Some States Pass Sovereignty Measures

For some states, the message to the federal government is clear: Back off. Legislatures in Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota this year have approved resolutions asserting sovereignty under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution and suggesting that Uncle Sam “cease and desist” from interfering in their business. The largely Republican backers say the federal government has overstepped its constitutional bounds by meddling in local matters ranging from education to drunken driving. Oklahoma’s Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a sovereignty resolution, in defiance of a veto from the state’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry Similar measures are under consideration in at least two dozen other states. State sovereignty efforts have won the endorsement of two GOP gubernatorial candidates, one of whom — Gov. Rick Perry, up for re-election next year in Texas— made headlines last month by suggesting the movement could lead to some states seceding.

  • The 10th Amendment reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Very few “powers” were delegated to the Federal Government (e.g. defense). Most of what constitutes the Federal Government now is in violation of the Constitution. It’s time we return to state’s rights and gut the Federal bureaucracy.

Calif. Voters Ready to Join Tax Revolt

Three months after California seemingly averted a state budget meltdown, voters are being asked to ratify billions of dollars in higher taxes that were part of the deal. So far, voters don’t seem to be buying it, a mood that portends trouble for other deficit-addled states whose political leaders are proposing tax hikes as a way out. Among the half-dozen ballot initiatives facing voters in a special election Tuesday are tax hikes and borrowing measures that are the centerpiece of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget plan. Two polls, one conducted by the Field Poll in late April and another by the Public Policy Institute of California in early May, found Schwarzenegger’s proposals trailing badly.

Pentagon Destroys Bibles

It’s a story that hasn’t gotten much press. The Pentagon has acknowledged seizing and burning the privately owned Bibles of American soldiers serving in Afghanistan.  The Bibles had been printed in the local Pashto and Dari languages, and sent by private donors to American Christian soldiers and chaplains, for distribution to American troops on overseas military bases during optionally-attended Christian worship services. Had the Bibles not been seized and destroyed, they could have legally been given as gifts during off-duty time to Afghani citizens who welcome our troops in their homes

  • So it’s OK to shoot and kill Afghans, but it’s illegal to share the gospel with them. We have traded bullets for the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).

Pope in Nazareth: ‘Reject Hatred and Prejudice’

Pope Benedict XVI greeted tens of thousands of adoring followers in Jesus’ childhood hometown with a message of reconciliation Thursday, urging Christian and Muslims there to overcome recent strife and “reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice.” The pope delivered his message on the fourth day of a Holy Land pilgrimage meant to promote peace and unity in the Middle East. The choice of Nazareth— home to many key sites in Christianity — as the venue for the largest Mass the pope has celebrated during his visit, is the country’s largest Arab city. Roughly two-thirds of its 65,000 people are Muslims and one-third are Christian. While the two communities tend to get along, they also have come into sporadic conflict.

Religious Citizens More Involved

First, the silver lining: people of faith are better citizens and better neighbors, and America is “amazingly” religious compared to other countries, says Harvard University professor Robert Putnam. Now, the cloud: young Americans are “vastly more secular” than their older counterparts, according to Putnam. A celebrated political scientist, Putnam has long been concerned with declining participation in American civic life. But religious people may be God’s gift to civic engagement, Putnam and University of Notre Dame scholar DavidCampbell argue in their book, American Grace: How Religion is Reshaping our Civic and Political Lives, which is scheduled to be released next year.

The scholars say their studies found that religious people are three to four times more likely to be involved in their community. They are more apt than nonreligious Americans to work on community projects, belong to voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies, and donate time and money to causes — including secular ones.

Churchgoers, Pastors Struggle to Define Spiritual Maturity

The Barna Group reports that many people in the pews have no idea what “spiritual maturity” actually means – possibly because their pastors can’t define it either. A new Barna study found that half of churchgoers cannot describe how their church defines a “healthy, spiritually mature follower of Jesus,” including those that call themselves “born again Christians.” The most common answers included “trying hard to follow the rules described in the Bible,” even among Christians who say that good works are not a prerequisite for salvation. Born again Christians were more likely to point to “a relationship with Jesus” as a sign of spiritual maturity, but more than half said following the rules translates into spiritual maturity. Pastors also struggled to point out specific Bible passages describing the measure for spiritual maturity – one third simply said “the whole Bible.”

  • Sad. The Bible has much to say about spiritual maturity (see online course on www.lofj.com under the “Workshops” tab at the bottom of the page).

