Obama Nominates Sotomayor to Supreme Court

President Obama tapped U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court on Tuesday, officials said, making her the first Hispanic in history picked to wear the robes of a justice. If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor, 54, would succeed retiring Justice David Souter. Administration officials say Sotomayor would bring more judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice confirmed in the past 70 years. Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate, and barring the unexpected, Sotomayor’s confirmation should be assured. If approved, she would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the current court.

  • It remains to be seen just how liberal this nominee is, but rest assured that she will carry the banner for more judicial activism

Catholic Church’s Nonprofit Status Challenged in Maine

A California-based homosexual-rights group has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service challenging the tax-exempt status of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine. The Empowering Spirits Foundation says that by engaging in political activity aimed at overturning Maine’s new same-sex “marriage” law, the diocese is violating IRS rules for nonprofits. A diocese spokesman says IRS policy allows the diocese to participate in the campaign to collect the more than 55,000 voter signatures needed to suspend the law and have voters decide its fate. After Maine’s Legislature passed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage and the governor signed it earlier this month, Bishop Richard Malone called it “a dangerous sociological experiment” and said the diocese would work with others to bring the issue to a vote in November.

Campus Evangelists Clash with Police

A campus evangelism group is stunned today, as a ministry event at a community college in Ohio resulted in four members being arrested, one on a felony assault charge that the ministry’s leader claims is fabricated. “I’ve done ministries like this at more than 200 universities,” said Jason Storms, director of Faithful Soldier School of Evangelism, a ministry of Mercy Seat Christian Church in Milwaukee, Wis. “We train people to do evangelism, and I have never seen an incident like this.” Storms and a team of students earlier this week traveled to Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, with signs, literature and a message of faith. When they arrived, however, a student complaint led campus police to confront the evangelism team and demand that their signs and literature be put away in accordance with college policy. When two of the evangelists refused the order, however, insisting their materials were protected by the freedom of speech guaranteed in the First Amendment, the officers arrested them on charges of disorderly conduct.

Later in the afternoon, however, two more arrests followed, one on a now-disputed felony charge of striking a police officer. Storms himself was detained by police, when after speaking freely with students on campus for a couple of hours, he approached Officer Michael Beane to inquire about the charges filed against the other two evangelists. Storms and Beane then got into an argument, resulting in the officer claiming he was being harassed and Storms being detained in a holding cell. The situation escalated, however, when Officer Beane demanded that a member of the evangelism team surrender a cell phone that had been taping the incident. Faithful Soldier student Katie Carroll refused to give up her phone and hid behind fellow evangelist team member Daniel Pollion. What happened next is highly disputed. Natasha Baker, director of public relations for the campus police force, told WorldNetDaily that Pollion struck Beane in the face.

Home: No place for Bible Study?

A  San Diego pastor and his wife claim they were interrogated by a county official and warned they will face escalating fines if they continue to hold Bible studies in their home. The couple, whose names are being withheld until a demand letter can be filed on their behalf, told their attorney a county government employee knocked on their door on Good Friday, asking a litany of questions about their Tuesday night Bible studies, which are attended by approximately 15 people. “Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say ‘amen’?” the official reportedly asked. “Do you say, ‘Praise the Lord’?” The pastor’s wife answered yes. She says she was then told, however, that she must stop holding “religious assemblies” until she and her husband obtain a Major Use Permit from the county, a permit that often involves traffic and environmental studies, compliance with parking and sidewalk regulations and costs that top tens of thousands of dollars. And if they fail to pay for the MUP, the county official reportedly warned, the couple will be charged escalating fines beginning at $100, then $200, $500, $1000, “and then it will get ugly.”

Ø      Hold fast, folks, it’s only going to get worse.

N.H. Governor and House in Gay Marriage Standoff

Baptist Press reports that the New Hampshire legislature is in a standoff with Gov. John Lynch over a bill that would legalize “gay marriage.” The House voted 188-186 May 20 to reject the Governor’s amendment to the bill, which includes language protecting religious groups. Colin Manning, a spokesman for Lynch, said the governor was firm in wanting religious protections if “gay marriage” is to be legalized in the state. Sam Taylor, pastor of Nashua Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press the House action shows what’s really at stake in New Hampshire. “The fact that the New Hampshire House of Representatives refused to accept Gov. Lynch’s very reasonable amendment demonstrates the radical agenda of those who are trying to force this bill into law,” Taylor said.

