An alarming situation, Pakistan’s current account deficit peaks at $17.99b

1121212

The current account deficit, which remains the single largest challenge for economic managers, shot to a record high of $17.994 billion (5.7% of GDP) at the end of fiscal year ended June 30, 2018 mainly due to exorbitant imports and less-than-projected inflows.

This is 44.7% higher than $12.44 billion recorded in the previous fiscal year 2017.

State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Tariq Bajwa said last week that the deficit has grown to an “unsustainable level” due to soaring aggregate demand in the economy.

To tame demand, the central bank has let the rupee fall by close to 22% to Rs128 to the US dollar since December 2017, and made borrowing expensive by increasing the benchmark interest rate by 175 basis points to 7.5% in the last six months.

“The Real Effective Exchange Rate (rupee-dollar parity) and monetary policy (the benchmark interest rate) are two effective tools available with the central bank to deal with the situation,” he said. “We are using both of them.”

Rest can be done by the government to deal with the situation like imposing regulatory (additional) duties on imports and announcing an export package, he said.

3-1532027175.jpg

The deficit is close to double the set target of $9 billion (2.9% of GDP) for FY18. Surprisingly, it is also much higher than the one estimated at around $16 billion by independent economists many months ago.

The gap has widened mainly due to the country’s exorbitant foreign expenditure (mainly imports and debt repayments) and sluggish income (mainly export proceeds and workers’ remittances).

The fall of the rupee over time has helped the country achieve 13% higher exports and slightly higher (1.4%) workers’ remittances. However, it has failed to offset the impact of record high imports and debt repayments.

The growing deficit has pushed the country near a default-like situation. The country’s foreign currency reserves have dropped to an alarming level of less than two months of import cover. They stood at $9.06 billion on July 13, a four-year low.

Pakistan’s current account deficit widens to record high

To tackle the situation, the caretaker government has kick-started the process of seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to enable the incoming government to move along quicker if it chooses to exercise the option.

The SBP also said on Thursday that imports have surged 14.71% to $55.84 billion compared to $48.68 billion last fiscal year.

Exports have increased 12.59% to $24.77 billion compared to $22 billion. Workers’ remittances improved 1.41% to $19.62 billion compared to $19.35 billion last fiscal year.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in different sectors of the economy has slightly improved by 0.8% to $2.76 billion in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2018, compared to $2.74 billion last fiscal year.

ISRAEL RESPONDS WITH ‘MEAN GIRLS’ GIF AFTER IRAN’S AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI’S NUCLEAR THREATS

Israel jokingly jabbed back at Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Twitter Monday in response to his calls for increasing nuclear enrichment and an ominous line challenging Israel’s very existence in the Middle East.

Khamenei sent out a series of bombastic tweets railing against Israel and the U.S. on Sunday in which Iran’s top leader said his Middle East neighbor is a “malignant cancerous tumor” in the region. In a speech Monday, Khamenei declared that any country firing a missile at Iran “will be hit by 10,” Reuters reported. But the Israeli embassy in Washington’s official Twitter account shot back with a much more comedic tone, tweeting a GIF from the 2004 movie Mean Girls.


“Why are you so obsessed with me?” asks actress Rachel McAdams’s Regina George. Responses to the Middle East Twitter spat varied from labeling it infantile to “genius,” but Khamenei’s account has continued to criticize Israel and call for nuclear enrichment preparations. “Our stance against Israel is the same stance we have always taken. #Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen,” Khamenei tweeted Sunday, prompting the Mean Girls response.

Tensions between Iran and Western allies have increased since President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. But France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China remain in support of the international accord they believe has the best shot at stopping Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon. The U.S. pulled out of the accord and Trump vowed to renew tough sanctions against Iran unless they meet strict demands not made by the other Western allies.

the Israeli embassy in Washington’s official Twitter account shot back with a much more comedic tone, tweeting a gif from the 2004 movie “Mean Girls.”SCREENSHOT: KHAMENEI, ISRAELI EMBASSY TWITTER

Khamenei’s speech Monday detailed how he had ordered Iranian atomic officials to increase the country’s nuclear enrichment capacity but at a level that would not exceed those set by the 2015 nuclear deal under the Obama administration.

