Obama officials urge approval of emergency border spending, acknowledge struggling

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Tens of thousands of children streaming from chaotic Central American nations to the U.S. border have overwhelmed the government’s ability to respond, senior Obama administration officials testified Wednesday as they urged senators to agree to the president’s emergency spending request for the crisis.

But as President Barack Obama traveled to Texas, Republican opposition hardened to his $3.7 billion request, leaving any solution unclear. At the same time, the political pressures on the president appeared to grow from all sides, as Republicans denounced him on the Senate floor, and even some Democrats began to join GOP demands for him to visit the U.S.-Mexican border -- calls the White House continued to reject.

Obama was meeting with local leaders late Wednesday on the immigration situation -- but in Dallas, not at the border. He also was meeting with Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has prodded him to visit the border.

In Washington, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has supported Obama’s stalled quest to remake the nation’s immigration laws, said he could not support the president’s spending request.

"I cannot vote for a provision which will then just perpetuate an unacceptable humanitarian crisis that’s taking place on our southern border," McCain said on the Senate floor, where he was joined by fellow Arizonan Jeff Flake and Texas Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. They took take turns blaming Obama’s policies for causing the border situation, contending that his efforts to relax some deportations have contributed to rumors circulating in Central America that once here, migrant kids will be allowed to stay.

Israel hits key Hamas targets in Gaza Strip
in second day of offensive

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel stepped up its offensive on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Wednesday, pummeling scores of targets and killing at least 22 people as Israeli leaders signaled a weeks-long ground invasion could be quickly approaching.

The military said it struck about 200 Hamas targets on the second day of its offensive, which it says is needed to end incessant rocket attacks out of Gaza. Militants, however, continued to fire rocket salvos deep into Israeli territory, and Israel mobilized thousands of forces along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground operation.

"The army is ready for all possibilities," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after holding a meeting of his Security Cabinet. "Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing toward Israeli citizens. The security of Israel’s citizens comes first. The operation will expand and continue until the fire toward our towns stops and quiet returns."

The fighting stepped up as Egypt, which often serves as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, said it was in contact with both sides to end the violence. It was the first indication since the offensive was launched on Tuesday that cease-fire efforts might be under way.

The offensive has set off the heaviest fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas since an eight-day battle in November 2012. As the death toll continued to rise, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of committing "genocide."

Juvenile is identified as suspect in Southern California wildfire that destroyed 36 houses

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Investigators who spent weeks examining photos and tips from the public have identified a juvenile as a suspect for intentionally starting the most destructive of nearly a dozen wildfires that ripped through Southern California this spring, officials said Wednesday.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s office said a hearing has been set for July 30 for the juvenile, whose identity has not been released. Authorities would not say whether an arrest has been made nor provide any details other than to say the person is believed to be responsible for setting the Cocos fire, which quickly spread amid windy, dry conditions.

The blaze burned 36 houses and one business in San Marcos, a city of 85,000 north of San Diego. Investigators say the suspect is not believed to be linked to the other wildfires burning at that time.

The wildfires that erupted over a span of days in San Diego County prompted tens of thousands of evacuations and caused more than $20 million in damages.

The first blaze started May 13 and was caused by a spark from construction equipment, according to state officials.

Utah to appeal ruling in favor of gay marriage directly to U.S. Supreme Court

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah is going directly to the nation’s highest court to challenge a federal appeals court ruling that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, the state attorney general’s office announced Wednesday.

The state opted to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court rather than request a review from the entire 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. That option is now off the table, no matter what the high court decides.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office said in a statement the appeal will be filed in the coming weeks, to get "clarity and resolution" from the highest court. "Attorney General Reyes has a sworn duty to defend the laws of our state," the statement said.

The Supreme Court is under no obligation to hear the appeal of the June 25 ruling by a three-judge 10th Circuit panel, said William Eskridge, a Yale University law professor. There also is no deadline to make a decision, he said.

The panel’s June 25 ruling found states cannot deprive people of the fundamental right to marry simply because they choose partners of the same sex.

For young nuke warriors, responsibility fo Minuteman missiles ‘weighs on your mind’

BERTHOLD, N.D. (AP) -- As a nuclear missileer with his finger on the trigger of the world’s most powerful weapon, Air Force 1st Lt. Andy Parthum faces pressures few others know. He spends his workday awaiting an order he hopes never arrives: to launch nuclear-tipped missiles capable of killing millions and changing the course of history.

Parthum is one of 90 young airmen who carry out their mission not in the air but in a hole in the ground.

Across the northern tier of the U.S., pairs of missileers sit at consoles inside bomb-proof capsules 60 feet underground and linked to groups of Minuteman 3 missiles, a nuclear-armed weapon whose first generation President John F. Kennedy dubbed an "Ace in the Hole."

The missileers’ mission was born in the early years of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear Armageddon was ever-present, yet it lives on despite the emergence of new threats like global terrorism and cyberattack and the shrinking of defense budgets.

The missileers have never engaged in combat, although the Air Force calls them combat crew members. Still, no one can exclude the possibility, remote as it may be, that one day a president will deliver the gut-wrenching order that would compel a missileer to unleash a nuclear hell that would alter world history.

