Archive for March, 2009

March 31, 2009

1 Million Red Envelopes Deluge White House

Over one million, empty, red envelopes have poured into the White House mail room, symbolizing the empty promise of lives snuffed out in abortion; and with Red Envelope Day planned for Wednesday, coordinators estimate that number could more than double. The Red Envelope Project is an idea sparked in the mind and prayers of a Massachusetts man, Christ Otto, who envisioned in January thousands of red envelopes sent to the White House, a visual expression of moral outrage over the president’s position on abortion. On the backs of the envelopes, senders write a message Otto composed: “This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty because that life was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility begins with conception.”

Harvard Research Proves the Pope (and God) Right

When the pope visited Africa back in mid-March, a firestorm erupted when the media reported he had said “condoms spread AIDS.” According to the pope, “the scourge [of AIDS] cannot be resolved by distributing condoms”—in fact, doing so “risk[s] worsening the problem.” Predictably, there was a cacophony of condemnation directed at the pope. Soon after the story broke, Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, released an interview with Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. Here’s what Green had to say:

We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working. The pope is correct, or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments. There is a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the US-funded Demographic Health Surveys, between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction technology such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by compensating or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology. I also noticed that the pope said monogamy was the best single answer to African AIDS, rather than abstinence. The best and latest empirical evidence indeed shows that reduction in multiple and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior change associated with reduction in HIV-infection rates (the other major factor is male circumcision).

  • Note that this story was not published in the mainstream media
Big Brother is Watching
The European Union is backing a project to install a “communication box” in new cars to track the whereabouts of drivers anywhere in Europe, the Guardian can reveal. Under the proposals, vehicles will emit a constant “heartbeat” revealing their location, speed and direction of travel. The EU officials behind the plan believe it will significantly reduce road accidents, congestion and carbon emissions. A consortium of manufacturers has indicated that the router device could be installed in all new cars as early as 2013. Details of the Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure Systems (CVIS) project, a £36m EU initiative backed by car manufacturers and the telecoms industry, will be unveiled this year.
  • Surveillance is a key New World Order plan so as to track and apprehend those who resist the eventual “mark of the beast”
New World Order Update
The Trilateral Commission is one of the New World Order organizations promoting a one-world government. Zbigniew Brzezinski and David Rockefeller were the co-founders in 1973 to “to foster closer cooperation among these core democratic industrialized areas of the world with shared leadership responsibilities in the wider international system.” According to official Trilateral Commission membership lists, there are 87 members from the United States (the other 337 members are from other regions). President Obama, a TLC protégé, has appointed no less than nine members of the Commission to top-level and key positions in his Administration, including Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner; Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice; National Security Advisor, Thomas Doniton; Chairman of the Economic Recovery Committee, Paul Volker; and Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis C. Blair.
  • Thus, over 10% of America’s TLC members are officially part of the Obama administration.
Taliban Chief Vows Attack on Washington
The commander of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Tuesday for a deadly assault on a Pakistani police academy and said the group was planning a terrorist attack on the U.S. capital. Baitullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million bounty on his head from the U.S., said Monday’s attack outside the eastern city of Lahore was in retaliation for U.S. missile strikes against militants along the Afghan border. “Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world,” Mehsud told The Associated Press by phone. He provided no details.

Hezbollah Smuggling Across U.S.-Mexican Border

America’s porous southern border is an entry point for more than Mexican cartels and their illegal drugs — the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah has been smuggling drugs and people into the U.S. as well. Hezbollah has long been involved in narcotics and human trafficking in South America, and is now using the same routes into the U.S. that the Mexican cartels use for smuggling, according to an exclusive report in The Washington Times. The group relies on “the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers, and transportation experts as the drug cartels,” said Michael Braun, who recently retired as assistant administrator and chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, funds its operations in part from a large Lebanese Muslim diaspora, and some of that funding comes from criminal enterprises.

Economy

Amid a continuing global free fall, the World Bank Monday sharply lowered its 2009 economic forecast. The bank now expects the world economy to shrink by 1.7% this year, the first such contraction since the end of World War II and a much more dramatic decline than expected just three months ago. The past five months, global industrial production has dropped 15% — an unprecedented drop for such a short period, said Hans Timmer, manager for global trends in the bank’s development prospects group.

The global economic crisis will hit jobs hard, with unemployment set to reach double digits in many developing and advanced countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said. “By the end of 2010 the unemployment rate could be approaching double digit figures in all G8 countries with the sole exception of Japan, as well as in the OECD area as a whole,” the OECD forecast in a background paper to G8 labor and employment ministers gathering in Rome.

Home prices in January were down a record 19% from January 2008, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index released Tuesday. The drops on a month-over-month as well as year-over-year basis were bigger than expectations based on a Reuters survey of economists.

Sun-Times Media Group, parent of the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday, earning Chicago the distinction of being the first U.S. city served by two insolvent newspapers. The Sun-Times also said it hired Rothschild Inc. to try to sell some of its assets, which include 59 newspapers and their websites. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. It plans to operate its newspapers and websites while improving its cost structure and stabilizing operations. It said it has financial resources to continue daily operations. The publisher joins its much larger, Chicago-based rival, Tribune Co., in a growing list of newspaper companies choosing bankruptcy as the best way to restructure as advertising revenue plummets.

Chavez Seeks Arab Backing for ‘Petro-Currency’

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sought Arab support Tuesday for his idea of a new oil-backed currency to challenge the U.S. dollar at a twin-region summit whose agenda focuses on trade issue but also touches on Arab worries about rival Iran’s growing influence in Latin America. “A new world is being born. Empires fall. There is a world crisis of capitalism, it’s shaking the planet,” Chavez said. The global economic crisis is expected to take center stage at the one-day gathering.

Afghanistan’s Poppies Pose Problem

President Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan calls for continuing the destruction of poppy fields, although experts and his top envoy to the region have called the practice counterproductive. Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s coordinator of Afghanistan policy, said this month that eradicating the opium poppy fields is “wasteful and ineffective” and has been “pushing farmers into the Taliban’s hands” because it destroys farmers’ livelihoods and leaves them with few alternatives. However, the white paper on Afghanistan released Friday by the White House says the new strategy will spend more on “crop substitution and alternative livelihood programs” while continuing the practice of “targeting those who grow the poppy.”

Billions of dollars spent on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan during the past seven years have led to a “heartbreaking” failure to produce results, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday, promising that the new strategy President Obama announced last week will turn that around. The U.S. has spent $32 billion on aid to Afghanistan since 2002, including nearly $7 billion in development aid by the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the Congressional Research Service. Most of the USAID money has been administered through private contractors, some of which have been criticized in audits by the agency’s inspector general for failing to demonstrate results. She was asked why Obama’s plan would be different, given that its language — “capacity building” for the Afghanistan government and “alternative livelihoods” for people involved in the opium trade — are similar to those used by the Bush administration. “We’re building on the lessons learned,” Clinton said. “We are scrubbing every single civilian program. … We are looking at every single dollar as to how it’s spent and where it’s going and trying to track the outcome. … We want to see real results.”

N. Korea has Several Nuclear Warheads

North Korea is believed to have several nuclear warheads that could be mounted on a missile, an international security expert said Tuesday ahead of a rocket launch that regional powers suspect will test weapon delivery technology. But Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based North Korea expert for the International Crisis Group, stressed it is unclear if the communist nation has mastered the technology necessary to mount the warheads onto missiles. Pinkston said the communist nation has two underground nuclear warhead storage facilities near bases for its medium-range Rodong missiles, which are capable of striking Japan.

American Journalists Detained in N. Korea to be Tried as Spies

North Korea‘s state-run news agency says two American reporters detained earlier this month will be tried for illegal entry and hostile acts. The Korean Central News Agency said in a report early Tuesday that an initial investigation confirms the two entered the country illegally. The report says an investigation continues and that preparations for indictments and trial are underway. Current TV’s Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained March 17 near North Korea’s northeastern border with China. The two work for former Vice President Al Gore’s San Francisco-based online media venture Current TV.

Somali Refugees Continues Spilling into Kenya

Reuters reports that more than 250,000 Somali refugees live in three giant camps in Kenya, and 100,000 more are expected to arrive before the year’s end. Relief group Oxfam warned the camps in Dadaab, Kenya, constitute “a serious public health crisis caused by a lack of basic services, severe overcrowding and a chronic lack of funding”. The group has already confirmed 20 recent cases of cholera, and says the disease will spread unless drastic measures are taken. “Conditions in Dadaab are dire and need immediate attention. People are not getting the aid they are entitled to,” said Philippa Crosland-Taylor, head of Oxfam GB in Kenya. Many of the refugees have fled Somalia as al Shabaab, a pro-al Qaeda Islamist insurgent group, increases its efforts against the country’s fledgling government.

March 30, 2009

Lights Dim for Earth Hour

From an Antarctic research base and the Great Pyramids of Egypt to the Empire State Building in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago, illuminated patches of the globe went dark Saturday for Earth Hour, a campaign to highlight the threat of climate change. Time zone by time zone, nearly 4,000 cities and towns in 88 countries joined the event sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund to dim nonessential lights from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The campaign began in Australia in 2007 and last year grew to 400 cities worldwide.

Churches Increasing Assistance

Pleas for help — spiritual and financial — are flooding U.S. churches, from tiny congregations to megachurches, as recession woes seep into the pews, a new survey finds. Pastors say they’re giving out benevolent funds in record numbers, increasing ministries to the unemployed and the financially fearful, even reaching into their own pockets more to help. Nearly two in three pastors (62%) report more people from outside their church asking for help, and nearly a third (31%) see more such requests from church members, according to a survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors. The survey, by LifeWay Research, a Christian polling firm based in Nashville, finds that 40% of pastors say they have church members out of work, and 37% say their church has increased spending to help the needy.

Fear of Regulation Drives Gun, Ammo Shortage

Concern that the Obama administration could impose a new ban on some semiautomatic weapons is driving worried gun owners to stockpile ammunition and cartridge reloading components at such a rate that manufacturers can’t meet demand. “We have heard from all across the country that there is a tremendous shortage of ammunition,” said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The Newtown, Conn.-based foundation is a trade organization representing firearms and ammunition manufacturers as well as retail gun shops. He said the current ammunition shortage followed the increase in gun sales.

Cellphone Use while Driving Targeted in Legislation

More than 250 bills prohibiting or restricting cellphone use while driving are pending in 42 state legislatures despite disagreement over the risks cellphones pose and the effectiveness of enforcement. The number is up from about 120 bills in just 18 states 10 months ago, according to an analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a safety research group funded by insurers. Four states — Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina and Texas — are considering banning all types of cellphone usage behind the wheel, including hands-free devices. Watching that legislation are wireless carriers and automakers, which have invested millions of dollars in hands-free technology built into vehicles. At least one insurer is also taking action: Nationwide will soon offer discounts to parents who buy technology that disables their teens’ phones while their vehicles are in motion.

Arizona’s Deficit Looms Large

The deficit looming in Arizona’s state budget is at least $3 billion. That’s a staggering figure, and difficult for state lawmakers to digest, much less the average citizen. How big is $3 billion? If you cut out all general-fund money sent to the state university system, essentially shutting it down; eliminate the state prison system; close the state parks; stop state funding to the arts and welfare services; and get rid of the Commerce Department, you still wouldn’t close the gap. To erase the deficit, every man, woman and child in the state would have to send the treasury $473.28. Arizona ranks second in the nation when it comes to the size of its deficit in comparison to its base budget: 28 percent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only Nevada, another fast-growth state hit hard by the mortgage meltdown, ranks higher.

New York Raises Taxes on Wealthy

Gov. David A. Paterson and leaders of the Legislature have reached a deal to temporarily raise taxes on New York’s highest earners in order to close the state’s yawning budget deficit. The new plan, which would expire after three years, would represent the largest state income tax increase in recent history. The plan would raise $4 billion a year by creating two new tax brackets, the highest one affecting those who earn $500,000 or more. Although the proposed tax has been called a “millionaires’ tax,” it would affect those with incomes starting at $300,000.

GM’s Plans/CEO Rejected, Obama Announces New Plan

General Motors said Monday that Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner is stepping down immediately after the White House rejected restructuring plans submitted by GM and Chrysler. President Obama is expected to announce Monday that his auto task force does not believe the plans General Motors and Chrysler delivered in February can result in viable companies and he is giving them more time, along with an aggressive set of conditions. GM and Chrysler are operating on a combined $17.4 billion in government loans approved by the Bush administration in December. They had until March 31 to prove they were viable to qualify for more loans. The two automakers have asked for another $21.6 billion.

President Obama made a formal announcement Monday morning about his plans for troubled automakers General Motors and Chrysler, which have already been given $17.4 billion to keep them running. General Motors will get 60 days and Chrysler 30 days in which to make a final push toward proving they can run viable businesses. If Chrysler succeeds, it will receive a $6 billion loan. In GM’s case, the officials would not specify how much money the carmaker might receive. The administration held out the possibility of a so-called structured bankruptcy as an option. The Obama administration gave GM and Chrysler failing grades Monday for its turnaround efforts and promised a sweeping overhaul of the troubled companies.

Sales of Second Homes Fall 30%

The National Association of Realtors says sales of vacation homes and investment properties slid 30% last year as tough economic conditions and tight lending requirements shut out buyers. The Realtor group also said Monday that the median sale price of vacation and investment homes dropped 23% to $150,000 as problems in housing market stretched to the second home segment. The Realtor group said sales of primary homes fell 13% to 3.77 million last year.

Holiday Airfares Plunge

This summer could be one of the cheapest in recent memory to fly. Airlines are aggressively slashing ticket prices to fight a falloff in travel caused by the recession Data analyzed by giant Internet travel site Travelocity.com for USA TODAY show fares over the Memorial Day holiday weekend — the start of the summer season — are down sharply from last year. The average domestic round-trip airfare booked for the holiday on Travelocity as of last Monday is $295, down about 10% from a year ago. Fares booked to many popular destinations are down even more. The average fare to Washington, D.C., over Memorial Day weekend, for instance, is down 18% year over year.

