Obama to Send 1,200 Troops to U.S.-Mexico Border

A month after Arizona passed an immigration law that reignited a national debate, President Obama is sending up to 1,200 National Guard troops to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border. The troops will be a “bridge to longer-term enhancements” on the Southwestern border, helping with intelligence and surveillance while additional Border Patrol agents are trained. Obama will also request $500 million for border protection and law enforcement. The decision came to light after Obama met with Senate Republicans to discuss immigration legislation — a package that could be difficult to pass this year without Republican support.

Roy Beck of NumbersUSA, a group that wants to reduce legal and illegal immigration, was pleased but called the action a minimal response and based on politics. “I think the White House people are watching the polls and seeing how incredibly popular the Arizona law is,” Beck said. Gov. Jan Brewer says her signing of Arizona’s tough new law targeting illegal immigration lit a fire under Washington, leading to President Barack Obama’s decision.

Police Coalition Challenges Arizona Law

About a dozen major city police chiefs will meet today with Attorney General Eric Holder to oppose the controversial Arizona immigration law that they fear could drive a wedge between the community and local law enforcement. The police coalition, including officials from Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Tucson, represents the largest group of officers to speak against the measure, set to take effect July 29. “This law is the culmination of a very broken immigration system,” Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris said. “It doesn’t fix the immigration problem, it only diverts our scarce resources.” Five federal lawsuits challenging the law have been filed since Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the measure last month. Holder is weighing a similar lawsuit on behalf of the federal government.

Offshore Drilling Here to Stay, but Changes Coming

BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has focused attention on the petroleum industry’s loose regulation and failure to plan for the worst. That is going to change, experts say. Regulators are likely to make permitting, inspections and equipment requirements for rigs more stringent. Lawmakers want to extract more money from the industry to help pay for any future cleanups. And insurers are bound to raise rates for underwriting this risky business. What won’t change, experts say, is the industry’s expanding pursuit of oil and natural gas deposits under the ocean floor. Global offshore oil output has tripled over the past decade – and it is forecast to double in the next five years. The reason is simple: the best prospects lie beneath the ocean floor.

BP was still running tests and expected to decide Wednesday morning if it will go ahead with an effort to choke off its oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico by force-feeding it heavy drilling mud and cement The top kill involves pumping enough mud into the gusher to overcome the flow of the well. The top kill has been successful in aboveground wells but has never been tried a mile beneath the sea. BP now says there was a clear warning sign of a “very large abnormality” in the well, but work proceeded anyway.

White House Backs Compromise on Gays in Military

A proposal to step up the repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military but still allow the Pentagon time — perhaps even years — to implement new policies won the White House‘s backing on Monday after administration officials met with gay rights activists. The White House budget office sent a letter supporting the proposal to remove the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” law even as the Pentagon continues a review of the system. How long implementation might take is not known, but the proposed amendment would have no effect on current practices. “The proposed amendment will allow for completion of the comprehensive review, enable the Department of Defense to assess the results of the review, and ensure that the implementation of the of the repeal is consistent with standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention,” budget chief Peter Orszag said.

Violent Crime Rate Down Again

The violent crime rate in the United States went down in 2009 for the third year in a row and the property crime rate fell for the seventh consecutive year, the FBI reported Monday. The decline last year amounted to 5.5% for violent crime compared to 2008 and the rate for property crime was down 4.9%.The FBI collected the crime data from more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies around the country. According to the numbers, all four categories of violent crime declined compared to 2008 — robbery, murder, aggravated assault and forcible rape. Nationwide, the murder rate was down 7.2% last year. Nationwide, the murder rate was down 7.2% last year. Robbery dropped 8.1%, aggravated assault declined 4.2% and forcible rape was down 3.1%.

Private Pay Shrinks to Historic Lows

Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of this year, a USA TODAY analysis of government data finds. At the same time, government-provided benefits — from Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs — rose to a record high during the first three months of 2010. Those records reflect a long-term trend accelerated by the recession and the federal stimulus program to counteract the downturn. The result is a major shift in the source of personal income from private wages to government programs. The trend is not sustainable, says University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes. Reason: The federal government depends on private wages to generate income taxes to pay for its ever-more-expensive programs. Government-generated income is taxed at lower rates or not at all, he says.

Budget Cuts Dilute Children’s Coverage

A federal law that President Obama signed early last year to expand health insurance to 4 million more low-income children has gotten off to a slow start because of budget problems in the states. The law makes more than $10 billion in federal aid available each year through 2013 but requires state funds as well. Faced with budget shortfalls, less than half the states have used it to expand the Children’s Health Insurance ProgramThe law makes more than $10 billion in federal aid available each year through 2013 but requires state funds as well. Faced with budget shortfalls, less than half the states have used it to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program. As a result, many states will leave federal money unspent, and the increase of 4 million children may not be reached, state officials and children’s health advocates say.

Economic News

Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods surged in April, propelled by a rebound in demand for commercial aircraft. The Commerce Department says demand for durable goods increased 2.9% last month. It was the best showing in three months. Excluding transportation, orders fell 1%.

A jump in U.S. oil production and lower demand for oil last year as a result of the recession led to a reduction in oil imports which declined to 52% of total usage in 2009 from 60% in 2005.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released Tuesday posted a 0.5% drop from February. The numbers are especially disturbing because they show that improved sales due to the tax credits didn’t translate into higher prices.

