Great Response to Obama

When President Obama declared that the United States of America is not a Judeo-Christian nation, there was a hue and cry raised from many quarters, but little of it made it into the mainstream media. One of the best responses was given by Congressman J. Randy Forbes, as recorded in the following YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpQOCvthw-o

Gay activists: Obama Reneging on Promises

President Obama extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers Wednesday but left out the key benefits of health insurance and pensions. The move did little to quell frustration among gays who say he has reneged on campaign promises to champion their priorities. Obama said the action “paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation’s pursuit of equality.” Still, he said, “Under current law, we cannot provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.” He urged Congress to do that. Obama’s move allows domestic partners of federal workers to get long-term-care insurance and requires supervisors to approve sick leave for employees caring for partners and non-biological children they have not adopted.

Towleroad.com, a popular gay website, headlined, “Damage control: Obama to throw bone” to gay community. To many gay activists, it was a baby step for a president who vowed big strides. Obama has not ended the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, under which more than 250 gay troops have been ousted since he was sworn in.

  • Obama’s honeymoon is beginning to erode as he plays the political game of fence-straddling. However, he is still likely to advance the gay rights agenda to some degree, and any degree is too much.

New Poll Shows Doubt Over Obama Policies

A substantial majority of Americans say President Obama has not developed a strategy to deal with the budget deficit, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, which also found that support for his plans to overhaul health care, rescue the auto industry and close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, falls well below his job approval ratings. A distinct gulf exists between Mr. Obama’s overall standing and how some of his key initiatives are viewed, with fewer than half of Americans saying they approve of how he has handled health care and the effort to save General Motors and Chrysler. A majority of people said his policies have had either no effect yet on improving the economy or had made it worse, underscoring how his political strength still rests on faith in his leadership rather than concrete results.

Government Control Expanding to Ridiculous Levels

President Obama isn’t just rewriting rules regulating the environment and the financial markets — he is also going after the food industry. Target and example No. 1: Cheerios. “Based on claims made on your product’s label,” the FDA said in a letter to manufacturer General Mills, “we have determined (Cheerios) is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation and treatment of disease.” If the government’s enforcement action against Cheerios were to hold up, the cereal would be pulled from grocery shelves and consumers would need a prescription to buy a box of those little oats. That’s unlikely, but experts say the message is clear: There is a new sheriff in town and when it comes to false, misleading and exaggerated labeling, you had better clean up your act.

  • Soon, Big Brother will be regulating every aspect of our lives under the assumption that we are too dumb to look after ourselves.

Police Raid Pastor’s Home

Last Thursday, a swarm of police officers descended on Michael Salman’s northwest Phoenix home. Armed officers herded Salman, his wife Suzanne, their five young daughters, and their visiting friends into the living room — and kept them under watch for 90 minutes while other city officials searched the grounds. And here’s the crazy part: The officials weren’t looking for drugs, weapons, or stolen property. They were looking for evidence that Michael and Suzanne Salman are holding church services in their backyard. Police were summoned by zoning officials to help serve an administrative warrant. Typically, the city would take that step only if it had previously been denied access by the homeowner, Michael Salman. But Salman says he never turned city officials away from his home — a fact that a city spokesman ultimately confirmed. That makes the warrant, and the police presence, reek of overreach.

To the city, the question is simply whether the Salmans are holding services in a building that’s permitted only for residential use. The services, they say, hold a genuine safety risk. But for the Salmans, the questions are as big as the Constitution itself. What exactly is a church? And what is a group of people who meet once a week to celebrate their faith? Should the government really be in the business of delineating? After all, if it’s okay to have friends over every week for game night, why isn’t it okay to have them over to worship God?

  • Just the tip of the iceberg folks.

U.S. to Pay old Debt to U.N.

The House of Representatives passed a war-funding bill Tuesday that includes about $900 million for U.N. peacekeeping missions and related activities. That funding includes $175 million in arrears accrued since fiscal year 2005, according to the United Nations Foundation, a charitable group that promotes U.N. causes. The United States is the United Nations’ biggest donor, but Congress capped payments for peacekeeping and didn’t pay its bill in full. “This is a strong indication of the Obama administration’s commitment to working with the U.N.,” U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

  • Just another indicator of Obama’s commitment to forming a one-world, socialistic government

AG Holder: 50 Gitmo Trials Possible

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday there may be 50 or more trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees as the Obama administration works to shut the detention center by early next year. Holder discussed the plan before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A separate group of detainees would be sent to foreign countries; a third group, the most difficult, would not be released or put on trial. Holder said officials were discussing how to handle such suspects and whether new legislation would be required to hold them. He said even without a trial, a judge would have to review the basis for holding such detainees.

