Signs of the Times

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.

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