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Judge Blocks Roll-Your-Own Cigarette Taxes

© unknown
Olympia - A Washington judge blocked the collection of taxes on roll-your-own cigarettes Monday, citing a voter-approved initiative that makes it harder for lawmakers to raise taxes.

Franklin County Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner granted a request for a preliminary injunction, said Department of Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow. He said Spanner considered the upcoming tax in violation of a voter-approved initiative requiring two-thirds of lawmakers to support tax increases.

The Legislature voted earlier this year to force roll-your-own cigarette stores to collect the state's 15-cents-per-cigarette tax, with lawmakers arguing that they were simply enforcing an existing tax and saying that the stores were exploiting a loophole to avoid taxes. Dozens of roll-your-own cigarette stores have appeared recently in Washington, selling cigarettes at less than half the price offered by most retailers.


FBI: Washington Sweep Pulls 6 Juveniles from Prostitution

An FBI spokeswoman says the federal agency and local law enforcement agencies have pulled six juveniles out of prostitution and arrested seven people accused of promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

Spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich in Seattle said Monday that the sweep late last week was part of a three-day national enforcement action. This particular operation targeted sites in King and Pierce counties. The spokeswoman says victims and pimps travel throughout Western Washington and don't necessarily live in the area where they were found.

She says the young women were offered services including job training, housing and medical and education assistance. They were found with the help of undercover agents and detectives and by canvassing areas where street prostitution is known to occur.

Source: The Associated Press


Detroit to Lay off 164 Firefighters

© The Associated Press/Paul Sancya
Detroit firefighters fight a house fire.
As Detroit continues to work through its financial difficulties, the city will lay off 164 firefighters by the end of July, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's office announced Monday.

The layoffs could be temporary, as the city hopes to secure a federal grant that would restore the jobs of 108 firefighters. Still, there is no guarantee the city will be awarded the grant, Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald Austin said during budget talks this spring.

"Since I became mayor, I've made public safety my top priority, and I've said I would protect the jobs of police and firefighters, but fiscal realities have made this untenable," Bing said in a statement. "With my administration continuing to work to fiscally stabilize the city and with recent cuts to the city's budget, we're announcing the layoffs of 164 Detroit Fire Department firefighters by the end of July."

Bing said he hopes that many, if not most, of the remaining 56 firefighters who will lose their jobs will be recalled as the fire department loses others through retirement and attrition. The layoffs represent nearly 19 percent of the fire department's 881 sworn firefighters. There are also 248 EMS technicians.

Black Cat

Assange's Ecuador Bid Sparks Wacky Escape Ideas

© Agence France-Presse/Carl Court
Julian Assange wants to go to Ecuador to avoid being sent to Sweden
London - It sounds like a brainteaser: how could WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange get from Ecuador's embassy in London onto a plane to its capital Quito, without setting foot on British territory?

When he walked into the embassy on Tuesday seeking political asylum, the Australian ex-hacker pinned his hopes on Ecuador as his ticket out of extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over sex crime allegations.

But legal experts say the dramatic escape bid has lured 40-year-old Assange, who had exhausted his British legal options -- into an apparent dead end.

Britain's Foreign Office says that as long as the anti-secrecy campaigner stays in the embassy, which occupies a flat in London's plush Knightsbridge district, he is beyond the reach of the police.

But if he steps outside, he faces immediate arrest by the police for having breached bail conditions, which include staying at his bail address between 10:00 pm and 8:00 am. And Scotland Yard officers are guarding the exits.


High Court Splits its Verdict on Arizona Immigration Law

supreme court bldg
© AFP/Getty Images/File Win McNamee
Washington - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the main provision of Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants but threw out three other parts, handing partial victories to President Barack Obama in his challenge to the law and to the measure's conservative supporters.

In an important test of whether federal or state governments have the power to enforce immigration laws, the top U.S. court unanimously upheld the statute's most controversial aspect, a requirement that police officers check the immigration status of people they stop, even for minor offenses such as jay-walking.

But in a split ruling, the court also struck down other provisions of the southwestern U.S. state's 2010 law, the first of its kind in the country, that the Obama administration had challenged in court. The votes on those provisions were 5-3 or 6-2, with the more conservative justices in dissent.

These three provisions required immigrants to carry immigration papers at all times, banned illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places, and allowed police arrests of immigrants without warrants if officers believed they committed crimes that would make them deportable.


Truth Dies in War - Eyewitness version of Houla massacre

Houla massacre
© onpointpolitics.com
The Houla massacre is a turning point in the Syrian conflict. Supported by the accounts of UN observers, the Western public blames the Syrian army for the bloodbath. This version can be doubted based on reports from eye-witnesses, according to whom the civilians were killed by Sunni rebels.

