Sunni Victory Brings Hope to Christians in Iraqi Province
The Christian Post reports that elections in the Nineveh province of Iraq may give the large minority Christian population reason to relax. The newly elected Sunni government, which replaces the Kurdish party in power, criticized the former party’s tolerance of extremists who attacked minority communities. “The minorities are an important part of the Nineveh province and they should enjoy all the rights they are entitled to,” Osama Al-Nujeifi said, according to Assyrian International News Agency. Al-Nujeifi is an outspoken minority rights advocate in Iraq’s parliament, and his brother heads the Sunni party. “We believe the minorities have to participate in the political sphere, in the provincial council and all the local institutions. This is important for us and we believe we will be able to accomplish it.”
Obama’s War: Deploying 17,000 Raises Stakes in Afghanistan
USA TODAY— Barack Obama, whose presidential ambitions were launched by his opposition to one war, moved Tuesday to expand the U.S. deployment in another. In his first such action as president, Obama ordered an additional 17,000 combat troops to Afghanistan. His administration cast the move as an interim step to battle the resurgent Taliban, secure Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, increase security for summer elections and stem the decline in a war that the United States now risks losing. More forces may follow: Gen. David McKiernan, who commands U.S. and NATO troops there, has asked for a total of 30,000 additional troops. That would nearly double the U.S. force. Obama has ordered a broad-scale review of strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan — due back in about six weeks — before settling on a course ahead for the long term. Officials say he will revamp goals and lower U.S. expectations in a conflict that has proven to be more difficult and complicated than the war in Iraq.
Pope: Catholic Politicians Must Protect Life
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday told U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, that Catholic politicians have a duty to protect life “at all stages of its development,” the Vatican said. Pelosi is the first top Democrat to meet with Benedict since the election of Barack Obama, who won a majority of the Catholic vote despite differences with the Vatican on abortion. The Vatican released remarks by the pope to Pelosi, saying Benedict spoke of the church’s teaching “on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.” Benedict said all Catholics — especially legislators, jurists and political leaders — should work to create “a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”
Abortion Foes, Supporters, Clash over New Rule
NEW YORK (AP) — A new rule granting sweeping protection to a broad range of health workers who won’t provide abortions and other care could set up the first big reproductive rights fight of the Obama era. Fighting for providers’ “rights of conscience” to opt out of certain procedures is a major pro-life strategy. Backers say the rule that went into effect in the final days of Bush’s presidency is about preserving the freedom to follow their moral values. Even 36 years after the Supreme Court widely legalized abortion in the United States, the practice of abortion remains controversial. Though a small majority of Americans support it, tens of thousands of anti-abortion activists rallied in Washington last month to protest the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling. Providers “object to having their medical skills and training twisted into a purpose they didn’t enter into medicine for, which is to do harm,” said Deirdre McQuade, the primary spokeswoman on abortion at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Ø JJ Commentary: A surprisingly unbiased report from the Associated Press.
Federally Funded Ad Campaign Holds up Value of Marriage
USA TODAY— Marriage has turned into quite a quandary for many young adults. Should they or shouldn’t they? Can they escape divorce? Will moving in together forestall a breakup? These conflicted feelings haven’t gone without notice in Washington. The average age at first marriage is now almost 26 for women and 28 for men. And a growing percentage of Americans aren’t marrying at all: Provisional federal statistics report 7.1 marriages per 1,000 people in 2008, down from 10 per 1,000 in 1986. Faced with such numbers, the federal government is funding a $5 million national media campaign that launches this month, extolling the virtues of marriage for those ages 18 to 30. Research suggests a bevy of benefits for those who marry, including better health, greater wealth and more happiness for the couple, and improved well-being for children. Some say the government has no business using tax dollars to promote marriage. But others say the campaign is just like those conducted by other federal agencies to encourage the use of seat belts and discourage drug use, smoking and drunken driving.
Ø JJ Commentary: It’s no surprise that statistics prove the merit of God’s laws (e.g. prayer is found to increase survival rates among the seriously ill). What is an ongoing surprise is that people and government in general don’t see the connection.
Obama Plan Seeks to Save Millions from Foreclosure
PHOENIX — The Obama Administration on Wednesday announced a $75 billion plan aimed at shoring up the flagging housing market by helping up to 9 million homeowners rework their mortgages to avoid foreclosure. The plan includes refinancing mortgages of up to 5 million homeowners to make their payments more affordable. It also involves an initiative to reach up to another 4 million homeowners by lowering the risk of imminent default with a “homeowner stability initiative” to reduce their monthly payments. Homeowners who took out loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac will be able to refinance through those institituions — a plan designed to help millions of homeowners who can’t refinance because they owe more on their homes than they are worth.
