- - Monday, March 7, 2011

SUPREME COURT

Obama eligibility appeal rejected again

The Supreme Court rejected for the second time a challenge to President Obama’s eligibility to serve as president because of the unsubstantiated claim that he was not born in the United States.

The court did not comment Monday on its reasons, but it has turned away several similar appeals stretching back to shortly after Mr. Obama’s election in November 2008.

In other court action Monday, justices:

c Ruled that a convicted criminal’s decision to ask for leniency can be used to delay the deadline inmates have to appeal to the federal courts.

• Rejected the government’s broad use of an exemption in the federal Freedom of Information Act to withhold documents from the public, ruling for a Washington state resident who wants Navy maps relating to its main West Coast ammunition dump.

• Will not review a decision throwing out a lawsuit stemming from the New England Patriots’ 2007 “Spygate” scandal.

• Will not hear an atheist’s latest challenge to the U.S. government’s references to God.

FOREIGN SERVICE

Obama to tap Locke for envoy to China

President Obama will nominate Commerce Secretary Gary F. Locke, the son and grandson of Chinese immigrants, to be the next U.S. ambassador to China, a senior administration official said Monday. A formal announcement could come as early as Tuesday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Locke would succeed Jon Huntsman Jr., one of the few Republicans in Mr. Obama’s administration. Mr. Huntsman recently tendered his resignation, effective next month, and he is eyeing a potential Republican challenger to Mr. Obama in the 2012 presidential contest.

Mr. Locke is the first Chinese American to serve as commerce secretary. Both his father and grandfather were born in China.

HOUSE

Former Hastings aide files harassment suit

A former aide to Rep. Alcee L. Hastings is suing the Florida congressman for sexual harassment, allegations Mr. Hastings calls “ludicrous.”

The conservative legal group Judicial Watch is representing Winsome Packer in her lawsuit filed Monday against Mr. Hastings, a Democrat, and the Helsinki Commission, which he chaired. Miss Packer claims Mr. Hastings repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances, including trying to invite himself to her apartment and hugging her, and threatened her position when she refused him.

Miss Packer served as the commission’s staff representative in Vienna, Austria, and says much of the harassment occurred when Mr. Hastings was in Europe on commission business. The commission advises on U.S. policy about security, human rights and other issues involving Europe.

Mr. Hastings issued a written statement saying that he never sexually harassed anyone and predicting that he will prevail.

INDIANA

House Democrats continue boycott

INDIANAPOLIS | Most Indiana House Democrats remain in Illinois to boycott Republican proposals and say they will stay away as long as necessary, even if their absence shuts down state government when the current budget expires.

Democrats want to negotiate a compromise on the bills they oppose, but Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma of Indianapolis refuses to hash out a backroom deal.

Rep. Terry Goodin, a Democrat from Austin, said in Indianapolis on Monday that Democrats are prepared to stay out “as long as it takes” to get Republicans to agree to changes, even if that means staying out past June 30, when the current budget expires.

Mr. Goodin said if that happens, Democrats wouldn’t be to blame for shutting down the government. He says it is Mr. Bosma’s responsibility to negotiate and bring back Democrats.

MILITARY

Report: Too many white, male leaders

The U.S. military is too white and too male at the top and needs to change recruiting and promotion policies and lift its ban on women in combat, an independent report for Congress says.

Seventy-seven percent of senior officers in the active-duty military are white, while only 8 percent are black, 5 percent are Hispanic and 16 percent are women, the report issued Monday by an independent panel said, quoting data from September 2008.

One barrier that keeps women from the highest ranks is their inability to serve in combat units. Promotion and job opportunities have favored those with battlefield leadership credentials.

The report ordered by Congress in 2009 calls for greater diversity in the military’s leadership so it will better reflect the racial, ethnic and gender mix in the armed forces and in American society.

Efforts over the years to develop a more equal-opportunity military have increased the number of women and racial and ethnic minorities in the ranks of leadership. But, the report says, “Despite undeniable successes … the armed forces have not yet succeeded in developing a continuing stream of leaders who are as diverse as the nation they serve.”

JUSTICE

Holder: Scare tactics not working on teens

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. says some programs aimed at scaring troubled teens into better behavior are failing in their mission.

Speaking to county officials Monday, the attorney general said the system of juvenile justice must move away from prosecution and punishment and more toward prevention and intervention.

Mr. Holder cites a scientific review that found that children ordered into nine “Scared Straight” programs around the country are nearly 30 percent more likely to offend than youths who are not.

“Scared Straight” initiatives involve visits by troubled teenagers to prisons, where intimidating inmates deliver in-your-face lectures about the harshness of life behind bars.

The attorney general said many youths who are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses often emerge violent or at the very least, traumatized.

THE FED

Car-buying fuels borrowing increase

Consumers borrowed more in January to purchase new cars but were once again frugal with their credit cards, offering a mixed sign of their confidence in the economy.

Borrowing rose 2.5 percent, or by $5 billion, the Federal Reserve said Monday. It was the fourth consecutive monthly gain and it increased total consumer debt to $2.41 trillion.

Strong car sales drove the increase. The category that includes auto loans rose 6.9 percent.

But credit card debt fell 6.4 percent in January the 28th decline in 29 months to the lowest level since September 2004. Americans had increased their use of plastic in December for the first time since the financial crisis. But they cut back in January, even though a Social Security tax cut is giving most households an extra $1,000 to 2,000 this year.

“People are still pretty cautious about using their credit cards,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s in New York. “We are coming out of a deep recession, in which a lot of people got caught with too much debt.”

Consumer debt is 0.7 percent above a three-year low hit in September. It is 6.6 percent below the peak hit in July 2008.