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 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.

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