But while Khamenei continued to rail against “the enemy’s plan to exert economic, psychological pressures and unrest to dominate over our beloved nation of Iran,” other political leaders in his country took a far more conciliatory approach to working with the remaining Western countries other than the U.S. to salvage the deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sent a letter last week asking “the remaining signatories and other trade partners” to “make up for Iran’s losses” created by the Trump administration’s exit from the deal. The state news agency IRNA published the letter in parts Sunday, which described the nuclear deal as being a result of “meticulous, sensitive and balanced multilateral talks” that could not be renegotiated simply because of one American administration’s political differences with another.

‘It’s all crap.’ Parents lash out in anger after Parkland cop Scot Peterson ends silence.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, eight days after Nikolas Cruz turned Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School into a killing field — reigniting the dormant debate over gun control and setting fire to the culture wars — the Broward County sheriff held a news conference and turned school deputy Scot Peterson into the face of failure.

Critics of the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s anemic response to the school shooting called him a coward — the “Broward Coward.” Peterson spent the next three months holed up in his Boynton Beach duplex, warily surveilling visitors from behind a sheet.

But on Monday, Peterson broke his silence, though it turns out he hadn’t been silent after all. Peterson, 55, who infamously stood behind a concrete wall outside the Parkland school while at least some of the 17 students and adults were slaughtered inside, had granted intimate access to his home and life to a reporter with the Washington Post.

Scot Peterson, school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, addresses a public hearing before the massacre that led to his exit from the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

Peterson’s words seemed only to stoke the fury of the parents of students who died on Feb. 14 at Stoneman Douglas.

The interview published Monday — to be followed by taped segments on NBC’s Today show Tuesday and Wednesday — is a devastating account of the state’s worst school shooting and its aftermath from the lawman who is perhaps most associated with it. “It’s haunting,” Peterson tells the Post. “I’ve cut that day up a thousand ways with a million different what-if scenarios, but the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17.”

In the end, Peterson concluded there was little or nothing more he could have done to save the lives of students whom, he says, affectionately called him “Dep.”

“I’m tired of him trying to paint himself as the victim,” Fred Guttenberg, the father of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, told the Miami Herald. “He is not a victim. He created victims. He keeps referring to them as his kids. They are not your kids, Scot Peterson! You let them die!”

“He keeps mentioning the third floor. If he had done his job, this killing wouldn’t have made it to the third floor. Those people who lost their lives, including my daughter, are victims of his inability to do his job; victims of his failure.”

Guttenberg added: “This interview makes him even more pathetic than he already was. You failed me and my daughter. If you are truly sorry, I challenge you to face me.”

Fred Guttenberg, father of slain 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, speaks at a public meeting.

Andrew Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter, Meadow Pollack, was scornful of Peterson’s version of events in the Post story, which quoted him saying: “I couldn’t get [Cruz]. It was my job, and I didn’t find him.”

Pollack: “How could he find him if he’s hiding behind a wall?”

“I think the whole country knows he didn’t do his job and this interview was his way of him trying to live with it,” said Pollack, who has since the shooting become a national school safety activist. “He’s just a liar. It’s all on tape.”

Pollack filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Peterson and Cruz in April, telling the Herald that Peterson was his “main target.”

“He could have stopped it. Could have saved my kid,” Pollack said. “Nobody should be able to not do their job, receive a pension and ride off into the sunset.”

As part of his severance with BSO, Peterson will receive an annual pension in excess of $100,000.

Max Schachter, who lost his 14-year-old son, Alex, told the Miami Herald he doesn’t “really care to hear that [Peterson] is having a difficult time.

“I don’t understand how he can come out and say that he did do his job. He did nothing. He stood outside. He knew the guy was inside killing our kids. It’s all crap,” Schachter said.

“He actually caused more deaths because he told officers not to go in. He should be prosecuted.”

One day after Douglas students graduated — and were surprised to see late-night comic Jimmy Fallon on stage — several of the Parkland students-turned-activists held a news conference to announce they were repurposing their anti-gun march into a voter registration drive. Called “March for Our Lives: Road to Change,” the initiative will include a two-month tour designed to spur turnout for the November midterm elections.

Several Douglas students at the event said they had not yet read the interview. Some said they planned to. A Douglas rising senior, Morgan Williams, called the former deputy an “[expletive] coward” on Twitter, and said she didn’t “care what that article says.”

“He was scared? So was I and everyone else inside that building. While I had to run across my classroom and [hide] from the shooter, he stood outside and did nothing. He gets absolutely no sympathy from me,” Williams wrote on Twitter.