Immigration Courts Clogged

The nation’s immigration courts are now so clogged that nearly 90,000 people accused of being in the United States illegally waited at least two years for a judge to decide whether they must leave, one of the last bottlenecks in a push to more strictly enforce immigration laws. Their cases — identified by a USA TODAY review of the courts’ dockets since 2003 — are emblematic of delays in the little-known court system that lawyers, lawmakers and others say is on the verge of being overwhelmed. Among them were 14,000 immigrants whose cases took more than five years to decide and a few that took more than a decade. Some immigration courts are now so backlogged that just putting a case on a judge’s calendar can take more than a year,. In the most extreme cases, immigrants can remain locked up while their cases are delayed. More often, the backlogs leave them struggling to exist until they learn their fate.

  • It is said that the wheels of justice grind slowly, but this is absurd. The entire legal system is bogged down with too much regulation that stands in the way of swift justice, benefitting only the lawyers.

Obama Aims to Bolster Alliances on First Overseas Trip

As President Obama embarks on his first overseas trip as president, he is vowing to listen to his foreign counterparts and strengthn alliances when world powers meet in Europe this coming week to address the economic crisis and work to stem future financial catastrophes. Obama’s jam-packed agenda includes a speech in France on the U.S. trans-Atlantic relationship. He’ll deliver another one in the Czech Republic on proliferation. Then he’s off to hold a roundtable in Turkey with students. He also has plans to meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, as well as a slew of other heads of state as part of a rigorous schedule. While economics certainly will dominate discussions, advisers said nuclear proliferation, cyber threats, climate change, energy security, terrorism, and Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan also will be discussed at G-20, European Union and NATO gatherings.

President Obama will confront resentment over American-style capitalism and resistance to his economic prescriptions. The president will not even try to overcome NATOs unwillingness to provide more troops in Afghanistan when he goes on later in the week to meet with the military alliance. And he will be tested in face-to-face meetings by the leaders of China and Russia, who have been pondering the degree to which the power of the United States to dominate global affairs may be ebbing, says the New York Times.

UN Backs New Global Currency Reserve

A United Nations panel of economists has proposed a new global currency reserve that would take over the US dollar-based system used for decades by international banks. The proposal follows the controversial call by China’s central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, to create a new world currency reserve to replace the greenback as part of an overhaul of global finance. China and many developing countries blame the global crisis on US mishandling of over-extended mortgage loans and investments in them. With the US also borrowing trillions of dollars, it risks hyperinflation, which would considerably weaken the dollar. An independently administered reserve currency could operate without conflicts posed by the US dollar and keep commodity prices more stable.

  • As the one-world government continues to form, the reasons will always appear quite rational. The problem is that greedy, unscrupulous people under the influence of the devil will be in charge.

Sudan’s Indicted President Welcomed at Arab Summit

Sudan‘s president, who is sought by an international court on charges of war crimes in Darfur, received a warm welcome Sunday in Qatar, where he will attend this week’s Arab League summit. The 22-nation Arab League has already said it would not enforce the International Criminal Court’s arrest order for al-Bashir issued on March 4 and the Sudanese leader visited Eritrea, Egypt and Libya over the past week in a show of defiance. Arab countries have been critical of the international tribunal’s decision to issue an arrest warrant, arguing it would further destabilize Sudan as the Darfur conflict enters its seventh year. The Arab-dominated Sudanese government’s battle against ethnic African rebels in the western region has killed up to 300,000 people and driven 2.5 million from their homes since 2003, according to the U.N.

  • Sudan is another example of “peaceful” Islam.

Christian Persecution

Authorities have expelled five Christian missionaries from Morocco on the grounds that they were illegally inciting Muslims to convert, the Interior Ministry said Sunday. The missionaries were caught Saturday during an assembly with Moroccan Muslims in Casablanca, the North African kingdom’s economic capital, and have been sent to Spain by boat, the Interior Ministry said.

Weather Signs

Fargo‘s fears of a catastrophic flood eased Saturday with word that the Red River apparently crested at lower-than-expected levels, and weary residents turned their attention to ensuring their hastily built levees hold up against an onslaught of ice-laden water expected to stay high for at least a week. Forecasters say the river is retreating because cold temperatures have been freezing water that normally would be flowing into the river. By the time that water thaws, the biggest flooding threat should have passed. The mayor of Fargo, N.D., mayor says a levee breach that allowed the Red River to flood an elementary school early Sunday is a “wakeup call” showing the threat that the city faces for the next week. Mayor Dennis Walaker said in a Sunday morning briefing that these things “will continue to happen. I guarantee it.” Blizzard conditions hit N.D. Sunday night adding to the eventual snow melt.

Storms spread misery Saturday from the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast, dumping spring snow that cut power to thousands of Kansas utility customers and spawning tornado warnings and heavy rain across the South. The system also prompted a disaster declaration in Kansas. Bands of spring storms also lashed the Southeast with thunderstorms, baseball-sized hail, flash floods and tornado watches and warnings. The region was still reeling from twisters over the past two days. About 100 roads in southern Mississippi were impassable at the height of the bad weather because of flooding.

Attention shifted to caring for homeless and hungry survivors after a dam burst outside the Indonesian capital, sending a wall of water crashing into homes and killing at least 91 people. More than 100 others are still missing, but hope dimmed Sunday of finding them alive. Hundreds of soldiers, police and volunteers have been digging through the mud and debris, some using hoes or their bare hands, while other rescuers scoured the banks of bloated rivers. But so far, they have turned up mostly bodies. Days of heavy rain caused a large lake bordering a low-lying residential area southwest of Jakarta to overflow early Friday. Hours later, a huge section of the earth wall gave away.

Anchorage Airport Closed by Volcanic Ash

The Anchorage, Alaska, airport remained closed Sunday morning after an erupting volcano shot ash some 45,000 feet in the air on Saturday. Ash from Mount Redoubt fell around the city — Alaska’s largest — resulting in the closure of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. The eruption occurred at about 1:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. ET) Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey told CNN. The volcano erupted four times on Friday, at times shooting ash 51,000 feet into the air.

Signs of the Times

March 28, 2009

FAA to Seal Bird-Strike Records

The federal government plans to block public access to its records of aircraft and bird collisions such as the one that forced a US Airways jet to splashdown in New York’s Hudson River in January. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says that the information could mislead the public and its release could prompt some airports and others not to report incidents, but the proposal is drawing sharp criticism from bird safety experts and public records advocates. The FAA move runs counter to President Obama’s efforts to encourage release of government records.

  • I thought they worked for us?
Big Brother Looming

The UK already is the West’s most surveyed nation – the average Londoner is secretly photographed an average 425 times a day – and officials now are launching a new Big Brother plan that will intensify the observation of civilians, as reported in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.. An anonymous building in a business park on the outskirts of Heathrow Airport is where the MI5 Security Service has begun monitoring all passengers arriving at or flying out of the facility’s terminals from this week onwards. An anonymous building in a business park on the outskirts of Heathrow Airport is where the MI5 Security Service has begun monitoring all passengers arriving at or flying out of the facility’s terminals from this week onwards. No warning has been given of the secret surveillance to the public. The top-secret system near Heathrow uses over a thousand computers.
  • Big Brother is just another term for the New World Order
Nuclear Power Expands

Thirty years after the nation’s worst nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island, U.S. lawmakers are back to praising nuclear power as a safe, alternative energy source to foreign oil. Now, three decades later, fears about climate change have prompted American leaders to once again tout nuclear power as a good source of energy and one that can wean the country off its dependence on oil from overseas. The industry has expanded by spending $4 billion and generating 15,000 jobs in recent years, Nuclear Energy Institute spokesman Tom Kauffman told the newspaper. Seventeen companies have applied with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build 26 reactors.

Economy

Lawmakers on Thursday broadly supported Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s proposal to fix the nation’s financial regulatory system, but cautioned that rushing the changes could do more harm than good. Geithner asked that Congress move “as quickly as you can,” arguing the United States is “still in the midst of a very challenging period” and the government needs more tools to respond.

Vice President Biden says people who collect Social Security will get a special $250 payment sometime in May. The payments are part of the stimulus bill President Obama signed into law in February. Recipients of Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, also will receive the $250 payment. In all, Biden says nearly 55 million people will receive the extra money.

The government says consumers increased spending for a second month in February even though their incomes slipped due to continuing layoffs. The Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending edged up 0.2% in February. That follows a revised 1% jump in January that was even better than the 0.6% rise originally reported. The report says incomes fell 0.2% in February, fourth drop in the past five months, declines that reflect the sizable number of layoffs because of the recession.

Charter Communications, fourth-largest U.S. cable operator, said Friday that it filed for a prearranged bankruptcy reorganization. Charter is based in St. Louis and controlled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. For years the company has ducked insolvency, but it is now coming up against tight credit and billions of dollars of debt coming due.

Some Americans are beginning to see light at the end of a long tunnel. For the past two weeks, the percentage of respondents in The Gallup Poll who say the economy is getting better has been steadily ticking up. Monday through Wednesday, 29% took the optimistic view — the highest number since July 2007. That doesn’t mean everyone’s outlook is rosy — 66% continue to say the economy is getting worse — but it does signal a significant improvement in public attitudes after nearly two years of downbeat forecasts. The percentage seeing better times ahead has nearly doubled since March 9, when 15% said the economy was improving and 78% said it was getting worse.

  • We will experience a short-term turnaround (perhaps a year or two) before the debt bomb explodes and fully destroys the economy.

Economic Consequences

An unprecedented rise in copper prices fueled an economic boom in eastern Arizona that brought new residents, housing and businesses to once-sleepy mining towns. As home foreclosures, layoffs and city budget cuts created financial woes for metropolitan Phoenix, communities such as Morenci, Clifton and Safford still prospered. Now, Safford and neighboring towns are experiencing a reversal of fortunes. Local governments grapple with the double whammy of lower sales-tax revenue and cuts to state shared revenue. Extensive layoffs have been a shock, especially to people who moved to the area in recent years for new jobs at the mines.

Tobacco Tax Increase to Reduce Smoking, Increase Children’s Health

For the estimated 20% of Americans who smoke cigarettes, the impact of a federal excise tax increase that takes effect Wednesday is already being felt as manufacturers have increased prices by 44 to 71 cents a pack. The revenue from the tax increase, which will be used to expand coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to an additional 4 million low-income children, was signed into law in February.

Obama’s Plan for Afghanistan

President Obama, declaring that coalition forces must “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Al Qaeda, called on Friday for thousands of additional U.S. troops and billions of dollars in aid to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president, announcing what he called a “comprehensive new strategy” for the region following a two-month review, outlined an approach to the war that places far more emphasis than before on Pakistan.  Obama said he was ordering 4,000 additional U.S. troops to help train Afghan security forces and was calling on Congress to approve $1.5 billion a year in aid for Pakistan over the next five years.  The increases are aimed at making the security forces, governments and infrastructure of both countries more self-sufficient and stable, as well as capable of taking on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Afghanistan’s president said Saturday that the new U.S. strategy for the worsening conflict in his country is “better than we were expecting” and provides the right solutions for the problems afflicting the region.

  • I’m confused. I thought Obama was elected based on an anti-war platform? But I’m glad he’s seen the light. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban must not be allowed to regroup now that we have them on the run. Pakistan is in a precarious situation and must be protected from Islamic terrorists.

Pakistan

The Obama administration is planning billions in new assistance to Pakistan, yet the record of previous U.S. military and development aid to the strife-torn Muslim country has been marred by a lack of accountability and transparency, according to government reports. Two administration officials said Thursday that President Obama will back a plan to triple non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for five years and make military aid contingent on Pakistan’s efforts to cut government ties to insurgents. The plan will follow the approach by John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Richard Lugar of Indiana, the committee’s top Republican.

A suicide bomber demolished a mosque packed with hundreds of worshippers attending Friday prayers near the Afghan border, killing at least 48 people and injuring scores more, in the bloodiest attack in Pakistan this year. The attack in the Khyber region came hours before President Barack Obama was due to unveil a revised strategy expected to emphasize the need to eradicate militant havens in Pakistan’s northwest. A government official accused Islamist militants of carrying out the bombing in revenge for a recent offensive aimed in part at protecting the major supply route for NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan that passes in front of the mosque.

Israel

Israel‘s Defense Ministry says it has successfully tested a high-tech system designed to intercept incoming rockets. A ministry statement says the Iron Dome system successfully dealt with incoming rockets of the types fired by Palestinian and Lebanese militants in tests this week, terming the test a “milestone.”

Iran

The latest assessment by Israeli military intelligence is that Iran has crossed the technological threshold necessary for building a nuclear weapon, but will hold off for now on actually constructing such a device to forestall stiffer international sanctions. Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday that whether or not Iran builds a nuclear bomb now mainly depends on a strategic decision in Tehran, but he believes the radical Islamic regime will work slowly so as not to give the international community reason to take tougher punitive measures.

Sri Lanka

Western nations urged both sides in Sri Lanka’s long-running civil war to allow for a “humanitarian pause” as U.N. officials on Thursday raised their estimate of the number of civilians trapped in the civil war to up to 190,000. “We are very concerned that the government of Sri Lanka continues its shelling of areas where there are large numbers of civilians, very close to hospitals, very close to civilian facilities,” U.S. diplomat Rosemary DiCarlo told reporters. “The death toll of the civilians continues to rise, and that’s a real concern.”

Somalia

Pirates armed with machine guns pursued and captured a Norwegian chemical tanker off the coast of Somalia on Thursday, the owners said, less than 24 hours after a smaller Greek-owned vessel was seized in the same area. The U.S. 5th Fleet, which patrols the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, confirmed both hijackings and said they happened in the same area but separate from the gulf, one of the world’s busiest — and now most treacherous — sea lanes. NATO announced Thursday that its anti-piracy flotilla of five ships was resuming patrols off the Horn of Africa, joining an international squadron already operating in the region. The flotilla will join at least 20 warships from the EU, the U.S., China, Russia and other navies are patrolling the region in an effort to prevent pirate attacks on the sea lanes around the Horn of Africa.

Thailand

The Thai prime minister rejected calls for his resignation by thousands of anti-government protesters who ringed his office for a second day Friday in a boisterous rally. Supporters of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra have surrounded the government’s main office since Thursday. The demonstrators say Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjavija’s government came to power three months ago through illegal means and are demanding a dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections. Police estimated about 30,000 people gathered outside Government House on Thursday evening.