Plot Renews Rears of Radical Islam in U.S. Prisons

The arrest last week of four Muslim ex-convicts in an alleged homegrown terror plot in the Bronx is renewing fears about the spread of Islamic extremism in the nation’s prisons. At least two of the four men suspected of plotting to bomb synagogues and shoot down military airplanes converted to Islam behind bars. But this foiled plot is not the first terror scheme implicating Muslim convicts. “Basically, the threat is real,” said Paul Rogers, past president of the American Correctional Chaplains Association. “Prisons have unstable people and people who are on the edge of a lot of different things. The radical elements of any religion can be emphasized.” Mitch Silber, a top New York Police Department intelligence analyst, said inmates converting to Islam are so common that he and his colleagues call it “Prislam.” Though many drop the faith once they are out, for some “the conversion sticks” and can fuel anger toward the United States.

Washington has First Assisted-Suicide Death

A 66-year-old woman with terminal cancer has become the first person to die under Washington state’s new assisted suicide law, an advocacy group said Friday. Linda Fleming, of Sequim, died Thursday night after taking drugs prescribed under the “Death with Dignity” law that took effect in March, said Compassion & Choices of Washington. A physician prescribed the medication, but under the law, patients must administer the drugs themselves. The new law was approved in November with nearly 60% of the vote. It is based on a 1997 Oregon measure, under which about 400 people have ended their lives.

Obama Signs Credit Card Reform Bill

In the most sweeping changes to the credit card industry in 40 years, President Obama signed into law Friday an act to restrict practices he says contributed to consumers’ financial problems during the recession. The new law — which includes restrictions on interest rate increases and credit offered to college students — deals a blow to the banking industry, which has lobbied aggressively against tighter regulation. At the same time, it provides less than a complete win for consumers because it doesn’t cap interest rates or fees. Issuers can generally raise rates on existing credit card debt only if consumers have paid their bill more than 60 days late. Banks can’t extend credit cards to people under 21 without verifying their ability to pay or getting their parents’ permission. The law’s impact will be felt by most households in America. About 90 million households carry credit cards, with an average debt load of more than $10,500, according to CardTrak.com.

Loaded Guns to be Allowed in National Parks

A new law allowing loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges will not take effect until next year, the Obama administration said Friday. President Obama signed the gun law without comment Friday as part of a measure creating new rules for the credit card industry. A spokeswoman for the Interior Department said that because the credit card law won’t take effect until nine months after it is signed, the gun measure also will be delayed. Until then, rules adopted under the Reagan administration will remain in place. The rules severely restrict guns in the national parks, generally requiring that guns be locked or stored in a glove compartment or trunk.

Swine N1H1 Flu

Federal health officials said Friday that they will set aside $1 billion to jump-start commercial development of a vaccine against the new H1N1 flu virus now spreading worldwide. The funding will be used to produce bulk supplies of two key components of a vaccine and to test them in humans. The most critical of the two is the vaccine’s active ingredient, a protein from the new flu virus designed to trigger an immune response. The second is a booster, called an adjuvant, that might be added to the vaccine to ramp up its potency if it doesn’t appear to work in early human trials.

The World Health Organization’s global tally now stands at 12,022 cases and 86 deaths in 42 countries. More than half of those cases have been reported in the United States, while most of the deaths occurred in Mexico, where the virus was first detected last month.

All 18 U.S. soldiers infected with swine flu have recovered and left this oil-rich ally of Washington, a Kuwaiti health official said Sunday. “They were treated and they have fully recovered,” said Youssef Mandakar, deputy head of Kuwait’s public health department. He said the soldiers showed “mild symptoms” of the disease upon their arrival at an air force base. Mandakar said the troops didn’t have any contacts with the local population and they were treated at U.S. military facilities. Kuwait is screening passengers arriving at its international airport.

Ruling: Tobacco Companies Lied

A federal appeals court on Friday largely endorsed a landmark ruling that found cigarette makers deceived the public for decades about the health hazards of smoking. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington upheld the major elements of a 2006 ruling that found the nation’s top tobacco companies guilty of fraud and violating racketeering laws. The ruling said manufacturers must change the way they market cigarettes. It bans labels such as “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light” or “mild,” because such cigarettes have been found to be no safer than others because of how people smoke them. It also said the companies must publish “corrective statements” on the adverse health effects and addictiveness of smoking and nicotine. The changes have not taken affect while the case has been under appeal.

GM Borrows Additional $4 Billion

General Motors Corp. said Friday that it has borrowed an additional $4 billion from the Treasury Department, meaning the automaker has now accepted $19.4 billion in loans from the U.S. government. GM started taking government money in December and said it intended to borrow $2.6 billion more by June 1 and an additional $9 billion after that. But in a regulatory filing Friday, GM said it needed $1.4 billion sooner than originally forecast. GM said it now expects to need $7.6 billion in loans after June 1. GM has until then to complete restructuring plans that satisfy the government’s auto task force, or else it will be forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The automaker has been scrambling to cut labor costs, reduce its debt, shed dealerships and brands, and close excess factories.

