Archive for August, 2009

August 31, 2009

Federal Reserve Board Fights to Keep its Secrets

The Federal Reserve Board, despite being ordered to disclose to whom it awarded roughly $2 trillion in discount “stimulus” loans, is fighting to keep the information under wraps as a protected “trade secret.” Earlier this week, a U.S. district court judge rejected the Fed’s argument that the names of borrowers are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and ordered the board to release the information by Monday, Aug. 31. The Fed’s board of governors, however, has now filed a motion asking the judge to delay enforcement of the order, seeking time to appeal and arguing that disclosing which banks borrowed the funds could lead to a backlash from the banks’ customers and stockholders.

  • Those who have something to hide fight to keep their secrets concealed in darkness.. The Bible makes clear that the “hidden things of shame” (2Cor. 4:2) must be exposed to the light of truth (Eph. 5:11-12)

Banks ‘Too Big to Fail’ Have Grown Even Bigger

When the credit crisis struck last year, federal regulators pumped tens of billions of dollars into the nation’s leading financial institutions because the banks were so big that officials feared their failure would ruin the entire financial system. Today, the biggest of those banks are even bigger. The crisis may be turning out very well for many of the behemoths that dominate U.S. finance. A series of federally arranged mergers safely landed troubled banks on the decks of more stable firms. And it allowed the survivors to emerge from the turmoil with strengthened market positions, giving them even greater control over consumer lending and more potential to profit.

J.P. Morgan Chase, an amalgam of some of Wall Street’s most storied institutions, now holds more than $1 of every $10 on deposit in this country. So does Bank of America, scarred by its acquisition of Merrill Lynch and partly government-owned as a result of the crisis, as does Wells Fargo, the biggest West Coast bank. Those three banks, plus government-rescued and -owned Citigroup, now issue one of every two mortgages and about two of every three credit cards, federal data show.

The U.S. government has hauled in about $4 billion in profits from large banks that have repaid their obligations from last year’s federal bailout, The New York Times reported Sunday. The Times cited government profits of $1.4 billion from Goldman Sachs, $1.3 billion from Morgan Stanley and $414 million from American Express. It also listed five other banks that each returned profits between $100 million and $334 million each.

  • Profits? No, just a payoff for larger market share. The New World (Dis)Order wants to control finance, media and government. They are now three for three.

More Small Banks Fail

Regulators on Friday shut down small banks in Maryland and Minnesota, pushing to 83 the number of bank failures this year amid the soured economy and rising loan defaults. Hundreds more banks are expected to fail in the next few years largely because of souring loans for commercial real estate. The number of banks on the FDIC’s confidential “problem list” jumped to 416 at the end of June from 305 in the first quarter. U.S. banks overall lost $3.7 billion in the second quarter, compared with a profit of $7.6 billion in January-March.

$3.1B Set Aside for Jobless Unclaimed

More than $3.1 billion in stimulus money for state unemployment insurance programs is sitting in a federal trust fund because 23 states haven’t expanded their jobless benefits, Labor Department records show. Nearly 350,000 out-of-work Americans could get benefits if all those states revamp their unemployment systems to qualify for federal money, according to estimates from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a workers’ advocacy group. In all, the stimulus package offers $7 billion to states that make changes, which can include offering benefits to part-time workers. Some Republicans such as Gov. Rick Perry of Texas have criticized the program, saying expanding benefits would force their states to raise taxes on employers once the stimulus money runs out. GOP governors or lawmakers in 11 states have declined to change their systems to qualify for about $1.7 billion in stimulus funding. The other 12 states have either made only some of the changes, not applied for the funds or not taken legislative votes on the changes.

Economic News

Consumer spending blipped up 0.2% from June to July, lifted largely by the government’s cash-for-clunkers auto program, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Friday. Toss out durable goods, including cars, and consumer spending actually fell 0.3%. Personal income, including wages, interest income and payments from the government, was flat from June to July. Wages and salaries dropped a record 5.1% from July 2008. The only good news: In July, wages rose 0.1% from June, the first increase in nine months.

Newsstand sales of U.S. magazines are continuing to fall. An industry group says single-copy sales fell 12% in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2008. About 36 million magazines are sold at newsstands and other retailers but account for a disproportionate amount of publishers’ revenue because subscriptions are discounted.

Opposition Wins in Landslide in Japan

Japan‘s opposition party won historic elections in an apparent landslide Sunday, media projections said, sending the conservatives to defeat after 54 years of nearly unbroken rule amid widespread economic anxiety and desire for change. The left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan was set to win 300 or more of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament, ousting the Liberal Democrats, who have governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955, according to exit polls by all major Japanese TV networks. The loss by the Liberal Democrats — traditionally a pro-business, conservative party — would open the way for the Democratic Party, headed by Yukio Hatoyama, to replace Prime Minister Taro Aso and establish a new Cabinet, possibly within the next few weeks. The vote was seen as a barometer of frustrations over Japan’s worst economic slump since World War II. The Democrats have embraced a more populist platform, promising handouts for families with children and farmers and a higher minimum wage.

  • Following the path blazed by Obama, the Japanese will soon learn the folly of increased government and debt

Karzai Widens Lead in Afghan Election

Afghanistan‘s election commission says President Hamid Karzai has increased his lead over his top challenger and is inching closer to the important 50% threshold that would enable him to avoid a run-off in the divisive presidential contest. Karzai’s top challenger Abdullah Abdullah stepped up his fraud charges, raising doubts whether the former foreign minister’s followers would accept the incumbent if he wins in the first round.

U.S. Ramps up Withdrawal from Iraq

The U.S. military is packing up to leave Iraq in what has been deemed the largest movement of manpower and equipment in modern military history — shipping out more than 1.5 million pieces of equipment from tanks to antennas along with a force the size of a small city. The massive operation already underway a year ahead of the Aug. 31, 2010 deadline to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq shows the U.S. military has picked up the pace of a planned exit from Iraq that could cost billions. The goal is to withdraw tens of thousands of troops and about 60% of equipment out of Iraq by the end of next March. Convoys carrying everything from armored trucks to radios have been rolling near daily through southern Iraq to Kuwait and the western desert to Jordan since President Obama announced the deadline to remove combat troops, leaving up to 50,000 troops under a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement until the end of 2011.

Wildfires

Two firefighters died in a wildfire Sunday in the San Gabriel Mountains that threatened about 12,000 homes and the century-old Mount Wilson Observatory. The blaze, which has burned 134 square miles of brush and trees by early Monday and was only 5% contained. The blaze, which has burned 42,500 acres, or 134 square miles of brush and trees by early Monday and was only 5% contained. The fire is being fueled by triple-digit temperatures and an abundance of dry shrubs and trees in a wilderness that hasn’t burned for 40 years. Meanwhile, 11 other wildfires are burning in bone-dry California, having already consumed about 21,000 acres.

Weather

Emergency workers built shelters for thousands of endangered families as a strengthening Hurricane Jimena roared toward Mexico’s resort-studded Baja California peninsula Monday. Jimena, a dangerous Category 4 storm, could rake southern Baja California by Tuesday evening, forecasters said. At least 10,000 families will be evacuated from potential flood zones.

August 28, 2009

Lutheran Churches Blast ELCA for Gay Clergy Policy

Religion News Service reports that the leaders of two conservative Lutheran denominations blasted the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for approving a measure on Friday (Aug. 21) to allow non-celibate gay clergy. Both the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod said the ELCA’s new policy goes against Scripture by condoning a practice that they say is sinful. “We are saddened that a group with the name Lutheran would take another decisive step away from the clear teaching of the Bible, which was the foundation of the Lutheran Reformation,” said the Rev. Mark Schroeder, president of the 390,000-member Wisconsin Synod. The three churches have had tense relations for years. The ELCA, which was formed as a result of a merger in 1988, has taken more progressive stands on a number of issues

Christian Homeschooled Girl Forced to Attend Public School

A Christian homeschool girl in New Hampshire has been ordered into government-run public school for having “sincerely held” religious beliefs. An attorney working with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has filed motions with a New Hampshire court, asking it to reconsider its order to send the 10-year-old homeschooled girl into public school. According to ADF allied attorney John Anthony Simmons, the court acknowledges that the girl in question is doing well socially and academically, but he adds that the court went too far when they determined that the girl’s Christian faith was a “bit too sincerely held and must be sifted, tested by, and mixed among other worldviews.” According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, homeschoolers this year scored almost 1.5 points higher than others on the nationwide ACT college entrance exams.

  • Do you think this same standard would be applied to atheists or Muslims whose beliefs are “a bit too sincerely held?”

Compulsory Vaccination in America?

A new law just passed in Massachusetts imposes fines of up to $1000 per day and up to a 30 day jail sentence for not obeying authorities during a public health emergency. So if you are instructed to take the swine flu vaccine in Massachusetts and you refuse, you could be facing fines that will bankrupt you and a prison sentence. According to Global Research, the controversy over swine flu vaccinations is about to get very, very real. The authorities know that a lot of people are extremely concerned about the safety of the swine flu vaccine, and they are putting the infrastructure in place to deal with those dissenters.

ObamaCare Out of Touch with U.S. Physicians

A new poll finds that despite the American Medical Association’s support for President Obama’s healthcare plan, most specialty doctors strongly oppose the plan. The American Society of Medical Doctors has released a poll of physicians that finds 86 percent of specialty doctors believe that the American Medical Association has become too political and has lost touch with the doctors it represents. Seventy percent of the specialty doctors surveyed in the poll said they oppose current congressional and White House proposals for healthcare reform. The poll also found that 66 percent of specialty physicians believe that a government-run health insurance plan would restrict doctors’ ability to give the best advice and offer the best possible care to their patients.