Congress Sends Obama $106 billion War Funding Bill

Congress on Thursday sent President Obama a massive spending bill aimed at ensuring that the military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan won’t run out of money in the coming months. The Senate passed the measure on a one-sided 91-5 vote despite complaints from several senators about the add-ons that pushed the total more than $20 billion above the funding request Obama made two months ago. The $106 billion emergency war bill also branches off to provide money for programs ranging from pandemic flu preparedness to a “cash for clunkers” initiative. The House approved the bill on Wednesday by a much closer 226-202 vote.

The White House and its Democratic allies insisted that this will be the last time Congress will be compelled to pass an emergency war bill, or supplemental, that is outside the normal budget process and thus goes directly to an increase in the national debt. Congress has passed such bills every year since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with enactment of this legislation the amount will near $1 trillion, with about 70% going to the conflict in Iraq.

  • Last one? Where have we heard that before?

Alcohol Abuse by GIs Soars

The rate of Army soldiers enrolled in treatment programs for alcohol dependency or abuse has nearly doubled since 2003 — a sign of the growing stress of repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Army statistics and interviews. Soldiers diagnosed by Army substance abuse counselors with alcoholism or alcohol abuse, such as binge drinking, increased from 6.1 per 1,000 soldiers in 2003 to an estimated 11.4 as of March 31, according to the data. Marines who screen positive for drug or alcohol problems increased 12% from 2005 to 2008, according to Marine Corps statistics.

Energy-saving Bulbs Recycling Woes

More states are moving to establish safe recycling programs and address the mercury content of the popular curly, compact fluorescent light bulbs. The bulbs, known as CFLs, generally use less power than incandescent light bulbs. CFLs use trace amounts of the toxic metal mercury to produce light. If a bulb breaks, he says, there is a a risk from exposure to mercury, which can damage the lungs and central nervous system if inhaled. In May, Maine became the first state to pass a law requiring manufacturers to limit mercury levels in the bulbs and pay for recycling them safely. The Illinois Legislature passed a law in May that requires recycling information on CFL labels. In Nevada, a special committee is working on regulations that would require utilities to inform consumers on how to recycle CFLs. In California, a bill regarding CFL recycling has passed the State Assembly and awaits Senate approval.

  • This is a case where the solution is worse than the problem. Even with posted recycling information, how many people do you think will read those instructions much less follow them? Our landfills are going to become Mercury contaminated in a few years when these bulbs start dying out and people throw them in the trash. That contamination will then leech into water supplies.

Cell Phones in the Classroom

One-fourth of teens’ cell phone text messages are sent during class, a new survey finds, despite widespread classroom bans on cell phones at school. The survey of 1,013 teens — 84% of whom have cell phones — also shows that a significant number have stored information on a cell phone to look at during a test or have texted friends about answers. More than half of all students say people at their school have done the same. The poll found that teens send 440 text messages a week on average — 110 of them during class. That works out to more than three texts per class period. The findings also reveal a split in perception between teens and parents: Only 23% of parents whose children have cellphones think they are using them at school; 65% of students say they do.

Cash-for-Clunkers Bill Passes

The Senate passed a pared-down version of the so-called cash-for-clunkers program Thursday that will give rebates to new car buyers who turn in older, less fuel-efficient models and that supporters are hopeful will kick-start the anemic car market. The program, offering $3,500 or $4,500 cash vouchers, was inserted into a war-spending measure. As passed, program spending is limited to $1 billion and expires Oct. 1. The program would take effect within 30 days of being signed by President Obama, which he has said he will do. Passenger cars from 1984 or newer with combined miles per gallon ratings of 18 or less are eligible. Owners could get a $3,500 voucher if they trade for a new car rated at least 4 mpg higher or $4,500 if they buy a car that gets 10 mpg more.

