In Brief: June 18, 2021

‘Obamacare’ survives: Supreme Court dismisses big challenge

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, though increasingly conservative in makeup, rejected the latest major Republican-led effort to kill the national health care law known as “Obamacare” on Thursday, preserving insurance coverage for millions of Americans.

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The justices, by a 7-2 vote, left the entire Affordable Care Act intact in ruling that Texas, other GOP-led states and two individuals had no right to bring their lawsuit in federal court. The Biden administration says 31 million people have health insurance because of the law, which also survived two earlier challenges in the Supreme Court.

The law’s major provisions include protections for people with existing health conditions, a range of no-cost preventive services, expansion of the Medicaid program that insures lower-income people and access to health insurance markets offering subsidized plans.

“The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land,” President Joe Biden, said, celebrating the ruling. He called for building further on the law that was enacted in 2010 when he was vice president.

Also left in place is the law’s now-toothless requirement that people have health insurance or pay a penalty. Congress rendered that provision irrelevant in 2017 when it reduced the penalty to zero.

Iran votes in presidential poll tipped in hard-liner’s favor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran began voting Friday in a presidential election tipped in the favor of a hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, fueling public apathy and sparking calls for a boycott in the Islamic Republic.

State-linked opinion polling and analysts put hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi as the dominant front-runner in a field of just four candidates. Former Central Bank chief, Abdolnasser Hemmati, is running as the race’s moderate candidate but hasn’t inspired the same support as outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who is term limited from seeking the office again.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would firmly put hard-liners in control across the Iranian government as negotiations in Vienna continue over trying to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers as it enriches uranium to the closest point yet to weapons-grade levels.

From wire sources

Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites and assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time for the vote, which has seen widespread public apathy after a panel under Khamenei barred hundreds of candidates, including reformists and those aligned with Rouhani. Khamenei cast the ceremonial vote from Tehran, where he urged the public to take part.

Weird ‘living fossil’ fish lives 100 years, pregnant for 5

The coelacanth — a giant weird fish still around from dinosaur times — can live for 100 years, a new study found.

These slow-moving, people-sized fish of the deep, nicknamed a “living fossil,” are the opposite of the live fast, die young mantra. These nocturnal fish grow at an achingly slow pace.

Females don’t hit sexual maturity until their late 50s, the study said, while male coelacanths are sexually mature at 40 to 69 years. And maybe strangest of all, researchers figure pregnancy in the fish lasts about five years.

Coelacanths, which have been around for 400 million years, were thought extinct until they were found alive in 1938 off South Africa. Scientists long believed coelacanths live about 20 years. But by applying a standard technique for dating commercial fish, French scientists calculated they actually live close to a century, according to a study in Thursday’s Current Biology.

Coelacanths are so endangered that scientists can only study specimens already caught and dead.

Voting bill showdown looms as GOP rejects Manchin plan

WASHINGTON — The Senate is set for a key vote Tuesday on a sweeping rewrite of voting and election law, setting up a dramatic test of Democratic unity on a top priority that Republicans are vowing to block.

Democrats appeared to be coalescing Thursday around changes to the bill that could win the support of moderate West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the lone Democratic holdout on the legislation. Yet they still faced lockstep Republican opposition that will likely leave Democrats back where they started: lacking the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Manchin’s proposal “equally unacceptable.”

“Republicans are digging in their heels,” said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut. “They’ve made it pretty clear this week that there’s nothing they’re willing to support.”

The bill, known as the For the People Act, has been touted as Democrats’ answer to a state level-GOP push to enact voting restrictions following the 2020 election. It passed the House in March, but has bogged down in the Senate as Democrats have debated among themselves — with Manchin ultimately declaring he couldn’t vote for it because it lacked bipartisan support.

Yet Manchin’s position has evolved and compromise appeared to be nearing after he proposed a series of changes this week to narrow its scope. His proposal received a boost Thursday when Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who is a leading Democratic voice on voting rights, said she “absolutely” supported it.

Heated debate before US Catholic bishops vote on Communion

In impassioned debate Thursday, U.S. Catholic bishops clashed over how to address concerns about Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden, who continue to receive Communion despite supporting abortion rights.

Some bishops said a strong rebuke of Biden is needed because of his recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access. Others warned that such action would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country.

The issue is by far the most contentious agenda item at the national meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is being held virtually. It will conclude Friday soon after an announcement of how the bishops cast their secret ballots on the Communion dispute.

If a majority of bishops approve, the USCCB’s doctrine committee will draft a statement on the meaning of Communion in the life of the church that would be submitted for a vote at a future meeting, probably an in-person gathering in November. One section of the document is expected to include a specific admonition to Catholic politicians and other public figures who disobey church teaching on abortion and other core doctrinal issues.

Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, Wisconsin, said he speaks with many people who are confused by a Catholic president who advances “the most radical pro-abortion agenda in history,” and action from the bishops’ conference is needed.

Scotch whisky makers welcome suspension of costly US tariffs

LONDON — Scotch single malt whisky makers breathed a sigh of relief Thursday after the United States agreed to suspend tariffs on one of Scotland’s main exports in the wake of the resolution of a long-standing transatlantic trade row over subsidies to aircraft companies Boeing and Airbus.

President Donald Trump imposed the 25% tariffs on select products of the European Union, including Scotch single malt whiskies, in October 2019 as part of the trade dispute. While the U.K. is no longer an EU member, it belonged to the bloc when the tariffs were introduced.

Earlier this week, the U.S. and the EU reached an agreement to end the aerospace dispute, paving the way for a 5-year suspension of tariffs. Parallel talks were held between the U.S. and the U.K. over the tariffs.

The tariffs on Scotch single malts were the most high-profile to affect Britain. The Scotch Whisky Association estimated that they contributed to a 30% fall in total whisky exports to the U.S., equivalent to around 600 million pounds ($850 million) in the 18 months to March 2021.

“This deal removes the threat of tariffs being re-imposed on Scotch whisky next month and enables distillers to focus on recovering exports to our largest and most valuable export market,” Karen Betts, the association’s chief executive, said.

Weird ‘living fossil’ fish lives 100 years, pregnant for 5

The coelacanth — a giant weird fish still around from dinosaur times — can live for 100 years, a new study found.

These slow-moving, people-sized fish of the deep, nicknamed a “living fossil,” are the opposite of the live fast, die young mantra. These nocturnal fish grow at an achingly slow pace.

Females don’t hit sexual maturity until their late 50s, the study said, while male coelacanths are sexually mature at 40 to 69 years. And maybe strangest of all, researchers figure pregnancy in the fish lasts about five years.

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Coelacanths, which have been around for 400 million years, were thought extinct until they were found alive in 1938 off South Africa. Scientists long believed coelacanths live about 20 years. But by applying a standard technique for dating commercial fish, French scientists calculated they actually live close to a century, according to a study in Thursday’s Current Biology.

Coelacanths are so endangered that scientists can only study specimens already caught and dead.

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