Physicians Sue Obama for Health-Care ‘Snitch’ Program

A prominent physicians’ group is suing the Obama administration, claiming the White House wrongfully collected information and violated First Amendment Rights when it implemented a citizen “snitch” program to collect information on those who make “fishy” statements about the president’s health “reform.” the White House announced the program Aug. 4, pleading with people around the nation to forward to a White House e-mail address anything they see “about health insurance reform that seems fishy. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, or AAPS, a non-partisan professional association of physicians, filed a complaint dated Aug. 26 in U.S. District Court. The White House has “unlawfully collected information on political speech,” thereby illegally using its power to chill opposition to its plans for health care reform, according to the complaint filed in District Court for the District of Columbia.

  • Although the White House has shut down this fishy program, don’t expect Big Brother Obama to back down from his blatant attempts to establish more and more government control over every aspect of our lives.

Conservative Christians say U.S. Health Care System ‘Is Working’

Conservative Christian groups on Wednesday (Aug. 26) ramped up opposition to health care reform, saying the current system “has problems” but “it is working.” Members of the newly formed Freedom Federation, comprised of some of the largest conservative religious groups in the country, say they oppose taxpayer-supported abortion, rationed health care for the elderly and government control of personal health decisions. Mathew Staver, who heads the legal group Liberty Counsel and is dean at Liberty University‘s law school, said the group agrees on certain core values. On abortion, Federation members said they are concerned that although the word “abortion” does not appear in the draft bills, it will be paid for by the government under the proposed reform. The Freedom Federation said they would only be satisfied if the reform bills explicitly state that abortion is not a form of health care and would not be paid for with taxpayer funds. The Freedom Federation includes, among others, the American Family Association, the Church of God in Christ, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council Action, Liberty University and the Traditional Values Coalition.

Migrant Arrest Program Under Fire

President Barack Obama is facing growing pressure from some civil-rights, labor, religious and pro-immigrant groups to end a program that lets local authorities enforce the country’s immigration laws. Hundreds of the groups on Wednesday issued a call to terminate the program, saying it can lead to racial profiling and isn’t an effective anti-immigration tool. To address some of those ongoing concerns, the Obama administration narrowed the program’s focus last month to target dangerous criminals and not illegal immigrants who haven’t committed other crimes. But it also expanded the program to more law-enforcement agencies. The most controversial participant is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who said Thursday that he is close to signing a new contract that will let his deputies and jail officials continue arresting and identifying illegal immigrants. Arpaio is facing a Justice Department investigation into allegations of civil-rights violations tied to his participation in the program.

Cities Turn Off Streetlights to Save Money

The old-fashioned streetlight is the recession’s latest victim. To save money, some cities and towns are turning off lights, often lots of them. The cost-cutting moves coincide with changing attitudes about streetlights. Once viewed as helpful safety measures, the lights are increasingly seen by some public officials and researchers as an environmental issue, creating light pollution and burning excess energy. “Streetlights are more expensive than people realize,” Northfield, MN, Many cities are leaving streetlights at intersections but removing them from residential neighborhoods, especially from the middle of blocks. Mayor Mary Rossing says. Her city spends about $230,000 a year on streetlights. Scientist John Bullough of the Light Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute  says There’s little evidence to support the belief that streetlights reduce crime. However, lighting does reduce traffic accidents, especially at intersections.

School Districts in the Red Cut Bus Services

Last month, the financially pressed Houston-area school district decided to end bus service for students living within two miles of schools. Now parents are contemplating the bustling intersections and streets without sidewalks that their children will have to navigate if they walked to school, and wondering whether their work schedules can be reconfigured for drop-offs and pickups. It is a dilemma facing thousands of parents across the country, as cash-strapped school districts from California to Florida have cut bus routes to chip away at spending. About 23% of school districts surveyed by the American Association of School Administrators say they are reducing or eliminating school transportation for the coming school year.

FDIC’s Insurance Fund Falls as Bank Losses Mount

On Thursday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said banks posted a loss of $3.7 billion in the second quarter, only the industry’s second quarterly loss in 18 years. At the same time, the FDIC’s list of “troubled” institutions grew to 416 banks, the largest number since June 1994. And delinquencies on loans and leases reached their highest levels in 26 years. Widely viewed as a barometer of the health of the banking industry, the FDIC quarterly banking report showed that banks are continuing to gird up for future losses — provisions for loan losses hit $66.9 billion in the second quarter, up 33% from a year earlier. So far this year, 81 banks have failed, draining the reserves from the government’s insurance fund, which guarantees deposits. The FDIC charged all banks an emergency fee to raise $5.6 billion for the Deposit Insurance Fund, which was depleted to $10.4 billion at the end of June, from $13 billion in the previous quarter. If the fund is drained further, the FDIC can tap a line of credit of $100 billion from the Treasury Department, with temporary borrowing authority of $500 billion through 2010, which Congress OK’d in May.

Economic News

The economy shrank at an annual rate of 1% in the spring, a better-than-expected showing and more evidence that the recession is drawing to a close. Many analysts believe the economy is growing in the current quarter, but they caution that any rebound will not be accompanied initially by rising employment.

Jobless claims figures released Thursday show a drop in claims but remain well above levels associated with a healthy economy. The tally of those continuing to claim benefits dropped to 6.13 million from 6.25 million in the previous week. Economists expect the unemployment rate, currently 9.4%, to keep rising through the spring of next year.

Now that the government’s cash-for-clunkers blowout is finally over, some fear a morning-after hangover of buyers’ remorse and a sales drought for struggling auto dealers. A CNW Marketing Research survey of about 1,000 clunker traders found that 17% now have doubts about the decision. Most said their regret is about having monthly car payments

Consumer spending edged up in July with help from the popular cash-for-clunkers program, but household incomes, the fuel for future spending increases, were flat. Another report said consumer confidence fell to its lowest in four months in August..

China Gives Secret Order to Attack Major House Churches

The Christian Post reports that human rights groups fear Chinese officials will soon crack down on major house churches in Beijing. According to ChinaAid Association, the plans include ending rental agreements with a house church of more than 1,000 members, forcing the congregation to split apart. ChinaAid President Bob Fu says the crack down is connected with the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). “The upcoming 60th anniversary of the CPC is not cause for trampling on rights of peaceful citizens gathering in accordance with their right to religious freedom,” Fu said. “ChinaAid urges the Chinese government to revoke the secret directive, which is contrary to international covenants signed by the CPC, to acknowledge the positive societal influence of these house churches, and to allow these churches to meet freely throughout the anniversary period.”

Still Crippled, Haiti Faces New Hurricane Season

Mission News Network reports that Haiti faces this year’s hurricane season with its infrastructure still severely damaged from last year’s storms. Almost 800 people were killed in last year’s storms, which destroyed harvests and roadways. Red tape and corrupt bureaucracy has prevented tons of international aid from reaching Haiti’s people. Co-founder of For Haiti with Love Eva DeHart says, “The port situation in Cap Haitien is almost impossible to deal with, so we need somebody reliable enough to bring it through customs, to know that it will get to us.” She continued, “I can’t reassure anybody that there is any food in the chain on its way down. So the food we currently have on hand is all we have to deal with now until we get these problems solved. When the food is gone, it’s gone.”

Kyrgyzstan Suppresses Minority Religious Groups

Baptist Press reports that Christians in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan face a lose-lose dilemma. They have been told not to meet for worship without registration, but government officials are making it nearly impossible for churches to receive approval. The country’s 5.4 million people are 75 percent Muslim and 20 percent Russian Orthodox. In January a new religion law was enacted, and since then officials have checked up on or raided many minority religious communities, telling them they have no right to gather. “They’re purposely wanting to make it very difficult for new places of worship to be registered,” said Joel Griffith of the Slavic Gospel Association. “So if they institute an impossible requirement like that, then they effectively have been able to put their thumb down on any new group of believers that would want to come together and form a church.”

Afghanistan

An American service member died in a bomb blast in Afghanistan on Friday, the military said, making August the deadliest month of the eight-year war for U.S. forces. The death brings to 45 the number of U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan this month, surpassing the 44 troops killed in July. More than 60,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan — a record number — to fight rising insurgent violence, and the military says they need more troops. The forces have faced a surge in roadside bombs as they move into Taliban strongholds in the south.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber attacked the main border crossing for convoys ferrying supplies to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least 19 security officers. The strike will raise fears the Pakistani Taliban is regrouping and making good on its word to carry out revenge attacks following the slaying of its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a CIA missile strike earlier this month. Also in the border region, two U.S. missiles hit a suspected militant compound, killing six people, the latest in a string of such attacks.

Iraq

The U.S. military says two American soldiers have died of wounds sustained during a roadside bomb attack in the Iraqi capital. The death raises to at least 4,337 members of the U.S. military who have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003.

Wildfires

Up to 1,500 people were ordered to evacuate from the wealthy seaside community of Rancho Palos Verdes due to a 100-acre fire that has damaged a number of structures. About 500 homes in La Canada Flintridge, a suburb just 12 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, were also evacuated late Thursday as flames made their way slowly down from the San Gabriel Mountains. Weather plagued fire crews across Southern California as temperatures in some areas rose toward triple digits and humidity levels headed downward. For a third day Friday, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for many of California’s central and southern mountain ranges. Seven other wildfires are burning in tinder-dry California.

