Praise Reports

Easter services are planned at one of Baghdad’s biggest churches for the first time in two years as Iraqi Christians return to homes they had deserted because of violence. Saints Peter and Paul Church had been closed since mid-2007 as insurgents and sectarian militias targeted Iraq’s 800,000-strong Christian community. The number of Christians in southern Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood, their onetime stronghold, dwindled to a few dozen families as many were killed or fled the country. Thanks to improving security, as many as 800 Christian families have returned to Dora in the past six months. By reopening the church starting with Sunday’s Mass, Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni hopes to send a message to other Christian families that it is time to come back to Baghdad.

Weather Signs

A tornado killed a woman and her 9-week-old infant and also injured dozens Friday in central Tennessee as a line of storms lifted homes, ripped off roofs and dumped hail in the Southeast. Elsewhere, a tornado touched down in southwestern Kentucky, injuring two people and destroying homes. A possible tornado was reported in northeast Alabama. And large hail began falling in several North Carolina counties. At least 41 people were hurt in Rutherford County, Tenn., four of them critically.

The sirens sounded three times across this western Arkansas hamlet, and residents watched several funnel clouds pass harmlessly over the town. The fourth siren was for another twister that ended up being a killer. While many took cover immediately Thursday night in the basement of the county courthouse, others stayed home, only to glance out their windows just in time to see the black funnel descend on the community just east of the Oklahoma line. At least three people were killed, at least 30 others injured and 600 homes were damaged or destroyed. An initial survey of tornado damage at Mena suggests the community was hit Thursday night by a twister packing winds of at least 136 mph.

  • As the end-times unfold, weather will becoming more and more extreme

Wildfire Signs

Residents of small towns in Oklahoma and Texas found themselves homeless Friday, in some cases returning to find whole communities had been charred by the deadly, wind-driven wildfires that raged the day before. Three people died Thursday and well over 100 homes were lost in the fires — at least one of them suspected arson — in western and central Oklahoma and in Texas. The blazes eased Friday as winds of up to 70 mph diminished. One couple died when fire overtook their home and another woman died after calling for an ambulance as a fire spread through an unincorporated part of the county.

Through Friday, there have been 24,126 wildfires this year in the U.S. compared to a ten-year average of 17,507, a 38% increase.

  • With higher winds and localized droughts, end-time wildfires will also be on the increase

U.S. Becoming Subservient to ‘Global Governance’

The American Center for Law & Justice is urging Americans to sign a letter of protest (www.aclj.org/Petition/Default.aspx?sc=3425&ac=1&Zip=*Zip) to President Barack Obama, expressing concern about the administration’s new strategy of internationalism — embracing foreign and economic policies that may very well put U.S. sovereignty at risk. The ACLJ is concerned about the nomination of Harold Koh to serve as the top legal counsel in the U.S. State Department. Koh, who is dean of the Yale University Law School, endorses an “international-first” philosophy that puts the interests of the global community above those of the United States. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, says Koh has coined the phrase “transnationalism.” “What [that philosophy] basically says is this: that the U.S. Constitution is subservient to international standards, and is not to be the standard upon which U.S. courts are even to interpret our Constitution — that international norms should be the highest standard,” he explains.

President Wants $83.4B for Wars

President Obama asked Congress on Thursday for $83.4 billion for U.S. military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, pressing for special troop funding that he opposed two years ago when he was senator and George W. Bush was president. Obama’s request, including money to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, would push the costs of the two wars to almost $1 trillion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service. The additional money would cover operations into the fall. Obama is also requesting $350 million in new funding to upgrade security along the U.S.-Mexico border and to combat narcoterrorists, along with another $400 million in counterinsurgency aid to Pakistan.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, acknowledged that Obama has been critical of Bush’s use of similar special legislation to pay for the wars. He said it was needed this time because the money will be required by summer, before Congress is likely to complete its normal appropriations process.

  • When are we going to learn to ignore campaign promises?

Stimulus Red Tape

Seven weeks after President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion spending bill into law, many officials still don’t know how it all works. Although some of the stimulus money is beginning to flow, it seems there are still more questions than answers. Last week, the state of Arizona learned it must drop a rule that required more frequent eligibility checks for Medicaid recipients because it runs afoul of the stimulus law. It’s a $1.6 billion disagreement that took weeks to uncover and hash out. State officials are still working on a legislative fix. Karen Peters, Phoenix’s intergovernmental-affairs director and chief lobbyist, said the city wants to apply for certain grants, but the rules won’t be posted by the federal government for months.

