Two Iraq Bombings Kill 7, Wound 16

BAGHDAD, Aug. 7 (UPI) — Two separate insurgent bombings killed seven people in Iraq Sunday, among them a Sunni Muslim paramilitary leader, security officials said.

Police told China’s state news agency Xinhua multiple bombs were planted in the home of an unidentified leader of the Sunni Awakening Council group in the Abu Ghraib district, about 12 miles west of Baghdad.

The man was killed and two female family members were injured by the blasts, the police source said.

The Sunni group has fought al-Qaida extremists in Iraq in the past, but has also battled U.S. forces in some regions, Xinhua said.

In the town of Iskandariyah, some 35 miles south of Baghdad, a bomb killed six members of one family and injured 14 others, security officials said.

No group claimed responsibility for either of the attacks, the report said.

Students Get Degrees Posthumously

TUSCALOOSA, Ala., Aug. 7 (UPI) — The families of five of six students killed in an April tornado accepted their posthumous degrees from the University of Alabama, officials said.

Family members walked across the stage Saturday to receive degrees for students killed when a tornado struck Tuscaloosa and the university April 27, the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News reported.

Family members representing five of the six dead students attended the commencement ceremony and all six of the deceased students earned degrees and were recognized.

The tornado killed Brandon S. Atterton, Danielle M. Downs, Ashley T. Harrison, Melanie N. Mixon, Morgan M. Sigler and Marcus J. Smith.

“She always took care of me,” said Michelle Kathleen Downs Whatley, Downs’ sister, who accepted the diploma in her sister’s absence.

University President Robert Witt said he is proud of how everyone at the school behaved in the tornado’s aftermath.

“When we look back on April 27, it is the resilience of our Alabama family that stands out,” Witt said.

The tornado was part of a massive storm cell that claimed 330 lives across the south, including 47 in Tuscaloosa.

Oil Leaking From Sunken Ship Off Mumbai

MUMBAI, Aug. 7 (UPI) — Oil leaking from a sunken cargo ship near the Mumbai harbor had spread at least 7 miles from the site Sunday, the Indian coast guard reported.

The Panamanian-flagged MT Rak Carrier sank Thursday, but there were few details released about the cause. All 30 crew members were rescued.

Navy and coast guard ships have been using chemicals to neutralize the spilled oil, which is leaking at the rate of almost two tons per hour, the Indo-Asian News Service reported.

The ship had 340 tons of diesel and oil fuel aboard, as well as 60,000 tons of coal that was bound for an Indian port in Gujarat, officials said.

Saturday, the ship’s captain and chief engineer were arrested and charged with “endangering life or personal safety of others” before being released on bail, the report said.

India also declared a large area around the sinking off-limits to fishing, CNN-IBN reported.

Libyan Rebels Claim Western Town

TRIPOLI, Libya, Aug. 7 (UPI) — Libyan rebels claimed victory over government forces after a heavy weekend battle for the western town of Bir al-Ghanam, 50 miles from Tripoli.

Soldiers loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi flanked the town from three sides and exchanged rocket fire with the rebels for five hours, CNN reported Sunday.

Medical staff in the town said eight rebels were killed and scores of others were injured, but there was no casualty report from the military.

One rebel told CNN the next objective was to storm Tripoli and end Gadhafi’s 42 years of power.

In the capital, residents are feeling the effects of the NATO air and sea blockade, the broadcaster said. Some areas go days without electricity and those living in high-rise buildings have no water either as the electric pumps are idle.

Gadhafi loyalists claim NATO has targeted the electrical grid to strangle the city, although military officials maintain only Libyan military facilities are being hit.

The once significant oil exporting country also has a shortage of gas in Tripoli, where drivers can wait days and pay about $13 per gallon, CNN said.

NATO Recovers Bodies From Downed ‘copter

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 7 (UPI) — The bodies of 38 U.S. and Afghan soldiers were removed from the wreckage of a downed helicopter southwest of Afghanistan’s capital, officials said Sunday.

International Security Assistance Force spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings told CNN the process of notifying U.S. families of the deaths had begun.

The large CH-47 Chinook helicopter was carrying 30 U.S. special forces soldiers, 22 of them Navy SEALs, as well as seven Afghan soldiers and an interpreter.

The Taliban claimed it had shot down the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, but NATO wouldn’t confirm that and issued little information about the incident.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said finding the reason for the crash would take time.

“Information is still coming in about this incident,” he said. “I think it’s important that we allow investigators to do their work before jumping to too many conclusions.”

The double-rotor troop transport craft went down in Wardak province southwest of Kabul Friday night. It was bringing the special troops back from a mission in which eight Taliban militants were killed, initial reports said.

North London Erupts In Fiery Rioting

LONDON, Aug. 7 (UPI) — Police in the North London district of Tottenham said 26 of its officers were injured in rioting that began Saturday night and spilled into Sunday morning.

Much of the district was cordoned off Sunday as investigators combed through burned out buildings and cars and smashed windows were boarded up, the BBC said.

An estimated 300 people went on a rampage when darkness fell, smashing store windows, looting and throwing gasoline bombs, Sky News reported. Two police cars and a double-decker bus were torched.