Some wrote on Twitter that the interview humanized the deputy and allowed him to explain for the first time his actions that day. But parents of the victims were not comforted.

April Schentrup, the mother of slain student Carmen Schentrup, 16, told a reporter at the voter registration event that she had not yet read the interview, but was told about it early Monday. “There’s just too many failures that we cannot accept anymore,” she said.

“I can just say that my kid is no longer here,” April Schentrup said. “We understand human errors, but we don’t understand why our children are no longer here when other things could have been done, could’ve helped prevent this.”

Moments later, April Schentrup took to Twitter: “If you really wanted to ‘find’ the shooter, then you should have gone in the bldg and towards the sound of gunshots,” she wrote. “We LOST OUR kids and loved ones!”

Carmen’s father, Philip Schentrup, called Peterson “a coward and a liar.”

“He is attempting to create a narrative about him as a victim instead of the truth,” he said. “He heard the gunfire, and he knew what it was…. His training wasn’t to clear the area, it was to immediately engage the shooter and stop the killing. He must live with himself and the truth that 17 people were murdered as he stood around and did nothing.”

One of the most outspoken parents said he had little interest in what Peterson had to say.

Jeff Kasky, whose son Cameron helped organize the March for Our Lives protest and has become a ubiquitous gun control advocate after he survived the attack, said he’s only interested in looking forward to stanching the country’s assault gun epidemic — and not backward to affix blame.

“I couldn’t care less about Scot Peterson,” he said. “Whatever happened, happened in the past.”

“I can understand why people are interested in the story,” Kasky said. “But I am still laser-focused on our political action committee, and getting the NRA and dirty money out of politics.” On May 18, Kasky registered Families vs Assault Rifles PAC, Inc. as the non-profit arm of student activists’ efforts to restrict access to weapons such as the AR 15, which Cruz wielded when he entered Douglas.

“For myself, as a 20-year law enforcement officer, no operation is ever perfect. Every operation can be reviewed in hindsight, as BSO is doing, and we can learn from it,” said Kasky, who is a reserve officer in addition to practicing law.

Speaking while Christian music and the Fox News Channel played in the background, Peterson ruminated on opportunities lost and actions and inactions second-guessed. “What more could he possibly have done?” the story asked, paraphrasing Peterson’s palpable anguish. “Why had he failed to save so many lives in the exact scenario he had spent so much of his career training for — to find and kill an active shooter.”

“You’re a hero or a coward, and that’s it,” Peterson told his interviewer.

Peterson acknowledges the opprobrium with which his name now is associated. In the hours since the interview appeared, he’s been referred to on Twitter as “the disgraced former campus deputy,” the “scorned Parkland school cop,” a “dirty little coward” and “the coward cop.”

“How can they keep saying I did nothing,” the Post quotes Peterson as asking his girlfriend. Peterson had studied surveillance footage, the story says, and reviewed witness statements in an effort to understand what went wrong. “I’m getting on the radio to call in the shooting. I’m locking down the school. I’m clearing kids out of the courtyard. They have the video and the call logs. The evidence is sitting right there.”

This Feb. 14, 2018, frame from security video provided by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office shows deputy Scot Peterson, right, outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He spoke out for the first time in an interview published Monday, June 4, 2014, in the Washington Post. Broward Sheriff’s Office via AP

Suspect in six Arizona killings fatally shoots himself in hotel room as officers close in, police say

A man suspected of killing six people, including a prominent forensic psychiatrist, in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, Ariz., fatally shot himself as police closed in Monday, ending a days-long manhunt that has rattled many in the legal and mental-health communities.

Police on Monday afternoon identified Dwight Jones, a 56-year-old man who had been arrested for domestic violence in 2009 and had been living in hotels in the nine years since, as the gunman who shot the forensic psychiatrist, a psychologist and two paralegals. Each of those victims was loosely connected to his divorce proceedings, Scottsdale Assistant Chief of Police Richard Slavin said. Police also suspect Jones murdered a man and woman in a home in Fountain Hills, Ariz., before killing himself.

Slavin said ballistic evidence connected the killings of Stephen Pitts, Veleria Sharp, Laura Anderson and Marshall Levin. On Sunday morning, police had identified Jones as the suspect and had taken a DNA sample from family members that linked him to the crimes. Shortly after they began surveillance, they witnessed Jones dispose of a pistol; that was not the gun used in the crimes, police say, but it belonged to the male victim in the Fountain Hills.

