Political Rhetoric Ignores Border Reality

The Arizona Republic reports that, amid a growing national angst about illegal immigration, Americans keep hearing a chorus: Secure the border first. Then talk about immigration reform. The idea appeals to public sentiment, and it seems like a simple demand. But what do pundits and politicians mean? Is a border secure only when no one crosses illegally and when no contraband slips through? If some permeability is acceptable, what is the tolerable amount? Political leaders mostly dodge those questions, and for good reason: Anyone with a minimal knowledge or understanding about the nearly 2,000-mile swath of land between Mexico and the United States realizes that requiring a secure border establishes an impossible standard.

One reason: There is no way to conclude success because authorities have no idea how many undocumented immigrants are getting through. Authorities can count only the number of unauthorized intruders captured. Such unavoidable uncertainty prevents any absolute assurances that no one is sneaking over, making declarations of victory impossible. Another reason: The motivation and creativity of those trying to get across. Impoverished Mexicans, willing to gamble their lives and savings to reach America, subject themselves to desert heat and extortion or torture by coyotes. Drug runners risk being caught and imprisoned or getting killed by competitors. So the smugglers dig tunnels, create false compartments, bribe border guards, fly ultralight planes and use every means imaginable to get over, under or across the line. The more security there is, the higher the smuggling price and the greater the profit incentive.

  • While it is true that rhetoric clouds the immigration debate, it serves no purpose to imply the problem is intractable. Reducing the flow from a geyser to a trickle is what’s needed. More forces, more fences, more enforcement and less tolerance is the prescription, but the current administration won’t do it because they have a lock on the votes coming from the illegals and their supporters.

Gulf Oil Spill Costs Reach $2 Billion

BP PLC said Monday that its partners in the leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well must share responsibility for the costs in dealing with the disaster, on which BP said it has now spent $2 billion. And with no end yet in sight, that number is expected to keep rising rapidly. BP PLC agreed last week to set up a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the disaster on the Gulf coast. The company said Monday it has so far paid out $105 million to 32,000 claimants. Kenneth Feinberg , the man overseeing a $20 billion claims fund told CNN on Monday he wants the claims payment process accelerated and its transparency increased. To date, more than 65,000 claims have been submitted. The news came as teams drilling the relief wells designed to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf continue a daunting task — hit a target roughly the size of a salad plate about three miles below the water’s surface. The relief wells are slowly grinding their drill bits 13,000 feet below the seafloor until they intersect the damaged Deepwater Horizon well.

Obama: Republicans Blocking Progress in Congress

President Obama accused Republicans on Saturday of blocking legislation that would boost the U.S. economic recovery and lift a $75 million limit on what oil companies must pay to families and small businesses affected the spill. Obama said the Senate bill would extend unemployment benefits to workers without jobs and a tax credit for first-time homebuyers. He also said the legislation would save thousands of jobs across the country. “Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in the Senate won’t even allow this legislation to come up for a vote,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address. BP had paid out $95 million as of Friday and written about 30,000 checks to settle about half of the 63,000 claims it has received, a company spokesman said.

  • Under pressure to perform, Blame-Master Obama does what he does best – blame somebody else. It’s surprising he didn’t blame Bush again.

In Elena Kagan’s E-mails, Politics often Trumps Policy

As a Clinton White House aide, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan called herself one of the Clinton administration’s biggest fans of a law to protect religious freedom but warned then-Vice President Al Gore against endorsing it for fear of creating “a gay/lesbian firestorm.” “We’ll let you know as soon as it’s safe to go back in the water,” she wrote to Ron Klain, who was Gore’s chief of staff and now holds the same job for Vice President Joe Biden. The missive — one of tens of thousands of pages of Kagan’s e-mails released Friday — shows how as an aide to President Bill Clinton, Kagan’s job was often to place political considerations ahead of her policy views. The e-mails also portray Kagan as a driven and highly opinionated person who has a flair for political tactics and little tolerance for high-flying rhetoric. The e-mails were part of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library’s final release of documents related to Kagan’s service as a domestic policy aide and White House counsel. The Senate Judiciary Committee requested the documents in preparation for its hearings on Kagan’s nomination, scheduled to begin June 28.

  • A politically motivated justice is just what we don’t want on the Supreme Court

H1N1 Flu Undergoing Genetic Changes in Swine

Although the pandemic H1N1 “swine” flu that emerged last spring has stayed genetically stable in humans, researchers in Asia say the virus has undergone genetic changes in pigs during the last year and a half. The fear is that these genetic changes, or reassortments, could produce a more virulent bug. In humans, the 2009 H1N1 virus has stayed genetically the same and still causes relatively mild disease, when it causes disease at all (the virus has all but disappeared in recent weeks, although experts suspect it will be back). The H1N1 virus circulating in humans apparently looped back to pigs, where it underwent this genetic change. Theoretically, the changed virus could now hop back to humans, potentially causing more dangerous disease.