Ambulance officials said 10 people were taken to hospitals with various injuries.

Police Commander Adrian Hanstock told reporters police were caught off guard.

“A peaceful vigil was hijacked by mindless thugs,” he said. “We couldn’t have anticipated that level of violence.”

Sky News said one of its camera crews came under attack early Sunday and the crew withdrew.

The mayhem started as a community vigil for 29-year-old Mark Duggan. The father of four fired a handgun at an armed policeman Thursday who returned fire and killed him. The police officer’s radio deflected Duggan’s bullet, the reports said.

Netanyahu Forms Team To Deal With Demands

JERUSALEM, Aug. 7 (UPI) — Hours after some 300,000 Israelis took to the streets demanding social justice, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu formed a task force to deal with the demands.

“We must provide a real solution,” quoted Netanyahu saying Sunday morning. “We cannot ignore the voices rising from the public. We must give real solutions, not cosmetic treatments.”

Prime Minister’s Office Director General Eyal Gabbai said the group — aimed at easing the financial burden on citizens — will present its recommendations to the government next month, Israel Radio said.

The group is headed by Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, head of the National Economic Council, and is comprised of 15 government ministers, The Jerusalem Post said.

Some of the issues the special forum will tackle include lowering the cost of living, steps required to break up cartels and monopolies in the economy, lowering taxes and removing bureaucracy in house construction, Haaretz said.

For the third week in a row Saturday night, crowds gathered in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other major towns and cities in the country, from Kiryat Shmona in the North to Eilat in the South, demanding the government address rising housing and living costs.

Protesters have also set up tents in major towns and cities.

Syrian Army, Tanks Operating In City

DEIR EZZOR, Syria, Aug. 7 (UPI) — Syrian troops and tanks were deployed in Deir Ezzor Sunday, a day after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about rising violence.

An opposition activist told CNN loud explosions could be heard in a number of neighborhoods after troops entered the city located in northeastern Syria.

The unnamed activist said locals were attempting to set up barricades in the streets to stop the advancing troops.

The ongoing military crackdown on anti-government protesters came a day after Ban told President Bashar Assad via telephone to immediately halt the use of force on civilians, CNN said.

The Turkish daily Sunday’s Zaman said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu plans to visit Syria and convey a stern message to authorities.

“We have been very patient until now, waiting to see whether we can fix this, whether they will listen to what we have been saying. But our patience has run out,” the daily quoted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying Saturday night.

The Syrian government announced plans Saturday to hold parliamentary elections by the end of the year, the official SANA news agency said.

Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said the country is committed to moving ahead with reforms and will provide for free and fair elections.

On Saturday, Syrian security forces arrested Walid al-Bunni, a former political prisoner and prominent opposition figure, along with his two sons, Rami Abdel Rahman head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Sky News.

Weekend clashes between Syrian security forces and protesters were reported in Dara, Damascus, Hama and Idlib, CNN said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates more than 2,000 people have been killed since the anti-regime protests began in mid-March.

Under The U.S. Supreme Court: Race-based Affirmative Action In Peril

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (UPI) — Two cases are pushing affirmative action toward the U.S. Supreme Court again where simple arithmetic suggests it might snap like a board under too much pressure.

The high court ruled on race-based affirmative action in two landmark cases in 2003. Then, like now, the court was divided into a conservative bloc and a liberal bloc, with two members, Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy often forming the swing votes.

But now the three-member conservative bloc has grown into a four-member bloc, matching the four liberals, with Kennedy acting as the sole swing vote on many important cases.

One of those 2003 decisions, in a 5-4 opinion written by O’Connor, gave the gasping concept of race-based preferences new life. Now O’Connor is long retired, and Kennedy was a dissenter in that 2003 case.

The new reality in 2011 is that Kennedy would most likely join the four conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, to declare race-based affirmative action unconstitutional — barring some stunning surprise.

The liberals, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, likely would have to settle for dissent.

In fact, the outlook for affirmative action, what conservatives call “racial preferences,” in today’s Supreme Court is so dismal, “Civil rights groups get nervous when such cases arise before the reconstituted Roberts Court,” The Washington Post reported July 31.

United Press International first noted the probable fate of affirmative action in an analysis in August last year, following a June 2009 decision when the high court voted 5-4 along its ideological divide that federal civil rights law can be used to ban discrimination against whites.

That case was brought by 20 white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., including one white Hispanic, whose passing scores on a promotion test were thrown out because no blacks had scores high enough to be promoted.

The exam was designed to select 15 candidates for captain and lieutenant. When no blacks and only one Hispanic scored a passing grade, the city decided not to use the results for promotions.

The white firefighters filed suit, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of race or sex. A federal judge and a federal appeals court ruled for the city. The Supreme Court ruled for the white firefighters.

Writing for the narrow majority, Kennedy said, “The problem, of course, is that after the tests were completed, the raw racial results became the predominant rationale for the city’s refusal to certify the results. The injury arises in part from the high, and justified, expectations of the candidates who had participated in the testing process on the terms the city had established for the promotional process.”

