Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reid rakes in campaign cash, even without opponent

Reid rakes in campaign cash, even without opponent

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, vulnerable in home-state polls but without a big-name opponent so far, takes the stage Tuesday with President Barack Obama at a Las Vegas-style fundraiser billed as "The Good Fight."

But the big-dollar bash begs the question: Where's the fight?

Despite months of promising to target Reid for ousting in 2010, Republicans have yet to land a major candidate deemed capable of raising the money and enthusiasm needed to unseat a sitting majority leader.
A recent newspaper poll showing Reid's vulnerability highlighted the GOP's dilemma. In a survey for the Las Vegas Review-Journal published last week, 45 percent of Nevada voters told pollsters they would definitely vote to unseat Reid. Another 17 percent said they would consider another candidate.

Finding that candidate, while the four-term Democratic senator is calling in chits and racking up campaign money, is proving difficult.

"He's the majority leader and he's going to raise a ton of money. That's intimidating to run against," Nevada's other senator, Republican John Ensign, said of his party's search. A viable candidate would need to get in the race "in the next few months, certainly," Ensign said.

Intimidation has been no small part of Reid's early strategy.

A year and a half from Election Day, the senator has raised a whopping $7.5 million, already half a million more that he spent on his 2004 campaign.

He also has secured the public support of some high-profile Republican donors in Nevada and is believed to have locked up funding from the state's powerful gambling industry.

Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall said the senator is merely responding to Republican promises to target his seat.

"That is why we are starting early and will be prepared to run an aggressive campaign no matter who our opponent will be," Hall said.

Tuesday's fundraiser features headliners Sheryl Crow and Bette Midler. Tickets start at $50 for the concert, but a $29,600 contribution that will be split between Reid's campaign and the Nevada Democratic Party gives donors access to the senator and president.

"This fundraiser is just another show of his strength," said David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "It's a message to any opponent: If you want to compete, this is the kind of game you're going to have to play."

GOP officials insist they will play.

Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden said she is vetting candidates, "some of whom are well-known in the state and some of whom are not as well-known but could self-fund."

Lowden was quick to note Reid's rocky poll numbers in Nevada, as well as his unpopularity outside the state. As a symbol of Democrats' control of Congress, Reid is seen as a polarizing figure but one nevertheless capable of shaking dollars loose from Republican donors from Mississippi to Wyoming.

Outside groups have promised to pour in millions of dollars in independent television and direct mail campaigns. One, the Sacramento-based Our Country Deserves Better PAC, promised to spend $100,000 on anti-Reid radio and television ads timed to Obama's visit.

Nevada GOP officials also will launch a national fundraising mail campaign this week, said Las Vegas-based Republican consultant Ryan Erwin, a party adviser.

"Every month that somebody's not raising the money is a missed opportunity," Erwin said.

Fundraising isn't Republicans' only struggle. The state party was hobbled by a Democratic organizing effort that yielded a 12-point victory for Obama last year. Along with a nearly 100,000-Democratic voter advantage, Nevada Republicans are suffering from a leadership vacuum as Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons continues to be dogged by scandals since taking office in 2006.

With the clock ticking, pressure is mounting on the few GOP candidates viewed as viable.

Rep. Dean Heller has emerged as the party's top pick. As a former secretary of state in Nevada, Heller has run successful statewide races. He's popular in northern and rural Nevada, places where Reid struggles.
But, Heller, 49, also holds an increasingly safe congressional seat. He also recently won a powerful perch on the tax-writing House Ways and Mean Committee, raising the stakes on what he could lose by challenging Reid.

Heller's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Other names in consideration include U.S. Attorney Greg Brower, a former state assemblyman, and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who remains hamstrung by criminal charges that he mishandled state funds. Krolicki has denied wrongdoing, called the charges political and is seeking to have them dismissed.

The longer Republicans go without an anointed challenger to Reid, the more lesser-known contenders flirt with running.

Anti-tax activist and former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle has said she is exploring getting in the race. Angle is a favorite among fiscally conservative Republicans, and may be able to raise outside money.

But Angle said she has not been embraced by the GOP's recruiting arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

"They're standing back. Everybody is standing back waiting to see what happens," she said.

