U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Public Funding for Candidates

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the state this morning from distributing matching funds to candidates, sharply changing the rules of the game in the middle of the election. Without comment, the justice accepted arguments by opponents of the funding scheme that it would be unfair to allow extra funds to be distributed while the legality of the system is unclear. The decision is not the last word, as the justices said they want to hear arguments by foes of why the 9th Circuit was wrong when it upheld the constitutionality of the plan. But Todd Lang, director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission said the ruling effectively kills matching funds, at least for the August primary. And Lang, whose agency administers the public funding system and defended the matching funds, said he doubts the high court will have a decision before the November general election.

The decision immediately changes the political landscape in dozens of races. That starts right at the top with the campaign for governor among Republicans. Publicly funded candidates Jan Brewer and Dean Martin had counted on getting about $2.1 million for their Republican primary battle. That is based on the fact that Buz Mills, running with his own cash, already has spent close to $2.3 million. And the law — at least as it existed until today — said publicly funded contenders can get up to three times their original allocation if privately financed foes spend more. Now they will have to live with the $707,440 base amount. Brewer, in a prepared statement, called today’s Supreme Court action “terribly troubling.’ She even held out hope that the justices will have a change of heart and let her get that $2.1 million.

U.S., BP Headed for Showdown over Liability

The Obama Administration ratcheted up its demands on Wednesday that BP PLC cover all costs stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including millions of dollars in salaries of oil-industry workers laid off because of the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling. The sudden increase in BP’s potential liabilities—along with growing evidence that even more oil than expected is gushing from BP’s crippled well—helped send BP’s shares plummeting almost 16% in New York, to $29.20. The stock has lost close to half its value, more than $82 billion, in the seven weeks since the spill started. BP didn’t comment directly on the latest demand from Washington. But it is expected to argue that under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, BP is liable only for the direct costs of the clean-up and couldn’t be held responsible for the lost wages of oil workers. Several legal experts said they couldn’t think of any law or precedent that would allow the U.S. to try to recover damages from BP on behalf of rig workers thrown out of work by a government moratorium on deep offshore drilling.

Meanwhile, oil from the massive spill in the Gulf has moved into the inland waterway along coastal Alabama, prompting the U.S. Coast Guard to close Perdido Pass, the main water access route for fishermen and boaters in the popular resort town of Orange Beach. BP and the government have tried to protect the pass for weeks with thousands of feet of boom, but thick waves of oil have seeped into the pass and down the waterway, coating the marshy shoreline as it moves through. The New York Times is that a new assessment suggests that the amount of oil released into the Gulf was double earlier estimates.

Feds Arrest 400+ as Part of Border Strategy

In what they hope was a major blow to Mexican drug traffickers, federal authorities on Wednesday launched raids across the country and arrested more than 400 people, according to law enforcement sources. The raids were the culmination of a 22-month investigation by the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who have now captured more than 2,200 suspects. During the operation, dubbed “Project Deliverance,” law enforcement agents also seized large quantities of U.S. money, cocaine, marijuana and weapons. Charges were brought and arrests made in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington state and Mexico. Sources said Project Deliverance is part of the Obama administration’s broader strategy to stem violence along the U.S.-Mexican border. A significant part of that strategy targets Mexican drug cartels.

Mexico Upset over Border Killing

Pointing their rifles, Mexican security forces chased away U.S. authorities investigating the shooting of a 15-year-old Mexican by a U.S. Border Patrol agent on the banks of the Rio Grande. The killing of the Mexican by U.S. authorities — the second in less than two weeks — has exposed the distrust between the two countries that lies just below the surface, and has enraged Mexicans who see the death of the boy on Mexican soil as an act of murder. The Mexican authorities accused the Americans of trying to recover evidence from Mexican soil and threatened to kill them if they crossed the border, prompting both sides to draw their guns. The confrontation occurred Monday night over the body of Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereka, who died of his wounds beside the column of a railroad bridge connecting Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso. Hernandez was found 20 feet (six meters) into Mexico, and an autopsy revealed that the fatal shot was fired at a relatively close range. That would violate the rules for Border Patrol agents, who are supposed to stay on the U.S. side — and could open the agent to a Mexican homicide prosecution. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed “regret” Thursday the fatal shooting and said the FBI is reviewing the incident.

Immigrant Processing Fees May Increase

The Obama administration is requesting rate increases on most immigration applications, three years after the last round of hikes. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Wednesday proposed a new set of prices, citing efforts to close a $200 million revenue shortfall. The price to apply for a green card — given to foreigners to live and work in the U.S. permanently — would go from $930 to $985. The cost to replace a lost green card would go from $290 to $365. And an application to become a temporary resident would rise $420 to $1,130. The application to become a U.S. citizen will remain unchanged at $595. A combination of higher fees and a bad economy resulted in a sharp drop in applications in the past two years. In 2007, the government received more than 5.7 million immigration-related applications, compared with 4.9 million in 2009. That drop led some to question why the agency needs to raise rates when its workload has diminished.