With no strong evidence “of a disparate-impact violation (a violation of the rights of minorities) … the city was not entitled to disregard the tests based solely on the racial disparity in the results,” Kennedy added.

The two new cases pushing affirmative action back to the high court for constitutional review involve the University of Texas at Austin and the state of Michigan, where voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 banning the state’s public colleges from giving “preferential treatment” based on “race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.”

The Texas case is likely to reach the Supreme Court first.

More than three-fourths of freshmen enroll at the Austin school under a state law that gives automatic admission to students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. For the remainder, the school considers a number of factors, including race.

Two white students denied UT admission under the policy challenged it in federal court.

A three-judge appellate panel upheld the admissions policy, and the full 5th U.S. Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, refused to rehear the case by a vote of 9-7.

The Texas Parte law blog reported one of the circuit dissenters, Chief Judge Edith H. Jones, said the panel’s decision “gives a green light to all public higher education institutions in this circuit, and perhaps beyond, to administer racially conscious admissions programs without following the narrow tailoring that (Supreme Court precedent) requires. Texas today is increasingly diverse in ways that transcend the crude White/Black/Hispanic calculus that is the measure of the university’s race conscious admissions program.”

In the separate Michigan case, a three-judge appellate panel ruled 2-1 that the state amendment violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Late last month, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, asked the full 6th U.S. Court of Appeals to rehear the case. If the full circuit won’t rehear the case en banc, Schuette said, he’ll take the case to the Supreme Court, the Post reported.

Besides Michigan, voters in California, Nebraska and Washington state have enacted amendments banning the use of race for advantage in the public sector, including college admissions.

Getting back to those two landmark two decisions in 2003, they actually went two ways — one restricting the way the University of Michigan used affirmative action to choose undergraduate applicants, and one approving in a narrow way the method the university’s law school uses affirmative action to choose applicants.

In Gratz vs. Bollinger, the high court ruled 6-3 that the university’s admissions guidelines were unconstitutional. The guidelines used a number of factors to evaluate an undergraduate applicant, assigning a numerical value to each factor. Those scoring above 100 were considered eligible to fill the limited number of slots. However, minorities automatically received a 20-point bonus.

Two white students who normally would have been admitted, but weren’t, challenged the policy in court.

The prevailing opinion written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist said, “Because the university’s use of race in its current freshman admissions policy is not narrowly tailored to achieve (the school’s) asserted interest in diversity, the policy violates the equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court “has today rejected (the two white students’) argument that diversity cannot constitute a compelling state interest. However, the court finds that the university’s current policy, which automatically distributes 20 points, or one-fifth of the points needed to guarantee admission, to every single ‘underrepresented minority’ applicant solely because of race, is not narrowly tailored to achieve educational diversity.”

The other University of Michigan case, Grutter vs. Bollinger, was handed down the same day and saw O’Connor joining four liberals to form the five-member majority for a decidedly different result.

The university’s law school chose applicants based on a number of factors, including race, but gave no numerical weight to race. Instead, the law school tried to achieve a “critical mass” of students, black and Native American, who might otherwise not be included.

Again, the policy was challenged by a white student who was qualified to be admitted to the law school, but wasn’t.

O’Connor’s narrow majority opinion said, “The law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body is not prohibited by the equal protection clause.”

She said the law school’s policy survived even strict scrutiny, the toughest of three levels of scrutiny used by the courts (the lower levels are “reasonable review” and “intermediate review”).

“All government racial classifications must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny,” she wrote, citing Supreme Court precedent. “But not all such uses are invalidated by strict scrutiny. Race-based action necessary to further a compelling governmental interest does not violate the equal protection clause so long as it is narrowly tailored to further that interest. … Context matters when reviewing such action. … Not every decision influenced by race is equally objectionable, and strict scrutiny is designed to provide a framework for carefully examining the importance and the sincerity of the government’s reasons for using race in a particular context.”

But she warned that racial preferences could not last forever.

She said, “It has been 25 years since Justice (Lewis) Powell first approved the use of race to further an interest in student body diversity in the context of public higher education” in 1978’s Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke. “Since that time, the number of minority applicants with high grades and test scores has indeed increased. … We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

Kennedy joined the three conservatives, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas, in dissent, but also wrote separately.

“In the context of university admissions the objective of racial diversity can be accepted based on empirical data known to us, but deference is not to be given with respect to the methods by which it is pursued,” he said. “Preferment by race, when resorted to by the state, can be the most divisive of all policies, containing within it the potential to destroy confidence in the Constitution and in the idea of equality.”

Record 45.8 Million Receiving Food Stamps

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (UPI) — Alabama, hit by severe storms, pushed the total number of U.S. food stamp recipients to an all-time high of 45.8 million people in May, officials say.

Food stamp use — officially known as the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — surged in Alabama from 868,813 in April to 1,762,481 in May, contributing to the record 45.8 million receiving food stamps in May, CNN reported. That’s about 15 percent of the U.S. population, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say.

To qualify for food stamps, a person’s income cannot exceed $1,174 a month or $14,088 a year — 130 percent of the national poverty level. The SNAP benefit averaged $133.80 per person and $283.65 per household in May.