U.S. Debt Hits Taxpayers

Taxpayers are on the hook for an extra $55,000 a household to cover rising federal commitments made just in the past year for retirement benefits, the national debt and other government promises, a USA TODAY analysis shows. The 12% rise in red ink in 2008 stems from an explosion of federal borrowing during the recession, plus an aging population driving up the costs of Medicare and Social Security. The latest increase raises federal obligations to a record $546,668 per household in 2008. That’s quadruple what the average U.S. household owes for all mortgages, car loans, credit cards and other debt combined.

  • Ultimately, government debt falls on taxpayer shoulders. Technically, not only is the government bankrupt, but so are over 90% of all citizens who don’t happen to have over half-a-million in assets to cover their share of government debt. Pray that our creditors (including Japan, China, , Russia and the OPEC oil-exporting nations) don’t call in the debt and force us to default. Our future is in their hands.

Gay Activist to Oversee Public Classroom Safety

The founder of the homosexual activist group GLSEN, which promotes homosexual clubs in high schools, middle schools and grade schools and is the driving force behind the annual “Day of Silence” celebration of homosexuality in many districts, has been handed a federal appointment where he will be responsible for overseeing “safety” in the nation’s public schools. The appointment of Kevin Jennings was posted – with little fanfare – on a government list of federal jobs recently. He was named by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to be the Assistant Deputy Secretary in the Office of Safe Schools. He previously worked to raise money for the presidential campaign for President Obama.

Shift In Home-Schooling

Parents who home-school children increasingly are white, wealthy and well-educated — and their numbers have nearly doubled in a decade, a new federal government report says. As of spring 2007, an estimated 1.5 million, or 2.9% of all school-age children in the USA, were home-schooled, up from 1.7% in 1999. Perhaps most significant: The ratio of home-schooled boys to girls has shifted significantly. In 1999, it was 49% boys, 51% girls. Now boys account for only 42%; 58% are girls. In 1999, 36% of home-schooling families earned more than $50,000. Now 60.0% earn more than $50,000. The new figures come from the U.S. Department of Education, which found that 36% of parents said their most important reason for home schooling was to provide “religious or moral instruction”; 21% cited concerns about school environment. Only 17% cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction.”

Federal Judge Refuses to Dismiss National Day of Prayer Lawsuit

A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by an atheist group that claims the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled this week the case brought by the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation can proceed. A federal law sets the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. Crabb says the nation’s largest group of atheists and agnostics faces a heavy burden in proving the tradition violates the Constitution’s provision for separation of church and state. But she says it should have an opportunity to do so. The Obama administration and National Day of Prayer Task Force had filed motions to dismiss the case.

Obama Defends Supreme Court Nominee

President Obama on Friday personally sought to deflect criticism of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who finds herself under intensifying scrutiny for saying in 2001 that a female Hispanic judge would often reach a better decision than a white male judge. “I’m sure she would have restated it,” Obama flatly told NBC News, without indicating how he knew that. Sotomayor has said she made a poor word choice. The quote in question from Sotomayor has emerged as a rallying call for conservative critics who fear she will offer opinions from the bench based less on the rule of law and more on her life experience, ethnicity and gender. That issue is likely to play a central role in her Senate confirmation process.

In nearly 11 years as a federal appeals court judge, Sonia Sotomayor, has never directly ruled on whether the Constitution protects a woman’s right to an abortion. But when she has written opinions that touched tangentially on abortion disputes, she has reached outcomes in some cases that were favorable to abortion opponents. Now, some abortion rights advocates are quietly expressing unease that Judge Sotomayor may not be a reliable vote to uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision.

Obama Creates Cyber Czar Position

President Obama announced on Friday the creation of a “cyber czar” to oversee an enhanced security system for U.S. computer networks. He also released a report recommending how to safeguard the nation’s cyber network. “We’re not as prepared as we should be, as a government or as a country,” he said, calling cyber threats one of the most serious economic and military dangers the nation faces. Obama said he will pick the person he wants to head up a new White House office of cyber security soon, and that person will report to the National Security Council as well as to the National Economic Council, in a nod to the importance of computers to the economy.

Swine N1H1 Flu

French authorities say a U.S. official in Normandy to prepare President Obama’s upcoming visit has been hospitalized with swine flu. Eleven other members of the U.S. delegation were placed in isolation for 24 hours in their hotel. A group of 21 students and three teachers from a Maryland private school has been released from quarantine after being held by the Chinese government over fears about swine flu.

Christianity Today to Close Four Publications, Lays Off 31

Religion News Service reports that publishing powerhouse Christianity Today International (CTI) is shutting down four publications and laying off 31 workers. The ministry cited hard times in its industry. According to a plan announced May 22, two magazines will fold: Today’s Christian Woman and the Campus Life College Guide, which targets Christian undergrads. CTI will also cease to publish Glimpses, a worship bulletin insert with stories from Christian history, and Church Office Today, a bi-monthly newsletter read by church administrators. The moves, which reduce CTI staff numbers by 22 percent to 108 employees, mark the latest attempt to cut costs at Carol Stream, Ill.-based CTI. In January, the organization shuttered two other magazines — Marriage Partnership and Ignite Your Faith — and sold a third, Today’s Christian.