Minority Births Drive Growth in U.S. Diversity

Record levels of births among minorities in the past decade are moving the USA a step closer to a demographic milestone in which no group commands a majority, new Census estimates show. Minorities accounted for almost 49% of U.S. births in the year ending July 1, 2009, a record high, according to data released Thursday. They make up more than half the population in 317 counties and four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas) and the District of Columbia), with increases in every state since 2000. Much of the rapid growth in diversity is driven by an influx of young Hispanic immigrants whose birthrates are higher than those of non-Hispanic whites, creating a race and ethnic chasm and a widening age gap.

Infection Control Lax at Surgery Centers

A new federal study finds many same-day surgery centers — where patients get such things as foot operations and pain injections — have serious problems with infection control. Failure to wash hands, wear gloves, and clean blood glucose meters were among the reported breaches. Clinics reused devices meant for one person or dipped into single-dose medicine vials for multiple patients. The findings, appearing in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest lax infection practices may pervade the nation’s more than 5,000 outpatient centers. The study was prompted by a hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas believed to be caused by unsafe injection practices at two now-closed clinics.

Hawaii Elections Clerk: Obama Not Born Here

A college instructor who worked as a senior elections clerk for the city and county of Honolulu in 2008 is making the stunning claim Barack Obama was definitely not born in Hawaii as the White House maintains, and that a long-form, hospital-generated birth certificate for Obama does not even exist in the Aloha State. “It’s like an open secret. There isn’t one. Everyone in the government there knows this,” says Tim Adams. He says during the 2008 campaign when the issue of Obama’s constitutional eligibility first arose, the elections office was inundated with requests to verify the birthplace of the U.S. senator from Illinois. “I had direct access to the Social Security database, the national crime computer, state driver’s license information, international passport information, basically just about anything you can imagine to get someone’s identity,” Adams explained. “I was informed by my boss that we did not have a birth record [for Obama].”

Economic News

Retail sales fell in May by the largest amount in eight months as consumers slashed spending on everything from cars to clothing. The Commerce Department said Friday that spending fell 1.2% last month. Auto sales were down 1.7%. The big decline cast new doubts about the strength of the economic recovery. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of total economic activity. Economists are concerned that households will start trimming outlays as they continue to be battered by high unemployment.

The foreclosure crisis leveled off in May as the number of people facing foreclosure was nearly flat from a year ago. A third fewer people are receiving legal warnings that they could lose their homes. And foreclosures are receding in some of the hardest-hit cities. Still, the number of foreclosures remains extraordinarily high. Experts caution that a big reason for the stabilization is that banks are letting delinquent borrowers stay longer in their homes rather than adding to the glut of foreclosed properties on the market.

The tally of laid-off workers continuing to claim jobless benefits fell by the largest amount in almost a year, suggesting that more unemployed workers may be finding work. At the same time, new claims for unemployment insurance dipped slightly for the third straight week. The Labor Department said the total unemployment benefit rolls fell by 255,000 to a seasonally adjusted 4.5 million, the lowest total since December 2008. New claims fell by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 456,000. The four-week average of new claims, which smooths volatility, rose for the fourth straight week to 463,000.

Inventories held by wholesalers rose for a fourth straight month in April while sales rose for the 13th consecutive time. Both gains were encouraging signs pointing to a sustained U.S. economic recovery. The Commerce Department says wholesale inventories increased 0.4% last month. Sales increased 0.7% in April, helped by higher demand for autos, lumber, computers and electrical equipment.

China‘s inflation rose in May amid signs its rebound from the global slump is slowing, adding to pressure on Beijing to keep growth on track and control politically sensitive prices. Rising inflation has prompted concern Beijing might hike interest rates or take other steps to cool growth that hit 11.9% in the first quarter. That could affect the United States, Europe and others that look to China, the world’s No. 3 economy, to help drive demand for their iron ore, factory machinery and other exports.

Israel

Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles will soon be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline. The Egyptian government believes July will be a decisive month that may see an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to a senior Egyptian security official speaking to WorldNetDaily. The official said Egypt already has implemented security measures that take into account an Israeli strike against Iran within the next month or so. The Egyptian security official said his country bolstered security forces along the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza, believing Iran will urge Hamas to retaliate against Israel during any war with the Jewish state.

President Barack Obama called on Wednesday for sharply limiting Israel‘s blockade of the Gaza Strip in the wake of the botched Israeli naval raid that’s straining U.S. and Israeli relations with allies around the world. The White House also announced a $400 million aid package for Gaza and the West Bank. “The situation in Gaza is unsustainable,” Obama declared as he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office. Obama called for narrowly tailoring Israel’s broad blockade on goods entering the Gaza Strip so that arms are kept out, but not food, building materials or other items needed for the Palestinians’ daily life and economic development.