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Cyclone floods east India, Bangladesh, kills 73

Cyclone floods east India, Bangladesh, kills 73

 CALCUTTA, India (AP) — Cyclone Aila lashed low-lying areas in eastern India and Bangladesh, destroying thousands of homes, stranding tens of thousands of people in flooded villages and killing at least 73 before it began to ease Tuesday.

Conservationists expressed concern over the fate of one of the world's largest tiger populations, which was in the path of the storm.

Aila tore down nearly 3,000 thatched and mud houses and uprooted a large number of trees in nearly 300 villages across India's West Bengal state, said Kanti Ganguly, a state minister. He said 34 people were killed in West Bengal.

Storm surges hit coastal areas in neighboring Bangladesh, killing at least 39 people, according to Food and Disaster Management Ministry in Dhaka. It said most victims drowned or were washed away by the waves.
The country's leading newspaper, Prothom Alo, said tens of thousands of people were stranded as waters submerged their homes. It said 6-foot- (2-meter-) high waves crashed into the area, breaching dozens of flood protection embankments across the coastal region about 85 miles (135 kilometers) southwest of Dhaka.
News reports indicated the death toll could be as high as 123 in the two countries.

With the storm weakening overnight, authorities restored train and air services and reopened schools in most parts of West Bengal state on Tuesday, Indian officials said. Ganguly said soldiers were deployed on Monday night to evacuate stranded villagers.

During the height of the storm, several rivers burst their banks inside the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, said Khalil Ahmed, the area's district magistrate. It is believed about 250 tigers live on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a tangle of mangrove forests, and another 250 live on the Bangladeshi side.

It was difficult to assess the damage because water levels were too high for ecologists and forest officials to go into the area, said Mrinal Chatterjee, project director of the Institute of Nature Lovers and Climbers, an environmental group that works in the Sundarbans. But he said tigers were likely affected because flooding had contaminated their supplies of fresh water.

Thousands of residents were evacuated from the reserve.

The wave of rain began to hit India's northeast on Tuesday, but the Indian Meteorological Department expected the storm to weaken into a deep depression.

Associated Press writer Farid Hossain contributed to this story.

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World stocks drop in wake of NKorea missile tests

World stocks drop in wake of North Korea missile tests
LONDON (AP) — World stocks fell Tuesday as investors worried that the recent rally may be overdone and were unsettled by the geopolitical tensions in Asia, where North Korea test-fired two missiles just a day after its nuclear test.

In European afternoon trading Germany's DAX 30 was 1.4 percent lower at 4,849.37 and Britain's FTSE 100 was down 0.9 percent at 4,325.09. France's CAC 40 fell 1.4 percent at 3,192.40.

Futures markets forecast a drop on the U.S. open. Dow industrial average futures were down 40 points at 8,220.00 while Standard & Poor's 500 futures were down 3.9 points at 881.00.

European shares followed Asia lower after North Korea, defying international criticism, followed up Monday's test of a nuclear bomb by firing two short-range missiles from its east coast.

The move came after the U.N. Security Council condemned the country's nuclear test as a "clear violation" of international bans.

Mitul Kotecha, head of global forex strategy at Calyon, said the news of the missile tests "reverberated through markets overnight." Although its impact has been relatively limited so far, "reports that North Korea is preparing to launch more missiles over coming days may keep markets nervous," he said.

Beyond the geopolitical incident, the market selloff was also due to investors taking a breather from the weeks-long rally which had been fueled by hopes that the worst of the economic recession is past.
With more downbeat economic news in recent days — including fears of credit ratings downgrades on major economies like the U.S. and U.K. — traders' optimism has become clouded and markets have been looking for direction.

"We seem to be stuck at the current levels," said Winson Fong, managing director at SG Asset Management in Hong Kong, which oversees about $2 billion in equities in Asia. "The market has rebounded so much we're going to need major good news to go higher or major bad news to persuade people to take some profits."
The most prominent victim of the credit ratings fears for the U.S. has been the dollar, which has slumped in value, particularly against the pound and euro, hurting prospects for European company profits.

After jumping from $1.34 in mid-May to above $1.40 on Monday, the euro traded at $1.3893 on Tuesday. During the same period, the pound rose from $1.51 to $1.5845 on Tuesday after trading at $1.5710 on Monday. The dollar managed to eke out gains against the yen, however, to 94.99 yen from 94.84 on Monday.

