Lawsuit over Arizona’s Immigration Law might Stall Reform

The Justice Department’s decision to try to block the controversial Arizona state immigration law could make any type of comprehensive immigration solution even more elusive. The hot-button issue has stymied Congress for years – Sen. John McCain’s support for reform nearly cost him the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 – and the divide has only gotten deeper. Reform opponents say the lawsuit is nothing more than election-year pandering by President Barack Obama, who is trying to shore up the Hispanic vote in advance of what is shaping up to be a crucial congressional midterm-campaign season. And some Latinos, who were assured by candidate Obama that he would push for reform early in his first term, if elected, believe that despite a major, pro-reform speech this month, the president isn’t doing enough to help millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country get right with the law. Even the administration’s decision to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops to help with the border-security mission has done little to change the political dynamics. Republican border hawks immediately dismissed the action as insufficient while pro-reform advocates don’t appreciate the emphasis on border enforcement.

Democratic governors expressed “grave” concerns to White House officials this weekend about the Obama administration’s suit against Arizona’s new immigration law, warning it could cost the party in crucial elections this fall, The New York Times reported late Sunday. “Universally the governors are saying, ‘We’ve got to talk about jobs, and all of a sudden we have immigration going on,'” Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, was quoted as saying. Rallying around Gov. Brewer at the Boston meeting, Republican Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska told the Times: “I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that almost every state in America next January is going to see a bill similar to Arizona’s.” Meanwhile, residents from all over the country donated nearly $500,000 to help Arizona defend its immigration enforcement law through Arizona’s defense fund’s website.

Federal Immigration Raids Lead to Firings, Not Deportation

The Obama administration’s new approach to dealing with companies that hire illegal immigrants results in firings, not deportations, the New York Times reported Friday. Instead of immigration sweeps at factories and farms which used to lead to illegal workers being shipped out of the country, the administration’s new policy—government conducted audits labeled “silent raids” by employers—usually only result in the workers losing their jobs. In these audits, federal agents examine company records to find illegal workers on the payroll, forcing “businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant… not just those who happened to be on duty at the time of a raid,” the Times said. This makes it more difficult for companies to hire undocumented workers to fill these positions in the future. This year alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement have facilitated the firing of thousands of immigrants and “levied a record $3 million in civil fines,” the Times reported.

Gulf Oil Leak could be Contained Monday

Oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at an accelerated pace as BP rushes to install a more secure capping system that the oil company hopes will contain all of the leaking crude from the ruptured well. The difficult maneuver will take five more days to complete, during which the Coast Guard warns that oil will flow almost unabated into the Gulf. Between 1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons per day are leaking into the Gulf from the well, according to government estimates. Between 88 million and 174 million gallons have already spilled into the Gulf so far in the worst oil spill in U.S. history. BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said the company is “pleased” with the progress of the capping operation but also sounded a note of caution. Known as “top hat,” the new cap weighs 150,000 pounds and is designed to seal the leak and provide connections for vessels on the surface to collect oil. The cap has valves that can restrict the oil and even contain it, if the cap can withstand the enormous pressure of the flow.

Obama Eases Benefits Process for Vets with PTSD

President Obama said Saturday that veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder will now have easier access to benefits. Previously, veterans “have been required to produce evidence proving that a specific event caused their PTSD,” Obama said during his Saturday radio address. “And that practice has kept the vast majority of those with PTSD who served in non-combat roles, but who still waged war, from getting the care they need.” The Department of Veterans Affairs will begin streamlining the benefits process this week.

Debt Commission Paints Gloomy Picture

The heads of President Barack Obama’s national debt commission painted a gloomy picture Sunday as the United States struggles to get its spending under control. The nation’s total federal debt next year is expected to exceed $14 trillion — about $47,000 for every U.S. resident. “This debt is like a cancer,” Democrat Erskine Bowles said in a sober presentation. “It is truly going to destroy the country from within.” Republican Alan Simpson said the entirety of the nation’s current discretionary spending is consumed by the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs. “The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans, the whole rest of the discretionary budget, is being financed by China and other countries,” said Simpson. China alone currently holds $920 billion in U.S. IOUs. Bowles said if the U.S. makes no changes it will be spending $2 trillion by 2020 just for interest on the national debt.

States/Cities Look to Privatize Gov’t Services

New Jersey could save $210 million a year by privatizing several state services, including preschools, state parks, mental hospitals, toll booths, vehicle inspections and smog tests, according to a commission report obtained by the Newark Star-Ledger. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, commissioned the report in March. It’s not yet clear how many recommendations he might adopt. The state would then sell the land where its facilities now operate. The paper writes that the car inspection proposal “is sure to stir up controversy in a state with a tortured history of privatizing emissions testing.”

Phoenix council members and top officials are assessing whether to privatize more services such as park landscaping, street cleaning and facility operations at Maryvale Baseball Park in an effort to save money. The city already privatizes about $432 million in services in about 350 service areas ranging from public transit to janitorial work. Proponents of more outsourcing, or hiring private firms to provide services, say it could potentially save taxpayers millions of dollars every year because they don’t have to pay the costs associated with employees, such as health benefits or workers’-compensation insurance. They say competition from the private sector will encourage more efficient delivery of services. Hundreds of employees have marched to City Council meetings twice in the past month, asking elected officials to protect jobs and cooperate with labor unions before moving forward with more outsourcing.

Economic News

Regulators on Friday shut down banks in Maryland, Oklahoma and New York, lifting to 90 the number of U.S. bank failures this year. The pace of bank failures far outstrips that of 2009, which was already a brisk year for shutdowns. By this time last year, regulators had closed 45 banks. The pace has accelerated as banks’ losses mount on loans made for commercial property and development. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008, the year the financial crisis struck with force, and only three succumbed in 2007.