Government Benefits Increase

The pay gap between government workers and lower-compensated private employees is growing as public employees enjoy sizable benefit growth even in a distressed economy, federal figures show. Public employees earned benefits worth an average of $13.38 an hour in December 2008, the latest available data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says. Private-sector workers got $7.98 an hour. Overall, total compensation for state and local workers was $39.25 an hour — $11.90 more than in private business.

  • We must think of government as an organism whose sole objective is to grow and prosper. We need to stomp on this parasite before it kills us for good.

Economic News

New jobless claims fell more than expected last week but are stuck at elevated levels, while those continuing to receive unemployment insurance set a record for the 11th straight week. The Labor Department said Thursday that the tally of initial jobless claims fell to a seasonally adjusted 654,000, from a revised 674,000 the previous week. But the total number of laid-off Americans receiving unemployment rose to 5.84 million, from 5.75 million.

In another report, the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit plunged unexpectedly in February to the lowest level in more than nine years as the steep recession pushed imports down for a seventh straight month while U.S. exports managed a small rebound. The trade deficit dropped a sharp 28.3% to $25.97 billion, the smallest gap since November 1999.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso unveiled a new stimulus package Friday, calling for 15 trillion yen ($150 billion) in government spending to lift the world’s second-largest economy from a painful recession. Japan has been battered by an unprecedented collapse in global demand and now faces its deepest recession since World War II. The country’s GDP shrank an alarming annual rate of 12.1% in the October-December quarter.

Healthcare Professionals Support Conscience Rules

Medical workers have made a strong statement against the Obama administration’s plans to withdraw or revise conscience rules. The Christian Medical Association (CMA) and 35 other medical organizations have announced results of a survey on the conscience rules, which allow medical professionals to opt out of procedures and dispensing medications on moral grounds. “We actually polled the general public and found out that, two-to-one, people support conscience protection regulations to protect faith-based healthcare professionals,” explains CMA leader Dr. David Stevens. “And in fact, two out of three oppose the administration rescinding those rules.” In addition, 87 percent said they wanted medical professionals who shared their moral values, and two out of three said they would be less likely to vote for their congressman or senator if they knew they were trying to strip the constitutional rights of conscience away from healthcare professionals.

  • Yeah, but it’s not government by/for the people, it’s government by/for government. Public attitudes matter little anymore.

Pirates Still Hold U.S. Captain

U.S. warships are trying to stop Somali pirates from sending reinforcements to a lifeboat where an American captain is being held hostage as the high-seas standoff off Africa’s eastern coast entered a fourth day Saturday. The pirates have summoned assistance but at least two American ships and U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft are deterring pirate ships and skiffs from contact with the lifeboat. The pirates have threatened to kill their American hostage, Capt. Richard Phillips, if the U.S. attacks them, according to a Somali who has been in contact with the pirates.

Asian Summit Thwarted

The storming of the Asian summit in Thailand on Saturday prompted its immediate cancellation and the evacuation of leaders by helicopter. They were lunching at an adjacent hotel and not caught in the melee, which was a mix of mob rampage and frolicking fun. Hundreds raced up and down escalators in a chaotic scene that combined young men wearing ski masks and goggles alongside elderly women waving Thai flags. Hundreds of soldiers were in the vicinity outside but made no effort to stop the protesters or remove them from the building. The protesters are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power. They say Abhisit was not elected by the people and should step down so new elections can be held.

Fiji in Turmoil

Fiji’s military chief returned to power as this troubled country’s prime minister Saturday, a day after the president suspended the constitution and fired the judges who had declared the military’s leader’s government illegal. President Ratu Josefa Iloilo also declared a 30-day state of emergency, limiting freedom of speech and giving police expanded powers. The radical moves ensure that military chief Frank Bainimarama retains control over this South Pacific country despite the court ruling Thursday that the 2006 coup in which he seized power — and therefore his government — was unlawful.

Iran’ Nuclear Capability Complete

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran now controls the entire nuclear fuel cycle — from extracting uranium ore to producing nuclear fuel pellets. Production of nuclear fuel pellets is the final step in the long chain of nuclear fuel cycle. The U.S. and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran has denied the charges, saying its nuclear program is merely geared towards power generation.

Georgian President Rejects Calls for Resignation

About 20,000 people urged Georgia’s president to resign Friday in a second day of protests, but Mikhail Saakashvili rejected their demands and called for dialogue with his critics. The crowds were thinner than on Thursday, when three times as many protesters jammed the capital’s main avenue. Opposition leaders vowed the protests would continue until the president stepped down. Their most bitter criticism is directed at the president’s handling of the brief August war with Russia. The Georgian army was humiliated and the country lost territory as separatists and their Russian allies took full control over two breakaway Georgian regions.

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