The Houla massacre was a turning point in the Syrian drama. The worldwide outrage was great as 108 people, among them 49 children were killed in Houla on May 25. Calls for a military intervention to put an end to the bloodshed in Syria became louder and the violence in the country has unrelentingly increased ever since. Based on Arabic news channels and the UN observers visit on the next day, world opinion almost unanimously accuses the regular Syrian army and the regime-affiliated Shabiha for the mass murder.

The German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) questioned this version on the basis of accounts from eye-witnesses. The newspaper had reported that the killed civilians were Alawites and Shiites. They were intentionally killed by armed Sunni insurgents in Taldou, a town in the plains of Houla, as violent clashes broke out between the regular Syrian army and units of the [so called] Free Syrian Army at checkpoints around the village. This account was taken up by many media outlets worldwide and rejected by many as incredible. Therefore four questions arise: Why does the world opinion so far follow another version? Why does the context of the civil war make this doubted version plausible? Why are the witnesses reliable? What other facts support this version?

Bizarro Earth

Maine prepares for zombie attack

© AFP Photo / Kimihiro Hoshino
Emergency officials in Maine have taken part in a training exercise in preparation for a zombie apocalypse. This comes just weeks after the federal government publicly denied the existence of zombies.

­Around 100 emergency responders from eight different counties participated in the event in the quiet city of Bangor.

The premise: an unknown virus originating from Jamaica has reached Maine, turning the infected into zombies. Once infected, the virus quickly spreads to the brain, and turns the host into a full-fledged zombie, who has only one thing on its mind: biting other people.

The officials were armed with two would-be vaccines - one to prevent the infection from reaching the brain, and one to bring the zombies back to life.

"We have identified in several states, particularly Texas, New York, Illinois outbreaks of these civil disturbances and biting," one official said. "And in conjunction with that there are also widespread power outages."


Kenya Brings Explosives Charges Against Two Iranians

© Agence France-Presse
Mombasa's firemen inspect the scene of a grenade attack
Nairobi - A Kenyan court charged two Iranian nationals with illegal possession of explosives Monday, a day after a grenade attack on a bar in the southern city of Mombasa that killed three people.

The Iranians, whom police said they arrested last week over suspected links to a terror network planning bombings in Mombasa and Nairobi, are accused of possessing 15 kilos (33 pounds) of the powerful explosive RDX, according to the charge sheet presented in court.

The pair, Ahmed Mohamud and Said Mausud, were "armed with intent to commit a felony known as grievous harm", the charge sheet said.

The two men, who were not represented by a lawyer, denied the charges.


3 Policemen Shot to Death at Mexico City International Airport During Drug Investigation

© The Associated Press/Alexandre Menghini
Mexico's Federal Police officers arrive to the scene where a shooting took place in Mexico City's international airport on Monday, June.25 2012.
Mexico City - Drug trafficking suspects opened fire in a crowded food court at Mexico City's international airport on Monday, killing three federal policemen who were on an anti-narcotics mission as panicked witnesses dove for cover.

A witness said the shooters also wore police uniforms, and the federal Public Safety Department said it was investigating whether the attackers were active-duty police, former officers or impostors. Criminals in Mexico sometimes use false police uniforms.

The slain agents had gone to the airport "to detain suspects linked to drug trafficking at Terminal 2," the Department said in a statement. "Upon seeing themselves surrounded by federal police, they (the suspects) opened fire on the officers."

Two officers died at the scene and another died later of his wounds at a local hospital.

No suspects had been arrested following the shooting, which took place shortly before 9 a.m. (10 a.m. EDT; 1400 GMT). The federal Attorney General's office said that its organized crime unit had opened an investigation into the case.


Hundreds of Florida Killers Could Get New Sentences Under Supreme Court Ruling

Supreme court
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws, including one in Florida, that mandate life sentences for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.

Hundreds of convicted murderers in Florida will likely get a chance to convince a judge that their life prison terms should be reduced because they were juveniles when they killed.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday in two cases, Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Arkansas, struck down laws in 28 states that mete out mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for minors convicted of homicide.

The ruling, hailed by civil-rights activists, doesn't mean Florida judges can't still impose a life sentence on youths for first-degree murder - but they must now at least consider a defendant's age.

"Kids are different. They are very impulsive. They follow other people. They don't have a full understanding of the consequences of what they're doing," said Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Stephen Harper, who has worked on the issue and estimates some 225 Florida convicts could get new sentences. "The court found it is important for a judge to consider all these factors."

Monday's opinion follows the high court's 2010 decision, based on a Jacksonville case, that ruled that sentencing minors to life without the possibility of parole in non-homicide cases constituted "cruel and unusual punishment."