Red, white and extra blue as tight security marks July 4th celebrations

2016-07-05 04:19:27

NEW YORK The United States celebrated the July Fourth holiday on Monday with parades, baking contests and picnics draped in red, white and an extra layer of blue, as police ramped up patrols because of concerns about terrorism and gun violence.Millions of Americans marked independence from Britain with celebrations as boisterous as a music-packed party by country music legend Willie Nelson for 10,000 people at a race track in Austin, Texas, and as staid as colonial-era costumed actors reading the Declaration of Independence at the U.S. National Archives in Washington. "It's a good day for reflecting on the positive things about America - the sense of freedom that you can go after and achieve whatever you want," said Helen Donaldson, 48, the mother of a multi-ethnic family of four adopted teens living in Maplewood, New Jersey.Donaldson, a white Australian immigrant, cheered with her two New Jersey-born African-American daughters, both 12 and dressed in red, white and blue, as a recording of the Star Spangled Banner played to kick off a children's relay race. Nearby, in the baking contest tent, 13-year-old Nate Fisher entered his cherry blueberry tart into competition."I have high hopes," he said, flashing a smile.History was made in the traditional hotdog-eating contest at New York's Coney Island when long-time champion Joey "Jaws" Chestnut took back the Mustard Yellow International Belt from last year's upstart winner Matt Stonie. Chestnut set an unofficial new world record by downing 70 hotdogs in 10 minutes - topping his previous record of 69 franks. In the women's division, Miki Sudo successfully defended her title by eating 38 hotdogs in 10 minutes. With the holiday taking place days after attacks in Baghdad, Dhaka and Istanbul, the New York Police Department deployed eight new "vapor wake" dogs, trained to sniff out explosives on a moving target in a crowd.The department's presence this holiday was boosted by nearly 2,000 new officers just days after they graduated on Friday from the New York City Police Academy."You're going to see a lot of people in heavy vests, helmets and long guns and they can respond at a moment's notice to any incident," NYPD Chief of Department James O'Neill told a news conference. "There's also a lot you won't see." CHICAGO BRACED FOR VIOLENCEPolice in Chicago, which has seen a spike in gun murders this year, announced a stepped up presence with more than 5,000 officers on patrol over the long weekend, traditionally one of the year's most violent, said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. Local media said that by early Monday evening at least 33 people had been shot over the holiday weekend, most of them in tough neighborhoods on the city's south and west sides. Dry weather forecasts across the country thrilled fireworks lovers, although some spots in Michigan have been so rain-starved that pyrotechnic shows were canceled in a handful of communities near Detroit because of the risk of fires. A 19-year-old tourist in New York's Central Park suffered a severe foot wound on Sunday after an apparent homemade firework exploded when he jumped off a rock and stepped on the device, authorities said.In Compton, California, a 9-year-old girl's hand had to be amputated when she was injured after unwittingly picking up a lit firework, local media said. In New York City, more than a million people were set to pack balconies, rooftops and the East River's banks for the 40th annual Macy's Fireworks display, which the department store said would showcase more than 56,000 pyrotechnic shells and effects.The musical accompaniment features the United States Air Force Band playing patriotic numbers including "This Land is Your Land" and "Stars and Stripes Forever," and Grammy-winning vocalist Jennifer Holliday will sing "America the Beautiful." (Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus and Daniel Wallis in New York, Fiona Ortiz in Chicago, Adam DeRose in Washington, and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Bill Rigby and Phil Berlowitz)