Iraq’s leader accuses Kurds of harboring militants; 50 bodies found dumped outside Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AP) -- The ethnic and sectarian tensions that threaten to tear Iraq apart flared Wednesday as the prime minister accused the Kurdish self-rule region of harboring the Sunni militants who have overrun much of the country, and 50 bodies were discovered dumped in a village south of Baghdad.

It was not clear who the men were or why they were killed, but such grisly scenes were common during the darkest days of the Iraq war, and the deaths raised fears of another round of sectarian bloodletting. Many of the victims were bound, blindfolded and shot in the head.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s allegations, made in his weekly televised address, are likely to worsen Baghdad’s already thorny relationship with the Kurds, whose fighters have been battling the insurgents over the past month.

The accusations would also seem to dampen the prospect of reconciliation that the United States, the U.N. and even Iraq’s top Shiite cleric say is necessary to bridge the country’s ethnic and sectarian divisions and hold Iraq together.

The militant offensive spearheaded by the Islamic State extremist group has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the last U.S. troops left the country in 2011.

American author one of 2 gored in hair-raising bull run at
San Fermin festival

PAMPLONA, Spain (AP) -- An American who co-authored the book "Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona" became one of their victims Wednesday when he was one of two men gored at the festival.

Bill Hillmann, a 32-year-old from Chicago and a longtime participant in the nine-day Pamplona street party, was gored twice in the right thigh during one of the daily bull runs, organizers said on their website.

The injury was serious but not life-threatening, the Navarra regional government said in a statement.

"He collided with another guy who was running in the opposite direction. Bill fell and as he did the bull gored his right leg," said Michael Hemingway, a great-grandson of writer Ernest Hemingway, who immortalized the running of the bulls in his 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises."

The teenager, who spoke to The Associated Press by phone, was just steps away photographing the event, which he has attended for several years with his father, John Hemingway, a co-author who worked with Hillmann.

Dodgers found partly responsible for severe beating of San Francisco Giants fan

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A San Francisco Giants fan who suffered brain damage in a beating at Dodger Stadium won his negligence suit against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, but former owner Frank McCourt was absolved by the jury.

The jury found damages of about $18 million but said the Dodgers were responsible for only a quarter of the sum. The rest of the responsibility was split between the two men who beat fan Bryan Stow.

Plaintiff’s attorney Tom Girardi said the verdict means the Dodgers must pay about $14 million in economic losses and a quarter of the pain and suffering sum, adding about $1 million more. Girardi had asked for more than double that sum but still considers it a victory.

The jury delivered its verdict in a Los Angeles courtroom after weeks of testimony about the assault after the opening day game in 2011 between the rival teams.

Stow’s lawyers claimed the team and its former owner failed to provide adequate security at the stadium. The defense countered that security was stronger than ever at an opening day contest and Stow was partially to blame because he was drunk.

Scientists turn to soliciting donations from the public for projects

NEW YORK (AP) -- In over three decades of studying ferns, Duke University professor Kathleen Pryer has received her share of grant money. But for her newest project, she’s getting help from a retired nurse in Canada and a 17-year-old in Arkansas.

It’s her first foray into the modern-day world of crowdfunding, the practice of using the Internet to raise relatively small amounts of money from a lot of people to finance a project. It’s quite a departure from the normal sources of funding for scientific research, chiefly industry, government and philanthropies.

Outside of science, it’s been successful for projects like developing video games and other consumer products, publishing books and making films and other entertainment programs. A campaign to finance a movie sequel to the cult television show "Veronica Mars" pulled in $2 million in less than a day, eventually gathering more than $5.7 million in 30 days.

But "science has yet to gain Veronica Mars status," notes Jeanne Garbarino, director of science outreach at Rockefeller University in New York, who has used crowdfunding and informally advised others. Instead, scientific projects tend to be far more modest, generally raising just thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

One researcher, for example, raised about $2,000 to hire a truck and buy camp supplies to recover a triceratops skeleton he’d found in Wyoming. Current campaigns on the website experiment.com include $5,000 to investigate a parasite in North Carolina bay scallops, $3,560 to study a disease of bats, and $17,400 to tag sharks for migration research.

A summer without swagger for Hollywood at domestic box office

NEW YORK (AP) -- Hollywood’s summer at the box office isn’t just missing nearly 20 percent of last summer’s revenue. It’s lacking swagger.

Summer is the season for mega-budget, chest-thumping, globe-trotting monstrosities -- films so big they lure droves of Americans with heavily promoted promises of shock and awe. But this season’s blockbuster output has been curiously low on the summer’s stock in trade: bigness.

Two months into the summer, there haven’t been any $300 million grossers at the North American box office. The only movie to surpass $100 million in its weekend debut was "Transformers: Age of Extinction," and it did so by such a small smidge that some box-office watchers claimed it was artificially inflated. The Fourth of July, the customary launching pad for some of Hollywood’s flashiest fireworks, was the worst July 4th weekend in at least a decade.

"The first half of the year was extremely strong, as was last year," says Dan Fellman, domestic distribution head for Warner Bros. "Then all of a sudden, it turned the other way."

Since kicking off in early May, the summer box office has totaled $2.25 billion, a 19.3 percent downturn from last summer. Propelled by hit sequels like "Iron Man 3" and "Despicable Me 2," last year was a record summer at the box office, despite a series of high-profile bombs such as "The Lone Ranger," ‘’White House Down" and "After Earth."