Crews on Saturday worked to protect several small Arizona communities from two large wildfires by clearing away brush near homes and planning to set fires aimed at robbing the blazes of their fuel. The Wallow Fire, near the White Mountain community of Alpine, grew to 218 square miles, or more than 140,000 acres, by Saturday morning. The fire is the third largest in state history, with its smoke visible in parts of southern Colorado. Fire officials said they had zero containment of the fire near the New Mexico-Arizona state line, which has forced many people to evacuate. The fire has burned four summer rental cabins since it started May 29th. The fire had reached Alpine’s outskirts and was about two miles away from homes in Nutrioso

Meanwhile, crews were trying to protect a church camp and two communities from the Horseshoe Two fire that had burned 140 square miles in far southern Arizona. It’s the fifth-largest fire in state history. The 90,000-acre blaze had come within a mile of the evacuated Methodist church camp in the steep Pine Canyon near the community of Paradise. Crews also were focusing on protecting the evacuated communities of Paradise and East Whitetail Canyon. The fire was within two miles of the eight to 10 homes in East Whitetail Canyon. The blaze is 55% contained. The nearby Chiricahua National Monument was closed as a precaution. The Horseshoe Two fire has been burning since May 8 and about 800 firefighters are battling the 100,200-acre fire.

Middle East

Israeli troops opened fire across the Syrian frontier on Sunday to disperse hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters who stormed the border of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Syrian television reported eleven people, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli gunfire. The unrest marked the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Mideast war. The Israeli military accused Syria of instigating the disturbances to deflect attention from its bloody crackdown on a popular uprising at home. Clashes also broke out between Palestinians and Israelis at the Qalandia crossing between Jerusalem and Ramallah in the West Bank on Sunday.

A top spiritual adviser to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Mohammed Tagbi Mesbah, has issued an edict clarifying the duty of Muslims to kill Jews by any means possible—including suicide attacks. “When protecting Islam,” the cleric wrote, “Muslim people depend on martyrdom operations. It not only is allowed, but even is an obligation.” Mesbah’s followers regard his words as binding religious edicts. His statement clearly directs them to strike even at Jewish children.

U.S. Court Lifts Prayer Ban for Texas Graduation

A federal appeals court has lifted a ban on public prayer at a Texas high school graduation. The ruling, by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reverses a lower court that sided with an agnostic family who sued the Medina Valley Independent School District in Castroville.

Alabama Passes Arizona-Style Immigration Bill

The Alabama Legislature passed an Arizona-style law Thursday night to crack down on illegal immigration, including a requirement that all businesses verify new employees are legal residents. The House voted 67-29 and the Senate concurred 25-7 in a compromise bill worked out by Republican legislators who led the charge for the legislation. The bill now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley, who has advocated immigration legislation and is expected to sign it into law. Like the Arizona law, the Alabama bill allows a police officer who stops a motorist for a traffic violation to detain the person if he has a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally. They said “reasonable suspicion” could include acting nervously or having a tag that doesn’t match vehicle registration records.

House Rebukes Obama Over Libya

The House on Friday rebuked President Barack Obama for failing “to provide Congress with a compelling rationale” for the military campaign in Libya, but it stopped short of demanding that he withdraw U.S. forces from the fight. By a vote of 257-156, the House approved a resolution that criticized Obama for not seeking congressional authorization for the 76-day-old campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The resolution gives Obama 14 more days to convince Congress the attacks against Gadhafi are justified by U.S. interests. The House rejected, 265-148, a more drastic measure that would have demanded that Obama pull out of the Libyan operation within 15 days.

Hispanics Sentenced to Half of All Felony Crimes

Statistics released this week revealed that Hispanics now comprise nearly half of all people sentenced for federal felony crimes, a number swollen by immigration offenses. In comparison, Hispanics make up 16 percent of the total U.S. population. Sentences for felony immigration crimes, which include illegal crossing as well as other crimes such as alien smuggling, accounted for about 87 percent of the increase in the number of Hispanics sent to prison over the past decade, according to an analysis of U.S. Sentencing Commission data. The trend has divided lawmakers and officials in the courts and along the border. Some politicians believe the en masse hearings should be expanded to deter illegal immigration. Others question whether the system actually affects people seeking to cross the border, while some contend the programs distract prosecutors from pursuing more serious crimes. Federal courts along the Mexican border are overwhelmed with immigration enforcement cases.