Consumer confidence in the economy rose in May for the third straight month in a row as Americans’ hopes for job growth improved. The Conference Board, based in New York, said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 63.3, up from a revised 57.7 reading in April. Economists watch the number closely because consumer spending, including health care and other major items, accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic activity.

European and Asian shares dived Tuesday amid ongoing debt worries and concerns about tensions between North and South Korea. Ongoing concerns about the health of Spain’s banking sector weighed on shares in Europe and triggered a drop in the euro against major currencies. The slump in Europe came on the heels of a big drop in Asia.

Europe

The Italian government is asking citizens to make sacrifices to help get public finances in order and protect the country from the sort of market speculation that pushed Greece to the brink of bankruptcy. The cuts reportedly include pay freezes for most public workers, as well as pay cuts for the highest paid. The nations health system may also be in for a trim. Italy‘s measures are part of a wider wave of austerity cuts underway across Europe as the continent tries to convince markets that it can manage its debt load and avoid another near-default like the one in Greece.

Europe‘s economy will stagnate unless governments make major changes to boost growth — just as they rein in spending to curb soaring debt levels, the European Union‘s economy chief warned Tuesday. Low growth prospects and rocketing debt in many of the EU’s 27 nations have alarmed financial markets in recent months, causing stocks to slide and the euro to fall sharply in value to a four-year low against the U.S. dollar.

Koreas

North Korea declared Tuesday that it would sever all communication and relations with Seoul as punishment for blaming the North for the sinking of a South Korean warship two months ago. North Korea also announced it would expel all South Korean government officials working at a joint industrial park in the northern border town of Kaesong. The North’s committee called the moves “the first phase” of punitive measures against South Korea, suggesting more action could follow. Tensions were rising on the divided Korean peninsula in the wake of an investigation report blaming North Korea for a torpedo attack that sank the Cheonan warship on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

Iraq

Baghdad police say masked gunmen have attacked gold shops in the Iraqi capital, killing 14 people before they fled with a large quantity of gold. The police say the gunmen came in five cars, their faces covered with traditional Arab headscarves, and opened fire on 12 shops in the southwestern Baghdad neighborhood of Baiyaa before noon on Tuesday. They used guns with silencers. Some of those killed were gold shop owners and workers and others were bystanders.

Afghanistan

For the first time since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, there are more U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan than in Iraq. The Pentagon says that as of Saturday, 94,000 U.S. forces were in Afghanistan and 92,000 in Iraq. The figure for Afghanistan will rise to roughly 98,000 later this summer with the Obama administration’s commitment of additional forces. The level of U.S. forces in Iraq has fallen from a high of more than 160,000 in 2007, when they were in heavy combat there. All U.S. combat forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by September.

Senior British officials, including new Foreign Secretary William Hague, arrived in Afghanistan with a warning that Britain wants to withdraw its troops as soon as possible. Hague, Defense Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell are set to meet President Hamid Karzai in their first visit to the country since a new coalition government took power in London this month. Hague described Afghanistan — where around 10,000 British troops are helping fight a Taliban-led insurgency well into its ninth year — as “our most urgent priority.”

United Kingdom

The U.K.’s new coalition government plans to cancel the national ID card program, calling it part of a “substantial erosion of civil liberties” that took place under the former Labour government. Following an election last week where no party gained a majority in Parliament, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats allied to form a new government with David Cameron as prime minister. The parties have also agreed to scrap the National Identity Register, a computer system storing information from biometric passports and ID cards under development by the U.K.’s Identity and Passport Service and Border Agency.

Thailand

A Thai court issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges, accusing the fugitive former leader of fomenting two months of unrest in Bangkok that left 88 people dead. If found guilty of the charges, he could face the death penalty. Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and later fled abroad ahead of a corruption conviction, has been accused by the government of being a key force behind Red Shirt protesters who seized areas of downtown Bangkok before being overcome by army troops last week.

Somalia

Pirates have stepped up their attacks off the coast of Somalia this year despite a large international naval flotilla designed to protect merchant shipping in the Horn of Africa region. Pirates launched 47 attacks in the region off the east coast of Somalia in the first four months of this year, up from 37 during the same period last year, according to U.S. 5th Fleet statistics. Not all of the attempts were successful, but the increase reflects a shift in tactics by pirates. The heavy presence of international forces has forced pirates farther afield. U.S. officials have said the piracy problem can be solved only by establishing order in Somalia, a lawless country where pirates thrive.

Mexico

Mexican federal police have arrested the mayor of the resort city of Cancun on drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime charges, the latest blow to 2010 state and local elections already marred by violence and allegations of drug cartel involvement. Observers have voiced fears that Mexico’s drug cartels could seek to infiltrate politics and control the July 4 local elections in 10 states by supporting candidates who cooperate with organized crime and killing or intimidating those who don’t.

Weather

A moisture-packed storm system fouled the Monday morning commute along the Wasatch Front, dumped deep snow in the mountains and produced the latest spring snow ever recorded at Salt Lake City International Airport. The Wasatch Mountains got significant snow for this time of year. Nine inches were reported at Brighton. In Salt Lake City, a mudslide broke away Monday morning adjacent to Interstate 80, leaving behind a cut in a hillside about 20 feet deep, 30 feet wide and 50 yards long.

The National Weather Service says tornadoes destroyed a rural home in South Dakota‘s Meade County and a rural school in Perkins County. The damage was among reports across Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota as storms tore through the northern Plains on Monday, producing tornadoes, hail and heavy rain.

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