The United Auto Workers union has reached a tentative deal with the government and General Motors that offers to cut labor costs and fund a union-run trust that will take over retiree health care costs next year. The move is a key step toward GM’s efforts to restructure outside of bankruptcy. Union members still have to vote on the deal. GM has about 61,000 hourly workers in the U.S., but plans to take that number down to 40,000 by 2010.

Automakers will sell just 10 million new cars and trucks in the U.S. this year, the worst in at least three decades, respected forecaster J.D. Power and Associates For the staggering auto industry, “Recovery will not be a quick proposition,” said Gary Dilts, senior vice president of Power’s automotive operations. Even normally healthy automakers such as Toyota and Nissan are losing money. The industry and its analysts had been hoping for signs of a rebound, but now don’t foresee any this month.

Gasoline Prices Swing Higher

Retail gasoline prices continued to climb Friday ahead of the Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of America’s summer driving season. The national average pump price increased nearly 3 cents overnight to $2.391 a gallon, according to auto club AAA. Gasoline prices have ticked higher every day this month. Refiners have been turning less oil into gas with millions of people driving less in the recession. Gas is 32.9 cents a gallon more expensive than last month, but it’s still $1.44 a gallon less expensive than a year ago.

States Cut Down on Driver’s License Fraud

States across the USA are taking unprecedented steps to cut down on driver’s license fraud, making forgeries and alterations harder than ever. Almost every state has produced or plans to produce new licenses with hard-to-replicate features such as holograms, multiple photographs, images that can be seen only under ultraviolet light or “microprinting” that can be read only with a magnifying glass. In Virginia, so many motor vehicles clerks have been caught selling fraudulent driver’s licenses that the state is now removing manufacturing operations from its 74 regional offices. The new features are a technological leap from old-style licenses printed on layers of plastic laminate that can be peeled off so easily that college students could insert a new photograph, name or birth date, says Nebraska DMV Director Beverly Neth.

Economic News

Home prices fell at the sharpest rate ever in the first quarter compared to 2008, but the pace of month-to-month declines continues to slow, a closely watched housing index showed Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller National Home Price index reported home prices were down 19.1% in the first quarter, the most in its 21-year history. Home prices have fallen 32.2% since peaking in the second quarter of 2006. “We see no evidence that a recovery in home prices has begun,” said, David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee.

The Wall Street Journal reports that malls, those ubiquitous shopping meccas that sprang up in the 1950s, are dwindling in number, with many struggling properties reduced to largely vacant shells. Some analysts estimate that the number of so-called “dead malls” — centers debilitated by anemic sales and high vacancy rates — will swell to more than 100 by the end of this year. In the 12 months ended March 31, U.S. malls collectively posted a 6.5% decline in tenants’ same-store sales. The industry’s woes are worsening. Thinning customer traffic, and subsequent hits to tenants’ sales and profits, prompted Standard & Poor’s Corp. last month to lower the credit ratings of the department-store sector. Sears Holdings Corp., a cornerstone tenant at many malls, is expected to close 23 stores this month and next.

In places where budget cuts have shuttered public pools, closed parks and canceled July Fourth fireworks, residents and businesses are giving time and money to save summer activities. In tough budget times, public services that enhance quality of life often are cut first as local leaders try to protect police, fire and public works services, says Chris Hoene, director of research for the National League of Cities. Fundraising drives for public pools are taking place in communities such as Philadelphia and St. Cloud, Minn., where city officials decided four of seven wading pools won’t open this summer because of budget cuts. In Payson, Ariz., businesses and the city have pledged to pay up to $5,000 to reopen nearby Tonto Natural Bridge State Park on weekends. Residents will volunteer at the park to reduce the need for paid staff, Mayor Kenny Evans says.

Some $4 billion from President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan that was budgeted to renovate public housing will be spent to create so-called “green jobs” by making the dwellings more energy efficient. $500 million from the stimulus is becoming available to train workers for these jobs. These jobs, broadly defined as related to helping the environment, pay up to 20% more than other jobs, are more likely to be union jobs and also are ones that cannot be easily transferred overseas.

Pakistan

Worshippers still flock to the grave of Rahman Baba, a Muslim mystic revered by millions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But they now pray at a mound of rubble and twisted steel — all that remains of his tomb since militants bombed it. The blast in March was the most high-profile in a recent spate of attacks against Pakistan’s homespun, tolerant brand of Islam by hard-liners trying to replace it with the more austere version espoused by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups. The attack was a sign of the extreme intolerance of the militants and the threat posed by the insurgency to the religious and cultural heart of Pakistan, a nation of 170 million people that the U.S. sees as critical in the global fight against Islamic extremism.