Weather

Torrential rain caused a colonial-era dam to burst its banks early Friday, sending a wall of muddy water crashing into a suburb of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. The flood killed at least 58 people, left scores missing and submerged hundreds of homes. Rescuers used rubber rafts to pluck bodies from streets that were transformed into muddy rivers littered with motorcycles, chairs and other debris. They predicted the death toll would rise.

Volcanoes

Alaska‘s Mount Redoubt erupted several times Thursday, spewing a more than 12-mile-high cloud that could drop ash on Anchorage for the first time since the volcano began erupting Sunday night. The Alaska Volcano Observatory said the first eruption about 8:30 a.m. shot an ash cloud about 30,000 feet in the air, and the second eruption about an hour later sent ash 65,000 feet high — the highest cloud since the eruptions began. Officials said there were 5 to 10 smaller eruptions later, but none of the plumes went above 20,000 feet.

Signs of the Times

March 27, 2009

Praise Reports

An intense, six-month campaign of Predator drone strikes in Pakistan has taken such a toll on Al Qaeda that militants have begun turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say. The pace of the Predator attacks has accelerated dramatically since August, when the Bush administration made a previously undisclosed decision to abandon the practice of obtaining permission from the Pakistani government before launching missiles from the unmanned aircraft. Since Aug. 31, the CIA has carried out at least 38 Predator strikes in northwest Pakistan, compared with 10 reported attacks in 2006 and 2007 combined. Nearing completion of a revamped strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama said Tuesday the United States will stay on the offensive in its determination to dismantle terrorist operations in the country even as it rethinks its goals in trying to end the 7-year-old war.

Certain Areas of Economy Swelling with Jobs

A handful of states and big industries have added jobs at a remarkably healthy rate throughout the recession, providing hope for job seekers in a tough economy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. About 4.4 million people got new jobs in January, and 3 million more openings were available, BLS data show. Those numbers are down sharply from the start of the recession in December 2007 and weren’t enough to offset the 4.9 million people who lost or quit their jobs in January. But the jobs data do show some bright spots — expanding industries that promise new, stable career opportunities.

  • Every part of the $2.5 trillion health care industry is growing. Hiring has continued non-stop at hospital, out-patient clinics and physician offices. Nearly every job is in demand: nurses, lab technicians, physician assistants.
  • The federal workforce has been growing at a faster rate than local governments’ labor pool, but cities, counties and school districts are adding a greater number of jobs, Fastest job growth: education, police, firefighting and blue-collar jobs connected to infrastructure such as roads.
  • Fastest job growth: education, police, firefighting and blue-collar jobs connected to infrastructure such as roads.

Alzheimer’s on a Relentless Upward Trajectory

The number of people who have Alzheimer’s disease is creeping insidiously higher year after year, adding increasing pressure on the health care system, experts say. An estimated 5.1 million Americans over 65 now have Alzheimer’s. Health care costs for them and for people who have other forms of dementia are more than three times higher than costs for older Americans who are not afflicted. Every 70 seconds, someone in the USA develops Alzheimer’s. The disease slowly erodes the brain and eventually the body and can drag out for years, placing financial burdens on families and the medical system.

Bush vs. Obama

Dr. Paul Kengor of Crosswalk writes, “President Bush, yes, spent money like a drunken sailor, and left the nation with a record $400-billion deficit. President Obama, however, is spending far more money than Bush, with a record $1.8-trillion deficit projected for his first year.”

  • That’s 4.5 times the Bush deficit in just one year. Staggering.

Looming Bankruptcy?

Patrick Woods of GeoStrategic Trends writes, I warned last year that countries can and do go bankrupt. England now has a declared negative net worth, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown is still trying to spend his way out of the meltdown. In an unprecedented move, Brown was upbraided when the Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said that England is out of money, and is in no position to continue the “stimulus” bailout. There is no rational justification for spending ourselves into oblivion, other than to destroy the fabric of our economy. There is increasing justification to believe we are purposely being herded in that direction, to facilitate the coming of the New World Order.”

  • If not bankruptcy, socialism and submission to the New World Order await us.

School Choice Struck Down

Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy reports: “The Arizona Supreme Court struck down two school choice programs that were helping Arizona families. The Arizona Scholarships for Pupils with Disabilities Program and the Disabled Pupils Choice Grant Program allowed parents of foster children and parents of children with special needs to send those children to the school that best meets the children’s needs. This is a terrible result for Arizona students and their parents. Today’s opinion from the Supreme Court ignores the needs of students and penalizes parents for choosing religious schools that meet their children’s needs.”

  • Activist liberal judges continue to thwart the will of the people.

Clinton Off-Base, U.S. Not to Blame for Mexican drug Violence

A former Republican presidential candidate says comments yesterday in Mexico by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton underscore that the Obama administration not only doesn’t understand the nature of the Islamofascist threat in the Middle East, but it also doesn’t understand the nature of the problem posed by drug gangs operating in Mexico and along the U.S. border. Secretary of State Clinton said Wednesday in Mexico City that America’s “insatiable” demand for illegal drugs and inability to stop weapons smuggling into Mexico are partly to blame for violence along the U.S.-Mexican border. Gary Bauer, the president of American Values, says it is a “big overstatement” for Clinton to suggest Mexican drug violence is America’s fault. “The problem is that you’ve got vicious gangs in Mexico. We didn’t create those gangs. They’re not made up of Americans — they’re made up of people who were born in Mexico, and it’s the Mexican government that needs to get those gangs under control,” he contends.

Director of FBI Urges Renewal of Patriot Act

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III urged lawmakers Wednesday to renew intelligence-gathering measures in the USA Patriot Act that are set to expire in December, calling them “exceptional” tools to help protect national security. The law, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, created divisions between proponents, who said it was necessary to deter terrorism, and privacy advocates warning that it tramples on Americans’ civil liberties. Portions of the law are up for reauthorization this year. The measure allows investigators probing terrorism to seek a suspect’s records from third parties such as financial services and travel and telephone companies without notifying the suspect. The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the provision, saying it violates the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. Another provision, permitting roving wiretaps of terrorism suspects, was used 147 times.

  • Privacy vs. protection. A real conundrum. It all depends on who’s in charge. Be very scared.

Another Gov’t Expansion Proposal – Cloaked in Volunteerism

Critics of President Obama’s new civil service bill warn that it denies funding to certain faith-based groups while increasing funding for liberal advocacy groups. Last week, the House passed the “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act” — the GIVE Act — which would expand the national service program, the AmeriCorps, from 75,000 to 250,000 participants. That includes not just young adults, but ages 17 to 100. (The Senate version of the bill is known as the Serve America Act.) The legislation, which would cost an estimated $6 billion over five years, would also create additional “corps” to expand the reach of volunteerism into new sectors, including a “Clean Energy Corps.” A controversial amendment to the GIVE Act that has alarmed some Christians would prohibit civil service volunteers and organizations from “engaging in religious instruction, conducting worship services…or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.”

Economy

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner called for new rules Thursday that would allow regulators to police the darkest corners of the financial markets, including big hedge funds and derivatives trading. The U.S. also needs a single regulator to oversee the biggest financial firms, Geithner told the House Financial Services Committee in prepared testimony. Geithner also called for “substantially more conservative capital requirements” for big firms and consistent standards for executive pay. Policymakers led by Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have spent the past week making the case on Capitol Hill that they need sweeping new powers to regulate financial institutions in order to prevent a repeat of the current banking industry crisis.

  • More regulation = more socialism.

Existing homes sales rose in February as prices fell sharply due to the nation’s increasing supply of distressed properties. Sales of existing homes jumped 5.1% in February. Sales rose in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.72 million units from a pace of 4.49 million units in January, but they are still 4.6% below the 4.95 million-unit level in February 2008. Distressed properties accounted for up to 45% of transactions in February. The national median existing-home price was $165,400 in February, down 15.5% from $195,800 a year ago. That was the second-largest drop on record. Lower interest rates also are bringing buyers off the sidelines. For the week ending March 13, mortgage loan application volume increased 21.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis from a week earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.89% from 4.96%.

Orders for long-lasting manufactured goods unexpectedly rebounded in February, rising for the first time in seven months, according to a government report Wednesday that could bring some cheer to an economy mired in recession. Durable goods include items such as refrigerators and televisions that are expected to last three years or more. Although the news is encouraging, durable goods orders are a volatile indicator, subject to wide fluctuations.

The largest airline trade group predicted Tuesday that the world’s airlines would lose nearly $5 billion this year, double what it forecast three months ago, but said U.S. carriers would fare best. The International Air Transport Association, which represents more than 200 carriers worldwide, estimates the global industry will lose $4.7 billion this year because of the sharp falloff in travel demand caused by the global recession.

Toxic-Asset Purchase Program

The U.S. Treasury on Monday pledged to commit $75 billion to $100 billion of its financial bailout fund to soak up distressed assets now choking bank balance sheets. The Treasury, in its long-awaited announcement of the plan, said the three-part program will provide financing through the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to help public-private investment partnerships buy up to $1 trillion in distressed loans and securities. The Treasury will initially hire five and possibly more investment managers who can demonstrate that they can raise up to $500 million in private funds to buy securities. Applications for these spots are due April 10, with winners to be notified by May 1.

The government’s latest plan to detoxify financial assets gumming up the banking system put the all-clear sign on the stock market, at least for now. The Dow Jones industrial average soared 497 points, or 6.8%, to 7776 for its biggest percentage gain since October. Investors regained $700 billion in paper wealth. The jump in financial stocks was especially encouraging because it shows investors are beginning to think the latest plan might be what it takes.

Will Obama Tax Plan Hurt Religious Groups?

President Obama’s proposed 2010 federal budget contains a 7% cut in charitable tax deductions for the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers. Some religious groups are asking how that will affect their bottom line. The 5% of Americans whose household income exceeds $250,000 a year currently save $350 in taxes for every $1,000 donated to charity; under Obama’s plan, that amount would drop to $280 per $1,000 donation. Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at The Tax Policy Center, a liberal Washington think tank, says the change will result in a 10% drop in charitable giving by wealthy Americans, who typically contribute about 20% of all charitable dollars. In real dollars, Williams projects a decline of about $6 billion in charitable donations because of the change.

U.S. Tightens Security at Mexico Border

Local officials along the U.S.-Mexican border welcome a new federal crackdown against border violence despite concerns that it will create lines of idling cars through neighborhoods and deter crossover traffic. The $184 million plan installs X-ray machines on the border to scan some Mexico-bound vehicles for drugs, weapons and cash, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a White House briefing Tuesday. The department also will upgrade cameras that scan license plates of cars going to Mexico to find those that are stolen or linked to a crime. The initiative aims to dampen drug-related violence that killed 6,300 Mexicans last year and to keep that violence out of the USA. The technology is part of a plan to move 360 federal agents to the 1,930-mile U.S.-Mexican border.

New World Order Signs

China is calling for a global currency to replace the dominant dollar, showing a growing assertiveness on revamping the world economy ahead of next week’s London summit on the financial crisis. The surprise proposal by Beijing’s central bank governor reflects unease about its vast holdings of U.S. government bonds and adds to Chinese pressure to overhaul a global financial system dominated by the dollar and Western governments.

Christian Persecution

The Christian Post reports that some Iranian Christians cannot escape threats even once they leave country. Three Iranian pastors in Athens, Greece, received a letter March 11 stating that, unless they return to Islam, they will found and killed as apostates. The letter, written by a radical group calling themselves “The Hezbelloah Party,” accused the pastors of “anti-Islamic activities” and participation in “espionage organizations” against Iran. “Be aware that in these days that the power of the Islamic world is growing, it’s army and economy’s success have blinded the American and European government and have defeated and scared them,” the letter reads. The group threatened to “fulfill our religious duty towards you” if the pastors do not convert back to Islam. The pastors currently work with Iranian and Afghani expatriates and refugees in Greece.

In a reverse discrimination case, thousands of Angolans have been violently evicted from land owned by the Roman Catholic Church. More than 2,000 families have been evicted since Angolan authorities began returning land to the church that had been seized by the former Marxist state, according to Muluka Miti, a researcher for Amnesty International. The London-based human rights group said people were detained and arrested arbitrarily, and subjected to torture in some cases.

World News

Venezuela’s federal government seized seaports and airstrips in at least four states on Saturday, a move critics say is meant to limit the powers of mayors and governors opposed to President Hugo Chavez. The takeover, ordered by Venezuela’s socialist president last weekend and approved by lawmakers, aims to bring the country’s major transportation hubs under federal control this year.

More than one million people in Darfur will not get their food rations starting in May if Sudan and the United Nations can’t fill gaps left by the expulsion of more than a dozen foreign aid groups, a joint U.N.-Sudanese assessment team said Tuesday. Even if other relief organizations in the region help, those are “Band-Aid solutions, not long-term solutions,” John Holmes, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official, said. Sudan expelled 13 foreign aid organizations and closed three local ones this month after the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western region of Darfur.

North Korea said on Thursday it would restart its weapons-grade nuclear program if the United Nations takes any action to punish it for firing a rocket that Pyongyang claims is a satellite. North Korea mounted a rocket on a launchpad on its northeast coast, American officials said, putting the country well on track for a launch the U.S. and South Korea warned Thursday would be a major provocation with serious consequences. Pyongyang says the rocket will carry a satellite, but regional powers suspect the North will use the launch to test the delivery technology for a long-range missile capable of striking Alaska. They have said the launch — banned by the U.N. Security Council in 2006 — would trigger sanctions.

Two American journalists being held by North Korea may have been led across the border from China by a guide promising them exclusive footage of human trafficking or drug deals, an activist who helped organize their trip said Wednesday. The Rev. Chun Ki-won says he repeatedly warned Laura Ling and Euna Lee by phone not to stray into North Korean territory in the days before their March 17 detention. The two American journalists seized by North Korean border guards are facing “intense interrogation” in Pyongyang for alleged espionage.

Weather

The rising Red River broke a 112-year-old record early Friday and was eroding a dike south of downtown Fargo, N.D., forcing authorities to issue a mandatory evacuation order covering about 150 homes. The river had risen to 40.32 feet early Friday — more than 22 feet above flood stage and inches more than the previous high water mark of 40.10 feet set April 7, 1897. It was expected to crest at up to 43 feet on Saturday. Officials vowed to build the dikes higher, but there was a growing sense the city’s best efforts might not be enough.