The plan earmarks $75 billion to help homeowners stay in their properties. To reduce monthly payments, lenders would be responsible for lowering interest rates so the borrower’s monthly payment is no more than 38% of income. After that, the government would help lower payments by matching further interest-rate reduction payments to bring the ratio down to 31%. As an incentive, companies that service home loans will get $1,000 for each eligible modification they make. And they’ll get another $1,000 a year for three years as long as the homeowner remains current on payments. In addition, homeowners who remain in their properties and stay current will get a monthly balance reduction to reduce their loan principal. That will amount to up to $1,000 a year for five years. The plan includes an incentive of $500 to lenders and $1,500 to homeowners if loans are mofified before mortgage holders fall behind.
Phoenix-Area Real Estate Picture Grim
USA TODAY — For the past two decades, the Phoenix metropolitan area boomed, its population growing by more than 50%. But since late 2007, boom has turned to bust. Home prices have tumbled 40% in a year, figures from Arizona State University show, prompting investors to abandon their properties and leaving overextended homeowners to face foreclosure. It’s no surprise that President Obama chose the area to unveil his housing policy Friday — a $50 billion plan intended to help homeowners stay in their homes. It’s also no surprise that residents caught up in the housing bust see little hope for improvement in an area where university data show 45% of all recorded transactions stem from foreclosures. Census numbers show that a record one in nine U.S. housing units are vacant, including about 3% of owned homes. The Mortgage Bankers Association says more than 2 million homeowners faced foreclosure last year.
GM, Chrysler Seek a Combined $21.6B More in Loans to Survive
USA TODAY — General Motors and Chrysler, both operating in a state of virtual bankruptcy with the federal government overseeing their restructuring, said Tuesday that they will need an additional $21.6 billion in emergency loans — $5 billion for Chrysler, the rest for GM. In return, they promised the government, they will slice even more people and plants to cut costs, while still investing to develop and market fuel-efficient vehicles in the next two years that will bring wary buyers back to their showrooms. That would generate the revenue they will need to repay government loans. The additional loan amounts are detailed in plans the car companies were required to file with the federal government Tuesday to avoid having to immediately repay the $17.4 billion in emergency loans they were granted in December — $4 billion for Chrysler, the rest for GM. In the few weeks since they got the first loan deal, the auto market has caved in even further, meaning the staggering car companies now need more federal loan money to stay alive.
Stimulus Slammed as Democrats’ Agenda
WASHINGTON — The economic stimulus package President Obama signed on Tuesday gives a huge boost to a host of social programs, research proposals and construction projects that Democrats and advocacy groups have been promoting for years. The $787 billion stimulus legislation contains new spending on health care, education, energy and the environment, including for programs to teach math and reading in poor school districts, build high-speed rail systems, study disease prevention, weatherize homes and more. Conservatives and Republican leaders in Congress say the plan won’t do enough to stimulate the broken economy and will leave a staggering debt. To fund government spending, the Treasury borrows money from investors by selling Treasury bills, notes and bonds.
Ø JJ Commentary: The USA is already the world’s biggest debtor by far. The money for this stimulus package will largely come from China and Saudi Arabia who, along with other nations, can bankrupt America should they decide to call in the debt.
Pressure’s on States Deciding How to Use Stimulus
NEW YORK (AP) — It may sound like a nice problem for states — figuring out how to spend the billions in infrastructure funding they’ll receive as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus plan. But the task is more complicated, as state officials try to set priorities while managing competing pressures from communities, watchdog groups and federal regulators over how the money is allocated. Under the plan Obama signed into law Tuesday, states will divide $27 billion to build and repair roads and bridges. That is less than half the $64 billion in projects states told the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials they had ready to go.
Thousands Seek Census Jobs in Down Economy
USA TODAY— Lawyers are lining up. Wall Street brokers are applying. Retirees and stay-at-home moms and dads are ready to work. Even though some jobs last no more than a week and pay as little as $10 an hour, the Census Bureau is attracting so many applicants that the agency is way ahead of its recruitment goals for the 2010 national head count. It’s a thin silver lining to the financial crisis as high unemployment and economic uncertainty make recruiting 3.8 million Census workers this year and next a lot easier. The hiring binge is adding jobs that pay $10 to $34 an hour and may last a week to two years across the USA. “There are a lot of people who swallowed their pride and decided they need a paycheck,” says Arnold Jackson, associate director for the decennial Census.
Return of Jobless Strains China
USA TODAY — China’s growing unemployment could strain U.S. relations over trade matters as the United States seeks China’s help to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program. Even the communist regime’s strict ban on political protest hasn’t fully suppressed public anger over the reversal of China’s economy, which slowed sharply in recent months because of plummeting demand for its exports of toys, shoes and other products in the USA. Workers have protested outside shuttered plants for lost pay and rioted in front of government offices.Nationwide, the Chinese government estimates that the number of jobless migrants looking for work may reach 26 million — a gargantuan figure even by Chinese standards, greater than the population of Texas. Some of them came home to lush but poorer places such as Bamboo Pole that largely missed out on China’s economic boom of the past two decades, forcing officials in Beijing and elsewhere to find a way to reincorporate them into the labor force — or face possibly dramatic consequences.
