Calif. Supreme Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban

The California Supreme Court upheld on Tuesday a ban on same-sex marriage but said 18,000 gay couples who got hitched before the initiative passed can stay married. In a 6-1 ruling, the court said voters had a right to reverse its decision. The same court legalized same-sex marriage in May 2008, but a state amendment banning the practice was approved by voters in November. Justices disagreed with gay rights activists who said that only elected lawmakers had the power to override the state Supreme Court. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,015 Americans taken May 7-10 showed 57% oppose same-sex marriage.

Conservative Lutherans Make Open Plea on Homosexuality

The Christian Post reports that conservative Lutheran scholars and pastors are pleading for their denomination to reject various measures that would support civil unions and gay ordination. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will vote on the measures at the Churchwide Assembly in August. “The proposals to be considered by the Churchwide Assembly this summer from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality are perceived by some as compromises that will permit the ELCA to live faithfully with internal diversity on controversial ethical questions. The proposals are in fact no compromise,” the letter states. “They clearly imply that same-sex blessings and the ordination and rostering of homosexual persons in committed relationships are acceptable within the ELCA.” Currently, the ELCA allows the ordination of gays and lesbians if they remain celibate.

Response to Court Nominee Spans Spectrum

Reaction to the Supreme Court nomination of federal appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday spanned the spectrum of opinion, from rave reviews to thumbs down to let’s wait and see. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Republicans “will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views.” Sotomayor drew plenty of support from Democrats. Wendy Long, counsel to the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, called Sotomayor “a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written.” She also said Sotomayor has an “extremely high rate of her decisions being reversed,” which long attributed to liberal activism.

In a speech as a Court of Appeals judge, Sotomayor said, “The court is where policy is made.” Her opinions have followed that approach. What she was referring to was that public policy was made by the Court of Appeals, not by the Legislature. In a recent case, Ricci v. DeStefano, Sotomayor ruled that reverse racism was to be used in making decisions. She ruled in favor of a city that used racially discriminatory practices to deny promotions to firefighters. In Ricci, an applicant to be a firefighter scored the highest on the test but was denied the job because he was not black.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is listed as a member of the National Council of La Raza, a group that’s promoted driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, amnesty programs, and no immigration law enforcement by local and state police. According the American Bar Association, Sotomayor is a member of the NCLR, which bills itself as the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S. Meaning “the Race,” La Raza also has connections to groups that advocate the separation of several southwestern states from the rest of America.

Swine H1N1 Flu

America’s epidemic of new H1N1 flu may have peaked except in New York, New Jersey and New England, a leading federal health expert said Tuesday. The agency has tallied 6,764 confirmed or probable cases and 10 deaths nationwide, Schuchat says, more than half of the global total of 12,954 cases in 48 countries as reported Tuesday by the World Health Organization.

A cruise ship with 2,000 passengers aboard has cut short a voyage and will head to an Australian port for medical help after three crewmembers were diagnosed Thursday with swine flu. The number of swine flu cases in Australia jumped from 67 Wednesday to 103 by mid-Thursday. Elsewhere in Asia, Singapore confirmed its first swine flu infection Wednesday. South Korea confirmed four more cases of the disease, bringing the total there to 33. And in the Philippines, tests confirmed four more cases of the virus in guests who attended a wedding in the country, raising the country’s total to 10.

More Calif. Budget Cuts

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday proposed eliminating welfare for 500,000 families and terminating health coverage for nearly 1 million children to help close the state’s ballooning budget deficit. The Republican governor’s administration released details of $5.5 billion in cuts, a week after state voters defeated special election ballot measures. The new proposals are on top of those previously announced by Schwarzenegger. Also among the cuts are stops to college fee assistance for thousands of students, fewer vocational training opportunities for state inmates and the elimination of $70 million in funds for the state park system. The governor’s finance team said the deficit now was projected to grow to $24.3 billion through June 2010.

Stimulus Projects Bypass Hard-Hit States

States hit hardest by the recession received only a few of the government’s first stimulus contracts, even though the glut of new federal spending was meant to target places where the economic pain has been particularly severe. Nationwide, federal agencies have awarded nearly $4 billion in contracts to help jump-start the economy since President Obama signed the massive stimulus package in February. But, with few exceptions, that money has not reached states where the unemployment rate is highest, according to a USA TODAY review of contracts disclosed through the Federal Procurement Data System. In Michigan, for example — where years of economic tumult and a collapsing domestic auto industry have produced the nation’s worst unemployment rate — federal agencies have spent about $2 million on stimulus contracts, or 21 cents per person, far less than the nationwide average of nearly $13.