Budget Omits Grants for School Drug Programs

President Obama’s first budget proposes to end state grants for school drug programs that he and Vice President Biden fought for as senators. Last year, when President Bush asked Congress to stop funding the grants under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program, Obama, Biden and 35 other senators protested. They signed a letter calling it “the backbone of youth drug prevention” that was “making a difference” for 37 million children. They signed similar letters in 2006 and 2007. Obama’s latest budget calls the program “poorly designed” and cites a 2001 study by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center that found it “profoundly flawed.”

  • Rightly or wrongly, Obama is starting to fall short of all his campaign promises

Foreclosures Grind On as Lenders Fail to Modify Loans

The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to reduce foreclosures has been beset by backlogs and delays. Details of the plan were unveiled in early March. The goal is to prevent up to 4 million foreclosures by having banks modify loans into more affordable monthly payments. Since its debut, the plan has led to offers of more than 190,000 mortgage modifications with lower monthly payments, according to the Treasury Department. During that time, lenders either have started or advanced foreclosure proceedings against more than 1 million homes, according to RealtyTrac. About 20% of those were foreclosed upon and repossessed. The Center for Responsible Lending says 2.4 million Americans are at risk of foreclosure in 2009, and 8.1 million could be over the next four years.

Homeowners who apply for mortgage modifications are finding that banks typically are taking 45 to 60 days to respond to inquiries. Some homeowners who applied for mortgage modifications five months ago still have no answer on whether they will be able to arrange smaller monthly payments, leaving them uncertain whether they’ll keep their homes or lose them shortly.

  • Will we ever learn that government programs within the private sector are ineffective, only creating more red tape and bureaucratic snafus?

Economic News

The number of people on unemployment insurance rolls dropped in the latest week for the first time since early January, while new claims for benefits rose slightly. The Labor Department says unemployment insurance rolls fell 148,000 to 6.69 million in the week ended June 6, a sign the jobs picture might be improving. The drop breaks a string of 21 straight increases, the last 19 of which were record highs. The department says new claims rose 3,000 to 608,000 the week ended June 13. The four-week average, which smooths fluctuations, fell 7,000 to 615,750. The four-week average of claims has dropped about 40,000 from nearly 659,000 in early April, its peak for the current recession. Before the recession, new claims were less than 300,000.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading economic indicators — designed to forecast activity in the next three to six months — rose 1.2%, the biggest gain since March 2004. The New York-based group said activity in the six-month period through May also rose 1.2% — the first time that measure has grown since April 2007. “The recession is losing steam,” said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein. “If these trends continue, expect a slow recovery beginning before the end of the year.” However, Goldstein said the job market will take longer to rebound.

Ten of the largest U.S. banks said Wednesday they repaid more than $66 billion of taxpayer bailout funds, as they race to extract themselves from government restrictions on pay for top executives. Banks are returning money taken from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was once intended to spur lending but is now viewed as a sign that recipients are too weak to survive on their own. In most cases, the banks issued preferred shares that carried 5% dividends in exchange for the money.

  • Had they known that accepting TARP money meant restrictions on top executive pay, they never would have taken the handout. Meanwhile, lending has barely increased.

Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut ratings on 18 banks amid concern about further weakening in the financial sector on Wednesday. S&P said the changes reflected its assessment that volatility will remain in the financial sector and that the industry is expected to face tighter regulatory oversight. S&P also said loan losses, which have plagued the industry for more than a year, are likely to continue to increase and could grow beyond expectations.

Employers who offer health insurance coverage could see a 9% cost increase next year, and their workers may face an even bigger hit, according to a report Thursday from consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Costs will rise in part because workers worried about losing their jobs are using their health care more while they still have it. The report also said rising unemployment is driving up medical costs. Businesses confronted with increases will likely pass some of the burden to employees via higher premiums, deductibles or copays.

Child support payments are falling as parents lose their jobs. States report that more parents are failing to pay and more are going to court to reduce their obligations. Some custodial parents are asking for higher payments because their income is down. And more parents are using unemployment checks to pay child support. Most child support goes through state agencies. States collect and forward payments ordered by judges in divorces and other court actions, and they track payments to families on public assistance.

Thousands of firefighters across the country face possible layoffs this year, prompting concern that deep local government budget cuts will delay emergency response times. Since late last year, cities have been forced to shutter local fire stations, reduce services at others and cut the number of firefighters dispatched on emergency calls. Up to 5,000 firefighting jobs could be in jeopardy, according to an IAFF survey of members, which includes 292,000 firefighters.