Officers with the Scottsdale and Phoenix police departments tracked down the suspect at an Extended Stay hotel in Scottsdale on Monday morning. Sgt. Vince Lewis, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, told reporters that Jones fired multiple gunshots from inside his room as tactical team members were evacuating the hotel. They later found Jones with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Lewis said, adding that the officers did not fire their weapons.

The victims in the days-long killing spree worked in related fields, a fact that raised fears among some that the suspect might be indiscriminately attacking people who worked in the criminal justice or court system in the Phoenix area.

The first victim was a prominent forensic psychiatrist who had consulted in high-profile murder cases, including the 1996 killing of child beauty-pageant star JonBenét Ramsey. Police said Pitt, 59, was shot Thursday afternoon outside his office on the outskirts of Scottsdale.

As part of Jones’s divorce proceedings, Slavin said, Jones had been required to see Pitt.

Less than 24 hours later after Pitt was found, about 2 p.m. Friday, two paralegals were shot at a law firm in downtown Scottsdale, across the street from government offices. Police said one of the women, who had been shot in the head, was able to get out of the building and flag a bus driver for help before she died. Police followed her blood trail and found the other victim.

Sharp, 48, and Anderson, 49, were paralegals for the family law firm Burt, Feldman, Grenier. Jones’s ex-wife had retained Elizabeth Feldman for the divorce proceedings, Slavin said.

The fourth victim was found dead just after midnight Saturday. Police said an acquaintance found Marshall Levine, 72, a psychologist and counselor, dead of a gunshot wound in his office, about halfway between the sites of the previous shootings.

Slavin said Jones’s son, as part of the proceedings, was required to see a psychiatrist who occupied the office space that Levine is now in.

Police work on Monday at an Extended Stay hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., where a suspect wanted in several killings was staying. According to police, the suspect killed himself as tactical team members closed in.

Sgt. Ben Hoster, a spokesman for the Scottsdale Police Department, told reporters over the weekend that Pitt’s killing was connected to the shooting of the two paralegals. Police confirmed Monday that the suspect was also linked to Levine’s shooting.

Police had initially said little about the suspect, other than that he was an adult male. Earlier, Phoenix police released a sketch of what appears to be an older white man wearing a hat. On Monday afternoon, they released a photo of Jones.

Slavin said he couldn’t speak to Jones’s thinking, but evidence suggested he was attempting to right what he thought were wrongs.

Enzo Yaksic, a criminal profiler and founder of Atypical Homicide Research Group at Northeastern University in Boston, said serial murderers are generally motivated by a desire for revenge — “angry and resentful individuals who believe they are settling a grievance for perceived or actual wrongs and blame others and the systems they represent for their problems.”

The suspect in the Phoenix-area killings fits that description, Yaksic hypothesized, based on information published about the deaths.

“This offender espoused the methodical calculation of the serial killer, the vengeful nature of the mass murderer and the swiftness and exigency of the spree killer,” Yaksic said. “Few offenders are adept at cycling from one typology to the net in quick succession as was done here.”

Some speculated that Pitt, the most well known of the victims, may have been killed because of his profession, a line of work that required him to study the minds of criminals.

“When Dr. Pitt was shot, it was speculated among a good number of people that it could be tied to a case,” said Justin Yentes, a private investigator in Phoenix who works with criminal defense attorneys in the area. “We work around these types of situations. There’s always a risk that you’ve upset the wrong person, I suppose. The general belief was that there was an upset party in a case that was potentially seeking revenge.”

Yentes said he knows of several law Phoenix-area law firms that did not open Monday because of fears of being targeted, and some have talked about having uniformed officers in their lobbies.

Steve Silverman, an insurance-claim lawyer, does not know any of the victims, but he has been on edge for a few days. Levine, the psychologist, was shot and killed across the street from Silverman’s house. And the hotel where the suspect is said to have killed himself is right next to his office in Scottsdale’s Agua Caliente shopping center.

That the suspect killed the victims in their workplaces, and that he was unidentified for days, only raised fears for Silverman that he might run into the killer. Before news broke Monday morning that the suspect is dead, Silverman had contemplated not coming to work at all. The day before, he had planned to come to the office to do some work but decided to stay at home.