Supreme Court firmly backs abortion rights, tosses Texas law

2016-06-28 11:24:57

WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Texas abortion law imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities in the strongest endorsement of abortion rights in America in more than two decades.The 5-3 ruling held that the Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their right under the U.S. Constitution to end a pregnancy, established in the court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.The abortion providers who challenged the law said it was medically unnecessary and specifically intended to shut clinics. Texas officials said it was intended to protect women's health. The ruling means similar laws in other states are probably unconstitutional and could put in jeopardy other types of abortion restrictions enacted in various conservative states."The decision should send a loud signal to politicians that they can no longer hide behind sham rationales to shut down clinics and prevent a woman who has decided to end a pregnancy from getting the care she needs," said Jennifer Dalven, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.President Barack Obama, whose administration backed the abortion providers in the court challenge, said in a statement he was "pleased to see the Supreme Court protect women's rights and health" and that restrictions like those in Texas "harm women's health and place an unconstitutional obstacle in the path of a woman's reproductive freedom."Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court's four liberal members in the ruling, with the remaining three conservatives dissenting. The court declared that both key provisions of the law - requiring abortion doctors to have difficult-to-obtain "admitting privileges" at a local hospital and requiring clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities - violated a woman's right to an abortion.Writing for the court, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said, "We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.""Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution," Breyer added.Deferring to state legislatures over "questions of medical uncertainty is also inconsistent with this court's case law," Breyer added. The ruling in the case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, represented the most vigorous affirmation of abortion rights in the United States since a 1992 ruling affirmed a woman's right to have the procedure.On a warm sunny summer day, hundreds of people on both sides of the issue converged on the Supreme Court building, with abortion rights advocates dancing and celebrating after the ruling. "We're ecstatic. The reality is today women won," abortion rights activist Marcela Howell said.The law was passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed by a Republican governor in 2013. Ten states currently have admitting privileges requirements on the books while six have laws requiring hospital-grade facilities. Lower courts have blocked admitting privileges provisions in five states and halted facilities regulations in two states. "The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost. Texas' goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women," Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.Since the law was passed, the number of abortion clinics in Texas, the second-most-populous U.S. state with about 27 million people, had dropped from 41 to 19.The Supreme Court has appeals pending in two cases involving admitting privilege laws in Mississippi and Wisconsin on which it could act as soon as Tuesday.     The Texas law required abortion doctors to have "admitting privileges," a type of formal affiliation, at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic so they can treat patients needing surgery or other critical care.The law also required clinic buildings to possess costly, hospital-grade facilities. These regulations covered numerous building features such as corridor width, the swinging motion of doors, floor tiles, parking spaces, elevator size, ventilation, electrical wiring, plumbing, floor tiling and even the angle that water flows from drinking fountains.PUBLIC OPINION SPLITAmericans remain closely divided over whether abortion should be legal. In a Reuters/Ipsos online poll involving 6,769 U.S. adults conducted from June 3 to June 22, 47 percent of respondents said abortion generally should be legal and 42 percent said it generally should be illegal. Views on abortion in the United States have changed very little over the decades, according to historical polling data.The last time the justices decided a major abortion case was nine years ago when they ruled 5-4 to uphold a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure.Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which led the challenge to the Texas law, said, "Every day Whole Woman’s Health treats our patients with compassion, respect and dignity - and today the Supreme Court did the same. We’re thrilled that today justice was served and our clinics stay open."Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Twitter called the ruling "a victory for women in Texas and across America.""This fight isn't over: The next president has to protect women's health. Women won't be 'punished' for exercising their basic rights," she said, a dig at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who once suggested women who get illegal abortions should face "some sort of punishment." The presidential election is Nov. 8.Some U.S. states have pursued a variety of restrictions on abortion, including banning certain types of procedures, prohibiting it after a certain number of weeks of gestation, requiring parental permission for girls until a certain age, imposing waiting periods or mandatory counseling, and others."It's exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women’s health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly-elected representatives," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement.Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito dissented. The normally nine-justice court was one member short after the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who consistently opposed abortion in past rulings. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Adam DeRose, Jon Herskovitz and David Ingram; Editing by Will Dunham)