August 26, 2009

Ariz. Taxi Driver Offers Kidney to Frequent Passenger

Rita Van Loenen had no idea that a trip in Thomas Chappell’s taxi cab could end up being the ride that saves her life. “There are better odds of getting struck by lightning,” Van Loenen said. “A random taxi driver offering to give me his kidney and all these pieces match. There has to be something behind this. How can this be?” Chappell, who has been driving Van Loenen to dialysis appointments, shocked the Gilbert, Ariz. woman a month ago by offering to donate his kidney. But even more shocking to her was that doctors found they had the same blood type, that they were compatible. The Phoenix taxi driver said he was a man of faith and that a higher power wanted him to step in. “By then, me and the good Lord already had a talk. He said ‘Tom, you go give her one. It will work,’ ” Chappell said.

One Year Later, Christians in Orissa Pray for Peace

Compass Direct News reports that one year after India’s worst-ever attack on Christians, churches across the country fasted and prayed for a peace that remains elusive. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India appealed to all the Catholic dioceses in the country to “pray for peace and harmony and a spirit of reconciliation” by fasting last Saturday, one year to the day that Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed by non-Christian Maoists last year. On Monday, Christians held an inter-denominational meeting to pray for peace, healing and reconciliation in New Delhi to mark “National Kandhamal Day.” Christians believe it may take a long time for peace and reconciliation to become a reality in Kandhamal, where the violence lasted for weeks 2008, killing more than 100 people and burning more than 4,500 houses, over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions.

Christians Called to Pray during Ramadan

The Christian Post reports that missionaries are urging all Christians to pray as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins. “It’s kind of a time of seeking in a certain sense, when they’re fasting and they’re more geared toward spiritual things,” said Sammy Tippit, an evangelist who focuses on reaching Muslims, to Mission Network News. “And it’s out of a sense for God – a thirst for God and a hunger for God. And during these times of Ramadan, many will have dreams about Jesus.” Mission News Network is offering a 30-day prayer guide to help Christians understand the holy month and pray effectively for different Muslim cultures worldwide. Younger Muslims in unstable countries such as Iran are especially open to alternatives from Islam, Tippit said.

Abortion ‘Explicitly’ Covered under ObamaCare

FactCheck.org says the National Right to Life Committee is correct concerning abortion provisions in ObamaCare. According to FactCheck.org, President Barack Obama was right to a “limited extent” when he stated that his healthcare reform plan does not allow for “government-funded abortion.” Although FactCheck.org states that under H.R. 3200 federal money is not used to fund abortion, under the public insurance option there is a provision for abortion coverage — as well as provisions for government-subsidized public and private insurance plans that cover what are described as “reproductive services.” Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the Washington, DC-based National Right to Life, says the president purposely neglected to tell the whole story. “President Obama really brazenly misrepresented the abortion-related components of this bill that his congressional allies have crafted and that his staff had a role in,” Johnson contends.

Obama Pressuring Veterans toward Euthanasia

The Wall Street Journal just published a shocking editorial written by a respected University President, confirming the Obama Administration is now using VA hospitals to order doctors to pressure all military veterans to sign “pull the plug” do-not-resuscitate orders, hastening their premature deaths through mandatory “end of life” counseling. President Jim Towey of Saint Vincent’s College, founder of the non-profit “Aging With Dignity” and former White House Director of faith based initiatives, wrote a blistering expose entitled “The Death Book For Veterans,” revealing President Obama’s new Veterans Administration (VA) directive, presumably signed by VA Secretary, General (ret.) Eric Shinseki, which mandates all veterans’ primary care physicians must graphically discuss “end of life planning” with all VA patients (not merely those nearing death), and must refer them to “Your Life, Your Choices,” a book that openly encourages Euthanasia and was written with guidance from the group formerly known as the Hemlock Society. That same pro-suicide group now boasts on their web-site of directly leading the charge to ensure “end of life counseling” is mandated in the Obamacare bill, HR 3200.  On page 21 of the Shinseki-mandated Veteran’s Euthanasia book, all military veterans are encouraged to complete a checklist of various scenarios, to decide whether their own life would be “not worth living.”

AARP Ramps up Support for ObamaCare

Although the AARP says it is not “officially” endorsing President Obama’s healthcare reform, it is conducting a huge and costly television ad campaign in support of ObamaCare and hosted the president at an online forum recently to promote his agenda to AARP members. On its website, AARP says, “We share the President’s commitment to act this year…” and “We look forward to working with leaders of both parties, including the President…” AARP even developed a dedicated website to help promote the president’s agenda.

Health Insurance Costs Rise

Costs for employer-provided health plans are expected to rise more than 10% within the next 12 months, a jump workers may feel in their paychecks or through changes to their insurance coverage. An aging population, rising costs and growing patient demand for services are among the reasons for the higher costs. Some employers might swallow the higher costs because workers this year already have had to contend with salary freezes. However, others may ask workers to pay more through increased deductibles or co-payments.

Swine H1N1 Flu

The global flu pandemic expected to return to the USA this fall may infect as much as half the U.S. population, flooding hospitals with nearly 2 million patients and causing 30,000 to 90,000 deaths, according to the first official forecast of the scope of the flu season now getting underway. The report, released Monday by the White House, was prepared by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. It offers the forecast as the most plausible of a range of scenarios that reflect the potential impact of a new form of H1N1 flu, known as swine flu, which the report calls “a serious health threat to the United States.” “While this is not the 1918 flu pandemic, it infects younger people more, and serious complications do occur,” says panel co-chairman Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, warning that infants and children, pregnant women, and people with chronic illnesses are at special risk of serious complications. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 2 million people nationwide have been infected with the virus and 522 have died. But flu experts worry that cases will mount as youngsters return to school and as cold weather drives people indoors.

  • As the government continues its scare campaign for this manufactured virus, are forced vaccinations on the horizon for our school children and others?

Democrats Censor GOP Mail

An Arizona congressman says liberals on the “Franking Commission” have deliberately tried to censor mail that conservative Republican House members are attempting to send out to their constituents. Democrats on the bipartisan Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards have been blocking Republicans from sending out franked mailings to constituents that refer to the cap-and-trade bill as “cap and tax,” the stimulus bill as the “so-called stimulus,” and the healthcare reform bill as “socialized medicine.” Representative Trent Franks (R-Arizona) says the Franking Commission even told him to stop using the phrase “Democratic majority” in his newsletters, and to use “majority” instead. “For instance, I can say ‘the Speaker,’ but I can’t say ‘Speaker Pelosi’ because that’s too inflammatory. Well, you know, I understand their problem — they don’t want people to really identify the Democratic Party with Nancy Pelosi,” he notes. “But the point is, we are forced to change our vernacular and how we say things in order to comport with their attitudes and their way of believing [how] we should say it.”

  • Liberal bias has become quite blatant reflecting their desire for more and more government control

Probe of CIA Imperils Interagency Trust

The Justice Department’s decision to investigate CIA interrogation practices increased tension between the agencies and prompted a sense of betrayal among some CIA officers, current and former officials said. Many CIA officers were stunned by Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to launch a probe. Some were deeply angered by what they consider a selective declassification of documents describing the acts at issue, former agency officials said Tuesday. Of particular concern to some: their agency’s decision not to release a rebuttal of a 2004 CIA inspector general report criticizing the agency’s conduct in interrogations along with the report, which was made public Monday in response to a lawsuit. “The employees that were involved wrote a joint rebuttal and they believe it was ignored deliberately by [Justice] for political reasons,” said one former CIA official.

  • The CIA has become a political football, largely its own fault as it has often pursued its own agenda

Social Networks Making Students More Narcissistic

College students say social networking makes them more narcissistic, a national survey reports today — and they also believe their generation is the most narcissistic of all. That’s what a majority of 1,068 college students said when asked about narcissism in a poll on social networking sites in June by Ypulse. More than half (57%) said their peers used social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter for self-promotion, narcissism and attention-seeking. And 92% said they used MySpace or Facebook regularly. Two-thirds said their generation was more self-promoting, narcissistic, overconfident and attention-seeking than others.

  • Takes one to know one, I guess

Economic News

More Americans are having their power shut off as the weak economy makes it harder to pay bills. Regulations differ by state, but utilities generally may not cut power off during extremely cold, and in some cases extremely hot, weather. The federal stimulus package includes $1.5 billion to prevent homelessness, in part by helping people pay utility bills.

Consumer sentiment rose more than expected in August, an indication that Americans’ pessimism about the economy may be lifting. The Conference Board said Tuesday its consumer confidence index rose to 54.1 from an upwardly revised 47.4 in July. Still, the index is far below 90, the minimum level associated with a healthy economy.

The Commerce Department said new home sales surged 9.6% in July from June, the fourth straight monthly increase. U.S. home prices posted their first quarterly increase in three years, adding to evidence that the three-year housing slump is easing. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller’s U.S. National Home Price Index released Tuesday was up nearly 3% from the first quarter to 133, though that reading was still down almost 15% from the second quarter last year.

Orders for durable goods rose last month by the largest amount in two years, as the manufacturing sector rebounded from the depths of the recession. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for goods expected to last at least three years increased 4.9% in July, the third rise in the past four months.