  • Obama seizes any opportunity to help Muslims at the expense of Israel

Afghanistan

Months after the Marines pushed the Taliban from Marjah, a city of mud-walled homes and irrigation canals, many of its 40,000 residents remain frightened of their former overlords. The offensive in February swept most jihadists from the city, but not the region. Men allied with the Taliban hunker down in hide-outs surrounding Marjah or in sanctuaries within the city. They have ambushed Marines on patrol and executed townspeople who do not resist the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The intimidation campaign bedevils the U.S.-led effort to bring order and good government to what had been a lawless refuge for insurgents and drug traffickers. The resistance illustrates the challenge the United States faces elsewhere, especially in the much larger city of Kandahar, another Taliban stronghold that coalition forces plan to quell this summer. Pushing the Taliban out of town was only the start of the Marjah campaign. Just as important was installing what the NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, called a “government-in-a-box.” The idea: to quickly get a government running and to win public support away from the Taliban by providing security, delivering services and offering people jobs on public works projects.

The campaign to secure the crucial Kandahar region of Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency was born, will take longer than planned because local people do not yet welcome the military-run operation, the top U.S. and NATO war commander said Thursday. A military and civilian campaign to neuter the Taliban began in the Kandahar region this spring, and had been expected to ramp up in June and largely conclude by August. It will now probably stretch far into the fall.

  • Although well-intentioned, this strategy just will not work. The enemy will just hunker down and outwait us, while continuing to inflict casualties through isolated attacks and suicide bombings. The population understands this because they outwaited the Russians and others before us. Instead, we should bomb them into submission or get out.

A suicide bomb ripped through a wedding party in full swing in the Taliban‘s heartland in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens more. The blast occurred late Wednesday in a housing compound where men had gathered during the festivities, with female guests at a different house that was not hit. The family that was attacked included a number of Afghan police officers. Two U.S. troops and at least 11 civilians died in violence across southern Afghanistan on Friday, including one attack in which a suicide bomber wearing a burqa blew himself up in a bazaar.

Pakistan

A volley of U.S. missiles killed 15 alleged militants in an extremist stronghold in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, the second such strike in less than 12 hours. Six missiles were fired in Friday’s attack on a house in a village close to the border. The Obama administration regards missile attacks from drone aircraft as a key weapon against al-Qaeda and the Taliban close to the Afghan border. Earlier this month, al-Qaeda’s reputed No. 3 official, Mustafa al-Yazid, was killed in a similar strike in the North Waziristan region.

Iran

A divided U.N. Security Council on Wednesday imposed a fourth round of financial and commercial sanctions on Iran’s military establishment, bringing to a close more than six months of diplomatic efforts by the Obama administration to penalize Tehran for building a covert nuclear facility and accelerating its enrichment of uranium. The 15-member council adopted its fourth sanctions resolution on Iran in four years by a vote of 12-2. Brazil and Turkey voted against the resolution, citing concerns that the council had not exhausted diplomatic efforts to resolve its standoff with Iran. Lebanon abstained. The 10-page resolution would modestly reinforce a range of economic, high-technology and military sanctions against Iran and target the head of the of Iranian atomic energy agency, Javad Rahiqi, and 40 entities linked to the nation’s military elite, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, with a travel ban and an asset freeze. The resolution falls short of the “crippling sanctions” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to impose on Iran a year ago. But U.S. officials hailed Wednesday’s vote as a show of international resolve in the face of Iran’s continued defiance of Security Council resolutions.

Kyrgyzstan

Riots in south Kyrgyzstan killed at least 14 people and injured more than 140, officials said Friday, as fears grew of a new cycle of violence in the Central Asian nation. Local media reported that gangs of young men armed with sticks and stones smashed shop windows and set cars alight in the center. Several buildings across the city were on fire. Sustained gunfire was also heard. Kyrgyzstan has been enjoying an uneasy calm since a mass revolt in April led to the overthrow of then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The southern area has a large Uzbek minority and a history of ethnic violence.

Wildfires

Alaska continues to burn with 21 wildfires over 100 acres in size having already consumed about 425,000 acres. Significant fire potential is predicted for the Southwest due to high winds and hot and dry weather.

Weather

The Northeast USA enjoyed its warmest spring ever recorded, the National Climatic Data Center reported Tuesday. The Northeast’s regional average was 49.6 degrees, which was about 5 degrees above normal,. Eight states in the Northeast — Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont — had their warmest March-May in the 116 years that temperatures have been measured. In the Midwest, Michigan also had a record-warm spring.

Mission News Network reports that the people of Haiti lost another round against nature in May, as the rainy season caused rivers to flood already-crippled areas. Compassion International said that at least nine of its sponsored children were affected by flooding in the area of Bozan in Leogane, Haiti. Locals lost bedding, school materials and income-generating materials after the Rouyon River overflowed its banks. Meteorologists and scientists are predicting a severe hurricane season in the Atlantic, which could cause even greater damage to the earthquake-ravaged country. Thousands of Haitians still live in temporary tent cities with poor drainage and overflowing sewage, leaving them extremely vulnerable to rains, flooding and landslides.

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