Thursday, June 28, 2012

President Obama met with wounded service members from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Mr. Obama traveled to the hospital outside Washington by helicopter a few hours after the Supreme Court ruled on his health care law.

The White House says the president met with 52 wounded troops and awarded one Purple Heart during his stay. It was Mr. Obama’s first visit to the hospital since early March.

Mr. Obama occasionally has visited service members wounded in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He has touted his efforts to bring home U.S. combat troops from Iraq and wind down the conflict in Afghanistan while urging lawmakers to promote job opportunities for veterans.


U.S. clears Singapore, China from Iran sanctions

The Obama administration on Thursday cleared China and Singapore from possible U.S. economic penalties, citing their sharp cuts in imports of Iranian oil, as an American deadline arrived for banks to stop processing petroleum transactions with Tehran.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton commended the two Asian countries for “significantly” reducing the oil purchases, and she announced a six-month exception for them to continue buying Iranian crude at lower levels. Eighteen other governments have received similar waivers.

The U.S. penalties are intended to pressure Iran to prove it is not trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran’s oil exports are down about 40 percent, while its currency has fallen sharply. European penalties coming into effect next week will further raise the economic pressure.

The Islamic republic insists its nuclear program is designed solely for peaceful energy and research purposes. The United States and many other countries are not convinced. A breakthrough has proved elusive in three rounds of negotiations since April involving Iran and the leading world powers.

Technical talks resume in Turkey next week, but looming over the entire process is a possible military response from the U.S. or Israel if a compromise isn’t reached soon. In the meantime, Washington and its partners are targeting the oil sector to dry up a main source of revenue for the Iranian government.


First lady tells church group to work for change

NASHVILLE | First lady Michelle Obama brought an audience of 10,000 African Methodist Episcopal Church members to their feet as she exhorted them to get involved in the issues that affect their lives.

Speaking at the AME Church’s 49th General Conference in Nashville on Thursday, Mrs. Obama praised the church for its role in fighting slavery, segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks at the ballot box.

She says the way to tackle challenges like childhood obesity and poor schools can be less clear-cut. But she told the crowd that laws still matter and still shape our lives.

She asked them not to get overwhelmed by today’s problems.

Appealing to their faith, she said, “If a simple fisherman could become the rock upon which Christ built his church, surely we can do our part.”


Emanuel says ‘Thank God’ Obama ignored his advice

CHICAGO | President Obama’s former chief of staff says he’s relieved that the president didn’t listen to his advice to avoid the health care issue.

Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, acknowledged Thursday that he tried vigorously to steer Mr. Obama away from taking up the health care issue, warning him of the potential political cost and the amount of time it would take away from other matters.

After the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday, Mr. Emanuel said: “Thank God for the rest of the country he didn’t listen to me.”

He also praised Mr. Obama and told his former boss in a congratulatory email that Mr. Obama had the courage to - in his words - “bend the needle of history.”


Unemployment-aid requests drop last week to 386,000

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week, but the level of applications remains too high to signal a pickup in hiring.

The Labor Department says weekly applications fell to a seasonally adjusted 386,000. That’s down from 392,000 the previous week, which was revised up. The four-week average was mostly unchanged at 386,750.

Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When applications rise above 375,000, it generally means that hiring isn’t strong enough to rapidly lower the unemployment rate.

Applications fell steadily over the winter, and monthly job gains soared. But since then applications have edged up and hiring has slowed, raising concerns about the recovery.


New $91B state budget crafted to influence voters

SACRAMENTO | Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers have long warned of dire consequences if California voters reject a proposed tax hike on the November ballot.

In passing and signing a $91 billion budget late Wednesday, they made it clear it wasn’t a hollow threat by including $6 billion in automatic cuts that will go into effect if the initiative fails.

Lawmakers added some of the distasteful provisions in the final days of budget negotiations, authorizing shorter school years, less money for local police and possible fee increases at the University of California and California State University systems.

To make sure voters are paying attention, they passed a separate measure that will likely give Mr. Brown’s initiative top billing on the crowded fall ballot.

The governor and lawmakers said the bulk of cuts will have to fall on public schools and universities because education accounts for more than half of state spending.

“My revenue proposal is fair and temporary,” Mr. Brown said in a statement announcing he had signed the budget. “Our state budget problem was built up over a decade, and it won’t be fixed overnight. These temporary increases will ensure funding for our schools until the economy improves.”

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, estimated the tax initiative will raise $8.5 billion in the new fiscal year starting July 1 by increasing the sales tax by a one-quarter of 1 percent to 7.5 percent for four years, and boosting the income tax on individuals who make more than $250,000 a year for seven years.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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