A major spring snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow across the Colorado-Wyoming state line on Thursday, canceling hundreds of flights, shutting down schools and making roads treacherous. At least 15 people were treated at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center for injuries from three pileups involving about 50 vehicles on Interstate 25 just south of the state line,. The crashes led Colorado officials to close more than 40 miles of the road south of Cheyenne and a 45-mile stretch between Pueblo and Walsenburg. The highway is the main north-south thoroughfare in Colorado. Officials also closed 20 miles of U.S. 50.

Volcanoes

Alaska’s Mount Redoubt’s first cluster of eruptions in nearly 20 years — a total of six were detected between Sunday night and Monday night — sent a volcanic ash plume more than 9 miles into the air and down into nooks and crannies. The wind took ash away from Anchorage, toward Willow and Talkeetna, near Mount McKinley, North America’s largest mountain. Based on Mount Redoubt’s historical patterns, this activity could continue for weeks or months.

Wildfires

Wildfires that broke out in southern Arizona on Wednesday burned at least 10 structures and forced 20 families to evacuate an area near Sunizona. The fire has burned 2,000 acres as of Thursday in Cochise County. Officials closed State Route 181 and opened a shelter at Ash Creek School in Pearce. Four other blazes that erupted Wednesday afternoon in Cochise and Santa Cruz counties were quickly contained. The fires are due to high winds and low humidity.

Signs of the Times (posted daily)

March 26, 2009

Praise Report

The Christian Post reports that youth worldwide circled the globe with prayer. “Shockwave,” a 72-hour global prayer event organized by Open Doors, began March 6th in New Zealand. Events are slated in at least 30 countries, including India, Malaysia, Japan, South Africa, Ireland, Norway, Germany, Brazil and the United States. Each event focuses on youth praying together for the persecuted church. “This is truly a witness of the unity of the body of Christ when youth from different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and regions of the world join to pray for one cause — to lift up and support through prayer God’s suffering children,” said Scott Ahern, director of Innovative Strategies for Open Doors USA. “I encourage you to journey with us for this exciting international event.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, which is launching a new national campaign to bring unbelievers to Jesus, is up against a major obstacle: motivating its own members to evangelize. But it may be the only effective way to reach people, according to a survey of 15,173 people by LifeWay Research, a Christian research firm. The survey found only two ways most people said they were somewhat or very willing to “receive information” about Jesus: 63% would hear it in a “personal conversation with a family member,” or with a friend or neighbor from the church (56%).Thirteen other ways to reach out — including print advertising, notes on the door, billboards, radio, television and high-tech online efforts — were clearly rebuffed, according to the research released this week. “Baptists like to talk more about evangelism than to actually do it,” says LifeWay director Ed Stetzer.

  • It’s not just the Baptists that are reluctant evangelizers. It’s become especially hard with anti-Christ attitudes and spirits dominating our country. Nevertheless, we applaud the Southern Baptists for their upcoming efforts and pray for success. Every soul saved is precious.

A government list of “cleared” fliers, developed to cut airport hassles for people whose names are confused with suspects on the terrorist watch list, has grown to 80,000 names, records show. The additions to the Transportation Security Administration’s “cleared list” reflect an influx of requests from people asking to be removed from the watch list. The watch list database has expanded 32% since 2007, to more than 1 million entries.

  • On the surface, this appears to be a good thing. However, government lists add to Big Brother’s ability to invade people’s privacy.

The nation’s second largest satellite TV provider — Dish Network — is being sued by the federal government for alleged violations of the national Do Not Call Registry. The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday accused Dish Network of making thousands of phone calls to people on the Do Not Call list. The FTC said Dish is the biggest violator to date, based on the number of complaints to the agency. Dish refused to settle the case, so the government filed suit. It’s the first time the agency has not been able to get an accused company to settle Do Not Call allegations.

  • A government program with teeth! How quaint.

Same-Sex Proposals Sweep across New England

Same-sex marriage proposals are sweeping into New England state legislatures this spring, particularly in places where organized religious opposition may be the weakest. Thursday in New Hampshire, where those with no religion are 29% of the population, nearly matching Catholics (32%) and Protestants (30%), the House of Representatives is expected to vote to legalize same-sex marriage, and “it has a good chance of passing the Senate this week,” says Marty Rouse of the Human Rights Campaign. Friday in Vermont, a gay marriage bill that has passed the Senate goes to the House. Vermont has the highest rate of “nones” in the nation (34%), according to the newly released American Religious Identification Survey. Gov. Jim Douglas announced Wednesday that he intended to veto the bill if it passed.

Economy

The number of laid-off Americans filing initial claims for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week while the number of people continuing to claim benefits set a record for a ninth straight week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Labor said first-time claims rose to a seasonally adjusted 652,000 from 644,000 the week before, and the total number of people claiming benefits was up 122,000 to 5.56 million. A year ago, the weekly jobless claims number was 367,000.

Gasoline topped $2 a gallon at the nation’s gas pumps Thursday, according to the daily survey by AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. AAA says the average price for a gallon of regular gas was $2.009 Thursday, up from $1.933 just a week ago. A year ago, the nationwide average price was $3.261 a gallon. Prices peaked in July last year at $4.114 a gallon.

The battle for a secure retirement is about to get even tougher. Several new surveys of company executives show that they plan to reduce or suspend their company’s retirement-plan contributions this year. Dozens of employers in the past year have already slashed such costs. General Motors, Eastman Kodak, FedEx and Sears Holdings are among the companies that have suspended their 401(k) contributions.

Tumbling interest rates are setting off a mortgage-refinancing scramble among homeowners and pulling undecided buyers into the market. Loan terms for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 4.63% from 4.89% for the week ending March 20, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported Wednesday. That’s the lowest in the history of the survey, which began in 1990. Refinancing accounted for 78.5% of all mortgage applications last week.

French workers burned tires, marched on the presidential palace and held a manager of U.S. manufacturer 3M hostage Wednesday as anger mounted over job cuts and executive bonuses. Rising public outrage at employers on both sides of the Atlantic has been triggered by executives cashing in bonus checks even as their companies were kept afloat with billions of euros in taxpayers’ money and unemployment soars.

  • Unless there is a fairly rapid turnaround, public riots and violence will become more prevalent.

New World Order Signs

The dollar recovered from a plunge Wednesday after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the greenback will remain the world’s “dominant reserve currency.” The dollar initially tumbled after Geithner, responding to a question about a recent essay by the head of China’s central bank, said the U.S. is “quite open” to an increase in the use of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights. SDRs are baskets of currencies made up of the euro, yen, pound and dollar that have served, in limited use, as a reserve asset since 1969.

  • Public comments do not reflect the underlying currents that will eventually (perhaps soon) replace the dollar as the world’s predominant currency.

The president of the European Union Wednesday lambasted President Obama’s costly economic recovery program as “the way to hell.” Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, criticized the $787 billion U.S. stimulus program in unusually sharp comments that highlighted a continuing divide between Europe and the U.S. on crisis-fighting steps. Topolánek said the U.S. was repeating mistakes it made during the Great Depression when it ramped up government spending, and said Washington’s errors would boomerang on Europe.

  • Isolating and debilitating the USA is a key New World Order Strategy

Iraq

A car bomb exploded near a crowded market in a mainly Shiite area of Baghdad on Thursday, killing as many as 20 people, Iraqi officials said, in the sixth major attack in Iraq this month. The blast occurred a day after the U.S. military said overall attacks nationwide have fallen to levels of the early months of the war, which began with the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. The recent uptick in bombings shows the resiliency of the militants who have been hit hard in U.S.-Iraqi military operations and appear to be choosing their targets carefully to maximize the number of casualties as the war enters its seventh year.

The military is racing to inspect more than 90,000 U.S.-run facilities across Iraq to reduce a deadly threat troops face far off the battlefield: electrocution or shock while showering or using appliances. About one-third of the inspections so far have turned up major electrical problems, according to interviews and an internal military document obtained by The Associated Press. Half of the problems they found have since been fixed but about 65,000 facilities still need to be inspected, which could take the rest of this year.

  • There are 90,000 U.S.-run facilities in Iraq? That underscores how dependent upon us they have become. A too hasty withdrawal could have broader impacts than we might have first imagined.

Afghanistan

The multibillion-dollar U.S. aid program in Afghanistan is disjointed, bureaucratic and overly dependent on private Western contractors, according to a report released Thursday with implications for President Obama’s Central Asia strategy. The report by Oxfam, the international humanitarian organization, follows two separate studies last week by the Center for American Progress, a think tank with scholars close to the Obama administration, which called for a sweeping overhaul in the way civilian aid is delivered in Afghanistan. The reports suggest that to succeed, Obama must secure fundamental changes in the weakened U.S. civilian aid bureaucracy, particularly the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). That agency is responsible for $6.9 billion of the total $31 billion in U.S. spending on military and civilian aid to Afghanistan since 2002, according to the Congressional Research Service.

China

China is increasing its military power more rapidly and developing new “disruptive technologies” that are shifting the military balance in East Asia and possibly beyond, a Pentagon report said. The report comes in the aftermath of heightened tensions between the United States and China this month after Chinese vessels harassed the Navy surveillance ship USNS Impeccable in what the U.S. Navy said were international waters in the South China Sea. The incident came just a week after Beijing and Washington resumed military-to-military talks after a five-month suspension over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Weather Signs

People in Fargo, ND, piled sandbags amid snow flurries and subfreezing cold Wednesday along the banks of the Red River hoping to hold back what may become record flooding from snowmelt and heavy rain. Hundreds of volunteers were trying to stop the river on the eastern border of North Dakota from swelling into homes and businesses. The sand-bagging was made harder under a storm that dumped more than a half-foot of snow across the region Wednesday.

In Mississippi, the mayor of the storm-damaged town of Magee says a possible tornado has injured at least 17 people and flattened a church. He says search and rescue teams are still scouring heavily damaged neighborhoods. Heavy fog hampered rescue teams as they tried to determine the extent of the damage. Thunderstorms rumbled across several Southeast states on Thursday, causing power outages, downing trees and producing scattered flooding.

Wildfires

Authorities are fighting a 90-acre brush fire in Martin County, Florida, that has already forced the evacuation of a Stuart elementary school. The fire broke out around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday and quickly spread. Authorities say roughly 100 homes have been evacuated, and 18 houses are threatened.

Signs of the Times

March 21, 2009

Praise Reports

Here’s rare good news about an environmental crisis: We dodged disaster with the ozone layer. A NASA study about ozone-munching chemicals from aerosol sprays and refrigeration shows that disastrous consequences of dangerously high UV levels were avoided when scientists raised warnings in the early 1970s and 193 nations agreed in the1987 treaty called the Montreal Protocol to cut CFC emissions. CFCs had been used in air conditioning, aerosol sprays, foam packaging and other products.

Fannie Mae CEO Defends Retention Bonuses

Mortgage giant Fannie Mae’s chief executive warned Friday that canceling bonuses for workers at institutions receiving federal bailout money could undermine efforts to stabilize the U.S. housing market. The bonuses — including more than $1 million each to four top executives — were needed to “ensure we maintain the skills and experience we need to help keep the mortgage market operating.”

· We’re suffering a severe case of deficit retention disorder. Aren’t these the same execs who caused the problems in the first place? Why would we want to retain them, let alone reward them?

$1 trillion Deficits Estimated for Each of Next 10 Years

President Obama’s budget would generate unsustainably large deficits averaging almost $1 trillion a year over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The DBO predicts Obama’s budget will produce $9.3 trillion worth of red ink over 2010-2019. That’s $2.3 trillion worse than the administration predicted in its budget just last month. Worst of all, CBO says the deficit under Obama’s policies would never go below 4% of the size of the economy, figures that economists agree are unsustainable.

· We were already drowning in debt. Now the ball and chain has been permanently attached to our feet and all hope of breaking through to the surface is gone.

Feds Shut Bank in Georgia; Take Over Credit Unions

Regulators on Friday shut down FirstCity Bank in Georgia, marking the 18th failure this year of a federally insured bank. More are expected to succumb to the prolonged recession. Also, federal regulators on Friday seized control of two large institutions that provide wholesale financing for U.S. credit unions, a move they say was needed to stabilize the credit union system.

Vermont Senate Panel Approves Gay Marriage Bill

A state Senate committee unanimously approved a gay marriage bill on Friday, moving Vermont one step closer to becoming the third U.S. state that allows same-sex couples to legally wed. If approved, Vermont would join Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only U.S. states that allow gays and lesbians to marry. The measure would replace Vermont’s first-in-the-nation civil unions law with one that allows marriage of same-sex partners.

Iraqi Budget Woes Force Security Hiring Freeze

The drop in oil prices has forced Iraq’s military and police to put recruiting on hold even as the U.S. hands over more responsibility for protecting the country. Iraq will also have to scale back purchases of equipment and weapons, raising new questions about its ability to defend the country’s borders and prevent a resurgence of violence.

Iran Leader Dismisses Obama Overtures

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed overtures from President Obama on Saturday, saying Tehran does not see any change in U.S. policy under its new administration. “They chant the slogan of change but no change is seen in practice. We haven’t seen any change,” Khamenei said.

U.S. Suspends Aid to Madagascar

The United States on Friday suspended millions of dollars in aid to the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar, saying the change of government there this week was unconstitutional. The ouster of President Marc Ravalomanana was “tantamount to a coup d’etat.”

Signs of the Times

March 20, 2009

Praise Reports

The Salvation Army recently announced that the 2008 holiday season broke two donation records in the Red Kettle campaign, according to the Christian Post. Despite hard time, donations to the charity hit $130 million, surpassing the previous record by $12 million. The charity also saw a 10 percent spike in donations over the previous year — the largest one-year jump since 1997. “The record level of Red Kettle fundraising this year is an indicator that the American public is still willing to give during times of great need,” said Salvation Army spokesperson Melissa Temme. Still, areas such as Detroit saw significant drops in donations. “So, while this (total giving) is obviously good news, we don’t want to downplay the significant struggles that certain parts of the country are having in terms of fundraising and the fact that the money raised locally stays locally,” Temme said.