In Germany, consumer confidence figures failed to boost markets. The GfK research group said its forward-looking consumer climate index for June remained at 2.5 points, unchanged from May and April levels, as anxiety over job security weighed on broader hopes that the economy may be improving.

Shares in Danone, the maker of Evian mineral water and Activia yogurt, fell as much as 7.6 percent in Paris after the company announced it would raise euro3 billion ($4.2 billion) in new capital to pay down debt in the face of what it expects will be a long-lasting economic downturn.

Looking ahead, the market was awaiting reports on U.S. home prices and consumer confidence. The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index is expected to show a slightly smaller drop in March than in February, while the Conference Board's consumer confidence index is anticipated to indicate a rise in May.
In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average closed down 36.19 points, or 0.4 percent, to 9,310.81, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 130.26 points, or 0.8 percent, to 16,991.56.

In South Korea, the Kospi shed 2.1 percent at 1,372.04. The benchmark dived over 6 percent Monday on news of North Korea's nuclear test before recovering nearly all its losses.

Shanghai's index lost 0.8 percent, while Taiwan and Singapore markets dropped almost 1 percent and India's Sensex fell 1.5 percent. The only major gainer was Australia, where the key index rose 1.4 percent.
Oil prices fell in European trade ahead of OPEC's meeting this week, with benchmark crude for July delivery trading at $60.30 a barrel, down $1.37 from overnight trade.

Associated Press writer Jeremiah Marquez in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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Obama picks Sotomayor for high court

Obama picks Sotomayor for high court

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama tapped federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court on Tuesday, officials said, making her the first Hispanic in history picked to wear the robes of a justice.

If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor, 54, would succeed retiring Justice David Souter. Two officials described Obama's decision on condition of anonymity because no formal announcement had been made.
Administration officials say Sotomayor would bring more judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice confirmed in the past 70 years.

A formal announcement was expected at midmorning.

Obama had said publicly he wanted a justice who combined intellect and empathy — the ability to understand the troubles of everyday Americans.

Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate, and barring the unexpected, Sotomayor's confirmation should be assured.

If approved, she would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the current court.
Sotomayor is a self-described "Newyorkrican" who grew up in a Bronx housing project after her parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico. She has dealt with diabetes since age 8 and lost her father at age 9, growing up under the care of her mother in humble surroundings. As a girl, inspired by the Perry Mason television show, she knew she wanted to be a judge.

A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, a former prosecutor and private attorney, Sotomayor became a federal judge for the Southern District of New York in 1992.

As a judge, she has a bipartisan pedigree. She was first appointed by a Republican, President George H.W. Bush, then named an appeals judge by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

At her Senate confirmation hearing more than a decade ago, she said, "I don't believe we should bend the Constitution under any circumstance. It says what it says. We should do honor to it."

In one of her most memorable rulings as federal district judge, Sotomayor essentially salvaged baseball in 1995, ruling with players over owners in a labor strike that had led to the cancellation of the World Series.
As an appellate judge, she sided with the city of New Haven, Conn., in a discrimination case brought by white firefighters after the city threw out results of a promotion exam because two few minorities scored high enough. Ironically, that case is now before the Supreme Court.

Obama's nomination is the first by a Democratic president in 15 years.

His announcement also leaves the Senate four months — more than enough by traditional standards — to complete confirmation proceedings before the Court begins its next term in the fall.

Republicans have issued conflicting signals about their intentions. While some have threatened filibusters if they deemed Obama's pick too liberal, others have said that is unlikely.

Given Sotomayor's selection, any decision to filibuster would presumably carry political risks — Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the population and an increasingly important one politically.

Abortion rights have been a flashpoint in several recent Supreme Court confirmations, although Sotomayor has not authored any controversial rulings on the subject.

Sotomayor's elevation to the appeals court was delayed by Republicans, in part out of concerns she might someday be selected for the Supreme Court. She was ultimately confirmed for the appeals court in 1998 on a 68-28 vote, gathering some Republican support.

Among those voting against her was Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee that will hold sway over her confirmation.