Households With Children Declining

Children, the mainstay of suburbia and residential neighborhoods across the nation for more than a half-century, are fewer and increasingly sparse in many places. The number of households that have children under age 18 has stayed at 38 million since 2000, despite a 9.7% growth in the U.S. population. As a result, the share of households with children dropped from 36% in 2000 to 33.5%. There are now more households with dogs (43 million) than children. Americans are getting older, and women are having children later. And when they do, they’re not having as many.

Births among Hispanics — they make up 23.1% of those under 18, up from 17.1% in 2000 — have not been enough to stem the overall decline. The number of non-Hispanic white women of child-bearing age has dropped 6% since 2000, and they’re not having having enough children to keep that population from dropping. Fertility has declined among blacks, too, resulting in a 2.3% drop in black children during the same period.

Americans Rank Top Immoral ‘Sins’ in New Poll

Americans are less likely to call certain behaviors a “sin” these days if it affects no one but themselves. The poll, conducted by Gallup, revealed 91 percent of respondents considered extramarital affairs immoral. In addition to cheating spouses, polygamy, cloning humans, suicide and pornography all ranked as the top five immoral “sins” among Americans. However, the Christian Post reports that the number of Americans who believe assisted suicide to be morally acceptable rose to 45 percent. Only 30 percent said embryonic stem cell research was immoral, and only 36 percent said fornication is sin. The poll shows what Richard Land, president of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says is a deep-rooted problem with Americans’ sense of priorities. Land says Americans’ moral values are skewed to focus less on their obligations and responsibilities and more on their “supposed rights and privileges.”

U.S. Sells Stake in Chrysler to Fiat

Chrysler Group, newly profitable and confident in its revamped products, will soon sever its ties with the U.S. government after most — but not all — of the bailout loans it got two years ago are repaid. Italian automaker Fiat agreed late Thursday to buy the U.S. Treasury’s 6% interest in Chrysler for $500 million. Once the deal closes, the government will no longer hold a stake in the auto company. The deal will give Fiat a majority 52% stake in the automaker. The U.S. government will ultimately lose around $1.3 billion in the deal. The government authorized $12.5 billion in loans for Chrysler from the end of 2008 through Chrysler’s bankruptcy filing in the summer of 2009.

Arizona CEOs Reap Record Payday

The latest evidence of an uneven economic recovery comes from Arizona’s corporate suites, where the top executives who run the state’s shareholder-owned companies earned record paychecks last year. The CEOs and chairmen of 43 public companies tracked by The Arizona Republic earned a median of $1.54 million in 2010, up from $1.04 million in 2009. Higher corporate profits and a resurgent stock market drove much of the increase in executive pay. The $1.54 million is the highest since The Republic started evaluating executive pay more than a decade ago and compares with a recession low of $868,000 in 2007. Higher compensation for these bosses came during a year of widespread consumer stress, when unemployment in the state topped 10 percent, bankruptcy filings across Arizona surpassed 40,000 and home prices continued to slide. Executive pay has emerged as perhaps the most telltale sign of a rich-poor divide in America.

Federal Workers Making More Than Governors

At a time when many American workers are struggling to make ends meet and government debt is threatening to undermine economic recovery, thousands of federal employees are raking in bigger salaries than the governors of the states where they live, a new report reveals. In fact, federal public employees now make twice the salaries of their private sector counterparts — annual earnings that top $123,000. The median US household income, by comparison, is $52,000 annually. The report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service shows that more than 77,000 federal workers — in jobs ranging from medicine and air traffic control to public relations, computer programming, and even interior decorating — earned more in 2009 than their state’s chief executive. “The pay gap between governors and federal employees should prompt Congress to take a closer look at federal salaries,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who requested the CRS report. “With our debt and deficits spiraling out of control, now is the time to ask agencies — not just governors — to do more with less.”