The first waves of that money flowed unevenly in large part because some federal agencies have moved more swiftly than others to sign contracts for projects funded by the stimulus. In many cases, those first contracts went to projects that began years ago or to companies that have long track records of doing government work. For example, about $3 billion of the government’s first contracts were to speed cleanup of some of the nation’s worst nuclear waste sites, scattered over a handful of states. Even so, the first contracts have amounted to only about $7.42 per person on average in the eight states with unemployment rates higher than 10% last month. By comparison, government records show it has awarded about $26 worth of contracts per person in North Dakota, whose unemployment rate is the nation’s lowest.

Economic News

President Obama said Wednesday that the stimulus had created or saved 150,000 jobs in its first 100 days. Overall, however, the economy shed more than 1.2 million jobs in March and April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Consumer confidence soared to the highest level in eight months in May, trouncing analysts’ estimates, as Americans grew optimistic that the job market and business conditions will improve before year’s end. While the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index is still weak by historical standards, Americans think “the worst is now behind us,” says Lynn Franco, head of the board’s Consumer Research Center. The broad measure of consumer sentiment jumped to 54.9, up from 40.8 in April. By comparison, the consumer index was 90.6 in December 2007, when the recession began.

The tally of newly laid-off people seeking jobless benefits fell last week, a sign that companies are cutting fewer workers, and demand for big-ticket manufactured goods soared by the largest amount in 16 months in April, the second increase in the past three months. The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of initial claims for unemployment insurance dropped to a seasonally adjusted 623,000, from a revised figure of 636,000 in the previous week. That compares with claims of 300,000 or less before the recession began. The number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits increased to 6.78 million, the largest total on records dating back to 1967 and the 17th straight record week.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose modestly from March to April as buyers swooped in to take advantage of prices that were 15.4% below year-ago levels. The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that home sales rose 2.9% to an annual rate of 4.68 million last month. The median sales price plunged to $172,000, down from $201,300 in the same month last year. That was the second-largest drop on record after January, when prices fell 17.5%.

New home sales were almost flat last month, while industry reports show that a record 12% of homeowners with a mortgage are behind on their payments or in foreclosure, indicating that the housing market’s recovery will likely be a slow and gradual process.

Oil and gasoline prices hit a new high for the year Wednesday despite expectations that OPEC will not cut production again Benchmark crude for July delivery rose $1 to settle at $63.45 a barrel. Retail gasoline prices, which are up 19% in the past month, rose 0.9 cents overnight to $2.434 a gallon, according to auto club AAA. Prices are now 10 cents higher than a week ago and 38.4 cents a gallon higher than a month ago.

The government says U.S. banks turned a profit in the first quarter, but the number of troubled banks jumped to more than 300. The Federal Deposit Insurance says higher trading revenues at big banks helped the industry earn a $7.6 billion profit in the January-March period, compared with a record loss of $36.9 billion in the fourth quarter. The profit was 61% below the $19.3 billion earned in the year-ago period and followed the first quarterly loss in 18 years. U.S. banks and thrifts set aside $60.9 billion in the first quarter to cover potential loan losses, up from $36.2 billion a year earlier.

Federal tax revenue plunged $138 billion, or 34%, in April vs. a year ago — the biggest April drop since 1981 When the economy slumps, so does tax revenue. Big revenue losses mean that the U.S. budget deficit may be larger than predicted this year and in future years. The government may have a hard time trimming spending to reduce the deficit when the recession ends. The 77 million Baby Boomers— those born in 1946 through 1964 — will start tapping their federal retirement benefits soon, which means increased government outlays for Social Security and Medicare. The Boomers now are in their 50s and 60s and unlikely to keep increasing incomes for long, which means that revenue from income taxes could flatten in the next few years.

Banks have seized upon another way to squeeze profits out of struggling consumers: higher checking account fees. These fees can add up to hundreds of dollars before consumers know there’s a problem. At a time when the government has bailed out many of the largest banks, the moves are drawing the ire of economists who say they threaten to further undermine consumers’ financial stability. Banks are raising account fees because of a “mix of market power and opportunism,” says Simon Johnson, a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund.

Charity Network Delivers Food to Recession’s Victims

The non-profit group Feed The Children (www.feedthechildren.org), has sent caravans of tractor trailers around the country delivering food and toiletries to those hurt by the harsh reality of tough times. The caravans have visited six cities including Laurinburg, N.C.; Elkhart, Ind.; Greenville, Miss.; New York City and Chicago since February. In each city, hundreds of people line up to receive the boxes. The group has given food and personal items like soap and toothpaste to more than 19,000 families. Each box of food, which weighs 25 pounds, contains enough basics for a family of four for five days.