Split U.S. Supreme Court blocks Obama immigration plan

2016-06-24 11:12:14

WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Barack Obama's plan to spare millions of immigrants in the country illegally from deportation in a split ruling that heartened political foes who had accused him of overstepping his powers.The 4-4 ruling, coming seven months before Obama's term in office ends, marked the latest success that his Republican adversaries have had in thwarting a major policy initiative of the Democratic president. Obama had hoped that overhauling the U.S. immigration system and resolving the fate of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally would be part of his presidential legacy.The ruling is likely to further amplify the role that the immigration issue will play in the run-up to the Nov. 8 presidential election in which voters will pick Obama's successor. It also leaves in legal limbo the roughly 4 million people Obama's action was meant to help.Obama unveiled his plan in November 2014. It was quickly challenged in court by Republican-governed Texas and 25 other states that argued that Obama overstepped the powers granted to him by the U.S. Constitution by infringing upon the authority of Congress. His unilateral executive action bypassed the Republican-led Congress.Because the court was split, a 2015 lower-court ruling invalidating Obama's plan was left in place. The plan never was implemented because the lower courts had blocked it.The plan was tailored to let roughly 4 million people - those who have lived illegally in the United States at least since 2010, have no criminal record and have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents - get into a program that shields them from deportation and supplies work permits. A split ruling was possible because the court was down to eight justices, four liberals and four conservatives, after conservative justice Antonin Scalia died in February. The Republican-led Senate has refused to act on Obama's nomination of appeals court judge Merrick Garland to replace Scalia.In an appearance at the White House after the ruling, Obama expressed frustration at the court's inability to issue a decisive ruling on the merits of the case and at Senate Republicans for "willfully" keeping the court shorthanded."I think it is heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who made their lives here, who've raised families here, who hope for the opportunity to work, pay taxes, serve in our military, and fully contribute to this country we all love in an open way," Obama said.Obama said the U.S. immigration system has been broken for two decades and that this ruling set it back even further. The issue of illegal immigration has featured prominently in the presidential campaign. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has called for deportation of all illegal immigrants - most of them from Mexico and other Latin American countries - and building a wall along the Mexican border.The court did not reveal how each justice voted in the ruling, but it was possible the four liberals backed Obama and the four conservatives backed the states.    The court appeared divided along ideological lines during oral arguments on April 18, with liberals indicating support for the administration and conservative opposed.'MAJOR SETBACK' The nation's top elected Republican, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, and others in his party welcomed the ruling."This is a major setback to President Obama’s attempts to expand executive power, and a victory for those who believe in the separation of powers and the rule of law," said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican.The Constitution assigns certain powers to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government.The split decision set no nationwide legal precedent on presidential power or immigration law. The ruling indicates that any major immigration policy change that would address the long-term situation of illegal immigrants would have to be enacted by Congress."We feel that justice has turned its back on millions of immigrants who, much like our founding fathers and mothers, sought a better future for themselves and their children and yet continue to live in the shadows without the respect and dignity that they deserve," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. The Obama administration could ask the high court to rehear the case, as losing parties in two other cases in which the court has split 4-4 have done. The court has not yet acted on those other petitions.The Supreme Court decision does not affect a separate 2012 program aimed at protecting people brought to the United States as children from deportation, which Texas and the other states did not challenge.Obama took the action after House Republicans killed bipartisan immigration legislation, billed as the biggest overhaul of U.S. laws on the matter in decades and providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, that was passed by the Senate in 2013.Maya Ledezma, an immigrant from Mexico who lives in Maryland, said would have been eligible for Obama's program because she has lived in the United States for more than a decade and has an 8-year-old daughter who is a U.S. citizen.“My life would have changed if the vote had been favorable,” she said through a translator during a rally outside the Supreme Court.Republicans have been critical of Obama's use of executive action to get around Congress on immigration policy and other issues such as gun control and healthcare.Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton criticized the ruling for "throwing millions of families across our country into a state of uncertainty." Trump said the ruling "blocked one of the most unconstitutional actions ever undertaken by a president." (Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Emily Stephenson in Washington and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles)

U.S. stands with Orlando shooting victims, attorney general says

2016-06-22 11:30:55

ORLANDO, Fla. The U.S. government is providing $1 million in emergency funds to cover overtime for first responders to the Orlando nightclub massacre and stands in support of the LGBT community after the tragedy, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Tuesday.Lynch spoke in Orlando after meeting with relatives of some of the 49 people killed and 53 wounded in the June 12 rampage and said there was no doubt it was a "shattering" attack on the United States, its people and its most fundamental ideals.The massacre at Pulse, a gay dance club, was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman, Omar Mateen, who used an assault rifle and pistol, was killed by police after a three-hour standoff.Lynch said it was a "cruel irony" that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community - one defined almost entirely by who they love - was so often a target of hate. "Let me say to our LGBT friends and family ... this Department of Justice, and your country, stands with you in the light," Lynch told a news conference."We stand with you to say that the good in the world far outweighs the evil; that our common humanity transcends our differences; and that our most effective response to terror and hatred is compassion, unity and love."Lynch declined to give new details on the investigation, a day after the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Mateen had described himself as an "Islamic soldier" during the rampage. Mateen, a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State militant group in a 911 call from the nightclub, but authorities said he appears to have been "self-radicalized" and to have acted alone.Citing unnamed law enforcement officials, CNN said on Tuesday that Mateen, 29, visited Pulse earlier on the night of his attack. Reuters could not immediately confirm the report. CNN also reported that the day before the rampage he bought plane tickets for himself, his wife and his child to travel in July from West Palm Beach, Florida, to San Francisco.In a transcript of his calls released by the FBI on Monday, Mateen told police negotiators to tell the U.S. government to stop bombing Syria and Iraq, and he threatened to strap bomb vests on hostages, though no explosives were found at the scene. (Reporting by Barbara Liston; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bill Trott)