First-Time Homebuyers Get Loans & Tax Credit

Thousands of first-time homebuyers will be able to get short-term loans so they can quickly make use of a new $8,000 tax credit. The Federal Housing Administration on Friday released details of a plan in which borrowers who use FHA loans can receive the credit before they complete their taxes. The FHA had no estimate of how many borrowers would qualify. But the agency, which backs about a quarter of new-home loans, is projected to guarantee about 2.2 million loans in the next budget year. Borrowers can claim the credit by filing an amended 2008 tax return or can wait for their 2009 return.

GM to File for Bankruptcy

It appears certain that General Motors will file for bankruptcy early next week. Can GM re-emerge from Chapter 11 as a profitable and viable automaker? Other major American companies such as Texaco, Dow Corning, Delta Airlines and United Airlines have filed for Chapter 11 reorganization and successfully exited. GM enters the process, according to bankruptcy experts, with the most important element needed for an eventual exit — an outside source of financing going forward. In GM’s case, that source is named Uncle Sam. GM was hesitant to file for bankruptcy fearing no one would buy its cars, but that appears to have been overcome with the government agreeing to back its warranties, according to Picker.

Economic News

The Commerce Department’s preliminary report also showed corporate profits after taxes increased 1.1% in the first quarter, the first increase in a year, after plummeting 10.7% in the fourth quarter. Investment by businesses tumbled a record 36.9% in the first quarter, while residential investment dived 38.7%, the biggest decline since the second quarter of 1980. Consumer spending, which accounts for over two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, rose 1.5%. Spending had collapsed in the second half of last year.

Nearly a million small-business owners have been forced to find a new line of credit. Credit card issuer Advanta, which focuses on small businesses, will stop accepting new charges Saturday and existing lines of credit will be terminated. The company is wrangling with a rise in uncollectible debt and overdue credit card payments. In addition, it is losing funding from an independent trust that provides resources for new transactions.

Gasoline and oil prices continued a recession-defying march higher Friday, doubling in the past six months largely on optimism of a strengthening economy. Oil rose to a six-month high above $66 per barrel, marking its largest monthly percentage gain in more than a decade. Oil prices jumped around 30% this month, the largest monthly rise since March 1999. The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas edged up to $2.488 on Saturday That marks the 32nd consecutive daily increase. In that one-month period, the average price of gas jumped more than 20%.

The stock market posted its third straight monthly gain in May, with the Dow Jones Industrial benchmark closing at 8,500. However, this is still way below its peak of just over 14,000 prior to the recession.

North Korea

North Korea defiantly test-fired another short-range missile Friday and warned it would act in “self-defense” if provoked by the U.N. Security Council, which is considering tough sanctions against the communist regime for conducting a nuclear test. It is the sixth short-range missile North Korea has test-fired since Monday’s nuclear test. With tensions high on the Korean peninsula, Chinese fishing boats left the region, possibly to avoid any maritime skirmishes between the two Koreas. Fears have increased of military skirmishes, particularly in disputed waters off the western coast, after North Korea also renounced the truce that has kept peace between the Koreas since the Korean War ended in 1953. The U.S. and South Korea put their military forces on high alert Thursday.

Afghanistan

The U.S. coalition troops killed 35 militants and wounded another 13 during a clash in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said in a statement. The clash follows another battle in the eastern Paktika province early on Thursday, where 34 militants, including Arab and Pakistanis, were killed. The violence is escalating in Afghanistan, as additional U.S. troops move into the country and try to reverse the Taliban gains of the last three years.

Pakistan

Pakistani troops have retaken the largest town in the Swat Valley from the Taliban as the army presses its offensive against militants in the country’s northwest, the army spokesman said Saturday. Government forces had full control of Mingora, though they were still meeting pockets of resistance from fighters on the outskirts of the town. Government troops have been advancing steadily into the Swat region, bombarding towns from the air and fighting house-to-house with Taliban gunmen. The fighting has caused more than 2 million people to flee the region, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis. The military says it has killed more than 1,100 militants in its month-old campaign to rout the Taliban from Swat and surrounding regions, an offensive that is strongly backed by Washington.

Weather

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded out of their homes by deadly Cyclone Aila crowded government shelters in eastern India and Bangladesh on Friday, and officials said the risk of disease outbreaks was growing. The death toll from Monday’s cyclone rose to 264 people in the two countries. In India, the cyclone left 500,000 homeless. More than 130,000 are crowded in government-run camps, and relief officials are using aircraft and boats to deliver food, water and medicine to others sheltering in schools, office buildings or friends’ homes.

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