Half of Men Arrested Test Positive for Drugs

Half of the men arrested in 10 U.S. cities test positive for some type of illegal drug, a federal study found. Not only do the findings show “a clear link between drugs and crime,” they also highlight the need to provide drug treatment. Assessing offenders for drug and mental health problems and providing treatment is “important if you want to stop recidivism and recycling people through the system,” says Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, who supports drug courts that offer court-ordered drug treatment. “There’s an opportunity when someone is arrested to divert them to treatment if they need it,” says Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance Network. Marijuana is the most common drug in every city where testing was done except Atlanta, where cocaine is most prevalent, the study found. Methamphetamine use is concentrated on the west coast where 35% of the men arrested in Sacramento and 15% of the men arrested in Portland tested positive for the drug. Heroin use is highest, at 29%, among men arrested in Chicago.

Arizona’s Smoking Rate Drops

The number of Arizonans who smoke is dropping sharply, and experts are attributing the decline to new laws that limit the use of tobacco and the higher cost of cigarettes. A new federal study shows that about 170,000 of the state’s adult residents kicked their smoking habit from 2007 to 2008; the number of active smokers in Arizona – those who smoke some days or every day – fell to 15.9 percent, down from 19.8 percent in 2007. That’s a nearly 20 percent decrease, and medical experts call it “unprecedented.” The share of people who smoke every day fell to 10.7 percent from 13.6 percent. Arizona’s decrease in active smokers means the state now ranks far below the national average of 18.3 percent.

Insured Pay ‘Hidden Tax’ for Uninsured Health Care

The average U.S. family and their employers paid an extra $1,017 in health care premiums last year to compensate for the uninsured, according to a study released Thursday by an advocacy group for health care consumers. Families USA, which supports expanded health care coverage, found that about 37% of health care costs for people without insurance — or a total of $42.7 billion — went unpaid last year. That cost eventually was shifted to the insured through higher premiums, according to the group. As President Obama and Congress take up health care legislation this year, the so-called hidden tax is increasingly becoming a talking point as proof that the U.S. health care system needs to be fixed. How this hidden tax will be eliminated will be a point of contention as the debate over health care intensifies.

Carbon Pollution to Grow by 40%

The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide seeping into the atmosphere will increase by nearly 40% worldwide by 2030 if ways are not found to require mandatory emission reductions, a U.S. government report said Wednesday. The Energy Information Administration said world energy consumption is expected to grow by 44% over the next two decades as the global economy recovers and continues to expand. The biggest increases in energy use will come from economically developing countries such as China and India. Substantial growth is expected in the use of renewable energy sources such as hydropower, wind and solar, the report said. But it also said overall growth in demand will require continued reliance on fossil fuels, especially oil and coal. As a result, the analysis predicted a steady increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that scientists say threatens a serious warming of the Earth later this century.

Israel

Israel defied a surprisingly blunt U.S. demand that it freeze all building in West Bank Jewish settlements, saying Thursday it will press ahead with construction. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that President Obama wants Israel to halt to all settlement construction — including “natural growth.” She was referring to Israel’s insistence that new construction is necessary to accommodate the expansion of families already living in existing settlements. The new conflict with Washington came on the same day Obama was to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. Abbas has said the Palestinian demand for freezing settlements will be at the top of his agenda in the talks. Obama’s administration has been more explicit in its criticism of Israeli settlement policy than its predecessor. The United Statesz and much of the world consider the settlements an obstacle to peace because they are built on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

  • The Palestinians may claim it, but it belongs to Israel historically and Biblically.

Iraq

May is already the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since September. This month’s death toll reached 20 when the military reported a soldier was killed by a roadside bomb Wednesday. The spike in fatalities has coincided with a spurt of violence in Iraq in recent months. Militant groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq have stepped up their campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations at a time when U.S. troops are preparing to withdraw from urban areas by June 30 per a deal with the Iraqi government. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has said that he would be willing to stay longer in hot spots, such as Mosul, if asked by the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said that he expects all U.S. troops to withdraw as scheduled.

Afghanistan

U.S. coalition troops attacked a suspected foreign fighter camp in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least 29 insurgents in an intense firefight, the military said, while a NATO soldier died after a roadside bomb attack in the south. At least six insurgents equipped with explosives blew themselves up during the clash in eastern Paktika province near the border with Pakistan. One coalition member was wounded in the assault, in which troops also called in airstrikes for support. Following the battle, forces discovered weapons caches containing rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-47 assault rifles, suicide vests and other armaments.