BBC Appoints Muslim to Oversee Religious Content

Earlier this week the British Broadcasting Corporation, or BBC, appointed a Muslim as head of its religious programming department — a move being hailed as a “radical departure from broadcasting tradition.” Aaqil Ahmed, former executive at Channel 4, is the new of Head of Religion and Ethics and Commissioning Editor for Religion TV, a position some call one of the most influential religious roles in the United Kingdom. Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is concerned over the appointment of a Muslim, claiming it comes at a time when Christian leaders worry their faith is being marginalized and criticized by authorities. The Church of England notes that Muslims make up only three percent of the country’s population while nearly 70 percent claim to be Christian.

  • The New World (Dis)Order is using Islam to marginalize Christianity. They had better be careful about letting this genie out of the bottle.

Out-of-Wedlock Births on the Rise Worldwide

The percentage of births to unmarried mothers is increasing worldwide, according to a new federal report that shows a universal upward trend over the last 25 years. Among 14 countries analyzed in the report by the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of all live unmarried births in the USA — 40% in 2007 — ranks somewhere in the middle. That’s up from 18% in 1980. The sharpest rise was from 2002 to 2007, the report found. Countries with a higher proportion of births to unmarried mothers include Iceland, Sweden (55%), Norway (54%), France (50%), Denmark (46%) and the United Kingdom (44$); countries with a lower percentage than the USA include Ireland (33%), Germany (30%), Canada (30%), Spain (28%), Italy (21%) and Japan (2%).

  • More than double since 1980! Almost half of all births. This is shocking news. Where has the media been on this story? Fueling the fires, that’s where. As the media promote and market sex, it isn’t surprising to see these results, nor is it surprising that they would suppress the story over the past few decades.

Minority Population Increasing. But at Slower Rate

The minority population increased 2.3% to 104.6 million from mid-2007 to July 1, 2008, or just over one-third of the total population, the Census Bureau reported. Hispanics had the highest growth rate — 3.2% — during the 12 months. Although immigration has slowed, higher birth rates among Hispanics make them the fastest growing group. Births, rather than immigration, accounted for about two-thirds of the 1.47 million increase in the Hispanic population in 2008. Births among Hispanics outpaced deaths by nearly 10 to one. Forty-seven percent of children under 5 are minorities, as are 43% of young people under age 20.

Deterred by immigration laws and the lackluster economy, the population growth of Hispanics and Asians in the U.S. has slowed unexpectedly, causing the government to push back estimates on when minorities will become the majority by as much as a decade. Census data also showed that fewer Hispanics are migrating to suburbs and newly emerging immigrant areas in the Southeast, staying put instead in traditional gateway locations such as California. The slowdown among Hispanics and Asians continues to shift conventional notions on when the tipping point in U.S. diversity will come; it is estimated to occur more than three decades from now. Black growth rates remain somewhat flat.

Phones, Gadgets Zap Conservation Gains

Think you’re green or trying to be? Rising energy demand from computers, TVs, cellphones, iPods and other gadgets threatens to crush the progress made elsewhere in lowering power consumption, the International Energy Agency reported. The IEA warned that household electronic devices could triple energy demand by 2030. “Without new policies, the energy consumed by information and communications technologies as well as consumer electronics will double by 2022 and increase threefold by 2030 to 1,700 Terawatt hours. This will jeopardize efforts to increase energy security and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases,” the IEA wrote in a new publication, Gadgets and Gigawatts.

Swine H1N1 Flu

Health investigators are trying to figure out why swine flu has spread erratically — moving quickly through a few schools but slowly elsewhere — after an outbreak closed three more New York schools. The decision on Thursday to shutter the schools follows an outbreak that left an assistant principal in critical condition and sent hundreds of kids home with flu symptoms. A woman in Arizona suffering from a lung condition has apparently become the fourth person in the nation to die with swine flu.

As swine flu cases topped 6,600 worldwide, vaccine makers and other experts met Thursday at the World Health Organization to discuss the tough decisions that must be made quickly to fight the evolving virus. Pharmaceutical companies are ready to begin making a swine flu vaccine — but as the virus may mutate, questions abound: How much should be produced? How will it be distributed? Who should get it?