Eastern European Currencies Crumble as Fears of Debt Crisis Grow
TELEGRAPH (UK) — Hungary’s forint fell to an all-time low on Monday, and Poland’s zloty slumped to the lowest in five years on plunging industrial output. Half of all loans to the private sector in Poland are in foreign currencies so borrowers face a severe debt shock after the 40pc fall of the zloty against the euro since August. “We’re nearing the level were things could get out of hand,” said Hans Redeker, currency chief strategist at BNP Paribas. The mushrooming crisis has already started to spill over into Germany’s debt markets. “Investors are beginning to ask whether Germany is going to have to pay for the rescue of Eastern and Central Europe,” he said. A report by Moody’s released on Tuesday said the region’s banks were coming under severe stress as the property bust combines with a rising debt burden. “Local currency depreciation is a major risk to East Europe banks,” it said.
Biologists Fear Bat Deaths’ Broader Effects
USA TODAY — A mysterious illness that has been killing bats since at least 2007 is spreading rapidly and wiping out hundreds of thousands of them this winter in caves throughout the Northeast, biologists say. Called white nose syndrome, after the white fungus the dead bats have on their faces, affected bats emerge early from hibernation, resulting in starvation. The cause of the syndrome is not known. Bats play an important role in nature’s balance, eating insects and other pests that can damage crops. They also play a role in plant pollination. Biologists are concerned there is a potential for long-term impact to the ecosystem.
Ø JJ Commentary: In combination with the previously reported decline in the bee population, this could trigger major changes in the ecosystem.
Jury: Rancher Didn’t Violate Illegal Immigrants’ Rights
TUCSON, Ariz. — A federal jury found Tuesday that a southern Arizona rancher didn’t violate the civil rights of a group of illegal immigrants who said he detained them at gunpoint in 2004. The eight-member civil jury also found Roger Barnett wasn’t liable on claims of battery and false imprisonment. But the jury did find him liable on four claims of assault and four claims of infliction of emotional distress and ordered Barnett to pay $77,804 in damages — $60,000 of which were punitive. Barnett declined to comment afterward, but one of his attorneys, David Hardy, said the plaintiffs lost on the bulk of their claims and that Barnett has a good basis for appeal on the two counts on which he lost. All six plaintiffs are citizens of Mexico. For more than a decade, Barnett has been a controversial figure in southern Arizona. He’s known for aggressively patrolling his ranch property and along highways and roads in the area, often with his wife and brothers, on the lookout for illegal immigrants. Barnett’s lawyers argued that his land was inundated with illegal immigrants who left trash on his property, damaged his water supply and harmed his cattle.
Ø JJ Commentary: If we can’t protect our home and property from illegal immigrants then our justice system has gone way too far in protecting the rights of criminals.
TV Stations Ban ‘Speechless…Silencing the Christians’
Two TV stations, WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, MI and WSYX-TV in Columbus, OH, have banned a television special showing how the media is silencing Christians. The stations bowed down to the demands of a handful of homosexual activists and banned the showing of our TV special “Speechless…Silencing the Christians.” The one-hour TV special was scheduled to be shown on the stations, but the stations yanked the program after agreeing to run it. AFA was paying for the time. Oddly enough, the TV special shows how the media censors Christians, which is exactly what these two stations did! You can watch the one-hour banned program here.
Lead Law Throttles Youth Power Sports
IRVINE, Calif. — A new federal law aimed at protecting children from lead in toys has also forced a nationwide halt in sales of off-road motorcycles and recreational vehicles built for young riders, killing off a multimillion-dollar industry that was thriving despite the recession. Thousands of powersports dealers were told to halt sales of vehicles designed for children 12 and younger because of new lead restrictions in an act of Congress that took effect Feb. 10. Even used powersport vehicle sales are banned by law passed in response to lead found in toys imported from China. With the motor vehicle industry already hurting from recession, the ban means a 20% drop in sales of youth off-road motorcycles and the parts business for bikes already sold.
Ø JJ Commentary: I guess the lawmakers didn’t know about the law of “unintended consequences.” Or O’Toole’s law that says Murphy was an optimist.