Religion News Service reports that a federal appeals court on Monday (March 16) upheld a Texas law that requires public school students to observe a daily minute of silence following the Pledge of Allegiance. “The statute is facially neutral between religious and nonreligious activities that students can choose to engage in during the moment of silence,” a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote. The judges quoted a decision by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that said “It is difficult to discern a serious threat to religious liberty from a room of silent, thoughtful schoolchildren.” The Texas ordinance, which took effect in September 2003, says students can use the minute to “reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student.

The American Family Association, or AFA, is coordinating 1,000 Taxed Enough Already, or TEA, parties to be held at 12 p.m. in front of city halls across the nation. The organization launched a Tea Party Day website just days ago so volunteer organizers may register their protests with AFA. The website also provides a list of other protests across the nation that are not organized by AFA. Michael DePrimo, special counsel to AFA President Tim Wildmon, told WND that AFA has been inundated with e-mails from citizens who want to attend or organize tea parties in their own cities.

Forget the Bonuses: AIG Can’t Repay its Loans, GAO Says

Lost in all the shouting over the $165 million in bonuses paid to executives of disgraced insurer American International Group was this sober message delivered to Congress on Wednesday by a government watchdog: AIG’s ability repay its $170 billion in loans from taxpayers has eroded significantly. Testifying before Congress, Orice Williams, the director of the Government Accountability Office’s financial markets division, said that AIG has had only limited success in restructuring itself, despite more than $170 billion in federal aid in four separate bailouts since last September.

The House moved swiftly to quell public furor over bonuses to AIG executives Thursday, voting by a wide margin to heavily tax the bonuses awarded to employees of the insurer and other companies bailed out by the government. The 328-93 vote imposes a 90% tax on any bonuses given to employees with family incomes of more than $250,000 at firms that received more than $5 billion in bailout money. However, this tax may be subject to legal challenges.

Across Connecticut, anger is erupting against Mr. Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, whose stature in Washington once reflected the state’s beneficial ties with the financial industry. Now, he finds himself a symbol of the political establishment’s coziness with tainted corporations and a target of populist wrath over their excesses, says the New York Times.

Obama may be grandstanding about AIG’s bonuses now, but it’s worth noting that Obama himself is the second biggest benefactor of AIG political contributions.  Second only to Senator Chris Dodd, who is quietly trying to tip-toe away from legislation he inserted into Obama’s “stimulus” spending spree that protected AIG’s bonuses.

· Politics as usual, unfortunately for us. Change? Only on the surface.

AIG Not the Only One giving Bailout Bonuses

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled companies that started the financial mess we are in, are set to give $1 million bonuses to some of their executives. These two companies were bailed out by our government at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac plan to do the same thing AIG did with their tax-money bailout – give some executives $1 million bonuses. The four largest recipients of political donations by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from 1989 through 2008 were Sen. Chris Dodd ($133,900), Sen. John Kerry ($111,000), President Barack Obama ($105,849), and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ($75,550).

· AIG wasn’t a “mistake,” it’s simply the tip of the iceberg. Feigned outrage plays well in the media, but the reality is far different.

Fed to Pump Another $1 trillion into U.S. Economy

The Federal Reserve sharply stepped up its efforts to bolster the economy on Wednesday, announcing that it would pump an extra $1 trillion into the financial system by purchasing Treasury bonds and mortgage securities. Having already reduced the key interest rate it controls nearly to zero, the central bank has increasingly turned to alternatives like buying securities as a way of getting more dollars into the economy, a tactic that amounts to creating vast new sums of money out of thin air. But the moves on Wednesday were its biggest yet, almost doubling all of the Fed’s measures in the last year.

· The “thin air” actually results in more debt that is ultimately laid on we the taxpayers

Treasury Gives Auto Parts Suppliers $5 billion in Loans

Fearing a bottom-up failure of the auto industry if parts makers collapse, the Treasury announced $5 billion in loans for the auto suppliers in an effort to keep the industry running while the government works on a broader restructuring plan. “The program will provide supply companies with much-needed access to liquidity to assist them in meeting payrolls and covering their expenses, while giving the domestic auto companies reliable access to the parts they need,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said. More news is expected early next week on government aid for General Motors and Chrysler — which have asked for a total of up to $39 billion in aid.

· What are the odds that such “loans” will ever be repaid? In recovering from risky real-estate loans, does it make sense to continue making risky loans? The debt-ridden economy is so far out of whack that nothing short of a depression can sort it all out.

Fairness Doctrine

The Left is launching a new and more deceptive strategy to implement the so-called “Fairness” Doctrine — under different names and without a vote in Congress. But their goal remains the same – the silencing of conservative and Christian talk radio. This stealth tactic was exposed in the last few weeks as grassroots opposition threw a wrench in their plans to openly impose the so-called “Fairness” Doctrine. So now, Obama’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is preparing to use substitute regulatory terms like “diversity,” “localism” and serving the Left’s definition of the “public interest” as new, backdoor “Fairness” Doctrines to indirectly impose this radio censorship. Obama’s acting FCC Chairman, Michael Copps, says he believes the government has a role in enforcing media “diversity” — including the re-examination of station licensing and making popular conservative and Christian radio programming somehow “more reflective” of “public interest!”

· Christian persecution is well underway, but still under the radar

House Passes Mandatory National Service Bill

The House passed a bill yesterday which includes disturbing language indicating young people will be forced to undertake mandatory national service programs as fears about President Barack Obama’s promised “civilian national security force” intensify. The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, known as the GIVE Act, was passed yesterday by a 321-105 margin and now goes to the Senate. Under section 6104 of the bill, entitled “Duties,” in subsection B6, the legislation states that a commission will be set up to investigate, “Whether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation and overcome civic challenges by bringing together people from diverse economic, ethnic, and educational backgrounds.”

· Government coercion and intrusion is being ramped up in our steady march into socialism

Iraqi’s Worried about Troop Withdrawal

President Obama has said he will withdraw all combat troops by August 2010 and plans to pull out the remaining U.S. troops by the end of the following year. Talk of such an exit strategy has been greeted with a mixture of disbelief and concern on the Baghdad streets. Since violence plummeted to the lowest levels since 2003, the U.S. military focus has shifted in recent months away from combat operations toward missions of training and equipping Iraqi forces and rebuilding Iraq’s tattered infrastructure. The progress on the security front has resulted in a greater sense of normalcy in the capital, but it has yet to bring many Iraqis the confidence that their own security forces and politicians will be ready to take sole control of governing and protection in the near future. the Iraqi government is still unable to produce enough electricity to meet Iraq’s growing demand, ethnic and sectarian rivalries still beset Iraq’s political scene, and although the level of violence has diminished, bombings and assassinations remain commonplace.

· It’s an odd time to be withdrawing, just when the war has almost been won

Obama Reaches Out to Iran with Video Message

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Obama is reaching out to the Iranian people in a new video with Farsi subtitles, saying the U.S. is prepared to end years of strained relations if Tehran tones down its bellicose rhetoric. The video released Friday was timed to the festival of Nowruz (no-ROOZ), which means “new day” and marks the arrival of spring. It’s a major holiday in Iran. “We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community,” Obama said in the video. “This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”

· Diplomacy doesn’t work with Islamic militants, except when they use our weakness to their own benefit

34 Militants Killed in Two Days of Afghanistan Clashes

Afghan and international forces killed 34 militants in two days of clashes in Afghanistan, U.S. forces said Friday. The operation also destroyed a cache of bomb equipment, the U.S. said.

· While Iraq cools down, Afghanistan heats up. Some called Iraq Bush’s Vietnam. Afghanistan will turn out to be Obama’s Vietnam.

Signs of the Times

March 19, 2009

Praise Reports

Fewer teens are sniffing glue, lighter fluid, spray paint, shoe polish and other easy-to-find substances, a government study said Monday. Almost 1 million youths aged 12 to 17 used some kind of inhalant in 2007, according to the study by the Department of Health and Human Services. That represents 3.9% of adolescents, compared with about 1.1 million — or 4.4% — in 2006. Experts have attributed the drop to ongoing efforts to educate teens about the dangers of inhalant use and encourage parents to discuss the issue with their children.

Advances in public attitudes are sweeping Iraq. Citing the latest ABC News/BBC/NHK Poll, the network says optimism is lifting because of declining violence, rising economic well-being and improved services. The poll finds that 84% of Iraqis now rate security in their own area positively, nearly double its August 2007 level; 78% say their protection from crime is good, more than double its low. Three-quarters say they can go where they want safely – triple what it had been.

U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have flattened at the lowest level since the war began six years ago Thursday. In January and February, 15 U.S. service members were killed in hostile action. That compares with 60 for the same period in 2008 and 149 in 2007. In all, through Tuesday, there have been 4,260 U.S. service members killed in Iraq, 3,424 in combat, since the war began in 2003. Lower combat deaths match the overall drop in violence levels throughout Iraq, military officials and analysts say. In February, there were 340 attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — the top threat to U.S. troops — the lowest number since October 2004, according to Pentagon figures.

U.S. to Sign U.N. Gay Rights Declaration

The Associated Press has learned that the Obama administration will sign a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that President George W. Bush had refused to endorse. U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the French sponsors of the declaration that the administration wants to be added as a supporter of the declaration. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only Western government that refused to sign.

One of the nation’s most prominent dictionary companies has resolved the argument over whether the term “marriage” should apply to same-sex duos or be reserved for the institution that has held families together for millennia: by simply writing a new definition. The new definition references “marriage” as the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife. But the definition also includes “the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage.”

  • Who knew dictionary writers had such power!

U.S. Births Break Record; 40% Out-of-Wedlock

More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any year in the nation’s history — and a wedding band made increasingly little difference in the matter. The 4,317,119 births, reported by federal researchers Wednesday, topped a record first set in 1957 at the height of the baby boom. Behind the number is both good and bad news. While it shows the U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend, the teen birth rate was up for a second year in a row, and births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40%, continuing a trend that started years ago. More than three-quarters of these women were 20 or older.

  • The trend is part of an overall breakdown of society into a Godless morass of misguided morality.

Pope Denounces Condoms

The Vatican defended Pope Benedict XVI’s rejection of condoms as a way to stop HIV after international criticism Wednesday that he was weakening the fight against the disease. France and Germany sharply critiqued Benedict’s declaration that distributing condoms “increases” the AIDS problem. The French foreign ministry said the statement could “endanger public health policies and the imperative to protect human life.” Two German ministers said on Benedict’s first full day as pope in Africa, a continent ravaged by HIV, that it was irresponsible to reject condoms. The U.N. agency charged with fighting AIDS also spoke out in favor of condom use.

  • The Pope didn’t express himself well about this complex topic. He’s right in the overall sense that condom distribution is part of a social dynamic that promotes sex. He’s wrong in the short-term micro viewpoint, because condom use does prevent the spread of all kinds of STDs, including AIDS.

German School Shooter Calls Killing Fun

A man held hostage by a teenager on a shooting spree said in an interview published Wednesday that the boy described killing 12 people at his former high school as “fun” and wanted to attack a second school.

  • Not surprising since violent video games promote killing as entertainment.

Benefits Proposal Outrages Veterans

An Obama administration proposal to bill veterans’ private insurance companies for combat-related injuries has prompted veterans groups to condemn the plan as unethical and powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill to promise their opposition. Nevertheless, the White House confirmed Tuesday that the idea remains under consideration, and a meeting to discuss it further is scheduled for Thursday between chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and leaders of veterans groups.

Obama Secretly Ends Program that let Pilots Carry Guns

After the September 11 attacks, commercial airline pilots were allowed to carry guns if they completed a federal-safety program. No longer would unarmed pilots be defenseless as remorseless hijackers seized control of aircraft and rammed them into buildings. Now President Obama is quietly ending the federal firearms program, risking public safety on airlines in the name of an anti-gun ideology. The Obama administration this past week diverted some $2 million from the pilot training program to hire more supervisory staff.

  • Great. More bureaucrats, less safety. Isn’t socialism grand?

Violence along Border has D.C. Looking Closer

As the Obama administration prepares to send more than 100 federal agents to the U.S.-Mexican border, congressional committees are holding hearing after hearing to learn more about the violent Mexican drug cartels. The latest hearing came Tuesday as Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the public-safety threat posed by cartels smuggling drugs into the United States and U.S. assault weapons into Mexico.

Economy

New jobless claims fell more than expected last week, but continuing claims set a record for the eighth straight week and few economists expect the labor market to improve anytime soon. The Labor Department said Thursday that the tally of initial requests for unemployment insurance dropped to a seasonally adjusted 646,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 658,000. But continuing claims jumped 185,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.47 million.

G-20 finance officials from rich and developing countries pledged Saturday to do “whatever is necessary” to fix the global economy, including supervision of freewheeling hedge funds and restoring bank lending by dealing with the shaky securities burdening their finances. But officials remained cool to a U.S. push for more coordinated government spending to stimulate economies. They called instead on the International Monetary Fund to assess the individual government actions already taken and what more might be required, rather than laying out definite plans to ramp up spending. Officials are wrestling over whether to spend or regulate the way out of the global downturn.

U.S. housing construction showed unexpected gains in February, but economists warn that the battered sector may suffer more before hitting bottom. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that construction of new homes and apartments jumped 22.2% in February compared with January. The gain in housing starts was the first in eight months. Even with February’s big increase, housing starts were 47% below their level the same time last year, the Commerce Department said.

The number of Americans who think another Great Depression will occur within the next year is on the rise, a poll released Tuesday shows. Forty-five percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey said another depression is likely, up from 38% last December.

The Bank of England says that the U.K. is displaying early symptoms of being trapped in a so-called “debt deflation trap” where families find themselves pushed further and further into the red every month. The stark warning will cause serious concerns, since it was this combination of falling prices and soaring debt burdens that plagued the US in the 1930s. The Bank is using its Quarterly Bulletin to highlight the threat posed to the economy by deflation – where prices fall each year rather than rise.

Economic Consequences

Companies that specialize in church mortgages report that foreclosures and delinquencies for congregations are on the rise as the tough economic times start to make their impact at the offering plate. With credit scarce, church construction sites have gone quiet, holding shells of sanctuaries that were meant to be completed months ago. Congregants have less money to give, and pastors who stretched to buy property in the boom are struggling to hold onto their churches.

The government says the U.S. trade deficit plunged in January to the lowest level in six years as a deepening recession cut demand for imported goods. The Commerce Department said Friday that the trade imbalance dropped to $36 billion in January, a decline of 9.7% from December and the lowest level since October 2002. Crude oil imports dropped to the lowest point in three years. Demand for a wide variety of other foreign goods from autos to heavy machinery and household appliances also declined.