Economic News

The economy added only 54,000 new jobs in May — the fewest in eight months — and the unemployment rate rose from 9.0% to 9.1%. The weakening job market raises concern about an economy hampered by high gas prices. The 54,000 is far lower than the previous three months’ average of 220,000 jobs per month. The weak employment report sent stocks sharply lower, closing out the fifth straight week of losses for the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 index.

Another report Friday indicated that conditions in the services sector of the economy are still improving. The Institute for Supply Management said its closely watched non-manufacturing index showed growth in May, for an 18th consecutive month. The index rose to 54.6 from 52.8 in April. A reading above 50 indicates the sector is expanding.

Fewer U.S. home loans are going delinquent and new problem loans have hit three-year lows, possible signs that a five-year wave of foreclosures is starting to recede. Almost 8% of U.S. home loans were at least 30 days past due in April but not yet in foreclosure. That was up slightly from March but down 16% from a year ago.

The consumer confidence index shrank in May to 60.8 from 66.0 in April due to growing pessimism about jobs and incomes, according to the Conference Board. Readings below 100 indicate economic stagnation or decline.


Protesters took over the Finance Ministry building in Athens Friday morning, hanging a giant banner from the roof calling for a general strike, just as Greece wraps up tough negotiations with international officials on new austerity measures. About 200 protesters from the communist party-backed PAME union blockaded the entrance to the ministry from dawn, preventing employees from entering. They hung a banner over five stories of the front of the building and took down the European flag from the top of the ministry, replacing it with their own union flag.


Hospitals in northern Germany are being overwhelmed as they struggle to provide enough beds and medical care for patients stricken by an outbreak of E-coli, the German health minister admitted Sunday. Hamburg is the epicenter of the deadliest E. coli outbreak in modern history, which has killed at least 18 people since May 2. More than 1,700 people in Germany have been infected, including 520 suffering from a life-threatening complication that can cause kidney failure. Ten other European nations and the U.S. have reported 90 other cases, all but two related to visits in northern Germany. Researchers have been unable to pinpoint exactly where or what food was responsible.


A series of bombings ripped through the capital of Iraq’s western Anbar province Thursday night, killing nine people. At least 25 people were also injured in the explosions. The bomb explosions appeared coordinated to maximize deaths. The blasts in what was the heartland of the al-Qaida-led insurgency are a reminder of the danger still facing Iraq, as it prepares for the departure of the remaining U.S. troops by the end of this year.


A top Al Qaeda commander and possible replacement for Usama bin Laden was killed in an American drone-fired missile strike close to the Afghan border, the militant group he heads and a Pakistani intelligence official said Saturday. Ilyas Kashmiri’s death is another blow to Al Qaeda just over a month after bin Laden was killed by American commandos in a northwest Pakistani army town. Described by U.S. officials as Al Qaeda’s military operations chief in Pakistan, he was one of five most-wanted militant leaders in the country, accused in a string of bloody attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai massacre.

A bomb exploded at a bus stand in northwest Pakistan early Sunday, killing six people in the latest violence to hit the country since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. At least 10 people were wounded. Many of the dead and injured were in a pickup truck near the bus stand. Islamist militants who flowed out of Afghanistan fought fierce battles with Pakistani security forces Friday in one of the deadliest clashes on the Pakistan side of the frontier in months. Authorities said 63 people were dead. Beyond emphasizing the difficulties of fighting an enemy that pays no attention to borders, the battle pointed to possible trouble for both the U.S. and Pakistan when Washington begins withdrawing troops later this year. Pakistan is already complaining NATO doesn’t have enough troops along the Afghan side of the border.


Efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban appear to be gaining traction, with the head of the Afghan peace council saying Saturday that it has been in contact with three factions of the insurgent movement and the U.S. defense secretary predicting negotiations by the end of the year. The United Nations will give a thumb’s up or thumb’s down later this month on whether to take Taliban figures off a U.N. sanctions blacklist list — a move that could enable prospective intermediaries to travel abroad to hold talks. At a news conference Saturday in the Afghan capital with President Hamid Karzai, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said if the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces can hold territory captured from the Taliban, and even expand that security “we will be in a position towards the end of this year to perhaps have a successful opening to reconciliation.”