Wife of Orlando shooter knew of attack, could soon be charged: source

2016-06-15 07:26:05

ORLANDO, Fla./WASHINGTON The wife of the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay nightclub knew of his plans for the attack and could soon be charged in connection with the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, a law enforcement source said on Tuesday. The source told Reuters that a federal grand jury had been convened and could charge Omar Mateen's wife, Noor Salman, as early as Wednesday."It appears she had some knowledge of what was going on," said U.S. Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which received a briefing on the attack on Tuesday. "She definitely is, I guess you would say, a person of interest right now and appears to be cooperating and can provide us with some important information," King told CNN. Mateen, who was shot dead by police after a three-hour standoff at the Pulse club early on Sunday, called 911 during his shooting spree to profess allegiance to various militant Islamist groups.Federal investigators have said he was likely self-radicalized and there was no evidence that he received any instruction or aid from outside groups such as Islamic State. Mateen, 29, was a U.S. citizen, born in New York of Afghan immigrant parents."He appears to have been an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized," President Barack Obama told reporters after a meeting of the White House National Security Council. During his rampage, Mateen systematically made his way through the packed club shooting people who were already down, apparently to ensure they were dead, said Angel Colon, a wounded survivor."I look over and he shoots the girl next to me and I was just there laying down and thinking: 'I'm next, I'm dead,'" he said.Mateen shot him twice more, one bullet apparently aimed for Colon's head striking his hand, and another hitting his hip, Colon said at Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he is one of 27 survivors being, citing an FBI source, said prosecutors were seeking to charge Mateen's wife as an accessory to 49 counts of murder and 53 counts of attempted murder and failure to notify law enforcement about the pending attack and lying to federal agents. NBC News said Salman told federal agents she tried to talk her husband out of carrying out the attack. But she also told the FBI she once drove him to the Pulse nightclub because he wanted to scope it out, the network said. A former wife of Mateen, who was a security guard, has said he was mentally unstable and beat her. The ex-spouse, Sitora Yusufiy, said she fled their home after four months of marriage.Salman's mother, Ekbal Zahi Salman, lives in a middle-class neighborhood of the suburban town of Rodeo, California. A neighbor said Noor Salman only visited her mother once after she married Mateen.Noor Salman’s mother “didn't like him very much. He didn't allow her (Noor) to come here," said neighbor Rajinder Chahal. He said he had spoken to Noor Salman's mother after the Orlando attack. "She was crying, weeping." OBAMA SLAMS TRUMPObama denounced Donald Trump for his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, joining fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton in portraying the Republican presidential candidate as unfit for the White House. Trump had criticized Obama for not using the term "radical Islamic terrorism" to describe violent Islamist militants. "What exactly would using this label accomplish, what exactly would it change?" Obama replied. "Someone seriously thinks we don't know who we're fighting? ... There's no magic to the phrase 'radical Islam.' It's a political talking point. It is not a strategy."Obama criticized what he called "yapping" and "loose talk" from Republicans over the fight against terrorism.Mateen made 911 calls from the club in which he pledged loyalty to the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose organization controls parts of Iraq and Syria. He also claimed solidarity with the ethnic Chechen brothers who carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and with a Palestinian-American who became a suicide bomber in Syria for al Qaeda offshoot the Nusra Front, authorities said. "We could hear him talking to 911 saying that the reason why he’s doing this is because he wants America to stop bombing his country. From that conversation from 911 he pledges allegiance to ISIS," said Patience Carter, 20, who was trapped in a bathroom stall at the nightclub as Mateen prowled outside. Carter, from Philadelphia, read a poem to the media that she said she wrote to help her heal."Looking at the blood and debris covered on everyone's faces. Looking at the gunman's feet under the stall as he paces.The guilt of feeling lucky to be alive is heavy," the poem read.One official said investigators believe Mateen browsed militant Islamist material on the internet for two years or more before the shootings. Soon after the attack, Mateen's father indicated that his son had harbored strong anti-gay feelings. He recounted an incident when his son became angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami while out with his wife and son.U.S. officials were investigating media reports that Mateen may have been gay but not openly so, and questioning whether that could have driven his attack, according to two people who have been briefed regularly on the investigation and requested anonymity to discuss it.The owner of Pulse, speaking through a representative, denied reports that Mateen had been a regular patron."Untrue and totally ridiculous," Sara Brady, a spokeswoman for club owner Barbara Poma, said in an e-mail when asked about the claim.Mateen's father, Seddique Mateen, told reporters his son had never mentioned being homosexual. "I don't believe he was a whatever you call it," he said. (Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington, Barbara Liston and Bernie Woodall in Orlando, Yara Bayoumy in Fort Pierce, Fla. and Zachary Fagenson in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Alexandria Sage in Rodeo, Calif.; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Peter Cooney and Nick Macfie)

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