“To me, it drives home the importance of maintaining a sense of awareness or vigilance. I feel absolutely awful for the family members of the victims,” Silverman said.

That paralegals were attacked also struck a nerve with him.

“None of these things are rational, but it seems particularly irrational to attack paralegals. That was just beyond the pale,” Silverman said. “That was a degree of recklessness and anger and rage that was beyond what I might have expected.”

The Washington Post was unable to reach the law firm where the paralegals worked. In a statement to the Arizona Republic, the firm said both Sharp and Anderson were dedicated and treasured members of its staff. Both were wives and mothers.

Steven Pitt, a prominent forensic psychiatrist, was one of four people killed over the past few days in Scottsdale.

Pitt, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, was known for his role in the investigation into the death of JonBenét Ramsey, a child beauty-pageant star who made national headlines in 1996 when she was found dead in her family’s home in Boulder, Colo.

Pitt also helped police as they tried to solve a string of crimes that terrorized Phoenix in 2006. Mark Goudeau, nicknamed the “Baseline Rapist” and later the “Baseline Killer” because the crimes first happened along Phoenix’s Baseline Road, was convicted of more than five dozen charges, including several counts of murder, rape and kidnapping.

biography on Pitt’s website says he also consulted and advised prosecutors in the Colorado rape case against Kobe Bryant and in the Columbine High School shooting investigation.

Levine, the fourth victim, owned a clinic called Peak Life Solutions and was a “life coach hypnotherapist,” according to his profile on Psychology Today.

“I coach because serving, fostering & supporting my clients in reaching their goals & overcoming their challenges gives purpose to my life,” Levine’s profile reads. “My clients’ fulfillment is my joy.”

The Phoenix area has seen several serial murderers over the years, said Yaksic, whose organization maintains a database on 2,700 serial killers nationwide. Most recently, a man named Cleophus Cooksey Jr. was accused of fatally shooting nine people in Phoenix, including his mother and her boyfriend, in November and December.

Guatemala Fuego: Search after deadly volcano eruption

Soldiers are helping firefighters search for missing people after Sunday’s horrific volcanic eruption in Guatemala, when torrents of superheated rock, ash and mud destroyed villages.

The official death toll from the destruction at the Fuego volcano has risen to 62, the authorities say.

Thousands of people are being housed in temporary shelters.

Volcanologists report the eruption, which sent ash up to 10km (33,000ft) into the sky, is now over.

The eruption also generated pyroclastic flows – fast-moving mixtures of very hot gas and volcanic matter – descending down the slopes, engulfing communities such as El Rodeo and San Miguel Los Lotes.

Eufemia Garcia, from Los Lotes, described how she narrowly escaped the volcanic matter as she walked through an alley to go to the shops. Though she had found two of her children alive she was still searching for two daughters and a son and a grandson, as well as her extended family.

“I do not want to leave, but go back, and there is nothing I can do to save my family,” she said.

Efrain Gonzalez, who fled El Rodeo with his wife and one-year-old daughter, said he had had to leave behind his two older children, aged four and ten, trapped in the family home.

Local resident Ricardo Reyes was also forced to abandon his home: “The only thing we could do was run with my family and we left our possessions in the house. Now that all the danger has passed, I came to see how our house was – everything is a disaster.”

Firefighter Rudy Chavez descried how he was searching affected areas for survivors and also for those who had died.

“We were about to evacuate the area when we found an entire family inside a home,” he said.

” We worked to remove their bodies from the house. Someone raised the alarm that the area was very dangerous and we evacuated but thank God we met with our objective of recovering the bodies of those people.”

‘Day turned to night’

Jorge Luis Altuve, part of Guatemala’s mountain rescue brigade, told the BBC how he and his colleagues had been up on the mountain searching for a missing person when they realised that the volcano’s activity had suddenly increased.

He heard something hitting his safety helmet and realised that it was not rain that was falling but stones.

“We’d already started our descent… when the ash cloud reached us and day turned into night. From daylight it went to being as dark as at 10pm,” he said.

Volcanologist Dr Janine Krippner told the BBC that people should not underestimate the risk from pyroclastic flows and volcanic mudflows, known as lahars.

“Fuego is a very active volcano. It has deposited quite a bit of loose volcanic material and it is also in a rain-heavy area, so when heavy rains hit the volcano that is going to be washing the deposits away into these mudflows which carry a lot of debris and rock.

