meyers always collaborates with top actors to narrate her films. In Hubble 3D IMAX she picked Leonardo Di Caprio. Now, in “A Beautiful Planet,” Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence offers a compelling narration on the impact of deforestation on the environment, the melting of glaciers and the rise of sea levels which can threaten low-lying coastal cities such as New Orleans.
As one would expect, the footage is breathtaking. While during the daytime, viewers can see human presence through the impact on nature, at nighttime, the planet glows from the lights of civilization. The intensity of light often indicates the concentration of humanity in one area or the affluence of one country over another.
At nighttime, Earth’s atmosphere shimmers in iridescent colors, beautiful and fragile at the same time.
“One thing I wanted to do in the film,” said the filmmaker, “was draw the analogy between the space station as a closed system, and the Earth as a closed system. Both of them have to have all the things we need to stay alive. Air, water, food, only on the space station you get resupply ships and the underlying message of the film is that Earth doesn’t get resupply ships. “
Ms. Meyers says, don’t dream of colonizing planets eons away. Clean house instead, take care of its natural beauty.
She says, “The thin line of the atmosphere that’s just above the earth, that's all there is between us and the cold black harsh vacuum of space. And even though we’ve discovered other planets around other stars, they are much too far away for present technology to take us there. It’s all we have!”
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