Doctors Limit New Medicare Patients

The number of doctors refusing new Medicare patients because of low government payment rates is setting a new high, just six months before millions of Baby Boomers begin enrolling in the government health care program. The American Academy of Family Physicians says 13% of respondents didn’t participate in Medicare last year, up from 8% in 2008 and 6% in 2004. The American Medical Association says 17% of more than 9,000 doctors surveyed restrict the number of Medicare patients in their practice. Among primary care physicians, the rate is 31%. The federal health insurance program for seniors paid doctors on average 78% of what private insurers paid in 2008. Some U.S. areas already face a shortage of primary care physicians. Policy director John Rother says the trend away from Medicare threatens to make it worse.

Number of Uninsured Jumped by Nearly 3 Million in 2009

The number of U.S. adults not covered by health insurance jumped by 2.9 million people from 2008 to 2009. In 2009, 46.3 million American adults had no health insurance, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means one in five working-age adults is uninsured, and the situation is still worse in some states: nearly one in four Texans, for example, lack any form of health coverage. The percentage of uninsured adults of working age climbed from 19.7% to 21.1% in 2009, and a whopping 58.5% of American adults went without insurance for at least part of the year. The jump in uninsured Americans appears to be caused by the current recession and a drop in the number of employers offering health coverage.

Encouraging Drop Seen in Heart Attack Rate

Efforts to help people lower their risk of heart disease have resulted in a drop in the number of serious heart attacks over a 10-year-period. A study of more than 46,000 patients at Northern California Kaiser Permanente facilities showed the rate of heart attacks among Kaiser patients fell 24 percent between 1999 and 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed heart attacks doing the most damage — known as ST-segment elevation heart attacks — fell 62 percent. Preventive measures, the study authors say, are working to keep the rates down. These include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, decreasing or eliminating smoking and the use of beta-blockers and/or aspirin, the Chronicle said.

Few Americans Use Electronic Medical Records

Despite years of hype around the issue, less than one in 10 American adults now utilize electronic medical records or turn to e-mail to contact their doctor, a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll finds. Nearly half of respondents weren’t even sure if their physician offered these technologies, according to the survey. Still, most of those polled said they would like their doctors to access their medical records with the click of a mouse. On the other hand, only about a third (30%) believe their insurer should have that same access. Despite the Obama administration’s campaign to expand the use of health information technology, public attitudes toward electronic medical records haven’t budged much over the past few years, the poll shows.

Economic News

The city of San Diego should consider bankruptcy, the county of San Diego Grand Jury said in a recent report. The grand jury, which examines local governments in addition to indicting suspected criminals, says such a step could help the city cut its onerous retirement and health benefits. The city has an unfunded pension obligation of $2.2 billion and an unfunded retiree healthcare liability of $1.3 billion, according to the report. San Diego represents the fifth major city this year to arouse bankruptcy talk.

Many states are acknowledging this year that they have promised pensions they cannot afford and are cutting once-sacrosanct benefits, to appease taxpayers and attack budget deficits. Illinois raised its retirement age to 67, the highest of any state, and capped public pensions at $106,800 a year. Arizona, New York, Missouri and Mississippi will make people work more years to earn pensions. Virginia is requiring employees to pay into the state pension fund for the first time. New Jersey will not give anyone pension credit unless they work at least 32 hours a week. But there is a catch: Nearly all of the cuts so far apply only to workers not yet hired, so the impact will not be immediate. Lawmakers wanted to avoid legal battles or fights with unions, whose members can be influential voters. So they are allowing most public workers across the country to keep building up their pensions at the same rate as ever.

China followed through Monday on its pledge to allow greater flexibility in exchange rates. The yuan is considered undervalued by many economists and U.S. lawmakers who have threatened to push legislation to make it easier to slap import duties on Chinese goods unless the yuan’s value goes up. For several years, the U.S. has called on China to allow its currency to rise against the dollar, which would likely boost U.S. exports by making them less expensive for Chinese customers and make Chinese exports more expensive in the U.S.

Non-profit groups and special interests spent 73% more in the first three months of the year jetting members of Congress on domestic and foreign trips, a USA TODAY review of records compiled by CQ MoneyLine shows. Twelve lawmakers, some accompanied by their spouses, traveled to Spain, nine went to Israel and three to Turkey. Groups funding the trips spent $435,000 in the first quarter, up from $251,000 over the same period last year.