  • At least one deficit is down.

Led by Republican Governors Association chairman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a group of conservative GOP governors has rejected or considered rejecting the unemployment money or other funding from the $787 billion stimulus package. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Bob Riley of Alabama also have rejected the unemployment money. Texas Gov. Rick Perry rejected $555 million in federal stimulus money that would expand state unemployment benefits, saying the money would have required the state to keep funding the expanded benefits after the stimulus money ran out.

Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis said that the largest U.S. bank was profitable in January and February and should be able to ride out the recession without new help from the nation’s taxpayers. Also, Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons said the bank does not need any more capital injections from the government and expressed confidence that Citi will remain in private hands.

American International Group gave its executives $165 million in new bonuses even though it received a taxpayer bailout of more than $170 billion dollars. Insurance giant AIG will have to return to the Treasury Department the $165 million it just paid out in executive bonuses, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Tuesday in a letter to congressional leaders. “We will impose on AIG a contractual commitment to pay the treasury from the operations of the company the amount of the retention awards just paid,” Geithner wrote. “In addition, we will deduct from the $30 billion in assistance an amount equal to the amount of those payments.” ·

  • Any company that suffers losses should not be paying out bonuses for failure, let alone one that accepts government bailout money

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has chronicled the news of the city since logs slid down its steep streets to the harbor and miners caroused in its bars before heading north to Alaska’s gold fields, will print its final edition Tuesday and shift entirely to the Web.

As the dismal economy spawns desperate measures, some Americans are resorting to a hazardous practice: stealing electricity. Many utilities say energy theft has risen sharply during the economic downturn. Culprits include residential customers whose power is turned off when they fall behind on their bills and small businesses struggling to keep their doors open.

While new car sales continue to fall, many dealers are finding buyers are willing to spring for a good used car instead. The volume of used cars sold through dealers rose 3.1% in February compared with last year, the first year-over-year increase in 12 months. By contrast, new car sales slid 41.4% in February from a year ago.

The number of mortgage fraud reports among loans made last year grew 26% from a year earlier, according to a study released Monday by the Mortgage Asset Research Institute. The increase came as lenders dramatically tightened their standards, making it more difficult for borrowers to qualify for home loans without large down payments, solid credit and proof of their incomes.

A global fall in the demand for milk has dropped wholesale prices so low that Arizona dairy farmers have begun slaughtering cows to stay in business. The lower demand, last year’s high grain prices, increased production from other countries and last year’s scandal in China involving milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine are all causing Arizona dairymen to lose about $100 per cow per month, experts say.

Across the nation, the deepening financial crisis is forcing dramatic changes in the hard-line, punishment-based philosophy that has dominated the USA’s criminal justice system for nearly two decades. As 31 states report budget gaps that the National Governor’s Association says totaled nearly $30 billion last year, criminal justice officials and lawmakers are proposing and enacting cost-cutting changes across the public safety spectrum, with uncertain ramifications for the public. While some analysts believe the philosophical shift to behavior modification and softer sentences is long overdue, others fear it could undermine public safety.

State and local governments are turning to user fees to raise quick cash — from increases on hunting licenses to fees for enrolling in the Little League. One town is considering charging accident victims who need to be extricated from their cars. As cities and states struggle with sinking property values and declining sales tax revenue, many see raising fees as more acceptable to voters than increasing income taxes and sales taxes.

Sagging endowments and other shrinking revenue streams are challenging the status quo at the nation’s seminaries, most of which aren’t cushioned by a link to an endowed university. Among the 175 “free-standing” institutions in the Association of Theological Schools, 39% were “financially stressed,” with less than a year’s worth of spendable assets, a fall 2008 report says. That’s up from 26% a year earlier. Making matters worse, enrollments at ATS schools have dropped 4% since 2006, marking the first consecutive-year decline in more than 20 years.

A new wave of nationwide strikes by angry French workers demanding that President’s Nicolas Sarkozy do more to fight the economic crisis hit France on Thursday. Rail traffic was disrupted throughout France. About one-third of medium-haul flights were affected at Orly, Paris’ second airport. Schools, hospitals and the postal service and public transport also were affected as many teachers, medical workers and letter carriers did not report for work.

New World Order Signs

Russia published its priorities Monday for an upcoming meeting of the G20, calling for the creation of a supranational reserve currency to be issued by international institutions as part of a reform of the global financial system. The Kremlin has persistently criticized the dollar’s status as the dominant global reserve currency and has lowered its own dollar holdings in the last few years.

The International Monetary Fund is poised to embark on what analysts have described as “global quantitative easing” by printing billions of dollars worth of a global “super-currency” in an unprecedented new effort to address the economic crisis. Alistair Darling and senior figures in the US Treasury have been encouraging the Fund to issue hundreds of billions of dollars worth of so-called Special Drawing Rights in the coming months as part of its campaign to prevent the recession from turning into a global depression. However, economists warned that the scheme could cause a major swell of inflation around the world as the newly-created money filters through the system.

A U.N. panel will next week recommend that the world ditch the dollar as its reserve currency in favor of a shared basket of currencies, a member of the panel said on Wednesday, adding to pressure on the dollar. Currency specialist Avinash Persaud, a member of the panel of experts, told a Reuters Funds Summit in Luxembourg that the proposal was to create something like the old Ecu, or European currency unit, that was a hard-traded, weighted basket.

  • So many different proposals about the dollar. One thing is clear though: the NWO folks want to diminish the influence of the dollar and, therefore, the USA.

Reports question U.S. shield of Europe

After 24 years and more than $100 billion spent to develop a U.S. missile defense, an American-operated system proposed for Europe would cost billions more to deploy and still may fail, a series of independent reports concludes. The type of ground-based interceptors that would be deployed in Europe failed to hit targets in five of 13 tests, according to the Pentagon. They have not demonstrated an ability to detect decoys, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says. The Europe system has not been tested.

  • Typical government ineptitude.

Israel

Before heading into a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana insisted that the 37-nation alliance would seriously consider a re-evaluation of its relations with Israel if incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to pursue a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian conflict.

Israel rounded up 10 Hamas leaders in the West Bank early Thursday, two days after indirect talks between Israel and the Islamic militant group on a prisoner swap broke down. Hamas in the West Bank has been the target of a crackdown by Israel and the security forces of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the past two years, ever since the militants seized Gaza by force.

Iran

Russian news agencies say a top defense official has confirmed that Russia has signed a contract to sell S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran but that none of the weapons have been delivered. Supplying the powerful S-300s to Iran would markedly change the military balance in the Middle East.

Iraq

American forces will still conduct joint combat operations even after they pull back to bases outside Baghdad and other cities as part of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement. Brig. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, a deputy commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, said the redeployment to the periphery will actually help improve security in the capital because U.S. troops can help stop militants from using bases in rural areas to stage urban attacks.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber wearing a police uniform blew himself up inside a police headquarters in southern Afghanistan, killing nine people and wounding at least 24 others. Police official Kamal Uddin said eight of those killed and 21 wounded were police officers.

In a poll taken Saturday and Sunday, 42% of respondents said the United States made “a mistake” in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30% in February. That’s the lowest mark since the poll first asked the question in November 2001 when the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban government that sheltered al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks.

Pakistan

Hundreds of U.S. soldiers recently deployed near the Afghan-Pakistani border have seen clashes and attacks double in early 2009 compared with 2008. A suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy in Kabul last Sunday but instead killed two passersby. Up to 50 militants attacked a terminal for trucks carrying supplies to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan early Monday, in the second such assault in northwest Pakistan in two days.

Rising Taliban attacks have raised doubts about the reliability of critical supply routes through Pakistan, prompting the U.S. and NATO to seek alternatives.

A suicide bomber blew up at a busy bus terminal near the Pakistani capital Monday, killing at least nine people and wounding 18 more.

Pakistan’s government relented in a major confrontation with the opposition Monday, agreeing to reinstate a fired Supreme Court chief justice whose fate had sparked street fights and raised fears of political instability. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s announcement also promised the restoration of a handful of other judges who had remained off the bench since then-President Pervez Musharraf sacked them in 2007. He further ordered the release of activists arrested over the past week and appealed for political reconciliation in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation that also faces an economic crisis.

Switzerland: No more Secrecy in Tax Evasion Cases

The Swiss government says it will cooperate on cases of international tax evasion, breaking with a long-standing tradition of bank secrecy. The Finance Ministry under President Hans-Rudolf Merz said Friday that it will adopt standards set by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for countries working together against tax havens. Switzerland had refused to commit since the standards were written in 2000. Switzerland is hoping to avoid being blacklisted when world powers meet in April to discuss stepping up their fight against tax cheats.

Sudan to Throw Out Aid Workers

Having already ousted 13 foreign aid groups from the Darfur region, Sudan’s president said Monday he would expel all international aid workers from the country over the next year, a move that threatens to cut off millions from their only source of food and water. The announcement by Omar al-Bashir, who this month became the target of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity relating to killings in Darfur, prompted new calls for President Obama to respond to what the United Nations calls a looming humanitarian disaster. The United Nations has said that 1.1 million people in Darfur refugee camps will soon be without food and medicine.

Bin Laden Rallies Somali Militants

Al-Qaeda’s chief Osama bin Laden urged Somali militants to overthrow the country’s new president in a new Web audiotape posted Thursday, trying to torpedo a new push for peace in a lawless African nation where many fear al-Qaeda is gaining a foothold. The 11 1/2-minute audiotape aimed to rally Islamic militants at a time when the new president, moderate Islamist Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, is working to split their ranks and pull in some to support his government. For years, Islamic militant groups — including ones linked to al-Qaeda — have battled the feeble U.N.-backed central government, which controls only a small part of the capital, Mogadishu.

Madagascar

Madagascar’s highest court has accepted the army’s decision that the toppled president’s rival should replace him. The State Department on Tuesday ordered all nonessential staff at the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar and the families of all American personnel there to leave the country due to the uncertain security situation after the ouster of the Indian Ocean island’s president.

Needs Increasing in Haiti

Mission News Network reports that Haiti’s people face an increasingly dire situation, as unemployment, food costs and shortages and abandoned children continues to rise. “Things have changed for the worse,” said Tom Froese, field director for Kids Alive International. “There are a few things that change for the better temporarily, and they take a couple of steps backward. But basically things are pretty rough in the community.” Kids Alive currently houses 21 children, but the need is astronomical. “We have seen fuel costs rise as high as $5 a gallon. Food costs have risen. Rice prices, for a bag of rice has tripled. That’s put big expense on our ministry to try and meet those costs with the budget that we have… I believe the Christian church is the only hope for this country. It’s so morally bankrupt that there is a need for strong Christian influence.”

Weather Signs

Agriculture officials said that ranchers in the nation’s largest cattle-producing state have already lost nearly $1 billion because of Texas’ ongoing drought. Officials said cattle raisers have lost $829 million since last summer, $569 million of that since November. Recent rains across much of the state, though welcome, came too late. Ranchers have spent substantial money on hay and supplemental feed, the cost of trucking in additional hay. The drought losses also include failed wheat crops usually used for grazing and has forced ranchers to sell off herds of cattle .

Pestilence

At least 3% of Washington, D.C., residents are HIV-positive or have AIDS, triple the threshold for a “generalized and severe” epidemic, The Washington Post reports. Shannon Hader, director of the District’s HIV/AIDS Administration, told the Post that “every mode of transmission” — men having sex with men, heterosexual and injected drug use — is on the rise.

Environment

Ten times more oil than originally thought leaked from a ship to blacken miles of white sand beaches along Australia’s northeast coast. Queensland state Deputy Premier Paul Lucas told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Saturday that officials originally thought between 5,300 and 7,900 gallons of oil had leaked from the ship. Lucas said it is “now apparent” that the amount of oil spilled was around 60,700 gallons Queensland officials accused the company of initially misleading the government about the size of the spill.

Signs of the Times (posted Fridays)

March 13, 2009

Praise Reports

The Arizona House of Representatives passed four important pro-life and pro-family bills! HB 2564, the Abortion Consent Act, passed 36-19. HB 2400, the state ban on partial-birth abortion, passed by a vote of 37-19. HB 2286, the charitable tax credit simplification, passed 55-1. HB 2288, allowing the corporate scholarship tax credit to continue beyond 2011, passed 33-23. The Arizona House sent a strong message that a strong majority of the House is committed to Arizona families. These bills now go to the Senate for further consideration.

The rally in world stock markets continued Friday as confidence remained buoyed by some signs of a stabilization in U.S. consumer spending and hopes of fresh stimulus packages in China and Japan. Positive comments from Bank of America Corp.’s chief executive Ken Lewis also helped sustain the market optimism that was stoked earlier this week by buoyant comments from Citigroup Inc.’s CEO Vikram Pandit.

Heather McNamara, 7, was discharged from a New York hospital Tuesday after a daring, high-risk operation last month in which doctors removed six vital organs so they could take out a baseball-sized tumor that had invaded her abdomen and threatened her life. The marathon Feb. 6 operation lasted 23 hours. It was the first of its kind in a child and the second in the world, said the lead surgeon, Tomoaki Kato. In effect, the young cancer patient was both the donor and recipient of her own organs. Kato’s team removed and chilled the child’s stomach, pancreas, spleen, liver and small and large intestines as they would for transplantation, so they could be restored after the tumor was taken out.

President Obama’s call to community service is getting a big boost from the recession. Online applications are coming in three times faster than a year ago at AmeriCorps, which was created by former president Bill Clinton in 1993 and strongly supported by former president George W. Bush. Those who are accepted into the program agree to serve for roughly a year, for an allowance of just $11,400, tutoring needy children, building houses in poor communities, helping the elderly sign up for health care, responding to natural disasters and more. Obama wants to expand the program to accommodate both the growing need and desire to perform community service. He is proposing $1.13 billion in next year’s budget for the umbrella corporation. That would be a $241 million increase from this year’s budget and it would pave the way for AmeriCorps to expand from 75,000 positions to 250,000 in coming years.