“They are extremely dangerous and deadly as well.”


What is a pyroclastic flow?

A pyroclastic flow is a fast-moving mixture of gas and volcanic material, such as pumice and ash. Such flows are a common outcome of explosive volcanic eruptions, like the Fuego event, and are extremely dangerous to populations living downrange.

Just why they are so threatening can be seen from some of the eyewitness videos on YouTube of the Guatemalan eruption. In one, people stand on a bridge filming the ominous mass of gas and volcanic debris as it expands from Fuego.

Some bystanders only realise how fast it is travelling as the flow is almost upon them.

The speed it travels depends on several factors, such as the output rate of the volcano and the gradient of its slope. But they have been known to reach speeds of up to 700km/h – close to the cruising speed of a long-distance commercial passenger aircraft.

In addition, the gas and rock within a flow are heated to extreme temperatures, ranging between 200C and 700C. If you’re directly in its path, there is little chance of escape.

The eruption of Vesuvius, in Italy, in 79 AD produced a powerful pyroclastic flow, burying the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum under a thick blanket of ash.

Supreme Court sides with Colorado baker who refused to make wedding cake for same-sex couple

The Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, in one of the most closely watched cases of the term.

In a 7-2 decision, the justices set aside a Colorado court ruling against the baker — while stopping short of deciding the broader issue of whether a business can refuse to serve gay and lesbian people. The opinion was penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often the swing justice in tight cases.

The narrow ruling here focused on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips.

“The Commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion.

Attorney Michael Farris, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom which represented the baker, told Fox News that Phillips is “ecstatic” at the decision.

Baker Jack Phillips had refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.

“Justice Kennedy has held that tolerance is a two-way street, and Jack Phillips was not tolerated by the Civil Rights Commission of Colorado,” he said.

The court said the broader issue, though, “must await further elaboration.”

“The reason and motive for the baker’s refusal were based on his sincere religious beliefs and convictions. The Court’s precedents make clear that the baker, in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public, might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws,” Kennedy wrote. “Still, the delicate question of when the free exercise of his religion must yield to an otherwise valid exercise of state power needed to be determined in an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor in the balance the State sought to reach.”

At issue was a July 2012 encounter. At the time, Charlie Craig and David Mullins of Denver visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to buy a custom-made wedding cake. Phillips refused his services when told it was for a same-sex couple. The state civil rights commission sanctioned Phillips after a formal complaint from the gay couple.

Mullins has described their case as symbolizing “the rights of gay people to receive equal service in business … about basic access to public life.”

But the Trump administration backed Phillips, who was represented in court by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit. He had lost at every step in the legal appeals process, bringing the case down to the Supreme Court’s decision Monday.

“Today’s decision means our fight against discrimination and unfair treatment will continue. We have always believed that in America, you should not be turned away from a business open to the public because of who you are. We brought this case because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment, and humiliation of being told ‘we don’t serve your kind here’ that we faced, and we will continue fighting until no one does,” Craig and Mullins responded Monday.

Phillips has said he lost business and had to let employees go because of the controversy.

And he has maintained that it’s his choice: “It’s not about turning away these customers, it’s about doing a cake for an event — a religious sacred event — that conflicts with my conscience,” he said last year.

The court in December specifically examined whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the local baker to create commercial “expression” violated his constitutionally protected Christian beliefs about marriage.

By wading again into the culture wars, the justices had to confront recent decisions on both gay rights and religious liberty: a 2015 landmark opinion legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide and a separate 2014 decision affirming the right of some companies to act on their owner’s faith by refusing to provide contraception to its workers.

The Trump administration agreed with Phillips’ legal claims to a large extent. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October issued broad guidance to executive branch agencies, reiterating the government should respect religious freedom, which in the Justice Department’s eyes extends to people, businesses and organizations.

But civil rights groups were concerned the conservative majority on the court may be ready to peel back protections for groups with a history of enduring discrimination – and predicted that giving businesses the right to refuse service to certain customers would undermine non-discrimination laws and hurt minorities.

When the justices heard arguments in December, Kennedy was plainly bothered by certain comments by a commission member. The commissioner seemed “neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Kennedy said in December.

Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the conservative justices in the outcome. Kagan wrote separately to emphasize the limited ruling.

But Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

“I see no reason why the comments of one or two Commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins,” Ginsburg wrote.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director with the Human Rights Campaign, also stressed that the decision “is so narrow as to apply only to this particular baker.”

How low can it go? Sears will close 63 more stores. Is yours on the list?

Sears Holdings continues to shrink its footprint, saying Thursday that it will close another 63 Sears and Kmart stores as it tries to shave costs and regain its footing in the midst of sagging sales.

The retailer told employees that it will shutter 15 Kmart and 48 Sears locations in early September, with liquidation sales starting as soon as June 14.

Earlier Thursday, officials said they’d be shuttering 72 locations out of roughly 100 non-profitable stores but a “a small group of stores was pulled from the closing list … as they are being evaluated further,” the company said in a statement.

The stores that will be going out of business are:

KMART

California

Ridgecrest: 910 North China Lake Blvd.

Colorado

Arvada: 9881 W 58th Avenue

Florida

Tampa: 5400 E Busch Blvd

Hawaii

Lihue: 4303 Nawiliwili Road

Iowa

Des Moines: 2535 Hubbell Avenue

Illinois

Rockford: 5909 E State Street

Louisiana

Lake Charles: 4070 Ryan Street

Minnesota

Duluth: 215 North Central Avenue

New Jersey

Passaic / Clifton: 24 34 Barbour Avenue

New Mexico

Albuquerque: 2100 Carlisle Avenue

New York

West Babylon: 1000 Montauk Highway

Rosedale: 25301 Rockaway Blvd

Oregon

Portaland: 12350 N E Sandy Blvd

Pennsylvania

Latrobe: 1072 Mountain Laurel Plaza

Texas

Laredo: 5000 San Dario

SEARS

Arizona

Phoenix: 10001 N Metro Parkway West

California:

City Industry: 100 S Puente Hills Mall

Florida

Tampa: 7902 Citrus Park Town Center

Sanford: 320 Towne Center Circle

Georgia

Atlanta: 2201 Henderson Mill Road N.E.

Morrow: 1300 Southlake Mall

Duluth: 2100 Pleasant Hill Road

Iowa

Davenport: 320 W Kimberly Road

Illinois

Vernon Hills: #2 Hawthorn Center

Aurora: #2 Fox Valley Center

Gurnee: 6136 W Grand Avenue

Springfield: 104 West White Oaks Mall

Indiana

Lafayette: 2415 Sagamore Pkwy S

Muncie: 40 Muncie Mall

Indianapolis: 6020 E 82Nd Street

Kansas

Topeka: 1781 Sw Wanamaker Road

Louisiana

Alexandria: Alexandria Mall

Massachusetts

Peabody: Hwys 114 & 128

Springfield: Eastfield Mall

Michigan

Flint: 3191 S Linden Road

Dearborn: 18900 Michigan Avenue

Sterling Heights: 14100 Lakeside Circle

Traverse City: 1212 S Airport Road W

Minnesota

Brooklyn Ctr: Shingle Creek Crossing

Duluth: Miller Hill Mall

Missouri

St. Louis: 250 S County Center Way

Chesterfield: #1 Chesterfield Mall

Mississippi

Hattiesburg: 1000 Turtle Creek Drive

Montana

Billings: 1515 Grand Avenue

North Dakota

Grand Forks: 2800 S Columbia Road

New Jersey

Lawrenceville: 300 Quaker Bridge Mall

Ocean: 2341 Rt 66

Burlington: 2501 Mt Holly Road

New Mexico

Albuquerque: 10000 Coors Bypass N.W.

New York

De Witt/Syracuse: 3649 Erie Blvd E

Ohio

Lima: 2400 Elida Road

Strongsville: 17271 Southpark Center

Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh / South Hills: 300 S Hills Village

Pittsburgh: 1000 Robinson Center Drive

South Carolina

Spartanburg: 205 W Blackstock Road

Anderson: 3101 N Main Street

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: 3400 Empire Mall

Tennessee

Knoxville: 2931 Knoxville Center Drive

Texas

Lewisville: 2401 S Stemmons Freeway

Fort Worth: 1800 Green Oaks Road

Cedar Park: 11200 Lakeline Mall Drive

Denton: Golden Triangle Mall

Washington

Tacoma: 4502 S Steele Street

Amazon to block Australians from shopping on its international sites

Australian shoppers will find themselves limited to a much smaller Amazon item selection beginning on July 1st. Instead of being able to visit and make purchases from international versions of Amazon’s web store — as most of us can do — they’ll be redirected to the local Australian site. Geoblocking isn’t the only strategy Amazon is taking; Amazon.com and the company’s other sites will no longer ship to Australian addresses as of the same date.