More than half the employers in a new poll say they plan to hire full-time employees in the next 12 months, Some 14.5 million U.S. workers are unemployed, according to recent U.S. government statistics. The areas most likely to be adding jobs are technology, customer service and sales, the research found.

The avalanche of potential new-car sales that took down the government’s computers in the final hours of its “cash for clunkers” program Monday is evidence of the program’s overwhelming success. The program leveraged $3 billion in clunker rebates into $20 billion-plus in new-car sales. That far exceeded the initial goals for what is arguably the most successful of the government’s recent economic-stimulus programs.

Guar­anty Bank in Texas is the 84th bank failure (and the second largest) this year. The FDIC seized the bank and promptly sold it off to a for­eign bank, BBVA of Spain. In the process, the FDIC took a $3 bil­lion loss.

Afghanistan

President Hamid Karzai widened his lead over his top challenger Wednesday after Afghan officials released more partial vote results. The president’s new total pushed him closer to the 50% threshold that would allow him to avoid a two-man runoff. More results will be released in coming days, and final certified results will not be ready until at least mid-September, after investigations are held into the dozens of serious complaints of fraud that have been filed. The latest returns boost Karzai’s standing to 44.8%. Abdullah now has 35.1%. The count is based on returns from 17% of polling stations nationwide.

Five car bombs detonated in a single simultaneous blast Tuesday in Afghanistan‘s largest southern city, flattening buildings and killing at least 41 people, officials said. The force of the explosion just after nightfall shattered windows around the city and sent flames shooting into the sky. So many houses and nearby buildings had collapsed that officials feared the death toll could rise further.

American military commanders with the NATO mission in Afghanistan told President Obama’s chief envoy to the region this weekend that they did not have enough troops to do their job, pushed past their limit by Taliban rebels who operate across borders. The possibility that more troops will be needed in Afghanistan presents the Obama administration with another problem in dealing with a nearly eight-year war that has lost popularity at home. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, described a worsening situation in Afghanistan despite the recent addition of 17,000 American troops ordered by the Obama administration.

Darfur, Sudan

Darfur activists upset about President Obama‘s Sudan policy are launching a critical advertising campaign that urges him to step up pressure on Khartoum. The move comes as the Obama administration is preparing to release a delayed review of U.S. policy on Sudan. Activists, who had hoped Obama would focus more than the Bush administration did on Darfur and take a tougher line, say they fear disappointment. Advertisements purchased in U.S. newspapers to begin running Tuesday highlight past statements on Sudan by Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and urge the officials to live up to their words. While the administration wants to pressure Khartoum to prevent further violence in Darfur, where conflict has led to the deaths of up to 300,000 people and the displacement of 2.7 million, it also is seeking help in fighting terror. Some of the activists say the administration needs to make clear that it will press for sanctions and other punitive measures if the Sudanese government commits or condones human rights violations.

Wildfires

With a wildfire contained after raging for days near Athens, the Greek government faced a different kind of firestorm Tuesday as opposition parties and media lambasted its response to the blaze as inadequate. At least 150 homes have been damaged, officials said, while thousands of hectares of pine forest, olive grove, brush and farmland have been destroyed. Experts warned it would take generations to replace the forests, and that many were burnt beyond the hope of natural regrowth.

Weather

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he wants President Obama to reconsider sending federal disaster aid to help California‘s drought-stricken communities. Three dry years coupled with restrictions on water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have cut the irrigation supplies of many San Joaquin Valley farmers and deepened rising unemployment. Last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor showed 43% of the state listed as being in a severe drought.

The nation is headed for strong heat waves in coming decades that will hit cities and farmers and threaten wildlife with extinction, a new global warming report warns. The report, “More Extreme Heat Waves: Global Warming’s Wake Up Call,” sponsored by medical, environmental and civil rights organizations, comes as a legislative fight over a climate change bill gets ready to resume next month in Congress. “The report highlights the current vulnerabilities from heat waves growing,” says climate scientist Amanda Staudt of the National Wildlife Federation, a report sponsor. Average temperatures are expected to grow 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit nationwide over the next century.

August 24, 2009

Lutherans to Allow Gay Clergy

Leaders of the nation’s largest Lutheran church voted Friday to allow sexually active gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy. Gays and lesbians are currently allowed to serve as ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America only if they remain celibate. The proposal to change that passed with 68% approval. At 4.7 million members and about 10,000 congregations in the United States, the ELCA is one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance on clergy.

  • Apparently the Bible is no longer the foundation for Lutherans

$2 Trillion Higher Deficit Projected

The Obama administration expects the federal deficit over the next decade to be $2 trillion bigger than previously estimated, White House officials said Friday, a setback for a president already facing a Congress and public wary over spending. The new projection, to be announced on Tuesday, is for a cumulative 2010-2019 deficit of $9 trillion instead of the $7 trillion previously estimated. The new figure reflects slumping revenues from a worse economic picture than was expected earlier this year.

Americans Losing Confidence in Obama

Yet another new poll says that Americans, concerned over the future of health care reform and anxious about the growing federal budget deficit, are losing faith in President Obama. The Washington Post-ABC News survey found that less than half of Americans — 49% — say they believe the president will make the right decisions for the country. That’s down from 60% at the 100-day mark of the Obama presidency. The Washington Post-ABC News survey found that less than half of Americans — 49% — say they believe the president will make the right decisions for the country. That’s down from 60% at the 100-day mark of the Obama presidency.

Obama Calls for ‘Honest Debate’ on Health Care

President Obama is challenging his critics on a national health care overhaul, accusing them of making “phony claims” about the legislation. “This is an issue of vital concern to every American, and I’m glad that so many are engaged,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address. “But it also should be an honest debate, not one dominated by willful misrepresentations and outright distortions, spread by the very folks who would benefit the most by keeping things exactly as they are.” Obama said illegal immigrants would not be part of the health care overhaul, taxpayers would not be mandated to fund abortions and he does not intend a government takeover of health care — all claims that critics have made at contentious town hall-style meetings with members of Congress.

  • Obama believes that anyone who disagrees with him is not being “honest.” Since he didn’t read the original health plan, he can claim these things he’s accused of were not his intention. What he’s really upset about is that his intentions were unmasked, no matter how he now retreats, obfuscates and lies. Socialism is his intent.

White House Sets Up Interrogation Unit

President Obama has moved more forcefully than ever to abandon Bush administration interrogation policies, approving creation of a special White House unit for questioning terrorism suspects, as Attorney General Eric Holder weighs a Justice Department recommendation to reopen and pursue prisoner abuse cases. A senior administration official told The Associated Press Monday that Obama has approved establishment of the new unit, to be known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which will be overseen by the Naitonal Security Council. A U.S. intelligence official said Monday that the CIA welcomes the change, saying the agency does not want to be in the long-term detention business.

  • More centralized control for Obama

U.S. Flies Migrants Caught in Arizona to Mexico City

The U.S. government has begun flying illegal migrants caught in the Arizona desert back to Mexico under a voluntary repatriation program. Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department says the twice-daily Tucson-to-Mexico City flights began Friday. Authorities say the goal is to save lives and discourage repeat crossings by transporting migrants closer to their homes in Mexico, instead of simply deporting them across the border.

H1N1 Flu Virus Hasn’t Mutated

The H1N1 flu strain doesn’t appear to be mutating as it makes its way through the Southern Hemisphere, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today in a briefing. One of the biggest fears has been that the virus, which first appeared in April in the U.S. and Mexico and which people don’t have any built-up immunity to, might mutate into an even more dangerous form. Health officials have been keeping a close watch on the Southern Hemisphere, which is in its winter season now, to see what form of the virus is likely to travel north as fall comes to the U.S. and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. Flu viruses are unpredictable, so the fact that this one hasn’t mutated is “somewhat reassuring” said Jay Butler, director of CDC’s H1N1 Vaccine Task Force. Case numbers in the Southern Hemisphere appear to be dropping, he said.

Existing Home Sales Surge 7% in July

The U.S. housing market is rebounding quicker than expected, with home resales in July posting the largest monthly increase in at least 10 years as first-time buyers rushed to take advantage of a tax credit that expires this fall. The National Association of Realtors said Friday that home sales rose 7.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.24 million in July, from a pace of 4.89 million in June. It was the fourth-straight monthly increase and the highest level of sales since August 2007. Sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties made up about a third of all transactions last month, down from nearly half earlier this year. First-time buyers must complete their sales transactions by the end of November to take advantage of a tax credit of 10% of the purchase price, up to $8,000. The real estate industry is lobbying Congress to get the credit extended.

Economic News

The nation’s factory output is growing for the first time since early last year, bolstering the case for an economic recovery. While the improvement is modest amid weak consumer spending, some leading manufacturers and economists believe it can be sustained and eventually set off a more robust upswing. Behind the resurgence: Manufacturers cut production so sharply during the slump that they depleted inventories and must now ramp up output to meet demand and eventually replenish stocks.

Millions of older people face shrinking Social Security checks next year, the first time in a generation that payments would not rise. The trustees who oversee Social Security are projecting there won’t be a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next two years. That hasn’t happened since automatic increases were adopted in 1975. Monthly payments would drop for millions of people in the Medicare prescription drug program because the premiums, which often are deducted from Social Security payments, are scheduled to go up slightly.

From Vermont to California, exhausted but appreciative car dealers watched their lots grow empty as crowds rushed to trade in gas guzzlers during the final weekend of the popular Cash for Clunkers program. The hectic pace of the $3 billion rebate program accelerated in the final weekend, after the government announced the program would end at 8 p.m. ET Monday, two weeks earlier than expected.

One upside of a weak economy is showing up on the stickers of new cars: lower prices. Automakers are cutting prices on selected 2010 models. In some cases, the all-new version of a vehicle may be introduced with a lower sticker price than the version it replaces. With new car demand the lowest in decades, cutting prices can move slow sellers or generate buzz on updated models.

Reader’s Digest Association Inc. said Monday that it has filed for prearranged Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as part of its restructuring plan. The privately held publisher of the popular monthly magazine and dozens of other titles said the filing only affects its U.S. operations. Reader’s Digest is looking to cut its debt from $2.2 billion to $550 million, giving lenders control of the company in return.

Brazil Finds Huge Oil Field

An enormous offshore field in territorial waters — the biggest Western Hemisphere oil discovery in 30 years — has Brazilians saying, “Drill, baby, drill,” while environmentalists fear the nation will take a big leap backward in its hunt for crude. There has been virtually no public debate on the potential environmental costs of retrieving the billions of barrels of oil, a project one expert said will be as difficult as landing a man on the moon. Home to the bulk of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil for decades has developed alternative energy as an issue of national security following severe energy shortages in the 1970s. It uses hydroelectric power for more than 80% of its energy needs, is the world’s largest exporter of ethanol, and nine out of every 10 cars sold in the nation can run on ethanol or a combination of ethanol and gasoline. But since the national oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, discovered the massive Tupi field off the coast of Rio de Janeiro two years ago — estimated to hold 5 to 8 billion barrels — it is the development of oil fields that has gone into overdrive.

North, South Korea Hold First High-Level Talks in Two Years

Top South and North Korean officials in charge of inter-Korean relations held talks Saturday for the first time in nearly two years amid a series of conciliatory moves by North Korea after months of tensions on the divided peninsula. The meeting lasted about 80 minutes, but no further details were made available. The talks came a day after six senior North Koreans flew to Seoul to pay their respects to the late Kim Dae-jung, a former South Korean president beloved on both sides of the border for his pursuit of closer ties between the divided states.

Baghdad Bombings Possible Inside Job

Iraq’s foreign minister said Saturday that those who carried out bombings that targeted government buildings in the Iraqi capital received help to pull off the attacks, possibly from Iraqi security forces. The comments come as anger mounts over the bombings that have lead lawmakers to scrutinize the readiness of Iraqi security forces and raised questions about the loosening of security measures in Baghdad. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered security tightened and concrete blast walls to remain around potential targets in the aftermath of the attacks, reversing an order earlier this month to remove the walls in Baghdad by mid-September.

  • Iraq will never be stable as long as Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds war against one another, which will likely be till the end of this age

Vote Fraud Allegations Increase in Afghanistan

There are no hanging chads, but Afghanistan‘s electoral process is starting to resemble the Florida recount effort in 2000 even before preliminary results are announced Tuesday. Afghanistan’s second presidential election since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001 has created political uncertainty as officials attempt to count the votes amid fraud allegations from all sides. Election officials say it will take weeks to sort through the ballots and investigate the allegations before knowing who the next president is. About 225 complaints have been filed with Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission, including 35 serious enough to sway the results if confirmed, the commission announced Sunday. The serious allegations concern intimidation and stuffing of ballot boxes. Many more complaints, from voters and campaigns, are likely to be filed as ballot boxes come in from around the country.

Earthquakes

A small earthquake has shaken central Alaska. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says a magnitude 3.6 temblor struck at 9:46 p.m. Friday about 45 miles southeast of Cantwell and 53 miles southeast of Denali National Park. The quake followed a magnitude 5.0 earthquake that rattled buildings Wednesday in Anchorage and other communities in Alaska, but didn’t result in any damage.

Wildfires

Fire burned through suburbs north of Athens early Sunday, destroying homes and forcing thousands to flee in nighttime evacuations. Authorities announced they were evacuating the suburb of Agios Stefanos, 14 miles northeast of Athens, as flames closed in on the town center. Low-flying planes were seen pouring water on burning houses. Shortly after 1:30 p.m., police with loudspeakers directed the suburb’s nearly 10,000 residents to leave immediately on the main road to Athens. Panicked residents gathered at the town’s main square while others tried desperately to save their houses, using hoses, buckets and even tree branches to beat the flames. With gale force winds driving the flames, the spread of the fire has not been checked, as of Sunday morning.

Weather

The remnants of Hurricane Bill moved out into the Atlantic Monday, a day after the storm’s powerful winds churned up waves that were blamed in the deaths of at least two people on the East Coast. The system still had tropical-storm strength winds near 70 mph early Monday. Its center was about 190 miles off the coast of Newfoundland and is moving east-northeast near 43 mph.

Climate change will lead to an increase in heavy rainfall events across most of the world, according to a study published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Caltech. The computer models used in the study predict that areas such as North America can expect a significant increase in heavy rain. The study suggests that precipitation in extreme events will increase by about 6% for every 1.8 degree rise in global temperature. A global temperature increase of anywhere from 2 to 11 degrees is expected by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

  • Global warming is real, but not primarily due to human causes. It is an end-time cycle of nature programmed by God.

August 21, 2009

Health Co-Ops the Answer?

After months of stalled debate in Congress over a proposed government-run health insurance plan, or so-called public plan, some lawmakers are eyeing cooperatives such as Group Health in Seattle as a model that could drive down costs and improve the quality of care through innovative programs and technology. Co-ops, which would be run by their patients instead of the government, have been under discussion in Congress for months but gained renewed attention this week when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signaled the administration might support the idea. Group Health was created in 1947 by farmers and loggers who were already pooling resources to pay for basic primary care on a small scale, said Aubrey Davis, an original founder of the co-op. Today, the non-profit has 566,000 members, making it the third-largest health insurer in Washington, state insurance records show.

For patients, co-ops work just like private insurance: There are premiums and co-pays and, like an HMO, most enrollees see doctors within a network. Premiums for individual insurance have increased by an average of 12.3% a year since 2000, less than the largest private insurers in Washington, according to the state’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner. By comparison, individual rates for a popular BlueCross plan in Washington rose an average of 18%, state records show.

More than two years ago, the co-op sharpened its focus on primary care and invested $40 million in an electronic medical records system that allows patients to check their charts online and helps doctors coordinate care. In its first year, the program reduced emergency room costs by 29%, Group Health says. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later said President Obama still prefers a government-run program, but he is “willing to listen” to other ideas — as long as they foster competition with private insurers and drive down the spiraling cost of health care. Overall, health care in the United States is expected to cost $2.6 trillion this year, or 17% of the nation’s economy.

  • Best of all, co-ops are private and would keep the government out of it

Healthcare Reform and Abortions – What’s the Truth?

President Obama contends that conservatives are “bearing false witness” about his healthcare reform plan, but one leading conservative says it’s the president who’s misleading the American public. The president said it is a “fabrication” and “distraction” to say taxpayer funding of abortion is included in the House and Senate healthcare reform plans. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, says he has been working on Capitol Hill for three months with pro-life members of Congress to ensure taxpayer funding of abortions is not included in the bill — but those lawmakers’ efforts have been unsuccessful. We have a whole page-and-a-half of amendments that were offered on multiple days to do just that, and they were all voted down, primarily on party lines,” he explains. “So if abortion were not going to be in this bill and it was not the intent, why would there be opposition to just stating that it was excluded and outside the funding of this bill?”

U.S. Life Expectancy Up to Nearly 78

U.S. life expectancy has risen to a new high, now standing at nearly 78 years, the government reported Wednesday. The increase is due mainly to falling death rates in almost all the leading causes of death. The average life expectancy for babies born in 2007 is nearly three months greater than for children born in 2006. U.S. life expectancy has grown nearly one and a half years in the past decade. The United States continues to lag behind about 30 other countries in estimated life span. Japan has the longest life expectancy — 83 years for children born in 2007. Heart disease and cancer together are the cause of nearly half of U.S. fatalities. The death rate from heart disease dropped nearly 5% in 2007, and the cancer death rate fell nearly 2%. The diabetes death rate fell about 4%, allowing Alzheimer’s disease to surpass diabetes to become the sixth leading cause of death.

Mercury Found in All Fish Caught in U.S.-Tested Streams

A government test of fish pulled from nearly 300 streams in the USA found every one of them contaminated with some level of mercury. The U.S. Geological Survey’s research marks its most comprehensive examination of mercury contamination in stream fish. The study found that 27% of the fish had mercury levels high enough to exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for the average fish eater, those who eat fish twice a week. But the findings in wild-caught fish underscore how widespread mercury contamination in the nation’s waterways has become. Previous research has found levels of concern in ocean and lake fish. Mercury is a neurotoxin especially dangerous to neurological development in infants and fetuses. Most mercury in water comes from particles from the atmosphere, the EPA says, fed largely by coal-fired power plants, trash burning and concrete plants nationally and internationally, the EPA says.

Nutrient-Spiked Foods Top Shopping Lists

From heart-friendly margarines to sugary cereals that strengthen bones, once-demonized foods are being spiked with nutrients to give them a healthier glow — and consumers are biting, even on some that are little more than dressed-up junk food. A report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers that was released Thursday finds that even in a weak economy, people will pay a premium for products seen as preventing a health problem or providing a good alternative to sodas and empty-calorie snacks. These products include winners and sinners: juices that supply kids with needed calcium, but also candy disguised as granola bars with just a smidgeon of much-ballyhooed nutrients. The industry calls these products “nutraceuticals” or “functional foods.” Critics say they could lead people to consume too much of certain nutrients, plus too many calories and fats. The shame list includes a candy bar pumped with caffeine and B vitamins, marketed as an “energy boost,” and fattening ice creams enriched with calcium and helpful bacteria called probiotics. Functional foods account for more than $27 billion in sales a year — about 5% of the U.S. food market,. Estimates of future growth range from 8.5 to 20% per year, far more than the 1 to 4% forecast for the food industry as a whole.

Workplace Deaths Down, Suicides Up

Workplace suicides surged 28% last year, the Labor Department said Thursday, as experts said anxious workers watched colleagues depart in a rash of layoffs and dealt with survivor’s guilt. At the same time, the agency’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said the total number of workers who died on the job from any cause fell 12%. The 5,071 workplace fatalities recorded in 2008 was the lowest number since the agency began tracking the data in 1992. That number includes 251 suicides, the highest number since official reporting began. Workers on average worked 1% fewer hours last year and the construction industry — which usually accounts for a major share of accidental workplace deaths — posted even larger declines in employment or hours worked.

Deficit Projected to be $1.58 Trillion This Year

The federal deficit this year will total $1.58 trillion, a senior White House official said late Wednesday. That’s three times more red ink than last year. The White House said that the federal deficit will be about $262 billion less than officials predicted earlier this year — in part because the administration has provided less aid than expected to Wall Street. The new deficit numbers are record shattering, but would give the administration the opportunity to say that its policies have avoided a more extreme financial crisis and eliminated the need for further bank infusions.

  • The patient is still dying, but more slowly

Cash for Clunkers to End Monday Night

Let the national closeout sale begin: Car dealers and consumers have just four days to take advantage of Uncle Sam’s $4,500 cash-for-clunkers rebate before it expires. The government is ending the program as of 8 p.m. ET Monday, giving dealers and customers time to close pending deals and get the paperwork processed before the $3 billion program runs out of money. Despite its success at boosting demand for fuel-efficient vehicles, the cash-for-clunkers program has been riddled with problems since the start. Days after its debut, the program almost ran out of money. An additional $2 billion was added to the pot. But many dealers say they still haven’t been paid back for cars they’ve sold with the clunker discount. Dealers must pay the rebates out of pocket and wait for reimbursement from the federal government. Some car dealers have said their reimbursement requests have not been approved, leading to a cash crunch at their businesses.

Automakers are reacting to the cash-for-clunkers-driven spike in car demand with increased production plans for the third and fourth quarters. That comes even as one leading industry researcher says there are few signs a broad recovery has begun. If automakers are premature in their plans they will end up in a cycle seen many times before: ramping up production and leaving dealers with lots of inventory that then requires profit-killing rebates to unload.

Economic News

More than 13% of U.S. homeowners with a mortgage are either behind on their payments or in foreclosure as the recession throws more people out of work, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Thursday. The record numbers in the report are being driven by borrowers with traditional fixed-rate mortgages, rather than the shady subprime loans with adjustable rates that kicked off the mortgage crisis. As of June, more than 4% of borrowers were in foreclosure and about 9% had missed at least one payment.

New credit card restrictions are set to take effect Thursday that will give consumers more information but only limited relief from high interest rates and fees. Credit card issuers now must give consumers 45 days notice before changing interest rates or fees. They also won’t be able to count a payment as late unless the bill was sent at least 21 days before the due date.

An index gauging the U.S. economy’s prospects rose for a fourth straight month in July, indicating the recession was leveling out, a private research firm said Thursday. The index of leading economic indicators, which is supposed to forecast economic trends six to nine months ahead, rose 0.6% to 101.6 after a revised 0.8% gain in June.

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week, fanning worries of an anemic recovery from the worst recession in 70 years. Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 576,000 in the week ended Aug. 15. The number of people collecting long-term unemployment benefits edged up 2,000 to 6.24 million.

Afghanistan

Afghan officials began the long and potentially controversial process of counting votes after a relatively calm election that was marred by concerns over low turnout and possible fraud. Full results may not be known for several days in a vast country where donkeys were used to deliver ballot boxes to many remote villages. President Hamid Karzai, who faced a tough re-election fight at a time when the Taliban insurgency is again on the rise, congratulated voters for braving threats of violence and taking a major step in the country’s development as a democracy. At least 26 people died in scattered violence around the country, but there were no massive attacks.

Iran

Diplomats say Iran has lifted a ban and allowed U.N. inspectors to visit a nearly completed nuclear reactor as well as granting greater monitoring rights at another atomic site. The diplomats say International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited the nearly finished Arak heavy water reactor last week after a year-long ban. Separately, they say Iran agreed last week to IAEA requests to expand its monitoring of the Natanz uranium enrichment site. It produces material for nuclear fuel that can be further enriched to provide fissile material for warheads.

Pakistan

A U.S. drone fired a missile Friday into a suspected militant hide-out in Pakistan‘s lawless northwest, killing 12 people in an attempt to take out a jihadist commander accused of attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan, The United States has launched more than 40 missile strikes from unmanned planes on al-Qaeda and Taliban targets close to the Afghan border since last year, reportedly killing several top commanders, but also civilians.

Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised a total review of his government’s security policies after coordinated attacks killed dozens of people Wednesday in Iraq’s bloodiest day this year. Two truck bombs struck the heart of Iraq’s government — the Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry buildings — and shattered a sense of relative calm that had prevailed in Baghdad since Iraqi forces formally took control of security from the U.S. military on June 30. U.S. troops responded to specific requests for help from Iraqi commanders but did not take control of the bombing scenes, in line with their new supporting role.

Weather

Powerful winds slammed parts of four Midwestern states on Wednesday, leaving behind shattered windows, toppled power lines and a handful of injuries. At least a half dozen suspected tornadoes were reported. The National Weather Service received reports of a possible tornado near downtown Minneapolis, where winds tore off part of a 90-year-old metal church steeple. Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois were also hit, though the only confirmed tornado as of Wednesday night was in Hastings, about 30 miles southeast of Minneapolis, where a 100-yard-long swath of trees was flattened.

Hundreds of century-old trees lay snapped in half and uprooted throughout Central Park in New York City on Wednesday after a severe thunderstorm with winds as high as 80 mph barreled through the city overnight. “I’ve never seen a wind of that velocity in New York City,” Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said. “It looks like pictures that I’ve seen of war zones where artillery shells have shredded trees.”

The world’s oceans this summer are the warmest on record. The National Climatic Data Center, the government agency that keeps weather records, says the average global ocean temperature in July was 62.6 degrees. It is the hottest since record-keeping began in 1880. The previous record was set in 1998. The warmer water could add to the melting of sea ice and possibly strengthen some hurricanes.

August 19, 2009

Children Are a Blessing, Not a Carbon Curse

Researchers at Oregon State University recently published a study arguing that efforts to limit carbon emissions must take into account the impact of reproductive choices. The study, titled “Reproduction and the Carbon Legacies of Individuals,” was published in the journal Global Environmental Change. It stated that each child will add 9,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female. In response, a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention says the argument that the world’s carbon footprint should be limited by the number of children couples have is faulty and godless. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says “If the world is really buying into the idea that climate change is the great challenge and the way to address that is by reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, then eventually you’re going to have to get to the point that this article directs us and there are going to be fewer people on the planet, and we’re going to have to have fewer babies.”

However, Mohler points out that scripture is clear when it comes to the blessings of having children. “One of the responsibilities of Christian people is to produce godly progeny. Nowhere in the Bible is there any kind of blessing upon any form of thinking that would see children as a burden,” he adds. “And in fact both, especially the Old and the New Testament, they were given to us at a time when many other people were sacrificing children on altars.”

  • While the leftist Western world opines about too many (poor) people on the planet, Islam has been successfully encouraging its adherents to produce as many children as possible as one of their key strategies to undermine democracy and Christianity. It’s already working in Europe where sections of England and France have areas under Sharia law based on the Quran.

Lutheran Gay Clergy Proposal Passes First Hurdle

The Associated Press reports that a proposal in the Lutheran church to allow openly homosexual clergy in the pulpit has passed its first hurdle. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s biennial convention voted Monday to pass of fail the measure with a simple majority vote, instead of the proposed two-third supermajority vote. Critics of the measure said such a significant move should reflect the attitudes of the full denomination. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson says the majority versus supermajority vote shouldn’t be seen as strongly indicating the debate’s ultimate outcome. The 1,045 voting delegates will probably face a final vote on Friday determining which direction the church, which is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, will take in the future.

  • Mainstream Christian denominations continue to lead the “great falling away”

Domestic Partner Registry Draws Lawsuit

A group of Christian attorneys has filed a lawsuit against the city of Cleveland, Ohio, for its new “domestic partner registry.” Alliance Defense Fund attorney Jim Campbell claims the city has violated the will of the people. He is representing citizens who filed the suit to block recognition of domestic partnerships. “Ohio voters amended their state’s constitution by an overwhelming majority in the year 2004, using the democratic process to affirm the long-held legal definition of marriage and eliminate any attempts at counterfeits,” he points out. “Now, what the city of Cleveland has done here is attempting to create a marriage counterfeit, which is in direct violation of what the people have said in their own state constitution.”

Obama Still Wants to Repeal Marriage Law

President Obama insisted Monday he still wants to scrap what he calls a discriminatory federal marriage law, even as his administration angered gay rights activists by defending it in court. The president said his administration’s stance in a California court case is not about defending traditional marriage, but is instead about defending traditional legal practice. Justice Department lawyers filed new papers Monday seeking to throw out a lawsuit brought by a gay couple challenging the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Gay rights groups say that by doing so, the administration is failing to follow through on campaign promises made by Obama last year to work to repeal the law. Department lawyers are defending the law “as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged,” Obama said in a statement. The Clinton-era law denies federal recognition of gay marriage and gives states the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Obama said he plans to work with Congress to repeal the law, and said his administration “will continue to examine and implement measures that will help extend rights and benefits” to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples under existing law.

Obama’s Approval Ratings Continue to Decline

According to a recent Rasmussen Reports daily tracking poll (Aug. 18, 2009), President Obama’s approval rating has dropped to a new low of 47 percent. The poll appears to reflect the growing discontent over the healthcare reform push on Capitol Hill, as well as the continuing challenge the president faces in trying to turn public opinion. (Another recent Rasmussen poll showed 42 percent favor the Democrats’ healthcare plan, while 53 percent oppose it.) Obama’s approval rating has been dropping steadily in recent weeks, down from its high of 65% in January.

Conservatives Now Outnumber Liberals in 50 States

Self-identified conservatives now outnumber self-identified liberals in all 50 states of the union, according to the Gallup Poll. And more Americans nationwide are saying this year that they are conservative than have made that claim in any of the last four years, according to CNSNews.com. In 2009, 40 percent of respondents in Gallup surveys that have interviewed more than 160,000 Americans have said that they are either “conservative” (31 percent) or “very conservative” (9 percent). By contrast, only 21 percent have told Gallup they are liberal, including 16 percent who say they are “liberal” and 5 percent who say they are “very liberal.”

Family Doctor Shortage Looms

Longer days, lower pay, less prestige and more administrative headaches have turned doctors away in droves from family medicine, presumed to be the frontline for wellness and preventive-care programs that can help reduce health care costs. The number of U.S. medical school students going into primary care has dropped 51.8% since 1997, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Considering it takes 10 to 11 years to educate a doctor, the drying up of the pipeline is a big concern to health-care experts. The AAFP is predicting a shortage of 40,000 family physicians in 2020, when the demand is expected to spike. The U.S. health care system has about 100,000 family physicians and will need 139,531 in 10 years. The current environment is attracting only half the number needed to meet the demand. At the heart of the rising demands on primary-care physicians will be the 78 million Baby Boomers born from 1946 to 1964, who begin to turn 65 in 2011 and will require increasing medical care, and the current group of underserved patients.

AARP Loses Members over Health Care Stance

About 60,000 senior citizens have quit AARP since July 1 due to the group’s support for a health care overhaul. The membership loss suggests dissatisfaction on the part of AARP members at a time when many senior citizens are concerned about proposed cuts to Medicare providers to help pay for making health care available for all. But spokesman Drew Nannis said it wasn’t unusual for the powerful, 40 million-strong senior citizens’ lobby to shed members in droves when it’s advocating on a controversial issue. AARP is strongly backing a health care overhaul, running ads to support it and hosting President Obama at an online forum recently to promote his agenda to AARP members. However, the group has not endorsed a specific bill and says it won’t support a plan that reduces Medicare benefits.

Brits’ Healthcare System Not so Rosy

The founder of Liberty Counsel says lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are pushing for government-run healthcare need to take a lesson from the U.K. According to Mat Staver, the U.K.’s single-payer healthcare system has major issues. He explains that his organization looked at major British newspaper headlines and articles going back three years. “Article after article and headline after headline talks about the problem with their system — and here’s [sic] some of their problems: they’re rationing healthcare for the elderly, they are taking healthcare away from the vets.” The attorney says other healthcare problems in England include long hospital waits due to government bureaucracy, stories of people waiting for hours in emergency vehicles — and doctors leaving early on vacation after they have met their yearly or monthly quota on patients

Sweden Outlaws Home Schooling

The founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association says home schooling in Sweden will soon be banned altogether, with a few minor exceptions. Mike Farris says that Sweden will ban all home schooling except for children with medical exemptions and foreign workers with the appropriate work visas. “That’s it. People who have religious convictions or are home schooling for religious reasons will not be given one of these very rare exemptions,” he points out. “And so for all intents and purposes, home schooling is going to be banned in Sweden. They’re following the German statute, following the German model.” In Germany, parents face stiff penalties if they are caught illegally home schooling their children.

  • The underlying resistance to home schooling is anti-Christian bias which will continue to increase during these end-days

Park Service says Visits to National Parks are Up

The National Park Service said Monday that 127.7 million visits were made to national parks in the first six months of the year, an increase of about 4.5 million over the same period in 2008. In June alone, visits to national parks increased by more than 700,000 compared to June of last year. “America’s national parks and public lands provide affordable and accessible recreational opportunities from coast to coast,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “It is great to see so many Americans, including the first family, take advantage of the incredible natural, cultural and historic resources that we have here at home. Especially when times are tough, our parks and public lands refuel the spirit and help energize local economies.” The economic slowdown may have forced people to stay closer to home for their vacations.

Phone Scams Up Despite Do-Not-Call registry

Complaints about unwanted phone calls from people registered on do-not-call lists are on the rise, and the poor economy is largely to blame, state officials say. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, says that “predatory” telemarketers are more bold and victims more vulnerable in hard times. Bogus offers to help with foreclosure or credit card debt have become more common, he says. The Federal Trade Commission, which handles the National Do Not Call Registry, receives more than 100,000 complaints a month, according to statistics obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The statistics show complaints for July 2008 through June 2009 are up 11% over the prior 12-month period.

40% of Twitter Posts “Pointless Babble”

Tweets aren’t always sweet — sometimes they’re just “pointless babble.” Actually, they are 40% of the time, based on a study of 2,000 random tweets over two weeks by Pear Analytics. The researcher deemed 811 tweets as babble, compared to 751 (38%) as conversational, 174 (8%) as moderately interesting and 117 (6%) as self promotional. Spam accounted for only 4%, or 75, of the tweets. The results surprised Pear researchers, who expected a preponderance of self-promotional tweets.

UBS will Give IRS 4,450 Names of Suspected Tax Cheats

IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman says Swiss banking giant UBS will give his agency details of 4,450 client accounts suspected of holding undeclared assets. The deal to end a contentious international lawsuit between U.S. tax collectors and Swiss bankers was announced Wednesday morning. UBS has an estimated 52,000 accounts of U.S. customers. Shulman said the 4,450 accounts were the ones most suspected of containing undeclared assets.

Economic News

Americans had to work from January 1 until August 12 this year just to cover the cost of government. That is 26 days more than they had to work last year to cover the cost of government. “Cost of Government Day” this year fell on Wednesday, August 12, according to Americans for Tax Reform, the conservative group that calculates when the day occurs. Cost of Government Day is the day in the year when the American people have earned enough income to pay the total cost of the spending and regulatory burden imposed by government at the federal, state, and local level.

Construction of new U.S. homes dipped slightly last month, missing expectations, in a sign that the building industry’s recovery from the housing bust is likely to be bumpy and gradual. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that construction started on homes and apartments fell 1% in July.

The commercial real estate downturn is deepening, threatening to slow the economic recovery. About $83 billion of office, retail, industrial and apartment properties have fallen into default, foreclosure or bankruptcy this year, says research firm Real Capital Analytics. The default rate for commercial mortgages jumped from 1.62% to 2.25% in the first quarter and should hit 4.1% by the end of the year. Fueled by easy credit, developers built too many shopping malls and office buildings from 2004 to 2007. As the economy soured, vacancy rates rose. Property values are down about 40% from their 2007 peak, Deutsch Bank says, and loans for commercial properties have come to a virtual standstill. As a result, hundreds of smaller regional banks, which are heavily exposed to commercial mortgages, could go bankrupt the next two years.

A wholesale price index dropped sharply in July, and over the past 12 months fell by the largest amount in more than 60 years of record-keeping. The Labor Department said that its producer price index dropped 0.9% last month,.driven by big decreases in both energy and food costs. Over the past 12 months, the prices of goods before they reach store shelves fell 6.8%. Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, also was well-behaved. It dropped 0.1% in July.

Iraq

A series of explosions targeting government and commercial buildings struck Baghdad Wednesday, killing at least 75 people and wounding more than 300. The blasts in the capital followed a string of attacks in Iraq this month that have claimed hundreds of lives and raised concerns about the ability of Iraqi security forces to keep the lid on violence in advance of an American withdrawal.

Police say Iraqi forces seized a launcher loaded with 13 Iranian-made rockets after an attack against the U.S. base outside the southern city of Basra. The U.S. military says Iran is continuing to support violence in Iraq. Tehran denies the allegation.

Afghanistan

A suicide car bomb attacked a NATO convoy Tuesday on the outskirts of Kabul, killing at least seven civilians and wounding more than 50 people, officials said. Afghans working for the United Nations were among the dead and wounded. The attack occurred two days before national elections in which Afghans are to select a new president. The Taliban have denounced the election and warned people they would be at risk if they go to polling stations. Hours before the suicide blast, two mortar rounds struck near the presidential palace in Kabul. Police stormed a bank in Kabul on Wednesday and killed three insurgents who had taken it over, while a wave of attacks killed at least six election workers around the country on the eve of the presidential election.