Limits on Stem Cell Research Removed

President Barack Obama made his most forceful break yet from his predecessor’s scientific agenda Monday, opening the door to a major expansion of government-funded research on embryonic stem cells and ordering federal agencies to strengthen the role of science in their decision-making. Anti-abortion groups and some conservative Republican lawmakers denounced Obama’s order on ethical and practical grounds. Scientific advances have helped transform regular adult cells into ones that resemble embryonic stem cells. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, House Republican whip, said in a statement that “today’s action is about forcing taxpayers to fund ethically troublesome – and unproven – research that destroys life.”

Religion

The percentage. of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely. These dramatic shifts in just 18 years are detailed in the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). It finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990. Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%. Jewish numbers showed a steady decline, from 1.8% in 1990 to 1.2% today. The percentage of Muslims, while still slim, has doubled, from 0.3% to 0.6%.

A closer look at the “Nones” — people who said “None” when asked their religious identity — shows that this group (now 15% of Americans, up from 8% in 1990) opts out of traditional religious rites of passage: 40% say they had no childhood religious initiation ceremony such as a baptism, christening, circumcision, bar mitzvah or naming ceremony; 55% of those who are married had no religious ceremony; 66% say they do not expect to have a religious funeral.

Religion News Service reports that mainline Protestant clergy are inching leftward. Over the last decade, increasing numbers are identifying themselves as Democrats, supporting gay rights and calling on the government to solve social problems, according to the “Clergy Voices” study released March 6. Support for “gays and lesbians to have the same rights and privileges as other Americans” rose 9 percent to nearly 8 in 10 clergy.

· In these latter days, it is the so-called “mainline” denominations who will continue to move toward the secularized “values” of the New World Order.

Christian Persecution

ASSIST News Service reports that Libyan intelligence officials have detained and tortured four Christians for converting from Islam. According to International Christian Concern (ICC), a Christian human rights group, the Christians have been imprisoned for the past seven weeks in Tripoli, Libya’s capital.

Following widespread outrage from Roman Catholics, Connecticut lawmakers have postponed a highly anticipated public hearing over a state law that would dictate how local parishes must organize their governing structures. The bill, proposed last week by the co-chairmen of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, and Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, would reorganize the internal structure of local parishes to remove priests and bishops from financial oversight in order to replace them with boards of laypeople.

· Over the next few years, we will see increasing interference of government in Christian affairs

Homeschooling Under Attack

A North Carolina judge has ordered three children to attend public schools this fall because the homeschooling their mother has provided over the last four years needs to be “challenged.” The children, however, have tested above their grade levels – by as much as two years. A statement released by a publicist working for the mother, whose children now are 10, 11 and 12, said Mangum stripped her of her right to decide what is best for her children’s education.

· Why is homeschooling under attack? Because Christians do it to avoid our Godless public school system.

Weather Signs

The first two months of 2009 are the driest start of any year since the USA began keeping records over a century ago, leading to severe drought in Texas, dipping reservoir levels in Florida and a surge in wildfires across the nation. Farmers, cattlemen, firefighters and others worry that the dry start may be a harbinger of a bleak summer that could lead to increasing risk of fire and poor crop conditions.

Highway crews labored Wednesday to carve through snowdrifts that a blizzard piled up 10 feet high as hundreds of stalled motorists waited in bitter cold in North Dakota. Snow accumulations included 13.5 inches at Red Lake Falls, Minnesota. The storm was linked to at least four deaths.

Rivers have spilled over and flooded homes and businesses and across thousands of acres of farmland across Ohio’s northwest corner, forcing some to leave for higher ground. The Tiffin River early Thursday was just a half-foot lower than its all-time record flood.

Nearly 40 miles of Australian beaches have been blackened by oil spilled from a cargo ship caught in stormy seas this week, leading the state premier Friday to declare the area a disaster zone and warn the ship’s operators could face legal action. Popular tourist spots along the Sunshine Coast, as well as Moreton Island and Bribie Island, were declared disaster zones.

Speakers at a conference on climate change are making the case that the alarmism behind the global-warming bandwagon is politically motivated, has nothing to do with science, and could affect the sovereignty of the U.S. The second annual International Conference on Climate Change hosted by The Heartland Institute is well under way in New York City. More than 700 registrants have gathered in the Big Apple to hear more than 70 scientists — representing the views of tens of thousands of their colleagues — make the argument that media and environmental advocacy groups have it all wrong, that global warming is not a crisis. One of the headlining speakers to open the event Sunday evening was European Union and Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, who was welcomed with a standing ovation. Klaus, one of the most outspoken critics of manmade global warming in Europe, says those who propagate global-warming hysteria are like the communists of old Europe. Like global-warming alarmists, he stated, the communists did not listen to opposing views.

Wildfires

So far this year, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise has logged 11,814 wildfires in January and February, the most for any two-month period in a decade and almost 3,700 more than the average.

‘Virtual Fence’ Gets Second Chance on Border

The Homeland Security Department is accelerating plans to build a costly and long-troubled “virtual fence” of sensors and cameras along the U.S.-Mexican border, aided by $100 million from the economic stimulus package. The government already has spent $600 million and built a failed prototype of the high-tech network that would be used by border agents to try to catch illegal immigrants and drug runners. A 28-mile test patch built in Arizona over the past two years had so many problems that it was scrapped. The department is now embarking on what its officials and members of Congress are calling a “do-over” on the same land near Tucson and another along 30 miles in Ajo, Ariz.

The U.S. will soon send a large contingent of federal agents to its southern border to help stem recent violence in northern Mexico, the nation’s Homeland Security chief said Thursday. The new initiative will mobilize more border-enforcement teams, multiply the number of intelligence analysts working on the border and step up searches of vehicles going into Mexico from the U.S., Janet Napolitano said.

Economic Signs

Congress on Tuesday sent President Obama a once-bipartisan bill to fund the domestic Cabinet agencies that evolved instead into a symbol of lawmakers’ free-spending ways and penchant for back-home pet projects. The $410 billion bill is chock-full of pet projects and includes significant increases in food aid for the poor, energy research and other programs. It was supposed to have been completed last fall, but Democrats opted against election-year battles with Republicans and former President George W. Bush. The measure was a top priority for Democratic leaders, who praised it for numerous increases denied by Bush.

Lower tax revenue and massive government spending on the bank bailout pushed the federal deficit to $765 billion in the first five months of the budget year, well on its way to hitting the Obama administration’s projection of a record annual imbalance of $1.75 trillion. With seven months left in the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30, the deficit already has shattered last year’s record annual gap of $454.8 billion. The Treasury Department also said Wednesday that the February deficit reached $192.8 billion. That’s a record for the month and up 10 percent from a year ago

Americans’ net worth plunged a record 17.9% in 2008 as the value of their homes, stocks and other assets dropped swiftly, the Federal Reserve said Thursday in a report that did not bode well for consumer spending and the overall economy this year. With net worth dropping so much, consumers are likely to focus on saving, not spending, as they realize they can’t rely on their homes and stock portfolios as ever-rising sources of income.

Half of the world’s wealth has disappeared. The Asian Development bank estimated that financial assets lost around the world may have amounted to over $50 trillion in value, a collapse of wealth equivalent to a year’s worth of world economic output. The World Bank also predicted that world gross domestic product, or GDP, will decline for the first time since World War II, with the likelihood world GDP will experience a decline of 5 percent over 2008 figures.

Foreclosure filings in February jumped nearly 6% from January, despite foreclosure moratoriums and prevention programs around the country. Foreclosure filings were reported on 290,631 properties in February, up almost 30% from February 2008. The top foreclosure rates occurred in Nevada, Arizona and California.

Last year’s stock market collapse left the nation’s 100 largest private pension plans with a deficit of $217 billion, or 79% of the assets needed, which could force companies to invest more money in their plans when they can least afford it. That compares with an $86 billion surplus — 109% of estimated liabilities — at the end of 2007.

The unemployment rate in Michigan was 11.6%, up 4.3 percentage points from a year earlier. The unemployment rates in California, Rhode Island and South Carolina rose in January to top 10%. There were a few states with unemployment rates significantly below the national average of 8.1%. The unemployment rate in January was 3.7% in Wyoming, the lowest for any U.S. state. Jobless rates were also below 5% in Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

Economic Consequences

Here’s a sign of how bad the economic crisis is getting around the world: Almost anywhere you go, pawnshops are thriving. In China, where pawnshops first appeared 2,000 years ago, the government reports a 10% increase in requests to open new stores. As elsewhere, the lack of bank loans and spiraling unemployment push people to sell jewelry, purses and even property. In Mexico, the country’s largest pawnbroker, Nacional Monte de Piedad, saw a 10% jump in business in January and February. In Australia, sales at national chain Cash Converters have gone up 15%.

Like the rest of us, the richest people in the world have endured a financial disaster over the past year. Today there are 793 people on Forbes‘ list of the World’s Billionaires, a 30% decline from a year ago.

Casualties of the economic downturn include easy credit, rising home values, stable retirement investment accounts and 4.4 million jobs. According to a new survey, as the recession was beginning, slightly more people were “thriving” than “struggling.” By the end of the year, after an economic meltdown that began with the subprime mortgage crisis, Americans by an overwhelming 20 percentage points were “strugglingrather than “thriving,” 58%-38%. The remaining 4% were “suffering,” in more dire straits. The index categorizes respondents based on how they rate their current lives as well as their expectations of where they will be in five years. Among those showing the steepest drop were African Americans, business owners and executives, and people who were 35-39 years old — a stage in life when many are building careers, expanding families and buying homes. Among those with the smallest decline were Hispanics, seniors 65 and older, and repair workers, whose skills suddenly may be more in demand as Americans try to make do with what they have.

As the economy fell, the percentage who reported having trouble paying for needed health care or medicines during the previous 12 months rose from 18% in January 2008 to 21% in December, according to the poll of 355,334 Americans. Each percentage point change in the full survey represents about 2.2 million people.

While the recession has claimed 4.4 million jobs, the economy has created others, many of them for highly trained and specialized professionals. More than 2 million jobs openings now exist across a range of industries, according to government data. Job seekers beware, though. An average of nearly five people are competing for each opening. That’s up sharply from a ratio of less than 2-to-1 in December 2007, when the recession was just starting and nearly 4 million openings existed. Broadly, jobs are being added in education, health care and the government, the Labor Department said, with the government adding 9,000 new jobs last month alone. Many of the openings are for highly trained or specialized professionals.

Tens of thousands of jobs created by the economic stimulus law could end up filled by illegal immigrants, particularly in big states such as California where undocumented workers are heavily represented in construction, experts on both sides of the issue say. Studies by two conservative think tanks estimate immigrants in the United States illegally could take 300,000 construction jobs, or 15% of the 2 million jobs that new taxpayer-financed projects are predicted to create. They fault Congress for failing to require that employers certify legal immigration status of workers before hiring by using a Department of Homeland Security program called E-Verify. The program allows employers to check the validity of Social Security numbers provided by new hires. It is available to employers on a voluntary basis.

China‘s premier expressed concern Friday about its massive holdings of Treasuries and other U.S. debt, appealing to Washington to safeguard their value, and said Beijing is ready to expand its stimulus if the economy worsens. Premier Wen Jiabao noted that Beijing is the biggest foreign creditor to the United States and called on Washington to see that its response to the global slowdown does not damage the value of Chinese holdings.

· All China needs to do is call in their debt and the U.S.A is bankrupt

Iran‘s president is blaming the West for the global economic meltdown and says capitalism is collapsing. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an opening speech at the Economic Cooperation Organization summit in Tehran on Wednesday. The summit involves 10 regional countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

· Unfortunately he’s right, but it isn’t capitalism’s fault. Greed and avarice are the culprits.

U.S. on Short End of Health Care ‘Value Gap’

If the global economy were a 100-yard dash, the U.S. would start 23 yards behind its closest competitors because of health care that costs too much and delivers too little, a business group says in a report released Thursday. The report from the Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs of major companies, says America’s health care system has become a liability in a global economy. The Business Roundtable report says Americans in 2006 spent $1,928 per capita on health care, at least two-and-a-half times more per person than any other advanced country. The report took those costs and factored benefits into the equation. The United States is 23 points behind five leading economic competitors: Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France. The five nations cover all their citizens. The cost-benefit disparity is even wider — 46 points — when the U.S. is compared with emerging competitors: China, Brazil and India. Other countries spend less on health care and their workers are relatively healthier, the report said.

Hamas condemns rocket fire on Israel


Hamas rulers on Thursday voiced rare criticism of Palestinian rocket fire on Israel, saying now was the wrong time for such attacks. The criticism comes as Hamas is trying to reach a long-term cease-fire with Israel and holding reconciliation talks with Fatah in Cairo. Hamas apparently is wary of disrupting these efforts. The group has fired thousands of rockets into southern Israel over the past few years, but it said Thursday that it has not been involved in recent attacks, including two rockets fired Wednesday.

Iraq/Afghanistan

BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber struck tribal leaders touring a market in a Sunni area west of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing as many as 33 people in the second major attack in the capital area in two days. The bombing was part of a spike of violence that comes as the U.S. military begins drawing down its forces. On Sunday, a suicide attacker killed about 30 people near a police academy in east Baghdad.

BRUSSELS (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged NATO members to jointly confront al-Qaeda and other extremist groups in Afghanistan where he said instability threatens all of the alliance’s members equally. Appearing before NATO’s top decision making body, Biden solicited ideas to reverse a losing military strategy in Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama’s policy to bring more European allies on board to fight the Taliban-led insurgency. Attacks on Afghan security forces increased nearly threefold last year as U.S. officials struggled to find enough personnel to train them.

Pakistan

A political crisis in Pakistan escalated Monday when the government threatened to bring treason charges against the main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif. Sharif is calling on Pakistanis to participate in a five-day anti-government march on the capital starting Thursday. That raises the prospect of thousands of people taking to the streets at a time when President Asif Ali Zardari’s popularity is low because of economic problems and terrorist attacks. The government is worried enough that Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said Monday that if violence breaks out during the march, Sharif and other opposition leaders could face sedition charges. Pakistan’s opposition leader predicted President Asif Ali Zardari won’t serve his full five-year term as police Friday turned away another convoy of protesters trying to reach the capital for a major anti-government demonstration.