Now, more than a decade later, Sotomayor possesses credentials Sessions said he wanted in a pick for the high court — years of experience on the bench. Obama had talked openly about the upside of choosing someone outside the judiciary — every single current justice is a former federal appeals court judge — but passed on at least two serious candidates who had never been judges.

Sotomayor has spoken openly about her pride in being Latina, and that personal experiences "affect the facts that judges choose to see."

"I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging," she said in a speech in 2002. "But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

From the moment Souter announced his resignation, it was widely assumed Obama would select a woman to replace him, and perhaps a Hispanic as well.

Others known to have been considered included federal appeals judge Diane Wood, who was a colleague of the president's at the University of Chicago law school, as well as two members of his administration, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Solicitor General-nominee Elena Kagan.
If confirmed, Sotomayor is unlikely to alter the ideological balance of the court, since Souter generally sides with the so-called liberals on key 5-4 rulings.

But at 54, she is a generation younger that Souter, and liberal outside groups hope she would provide a counterpoint to some of the sharply worded conservative rulings.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

China remembers deadly Sichuan earthquake

China remembers deadly Sichuan earthquake

BEICHUAN, China (AFP) — Chinese President Hu Jintao led the nation in a minute's silence on Tuesday at the epicentre of the powerful Sichuan earthquake that flattened homes and communities one year ago.
At 2:28 pm (0628 GMT), the exact moment the disaster struck this southwest province, a grim-faced Hu presided over the ceremony broadcast live on state television from the town of Yingxiu.

He and other leaders laid a white chrysanthemum -- a symbol of mourning -- at a commemorative wall near a massive sculpture of a clock, its hands forever frozen at that fateful minute.

Nearly 87,000 people died in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake or remain missing after a disaster that galvanised the nation but left deep emotional scars.

"Gradually, the reconstruction efforts have had important results, and the people in the disaster-hit areas are striding toward a new life," Hu said in a speech after the Chinese flag was hoisted over the ruins of Yingxiu.
Across the mountainous region, mourners wept as they knelt before collapsed buildings and set off firecrackers to ward off evil spirits. Many lit incense or burned paper money as offerings to the dead.
Roads to the town of Beichuan, which was one of the worst hit, were jammed with vehicles as survivors and tourists alike arrived to remember the lost.

"I have come to mourn the loss of my two brothers and their wives," said Wu Guangjun, a stocky 46-year-old construction worker.

"They are still in the rubble. We have not found their bodies."

Police said it was hard to calculate how many people had come to Beichuan on Tuesday, although one official estimated up to 100,000 were walking among the ruins of the town which is to be preserved as an earthquake museum.

The quake zone remains an area of unmarked graves with nearly 18,000 people still listed as missing -- presumably buried under the rubble of China's worst natural disaster in three decades.
"One year may be long enough for the most serious wounds to recover but not for broken hearts," the official China Daily said in an editorial.

Life is slowly returning to normal as new homes, schools and factories are being built at a feverish rate at construction sites across Sichuan, although entire communities have been relocated.

The consequences are likely to be felt for years to come. Some 1.5 million homes have yet to be completely rebuilt, while 200,000 people made jobless are still unable to find employment, according to government data.
For many survivors, notably parents, the most controversial aspect remains the way schools crumbled to the ground -- testimony to sloppy construction.

The government has told local people that tourism could help them recover from the tragedy.
In Beichuan, stalls and shops lined the road outside the city gate, where vendors sold quake souvenirs, ethnic Qiang minority arts and crafts and local specialities such as wild mushrooms, fruits and nuts.
Among the survivors, stories abounded of lucky escapes.

Li Kaifu, a 40-year-old worker at the Hongda Chemical Factory, recalled he was at the doorway of the plant in Deyang city when the earthquake hit.

"When it started I thought for sure I was a goner," he told AFP.

"I remember all the buildings started to crumble. All around me they were falling.

"My mind was racing, I panicked and ran outside. Everywhere buildings were collapsing. It was incredible."
Others lingered over the first days and weeks after the disaster, when aid streamed in from the rest of China, some of it provided outside state control by volunteers -- especially from the nation's growing middle classes.
"The deepest memory for me was a few days after the quake, we had no water and were really thirsty," said Yang Lizhen, a 30-year-old tour guide.

"I was out near the main road and we saw truckload after truckload bringing in supplies. I felt so relieved."
Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved

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