Pakistan

Mission News Network reports that Christians fleeing from Pakistan’s conflict with the Taliban may face steeper challenges than other groups. “The challenge for Christians is somewhat multiplied because they are already sort of disenfranchised: they’re already pushed to the side, and so they become sort of lost in the shuffle,” said Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs. “We have even heard reports that while the government is helping to relocate Muslim citizens out of these areas where the Taliban is taking over, they’re not giving that same assistance to Christians.” Pakistan’s Christians rank low in society and are often forced to work the most menial jobs because of discrimination and lack of education. Under the Taliban, Christians could face poll taxes and even harsher discrimination.

Gunmen detonated a car bomb near police and intelligence agency offices in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing about 30 people and wounding at least 250 in one of the country’s deadliest attacks this year. Attackers with rifles stepped from the car and opened fire on the intelligence agency building in the city of Lahore, then set off a massive blast when security guards returned fire. Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, sits near the Indian border and is considered a liberal, cultural capital. Assaults there have heightened fears that militancy in nuclear-armed Pakistan is spreading well beyond the northwest region bordering Afghanistan. Wednesday’s attack was the third major strike in Lahore in recent months. The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility Thursday for a deadly bomb and gun attack on police and intelligence agency offices, saying it was revenge for the army’s current offensive against the militants in the country’s northwest.

North Korea

Amidst the cacophony of condemnation from all sides following North Korea’s second nuclear bomb test, there has been no mention whatsoever of how the secretive Stalinist state got its weapons in the first place – they were paid for by the U.S. government. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations played a key role in helping Kim Jong-Il develop North Korea’s nuclear prowess from the mid 1990’s onwards. In 1994, the Clinton administration agreed to replace North Korea’s domestically built nuclear reactors with light water nuclear reactors. So-called government-funded ‘experts’ claimed that light water reactors couldn’t be used to make bombs. Not so according to Henry Sokolski, head of the Non-proliferation Policy Education Centre in Washington, who stated, “LWRs could be used to produce dozens of bombs’ worth of weapons-grade plutonium in both North Korea and Iran. This is true of all LWRs — a depressing fact U.S. policymakers have managed to block out.” In April 2002, the Bush administration announced that it would release $95 million of American taxpayer’s dollars to begin construction of the ‘harmless’ light water reactors in North Korea. Bush argued that arming the megalomaniac dictator Kim Jong-Il with the potential to produce a hundred nukes a year was, “vital to the national security interests of the United States.” Bush released even more money in January 2003.

Two Dead, 14 Injured in Nepal Church Blast

Agence France-Presse reports that two people were killed and 14 were injured Saturday when a bomb detonated inside a Roman Catholic church. Police suspect a Hindu extremist group is behind the attack, which is the first of its kind around Kathmandu, the country’s capitol. About 500 people were in the church when an usher tried to remove a black plastic bag in a seat, setting off the bomb inside the bag. A 15-year-old girl died in the blast. “This is the saddest day in the history of Nepali Christians. Never before has there been such an attack on the church in Nepal,” said Tirtha Thapa, a Christian leader and founder-director of Nepal’s Human Development and Community Services which works in education and health.

Stabbing, Bombing Attacks Strike Two Churches in Egypt

Compass Direct News reports that a Coptic Christian suffered severe stab wounds as he left a worship service in Minya, Upper Egypt, and a car-bombing outside a venerable church in Cairo disrupted a wedding. Without provocation, three Muslims repeatedly stabbed Coptic Christian Girgis Yousry, 21, as the army conscript was leaving the gates of the church of Saint Mary. The assault left him with severe injuries to internal organs, and was still receiving treatment in a district hospital at press time. Three men were arrested on May 5 and have been given a 16-day initial incarceration while the investigation is underway. In Cairo, a makeshift bomb placed under a car exploded outside a renowned Coptic Orthodox church building in Zeitoun district on May 9, incinerating the vehicle but causing no injuries.

Radical Muslims Force Members from Church in Zanzibar

Compass Direct News reports that worship in a house church on a Tanzanian island did not take place for the third week running. Muslim extremists expelled worshippers from their rented property in Zanzibar City on May 9. Angered by a recent upsurge in Christian evangelism in the area, church members said, radical Muslims had sent several threats to the Christians warning them to stop their activities. The church had undertaken a two-day evangelism campaign culminating in an Easter celebration. On the morning of the attack, more than 20 church members had gathered for Saturday fellowship when word reached them that Muslim extremists were about to attack. As the radical group approached, the Christians fled in fear of their lives.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake collapsed more than two dozen homes in Honduras and Belize early Thursday, killing a teenager and injuring two more as terrified people ran into the streets in towns across much of Central America The magnitude-7.1 quake struck at 3:24 a.m. local time at the relatively shallow depth of 6 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo. Democracy Bridge, which spans the country’s largest river, the Ulua, collapsed in the town of El Progreso, Cordero said. The bridge connects the northern city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest, with the rest of the country.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: