Archive for July, 2009

July 31, 2009

Muslims in Somalia Turning to Christ

Christians in Somalia are remaining strong, despite an increase in persecution. About 99 percent of Somalia is Muslim. It is estimated there are anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 Christians in the country. Currently, a terrorist group linked with al-Qaida is trying to overthrow the government and impose the most extreme form of Islam. Jerry Dykstra of Open Doors USA says although Christians face harsh conditions, inroads are being made. “Many of Somalia’s Christians have come to the faith from Islam, so they are Muslim-background believers — and many have done that [come to Christ] through signs and miracles,” Dykstra notes. Earlier this month, seven Christian men in Somalia were killed by Muslim terrorists.

Falwell Boldly Delivers House Invocation in Jesus’ Name

Rev. Jonathan Falwell has followed his father’s footsteps to Washington, delivering the opening prayer Wednesday for the U.S. House of Representatives. Falwell took over as pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, after his father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, died in 2007. During his prayer, Jonathan Falwell asked God to forgive the nation’s sins and guide its leaders. “We know as our forefathers knew and as the scriptures tell us that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people,” Falwell prayed. “And so today we ask Your forgiveness for the sins that we as a people and we as a nation have committed. We seek Your wisdom and Your guidance in all that takes place in this room. We ask You to be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Above all, we ask You to continue to bless this great land that we call home.” He then concluded his prayer in Jesus’ name.

New York Times/CBS News Poll shows Support for Obama/Healthcare Eroding

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows that President Obama’s job approval rating has dropped 10 points, to 58 percent, from a high point in April. And despite his efforts — in speeches, news conferences, town-hall-style meetings and other forums — to address public misgivings, 69 percent of respondents in the poll said they were concerned that the quality of their own care would decline if the government created a program that covers everyone.

House Blue Dogs Strike Healthcare Deal

After weeks of turmoil, House Democrats reached a shaky peace with the party’s rebellious rank-and-file ‘Blue Dog’ conservatives Wednesday and cleared the way for a vote in September on sweeping health care legislation. The House changes, which drew immediate opposition from liberals in the chamber, would reduce the federal subsidies designed to help lower-income families afford insurance, exempt additional businesses from a requirement to offer insurance to their workers and change the terms of a government insurance option. Bipartisan Senate negotiators reported progress, too, on a bill to extend coverage to 95 percent of all Americans without raising federal deficits. “We’re on the edge, we’re almost there,” said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican involved in the secretive Senate talks. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, said preliminary estimates from congressional budget experts showed the cost of the emerging Senate plan was below $900 billion and would result in an increase in employer-sponsored insurance — conclusions that may reassure critics who fear a bloated bill that prompts businesses to abandon the coverage they currently provide.

In a dramatic reversal, an pro-life amendment to a health overhaul bill was voted down in a House committee late Thursday night. The measure had passed the panel just hours earlier. The amendment said the healthcare bill may not impose requirements for coverage of abortion, except in limited cases. The Energy and Commerce Committee approved it in an initial vote, after conservative Democrats joined Republicans to support it. But committee Chairman Henry Waxman )D-California), invoked House rules that allowed him to bring up the amendment for a second vote, despite Republican objections. That time, one conservative Democrat changed his vote from “yes” to “no.” And a second conservative Democrat who hadn’t voted the first time voted “no.” It was enough to take down the amendment by a one-vote margin, 30-29.

Biased Networks Give Healthcare Positive Spin

A conservative media watchdog organization says Barack Obama cannot blame the liberal news media for the stall of his big government healthcare plan in Congress. A new study by the Media Research Center‘s (MRC) Business and Media Institute (BMI) found that broadcast coverage during the first six months of 2009 tilted heavily in favor of Obama’s big government healthcare reform plan. Rich Noyes, director of research at the MRC, explains what their efforts revealed. “What we found most interesting was that 70 percent of the sound bites on ABC, CBS, and NBC were pro-Obama healthcare.” Despite the overwhelming positive coverage, Noyes notes much of the public is not buying the Obama healthcare proposal, with one survey indicating that 75% believe “this scheme will put healthcare at risk.”

Americans Spend $34 Billion on Alternative Health Care

While Americans may complain about the high cost of health care, they’re still willing to shell out roughly $34 billion a year out-of-pocket on alternative therapies that aren’t covered by insurance, a new study shows. That’s a growth of more than 25% in the past decade, says an in-person survey of 23,000 Americans from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health. Alternative therapies, which range from herbs to yoga classes, now account for 11% of the total amount that Americans spend out-of-pocket on all health care. The bulk of these expenses, $22 billion, go to “self care,” or treatments such as homeopathic medications and fish oil capsules that people buy without a health practitioner’s advice, the study says. Many people combine conventional and “complementary” approaches.

Prop. 8 Battle Delayed till 2012

The campaign to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which protects traditional marriage, is in a holding pattern. Wealthy homosexual activists are reportedly not willing to put up the money to conduct a petition drive and support an expensive campaign to try to overturn Prop. 8 in 2010. It appears they are targeting 2012 instead. “And when they do, they’ll be in a much better position strategically and possibly even in the polls at that time,” says Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute. “So, what’s required now is [that] those who believe in Proposition 8, those who believe in traditional marriage, should be vigilant, stay alert, and by no means count the battle over. It’s just simply been delayed.”

Dems Exempt Themselves from Pay-Go Rules

A taxpayer watchdog group is blasting House Democrats for already failing to adhere to their recently enacted “pay as you go” budget rules. ust a week after House Democrats adopted pay-as-you-go (“pay-go”) budget rules, they voted to borrow more than $14 billion from the Treasury to shore up federal highway and unemployment trust funds to help states during the month of August. Pete Sepp, vice president for policy at the National Taxpayers Union, accuses Democrats of only adhering to pay-go budget rules when it suits their own political ends. It is disingenuous for Democrats to boast fiscal discipline when they are exempting their $1 trillion healthcare legislation from pay-go rules, according to Sepp.

Illegal Immigrant Population in Arizona Drops by a Third

The number of illegal immigrants living in Arizona has plunged by one-third in the past two years amid a dismal job market and stiffer enforcement of immigration laws, according to researchers who released a new report. Arizona saw the largest decline of any state, according to researchers at the Center for Immigration Studies, following years of steady growth. The loss of illegal immigrants has had ramifications for the Arizona economy, with some saying the exodus means less of a drain on taxpayer services and others saying the loss has hurt businesses and tax revenue. Last week, Chandler-based Bashas’ Supermarkets closed three Food City stores in predominantly Latino neighborhoods in Phoenix and Glendale, which some analysts said reflected the beating many businesses have taken as a result of an exodus of Latino immigrants and their families. The report by the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that the nation’s illegal-immigrant population fell from a peak of 12.5 million in the summer of 2007 to 10.8 million in the first quarter of 2009, a drop of 13.7 percent.

Swine H1N1 Flu

Swine Flu para­noia is run­ning ram­pant around the globe as the CDC and World Health Orga­ni­za­tion fan the flames of fear. Gov­ern­ments are lining up to invest bil­lions in vac­cines while being care­fully coached and lob­bied by Big Pharma mem­bers like Baxter, Novavax, Roche and Glax­o­SmithK­line, who will make bil­lions from untested and unproven H1N1 vac­cines. Mean­while, legal immu­nity has already been granted to vac­cine makers by the U.S. government. Dr. Rus­sell Blay­lock writes in the August Review, This virus con­tinues to be an enigma for virol­o­gists. In the April 30, 2009 issue of Nature, a virol­o­gist was quoted as saying, ‘Where the hell it got all these genes from we don’t know.’ Exten­sive analysis of the virus found that it con­tained the orig­inal 1918 H1N1 flu virus, the avian flu virus (bird flu), and two new H3N2 virus genes from Eurasia. Debate con­tinues over the pos­si­bility that swine flu is a genet­i­cally engi­neered virus.”

  • Just another New World (Dis)Order induced panic to expand global authority and increase profits for its corporate partners

Concerned by the latest projections of national health officials that at least 25% of Israelis will contract swine flu over the coming winter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the purchase of vaccine doses for all Israeli citizens against the spread of the H1N1 influenza. The vaccine is still under development and will be ready for delivery to various countries “in a few months,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said. The emergency purchase will cost an estimated NIS 450 million ($US 115m.) and will increase the State’s supply of anti-influenza medicines by an additional 5%, even though it currently has more medicines in stock than the European average. So far, about 1,500 swine flu cases – about 30 or 40 new cases a day – have been reported in Israel, and other Middle Eastern countries have had comparable numbers.

Older White Males Hurt More by This Recession

In previous recessions, veteran workers were largely spared the pain of widespread job cutbacks, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Layoffs tended to be concentrated among younger workers: The younger you were, the more likely you were to get fired. Traditional, bread-winning older males — especially white men — were the least vulnerable. Not so today. Aging Baby Boomers are suffering a harsh employment bust. Jobless rates for men and women older than 55 are at their highest level since the Great Depression, government data show. White men over 55 had a record 6.5% unemployment rate in the second quarter, far above the previous post-Depression high of 5.4% in 1983. The jobless rate for older black men was higher — 10.5% — but more than a percentage point below its 1983 peak.

The most remarkable change is in the unemployment rate for black women: 12.2%, far below the historic peak of 20% in 1983. Hispanic unemployment is about 6 percentage points below historic highs, too. In other words, this recession has shrunk the racial gap in unemployment, largely because white men are doing so much worse than usual. Those above 55 also are spending more time than ever between jobs. Older workers spend an average 27 weeks between jobs, about five weeks longer than younger workers.

Millions make Dramatic Job Changes.

Millions of Americans are making dramatic career turnabouts in this withering recession as a range of industries — including those involving cars, finance, real estate and construction — are shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs, many of which analysts say likely won’t return for years, if ever. Meanwhile, fields such as health care, clean energy, computer science and the government are expected to grow robustly in coming years. The reshuffling has workers in shrinking sectors racing to retool for spots in expanding fields. Transitions can be arduous, often forcing the unemployed to spend thousands of dollars to acquire new skills and take pay cuts in their new slots. And there’s no guarantee of a job. Such structural shifts in employment are common in economic downturns. Some industries cut positions permanently by becoming more efficient or less vibrant. That’s what happened to railroads in the early 1980s downturn and communications in the slump of 2001

Baby Boomers Send Disability Benefit Claims Soaring

Social Security officials say they expect an even larger spike in new disability claims than they had expected, as aging, injured baby boomers tumble out of the work force and need income. Officials estimate they’ll receive 3.3 million new disability claims over the next year, up from their previous estimate of 3 million projected just five months ago. The wave of new applications comes just as officials were making progress in curbing a massive backlog of disability appeals cases, which has plagued the agency for years. Also adding to the problem are recent moves in at least 10 states to furlough hundreds of employees that process initial benefit claims. Agency officials say the extraordinary increase is driven by the recession and an aging baby boomer work force reaching their most injury-prone years.

Unpaid Property Taxes Hit Localities

The number of Americans not paying their property taxes amid the recession and the brutal housing collapse has increased sharply — more than doubling in some parts of the country. At a time when the nation’s housing crisis has put millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes through bank foreclosure, a growing pile of unpaid bills has put tens of thousands more in danger of losing them to tax seizures. That has caused multimillion-dollar shortfalls for some already-struggling local governments that rely on property taxes to pay for everything from schools to police. Because property taxes are almost always collected locally, there is no single national measure of just how many people have fallen behind. But tax collectors and treasures in communities across the country say they’ve seen a sharp jump in the number of delinquent homeowners and businesses as the nation’s unemployment rate grew. They’re bracing for even more unpaid bills ahead.

Class Sizes Grow as School Budgets Shrink

Like a seesaw on the school playground, falling state budgets are pushing class sizes higher. The recession is forcing districts to lay off teachers even as the economic stimulus pumps billions of dollars into schools. As a result, classrooms across the country will be more crowded when school starts in the fall. A survey this year by the American Association of School Administrators found that 44% of school districts expected to increase class size. Very large classes can keep teachers from teaching because their time is spent keeping order. Crowded classrooms also increase the chance that struggling students may fall through the cracks.

Economic News

The economy contracted at a 1% annual rate in the second quarter, a strong sign recession is winding down. Commerce says the dip in gross domestic product for the April to June period came after the economy tumbled at terrifying 6.4% pace in the first three months of this year and a steep 5.4% drop the quarter before that. “The recession looks to have largely bottomed in the spring,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. The economy has now contracted for a record four quarters, underscoring the grim toll of the recession on consumers and companies.

The number of workers filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but a gauge of underlying trends fell for a fifth week, government data showed Thursday. Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 584,000 in the week ended July 25. But the four-week moving average for new claims, considered a gauge of underlying trends as it smoothes out week-to-week volatility, fell 8,250 to 559,000. Claims were under 300,000 prior to the recession. More than 90% of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas saw their unemployment rates climb in June from the previous month.

The Obama administration promised Friday that the financially strapped “cash for clunkers” program would be alive at least through the weekend. Democrats in the House and Senate were exploring the possibility of votes as early as Friday to replenish the funding for the hugely popular program. Carmakers and dealers have booked expensive advertising to capitalize on buyers’ interest in CARS, and now will be left promoting a tie-in with an uncertain government program — one that wasn’t supposed to end until Nov. 1. “It’s too late to recall the ads,” says Beau Boeckmann of Galpin Ford, the nation’s largest Ford dealer, in Los Angeles. Galpin had done about 100 clunker deals and was hoping for more. ” We had increased our ad budget to get the word out.”

Bolton: Israeli Attack Best Option on Iran

The U.S. is seeking to dissuade Israeli from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities — when such an act is likely the only way to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, says former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently set off for Jerusalem to convince the Israelis to forego a military strike in favor of President Barack Obama’s efforts to deal with the Iranian problem through diplomacy. But those diplomatic efforts are doomed to fail, according to Bolton. In an opinion piece appearing in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Bolton observes: “Obama has no new strategic thinking on Iran. He vaguely promises to offer the country the carrot of diplomacy — followed by an empty threat of sanctions down the road if Iran does not comply with the U.S.’s requests.” Iran’s continuing progress with its nuclear program and air defenses mean that “Israel’s military option is declining over time. It will have to make a decision soon, and it will be no surprise if Israel strikes by year’s end,” according to Bolton.

Civilian Deaths up 24 percent in Afghanistan

The United Nations said Friday the number of civilians killed in conflict in Afghanistan has jumped 24% so far this year, with bombings by insurgent and airstrikes by international forces the biggest single killers In a grim assessment of the first half of 2009, the U.N. assistance mission in Afghanistan said the Taliban and other anti-government militants have become more deadly by shifting from ambush attacks to suicide bombings, roadside explosives and targeted assassinations. It warned that more civilians would likely be killed as insurgents try to battle a troop increase by the administration of President Obama, and seek to destabilize the country before presidential and Provincial Council elections on Aug. 20. The summer is also typically the worst for fighting in Afghanistan.

At Least 24 Killed in Baghdad Bombings

Multiple bombs have exploded near three Shiite mosques in Baghdad as worshippers were leaving Friday prayers, killing at least 24 and wounding dozens more, Iraqi police officials said. The bombings shattered a period of relative calm in the Iraqi capital, raising to at least 303 Iraqis killed in what has been one of the least deadly months in Iraq for both Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops since the war began. Only seven American troops have been killed.

Iraq to Send Students Abroad

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday his country plans to send up to 10,000 Iraqi students per year to colleges in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia over the next five years as a part of a new scholarship program. Al-Maliki said the country’s education system has suffered after years of war and dictatorship. The Iraqi government is funding the scholarship program, which covers tuition, fees and room and board. The awards will allow students to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. They can pick their area of study, but are encouraged to go into engineering, education and business, among other fields. The students are then expected to return to Iraq after graduating.

Nigerian Army Attacks Islamist Mosque

Troops shelled the compound of an Islamist sect blamed for days of violence in northern Nigeria then attacked its mosque, killing at least 100 militants in a fierce battle. Sect leader Mohammed Yusuf escaped along with about 300 followers but his deputy was killed in Wednesday night’s bombardment, according to Army commander Maj. Gen. Saleh Maina. The army was conducting a house-to-house manhunt Thursday on the outskirts of Maiduguri for Yusuf and his followers. Militants seeking to impose Islamic Sharia law throughout this multi-religious country attacked police stations, churches, prisons and government buildings in a wave of violence that began Sunday. The leader of the Islamist sect blamed for days of violence in northern Nigeria has been shot and killed while in police custody, officials said Thursday.

Wildfires

Nine wildfires are burning across Alaska which have consumed about 741,000 acres, or 1,158 square miles, larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. A 1,643 acre fire in Southern California near Twain Harte is threatening numerous residences. A wildfire threatening homes near Chelan in north-central Washington grew to about 1,467 acres, and a state mobilization was declared to rush more firefighters to the scene. Residents of about 140 homes were advised to evacuate and residents of 60 other homes were told to prepare. The fire was started by a lightning strike about 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Weather

Northwesterners more accustomed to rain and cooler climate sought refuge from a heat wave on Wednesday, as Seattle recorded the hottest temperature in its history and Portland edged closer to its own record-breaker. The National Weather Service in Seattle recorded 102 degrees by midday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, breaking a previous record of 100 degrees, set in downtown Seattle in 1941 and repeated at the airport in 1994. Meanwhile, Portland ventured into its third day of triple-digit heat Wednesday, hitting 104 degrees by midday.

Severe thunderstorms have flooded highways, down trees and knocked out power across a broad swath of northern New Jersey. Flooded underpasses forced the closure of stretches of the Garden State Parkway at midafternoon Wednesday in Irvington and Newark. Portions of Route 287 in Edison and Route 280 in West Orange were flooded as well. The storms also knocked out power to more than 25,000 customers and caused airport and commuter rail delays. The National Weather Service is investigating reports that a tornado touched down in Sussex County. The National Weather Service also says a tornado has been reported skipping the southern coast of South Carolina.

July 29, 2009

Volunteerism Rose in 2008

More Americans became engaged in their communities last year as the economy weakened, a federal agency reported Tuesday. “There’s a compassion boom going on,” says Robert Grimm of the Corporation for National & Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and other service programs. The number of volunteers increased 2% from 60.8 million in 2007 to 61.8 million in 2008, according to the agency’s 2009 Volunteering In America report, based on annual Census Bureau surveys. Among young adults (16 to 24), the number of volunteers increased 5.7%. On average, 26% of Americans continued to donate their time. Two forms of volunteerism jumped sharply: the number of people who worked with neighbors to solve a local problem rose 31% from 2007 to 2008, and the number of people who attended community meetings rose 17% last year.

Americans Rate Federal Reserve Worst among 9 Government Agencies

The share of Americans who think the Federal Reserve is doing an excellent to good job has sunk even as chairman Ben Bernanke has taken unprecedented steps to try to prevent a financial catastrophe, according to a new poll released Monday. The Gallup poll, conducted in mid-July, found that only 30% rated the Fed as doing an “excellent/good” job. It was the lowest such score out of nine government agencies. And it was down sharply from the 53% who thought the Fed was doing an excellent to good job in a survey in 2003. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention topped the list with 61% of poll respondents rating that agency excellent to good. NASA and the FBI tied for second place at 58% each. The CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and the Food and Drug Administration all earned scores higher than the Fed’s, the poll said.

  • The Federal Reserve isn’t Federal and has no reserves. It is privately owned and strongly influenced by foreigners. Only the Chairman is a federal employee.

Obama’s Claim of 47 million Uninsured is False

President Barack Obama claims that there are 47 million Americans without health insurance. A simple check with the U.S. Census Bureau would have told him otherwise. That assertion conflicts with data in the Census Bureau report “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007.” The report was issued in August 2008 and contains the most up-to-date official data on the number of uninsured in the U.S. The report discloses that there were 45.65 million people in the U.S. who did not have health insurance in 2007. However, it also reveals that there were 9.73 million foreigners — foreign-born non-citizens who were in the country in 2007 — included in that number. So the number of uninsured Americans was actually 35.92 million. And of those, “there were also 9.1 million people making more than $75,000 per year who did not choose to purchase health insurance,” CNSNews stated in a report based on the Census Bureau data. That brings the number of Americans who lack health insurance presumably for financial reasons down less than 27 million. The Census Bureau report also shows that the number of people without insurance actually went down in 2007 compared to the previous year — from 47 million to 45.65 million — while the number with insurance rose from 249.8 million to 253.4 million.

Legendary Christian Coach Canned after Student Converts to Christianity

A Christian high school wrestling coach in Dearborn, Mich., claims he was muscled out of his long-tenured coaching job by the school’s principal, a devout Muslim, because the administrator was furious over a student wrestler who had converted to Christianity from Islam. Gerald Marsazalek has coached wrestling for 35 years at Dearborn Public Schools, amassing more than 450 wins and, in addition to being added to the Michigan High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, was named “Sportsman of the Year” by the All-American Athletic Association. Despite Marsazalek’s success, however, Principal Imad Fadlallah of Dearborn’s Fordson High School ordered the administration not to renew the coach’s contract, allegedly in retaliation over the student’s conversion and to continue a campaign of flushing Christianity out of the school. “We are getting a glimpse of what happens when Muslims who refuse to accept American values and principles gain political power in an American community,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Marsazalek. “Failure to renew coach Marszalek’s contract had nothing to do with wrestling and everything to do with religion.”

Home Depot Sponsors Gay Events

Home Depot is helping to introduce children to the homosexual lifestyle. The Nashville Gay Pride website notes that Home Depot contributed more than $5,000 to help finance the 2009 festival. The retailer also participated by conducting children’s craft workshops at a special booth set up for them. The company has sponsored similar children’s venues at pro-homosexual events in Atlanta, Kansas City, Durham, Portland, and San Diego. Other corporate sponsors of the Nashville event included Southwest Airlines and Bridgestone Tires.

Pregnant Women Hit Hard by Swine Flu

Swine flu has been hitting pregnant women unusually hard, so they are likely to be among the first group advised to get a new swine flu shot this fall. Pregnant women account for 6 percent of U.S. swine flu deaths since the pandemic began in April, even though they make up just 1 percent of the U.S. population. Pregnant women’s risk from swine flu has been a raging topic in Europe, following the contentious suggestion this month by British and Swiss health officials that women should consider delaying pregnancy if they can. Most health officials call that advice unwarranted, but have agreed that the health risks are significant. In a recent report, World Health Organization experts found that pregnant women appear to be “at increased risk for severe disease, potentially resulting in spontaneous abortion and/or death, especially during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.”

Tanning Beds Now Listed among Top Cancer Risks

International cancer experts have moved tanning beds and other sources of ultraviolet radiation into the top cancer risk category, deeming them as deadly as arsenic and mustard gas. For years, scientists have described tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation as “probable carcinogens.” A new analysis of about 20 studies concludes the risk of skin cancer jumps by 75% when people start using tanning beds before age 30. The new classification means tanning beds and other sources of ultraviolet radiation are definite causes of cancer, alongside tobacco, the hepatitis B virus and chimney sweeping, among others.

Beach Pollution still Nationwide Problem

For the fourth year in a row, more than 20,000 beach closing days were reported in the USA, according to a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C. “Storm water and sewage runoff are the biggest sources for the contamination,” says Nancy Stoner, NRDC’s water program co-director. “The waters along the Great Lakes coastline appear to be the dirtiest, while the waters along the Southeast and DelMarVa (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) coasts are relatively cleaner,” the NRDC wrote in the report. The states with the worst beach water quality were Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The states with the cleanest beaches were Delaware, New Hampshire and Virginia.

State Officials Seek Sports Betting to Boost Revenue

Officials in Delaware and New Jersey, facing their own budget problems, say it’s time for a bold move: full-scale, legalized sports betting in states other than Nevada, currently the only place such activity is allowed. They are pushing hard to add legalized, in-casino sports betting to their states’ gambling offerings, which include horse racing, lotteries, slot machines and — in Atlantic City — table games. The plans are being resisted by the nation’s four major pro sports leagues — the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball — as well as the NCAA, saying widespread legalized betting would threaten the integrity of their sports by creating incentives for cheating and game-fixing.

  • Despite the odds of increased cheating in sports, government sponsored gambling would be another step in the unraveling of our nation’s moral fabric

Economic News

A widely watched index shows home prices posted their first monthly increase since the summer of 2006, indicating prices are finally stabilizing. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 major cities released Tuesday rose 0.5% from April, but was still 17.1% below May a year ago.

Orders for long-lasting manufactured goods fell more sharply than expected in June, notching their biggest decline in five months as demand for communications and transportation equipment slumped. The Commerce Department said durable goods orders fell 2.5%, largest drop since January.

Cash-strapped older Americans are racking up credit card debt faster than other consumers amid dwindling retirement portfolios and rising medical costs, a study shows. Low- and middle-income consumers 65 and older carried $10,235 in average card debt last year, up 26% from 2005. Card debt for all borrowers surveyed rose 3% during that time, to $9,827. Overall, revolving debt — mostly on credit cards — grew during much of 2008, the Federal Reserve says.

More retailers are accepting food stamps, as a record number of consumers are turning to government aid to pay for groceries. Nearly 39 million people received food stamps as of April. Retailers ranging from some Costco stores to 7-Eleven to Target are moving quickly to cater to cash-strapped customers.

Gasoline prices increased for the first time in five weeks, the Energy Department said on Monday, as higher crude oil costs were passed to consumers at the pump. The national price for regular unleaded gasoline jumped 4 cents over the past week to $2.50 a gallon, but it was still down $1.45 from a year ago.

U.S., China Agree to Work Together to Rebuild Economy

The United States and China agreed Tuesday to jointly rebuild the global economy on a sounder footing once the recession finally ends. Concluding two days of talks, diplomats from the two sides agreed on a four-part road map to guide their economies. Officials sketched a vision of a globe better balanced between Asian producers and Western consumers and buttressed by a financial system less prone to volatile bubbles. Both U.S. and Chinese officials hailed the talks as unprecedented, though they built on a series of twice-yearly meetings begun during the Bush administration. The two nations — the current and perhaps future world superpowers — are locked in a mutually dependent financial relationship that has deepened dramatically in recent years. China is the largest foreign purchaser of U.S. Treasury securities, while American consumers have gobbled up enormous amounts of toys, clothes and food from Chinese companies. The U.S. vowed to raise its savings rate and lower its budget deficit to “sustainable levels” by 2013. China pledged to reorient its economy toward a greater reliance on domestic demand rather than exports.

Church in Somalia Growing Despite Turmoil

Mission News Network reports that Somalia’s Christians have a long road ahead of them. “Anything that goes into Somalia, whether it’s human aid or relief supplies or some attempt to provoke stability, just seems to get sucked up in chaos. And in today’s reality, Christians are bearing the brunt of that,” said Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. At least eight Christians have been killed by al-Shabaab insurgents over the last month. “Most Christians in extreme persecution are not asking to be permanently removed from persecution, to become refugees in some other country; but they are actually asking for the strength and the capacity to stand strong in the midst of that persecution,” he continued. Despite the difficulties, though, the Christian community continues to grow.

Taliban Recruiting Children as Bombers

Security forces in Pakistan have rescued several children forcibly recruited by the Taliban, allegedly to be used as fighters or suicide bombers, and there could be hundreds more of them, officials said Tuesday. Pakistani troops are engaged in offensives against the Taliban in various areas along the lawless border with Afghanistan, fighting militants often drawn from among the local communities. Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, who heads a special support group tasked with handling the return of people displaced by three months of fighting in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas, said he had met with nine boys rescued from the Taliban. “They have been brainwashed and trained as suicide bombers, but the nine who I met seemed willing to get back to normal life,” he told Pakistani state-run television.

Arab States have Stymied ‘Normalization’ with Israel

US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell admitted that the Obama administration needs more time to convince Arab countries to begin taking steps to normalize relations with Israel, a move that Jerusalem would like to see them take in exchange for a moratorium on new housing starts in the Jewish settlements. After talks with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Mitchell said US calls for Arab leaders to “take genuine steps toward normalization [with Israel]… will come further down the road.” Mitchell said he plans to meet many Arab leaders to encourage them to begin the normalization process. He also pleaded with the Palestinians and Arab states to “refrain” from “words or actions that might make meaningful and productive negotiations impossible.” Arab League chief Amr Moussa also met with Mitchell and later stated, “the Arabs will not take any step of normalization as a sacrifice for Israel. There will be no Arab steps before Israel stops its policy of settlement building.”

  • When will this administration realize that there are no compromises with Islamic nations that will bring true peace to the Middle East?

Britain to Withdraw Remaining Troops from Iraq

Britain will withdraw its remaining forces from Iraq to Kuwait by the end of the month because the Iraqi parliament failed to pass a deal allowing them to stay to protect oil platforms and provide training, a spokesman said Tuesday. U.S. troops would be standing in for the British while they were out of the country, according to the ministry. The lingering presence has faced opposition, principally by followers of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who stalled the ratification of the deal until lawmakers adjourned Monday for their summer recess.

Islamists Rock Nigeria

Islamist militants seeking to impose a Taliban-style regime in northern Nigeria launched attacks Monday on police in three towns, expanding a two-day campaign of violence that has killed at least 55 people, police and witnesses said. Trouble began Sunday when militants attacked a police station in the northern city of Bauchi, leaving dozens dead in gunbattles with police. On Monday, militants launched a wave of attacks in three more states, targeting the towns of Maiduguri, Damaturu, and Wudil in the predominantly Muslim North, police and residents said. A journalist for the local Compass newspaper in Maiduguri, Olugbenga Akinbule, said he saw the bodies of about 100 Islamist militants shot in gunbattles with police in the town, where some of the worst violence occurred. Nigeria has been sporadically wracked by sectarian clashes since 12 of the country’s 36 states began adopting Islamic law, or Shariah, in the north in 1999.

Car Bomb in Spain

A powerful car bomb destroyed a police barracks housing officers and their families in northern Spain on Wednesday, injuring about 60 people and causing major damage in the surrounding area. The attack was blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA. ETA did not phone in a warning as it typically does before most attacks, so authorities had no time to evacuate the 14-story building in Burgos, police said. There were around 120 people in the barracks and surrounding buildings, a third of them children, when the explosion went off at 4 a.m. Most of the injuries were from flying glass. Officials expressed surprise no one was killed in the blast, which blew off much of the barracks’ facade. Nearby residential dwellings had their windows and some walls blown in by the force of the explosion.

Drought in South Texas Worries Farmers

Lingering drought in South Texas had growers worried about the fate of their crops this scorching summer. Early spring and July have been terrible for the region, with growers talking about lower grain and corn yields. Texas agriculture officials this month said the drought led to an estimated $3.6 billion in crop and livestock losses statewide.

Calif. Farmers say Feds make Drought Worse

Three years into a drought that evokes fears of a modern-day dust bowl, farmer Todd Allen and others here say the culprit now isn’t Mother Nature so much as the federal government. Court and regulatory rulings protecting endangered fish have choked the annual flow of water from California’s Sierra mountains down to its people and irrigated fields, compounding a natural dry spell. “This is a regulatory drought, is what it is,” Allen says. “It just doesn’t seem fair.” For those like Allen at the end of the water-rights line, the flow has slowed to a trickle: His water district is receiving just 10% of the normal allocation of water from federal Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs. He says he’s been forced to lay off all his workers and watch the crops die on his 300 acres while bills for an irrigation system he put in are due. Although some farmers with more senior water rights are able to keep going, local officials say 250,000 acres has gone fallow for lack of water in Fresno County, the nation’s most productive agriculture county. Statewide, the unplanted acreage is almost twice that.

  • When the Feds get involved in local issues, look out, disaster is on the horizon

Wildfires

The Railbelt Complex of fires in Alaska has now consumed 337, 884 acres or over 527 square miles. Numerous structures remain threatened. A wildfire in Texas has grown to 6, 956 acres (10.8 sq. mi.) and is 0% contained after several days with 8 structures lost so far.

July 27, 2009

Confidence in American Liberty Plunging

A new poll reveals that between June and this month the number of Americans who believe President Obama brought with him into office a large increase in personal freedom has plummeted by nearly 9 percentage points, while the number of those who perceive a big decrease in personal freedom continues to rise. The result is that the WorldNetDaily Freedom Index, derived from the poll results, has fallen from June’s 57.6 to 53.2 in July on a 100-point scale. The index is a monthly measure of how Americans feel about what might be happening to a basketful of liberties.

  • Socialism = loss of freedom

AOL Poll: 82% want Obama to Release Birth Certificate

The latest AOL online poll shows 82 percent of respondents saying Barack Obama should release his birth certificate. This finding in spite of a veritable media barrage in recent days of unsubstantiated claims ranging from all Hawaiian birth certificates were destroyed to it already has been released. A story that went unnoticed by most of the major media has now become one of the most covered stories in the nation. But the coverage has been almost exclusively of the kind that downplays the seriousness of the controversy – often ridiculing concerns about the birth certificate as conspiracy fodder and matters that only preoccupy the uninformed. But in the latest AOL poll of more than 30,000 people, 82 percent said it’s time for Obama to cough up the original long-form birth certificate.

  • Obama has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign war chest to fight off all legal challenges. Why would he do that if all he had to do was produce the long-form birth certificate?

New Push in Congress for Common Ground on Abortion

Seeking elusive common ground on abortion, prominent activists and clergy on both sides of the debate are throwing their support behind a bill aimed at preventing unintended pregnancies and supporting pregnant women. The bill’s backers hope President Obama, who has appealed for a more civil tone to the debate, will embrace it as a step toward reducing the need for abortions, but many staunch anti-abortion leaders remain hostile. “It’s part of a big political scam,” said Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee. At issue is the so-called Ryan-DeLauro bill — first introduced in 2006 and being reintroduced Thursday by Democratic Reps. Tim Ryan and Rosa DeLauro. Joel Hunter, an evangelical megachurch pastor from Orlando, Florida, who opposes abortion and who serves on the White House faith-based advisory council, said the key to the bill is its breadth — appealing to liberals with proposals to prevent unintended pregnancies and to conservatives with provisions to support women who choose to carry unintended pregnancies to term.

  • While the two major provisions of this bill are laudatory, it does nothing to resolve the core issue of whether abortion is murder. There is no common ground for this issue, and we can’t allow ourselves to become distracted by political maneuvering.

HBO Leads on TV in Showing Homosexual Characters

HBO scored highest among 15 networks for its representation of homosexual characters last season, according to a report released Monday. In its third annual Network Responsibility Index, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found that of HBO’s 14 original prime-time series, 10 included content reflecting the lives of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people. That totaled 42 percent of the network’s programming hours. By contrast, on NBC and CBS only 8 percent and 5 percent, respectively, of prime-time hours included them, the report said. Cable’s Showtime ranked second, with 26 percent of its programming hours featuring homosexual characters or themes. ABC got the highest ranking of the five broadcast networks, with 24 percent. It was the second year in a row that ABC led the broadcasters. The CW logged 20 percent, and the Fox network 11 percent.

Healthcare News

For the second time this month, congressional budget analysts have dealt a blow to the Democrat’s health reform efforts, this time by saying a plan touted by the White House as crucial to paying for the bill would actually save almost no money over 10 years. A key House chairman and moderate House Democrats on Tuesday agreed to a White House-backed proposal that would give an outside panel the power to make cuts to government-financed health care programs. White House budget director Peter Orszag declared the plan “probably the most important piece that can be added” to the House’s health care reform legislation.

White House officials are embracing a plan to tax “gold-plated, Cadillac” insurance policies, giving momentum to an idea that is receiving bipartisan consideration on Capitol Hill. “A premium charge on top of the most expensive packages is one of the ways to ensure that there’s a lid on health-care costs,” a top administration official told POLITICO. “The president believes this is an intriguing idea.”  Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said Friday on Bloomberg TV that he is “taking an intense look at it.”

Swine N1H1 Flu

In a disturbing new projection, health officials say up to 40% of Americans could get swine flu this year and next and several hundred thousand could die without a successful vaccine campaign and other measures. The estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are roughly twice the number of those who catch flu in a normal season and add greater weight to hurried efforts to get a new vaccine ready for the fall flu season. Swine flu has already hit the United States harder than any other nation, but it has struck something of a glancing blow that’s more surprising than devastating. The virus has killed about 300 Americans and experts believe it has sickened more than 1 million, comparable to a seasonal flu with the weird ability to keep spreading in the summer. Health officials say flu cases may explode in the fall, when schools open and become germ factories.

  • One has to wonder whether the government is overhyping the swine flu to further socialistic and global agendas

Geithner, Bernanke at Odds over Who should Protect Consumers

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke staked out opposing sides Friday in a turf war over who should protect Americans from shady mortgage lending, abusive credit card fees, payday loans and other high-cost or risky financial products. The White House wants to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to oversee a vast range of financial products, stripping the Federal Reserve and other banking regulators of their current authority for policing them. “I think it’s very hard to look at that system and say that it did anything close to an adequate job of what it was designed to do,” Geithner told the House Financial Services Committee. He cited the collapse of the housing and credit markets because of high-risk subprime mortgages made to borrowers who didn’t understand and couldn’t afford them. Bernanke, appearing before the same committee after Geithner, argued that the Fed should retain its consumer protection powers regarding mortgages, credit cards and checking and savings accounts.

  • While it’s a good thing to reduce the private, foreign-owned Federal Reserve of its powers, this debate really isn’t about consumers (us), it’s a turf war. The Obama administration wants more power and control as it seeks to entrench its socialistic policies.

California Budget Crisis Resolved?

Officials say there’s no guarantee that California‘s budget troubles are over for now, even after state lawmakers approved a complex package of spending cuts, raids on local government funding and accounting maneuvers to fill a gigantic budget deficit. The legislative package of about 30 bills was similar to the deal announced earlier this week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders from both parties. But the Assembly rejected two of the most controversial measures: A plan to take about $1 billion in transportation funding from local governments and a measure that would have allowed new oil drilling off the California coast for the first time in 40 years. That was to have brought in $100 million this fiscal year. The loss of $1.1 billion from the budget package means Schwarzenegger will use his veto authority to make even deeper cuts to close the gap.

The measures passed by the Legislature technically amounted to a revision of a 2009-10 fiscal year budget that lawmakers passed in February during an emergency session. Since then, the state’s fiscal condition has grown worse by the week, led by a dramatic drop in personal income tax revenue. Cuts to public schools are expected to force teacher layoffs, more crowded classrooms and scaled-back offerings in art, music and sports. College students will pay hundreds of dollars more per year in fees, course offerings will shrink and tens of thousands of prospective students will be turned away. Welfare, health care programs for low-income families and in-home services for the disabled, elderly and frail will be reduced. Nearly 40,000 will have their in-home support services terminated.

  • Crisis resolved? Not by a long shot.

Economic News

The government says new U.S. home sales rose by the largest amount in nearly nine years last month, in another sign the housing market is finally bouncing back from the worst downturn in decades. The Commerce Department says sales rose 11% in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000. Sales have risen for three straight months. The median sales price of $206,200, however, was down 12% from $234,300 a year earlier.

Regulators have shut six banks in Georgia and a small bank in New York state, boosting to 64 the number of federally insured banks to fail this year, compared to 3 in 2007 and none in 2005-2006.

Consumer confidence waned in late July to its lowest ebb since April on growing pessimism about the long-term economic outlook, especially incomes and jobs, a survey showed Friday. The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said its final July consumer sentiment reading fell to 66.0 from June’s 70.8. On the long-term outlook, 58% of respondents said they expect bad times, up from 49% in May.

Chinese, Taiwan Leaders Exchange First Direct Messages in 60 Years

The leaders of Taiwan and China have directly exchanged messages for the first time in 60 years, the Associated Press reported. A Nationalist party press statement says Monday’s correspondence originated with a congratulatory message from Chinese President Hu Jintao to Taiwan’s leader Ma Ying-jeou after he won an election for the ruling party’s chairmanship. Taiwan News reports that Hu expressed the hope that both parties would continue to develop peaceful relations between Taiwan and China. In return, Ma called for both sides to work toward peace.

China: The Bicycle Kingdom is Going Electric

China, the world’s bicycle kingdom — one for every three inhabitants — is going electric. The bicycle was a vivid symbol of China in more doctrinaire communist times, when virtually no one owned a car. Even now, nearly two decades after the country began its great leap into capitalism, it still has 430 million bicycles by government count But production of electric two-wheelers has soared from fewer than 200,000 eight years ago to 22 million last year, mostly for the domestic market. The industry estimates about 65 million are on Chinese roads. Workers weary of crammed public transport or pedaling long distances to jobs are upgrading to battery-powered bikes and scooters. Even some who can afford cars are ditching them for electric two-wheelers to avoid traffic jams and expensive gasoline. Car sales are also booming but there are still only 24 million for civilian use, because few of the 1.3 billion population can afford them.

U.S. Transfers $200 Million to Aid Palestinians

The United States has transferred $200 million to the Palestinian government to help ease a growing budget deficit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been struggling in recent months to keep his government afloat, borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars from commercial banks just to cover the public payroll. The reasons for the shortfall include Israel‘s restrictions on the Palestinian economy, the border blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the failure of some donor countries to make good on their aid pledges, Fayyad said Friday, in a video conference with Clinton. With Friday’s aid transfer, donor countries have given the Palestinian government $606 million in budget support this year, covering only about one-third of the estimated deficit of $1.45 billion for 2009, Fayyad said.

  • Besides the obvious issue of where this money is coming from in our debt-ridden economy, did you know that when the Romans first called the area “Palestine” there were Jews and other nationalities there too? So Palestinians are not just Arabs, but Jews too.

Iran‘s President Caves In over VP Controversy

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caved into pressure from hardline clerics and the country’s supreme leader and allowed the resignation of his top deputy after a week-long standoff. For days, the president had resisted pressure from hard-liners, including a direct order from the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to dismiss his choice for the key post of first vice president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who last year angered conservatives when he made friendly comments toward Israel. The final blow, however, appeared to be the public reading on state television Friday of the order issued earlier by Khamenei to dismiss Mashai because he is “contrary to the interest of you and the government.” The issue created a rare rift between Ahmadinejad and the hard-liners that form the bedrock of his support and comes at a particular sensitive time as he is battling opposition reformists who accuse him of winning the June 12 presidential elections through fraud.

Protesters across the world called on Iran Saturday to end its clampdown on opposition activists, demanding the release of hundreds rounded up during demonstrations against the country’s disputed election. Groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International backed a global day of action, with protests planned in more than 80 cities. The protesters want Iranian authorities to release what they say are hundreds, or even thousands, of people detained during protests that followed the presidential election last month that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Iraq

Iraqis voting in Saturday’s election in the self-ruled Kurdish north expressed hope it would shake up the entrenched regional government and help reduce long-standing tension with Baghdad over oil and land disputes that threaten Iraq’s stability. The election for the region’s president and 111-seat parliament will test a political establishment that has kept the semiautonomous region relatively safe but faces allegations of corruption and has often clashed with the Arab-dominated central government. The leaders of the two main coalitions, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani, hope their parties withstand the burgeoning challenge. As security has improved in Iraq, U.S. military commanders have viewed tension between Kurds and Arabs, particularly around oil-rich city of Kirkuk, as one of the greatest threats to Iraq’s stability.

Afghanistan

For the second time in a week, Taliban fighters armed with suicide vests and automatic weapons attacked a provincial capital in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, triggering hours-long gunbattles that left seven militants dead, officials said. The latest militant attack came less than a month before Afghanistan‘s Aug. 20 presidential election. U.S. and NATO forces have stepped up operations in hopes of ensuring enough security for a strong voter turnout. The attack came five days after Taliban militants launched near-simultaneous assaults in Gardez, about 50 miles northwest of Khost, and in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Six Afghan police and intelligence officers and eight militants died in the two attacks.

An Afghan official says the government and a Taliban commander who controls a small part of northwestern Afghanistan have agreed to a cease-fire. The agreement will allow a road construction project to move forward and for presidential candidates to open offices in the region ahead of the country’s Aug. 20 election. The Afghan government hopes to reach similar types of agreements in other violence-plagued regions of the country.

Honduras

Deposed President Manuel Zelaya returned to the Honduran border on Saturday and announced he would set up camp there, despite foreign leaders urging him not to force a confrontation with the government that ousted him in last month’s coup. Zelaya arrived at a rural frontier crossing and immediately grabbed a megaphone, shouting to a crowd of 100 supporters and about as many journalists. He vowed to wait there and demanded his family be allowed to meet him. Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, told CNN by telephone that she was stopped at a roadblock on a highway leading to the border and that police and soldiers would not let her and others pass. Zelaya is demanding he be reinstated as president following the coup, which has been widely repudiated around the globe.

Wildfires

More than 50 wildfires broke out Sunday in Greece, fanned by high winds, while Spain remains on high alert as firefighters combat wildfires in hot, tinder-dry conditions across the southern half of the country. One wildfire trapped some 70 beach-goers, both Greek and foreign, who were evacuated by boats. Spanish officials say at least 59,304 acres have been charred by fires that have killed six people in just over a week. Seven active fires were still being fought late Sunday. Around 1,500 people were evacuated from the Mediterranean coastal resort town of Mojacar as flames spread, fanned by dry winds in intense summer heat. Regional authorities deployed thousands of firefighters and more than 30 aircraft to combat the flames in tinder-dry pine forest regions. Amid soaring temperatures, wildfires also raged on the French island of Corsica and in Italy, where 10-water dropping planes helped combat fires on the island of Sardinia.

Lightning storms sparked dozens of new wildfires in Eastern Washington state, leaving firefighters scrambling to douse them in dry, hot conditions. Sixteen fires were reported Thursday in the Methow Valley Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Four fires were reported in the Tonasket Ranger District. West of the Cascades, fire managers are monitoring several new fires in the Glacier Peak Wilderness on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, as well as two fires in Olympic National Park. All are believed to have been started by lightning weeks ago, then smoldered.

Weather

Texas, the nation’s most drought-stricken state, is deep-frying under relentless 100-degree days and waterways are drying up, especially in the hardest-hit area covering about 350 miles across south-central Texas. That’s making folks worried about the water supply — and how long it might last. According to drought statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 77 of Texas’ 254 counties are in extreme or exceptional drought, the most severe categories. There are 230 Texas public water systems under mandatory water restrictions, including those in and near San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Austin. Another 60 or so have asked for voluntary cutbacks. Water levels are down significantly in lakes, rivers and wells around Texas. Off-duty police officers are patrolling streets, looking for people illegally watering their lawns and gardens. Residents are encouraged to stealthily rat out water scofflaws on a 24-hour hot line. One Texas lake has dipped so low that stolen cars dumped years ago are peeking up through the waterline.

July 24, 2009

Mass. has Lessons for Health Care Debate

The state that pioneered health care for all is about to take another leap into the unknown: paying for it. Three years after mandating that residents get health insurance and requiring employers, insurers and taxpayers to chip in, Massachusetts has yet to control soaring costs that are eating up half its budget. So it’s considering an equally radical idea: changing the way doctors and hospitals are paid to reward results. As Washington wrestles with the idea of overhauling the nation’s health care system, the Bay State offers an object lesson in how to do it in stages. It’s an approach favored by state officials but rejected by the Obama administration, which is intent on addressing coverage, cost and quality all at once.

Massachusetts dealt with coverage first: just 2.6% of state residents remain uninsured, compared with more than 15% nationally. That’s due in part to the 2006 law, which said most residents must get insurance, most employers must help provide it, and most taxpayers must help pay for it. Dealing with cost and quality has proved trickier. Higher health care costs fueled a combined $9 billion gap in the state’s 2009 and 2010 budgets that had to be closed last month, leaving less for education, public safety, the environment and other services.

Healthcare Reform sets off Euthanasia Alarm

A health economist warns that President Obama’s government-run healthcare plan may result in denying care to a significant number of Americans, especially senior citizens. Conservative opponents of President Obama’s healthcare plan have been arguing that a government takeover of healthcare will allow Washington bureaucrats to use “comparative effectiveness research” to dictate to doctors which treatments they should prescribe and how much those treatments should cost. Critics say this will lead to rationing of care. In the medical journal The Lancet (January 2009 [PDF]) Obama’s special health policy advisor Ezekiel Emanuel wrote that if healthcare has to be rationed, he prefers the “complete lives system,” which “discriminates against older people.” Dr. Devon Herrick, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, says Emanuel believes young adults should be given preferential care over seniors because they have more years of their life ahead of them.

According to a Fox News article, John Holdren — President Obama’s “science czar” — has espoused the need for forced abortions, sterilizations, and the creation of a “Planetary Regime” that would oversee population levels and protect the planet. The ideas are contained in a book he coauthored in 1977 entitled Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment. Ben Lieberman with The Heritage Foundation says that while Holdren does have some solid scientific credentials, he also has a very long history of making outlandish statements. “Part of his solution to whatever the crisis he felt was befalling the world at the moment has been population control.” Lieberman adds that Holdren also supports global government — and not just any global government, but a very heavy-handed and intrusive government.

  • One of the major goals of the New World (Dis)Order is population reduction of “undesirables”

Health Care Delayed

Senate Democrats announced they won’t meet a self-imposed August deadline to vote on an overhaul of the nation’s health care system and vowed to use the extra time to find ways to pay for the plan. Thursday’s decision was a symbolic blow to President Obama, who has thrust health care to the top of his domestic agenda and repeatedly called on lawmakers to act on a bill this summer. Republicans and some Democrats resisted that timetable. Obama likened his health care effort to the race to the moon 40 years ago, noting that some dismissed the idea as “foolish, even impossible” but were proven wrong. Obama had sought votes in Congress by August so lawmakers could use the summer recess to reconcile differences among several bills, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it would be better to get “quality” legislation rather than “jam something through.”

Schools to Compete for $5B from Stimulus Package

States and school districts will soon be able to compete for more federal money to undertake school reforms sought by President Obama. Part of the economic stimulus law enacted earlier this year, the $5 billion education fund is Obama’s big shot at overhauling schools over the next couple of years. Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, laid out how states can win the money Friday at the Education Department when they officially announce the “Race to the Top” competition. The president will use the money to prod states to toughen academic standards and find better ways to recruit and keep effective teachers. To get the money, states will also need to be able to track student performance, and they will need a plan of action to turn around failing schools.

Police Chiefs Press for Immigration Reform

Some of the nation’s top cops on Wednesday called upon Congress to promptly adopt an immigration reform measure, saying local law enforcement agencies across America are struggling to deal with crime and confusion caused by a broken system. About 100 police chiefs and administrators from Framington, Mass., to San Diego joined Department of Homeland Security officials in Phoenix for a National Summit on Local Immigration Policies. During closed discussions, the participants agreed that America needs a comprehensive new law containing guest-worker programs, a means for immigrants to become permanent residents and federal enforcement of the prohibition against hiring illegal immigrants. The meeting focused on the struggles of community police agencies in coping with unlawful immigration and related crime. Police administrators said Department of Homeland Security enforcement efforts have inconsistent and unreliable for years, leaving police and sheriffs agencies to establish helter-skelter policies that polarize the public.

Senate Rejects Concealed Weapons Measure

In a rare victory for gun-control advocates, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday rejected a measure allowing a person with a concealed weapon permit in one state to also hide the firearm when visiting another state. The vote was 58-39 in favor of the provision establishing concealed carry permit reciprocity in the 48 states that have concealed weapons laws. That fell two votes short of the 60 needed to approve the measure, offered as an amendment to a defense spending bill. Opponents prevailed in their argument that the measure violated states rights by forcing states with stringent requirements for permits to recognize concealed weapons carriers from states that give out permits to almost any gun owner.

‘Unprecedented’ Stem Cell Feat Announced

he Los Angeles Times reports on an “unprecedented feat” in stem cell research that was announced Friday. The paper writes that two teams of Chinese researchers succeeded in “inducing cells from connective tissue in mice to revert back to their embryonic state and producing living mice from them.” The Times writes that the results “also open the door to a variety of applications beyond producing stem cells for medicinal purposes, including the production of endangered species and the reproduction of prized farm and other animals.” One of the lead researchers did note that some first-generation living mice had abnormalities. She did not say what those abnormalities were.

  • Producing stem cells from other cells could eliminate the need for embryonic stem cells. However, “abnormalities” is still a major hurdle in playing God.

Swine H1N1 Flu

Health authorities in Britain say there were over 100,000 swine flu infections in England alone last week, while U.S. authorities estimate the United States has over 1 million swine flu cases. The global health agency stopped asking governments to report new cases last week, saying the effort was too great now that the disease has become so widespread in some countries. Health officials and drug makers are looking into ways of speeding up the production of the vaccine before the northern hemisphere enters its flu season in the fall. The U.S. may have as many as 160 million doses of swine flu vaccine available sometime in October, even though manufacturers worldwide are having serious trouble brewing shots, federal health officials said Thursday.

Widespread Corruption in NJ

Garden Staters were torn between shock and resignation Thursday after a sweeping corruption indictment named three mayors, two state legislators, a deputy mayor, a city council president and five rabbis allegedly involved in an international money laundering ring that trafficked in everything from fake Gucci and Prada handbags to human kidneys. The undercover operation was essentially two investigations, one of money laundering, the other of political corruption. They were linked by the same “cooperating witness,” a real estate developer whom authorities declined to identify. At first, the U.S. attorney’s office in Newark said, the investigation focused on a money-laundering network that allegedly operated between Brooklyn; Deal, N.J.; and Israel. The network allegedly routed tens of millions of dollars through Jewish charities controlled by rabbis. Then the undercover informant went looking for corrupt politicians. Posing as a crooked businessman seeking favors, he paid tens of thousands of dollars to get approvals for building projects, authorities said.

  • Corruption is increasing as moral decay spreads across the nation

FDA Considers Ways to Short-Circuit Electronic Cigarettes

The Food and Drug Administration, recently granted the authority to regulate tobacco as a drug, is taking aim at electronic cigarettes — battery-powered cigarette look-alikes that deliver nicotine and produce a puff of odorless vapor. Tests show that e-cigarettes contain “known carcinogens and toxic chemicals,” including diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze, officials announced Wednesday during a teleconference. The FDA notes that the products have no warning labels. Over the past year, the FDA has seized 50 shipments of e-cigarettes, which the agency considers to be combination drug/medical devices. Companies were marketing the products illegally, because they hadn’t gotten FDA approval for new drugs or medical devices. The FDA is reviewing the new tobacco law and considering a range of enforcement actions, which could include recalls or even criminal sanctions.

  • E-cigarettes? Soon all we’ll have left is an e-life

Museums’ Funding Sources Going Bone Dry

Plummeting endowments and decreases in donations and public financing are forcing museums to make large cutbacks, and some are even closing. Ford Bell, president of the American Association for Museums, says the losses in three of the largest funding sources for museums is a “triple whammy.” “Museum attendance is very, very strong, but unfortunately, attendance doesn’t provide a big chunk of the income,” he says. He adds that although all museums are facing tough times, it’s the smaller institutions — such as the recently closed Bead Museum in Washington, D.C. — that are being hit the hardest. Some smaller museums, especially ones that are supported by cities, we’ve heard talk of possible closure. Though smaller institutions are being hit the hardest, even larger museums such as the Field Museum in Chicago are tightening belts The Getty Museum in Los Angeles is also reducing staff and postponing or lengthening exhibitions after a 27% decline in its endowment.

Pension Freezes Increase

Nearly a third of the pension plans offered by Fortune 1,000 firms are now frozen. Though the rate at which companies are freezing plans has dropped since the peak year in 2006, the plans now locked down represent a 12% increase from a year ago. Pension freezes are a relatively new corporate development. The rate of freezes might be slowing as companies realize that the freeze does not provide much of a reduction in retirement costs. Although there are different types of pension freezes, companies generally close the plan to new hires. And they bar existing employees from earning any more benefits. But by freezing the plan, employers do not cut or slash the benefits that already have been earned.

Minimum Wage hits $7.25

The third minimum wage increase in three years, effective Friday, is a moneymaker and a money-taker: Nearly 4.5 million workers will see pumped-up paychecks, while many already-struggling businesses face the burden of increased payroll costs. The minimum wage will rise from $6.55 per hour to $7.25 per hour. The extra disposable income comes to about $120 a month. The wage increase will inject $5.5 billion worth of extra spending into the economy over the next year. Friday’s is the final increase based on 2007 legislation.

Economic News

The number of newly laid-off workers seeking jobless benefits rose last week, though the government said its report again was distorted by the timing of auto plant shutdowns. The Labor Department said Thursday that its tally of initial claims for unemployment insurance rose 30,000 to a seasonally adjusted 554,000. Weekly claims remain far above the 300,000 to 350,000 that analysts say is consistent with a healthy economy. New claims last fell below 300,000 in early 2007.

The total jobless benefit rolls, meanwhile, fell a more-than-expected 88,000 to 6.2 million, the lowest level since mid-April. But the number of people on emergency extended state and federal programs continued to rise. Unemployment insurance recipients can receive up to 53 weeks of additional benefits from the emergency programs, on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by the states.

Home sales rose for the third-consecutive month in June, a promising sign that stability in the housing market could help jump-start the economy. Home sales last month rose 3.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million properties with gains seen in all major regions of the USA. But overall home prices continued to slide. The median price on existing homes in June was $181,800, down 15.4% from June 2008.

Goldman Sachs Group said Wednesday it has repurchased warrants given to the U.S. Treasury under the Troubled Asset Relief Program for $1.1 billion. Combined with the warrant repurchases, Goldman has paid the government $1.42 billion, for an annualized return of 23%.”Taxpayers have gotten a good return on their investment,” the Treasury said.

Microsoft said Thursday its profit in the last quarter plunged 29% because of weak computer sales, ending a fiscal year in which the software maker’s revenue fell for the first time since the company went public in 1986.

Ford Motor posted a surprise second-quarter profit of $2.3 billion Thursday, because of income related to a reduction of debt. Excluding special items, including the debt reduction, Ford would have lost $424 million, compared with a loss of $8.7 billion a year ago.

US Airways says it made money in the second quarter thanks to gains from fuel-hedging contracts. Without the one-time gains, however, the $58 million profit for parent US Airways Group Inc. turned into a loss of $95 million. That compares to a net loss excluding special items of $102 million for the same period last year.

A handful of companies including McDonald‘s, UPS and AT&T reported a drop in earnings for the second quarter on Thursday, despite having fared better than analysts predicted. The New York Times Co. unexpectedly posted a rise in profit.

Did Obama Lie about Jerusalem?

American Jewish leaders are up in arms over recent U.S demands against Jewish construction in Jerusalem, pointing out that during the presidential campaign President Obama repeatedly told Jewish audiences that Jerusalem must remain undivided. “I believe that on the issue of Jerusalem and the issue of Iran Obama intentionally misled both Jewish and Christian supporters of Israel,” Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told WorldNetDaily. The Obama administration recently called for a halt to Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem and the strategic West Bank in line with Palestinian claims on eastern Jerusalem as a future capital, even though the city was never a part of any Palestinian entity.

U.S. Wins Films & Music Trade Case vs. China

The U.S. has largely prevailed in a trade dispute with China over restrictions on the sale there of American CDs, DVDs, books and computer software, two officials familiar with the ruling have told the Associated Press. The confidential verdict from the World Trade Organization victory comes as the administration of President Obama is being pressed to be tough over trade rules with China, whom many Democrats in the U.S. Congress blame in part for America’s soaring trade deficits and lost manufacturing jobs. The ruling in the case, filed during the preceding Bush administration, was released to Beijing and Washington last month and will be made public on Aug. 12. It finds that Beijing is breaking commerce rules by forcing U.S.-made goods from magazines to video games to be sold through Chinese state-owned companies, the officials said. The WTO can authorize retaliatory sanctions against countries unwilling to bring tariffs, subsidies and other trade practices in line with international agreements, but generally only after years of litigation.

U.S. Missile Believed to have Killed Bin Laden’s Son

One of Osama bin Laden’s son is believed to have been killed in Pakistan by an American missile earlier this year, NPR reports, quoting a senior U.S. counterterrorism official. The U.S. military frequently uses Hellfire missiles fired from a U.S. Predator drone at targets around the Afghan-Pakistan border. The unidentified official tells NPR that U.S. spy agencies are “80 to 85 percent” certain’s Saad bin Laden was hit, but can’t confirm it completely without a body on which to conduct DNA tests. Saad bin Laden, the official tells NPR, was active in al-Qaeda, but was not a major player.

Iranian Unrest Spreads Across Globe

From Tokyo to Bogota, people in more than 90 cities plan to gather for rallies, concerts and marches Saturday to show solidarity with the people of Iran, whose government has grappled with unrest since its presidential election June 12. Events in the USA include rallies in at least three dozen cities, including Boston; Helena, Mont.; and Fresno, Calif. After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor by a landslide, tens of thousands of Iranians, including supporters of the main opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, poured into the streets, alleging vote fraud. After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor by a landslide, tens of thousands of Iranians, including supporters of the main opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, poured into the streets, alleging vote fraud. Amnesty International and other human rights groups report that demonstrators, activists, journalists and others have been arrested.

Yemen: Six Abducted Christians Still Missing

ASSIST News Service reports that there is still no word about the whereabouts of six foreign Christians abducted six weeks ago in Yemen. A German development worker, his wife, their three children and the British engineer were kidnapped in mid-June during an outing near Saada in North Yemen. They were with two German bible school students and a South Korean teacher. The three were found murdered on June 12. The Netherlands-based humanitarian agency the group worked under, Worldwide Services, has withdrawn all staff members from the country. In the last 15 years at least 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Yemen. In most cases, they were set free after ransom payments, but no such demands have been made in the case. Officials believe the kidnappers were motivated by religious reasons.

Massive New Zealand Quake Moves Country West

Southern New Zealand has moved slightly closer to the east coast of neighboring Australia as a result of a massive earthquake last week off the country’s South Island, a scientist said Wednesday. The magnitude 7.8 quake, centered in the ocean near Resolution Island in the country’s Fiordland region, twisted South Island out of shape and moved its southern tip 12 inches (30 centimeters) closer to Australia. Last Wednesday’s quake was the largest in the world this year and New Zealand’s biggest in 80 years.

Weather

Hundreds of police, soldiers and rescue workers searched Thursday for nine people missing after torrential rains triggered floods and landslides in southern Japan. Eight people, including elderly residents of a nursing home, have been killed. Most of about 100 residents of the home were brought to the roof and lifted out by helicopter Tuesday after a mudslide hit the building. The ground floor of the two-story building in Hofu City in Yamaguchi Prefecture (state) was inundated, filled with rocks and mud.

July 22, 2009

Poll: Less Faith in Obama’s Economic Abilities

Qualms about President Obama‘s stewardship of the economy are growing, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, as Americans become more pessimistic about when they predict the recession will end. At six months in office, Obama’s 55% approval rating puts him 10th among the 12 post-World War II presidents at this point in their tenures. When he took office, he ranked seventh. The findings forecast the rough patch that probably is ahead for Obama if unemployment continues to increase, as the administration predicts. Lower ratings could make it more difficult for him to prevail on his top legislative priority, national health care.

Obama continues to be highly regarded personally. Two-thirds see him as a strong and decisive leader and someone who understands the problems they face in their daily lives. A majority says his administration “is creating a new spirit of idealism.” However, there is a widening disconnect between Obama’s personal standing and support for the policies he advocates: By 49%-47%, those surveyed disapprove of how he is handling the economy, a turnaround from his 55%-42% approval in May. By 50%-44%, they disapprove of how he is handling health care policy. A 59% majority say his proposals call for too much government spending and 52% say they call for too much expansion of government power.

Obama May Have to Wait for Healthcare Passage

After more than a week of tirelessly pressuring Congress to move his top domestic priority, President Barack Obama may have to settle for a fallback strategy on health care overhaul. Instead of votes in the House and Senate by August, the best Democrats may be able to hope for this summer is action by the full House by the end of the month and some sort of agreement on a bipartisan plan in the Senate before lawmakers head home for vacation. Not only are Republicans honing their opposition, but some Democrats in both chambers are voicing doubts about moving such complex and costly legislation too quickly. Obama has scheduled a prime-time news conference Wednesday, expected to focus on health care. It’s turning into a major test of his leadership.

The nation’s governors, Democrats as well as Republicans, voiced deep concern Sunday about the shape of the health care plan emerging from Congress, fearing that Washington was about to hand them expensive new Medicaid obligations without money to pay for them. The role of the states in a restructured health care system dominated the summer meeting of the National Governors Association here this weekend — with bipartisan animosity voiced against the plan during a closed-door luncheon on Saturday and in a private meeting on Sunday with the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

Democrats want to ration healthcare for everyone in America — except those who break our immigration laws. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee defeated an amendment that would have prevented illegal aliens from using the so-called “public health insurance option.” Every Democrat on the panel voted against the measure. Nevada GOP Rep. Dean Heller’s measure would have enforced income, eligibility and immigration verification screening on all Obamacare patients. Unlike most everything else stuffed into the House Democrats’ plan, the citizenship vetting process would not have required building a new bureaucracy. Heller proposed using existing state and federal databases created years ago to root out entitlement fraud.

Healthcare May Fund Abortions

Leading proponents of the nationalized health care plans, including President Obama and congressional proponents, have refused to rule out the possibility that federal tax money would be used to pay for abortions. Last week, one of the Senate committees considering health care legislation defeated amendments to exempt abortion from coverage. These proposed measures could lead to the largest abortion expansion since Roe v. Wade. Contact Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, your U.S. Representative, and President Obama today! Politely let them know that you oppose a national healthcare plan that uses taxpayer dollars for abortion and end-of-life “options”.

Use this link to send an e-mail to all four officials or call Senator John McCain at 202-224-2235; Senator Jon Kyl at 202-224-4521; President Obama at 202-456-1111. Find the phone number for your U.S. Representative here. And pray, pray, pray.

2 out of 3 Americans Oppose Carbon Taxes

WorldNetDaily reports that almost half of the Americans who responded to a new poll say they have concerns about the impact of carbon dioxide on the climate, but two out of three say they have no interest whatsoever in opening their wallets to pay for any mitigation. Asked whether they “believe that man-produced carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases will induce catastrophic climate change” if unaddressed, 49.6 percent of the respondents said yes. Twenty-seven percent said no, and 23.4 percent were uncertain. The concern from Democrats and Republicans was reversed with Democrats saying 10-1 yes and Republicans saying 2-1 no. However, when asked if they were willing to “pay significantly higher energy bills in the hope of heading off what some scientists believe to be impending climate change,” 63.6 percent said no. That included Democrats by a margin of almost 3-1 and members of the GOP by 12-1.

Feds Shift Gears on Illegal Immigration

The Department of Homeland Security is changing the way it tackles illegal immigration, in many cases remaking or rescinding Bush administration policies. The changes put heavier emphasis on employers, including more investigations of hiring records and fines for violations. The arrests of hundreds of illegal workers at a time in raids at factories and meatpacking plants were a visible component of President George W. Bush‘s immigration enforcement strategy. Guidelines issued since then make it clear that raids targeting employees won’t be a priority. The agency still will arrest illegal immigrants as it conducts investigations, John Morton, assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in DHS.says, but “we are going to place our focus … first and foremost on the employer.”

Meanwhile, the number of Mexicans moving to the USA has dropped sharply since the middle of the decade, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center. Figures from various sources, including the Census Bureau, show that 30% to 50% fewer Mexicans came here — legally or illegally — in 2008 compared with 2006. About 11.5 million people born in Mexico call the USA home. They account for one-third of all foreign-born residents and two-thirds of foreign-born Hispanics.

Flu Vaccine for Fall Won’t Protect against Swine Virus

The Food and Drug Administration approved a seasonal flu vaccine on Monday, in plenty of time to protect people against the three standard flu strains expected to spread this fall. The agency warned, though, that the seasonal vaccine will not guard against a fourth, potentially more dangerous, strain spreading worldwide. This virus, a novel H1N1 influenza widely known as swine flu, has caused more than 40,000 cases and 260 deaths in the USA and its territories. Its novelty is what makes it so dangerous. Most people, particularly those younger than 50, haven’t been exposed to the new virus or viruses like it, so they’re relatively defenseless against infection. The pandemic flu virus only compounds the already considerable threat posed by seasonal influenza, which results in about 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths every year.

Mine Ban at Grand Canyon

A move by the Obama administration on Monday to temporarily halt new mining claims on nearly 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon will likely push the ongoing battle back into the political arena. Republicans, including Arizona’s two senators, have opposed efforts by environmentalists and Democrats to keep new uranium mines from opening near the Canyon. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called a timeout to new claims and ordered his agency to determine whether the stop should be extended to 20 years, the maximum time the agency can withdraw lands from mining under federal law. Meanwhile, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., will hold a hearing today on his proposal to permanently ban uranium mining on public lands north of the Canyon in an area known as the Arizona Strip. Salazar’s decision comes as the increasing price of uranium has spurred a sharp increase in new mining claims.

Spam Soars despite Billions Spent to Prevent It

TRACElabs issued this a mid-year report noting that spam volumes have spiked to the highest levels ever recorded. Spam volumes are now higher than the previous highest levels recorded in July 2008. Spam (unsolicited email) remains a viable global industry, despite billions spent by corporations on spam filters, not too mention high consumer distrust of spam email messages. “The clear message spammers are giving us is that they are unimpeded by the efforts of law enforcement and the security community,” says TRACElabs senior researcher Phil Hay.

Inspector General Critiques TARP

Americans always knew the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was going to be expensive. But the program’s special inspector general, Neil Barofsky, thinks the U.S. government has bitten off more than it bargained for: on July 20, his office released a report estimating the $700 billion effort to shore up the nation’s wobbly banking system could end up costing taxpayers as much as $23.7 trillion, due to estimates for programs offered by the FDIC, federal money for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other institutions on top of $7.4 trillion in TARP and other Treasury aid. A spokesperson for the Treasury Department quickly called the numbers flawed, making this the latest in the back and forth between Barofsky’s oversight office — which currently has 35 ongoing criminal and civil investigations of suspected accounting, securities and mortgage fraud — and the Treasury Department over the handling of TARP disbursements.

As the watchdog of the government’s massive bailout of the financial sector, Neil Barofsky had a simple question: What had the nation’s banks done with all their bailout money? Can’t be answered, said the Treasury Department, because of the way banks move money internally. The department declined to put the question to the banks. And so, Barofsky started asking financial institutions himself, getting answers from more than 300 that had received federal bailout money and learning to what extent they had used the money to increase their lending, buy competitors or build their cash reserves. The banking survey, and the refusal of Treasury officials to conduct it themselves, were revealed as Barofsky issued a stinging report Monday that complained of a lack of transparency in the Obama administration’s management of the giant financial-services bailout program.

Calif. Budget Deal Doesn’t End IOUs

Three weeks after the state started handing out IOUs in place of hundreds of millions of dollars owed to contractors, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders from both parties have brokered a deal that may allow it to pay bills and begin to get its fiscal house in order. Details of the agreement reached Monday are still emerging, and already protests are being raised by some who say it relies too much on borrowing and others who say it cuts too much. However, the deal was thrown into doubt late Tuesday over a provision allowing the early release of 27,000 state prisoners. Republican leader Sam Blakeslee said the GOP would scuttle the deal if that stays in, according to The Sacramento Bee. The agreement avoids raising taxes, a goal of the governor since voters rejected tax-increase proposals in a May referendum, while reducing spending on education and welfare services. It also relies on accounting tricks and borrows billions from local governments, according to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The board voted Tuesday to sue the state to block a provision in the deal in which the state takes millions of dollars in gas and property taxes and other funds that were supposed to go to cities and towns.

Ø      This deal of “accounting tricks” and robbing local governments is testament to the absurdity to which overspending and massive debt have taken us. This is not a solution but a postponement of the really hard choices and times that are coming.

Economic News

Prices of single-family homes rose on average a seasonally adjusted 0.9% in May from April but were down 5.6% from a year earlier and 10.7% below their April 2007 peak, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Wednesday.

Nearly four in 10 small-business owners polled in the past few weeks said they are not able to get the financing they need to run their firms, according to a study Wednesday from the National Small Business Association. That’s up from a third in December 2008. A report from the Service Employees International Union, also out Wednesday, says SBA lending by major banks has significantly dried up.

Ø      I thought the massive bailout was supposed to loosen credit?

U.S. troop Death Exceed 5,000

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reached two solemn milestones Monday: July has become the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the combined death toll surpassed 5,000. Four Americans were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Robert Carr said. That brings the number of U.S. servicemembers killed so far this month to at least 30. The previous deadliest month was June 2008, when 28 died, the Pentagon said. In Iraq, where casualties have dwindled in recent months, at least six Americans have died so far in July. Deaths on both fronts pushed the total U.S. fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan to at least 5,002, according to the Pentagon. That number includes 4,333 military deaths in Iraq and 669 in Afghanistan.

Army to Increase Forces by 22K Soldiers

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced that the size of the U.S. Army is being increased by 22,000 to help meet deployment needs around the world. This is the second time since 2007 that the military has determined it does not have a large enough force. Gates had already increased the size of the Army and Marine Corps shortly after taking the Pentagon job. Gates noted that while progress in Iraq will lead to a reduction in the number of troops there, more troops are needed in Afghanistan because of the worsening violence in that conflict.

Afghan Violence Continues Unabated

Eight Taliban militants attacked three government buildings and a U.S. base in two eastern cities Tuesday in near-simultaneous attacks — a signature of major Taliban assaults. Eight insurgents and six Afghan security forces died. Using suicide bombings, gunfire and rockets, the militants attacked the governor’s compound, the intelligence department and the police department in the eastern city of Gardez. Tribal elders and government officials had just finished a meeting at the governor’s compound about security for the country’s Aug. 20 presidential election when gunfire broke out at the nearby intelligence department,. A rocket fired into the intelligence department killed three officers. A suicide bombing in front of a police station killed two police. A rocket was also fired at the governor’s house. A total of four attackers were shot and killed at the police station and the governor’s compound, including at least two bombers clothed in women’s burqas.

A Philippine official says 10 Filipino workers were among the civilians killed in a helicopter crash at NATO’s largest air base in Afghanistan. All 16 people aboard the Russian-owned civilian Mi-8 helicopter died in the crash Sunday at the base in Kandahar. The Philippines has banned its overseas workers from Afghanistan, but many still end up employed at military bases there.

A British fighter jet crashed inside NATO’s largest base in southern Afghanistan on Monday in the second major crash there in two days. The Royal Air Force GR4 Tornado crashed inside Kandahar Airfield. The crew’s two members ejected and were being treated for unspecified injuries at the base hospital.

Iran Supreme Leader Warns Opposition

Iran‘s supreme leader issued a tough warning Monday to the opposition to back down after a former president called for a referendum on the government’s legitimacy, a sign of the movement’s growing boldness in challenging the country’s clerical rulers. The exchanges between the opposition on one side and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his core of hard-line clerical supporters on the others appeared to be heating up, reflecting how the month-long conflict over Iran’s disputed presidential election is entering a new level — a struggle within the leadership itself. The opposition has been energized by a show of support last week from former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a key figure within the ruling clerical hierarchy.

Presidential hopefuls are not the only politicians running afoul of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei these days. Now the freshly re-elected official president — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — has been ordered by Khamanei to dismiss the man he chose just last week to be his first vice president, the Associated Press reports. The first veep, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who also happens to be the father-in-law of Ahmadinejad’s son, earned the ire of hardliners because of pro-Israeli comments he made in 2008.

Wildfires

An Inyo National Forest wildfire that forced the evacuation of several vacation homes and nine campgrounds near Big Pine, California, is 85% contained as of Wednesday morning, having burned 3,268 acres or about five square miles..

Rugged terrain made it difficult for firefighters as they battled a California wildfire burning in a national forest near the Oregon border. The fire in the Klamath National Forest expanded to 4,168 acres, or nearly 7 square miles. The blaze is 60% contained as of Wednesday morning. Highway 97 is open again to traffic, but people using the roadway are being led by police escorts.

The Railbelt Complex fire in Alaska has consumed 251,230 acres, or over 40 square miles. Five other wildfires are also burning in Alaska, having consumed nearly 105,000 acres.

Weather

The South and Midwest have been experiencing record-low temperatures, turning summer topsy-turvy. Atlanta saw a record low of 61 degrees early Monday. Anniston, Ala., woke up Monday to a crisp 55 degrees. Crossville, Tenn., dipped to 52. Dubuque, Iowa, recorded 49 degrees. Early Monday morning, the temperature at Birmingham Airport was 59, breaking a record of 60 set in 1947. The cool temperatures could stay through the weekend.

Drought in Texas has led to an estimated $3.6 billion in crop and livestock losses, and without ample rains, the year’s final tally could top the state record set in 2006, Texas agriculture officials say. Crops and rangeland are scorched from lack of rainfall and record triple-digit temperatures throughout parts of Texas — the nation’s second-largest agriculture state behind California. Much of the central and southern parts of the state have been in the two most severe stages of drought for months.

July 20, 2009

Sotomayor Wins GOP Support after Hearings

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor won her first public pledges of support from Senate Republicans and one prominent GOP opponent, after a smooth performance at her confirmation hearings that has placed her firmly on track to become the high court’s first Latina and the first Democratic-named justice in 15 years. Three centrist Republicans announced they’d support Sotomayor even as the Senate’s minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he’d vote no. The split was a vivid reflection of the divisions in the GOP as the party faces a tricky vote on Sotomayor, wary of alienating its conservative base but equally afraid to anger Hispanic and women voters. With solid backing from Democrats, who enjoy a lopsided majority, and a growing number of Republicans, there’s virtually no doubt the judge will be confirmed as the 111th Supreme Court justice.

  • I can’t help but recall all the prophecies over the past few years about how the next Supreme Court justice would be a pro-life conservative appointed by Bush. Wishful imagination seems to be replacing true prophecy.

California Sprouts Marijuana ‘Green Rush’

More and more, having premium pot delivered to your door in California is not a crime. It is a legitimate business. Marijuana has transformed California. Since the state became the first to legalize the drug for medicinal use, the weed the federal government puts in the same category as heroin and cocaine has become a major economic force. No longer relegated to the underground, pot in California these days props up local economies, mints millionaires and feeds a thriving industry of start-ups designed to grow, market and distribute the drug. Based on the quantity of marijuana authorities seized last year, the crop was worth an estimated $17 billion or more, dwarfing any other sector of the state’s agricultural economy.

Experts say most of that marijuana is still sold as a recreational drug on the black market. But more recently the plant has put down deep financial roots in highly visible, taxpaying businesses: Stores that sell high-tech marijuana growing equipment. Pot clubs that pay rent and hire workers. Marijuana themed magazines and food products. Chains of for-profit clinics with doctors who specialize in medical marijuana recommendations. The sheer scale of the overall pot economy has some lawmakers pushing for broader legalization as a way to shore up the finances of a state that has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. The state’s top tax collector estimates that taxing pot like liquor could bring in more than $1.3 billion annually.

Swine N1H1 Flu

Chinese health authorities have quarantined 107 visiting students and teachers from Britain at a hotel in Beijing after some of their schoolmates were diagnosed with swine flu, the British Embassy said Monday. Nine British citizens were confirmed with swine flu and had been hospitalized, the embassy said in a statement. Eight of the cases were of students from a group that is in China for language and cultural immersion courses. The Health Ministry said Friday that 1,537 cases of swine flu had been reported in China, the latest tally available. None has been fatal.

Trade Schools Boom with Older Students

Disappearing jobs have helped drive thousands of people to trade schools, where they can pick up training on anything from truck driving to medical billing. Many of the newcomers are in their 40s and 50s — twice the age of the typical student there. A lot of them already have college degrees. As economic struggles and unemployment plague much of the nation, vocational schools across the USA are seeing significant spikes in enrollment.

White House Delays Release of Budget Update

The White House is being forced to acknowledge the wide gap between its once-upbeat predictions about the economy and today’s bleak landscape. The administration’s annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Obama‘s budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress. The release of the update — usually scheduled for mid-July — has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.

Treasury Has Tough Task Selling U.S. debt

Timothy Geithner, architect of bank, auto and economic rescue plans, has another high-stakes job these days: traveling bond salesman. The recession, financial crisis and two wars have pushed the federal deficit above $1 trillion, a record level that makes the Treasury secretary’s role as chief marketer of U.S. debt tougher than any of his recent predecessors’. Geithner, who traveled last week to the Middle East and Europe, has to convince foreign investors to keep buying Treasury bills, notes and bonds; they hold nearly half of the government’s roughly $7 trillion in publicly traded debt. If foreign demand for U.S. debt sags, that could drive up interest rates and spell big trouble for an economy hobbled by 9.5% unemployment. In the worst case scenario, a rush by foreigners to sell their U.S. debt could send the dollar crashing and inflation soaring.

  • This unprecedented debt load is poised to come crashing down on all our heads

Two Giants Emerge from Wall Street Ruins

A new order is emerging on Wall Street after the worst crisis since the Great Depression — one in which just a couple of victors are starting to tower over the handful of financial titans that used to dominate the industry. On Thursday, JPMorgan Chase became the latest big bank to announce stellar second-quarter earnings. Its $2.7 billion profit, after record gains for Goldman Sachs, underscores how the government’s effort to halt a collapse has also set the stage for a narrowing concentration of financial power. Both banks now stand astride post-bailout Wall Street, having benefited from billions of dollars in taxpayer support and cheap government financing to climb over banks that continue to struggle. They are capitalizing on the turmoil in financial markets and their rivals’ weakness to pull in billions in trading profits.

  • These two banks are leading players in the New World (Dis)Order. Concentration of wealth is a key strategy for the globalists.

Economic News

Unemployment topped 10% in 15 states and the District of Columbia last month, according to federal data released Friday. The rate in Michigan surpassed 15%, the first time any state hit that mark since 1984.

Regulators on Friday shut two banks in California and two smaller banks in Georgia and South Dakota, boosting to 57 the number of federally insured banks to fail this year, compared with 25 last year and three in 2007.

Israel Rejects U.S. Call to Halt Jerusalem Project

Israel on Sunday rejected a U.S. demand to suspend a planned housing project in east Jerusalem, threatening to further complicate an unusually tense standoff with its strongest ally over settlement construction. Israeli officials said the country’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, was summoned to the State Department over the weekend and told that a project being developed by an American millionaire in the disputed section of the holy city should not go ahead. Settlements built on captured lands claimed by the Palestinians have emerged as a major sticking point in relations between Israel and the Obama administration because of their potential to disrupt Mideast peacemaking. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently yielded to heavy U.S. pressure to endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has resisted American demands for an immediate freeze on settlement expansion.

Defense Official: Israel Readying for Attack on Iran

According to an Israeli defense official, Israel’s recent deployment of warships across the Red Sea should be seen as serious preparation for an attack on Iran. Israel is investing time in preparing itself for the complexity of an attack on Iran. “These maneuvers are a message to Iran that Israel will follow up on its threats,” the official said.

Iran ‘In Crisis’

n a sign of endurance for Iran’s protest movement, demonstrators clashed with police Friday as one of the nation’s most powerful clerics challenged the supreme leader during Muslim prayers, saying the country was in crisis in the wake of a disputed election. The turnout of tens of thousands of worshippers for former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani‘s sermon at Tehran University and the battles with police outside represented the biggest opposition show of strength in weeks. Protesters faced fierce government suppression and hundreds were arrested following the June 12 presidential election. Outside the university, protests grew from several hundred people before the sermon to thousands afterward as worshippers joined in, chanting “death to the dictator,” a reference to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Wildfires

About 11,000 residents of a subdivision threatened by a forest fire in southern British Columbia have been evacuated, officials said Sunday. Helicopters, air tankers and firefighters were attacking the 1.35-square-mile blaze raging behind the Glenrosa subdivision, some 170 miles east of Vancouver. Another 6,000 people in the West Kelowna subdivision were told to be on evacuation alert. A second fire was burning about 6.2 miles north at the nearby Rose Valley Reservoir, where another 1,500 homes were under evacuation alert. A third fire, further north at Fintry, was also burning.

July 15, 2009

Christian Student Fights Prof, Wins Big

A California court has ruled in favor of a student who was insulted for defending traditional marriage and has ordered the college to strike from its website a sexual harassment policy that censors speech deemed “offensive” to homosexual people. Jonathan Lopez, a student at Los Angeles City College, was delivering a speech on his Christian faith in speech class when professor John Matteson interrupted him, called him a “fascist b—-rd” for mentioning a moral conviction against homosexual marriage and later told him to “ask God what your grade is.” The professor also warned on his evaluation of Lopez’s speech, “Proselytizing is inappropriate in public school,” and later threatened to have Lopez expelled.

Represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, Lopez sued the Los Angeles City College District, the largest community college system in the U.S., with over 135,000 students. The lawsuit not only targeted the school over the professor’s comments, however, but also sought removal of a campus sexual harassment and speech policy that court documents allege “systematically prohibits and punishes political and religious speech by students that is outside the campus political mainstream.” In a ruling handed down last week, U.S. District Judge George H. King apparently agreed, calling the campus policy “unconstitutionally overbroad” and ordering it to be stricken from the college’s website.

Orders Revoked for Soldier Challenging President’s Eligibility

A U.S. Army Reserve major from Florida scheduled to report for deployment to Afghanistan within days has had his military orders revoked after arguing he should not be required to serve under a president who has not proven his eligibility for office. His attorney, Orly Taitz, confirmed to WorldNetDaily the military has rescinded his impending deployment orders. “We won! We won before we even arrived,” she said with excitement. “It means that the military has nothing to show for Obama. It means that the military has directly responded by saying Obama is illegitimate – and they cannot fight it. Therefore, they are revoking the order!”

Episcopal Church to Affirm Gay Clergy

The Episcopal Church moved Monday toward affirming their acceptance of gays and lesbians for all roles in the ministry, despite pressure from fellow Anglicans worldwide for a decisive moratorium on consecrating another openly gay bishop. Bishops at the Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim, California, voted 99-45 with two abstentions for a statement declaring “God has called and may call” to ministry gays in committed lifelong relationships. Lay and priest delegates to the meeting had comfortably approved a nearly identical statement. Last month, breakaway Episcopal conservatives and other like-minded traditionalists formed a rival national province called the Anglican Church in North America.

Only One-Third of Scientists Believe in God

Religion News Service reports that only a third of scientists say they believe in God, according to a new survey. Eighteen percent believe in a high power and four in 10 scientists believe in neither. The report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science show scientists vary sharply with findings for the general public. Scientists were evenly split — at 48 percent each — between those who claimed a religious affiliation and those who did not. Meanwhile, 83 percent of Americans say they believe in God and 82 percent said they are affiliated with a religious tradition.

NEA Backs Same-Sex Marriage

The National Education Association has thrown its full support behind homosexual “marriage.” The NEA recently held its annual convention in San Diego, California, where members voted on two issues of importance to those involved in the culture war. One of those issues was whether the union would support same-gender marriage. According to Jeralee Smith, co-founder of the Conservative Educators Caucus, the resolution passed by roughly a two-thirds majority. Smith told Baptist Press that when a representative of the Conservative Caucus spoke against the resolution and mentioned the words “marriage should be between a man and a woman,” the speaker was booed.

  • We have to get our children out of the public schools which have become seculari humanist indoctrination centers.

Dems Trying to Sneak Hate Crimes Through Congress

Senators on Capitol Hill may be forced Thursday to make a choice between approving an important defense spending bill and voting down “hate crimes” legislation. Senate Democrats are once again trying to pass a hate crimes bill by attaching it as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill. The hate crimes legislation, known as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909), would add gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability to the list of protected categories under federal hate crimes law. A vote is expected Thursday on the Defense Authorization bill and its accompanying hate crimes amendment.

  • It should be illegal to tack on amendments to a bill that are outside the purview of that bill. You can sign a petition against such hate crime legislation at: www.prayinjesusname.org

Surgeon General Pick: Train New Doctors on Abortions

President Obama’s pick for surgeon general has urged that future doctors learn how to perform abortions. Regina Benjamin is the first black woman and the first doctor younger than 40 to be elected to the American Medical Association’s board of trustees, and in 2002 she became the first black woman to head a state medical society. On the issue of abortion, Benjamin has advocated more training for doctors on how to terminate pregnancy. In December 1996, Benjamin “spoke in favor of a vote by the AMA’s governing body to ‘urge medical schools to expand their curriculum’ to teach ‘more about abortion,'” LifeNews reported.

No Swine Flu Vaccine til End of Year

A fully licensed swine flu vaccine might not be available until the end of the year, a top official at the World Health Organization said Monday, in a report that could affect many countries’ vaccination plans. The swine flu viruses currently being used to develop a vaccine aren’t producing enough of the ingredient needed for the vaccine, and WHO has asked its laboratory network to produce a new set of viruses as soon as possible. So far, the swine flu viruses being used are only producing about half as much “yield” to make vaccines as regular flu viruses. Last week, WHO reported nearly 95,000 cases of swine flu worldwide including 429 deaths. Most people who get the virus only experience mild symptoms and don’t need treatment to get better.

The number of cadets with confirmed cases of the swine flu at the Air Force Academy has increased to 67. The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs reported Monday that 121 freshmen with flu-like symptoms have been separated from the rest of the cadets. A possible outbreak of swine flu ended a summer youth camp early at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where 10 students and three staff members showed symptoms Sunday.

The three pandemic flu strains of the 20th century, which killed millions, may have circulated in a precursor form for years before cutting their deadly swath. The 1918 flu virus, which is estimated to have killed 50 million to 100 million people worldwide, most likely was circulating in humans and pigs at least two to 15 years before the pandemic began. The 1957 “Asian flu” killed an estimated 69,800 people in the USA. The researchers believe the variant was circulating in humans two to six years before that. The 1968 “Hong Kong flu,” which killed about 33,800 in the USA, was estimated to have begun circulating one to three years before.

Arizona to Permit Handguns in Bars

Arizonans with concealed weapons permits will be allowed to take a handgun into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol under a bill signed Monday by Gov. Jan Brewer. The measure, backed by the National Rifle Association, will require bar and restaurant owners who want to ban weapons on the premises to post a no-guns sign next to the business’ liquor license. Drinking while carrying a weapon would be illegal. Before a compromise reached late in the Legislature’s regular session, the measure pitted powerful groups representing gun and bar owners against each other. Opponents have said mixing guns and alcohol produces a dangerous combination that could cause violence. Supporters said people should be able to protect themselves at businesses that serve alcohol. Supporters also said it was risky to leave guns in parked vehicles. It’s already legal to carry a gun into a store that sells alcohol for consumption elsewhere.

A New Generation of Farmers Emerges

A recent movement is underway in which young people — most of whom come from cities and suburbs — are taking up what may be the world’s oldest profession: organic farming. The wave of young farmers on tiny farms is too new and too small to have turned up significantly in USDA statistics, but people in the farming world acknowledge there’s something afoot. Conferences for beginning farmers are experiencing 3-4 times the usual number of attendees. For these new farmers, going back to the land isn’t a rejection of conventional society, but an embrace of growing crops and raising animals for market as an honorable, important career choice — one that’s been waning since 1935, when the U.S. farms peaked at 6.8 million. Three factors have made these small, organic farms possible: a rising consumer demand for organic and local produce, a huge increase in farmers’ markets nationwide, and the growing popularity of community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

Options Dwindle for Cashing California IOUs

Thousands of California creditors were left Monday with fewer options for cashing promissory notes issued by the state, as several major banks said they no longer will honor them. U.S. Bancorp became the latest to reject the pay-you-later warrants, joining Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and other large institutions. The state began issuing the notes, known colloquially as IOUs — for “I owe you” — at the beginning of the month as a way to save cash amid a $26.3 billion deficit. The state controller’s office issued nearly 130,000 IOUs — formally called registered warrants — for $436 million between July 2 and Friday. The state expects to issue $2.9 billion worth of IOUs through the end of July.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has told state employee unions his administration is preparing to cut another 2,000 state jobs to deal with California’s $26.3 billion budget deficit. The administration has already sent layoff notices to 33,000 state employees. Schwarzenegger has also proposed a 5% pay cut for state workers.

Federal Deficit Tops Record $1 Trillion

Nine months into the fiscal year, the federal deficit has topped $1 trillion for the first time ever. The imbalance is intensifying fears about higher interest rates and inflation, and already pressuring the value of the dollar. The deficit has been propelled by the huge sum the government has spent to combat the recession and financial crisis, combined with a sharp decline in tax revenues. Paying for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is also a major factor. The country’s soaring deficits are making some foreign buyers of U.S. debt nervous, and this could make them reluctant lenders down the road.

Economic News

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sees the possibility of continued high unemployment even after the recession eases, a key Republican lawmaker who met with the Fed chief told CNBC. Bernanke’s comment that unemployment could remain high for some time appeared to be more pessimistic than any of his recent public statements.

Gasoline prices fell for the fourth week in a row, dropping to the lowest level in six weeks, the U.S. Energy Department said Monday, as cheaper crude oil costs were passed onto consumers at the pump. The national price for regular unleaded gasoline declined 8.4 cents over the last week to $2.53 gallon, down $1.59 from a year ago when gasoline stood at a record $4.11 a gallon.

Chrysler Financial, the former financing arm of automaker Chrysler, said Tuesday that it has repaid in full its $1.5 billion in government loans. Chrysler Financial said its original TARP loan contained provisions that increased its costs over time, motivating the company to pay off the loan quickly. Chrysler Financial said it used the TARP money to finance more than 85,000 consumer loans for purchases of Chrysler vehicles.

A jump in auto and gasoline sales boosted U.S. retailers in June, while a measure of inflation soared twice as much as expected, bolstering hopes the economy was finally beginning a modest recovery. Commerce Department data Tuesday showed sales at U.S. retailers rose 0.6% from a month earlier. A separate report from the Labor Department showed producer prices jumped 1.8% last month, far outstripping forecasts for a 0.9% gain. The sharp rise in wholesale prices — as well as “core” prices that exclude food and energy — could fan investors’ fears about inflation. But economists believe the increases are temporary and don’t signal the beginning of a dangerous bout of spiraling prices this year.

  • More wishful thinking. The economists have been wrong every step of the way before and during this severe recession. They tell us what the government wants us to believe.

Israel

Two Israeli warships sailed through the Suez Canal on Tuesday, Israeli and Egyptian officials said, a move that appeared to be a new signal to Iran that Israel’s reach could quickly extend to its archenemy’s backyard. Use of the Egyptian-controlled canal means Israeli naval vessels could reach waters off Iran in a matter of days, instead of taking a much longer route around Africa. Israel considers Iran its most serious threat, citing Tehran’s nuclear program, its support for anti-Israel militant groups and bellicose statements by its hardline president.

Egypt Fails Once More to Mend Fatah-Hamas Rift

Egypt has temporarily suspended any further Palestinian reconciliation talks after rival factions Fatah and Hamas rejected the latest proposals by Cairo for ending their bitter internecine conflict. Despite the promise of generous aid offers from EU countries to “rebuild Gaza,” last ditch efforts to save the talks by high-ranking Egyptian officials have failed. Fatah and Hamas representatives took a short break from ridiculing each other to blame the Egyptians. Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official, claimed that “at one point we were very close to reaching agreement with Hamas,” but that major differences erupted over the composition and status of Palestinian security forces, which are often more loyal to their clan than to the national authority, as well as parliamentary elections and the political agenda for any future unity government. Hamas also accused Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas of taking orders from US security coordinator Gen. Keith Dayton and the IDF to order the arrest of Hamas supporters in the West Bank. The IDF has recently assessed that Palestinian elections planned for 2010 will likely be postponed because of the internal turmoil.

Iran

Iran hanged 13 members of a Sunni Muslim rebel group Tuesday convicted of bombings and killings in the country’s restive southeast near the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan The mass execution was the largest ever carried out against members of Jundallah and was likely meant as a warning to the group, which is composed of Sunnis from the Baluchi ethnic minority. They have waged a low-level insurgency in recent years, accusing the mostly Shiite and Persian Iranian government of persecution.

Pakistan

Pakistani troops killed 13 militants in the latest clashes in the Swat Valley, the army said Wednesday, underscoring the region’s fragile security even as refugees displaced by fighting return home. The Pakistani army says it has killed more than 1,700 militants since its latest offensive against the Taliban began in Swat more than two months ago. Despite ongoing reports of fighting, the army says that most of Swat is militant-free and that all the main urban centers are under army control.

Seven Christians Beheaded in Somalia

Christian News Wire reports that seven Somali Christians were beheaded by suspected hard-line insurgents from the Al-Shabaab group. Although al-Shabaab has carried out similar severe punishments in regions under its control, these executions allegedly are the largest number done at the same time. Somalia is believed to have a 99.95% Islamic following. There are only a handful Somali Christians inside the country and they have been forced underground. Some Christians have taken refuge in neighboring countries. Somalia is ranked No. 5 on the most recent Open Doors World Watch List which ranks the top persecutors of Christians. The previous year Somalia was ranked No. 12.

Earthquakes

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck off New Zealand‘s western coast Wednesday generating a small tsunami. No injuries or major damage were reported. The quake was felt widely across South Island. Police in the town of Tuatapere said they had reports of minor cracks in buildings and stock falling from supermarket shelves. Scientists in New Zealand reported aftershocks, the first of 6.1 magnitude.

Wildfires

A 41,497 acre wildfire has destroyed 27 structures in Oklahoma, A fast-moving wildfire has burned roughly 500 acres in southwest Colorado and led to the evacuation of about 20 homes. The area is about 330 miles southwest of Denver.

Weather

Thunderstorms have brought large hail and heavy rain to Iowa, breaking windows and knocking down large tree branches and power lines. The storms moved across the state late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

July 13, 2009

86% of Americans want Abortion Restrictions

The American people continue to move to the pro-life perspective on abortion according to the latest Moral Compass survey by the Knights of Columbus and Marist Poll. The poll mirrored findings of other recent surveys, showing that more Americans identify as pro-life than as pro-choice, and that the vast majority of Americans favor restricting abortion. Among the key findings: 86% of Americans would significantly restrict abortion; 60% of Americans would limit abortion to cases of rape, incest or to save the life of a mother – or would not allow it at all; 53% of Americans believe abortion does more harm than good to a woman in the long term; 79% of Americans support conscience exemptions on abortion for health care workers; 69% of Americans think that it is appropriate for religious leaders to speak out on abortion.

  • Unfortunately, our socialistic government no longer pays attention to the will of the people.

CAP-Sponsored Legislation Passed in Arizona

The Center for Arizona Policy reported that Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed three CAP supported bills recently passed by the legislature. The Students’ Religious Liberties Act codifies court rulings into state law, clarifying that students have constitutional rights to express their religious beliefs. The Charitable Tax Credit Simplification bill simplifies the state tax credit for donations to qualifying charities serving the working poor. The License Plate Commission Repeal bill includes a provision that should allow Arizonans to purchase Choose Life license plates through the ServiceArizona.com website.

Jesus Christ Banned from Prayers

The right to pray publicly “in Jesus name” is under new attack in Pennsylvania and again in California. The Democrat Speaker of the Pennsylvania House Keith R. McCall has just issued (and enforced) a policy which bans the name of Jesus Christ as illegal speech that may not be uttered during voluntary prayers spoken before the Pennsylvania state legislature. Pastor Gerry Stoltzfoos of Freedom Valley Worship Center in Adams County, PA had been invited to pray the invocation at the State-House on June 30th, but McCall’s office insisted on previewing and censoring a written copy of the prayer beforehand. McCall’s office then refused to allow Stoltzfoos to say the prayer before the legislature. On August 5th, 2009, the city council of Lodi, California will debate and possibly vote to ban the name of Jesus from public prayers offered by guest pastors invited to pray the invocation. Under threat of lawsuit by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, Lodi Mayor Larry D. Hansen said he is considering changing the Lodi city council prayer policy (which has traditionally allowed the word “Jesus” to be spoken in 39 of the last 55 prayers).

  • Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt is leading the efforts to combat the movement to remove Jesus’ name from state legislatures. Go to www.gopusa.com for more information

Gore Boasts: ‘Global Governance’ Coming

Former Vice President Al Gore, whose “An Inconvenient Truth” video epistle on the claims of global warming has not weathered recent scientific research, now has promised at a conference in the United Kingdom that the impending virtual energy tax under the U.S. “cap-and-trade” legislation will bring about “global governance.” Gore, who this year famously left his Nashville mansion’s driveway brightly illuminated during the “Earth Hour” event that promoted energy savings, was speaking at the Smith School World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment. He cited the “cap-and-trade” legislation in the U.S. Congress that  by President Obama’s own estimate would cause utility bills to skyrocket for American consumers. Those taxes are good, Gore said. “But it is the awareness itself that will drive the change, and one of the ways it will drive the change is through global government and global agreements,” he said.

  • Just another example of the push toward the “one-world government” of Revelation 13.

Medvedev Shows Off Sample Coin of New ‘World Currency’ at G-8

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev illustrated his call for a supranational currency to replace the dollar by pulling from his pocket a sample coin of a “united future world currency.” “Here it is,” Medvedev told reporters in L’Aquila, Italy, after a summit of the Group of Eight nations. “You can see it and touch it.” The coin, which bears the words “unity in diversity,” was minted in Belgium and presented to the heads of G-8 delegations, Medvedev said. The question of a supranational currency “concerns everyone now, even the mints,” Medvedev said. The test coin “means they’re getting ready. I think it’s a good sign that we understand how interdependent we are.”

  • The New World (Dis)Order is becoming less inhibited and secretive about their globalist plans

Bush Program Extended Beyond Wiretapping

The Bush administration built an unprecedented surveillance operation to pull in mountains of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, a team of federal inspectors general reported Friday, questioning the legal basis for the effort but shielding almost all details on grounds they’re still too secret to reveal. The report, compiled by five inspectors general, refers to “unprecedented collection activities” by U.S. intelligence agencies under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Just what those activities involved remains classified, but the IGs pointedly say that any continued use of the secret programs must be “carefully monitored.” The report says too few relevant officials knew of the size and depth of the program, let alone signed off on it. While the Bush administration had defended its program of wiretapping without warrants as a vital tool that saved lives, the report said the program’s effectiveness in fighting terrorism was unclear.

CIA Director Ends Secret Program

CIA Director Leon Panetta has terminated a “very serious” covert program the spy agency kept secret from Congress for eight years, a House Intelligence subcommittee chairwoman said Friday. Rep. Jan Schakowsky is pressing for an immediate committee investigation of the classified program, which has not been described publicly. “The program is a very, very serious program and certainly deserved a serious debate at the time and through the years,” Schakowsky told The Associated Press in an interview. “But now it’s over.” The program was kept a secret from Congress on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency’s director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday. The program, which sources told FOX News was a plan to capture or kill Al Qaeda operatives, also never came close to being operational.

  • The CIA requires secrecy because Congress leaks like a sieve. However, the CIA has also shown a tendency to twist facts to suit their own agenda, regardless of who the President is and which party is in control.

House Leaders to Tax Rich to Finance Health Care

House Democrats will ask the wealthiest Americans to help pay for overhauling the health care system with a $550 billion income tax increase, the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee said Friday. The proposal calls for a surtax on individuals earning at least $280,000 in adjusted gross income and couples earning more than $350,000. It would generate about $550 billion over 10 years to pay about half the cost of the legislation. As the proposal envisions it, the rest of the cost would be covered by lower spending on Medicare, the government health plan for the elderly, and other health care savings. An aide to the House speaker, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, said she and other leaders were supportive of the idea.

Mortgage Aid Limping Along

Struggling homeowners were given hope when a federal housing initiative to help millions avoid foreclosure was announced by President Barack Obama four months ago. The key part of the $75 million Making Home Affordable plan was a loan-modification program that compensated lenders for lowering the mortgage payments of borrowers who were making less money because of the recession. The government offered banks and borrowers bonuses for making loan modifications work. Most of the big lenders agreed to participate. So far the plan isn’t working as anticipated. Many eligible Valley homeowners can’t reach anyone at their lender who will work with them. More people are losing their jobs, which makes them ineligible for the government-backed program. For many of those who did get a modified payment, there was a harsh discovery. Modifications often were made on a three-month trial basis, and now lenders are revoking the terms – sometimes even when payments are met – and leaving some homeowners with the old payments they can’t afford.

  • Such is life in a socialistic country

Tight Mortgage Rules Exclude Even Good Credit Risks

The readiness of banks to sell foreclosed properties has led to rising home sales in some areas. But the traditional housing market, the one that involves willing buyers and sellers, is still dead, with transactions lower than they have been for decades, reports the New York Times. The recession is the major reason sales are dragging, of course, but it is not the only one. Buyers once viewed as perfectly qualified are being denied mortgages. Brokers and bankers say that in past decades, the credit markets would almost certainly have accommodated many of these people.

The denials are occurring for a wide array of reasons: the buyers’ incomes are adequate but irregular; they are self-employed and take many deductions, reducing the taxable income on which lenders focus; their credit scores are below the cut-off point, which has been raised drastically; their down payments are less than 20 percent. Housing usually leads the country into a recession, which certainly happened this time, and also leads it out — which will not happen in 2010, the real estate industry contends, without stronger efforts to thaw the market.

California Small Businesses Hurting

As if struggling to stay afloat during a faltering economy isn’t difficult enough, hundreds of small business vendors that rely on contracts with California are facing another hurdle: There’s a good chance the state won’t be paying any of their invoices this month. After the state legislature failed to agree on budget solutions earlier this month to close a $26 billion gap, California started issuing IOUs for a variety of payments it owes — including most of its vendor bills, personal income tax refunds, and funding for local governments. So far, California has mailed $354 million worth of IOUs and plans to issue a total of $3 billion by the end of July. The state’s department of general services says it holds $2.7 billion worth of annual contracts with at least 14,000 small companies, most of them California firms.

Second Stimulus Needed?

President Obama on Saturday dismissed the idea the nation might need a second stimulus to jolt the economy out of recession and urged Americans to be patient with his economic recovery plan. Faced with rising unemployment numbers and criticism from Republicans who have already labeled the $787 billion stimulus a failure, Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to remind voters that reversing job losses takes time. The plan “was not designed to work in four months,” Obama said. “It was designed to work over two years.”

  • Obama is changing his tune, and like most politicians, seems to have no problem that it conflicts with previous assertions

Church Camps Closing Amid Declining Use, Economy

The Associated Press reports that hundreds of church camps across the U.S. face bleak futures as the economy continues to flounder, hurting already slumping reservations. “I think this fall through Christmas we will see as many as 10 to 15 percent of camps decide they no longer can continue operating,” said Bob Kobielush, president of the Christian Camp and Conference Association, which includes about 950 camps. Sites like Camp Sumatanga in northern Alabama find fewer and fewer adults renting their conference center. “What we offer here is quiet, a place to be quiet,” said the Rev. Bob Murray, a former banker who has worked as director at Sumatanga for 18 months. “Not everyone values that as much as they once did.”

Recession’s Sliver Lining

Shrinking paychecks and rising environmental concerns are prompting Americans to pare back their lifestyles. “Perhaps the silver lining (of the recession) is that people are coming to realize they can live with less and their lives are richer for it,” says Michael Maniates, professor of political and environmental science at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa. A third, 32%, say they have been spending less and intend to make that their “new, normal” pattern; 27% say they are saving more and plan to continue, according to a Gallup Poll. Nearly half of consumers, 47%, say they already have what they need, up from 34% in November 2006, according to the 2009 MetLife Study of the American Dream.

Obama Marks Africa’s Promise, Problems

America’s president and Africa’s son, President Barack Obama spoke to the continent of his ancestors Saturday, challenging its people to shed corruption and conflict in favor of peace. Campaigning to all of Africa, he said “Yes you can.” In the faces of those who lined the streets and in many of Obama’s own words, this trip was personal. Beyond his message, the story was his presence — the first black U.S. president coming to poor, proud, predominantly black sub-Sahara Africa for his first time in office. Obama billboards dotted the roads. Women wore dresses made of cloth bearing his image. Tribal chiefs, lawmakers, church leaders, street vendors — to them, it felt like history.

To their disappointment, most people did not see him personally. The lack of open events and the heavy security kept many in this West African nation away from Obama. They had to watch him on TV. At the heart of Obama’s message here: African nations crippled by coups and chaos, like Ghana has been in the past, can reshape themselves into lawful democracies. He said it takes good governance, sustained development, improved health care. And that the moment is now.

Iraqi Bombings Persist, Drought Worsens

A car bomb exploded in an alley Saturday in a village in northern Iraq, killing at least four people, wounding others and destroying eight homes, police said. Another six people died in bombings in Baghdad. Thirty-eight people were wounded and several shops and cars were also damaged. Violence remains at low levels in Iraq compared with previous years, but bombings continue to kill scores of people. The attacks have raised concerns as the U.S. military draws down troop numbers. U.S. combat troops in Iraq completed a withdrawal from urban areas to outlying bases at the end of last month, ahead of a planned pullout by all American forces by the end of 2011.

A car bomb exploded near a church as worshippers left Sunday Mass, killing at least four civilians and injuring 18 in one of several attacks on Iraq’s beleaguered Christian minority. Three Christians and one Muslim died in the bombing. It was the seventh Christian house of worship in the country to be bombed in three days.

Below-average rainfall and insufficient water in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have left Iraq bone dry for a second straight year, wrecking swaths of farm land, threatening drinking water supplies and intensifying fierce sandstorms that have coated the country in brown dust. The drought has dealt a harsh blow to hopes that reductions in sectarian violence over the last year would fuel an economic recovery. Instead, the government’s budget suffered a double-hit: Lower than expected oil prices have crimped revenues and the scarcity of water will force Iraq to spend money to import most of the crops, especially wheat and rice, to meet domestic demand.

More Deaths in Afghanistan

Improvised explosive devices killed four U.S. soldiers in southern Afghanistan Sunday. That brings the total to 106 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year — a record pace. Last year 151 U.S. troops died in the country.

The deaths of eight British soldiers in Afghanistan within 24 hours triggered a debate in Britain on Saturday that could undercut public support for the war just as the U.S. is ramping up its own participation in the conflict.

After Violence, China Looks for Answers

Nearly a week after western Xinjiang province was rocked by China’s worst ethnic violence in decades, residents of Zhongwan Road, both Han and Uighur, were still putting together the snippets of what they saw and heard. Many others are searching for answers about what really happened — especially how many died and who they were. China’s government released a breakdown Saturday of the riots’ death toll, saying most of the 184 killed were from the Han Chinese majority. But many Uighurs disputed the new figures, citing persistent rumors that security forces fired on Uighurs during the July 5 protest and in following days during a police crackdown and retaliation by Han mobs. On Sunday, a week after the unrest began, the center of Urumqi was tense but calm. The official Xinhua News Agency said the city’s Public Security Bureau had published a notice banning illegal assembly, marches and demonstrations, adding the situation was “basically under control” but that some “sporadic illegal assemblies and demonstrations” had continued.

  • What the mainstream media fails to bring out is that the Uighurs are Muslim.

Somalia Insurgency Escalates

Islamic insurgents fought their way toward Somalia‘s presidential palace Sunday in fighting that killed dozens and wounded about 150, officials said. African Union peacekeepers directly intervened for the first time to support government forces. “The fighting in Mogadishu has entered a new phase,” said Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman for the al-Shabab rebel group, which is believed to have ties to al-Qaeda. Al-Shabab denies any ties. “Now it’s between us and the AMISOM,” he said, referring to the AU peacekeeping force’s acronym. “AMISOM was backing up the government directly, but we will keep fighting.”

Wildfires

Wildfire activity has increased with the onset of high summer temperatures. There are currently 21 wildfires of 100 acres or more in size burning in the U.S. California, Alaska and Texas each have four, Arizona has three, with the rest scattered amongst Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. All are in the dry West with none in the saturated East.

July 10, 2009

Churches Offering Heavenly Help to Job Seekers

Lots of earthly support – with a touch of divine guidance – is available to help job seekers facing the worst Arizona labor market since the Great Depression. A growing number of churches and synagogues across metropolitan Phoenix are forming support groups to assist with networking, career coaching and restoring hope to the unemployed. Leaders across faiths view the workforce programs as a natural outgrowth of their ministries. And church members want to do what they can to help their fellow worshipers find jobs. The programs also enjoy the government’s blessing – and support. Federally funded agencies, which are swamped trying to help out-of-work Arizonans, are placing employment and training services within Valley churches. Arizona has shed more than 230,000 jobs since the recession officially began in December 2007. That’s among the worst performances of any state. The job-loss percentage in Arizona has been worse than in every other recession during the past 70 years, according to Federal Reserve data.

Economy Closes One Relief Group, Forces Cuts at World Vision

Religion News Service reports that a Michigan-based Christian relief group, International Aid, has closed its doors amid financial struggles. Meanwhile, World Vision, one of the largest evangelical relief agencies, has eliminated about 75 positions. International Aid raised only about a tenth of $1.5 million necessary to balance its $70 million budget, according to CEO Gordon Loux. “Since we have insufficient funds, the board felt it was prudent to cease operations,” Loux said. The closing eliminates 72 jobs in the U.S. and internationally. Meanwhile, about 50 members of World Vision’s 1,200-member staff were laid off and about 25 open positions will not be filled. “We can no longer avoid the painful cost reduction steps that many organizations have already implemented,” said Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, U.S.

Episcopal Bishop Calls Individual Salvation ‘Heresy’

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori says it’s “heresy” to believe that an individual can be saved through a sinner’s prayer of repentance. In her opening address to the church’s General Conference in California, Jefferts Schori called that “the great Western heresy: that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.” Meanwhile, six Episcopal bishops are pushing for greater recognition of same-sex marriages at a national gathering of church officials in California. Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont says he and other bishops from states recognizing same-sex marriage will offer a resolution urging the church to adapt marriage rituals to include homosexual couples.

  • Do these people even read the Bible anymore?

Ginsburg: I thought Roe was to Rid Undesirables

In an astonishing admission, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she was under the impression that legalizing abortion with the 1973 Roe. v. Wade case would eliminate undesirable members of the populace, or as she put it “populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” Her remarks, set to be published in the New York Times Magazine this Sunday but viewable online now, came in an in-depth interview with Emily Bazelon titled, “The Place of Women on the Court.” She stated that, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”

  • Elimination or reduction of “undesirables” is a key New World (Dis)Order goal

Court: Druggists Must Dispense Plan B Pill

A federal appeals court has ruled that pharmacists must dispense the Plan B “morning after” pill, even if they are religiously opposed to the contraceptive. Yesterday a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that had blocked 2007 regulations requiring Washington state pharmacies to stock and dispense the pill. The judges said the rules do not violate First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion. The Los Angeles Times writes that the case “could affect policy across the western U.S.”

  • Another example of government control over private lives and its bias against religion, Christianity in particular.

Swine H1N1 Flu

The Obama administration put states on notice Thursday: Swine flu promises to create a mess this fall. Swine flu may have faded from the headlines but it’s still sickening people here and abroad and is certain to worsen when influenza-friendly fall temperatures arrive. The federal government called together health and education officials from every state to check their preparations for the likely prospect of vaccinations and determine how they’ll handle flu-riddled schools. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says no final decision has been made but vaccinations against swine flu are likely and probably will begin in mid-October, assuming soon-to-start studies go well. But she says first in line for shots likely will be school-age children, young adults with conditions such as asthma, pregnant women and health workers.

G8 Summit

President Obama took a swipe at the United Nations and other international organizations Friday as he left a three-day Group of 8 summit that he acknowledged “did not reach agreement on every issue.” While lauding progress on several fronts, including an agreement to provide $20 billion in agricultural aid to impoverished nations, the president said groups like the G-8 and U.N. must be reinvigorated to reflect a changing world with multiple power centers. Singling out the U.N., Obama said, “When it comes to big, tough problems, the United Nations General Assembly is not always working as effectively and rapidly as it needs to.” He mentioned the Rwandan genocide as an example. One problem, Obama said, is that international organizations have become large and unwieldy. He denied that the G-8 had tried and failed to place sanctions on Iran for its crackdown on election protesters, instead settling on a declaration condemning those actions as well as Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

The chasm between rich and poor on how to address climate change burst into the open at the G-8 summit Thursday. President Barack Obama urged emerging economies to do more to curb global warming, while the U.N. chief demanded that developed countries set an example and take more concrete steps to reduce pollution. Especially reluctant to commit themselves to change were two budding powers that are just now getting comfortable economically: India and China. Two days of negotiations between the world’s major industrial polluters and developing nations failed to make any major breakthrough on firm commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

Homelessness in Suburbs, Rural Areas Increasing

As the recession took hold last year, homelessness shifted toward rural and suburban areas and gripped a growing number of families, the U.S. government reported Thursday. The number of homeless people in rural and suburban shelters jumped sharply: 32% of all people in shelters compared with 23% in 2007. States on the West Coast — most affected by the foreclosure crisis — have the highest share of their population living on the street or in shelters. “This report dispels the myth that homelessness is exclusively an urban problem,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “Today’s housing crisis is putting particular pressure on families with children who are living in suburbs and rural areas.”

Cohabitation Increasing

Cohabitation has increased so rapidly that the data about it haven’t kept pace with the growing numbers, researchers say. The latest U.S. Census for 2008 reported 13.6 million unmarried, heterosexual couples living together. Researchers say 50% to 60% of couples who marry today lived together first; some note that 70% of young adults will cohabit. Most couples who live together either marry or break up within two years. Almost half of cohabitors of both sexes in the study cite spending more time together as a reason they moved in together; just 9% of men and 5% of women cited “to test the relationship before marriage.”

  • Just another indicator of the moral breakdown in Western society as we move further and further away from Biblical principles

FDIC Gearing Up to Close More Banks

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is gearing up to handle a large number of bank failures expected as a result of bad mortgages, both in residential and commercial real estate. “They know they’re going to take down a large number of banks and they can’t do it until they’re staffed up,” said Mark Dotzour, chief economist and director of research for the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. Dotzour expects federal regulators to establish an agency, similar to the Resolution Trust Corp. that disposed of assets belonging to insolvent S&Ls in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “Once they start to sell [foreclosed real estate], we’ll find out what the market really is,” Dotzour told attendees at an economic summit. Dotzour blamed federal intervention for the lack of commercial real estate investment activity in recent months, as well as the failure of businesses to make major decisions. “Nobody knows what to do so they’re doing nothing,” Dotzour said.

Economic News

The number of newly laid-off workers filing initial claims for jobless benefits last week fell to lowest level since early January, largely due to changes in the timing of auto industry layoffs. New claims for unemployment insurance plummeted 52,000 to 565,000, still far above the normal 300,000. Continuing claims, meanwhile, unexpectedly jumped to a record-high of 6.88 million, the highest on records dating from 1967.. While layoffs are slowing, unemployed workers are still having trouble finding jobs. The unemployment rate rose to 9.5% last month and is expected to top 10% by the end of this year.

Unemployed workers are seeking jobs in fruit orchards and vegetable fields, easing farm labor shortages in the process. Farmers who struggled in recent years to find laborers report that former workers who left for higher-paying jobs in industries such as construction are coming back because of layoffs.

The U.S. trade deficit fell to the lowest level in more than nine years in May as exports posted a small gain and the weak economy pushed imports down for a 10th straight month. The Commerce Department said Friday the deficit narrowed to $26 billion, a drop of 9.8% from April and the lowest level since November 1999.

Escalating job worries and rainy weather dampened shoppers’ appetites for buying summer staples like shorts and dresses, resulting in sharper-than-expected sales declines for many merchants in June and increasing concern about the back-to-school shopping season. The weakness cut across all sectors but hit mall-based clothing stores particularly hard.

Owners of shopping malls, hotels and offices are defaulting on their loans at an alarming rate, and the commercial real estate market is not expected to hit bottom for three more years, industry experts warned Thursday. Delinquency rates on commercial loans have doubled in the past year to 7% as more companies downsize and retailers close their doors.

The rent-to-own industry is rapidly expanding. Aaron’s, the second-largest retailer in the $6.3 billion industry, plans to open 200 stores in 2010 on the heels of an 18% increase in same-store sales last year. Rent-to-own stores lease electronics, appliances and other household items by the week or month. Payments can be applied toward a purchase. Critics say the industry has taken advantage of vulnerable customers for years by making rental payments so high that a product’s ultimate purchase price is exorbitant. But industry officials say just 5% of their customers end up buying their products; customers are simply looking for short-term solutions when critical appliances go kaput.

  • Short-term “solutions” led to our financial crisis. People, business and government tend to act as though there were no tomorrow and rack up debt to feed the god of materialism. But eventually the piper must be paid.

Consumers trimmed borrowing in May for the fourth straight month as the recession took another bite out of investments and drove unemployment higher. The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that consumer credit fell at an annual rate of 1.5%, or $3.2 billion, from April. Consumer credit has also declined in eight out of the last 10 months.

  • At least the public understands that reducing debt is important. Too bad government doesn’t follow suit.

New GM will Make Money, Repay Loans, CEO Says

The “good” assets of General Motors emerged from a lightning-quick bankruptcy Friday with promises to be faster and more in tune with consumer desires. GM CEO Fritz Henderson said the automaker will pay back its loans from the U.S. government as quickly as possible. Most of GM’s assets were transferred to a company controlled by the U.S. government. In bankruptcy, GM was able to dispose of billions in debt. Critics say New GM’s biggest task will be remaking its bureaucratic culture to move faster and be more innovative.

House Passes $48.8B Foreign Aid Bill

A $48.8 billion measure to fund foreign aid and the State Department budget has passed the House of Representatives after lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to force U.S. officials to oppose International Monetary Fund loans to countries that support terror. The bill passed on a 318-106 vote after members voted overwhelmingly to force the Obama administration to abide by conditions on IMF funding added by lawmakers when Congress passed a huge war-funding bill last month. President Obama had said he could choose to ignore the conditions since they would interfere with his ability to conduct foreign policy. Obama’s move had infuriated lawmakers, who also want to make sure developing countries would not have to cap spending on health care and education when taking IMF funds.

Blue Dog Democrats Hold Up Health Bill

The drive to remake the nation’s health care system suffered yet another setback in Congress on Thursday when a pivotal group of House Democrats demanded changes in legislation the leadership was drafting on a fast track. The emerging bill “lacks a number of elements essential to preserving what works and fixing what is broken,” 40 members of the Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats wrote party leaders. To win their support, they said, any legislation would need to be much more aggressive in reining in the growth of health care as well as in addressing a disparity in Medicare payments they said adversely affects rural providers. It was the second setback in three days for President Obama‘s top domestic priority, although it was unclear whether it would amount to anything more than a brief delay for a bill of enormous complexity and controversy.

Cyber Attack IPs Identified

South Korea said Friday it had identified and blocked five IP addresses used to distribute computer viruses that caused a wave of website outages in the United States and South Korea. South Korean and American officials have said they believe North Korea was behind the attacks, but none of the blocked Internet Protocol addresses — the Web equivalent of a street address or phone number — were for computers in North Korea. They were in Austria, Georgia, Germany, South Korea and the United States, an official from the state-run Korea Communications Commission said. The latest evidence does not clear North Korea of involvement. It is likely that the hackers used the identified IP addresses to disguise themselves — for instance, by accessing the computers from a remote location. Blocking them helps prevent those computers from being used again to distribute viruses, although hackers can easily switch to other remotely controlled PCs.

U.S. Troops badly Damaged ancient Babylon

Experts for UNESCO say considerable damage was inflicted by the U.S. military in Iraq to one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. The U.N. cultural agency vows to make Babylon a World Heritage site in order to prevent similar vandalism in future wars. More than 4,000 years old and already considered one of the world’s Seven Wonders during antiquity, Babylon lies 90 kilometers south of Baghdad. Soon after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the site became military “Camp Alpha.” The UNESCO report presented Thursday says American troops and contractors dug trenches several hundred yards long through the vestiges, leveled hilltops and drove heavy vehicles over the fragile paving of once-sacred procession pathways.

Bombs Blasts in Iraq

Two suicide bombers on Thursday killed at least 34 people and injured 70 in an attack on the home of an anti-terrorism officer in northern Iraq, while three roadside bombs in Baghdad killed seven others, authorities said. The attacks came one day after car bombs in two Shiite villages near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul killed 16 civilians and injured more than two dozen, in a surge of violence in Iraq’s troubled north following the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from cities to bases outside urban centers at the end of June. Iraq is trying to build on security gains made in the past two years, though political reconciliation among the country’s factions remains a troubled process and there is concern that insurgent attacks could trigger a slide back into sectarian violence.

Bomb Blasts in Afghanistan

A massive bomb blast Thursday in central Afghanistan killed 25 people including primary school students, destroying shops and scattering pieces of the vehicle that carried the explosives more than a mile away, police said. Another bombing in the south killed two NATO soldiers. The central Afghanistan bomb was detonated in a stationary timber truck, killing 21 civilians and four policemen. The power of the blast sent truck pieces flying more than a mile. Meanwhile, two NATO soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing Wednesday in southern Afghanistan. Roadside bomb attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan are blowing past previous records. The total number of incidents with roadside bombs, also called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hit 736 in June, which set a record for the fourth straight month.

Power Outage Hits west Los Angeles

Officials say a power outage is causing traffic jams across the west side of Los Angeles and leaving people trapped in elevators. Fire Department spokesman Lauren deRosier said a transformer blew up at a Department of Water and Power facility at about 7:47 p.m. Wednesday. He says that firefighters have responded to 13 reports of people trapped in elevators. eanwhile, police say traffic lights are out, snarling traffic across Brentwood, Westwood and other neighborhoods in the area.

Weather

Weather investigators are trying to determine whether a tornado touched down during a storm that knocked out power in suburban New York and dumped hail up to 2 inches deep. The storm moved into Westchester and Nassau counties late Tuesday. Falling debris damaged some homes. The hail pelted southern Westchester County. Snow plows scooped it up in Yonkers on Wednesday morning. About 21,000 customers lost power overnight in southern Westchester County. Long Island had about 5,320 outages, mostly in Nassau County.

High temperatures and relentless dry days are combining to give Texas severe drought conditions that have sparked spreading wildfires and led to shriveled crops. On Thursday, Texans endured another day of triple-digit heat and scarce rain, especially in the central and southern parts of the state. The National Drought Mitigation Center has classified that area — a huge swath from San Antonio to Corpus Christi to Brownsville — as under “exceptional drought.”

Wildfires

The world-famous Getty Center art complex and nearby Mount St. Mary’s College were evacuated Wednesday as a fire burned in thick brush on the steep slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains. The fire erupted at 12:44 p.m. and quickly grew to 80 acres above parking facilities for the Getty. The country club community of Mountaingate was notified of potential evacuations, but crews were able to get the fire under control before it spread much more.

Seven wildfires are burning in Alaska, having already consumed 165,000 acres. Five wildfires are reported in Arizona, having burned over 4,500 acres (about 7 sq. miles). One fire in Texas has consumed over 1,800 acres thus far.

Earthquakes

More than 400,000 people need to be relocated after an earthquake rocked southwestern China, destroying thousands of homes, state media said Friday. Thursday’s magnitude-6.0 temblor, centered in Yunnan province’s Yao’an county, killed one person and injured 325 others, 24 seriously, the Xinhua News Agency said. Nine aftershocks have followed the quake, with the latest registering a 5.2-magnitude Friday evening. The quake collapsed 18,000 homes and damaged 75,000 more.

Scientists have detected a spike in underground rumblings on a section of California’s San Andreas Fault that produced a magnitude-7.8 earthquake in 1857. What these mysterious vibrations say about future earthquakes is far from certain. But some think the deep tremors suggest underground stress may be building up faster than expected and may indicate an increased risk of a major temblor. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, monitored seismic activity on the fault’s central section between July 2001 and February 2009 and recorded more than 2,000 tremors.

July 8, 2009

Senate Blocks Bill to Audit the Federal Reserve

A Senate amendment based on Congressman Ron Paul’s successful House bill to audit the Federal Reserve was blocked by the Senate yesterday evening on procedural grounds, as Jim DeMint slammed the Fed for refusing to disclose where trillions in bailout funds had gone, while a top Obama administration advisor called for a second “stimulus” package to be prepared. when the elite want to get their own legislation rammed through, such as the recent climate bill in the House, it’s perfectly fine for Congressmembers to be prevented from even reading it, for it to have 300 pages added at 3am in the morning before the vote, and for all kinds of pork barrel to be attached. But God forbid should representatives actually try to pass something that would benefit the American people and not the private bankers that are beyond all scrutiny and above the law. DeMint said that the Fed has enjoyed a monopoly over money and credit in the United States since 1913 yet has never been transparent or accountable to Congress, while during that time the dollar has lost 95% of its purchasing power.

Church of England Bishop Says Gays Should ‘Repent’

A senior Church of England bishop has angered gay-rights campaigners by saying homosexuals should repent. Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper that the Bible defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He said the church welcomed gay people, “but we want them to repent and be changed.” Nazir-Ali is a leading member of the conservative wing of the global Anglican Communion, which is riven by divisions over homosexuality and the ordination of women. Gay groups condemned the bishop’s remarks. Campaigner Peter Tatchell said Nazir-Ali’s view “goes against Christ’s gospel of love and compassion.” And Derek Munn of gay-rights group Stonewall accused the bishop of promoting inequality and intolerance.

  • From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

Rick Warren Calls on U.S. Muslims to help End War, Poverty

Defying some of his fellow conservative Christian critics, one of the most prominent religious leaders in the country told several thousand American Muslims on Saturday that “the two largest faiths on the planet” must work together to combat stereotypes and solve global problems. Warren said Muslims and Christians should be partners in working to end what he calls “the five global giants” of war, poverty, corruption, disease and illiteracy. Warren, founder of Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, Calif., is the author of The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. His willingness to show support for U.S. Muslims is a huge gain for the community, which has endured intense scrutiny since 9/11. A Southern Baptist, Warren has a record of upsetting fellow Christian conservatives by calling old-guard evangelical activists too partisan and narrowly focused.. Bloggers who follow Warren denounced his appearance at the convention as cozying up to extremists.

  • As the New World (Dis)Order religious spokesman, Warren can be counted on to encourage tolerance without getting too extreme, often straddling the fence to maintain his credibility with Christian conservatives

Pope Calls for ‘God-Centered’ Global Economy

Pope Benedict XVI today called for reforming the United Nations and establishing a “true world political authority” with “real teeth” to manage the global economy with God-centered ethics. In his third encyclical, a major teaching, released as the G-8 summit begins in Italy, the pope says such an authority is urgently needed to end the current worldwide financial crisis. It should “revive” damaged economies, reach toward “disarmament, food security and peace,” protect the environment and “regulate migration.” Benedict writes, “The market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak.” The encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) is a theologically dense explication of Catholic social teaching that draws heavily from earlier popes, particularly PaulVI’s critique of capitalism 42 years ago. And echoing his predecessor John Paul II, Benedict says, “every economic decision has a moral consequence.”

  • Although wrapped in noble sentiments, the Pope is wittingly or unwittingly providing support for Satan’s globalistic agenda, because God-centered ethics will be compromised by “tolerance” and “inclusiveness”

Stem Cell Research Rules Require Donor Consent

The National Institutes of Health unveiled final rules Monday designed to unlock the restrictions on federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cells. The new rules will primarily finance research on stem cells donated by fertility clinic patients “who gave voluntary written consent for the human embryos to be used for research purposes.” Donors must not receive payment for the embryos or expect medical or financial benefits later, the rules state. In March, President Obama overturned a decision by President Bush in 2001 to limit federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research to 21 lines created before that date. Bush and other opponents of the research, such as Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., decried the destruction of embryos necessary to obtain the cells. Obama called for new, rigorously enforced guidelines to open funding to newly established cell lines. Human embryonic stem cells are precursors to all specialized tissues, including blood, brain, bone and all organs.

Dr. David Prentice of the Family Research Council tells OneNewsNow those guidelines set up a system that creates an incentive for embryonic sacrifice. He goes on to say NIH simply did not listen to the public. “Of the 49,000 comments they got, 30,000 told them not to fund any human embryo research [using federal funds]. The acting director of the NIH said they just ignored those comments,” Prentice notes. “[So] the question wasn’t whether to fund it, but how to go about sacrificing embryos.” Prentice adds those figures show America is still strongly pro-life. “And [that] they want our taxpayer funds going towards successful and ethical adult stem-cell research — the stuff that is already helping patients now,” he emphasizes.

Sperm, Egg Donors Increase During Recession

Sperm banks and donor agencies say the recession is prompting a surge in calls from people who hope to make money by donating their sperm or eggs. “We’ve seen a definite spike” of about 40% since February, says Kim Springfield, vice president of sales for Health News, an Irvine, Calif., company that operates a national referral service for donors. Once prospective donors learn that medical and psychological screening can take weeks or months and eliminates most interested men and women, many opt out, Springfield says. Compensation varies by region, state and donor agency. At Oregon Health & Science University Fertility Consultants in Portland, sperm donors get $100 per collection and can donate twice a week, says lab director David Battaglia. Egg donors, who undergo an outpatient extraction procedure, can get $5,000 for a donation, he says. Rules vary, but his agency requires that egg donors be 21-32 years old and sperm donors be between 20 and 39 to improve fertility odds.

It’s a Non-Stop Flu Season

The U.S. is about to have its first-ever yearlong flu season. National health officials said Tuesday that the new H1N1 influenza strain is continuing its spread in communities here and around the globe and will likely not die out before children start heading back to school at the end of this month. That has epidemiologists and health experts predicting that the start of fall classes will lead to a deluge of new cases. “I think we’re going to get walloped,” said Dr. Bob England, Maricopa County’s public-health director, who estimated that as many as one in four Arizona residents will fall ill. “We are probably looking at three times the number of illness that we usually see,” England added.

Dry Milk Recall Expands to Cereal, Hot Cocoa, Popcorn Toppings

What began as a small investigation into tainted milkshake powder has become a nationwide recall of related products. No illnesses have been linked to the contamination of ingredients sold by a Minnesota milk cooperative, says the Food and Drug Administration’s Stephanie Kwisnek. But the recalls, which are cascading through the food system and are expected to expand, illustrate the interconnectedness of the system, in which just one tainted ingredient can affect dozens of companies. Recalled products range from Malt-O-Meal’s Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal packets to Meijer hot chocolate mix to some Kroger popcorn toppings. The U.S. Department of Agriculture first detected salmonella in a milkshake powder in June. The cooperative sells only to food manufacturers and distributors.

Bombs Smuggled into Federal Sites in Test

Government investigators smuggled bomb-making materials into federal buildings past the police agency charged with protecting those buildings and found numerous other gaps in security, according to a congressional report. The Government Accountability Office said investigators carried bomb-making materials past security at 10 federal buildings. Security at these buildings and a total of about 9,000 federal buildings around the country is provided by the Federal Protective Service, a target of the probe. Once GAO investigators got the materials in the buildings, the report said, they constructed explosive devices and carried them around inside. For security reasons, the GAO report did not give the location of the buildings. The GAO found other problems with guard training and reported that in one check of security, investigators found a guard asleep on the job after taking the painkiller Percocet. In another, they found a guard failed to recognize or did not properly X-ray a box carrying handguns at the loading dock of a facility.

  • People are flawed and security is dependent on human agents, so perfect security is an impossible goal.

Consumers Falling Behind on Loans at Record Pace

Soaring unemployment and a shrinking economy drove delinquencies on credit card debt to an all-time high in the first quarter as a record number of cash-strapped consumers fell behind on their bills. Fallout from a still deteriorating housing market caused the rate of consumer loan payments at least 30 days late to rise to 3.23% in the January-to-March period. Delinquencies were the highest since the ABA began tracking the data in 1974. Late payments on home equity borrowings set records, rising to 3.52% from 3.03% on loans and to 1.89% from 1.46% on lines of credit. Delinquencies on the value of all card debt soared to a record 6.60% from 5.52% in the fourth quarter. The rate of delinquent accounts rose to 4.75% from 4.52%, near the record 4.81% in the spring of 2005.

Debt Shrinking at Glacial Pace

Eighteen months into a deep recession triggered by a credit bubble, consumers have made little progress shrinking a mountain of debt. Until they do, the economy will struggle to grow — likely for years. Household debt peaked at $13.9 trillion in 2008, almost double the figure from 2000. Since then, as consumers cut up credit cards, refinanced outsized mortgages and slashed spending, debt has fallen — all the way to $13.8 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Until the fourth quarter of last year, American consumers had never reduced their total debt in the post-World War II era. Yet the payback or “deleveraging” since then represents a small step along a very long road. Household debt peaked at 133% of disposable income in 2007 vs. 65% in the mid-1980s. To pare it back to a sustainable level, consumers will have to pay off — or walk away from — roughly $5 trillion of the total debt outstanding, says David Rosenberg, chief economist of the investment firm Gluskin Sheff. That’s more than China’s total economic output.

  • This is why the Bible is very strong on not incurring debt

Banks get Stingy on Credit

Despite massive government efforts to bolster the credit market, banks are pulling back severely on card lending. In the first four months of the year — the latest data — banks issued 9.8 million new credit cards, a 38% drop from the same time last year, according to Equifax credit bureau data. Low-risk borrowers can still get credit, but they’re getting less than before. The average limit on a new card, after rising during the recession, slipped 3% so far this year to $4,594. That’s discouraging for those who want to see banks pumping liquidity into the economy. While it’s not surprising that banks are pulling back on unsecured loans as card defaults and delinquencies surge, “what’s remarkable is the very sharp decline in lending,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. President Obama recently signed a law imposing far-reaching restrictions on cards, mostly starting in February 2010. Those will likely lead to even fewer cards being issued, Zandi says.

  • Since it was unfettered lending that led to the current economic crisis, it is good news that creditors have learned their lesson and are being more selective

States Aren’t Using Stimulus Funds as Intended

Under pressure to spend stimulus money quickly, many states are using the federal funds for short-term projects and to fill budget gaps rather than spending on long-term improvements, according to a report by congressional investigators. Some states, for example, are not sending transportation funding to the most economically distressed areas, and they are using education funds to prevent layoffs rather than fund innovative new programs, the report says. As required by the $787 billion stimulus law, the GAO is monitoring stimulus spending in 16 states and the District of Columbia that will receive two-thirds of the federal funds. It reports to Congress every two months. The report says that as of mid-June, states had received about $29 billion of the estimated $49 billion in stimulus funding they are scheduled to get before the federal budget year ends Sept. 30. More than 90% of the money given to the states so far is for Medicaid and a fund meant to prop up states’ budgets for schools and other basic services such as public safety.

California Issues IOU’s

California is issuing $3.3 billion in IOU’s to its creditors during July. Its outstanding bonds are at immediate risk of being downgraded to near-junk status, and the market is resisting (if not refusing) to lend more. The Golden State isn’t so golden any more. California’s imminent financial disaster is no different than what is happening on a federal level. Many people think that the global elite are intentionally trying to bankrupt America. Others think that Obama is just naive and perhaps stupid to pursue fiscally impossible spending goals, according to GeoStrategic Trends.

Stocks Fade

The spring stock rally that was built on hope is morphing into a summer swoon as investors grapple with the reality of a sluggish economic rebound. After plunging 161 points on Tuesday to 8164, the Dow Jones industrial average is trading at a 10-week low, down 7% in 2009. The Dow has fallen three weeks in a row and is on course for a fourth weekly decline. Stoking the latest angst was growing talk out of Washington about the possible need for a second stimulus package, which suggests the current stimulus is not working fast enough to stem the massive job losses or jolt the economy out of its doldrums.

Airlines Offer Deep Cuts on Fares

A trio of discount airlines led by Southwest on Tuesday rolled out some of the lowest fares seen in years. Southwest is offering one-way fares of $30 on routes up to 400 miles, $60 on flights up to 750 miles and $90 on longer routes. The prices, which don’t include taxes and fees, are good for travel between Sept. 9 and Nov. 18. Discounters AirTran and Frontier announced fares almost as low, and the rest of the USA’s big airlines quickly matched the new fares. The sales are short-term offerings. Southwest’s fares must be bought by 11:59 p.m. PT Wednesday, while the sales window for AirTran prices for travel on off-peak days through Nov. 11 remains open through Thursday. The Frontier sale expires on July 14. Travel on those tickets covers a longer period: Aug. 10 through Jan. 15.

Cyber Attack by North Korea?

South Korean intelligence officials believe North Korea or pro-Pyongyang forces committed cyber attacks that paralyzed major South Korean and U.S. government websites, aides to two lawmakers said Wednesday. The sites of 11 South Korean organizations, including the presidential Blue House and the Defense Ministry, went down or had access problems since late Tuesday, according to the state-run Korea Information Security Agency. Agency spokeswoman Ahn Jeong-eun said 11 U.S. sites suffered similar problems. She said the agency is investigating the case with police and prosecutors. In the U.S., the Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department websites were all down at varying points over the July 4 holiday weekend and into this week. The fact that the government websites were still being affected three days after it began signaled an unusually lengthy and sophisticated attack

U.S., Russia Agree on Nuclear Arsenal Cuts

President Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, hailed new agreements Monday on nuclear arms cuts and cooperation in Afghanistan, even as both efforts still face major challenges. At the opening of the first U.S.-Russian summit in seven years, the two presidents agreed the countries will work toward cutting nuclear warheads and delivery systems by up to a third. The challenge will be reaching agreement on specific cuts, as well as rules for inspection and verification, before the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expires Dec. 5. Russia also agreed to give the U.S. air rights to ferrying troops and supplies to Afghanistan. Medvedev expressed concern about progress of the war against a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda.

China Declares Curfew in Wake of Violence

Mobs of Han Chinese wielding meat cleavers and clubs and groups of Muslim Uighur men beat people in the streets of the capital of China’s Xinjiang region Tuesday. The government imposed a curfew as it tried to stem communal violence after a riot that killed at least 156 people. Members of the Muslim Uighur ethnic group attacked people near the Urumqi’s railway station, and women in headscarves protested the arrests of husbands and sons in another part of the city. Meanwhile, for much of the afternoon, a mob of 1,000 mostly young Han Chinese holding clubs and chanting “Defend the Country” tore through streets trying to get to a Uighur neighborhood until they were repulsed by police firing tear gas. The outbursts happened despite swarms of paramilitary and riot police enforcing a dragnet that state media said led to the arrest more than 1,400 participants in Sunday’s riot, the worst ethnic violence in the often tense region in decades.

Bomb Attacks Kill 7 U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan

Bombs and bullets killed seven American troops throughout Afghanistan Monday, officials said, as thousands of U.S. Marines continued with their massive anti-Taliban offensive in the south. A suicide car bomber also blew himself up outside the gate of the main NATO base in the region, killing two civilians and wounding 14 other people. The seven American deaths came as thousands of U.S. Marines continued with their major offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province, a southern militant stronghold and hub of the vast Afghan drugs trade. It is the biggest U.S. military operation since the ouster of the Taliban from power in 2001.

Pakistan Drone Attack

A suspected U.S. drone fired a barrage of missiles into a Taliban training camp Wednesday, killing 10 insurgents in the second such strike in the South Waziristan tribal region in 24 hours, intelligence officials said. South Waziristan lies close to the Afghan border and is the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. Pakistan’s military is also bombing and firing mortars at militant targets in the region, saying it is softening up Mehsud’s fighters before launching a ground offensive there to eliminate him.

Iranian Dust Storm

Iran’s official news agency says the government has ordered all government and private offices as well as educational and industrial units closed Tuesday due to high air pollution and dust storms. The IRNA agency says an unprecedented dust storm has engulfed more than half of the country including the capital Tehran. It said Monday the storm began in the west a few days ago. Many domestic flights have been canceled.

Honduras

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to meet with deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya this week as the Obama administration weighs responses to his ouster. The talks planned for Tuesday would be the administration’s highest-level contact with Zelaya since he was overthrown in a coup eight days ago, coming two days after his failed attempt to return to Honduras deepened the country’s political crisis. Zelaya got as close as several hundred feet above the Tegucigalpa airport but had to turn away because of obstacles placed on the runway on orders of the interim government. Diplomats with the United Nations, the OAS, the United States and European countries worked behind the scenes Monday to seek common ground with interim President Roberto Micheletti, who heads the government that replaced Zelaya.

No End to ‘Misery’ in Congo, Aid Group Warns

Christian Today reports that the Democratic Republic of Congo’s true war is far from over. Humanitarian agency Caritas International estimates that 14 percent of Congo’s children will die before their fifth birthday, while more than one million children there presently suffer from malnutrition. Women still face the searing possibility — even likelihood — of rape. “The war is far from over in Congo and neither is the misery for the people. Hundreds of thousands more have been driven from their homes in fresh clashes between militias and the government,” Caritas Congo National Director Dr Bruno Miteyo said. The disaster has displaced over 1.5 million people.

Weather

Lightning struck and killed several people over the Independence Day weekend. A Billings, Montana man was struck in the forehead and killed by a bolt of lightning on the Fourth of July. A lightning strike at a Fourth of July gathering in central Florida killed one person and 18 others were taken to hospitals, officials said Saturday. A lightning strike has claimed the life of a 26-year-old man in New Mexico. Rio Rancho police say the man was attending a fireworks show with his wife and family at Loma Colorado Park in Rio Rancho when the lightning struck about 7:15 Saturday evening. A police spokesman said the man’s wife was also struck. She’s currently listed in stable condition at University of New Mexico Hospital.