Swine flu may be due to human error, according a prominent scientist (Adrian Gibbs) who participated in the development of Roche’s product, Tamiflu. The WHO and CDC immediately denounced the suggestion as “bad science”. Gibb’s research does raise troubling questions. Genetic mutation of H1N1 is occuring three times faster than strains of known and natural flu strains. This suggests human manipulation of the genes in the first place. But, Gibbs suggests that an accidental release of the strain is more likely than a deliberate act.

Obama to Restart Gitmo Tribunals

President Obama will restart Bush-era military tribunals for a small number of Guantanamo detainees, reviving a fiercely disputed trial system he once denounced but with new legal protections for terror suspects, U.S. officials said Thursday. Obama suspended the tribunals within hours of taking office in January, ordering a review but stopping short of abandoning President George W. Bush’s strategy of prosecuting suspected terrorists. Obama’s decision to resume the tribunals is certain to face criticism from liberal groups, already stung by his decision Wednesday to block the court-ordered release of photos showing U.S. troops abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. It marked a reversal of his earlier stand on making the photos public.

  • It’s somewhat reassuring to know that President Obama is willing to learn on the job.

House Passes $97 billion War-Funding Bill

Despite Democrats’ rising anxiety about Afghanistan, the House on Thursday easily passed a $96.7 billion measure filling President Obama’s request for war spending and foreign aid efforts there and in Iraq. Some 51 Democrats broke with Obama, who is sending thousands more troops into Afghanistan, but all but a handful of Republicans stood behind the president to produce a 368-60 tally. Republicans supported the measure even though majority Democrats added almost $12 billion to Obama’s $85 billion request.

  • Obama and Republicans unite? This isn’t the bipartisanship the Democrats had in mind.

Relief Expanded for Struggling Homeowners

The Obama administration unveiled new programs Thursday designed to make it easier for homeowners who owe far more than their houses are now worth to sell those homes at a loss and have their remaining debt forgiven. The programs, announced by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, are the latest additions to Making Home Affordable, an evolving $75 billion plan that tries to break the national housing crisis into separate pieces, attacking the problem on several fronts. The first two legs of the program sought to help borrowers refinance into today’s low mortgage rates, or if they’re behind on payments, to seek loan modifications to avoid foreclosure.

Economic News

Consumer prices were unchanged in April from March, industrial output declined at a slower pace and consumer sentiment rose in May, reports showed Friday, providing more evidence that the worst phase of the recession may be over. The Labor Department said its closely watched consumer price index was flat in April, after falling 0.1% in March. A separate report from the Federal Reserve showed U.S. industrial production fell 0.5% last month, a sixth consecutive monthly decline but at a more modest pace than in recent months. A third report said consumer confidence rose in early May to its strongest since September.

The economy of the 16 countries that use the euro currency has shrunk by a massive 2.5% in the first quarter of 2009 as the recession tightens its grip. The euro economy has now declined for four straight quarters. Official figures show economic powerhouse Germany saw its economy shrink 3.8% as demand for its high value goods, such as cars and machinery, collapsed.

Panasonic fell deep into the red last fiscal year, joining the expanding group of big Japanese brands shell-shocked by their rapid descent from cash cow to money loser. The world’s biggest plasma TV maker Friday reported a 378.96 billion yen ($4 billion) loss for the fiscal year ended in March — its first loss in seven years.

Chrysler has told a bankruptcy court that it plans to eliminate 789 dealers — or about 25% of them — as part of its restructuring process. The automaker has about 3,200 dealers and says that’s too many. It wants to have stronger, more profitable dealers with better facilities. The dealers likely will have a right to appeal to get off the list. The move could have a devastating impact on cities across the U.S., costing jobs and tax revenue. GM said it will notify 1,100 U.S. dealers Friday that their franchise agreements will not be renewed. Both companies have too many dealerships for too few sales.

The number of workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected last week, the government said Thursday, pushed up by auto plant shutdowns related to Chrysler’s bankruptcy. Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits increased 32,000 to a seasonally adjusted 637,000 the week ended May 9, reversing an easing trend of the previous two weeks. The number of people staying on the benefit rolls after collecting an initial week of aid jumped 202,000 to a record 6.56 million.

The Treasury Department plans to extend bailout loans beyond banks and automakers to six of the nation’s largest life insurance companies under the so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Insurers that applied by the program’s deadline of Nov. 14, 2008, and have bank-holding company status, were eligible for government funds.