The stock market ended its best week in a year with another gain Friday as investors bet that companies will report strong second-quarter earnings. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 59 points, or 0.6%. That gave the Dow its biggest weekly advance in a year, 5.3%. Broader indexes posted bigger gains.

Inventories held by U.S. wholesalers rose for a fifth consecutive month in May, but sales fell for the first time in more than a year. Wholesale inventories increased 0.5% while sales dropped 0.3%. The May sales decline is the latest sign that the economic recovery could be losing momentum.

The credit scores of millions more Americans are sinking to new lows. Figures show that 25.5% of consumers — nearly 43.4 million people — now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders. It’s unlikely they will be able to get credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards banks now use.

While sales of cars and trucks in the U.S. continue to be more sluggish than expected, automakers — especially the Detroit Three — are enjoying the largest increase in average transaction prices in more than five years. Consumers spent an average of $29,217 for their new cars or trucks from January through May — an increase of $1,057, or 3.7%, compared with last year.

Uganda

Explosions tore through crowds watching the World Cup final at a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant, killing at least 74 people. Police feared an al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group was behind the attacks, as Uganda‘s president declared Monday “we shall get them wherever they are.” The blasts came two days after a commander with the Somali group, al-Shabab, called for militants to attack sites in Uganda and Burundi, two nations that contribute troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia. Ugandan government spokesman Fred Opolot said Monday there were indications that two suicide bombers took part in the late Sunday attacks, which left nearly 60 others wounded.

Haiti

Six months since a magnitude-7.0 earthquake leveled 60% of the city’s buildings and killed 230,000 people, there are few visible signs of improvement. Buildings destroyed by the earthquake lie where they collapsed. The presidential palace, which became a worldwide symbol of the devastation, remains a gleaming heap of concrete. One of the biggest challenges is helping the estimated 1.5 million people who were left homeless. More than 1,300 makeshift camps which sprang up after the earthquake are still occupied. Frustration is high among Haitians and aid groups who say they see halting and haphazard progress toward recovery. The Haitian government — responsible for the cleanup but still reeling after the loss of most of its buildings and many of its workers — and the aid groups blame each other for the lack of progress. Minister Felix Longchamp, secretary-general to the president, says that despite the millions of dollars pledged to help Haiti, the funds are going through international aid organizations, which are not coordinating efforts.

Iran

The controversial death sentence by stoning for an Iranian woman convicted of adultery will not be implemented for now, said a judicial official on Sunday. The world outcry over the death sentence has become the latest issue in Iran‘s fraught relationship with the international community. The United States, Britain and international human rights groups have all urged Tehran not to carry out the sentence. Human Rights Watch, one of several groups publicizing Ashtiani’s case, said she was first convicted in May 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men following the death of her husband — for which a court in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran, sentenced her to 99 lashes. But later that year she was also convicted of adultery. Stoning was widely imposed in the years following the 1979 Islamic revolution, and even though Iran’s judiciary still regularly hands down such sentences, they are often converted to other punishments.

Afghanistan

Militant attacks in once-calm northern Afghanistan killed at least 11 police officers and a government official whose car was hit by a remote-controlled bomb, officials said Sunday. In the south, NATO said a U.S. service member died Sunday following an insurgent attack and a combined coaliton and Afghan patrol killed a senior Taliban commander and a dozen other insurgents who were discovered planting a homemade bomb on a road. Insurgents as well as coalition forces have escalated attacks across the country in recent months, as the NATO-led force pours in 30,000 more U.S. troops in a new push to break the Taliban’s hold in their strongholds and establish stable Afghan governance. International and Afghan commandos have been conducting near-nightly raids to capture or kill insurgents, while the Taliban have launched attacks on army bases and local officials and planted thousands of roadside bombs.

Pakistan

The death toll from twin suicide bombings in Pakistan jumped to 102 with 115 people wounded on Saturday, making it the deadliest attack this year in the country. Authorities continued to remove debris from the site of the attack in the village of Yakaghund in a northwest tribal region, after two bombers struck seconds apart Friday near a government office.

Japan

Battered by voter backlash over the prospect of higher sales taxes, Japan‘s ruling Democratic Party suffered a heavy defeat in a parliamentary election Sunday, dealing a blow that could hinder the young government’s ability to control soaring debt. The projected losses were worse than expected and will make it difficult for Prime Minister Naoto Kan‘s government to effectively tackle serious problems confronting the world’s second-largest economy, from reining in its bulging deficit, reviving its stagnant economy and support a rapidly aging population. The projected results indicate that the ruling coalition lost its 122-seat majority in parliament’s upper house. The election won’t directly affect the Democrats’ grip on power because they control the more powerful lower house of parliament. But it does raise the serious prospect of gridlock.

Weather

Record heat that has been baking much of the nation for weeks is likely to have lasting effects on farm crops and consumers in the Northeast. “It’s been devastating,” says Carl Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “The lack of rain combined with close to 100-degree temperatures just takes a toll on crops.” Colleagues from Maryland, Delaware, New York and New England report similar problems. Dairy farmers are hurting too, he says because their cows eat less and produce less milk when they’re hot, and farmers may need to buy feed to replace damaged feed crops of corn and soybeans. July’s recent heat spike followed a June that also set records. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that record-warm June temperatures occurred in Delaware, New Jersey and North Carolina; which had average temperatures 5 to 6 degrees above average.

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