When I say “much smaller,” Amazon’s local Australia site still sells tens of millions of products, but it’s definitely a significantly lesser total than you’d find from Amazon’s US site. Reuters estimates that it offers one-tenth of Amazon.com’s selection. All the basics should be readily available, but this will be a real problem for certain item categories.

The move is the result of Amazon’s unwillingness to cooperate with Australia’s updated GST (goods and services tax), which would require the online retail giant to collect a 10 percent tax on all purchases that are shipped to Australia from overseas; previously the GST only applied to imported items over A$1,000.

“While we regret any inconvenience this may cause customers, we have had to assess the workability of the legislation as a global business with multiple international sites,” an Amazon spokesperson told The Sydney Morning Herald.

The legislation was lobbied for by local, smaller online and brick-and-mortar retailers like Harvey Norman. “They think they have the right to pay no tax in Australia,” the company’s executive chairman Gerry Harvey told the Herald. “They’ve done the dirty on the government. They’ve done the dirty on the public.”

Accusations that Amazon attempts to skirt around or mold tax laws to its liking are nothing new, but this is one instance where consumers are going to feel the brunt of the standoff. The Herald notes that some savvy shoppers are already looking into utilizing package redirection services so that they can continue getting their very particular items from Amazon — even if shipping will take a little longer.

Amazon reportedly “baulked at the massive administrative burden of tracking Australian GST from all overseas transactions,” according to Australia’s ABC News. eBay had also once warned that the revised GST legislation would similarly force it to block Australian shoppersfrom importing items, but it has since changed its tune. “We won’t block Aussie buyers, redirect them, or require them to pretend they are located overseas. Australians will continue to be able to buy from any eBay site,” a spokesperson said. “This requires major changes to eBay’s global systems and we are working to have these ready by July 1st.”

Police: Nicaragua violence leaves 15 dead

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — More than a dozen people died in shootings that erupted around Mothers’ Day protests in Nicaragua, but the government and human rights groups differed Thursday on who was to blame.

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, which said it had members participating in Wednesday’s march, said at least 11 people died when peaceful marches were attacked “by the repressive police and shock forces” loyal to President Daniel Ortega, the latter a reference to pro-government youth groups.

Francisco Diaz, the second in command of the national police, said there were 15 deaths nationwide, which he blamed on “criminal gangs.” Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said the violence was generated by opposition political groups and said, “The government rejects any responsibility in that violence.”

The Mother’s Day marches were led by mothers of the victims of earlier protests. But some ended with gunmen firing into crowds sending thousands of demonstrators running for cover.

An Associated Press photographer at Wednesday’s march in Managua saw one person with a wound to the head carried off in a stretcher with a sheet covering his upper body, apparently dead.

The gunfire appeared to come from government supporters near the end of the march, but demonstrators armed with improvised bottle-rocket launchers also opened fire in the skirmish.

Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic church hierarchy said in a statement Thursday that the violence showed that it couldn’t yet resume a dialogue between protesters and President Daniel Ortega’s government.

The U.S. State Department condemned the Mothers’ Day violence and said it supports peaceful talks to resolve the crisis, despite their suspension.

“The international community and the citizens of Nicaragua have repeatedly urged the Nicaraguan government to order its police and thugs to stop the violence, respect human rights, and create conditions for a peaceful path forward,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Those individuals responsible for human rights violations will be held accountable by the international community in international fora.”

The new deaths put the overall death toll for more than a month of protests near 100, with human rights groups saying before the latest violence that more than 80 had already been killed.

Amnesty International, which also had a delegation accompanying the Managua march, said in a statement that Wednesday’s violence showed a “systematic shoot-to-kill policy” on the part of the government. It blamed police and Sandinista gangs.

Shortly before the attacks Wednesday, Ortega told supporters at a rally that he was committed to peace.

Protests began in mid-April in response to changes to the social security system, but expanded to call for Ortega’s exit.

“It appears that Ortega is prepared to stay in power no matter the cost, no matter the number of people who have to die,” said political analyst Oscar Rene Vargas.