Chrysler plans to restart seven assembly plants at the end of June after silencing all of its factories during its six-week stay in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and Fiat’s buyout. Inventories of vehicles made by the eight plants have started to shrink. When the factories come back on line, their work will be done under a different manufacturing system, one used in Europe by Fiat called “World Class Manufacturing.” Union officials say training in the new manufacturing methods got underway early in June, with workers learning a more detail-oriented, data-driven process that is similar to but less bureaucratic than Chrysler’s system.

Iran

Iran’s supreme leader said Friday that the country’s disputed presidential vote had not been rigged, sternly warning protesters of a crackdown if they continue massive demonstrations demanding a new election. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sided with hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and offered no concessions to the opposition. He effectively closed any chance for a new vote by calling the June 12 election an “absolute victory.” Hundreds of thousands of protesters wearing black and carrying candles filled the streets of Tehran again Thursday, joining opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to mourn demonstrators killed in clashes over Iran’s disputed election. Pro-Mousavi websites had no immediate reaction to Khamenei’s warning and no announcement of any changes in a protest planned for 4 p.m. Saturday.

Women, regarded as second-class citizens in Iran, have been noticeably front and center of the massive demonstrations that have unfolded since the presidential election a week ago. “Women have become primary agents of change in Iran,” said Nayereh Tohidi, chairwoman of the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at California State University, Northridge. The remarkable images show women with uncovered heads who are unafraid to speak their minds and crowds that are not segregated — both the opposite of the norm in Iran, Tohidi said. She said a long-brewing women’s movement may finally be manifesting itself on the streets.

Pakistan

Suspected U.S. missile strikes pounded the hide-outs of a Taliban commander in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least eight people, government officials said. A training center of Taliban commander Malang Wazir between the two villages of Gharlamai and Nandaran was the target. U.S. missiles fired from unmanned drones have repeatedly struck the district of South Waziristan, most recently on Sunday after nearly a one-month lull. The strikes have generated a backlash over civilian casualties.

Somalia

An explosion that witnesses said was caused by a suicide bomber killed at least 20 people Thursday in western Somalia, including the country’s national security minister. The explosion occurred in the town of Belet Weyne outside the Medina Hotel, which is frequented by Somali government officials. Somalia’s president says al-Qaeda is behind the suicide bombing. Somalia has not had an effective government for 18 years after warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and plunged the country into anarchy and chaos. The lawlessness has also allowed piracy to thrive off the country’s coast. Islamic insurgents have been trying to topple Somalia’s weak, Western-backed government for more than two years. The U.N. says the conflict has displaced more than 122,000 people.

Hostage Killings Reflect Yemen’s Tensions

Baptist Press reports that three aid workers in Yemen were killed and another six, including three children, are missing after they were kidnapped June 12 while on a picnic. Aid groups suspect a rebel group in an area where al-Qaida has a foothold is responsible. Worldwide Services Foundation, a Dutch aid group, said the workers had been serving with them at hospital in the north of Yemen largely devoted to prenatal and maternity care. Shepherds found the bodies of the three female aid workers on Monday. “The news of the killing of the three women will be a shock also for the local people, with whom a warm relationship exists that has been strengthened by the humanitarian efforts of so many years,” Worldwide Services said.

Colombian Pastors Threatened by Paramilitary Group

Christian Today reports that Columbia’s weak rule of law continues to affect pastors in the northern Córdoba region. Over the past six months, at least 10 pastors have been threatened by men claiming to represent a paramilitary organization in the region, insisting on collaboration. After refusing, one of the pastors said he was kidnapped and beaten, while another said a live grenade was thrown at his home one night. All of the pastors report being told that they are now considered “legitimate military targets” by the Black Eagles group, Christian Post reports. Complaints to the police have gone uninvestigated. “We are seriously concerned for the safety of church leaders living and working in the Cordoba region,” said Stuart Windsor with Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Weather

Heavy rain pounded flood-weary North Dakota again, setting records in Bismarck and pushing the Red River above flood stage in Fargo. The National Weather Service said runoff was expected to put the Red above its 18-foot flood stage in Fargo by Thursday.

Powerful storms that rolled across the Midwest brought heavy rain, strong winds and spawned several apparent tornadoes, damaging homes and businesses, tossing railcars off their tracks and knocking out power to thousands.

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