Despite Obama Pledge, Justice Defends Bush Secrets
WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite President Obama’s vow to open government more than ever, the Justice Department is defending Bush administration decisions to keep secret many documents about domestic wiretapping, data collection on travelers and U.S. citizens, and interrogation of suspected terrorists. In half a dozen lawsuits, Justice lawyers have opposed formal motions or spurned out-of-court offers to delay court action until the new administration rewrites Freedom of Information Act guidelines and decides whether the new rules might allow the public to see more. In only one case has the Justice Department agreed to suspend a freedom of information lawsuit until the disputed documents can be re-evaluated under the yet-to-be-written guidelines. That case involves negotiations on an anti-counterfeiting treaty, not the more controversial, secret anti-terrorism tactics that spawned the other lawsuits as well as Obama’s promises of greater openness. Groups that advocate open government, civil liberties and privacy were overjoyed that Obama on his first day in office reversed the freedom of information policy imposed by Bush’s first attorney general, John Ashcroft. But Justice’s actions in courts since then have cast doubt on how far the new administration will go.
Reported Raids on Federal Computer Data Soar
USA TODAY — Reported cyberattacks on U.S. government computer networks climbed 40% last year, federal records show, and more infiltrators are trying to plant malicious software they could use to control or steal sensitive data. Federally tracked accounts of unauthorized access to government computers and installations of hostile programs rose from a combined 3,928 incidents in 2007 to 5,488 in 2008, based on data provided to USA TODAY by the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT). The government does not publicly detail the number or types of attacks that succeed. A commission of government officials and private experts reported in December that the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Commerce all have suffered “major intrusions” in which sensitive data were stolen or compromised.
Climate Warming Gases Rising Faster than Expected
CHICAGO (AP) — Despite widespread concern over global warming, humans are adding carbon to the atmosphere even faster than in the 1990s, researchers warned. Carbon emissions have been growing at 3.5% per year since 2000, up sharply from the 0.9% per year in the 1990s, Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The largest factor in this increase is the widespread adoption of coal as an energy source, Field said, “and without aggressive attention societies will continue to focus on the energy sources that are cheapest, and that means coal.” Past projections for declines in the emissions of greenhouse gases were too optimistic, he added. No part of the world had a decline in emissions from 2000 to 2008.
Israel: Border Crossings to Remain Closed
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli officials say the country’s Security Cabinet has decided to keep the Gaza Strip’s border crossings closed until an Israeli soldier is freed. The decision is likely to set back Egyptian efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas militants who control Gaza. The talks come in the wake of a harsh Israeli military offensive in Gaza that ended last month. Hamas has been demanding that Israel end its blockade of Gaza as part of a cease-fire. It says the case of the soldier should be settled separately. Palestinian officials in the Gaza Strip says Israeli planes have attacked smuggling tunnels around the Gaza-Egypt border and a disused Hamas security base near the town of Khan Younis. The Hamas base had already been largely reduced to rubble in previous attacks, but this time a mosque left standing inside the compound was destroyed.
Livni: Give up Half of ‘Land of Israel’
JERUSALEM (AP) — Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says Israel must give up considerable territory in exchange for peace with the Palestinians. Livni’s centrist Kadima Party won one more seat that the hawkish Likud Party, led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He opposes large-scale territorial concessions in peace talks with the Palestinians. Livni and Netanyahu both claimed victory in last week’s election. Each hopes to be picked by President Shimon Peres to form the next government. Netanyahu appears to have the edge, because a majority of members in the new parliament agree with his views.
Ø JJ Commentary: Giving up the land God ordained for Israel will not bring peace but rather curses – something secular Israel has forgotten. In addition, Muslim nations will not rest until all of Israel is gone.
Sudan, Darfur Rebel Group Sign Peace Framework
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Sudanese government and Darfur’s most powerful rebel group signed a framework pact Tuesday for future peace negotiations, but failed to agree on a hoped-for cease-fire after a week of talks. The deal, worked out in negotiations in the Gulf nation of Qatar, laid the groundwork for a second round of talks that would address core problems in the six-year conflict. The sides also agreed, in principle, to exchange prisoners. Since Darfur rebels took up arms in 2003 complaining of discrimination and neglect by the Arab-led government, as many as 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes, according to the U.N. The second round of negotiations between the sides will take place in two weeks in Qatar’s capital, Doha.
Afghan Civilian Deaths rose 40% in 2008
KABUL (AP) — The number of Afghan civilians killed in armed conflict rose 40% last year to a record 2,118 people as the Afghan war turned increasingly bloody, the U.N. said in a new report Tuesday. The report said insurgents were responsible for 55% of the deaths, but that U.S., NATO and Afghan forces killed 829 civilians, or 39%. Of those, 552 deaths were blamed on airstrikes. Civilian deaths have been a huge source of friction between the U.S. and President Hamid Karzai, who has increased demands that U.S. troops avoid killing civilians. The Pentagon is contemplating sending up to an additional 30,000 U.S. troops this year, a development that could also increase civilian casualties.