Ø      Islamic extremists aren’t a religious order but rather a militant band of hooligans and terrorists

N. Korea Nuke Test

North Korea said that it had carried out a powerful underground nuclear test — much larger than one conducted in 2006. The regime also test-fired three short-range, ground-to-air missiles later Monday from the same northeastern site where it launched a rocket last month. The rocket liftoff, widely believed to be a cover for a test of its long-range missile technology, drew censure from the U.N. Security Council. President Obama said Monday that North Korea’s latest nuclear test should be “a matter of grave concern to all nations” and accused Pyongyang of behaving recklessly and defying international will. Reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear program has been a continuing problem for U.S. administrations, dating to the Clinton administration.

North Korea launched tests Tuesday of two more short-range missiles a day after detonating a nuclear bomb underground, pushing the regime’s confrontation with world powers further despite the threat of U.N. Security Council action. Two missiles — one ground-to-air, the other ground-to-ship — with a range of about 80 miles were test-fired from an east coast launch pad, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Thailand

A vicious Muslim insurgency in Thailand’s deep south has spared few. On the roll call of 3,400 dead are monks and teachers, shopkeepers and rubber tappers, officials and innocents from every background. Islamic radicals are fighting for a separate state in Buddhist-majority Thailand. And a rift is widening between Buddhists and Muslims — communities that had lived harmoniously for generations and now share equally in the suffering. The separatist movement, which periodically erupts into violence, was born after 1902 when Thailand took over an independent sultanate in a region where some 70% of the 1.8 million people adhere to Islam. But past insurgency leaders restricted their attacks to Thai authorities. Violence seldom affected the ordinary people and thus did not embroil them in mutual suspicion and fear. This changed dramatically in the wake of hardline government policies in the south coupled with the influence of international jihad.

Austrian Temple Fight

Sikhs wielding knives and a handgun attacked two preachers at a rival temple in Vienna on Sunday in a brawl that left at least 16 people wounded. A related clash later broke out in northern India. The temple is situated in Vienna-Rudolfsheim, the capital’s 15th district near Westbahnhof, one of Vienna’s main train stations. While there are disagreements between the Deras and Sikh religious authorities, violent clashes are rare. Sikhs make up less than 2% of India’s 1.1 billion people, the vast majority of whom are Hindus. A Sikh is defined as “any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal Being; the utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake swayed skyscrapers in Mexico City and rattled colonial buildings in neighboring Puebla state Friday, sending frightened people into the streets. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 5.7 and was centered 90 miles southeast of the capital. Puebla state civil protection chief German Garcia said there were no reports of injuries or collapsed buildings near the epicenter.

A moderate earthquake has jolted an inland desert area in Central California. There were no reports of any damage or injuries. The U.S. Geological survey says the 4.7-magnitude quake struck just before 4 p.m. on Saturday.

In Alaska, a minor earthquake struck near Fairbanks, jolting residents. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says the 3.6 magnitude quake occurred at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, about 10 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

Weather

Parts of the Daytona Beach International Speedway were under water Friday as rains drenched northeast Florida for a fifth straight day, but no significant damage to the motorway was reported. Preliminary estimates put flood damage at $52 million in Volusia County, the worst-hit county, where some 976 buildings have reportedly suffered some kind of damage. Parts of Volusia County were under a flash flood warning as another four inches of rain was expected Friday after at least 16 inches of rain earlier in the week. “I’ve never seen this much rain,” said Dan Roll, executive director of Florida Coast to Coast chapter of the American Red Cross. “It’s really hard to describe how much water there is.” Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday proclaimed a state of emergency for Brevard, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Lake, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns and Volusia counties. “Nobody saw this coming since it was a no-name storm,” said Tim Harbuck, city manager for Holly Hills, which had 50 buildings flooded.

Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes Friday in the Sydney area, as torrential rains and strong winds pounded Australia’s east coast, causing severe flooding and forcing the closure of hundreds of schools. The severe weather has battered the region for the past few days. One man was killed in Queensland state’s Surfers Paradise on Wednesday when a sheet of metal that winds had torn off a nearby building crashed through his office window.

Cyclone Aila lashed low-lying areas in eastern India and Bangladesh, destroying thousands of homes, stranding tens of thousands of people in flooded villages and killing at least 115 before it began to ease Tuesday. Aila tore down nearly 3,000 thatched and mud houses and uprooted a large number of trees in nearly 300 villages across India’s West Bengal state. Storm surges hit coastal areas in neighboring Bangladesh, killing at least 81 people.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more erratic and powerful

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