A former Egyptian finance minister has been sentenced in absentia to 30 years for squandering public funds and abusing his authority, Yousef Boutros-Ghali, a nephew of former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, left Egypt during the uprising that forced out President Hosni Mubarak. Yousef Boutros-Ghali was a powerful confidant of Mubarak’s son Gamal. Boutros-Ghali’s location is unknown.


NATO announced Saturday it had for the first time used attack helicopters in Libya, striking military vehicles, military equipment and forces backing embattled leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. French helicopters struck 15 military vehicles and 5 military command buildings.

A series of at least 10 NATO strikes hit in and around the Libyan capital early on Friday, targeting military barracks close to Gadhafi’s sprawling compound in central Tripoli, a police station and a military base. The strikes appeared to be the heaviest in Tripoli since South African President Jacob Zuma visited Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the capital earlier this week in an apparently unsuccessful effort to find a peaceful resolution to the country’s crisis.


Military officials and witnesses say dozens of gunmen are attacking the presidential palace at Taiz, Yemen’s second largest city, and have killed four soldiers in an attempt to storm the compound. The attackers belong to a group set up recently to avenge the killing of anti-regime protesters at the hands of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s security forces. Saleh left the country overnight for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after he was wounded Friday in an attack on his compound in the capital Sanaa. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded when opposition tribesmen determined to topple him hammered his palace with rockets Friday in a major escalation of nearly two weeks of fighting with government forces. At least four guards were killed and seven top officials were also wounded. Saleh suffered light injuries to the neck There was no official announcement on who was acting as head of state. But under Yemen’s constitution, the vice president takes over for up to 60 days when the head of state is absent.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis held a mass funeral Friday for 50 people killed in regime-sponsored violence in the capital. Heavy shelling expanded into new sections of the city. Soon after Friday prayers, witnesses said heavy shelling rocked the commercial neighborhood of Hadda in southern Sanaa. Residents fled to basements for cover.


The Syrian government cut off Internet service (3G, DSL, Dial-up) all across Syria, including in government institutions to prevent its citizens from communicating about times and locations for protests. A Syrian rights group says the death toll from a military operation in a northern town has gone up to 25 and included four policemen. The operation is part of a crackdown that began Saturday and was continuing Sunday. Syrian troops pounded a central town with artillery and heavy machinegun fire Friday, killing at least two people in the latest onslaught as authorities cut off Internet service in several regions in an apparent move to prevent the uploading of videos of anti-regime demonstrations. Friday’s deaths bring the toll in Rastan and nearby Talbiseh to 74 killed since the attack started last Saturday.


Eyewitnesses say Bahraini police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters marching toward Pearl Square in the country’s capital. The downtown square was the epicenter of weeks of Shiite-led protests against Sunni rulers earlier this year in the Gulf kingdom. Friday’s march in Manama comes two days after authorities lifted emergency rule. It was imposed in March to quell demonstrations by Bahrain’s Shiite majority demanding greater freedoms and inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.


Many people in South Dakota think the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew it this year, waiting until too late to begin releasing water through the six dams on the Missouri River. Corps officials insist otherwise, and blame unexpectedly heavy spring rains. Meanwhile, Gov. Dennis Daugaard advised people in neighborhoods nearest the river to leave voluntarily in case levees don’t hold, and hundreds have done so after a hectic week of moving possessions and adding sandbags around their houses. They face weeks out of their homes until the river begins cresting in mid-June, with high water expected to linger for up to two months.

The historic Mississippi River flood has begun to abate, but the impact is far from over. Thousands of acres (hectares) of crops, timber and catfish farms are still flooded, mostly by tributaries that backed up because the Mississippi River was so high. Hundreds of people are still displaced from flooded homes. Some people had nothing to go home to. Even if the flooding wasn’t as bad as initially feared, it’s still been treacherous for those affected. Some 5,600 people have applied for government assistance in Mississippi in Tennessee, though the damage is still being assessed because high waters are still causing problems for officials.

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