Somalia Votes to Implement Sharia Law

Mission News Network reports that Somalia’s new government has voted to implement Islamic law throughout the country. Officials hope the move will weaken the hold of Islamist guerrillas, who gained a foothold by questioning the old government’s faithfulness to Islam. Somalia is already one of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians, and Open Doors President Carl Moeller says this move will only decrease religious freedom. “We’re very concerned about the nature of the way that this Sharia law is being forced into Somalia as a wedge to get a peace deal and for the condition of the Christians there,” he said. “Many people will remember the desperately chaotic situation in Somalia in 1993. The truth of the matter is — Somalia isn’t any better today. And Christians continue to be the most vulnerable segment of that society.”

Signs of the Times

March 10, 2009

Praise Reports

Legislative bodies in two states voted last month to define the beginning of human life – and human rights – at conception. On Feb. 17, North Dakota’s House of Representatives voted 51-41 to approve a bill that declares “any organism with the genome of homo sapiens” – even one not yet born – is a person protected by rights under the state’s consti-tution. Last Friday, the Montana Senate voted 26-24 to approve S.B. 406, a constitutional Personhood Amendment that states, “All persons are born free and have certain inalien-able rights. … Person means a human being at all stages of human development of life, including the state of fertilization or conception, regardless of age, health, level of func-tioning or condition of dependency.”

President Obama is not the only black leader making history. As of last month, a record five African Americans lead state legislative bodies, and the number of black state law-makers has reached record levels.

Pakistani troops have defeated Taliban militants in one of their strongholds overlooking the Afghan border after a grinding six-month offensive, the general leading the military operation said on Saturday. “There’s been a dismantling of the militancy, it’s not seasonal. They have lost,” Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan told reporters flown to the area by military heli-copter. “Their resistance has broken down.”

  • •Let’s hope and pray that this assessment is true.

In Arizona, runoff from a rush of melted mountain snow pushed the Roosevelt Lake res-ervoir to record levels Friday, surpassing a federal flood-control limit for the first time and triggering an immediate release of excess water. The water will flow down the Salt River’s normally dry stretches in Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix, resulting in periodic road closures at some river crossings until the lake recedes. The melting snow filled creeks and rivers across Arizona’s high country as the weather warmed. Water levels spiked midweek on the Salt, the Verde and on tributaries such as Oak Creek, which swelled quickly on its path through Sedona and nearby communities.

Dr. James Dobson Resigns as Focus on the Family Chair

Conservative evangelical leader James Dobson has resigned as chairman of Focus on the Family but will continue to play a prominent role at the organization he founded more than three decades ago. Dobson notified the board of his decision Wednesday, and the 950 employees of the Colorado Springs-based ministry were informed Friday morning at a monthly worship service. Dobson, 72, will continue to host Focus on the Family’s flagship radio program, write a monthly newsletter and speak out on moral issues. Dob-son began relinquishing control six years ago by stepping down as president and CEO.

Assisted Suicide

Terminally ill patients with less than six months to live will soon be able to ask their doctors to prescribe them lethal medication in Washington state. But even though the “Death with Dignity” law takes effect Thursday, people who might seek the life-ending prescriptions could find their doctors conflicted or not willing to write them. Many doctors are hesitant to talk publicly about where they stand on the issue. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that it was up to states to regulate medical practice, including assisted suicide, and Washington’s Initiative 1000 was passed by nearly 60% of state voters in November.

Obama Moves to Rescind ‘Conscience Clause’

Religion News Service reports that the Obama administration announced Friday (Feb. 27) plans to rescind regulations that allow healthcare workers to abstain from performing medical procedures they object to on moral grounds. The Bush administration authored the rule shortly before leaving office last December, primarily to shield those with religious or moral opposition to abortion. It said healthcare workers cannot be discrimi-nated against for refusing to participate in objectionable procedures, and facilities that did not accommodate employees with objections could lose federal funding. It is one of sev-eral abortion-related measures the new White House is seeking to overturn.

Weather Signs

Thousands gathered Monday in the Washington D.C. cold for a rally about global warm-ing. Organized by Capitol Climate Action, the protest to fight climate change came with the inopportune backdrop of the city’s worst snowstorm this year and below-freezing temperatures.

  • See, God does have a sense of humor!

Despite recent rains, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in California due to a severe three-year drought. The drought has forced farmers to fallow their fields, put thousands of agricultural workers out of work and led to conservation measures in cities throughout the state, which is the nation’s top agricultural producer. The declaration urges water agencies to reduce water usage by 20%. Mandatory rationing is the next option if voluntary cooperation doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, Bismarck, N.D. is on pace to break its snowfall record of 102 inches set back in 1996-97. As a result, a new flood outlook from the National Weather Service says the Red River is likely to top 30 feet in Fargo this spring.

A potent March storm dumped up to 14 inches of snow along the East Coast on Monday. The storm barreled through the Tennessee Valley and Southeast over the weekend, then overspread the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast overnight Sunday. Weather conditions were still so disruptive that the Federal Aviation Administration said airlines canceled a total of 1,140 flights

Across Texas, the nation’s No. 2 agricultural state, drought conditions are evaporating stock tanks, keeping many crop farmers from planting, forcing cattle producers to cull their herds, and dropping water levels in state lakes. Despite hurricanes Dolly, Gustav and Ike soaking Texas in 2008, almost every part of the state — nearly 97% — is experi-encing some drought. Parts of central Texas and the Hill Country — more that 8% of the state — are not only in exceptional drought – the most severe stage of dryness — but they are now the driest region in the country and the driest they have been since 1918.

Wildfires

Firefighters are working against warm and windy weather as they battle a wildfire that has already burned 6,330 acres on Fort Carson near Colorado Springs. It is 70% con-tained and may have been started by a training detonation of C-4 explosives.

Pestilence

Four Indonesians have died of bird flu, bringing the death toll in the country hardest hit by the disease over the past several years to 119. It accounts for nearly half the 256 human fatalities tallied worldwide. So far, most human cases have been linked to contact with infected chickens. But health experts worry the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that passes easily among humans, sparking a pandemic that could kill mil-lions worldwide. Evidence that flu viruses are becoming more resistant to the drug Tamiflu has sown deep concern among doctors who are worried that their best flu treatment is losing its punch. Tamiflu resistance in one of the viruses that cause the most illness has reached almost 100%.

Economic Signs

The nation’s unemployment rate bolted to 8.1% in February, the highest since late 1983, as cost-cutting employers slashed 651,000 jobs amid a deepening recession. The Labor Department’s report shows America’s workers being clobbered by a relentless wave of layoffs unlikely to ease anytime soon. Both figures were worse than analysts expected

The federal insurance fund that protects most bank deposits is being drained by a sharp rise in bank failures and has dwindled to its lowest level since 1993, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reported last week. Depositors are not at risk because the fund is backed by the government, but taxpayers could be forced to reach into their wallets if the decline continues. The fund held $52.4 billion at the beginning of 2008. One year and 25 bank failures later, the fund held $18.9 billion. So far this year, 14 banks have failed, draining another $1.7 billion from the insurance fund.

Troubled US mortgage finance giant Fannie Mae said last week that it lost almost 60 bil-lion dollars last year and asked the Treasury Department for a further 15.2 billion dollars in aid. The US government-controlled Fannie Mae reported a loss of 25.2 billion dollars in the fourth quarter driven mainly by the effects of a prolonged housing slump and a global financial crisis. For the full year of 2008, the company posted a loss of 58.7 billion dollars, almost 27 times higher than the 2007 loss of 2.1 billion dollars.

The New York Times reports that he economy is spiraling down at an accelerating pace, threatening to undermine the Obama administration’s spending plans, which anticipate vigorous rates of growth in years to come. A sense of disconnect between the projections by the White House and the grim realities of everyday American life was enhanced on Friday, as the Commerce Department gave a harsher assessment for the last three months of 2008.

  • It’s refreshing to see the liberal NYT owning up to reality

Stocks ended another unforgiving month with a steep loss, one that left the Dow Jones industrial average at less than half its record high. The Dow’s 11.7% loss in February was its worst since 1933, when it fell 15.6%.

The number of people who were late making their mortgage payments shot up 53% in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the same period in 2007. This was the eighth straight quar-terly increase. The percentage of mortgage holders at least 60 days behind on payments, considered a precursor to foreclosure, jumped to 4.58% nationally, from 2.99% for the 2007 fourth quarter.

The worldwide PC industry will experience its sharpest shipment decline in history this year as the global economy continues to deteriorate. PC shipments are expected to decline 11.9% to 257 million units in 2009. Until now, the worst decline in PC shipments was in 2001, the height of the tech-bust-fueled recession..

The number of U.S. consumers filing for bankruptcy jumped 29% in February from the year earlier, and the number is expected to keep rising as economic troubles deepen, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute

Automakers sold barely more than half as many new cars and trucks in February as they did a year ago. General Motors’ auditors have raised “substantial doubt” about the trou-bled automaker’s ability to continue operations. GM says in its report that auditors cited recurring losses from operations and an inability to generate enough cash to meet its obli-gations in raising substantial doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern.

The Treasury Department announced Tuesday it has provided $394.9 million to 28 banks in new payments from the government’s $700 billion financial rescue fund. The govern-ment is buying preferred stock in banks as a way to bolster their balance sheets in the hopes of getting them to resume more normal lending. The new payments bring the total to $196.76 billion, covering 467 financial institutions in 47 states and Puerto Rico.

Economic Consequences

With the U.S. dealing with an economic slide that has cost millions of jobs, the number of vehicle repossessions is expected to rise 5% this year. That’s after it jumped 12% to 1.67 million nationally in 2008, said Tom Webb, chief economist with Manheim Consult-ing, an automotive marketing firm. That followed a 9% increase in 2007, creating more opportunities for bad outcomes in an industry where armed confrontations and threats happen every day.

An annual convention of newspaper editors has been canceled for the first time since World War II, undone by the worst economic crisis since that harrowing era. The American Society of Newspapers Editors’ decision to skip this year’s meeting was an-nounced Friday, coinciding with the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News — the largest daily U.S. newspaper to shut down so far during a steep two-year slide in advertis-ing revenue that’s draining the life out of the industry.

More than 30,000 government employees — about 14% of the public work force — could lose their jobs and new taxes will be introduced as Puerto Rico attempts to shore up its ailing economy, the governor of the U.S. island territory announced Tuesday.

To curtail costs while avoiding the strain of layoffs, companies, colleges and state gov-ernments are mandating temporary hiatuses, commonly known as furloughs. Dozens that have used this tactic to save millions in payroll and other expenses. Employees given one-week furloughs are eligible to apply for unemployment compensation in some states.

More than half of the nation’s foreclosures last year took place in 35 counties, a sign that the financial crisis devastating the national economy may have begun with collapsing home loans in only a few corners of the country – namely, California, Arizona and Flor-ida.

New World Order Signs

In a passionate speech Wednesday to a joint session of Congress British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it was time to “seize the moment” and work together as a global community to conquer the many obstacles facing the world.

  • This manufactured financial crisis is meant to hasten the one-world government, as prophesied in Revelation 13.

Privacy advocates are issuing warnings about a new radio chip plan that ultimately could provide electronic identification for every adult in the U.S. and allow agents to compile attendance lists at anti-government rallies simply by walking through the assembly. The proposal, which has earned the support of Janet Napolitano, the newly chosen chief of the Department of Homeland Security, would embed radio chips in driver’s licenses, or “enhanced driver’s licenses.”

  • The “mark of the beast” is coming in some way, shape or form. This could be the initial version before the chips are implanted in our bodies, just as the Bible foretells (Revelation 16:2, 19:20)

Iraq Mission to End in August 2010

President Obama announced last Friday that the United States combat presence in Iraq will end in August 2010 after about 90,000 troops are withdrawn. The president said he plans to leave a force of 35,000 to 50,000 to advise Iraqi security forces, conduct counter-terrorism missions and protect U.S. personnel.

Gitmo Resolution?

New Attorney General Eric Holder returned from his visit to Guantanamo Bay surprised that the American military was doing an impressive job in keeping the terrorists behind bars. In comments made at a Department of Justice briefing, he called the facilities “good ones” and said that Guantanamo Bay is “well run.” He also admitted that the allegations of torture and abuse were severely overstated. “I did not witness any mistreatment of prisoners…What I saw was a very conscious attempt to conduct — for these guards to conduct themselves in an appropriate way” ? Despite finding out what we and most Americans already knew, the Obama Administration is continuing with their plan to close down Gitmo and bring these terrorists to our shores or to release them outright.

  • These misguided, liberal appeasement strategies will only backfire on us all.

360,000 Veterans May Have Brain Injuries

Pentagon officials estimated for the first time Wednesday that up to 360,000 among the 1.8 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan may have suffered brain injuries. Among them are 45,000 to 90,000 veterans whose symptoms persist and warrant specialized care. Persistent symptoms can range from headaches and sleep disorders to memory, balance and vision difficulties. Research suggests the vast majority of these troops recover.

Obama: Missile System may Not be Necessary

President Obama, in one of his first efforts to “reset or reboot” the nation’s icy relation-ship with Russia, said Tuesday he has told Moscow that the United States might not need to build a controversial missile-defense system in Eastern Europe if Iran halted its quest for a nuclear weapon. Russia has bitterly opposed U.S. plans, promoted by the Bush administration, to build missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic at a cost of at least $4 billion. The United States has been developing such a system on U.S. soil since the 1980s. In light of growing threats from rogue nations, including Iran, the Bush administration pushed hard for expanding the system into Europe.

Clinton: Palestinian State ‘Inescapable’

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised Tuesday to work with the incoming Israeli government, but delivered a clear message that could put her at odds with the country’s next leader: Movement toward the establishment of a Palestinian state is “ines-capable.” Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu opposes Palestinian statehood and has been critical of peace talks.

  • A Palestinian state is inexcusable, a violation of God’s plan and an appeasement of Muslim extremists. It will only serve as a further launching point in Islam’s goal of eliminating Israel completely.

Court Issues Warrant for Sudan President

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He is the first sitting head of state the court has or-dered arrested. Al-Bashir’s government denounced the warrant as part of a Western con-spiracy aimed at destabilizing the vast oil-rich nation south of Egypt. African and Arab nations fear the warrant will destabilize the whole region, bring even more conflict in Darfur and threaten the fragile peace deal that ended decades of civil war between north-ern and southern Sudan. China, which buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil, supports the Afri-can and Arab positions.