The nation’s teetering economy has Uncle Sam playing a growing role in neighborhoods across the country — as a homeowner. The combination of a deep recession and a foundering housing market has left the government with more than 50,000 houses on its hands. The houses it owns are harder to sell, they typically sit empty longer, and in many cases, their values cratered as the real estate market collapsed. Since 2007, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has acquired at least 110,000 foreclosed houses, its records show, spending about $12.2 billion to reimburse lenders after the owners defaulted on government-backed loans. So far, HUD has been able to recover only about $5.5 billion by reselling them.

Home of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Star Demolished

City workers demolishing part of a Mumbai slum on Thursday bulldozed the home of a Slumdog Millionaire child star. Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail was asleep in his shanty when a police officer woke him up and told him to leave, he said. Shortly after that, about 30 homes were destroyed. Eight Oscars and $326 million in box office receipts have so far done little to improve the lives of the film’s two impoverished child stars, Azhar and Rubina Ali. They have been showered with gifts and brief bursts of fame, but their day-to-day lives are little changed. Thursday morning, city workers flanked by policemen arrived as part of a slum demolition drive — common in India’s crowded chaotic cities.

“They didn’t give prior notice. We didn’t even get a chance to take out our belongings,” said Shameem Ismail, Azhar’s mother, who has lived in the shanty town for more than 15 years. She has no legal right to the land. Slumdog filmmakers say they’ve done their best to help. They set up a trust, called Jai Ho, after the hit song from the film, to ensure the children get proper homes, a good education and a nest egg when they finish high school. They also donated $747,500 to a charity to help slum kids in Mumbai.

Iran deploys missiles in Persian Gulf

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has deployed mobile ground-to-air and ground-to-sea missile batteries in the Strait of Hormuz and other areas in the Persian Gulf, a senior Iranian official was quoted by Al Watan as saying on Tuesday. The source told the Saudi-based newspaper that the move was made after Iran received reports that the US and Israel were preparing to attack the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities. The comments come in the wake of a warning from the General Commander of the Iranian Army, Ataollah Salehi, that in his estimate it would “take us 11 days to wipe Israel out of existence.”

Pakistan/Afghanistan

Pakistan’s army says 55 Taliban and three soldiers have died in the last 24 hours of its offensive in the Swat Valley area. A military statement issued Friday says militants are fleeing the valley. At least 22 Taliban militants, including three regional commanders, were killed overnight in fighting in southern Afghanistan, a provincial official said Friday.

Sri Lanka

Thousands of civilians braved rebel fire Thursday to break out of Sri Lanka’s war zone, the military said, as health workers abandoned the only hospital in the area — leaving hundreds of wounded behind — because of unrelenting shelling. At least four civilians were killed and 14 others wounded when the rebels shot at them as they waded across a lagoon that forms the front line of the war,. The Red Cross said the war zone was wracked by fighting Thursday, despite appeals from President Obama and the U.N. for the two sides to end their civil war and let the estimated 50,000 civilians trapped in the area escape.

Mexico

The bodies of four U.S. citizens were found strangled, beaten and stabbed in a van in this border city, two days after they reportedly left their Southern California homes for a night at the Mexican clubs, U.S. officials said Thursday. Their deaths are the latest in a string of violence in Tijuana that authorities blame on a bloody turf war between drug cartels.

Wildfires

A wildfire fueled by a gusty breeze is spreading near a scenic coastal town in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The blaze 15 miles northeast of Homer has grown to nearly 2 square miles, threatening about 50 homes. Some residents have chosen to remain instead of heeding an advisory evacuation. At least two structures have been destroyed.

A growing number of wildfires in California are joined by a common, incriminating back-story: People caused them. Government statistics show that people were faulted for 5,208 wildfires in Southern California in 2008, the highest number since at least 2001. Between 2006 and 2008, Southern California was the only region of the country to see a significant jump in the number of wildfires blamed on people. In a densely populated, drought-stricken region where development pushes into areas known to burn, the result is predictable. “As the drought continues in California, there are going to be more human-caused fires,” says Don Smurthwaite, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center.

Weather

Violent storms tore through four Midwestern states Wednesday, killing three people in northern Missouri, damaging dozens of homes and leaving thousands without power. About 30 to 40 homes were damaged, one was destroyed, and an auto dealership sustained significant damage.

Temperatures will climb 15 to 25 degrees above average across the West this weekend, with most locations feeling the peak of the heat on Sunday. With temperatures approaching excessive heat critieria, residents are advised to take precautions to deal with the warm weather.

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