  • Recession? Not for Congress. Paid vacations on the rise.

Israel

The Cairo newspaper A-Dar reported on Friday that Israel has formally approached Egypt with a request  to prevent aid ships from Iran from reaching Gaza by blocking their passage through the Suez Canal, but Egypt has refused, insisting the request “contradicts the law.” Cairo has responded that international law does not allow it to block the passage of any ship through the canal unless it is a ship belonging to a state that is at war with Egypt, which is not the case with Iran. Egypt has also already approved entry permits to Gaza for hundreds of Iranians that will accompany the aid ships.

Jerusalem‘s mayor pressed ahead Monday with a contentious plan to raze 22 Palestinian homes to make room for a tourist center that Palestinians fear would tighten Israel‘s grip on the city’s contested eastern sector. Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes has in the past provoked harsh reaction from the United States. Palestinians hope to build the capital of a future state in east Jerusalem and see any Israeli construction there as undercutting their claims to the land. Although Israel claims it is simply enforcing the law by knocking down illegally built structures, many of the unapproved homes have gone up without authorization because Palestinians have a hard time obtaining construction permits in east Jerusalem.

  • The Palestinians have no legitimate claim to any part of Jerusalem.

Iraq

Suicide bombers in a crowded Baghdad commercial district and Saddam Hussein‘s hometown of Tikrit killed at least 33 people Sunday as insurgents tried to turn a monthslong deadlock over forming a new Iraqi government to their advantage. The attacks added weight to warnings that insurgents would try to foment unrest as politicians squabble over forming a new government more than three months after inconclusive national elections.

An al-Qaeda-linked insurgent shot and killed his own father as he slept in his bed Friday for refusing to quit his job as an Iraqi interpreter for the U.S. military, police said, a rare deadly attack on a close family member over allegations of collaborating with the enemy. Hameed al-Daraji, 50, worked as a contractor and translator for the U.S. military for seven years since shortly after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

  1. An enemy this resolute is difficult to defeat

Bangladesh

It could be the worst mass poisoning in history. And the terrible irony is that it may all be due to an idealistic push to clean up drinking water for some of the world’s poorest people. A new study published in British medical journal The Lancet says that up to 77 million people in Bangladesh are being exposed to toxic levels of arsenic, potentially taking years or decades off their lives. An international team of researchers from Chicago, New York and Bangladesh followed 12,000 people over the past decade, monitoring their arsenic intake and mortality rates from contaminated wells. By the end of the study, one in five deaths were determined to be directly related to elevated arsenic levels in their system. Stretch that over the entire population that takes its water from wells, and the impact is daunting. The problem has been known about for years, if not the overall deadly impact.

Well-meaning development groups had encouraged remote villages across Bangladesh to dig wells over the past decades, rather than rely on potentially contaminated surface water and dirty rivers. But now potentially a much worse problem has been found far below the surface. Arsenic is found in abundance in the soil and rock in Bangladesh. It’s leached up through the water table in tens of millions of water wells across the country. Arsenic and its derivatives are used in many industries, such as metal smelting and as a component in products ranging from insecticide to micro-chips. Experts didn’t speculate, though, on how the arsenic contaminated the soil.

Wildfires

Two wildfires raging in Coconino County near Flagstaff charred more than 5.000 acres, shutting down parts of Route 89. Coconino County and the city of Flagstaff were in a state of emergency as the Schultz and Hardy fires continued to burn. The second wildfire to hit Flagstaff, Arizona in two days drove residents from more than 1,000 homes Sunday, and authorities arrested a man they say caused the first blaze by dumping coals from a campfire on the ground. Coconino County authorities asked residents of 1,044 homes in three neighborhoods north of the city to leave because of the latest fire. The first wildfire, burning 350 acres in southeastern Flagstaff, forced the evacuation of about 170 homes, briefly shut down a hotel and remained uncontained Sunday. Authorities knew of no buildings that had been burned. U.S. Route 89 northeast of the city was closed because of smoke from the second fire, and each blaze had forced an animal shelter to evacuate.

Weather

Residents in northeast Kansas and western Missouri have been cleaning up after damaging winds roughed up the region over the weekend, displacing a few residents, severely damaging a school roof and causing power outages. Winds in the region reached speeds up to 80 mph winds, and there were reports of 1-inch hail. A tornado touched down in Billings, Mont., tearing off much of the roof of a mostly empty 10,000 seat arena and caused other damage to the building Sunday evening. Trees and telephone poles on the outside of the arena were snapped. Big pieces of metal could be seen hanging from power lines, and tangles of insulation and metal debris were strewn for hundreds of yards in the surrounding area.

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