Pakistan

A bomb exploded on a truck at a fuel station in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing seven people, police said, while the Taliban claimed responsibility for two weekend suicide attacks in a valley recently retaken by the army. Gunmen also assassinated the leader of a feared Sunni sectarian group, triggering rioting in three southern cities. Pakistan is battling al-Qaeda and Taliban militants seeking to topple its secular, pro-Western government. It has been bracing for possible revenge attacks following the reported death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a CIA missile strike Aug. 5 close to the northwestern border with Afghanistan. Security forces captured the Pakistani Taliban’s top spokesman, and he acknowledged the death of the group’s leader in a recent U.S. missile strike, officials said Tuesday — further signs the militants are in disarray since the American attack.

Russia

The death toll from the suicide truck bombing of a police station in Russia’s North Caucasus has risen to 21, and nine police officers are still missing, officials said Tuesday. More than 130 people were wounded in the Monday bombing in the city of Nazran in Ingushetia, the worst attack in the volatile North Caucasus region in years. The bombing undermined Kremlin claims that its efforts to bring calm and prosperity to the impoverished patchwork of ethnic groups, clans and religions are succeeding. Like other North Caucasus regions, Ingushetia has been reeling from rising violence in recent months, including a suicide bombing that badly wounded the Kremlin-appointed leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. While Chechnya has become more stable after the two separatist wars since 1994, Islamic militants continue to mount regular hit-and-run attacks and explosions and violence that has increasingly spilled into neighboring provinces.

Philippines

Philippine troops stormed a remote southwestern islet Wednesday to remove some 30 Muslim gunmen who took over a village near beach resorts popular with foreign tourists. The raiders led by Abdullah Abdurajak, a commander facing charges of illegal possession of firearms, started extorting money from residents and seized a mosque over the weekend. They claimed to be members of the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim separatist group that signed a peace deal with the government in 1996 in exchange for an autonomous region in the southern Philippines. Many of its fighters have refused to disarm, adding to insecurity in a region where two other Muslim rebel groups operate.

  • Odd, we never hear about Baptists or Methodists of other Christian sects perpetrating violence and terrorism, but let’s be tolerant anyway

Wildfires

One of the most dramatic fires in Northern Arizona to date this year, the so-called Taylor Fire is burning in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness above the Rim, south and east of Turkey Butte and several miles from the historic Taylor Cabin. The fire put out so much smoke that Verde Valley fire companies are being deluged with phone calls. The Coconino National Forest has staffed the sudden fire with over 400 crews, hotshots, helicopters, air tankers and engines and a Type-2 Incident Management Team. The Forest is proposing to suppress this fire rather than allowing it to burn naturally as has been the case with many fires this year. There are no immediate threats to structures in the area. Firefighters on Tuesday completed containment lines around the 3,545 acre wildfire that has been throwing smoke into Flagstaff, Sedona and other spots in northern Arizona.

California authorities now believe a wildfire that has burned more than 88,000 acres in Santa Barbara County was started at a marijuana field run by a Mexican drug cartel. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said investigators came to that conclusion because of the size of the pot field in the Los Padres National Forest and the equipment found at the campsite where the fire began Aug. 8. He said 30,000 pot plants were found, along with stacks of propane tanks, melted irrigation tubing, empty canisters of fertilizer, mounds of trash, a torched cooking stove and a semiautomatic rifle.

Weather

Police say a tornado in Beaumont, Texas has collapsed a department store roof, overturned cars and scattered debris throughout a mall parking lot, sending several people to the hospital with minor injuries. Nearby Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital says that fewer than ten patients are there and all are in stable condition.

August 17, 2009

Millionth Bible Sent to Closed Nations

A new report from Voice of the Martyrs says the millionth Bible dispatched under its Bibles Unbound program has been sent by a Texas woman sponsoring the effort to a private address in China. The organization’s program was started in 2006 to let Christians in free parts of the world send Bibles directly to individuals in restricted nations such as North Korea, China and Columbia. In the 42 months of operations, the program has shipped about 800 Bibles per day – about 24,000 per month. The Bibles Unbound effort is based on a very simple fact. While a truckload or container of Bibles can be spotted and stopped, the same amount of Bibles, wrapped and mailed individually, disappears into even a nation that restricts access to religious books. Christians, students, missionaries and others working within the restricted nations collect addresses, channeling them into the program for sponsors to use.

Focus on the Family Faces ‘Serious’ Shortfall

A “serious budget shortfall” at Focus on the Family (www.focusonthefamily.com) has prompted the conservative Christian group to issue a special fundraising plea, and contributed to a decision to cede control of its contentious “Love Won Out” conferences about homosexuality to another religious organization. Focus on the Family, founded by child psychologist James Dobson, is on pace to fall $6 million short of a $138 million budget for the fiscal year that began last October. Jim Daly, president and CEO of the Colorado-based evangelical ministry, explained the challenges in a letter to approximately 800,000 donors. Last fall, budget problems prompted Focus on the Family to eliminate more than 200 positions.

Pentagon Wants to Post Almost 400,000 Military Personnel in U.S.

The Pentagon has approached Congress to grant the Secretary of Defense the authority to post almost 400,000 military personnel throughout the United States in times of emergency or a major disaster. This request has already occasioned a dispute with the nation’s governors. And it raises the prospect of U.S. military personnel patrolling the streets of the United States, in conflict with the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. In June, the U.S. Northern Command distributed a “Congressional Fact Sheet” entitled “Legislative Proposal for Activation of Federal Reserve Forces for Disasters.” That proposal would amend current law, thereby “authorizing the Secretary of Defense to order any unit or member of the Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, and the Marine Corps Reserve, to active duty for a major disaster or emergency.” The governors were not happy about this proposal, since they want to maintain control of their own National Guard forces, as well as military personnel acting in a domestic capacity in their states.

  • Big Brother wants more and more control, and will manufacture artificial “crises” (think swine flu) to bolster its case

Obama may Drop Public Option in Health Care

The Obama administration signaled Sunday it may drop the idea of a publicly financed insurance option as part of a health care compromise. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the public option “is not the essential element.” She said the administration would consider a bill that includes the creation of a not-for-profit insurance cooperative as an alternative to a government-run plan. “What’s important is choice and competition,” Sebelius said on CNN‘s State of the Union. Taking the public option off the table could lead to friction between President Obama and liberal Democrats who see it as the best way to get to universal coverage. “Without the public option, we’ll have the same number of people uninsured,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, also speaking on CNN. Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, a leading figure in the liberal wing of his party, said Monday he doubts there can be meaningful health care reform without a direct government role.

Cancer Deaths Declining

Cancer death rates are declining, especially among younger people, new research shows. And while cancer is poised to become the number one killer in the United States, topping heart disease, that is because deaths from heart disease have decreased faster than for cancer. Everyone born in the last 60 years has been reaping the benefits of efforts in prevention research and treatment research and early detection research,” said Dr. Eric Kort, lead author of a study appearing in the Aug. 15 issue of Cancer Research. The youngest age group showed the most improvement, with a 25.9% decline in death rates, while death rates in the older age groups decreased a respectable 6.8%. The difference likely reflects early advances in cancer treatment affecting malignancies, such as childhood leukemia, seen in younger people. People quitting smoking has had an enormous impact.

Swine Flu Vaccine Triggers Nerve Disease?

Two letters from the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency to top neurologists, sent on the eve of a massive vaccination program against the H1N1, or swine flu, virus and leaked to a British newspaper, warn doctors to watch for an increase in cases of a fatal brain disorder which could be triggered by the vaccine. Guillain-Barre Syndrome attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal, London’s Mail on Sunday reported. The first round of immunizations is scheduled for October and is set to treat 13 million people, giving priority to “everyone aged six months to 65 with an underlying health problem, pregnant women and health professionals.” Already, concerns have been raised over insufficient testing and lack of knowledge about the new vaccine’s effect on children. The HPA letters, sent to 600 neurologists, cite the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the U.S. in 1976 that caused more fatalities than the influenza.

  • Steer clear of this vaccine. Swine flu has a very low fatality rate.

Deported Felons Sneak Back Across Border

The goal of the U.S. government’s expanding program to rid the country of foreign-born criminals is clear: Find illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes and deport them so they no longer pose a threat to the public. The government has successfully deported hundreds of thousands of foreign-born criminals in recent years. But a significant number have come back again, illegally, to the United States, often to commit more crimes, according to government data. There are no broad government statistics on how many deported criminals re-enter the United States illegally, but arrests by Border Patrol agents in the Tucson region alone suggest the number is high. In fiscal year 2008, 16 percent of the 317,696 immigrants arrested by agents in Tucson, one of nine sectors on the U.S.-Mexican border, were charged with felony counts of re-entering illegally. The government doesn’t have the resources to prosecute all of them, and in the past most were simply just deported again.

57% Don’t See Stimulus Working

Six months after President Obama launched a $787 billion plan to right the nation’s economy, a majority of Americans think the avalanche of new federal aid has cost too much and done too little to end the recession. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found 57% of adults say the stimulus package is having no impact on the economy or making it worse. Even more —60% — doubt that the stimulus plan will help the economy in the years ahead, and only 18% say it has done anything to help improve their personal situation. That skepticism underscores the challenge Obama faces in trying to convince the public that the stimulus has helped turn the economy around. It also could complicate the administration’s plans to overhaul the nation’s health care system. The administration declined to comment on the poll results.

Unemployed in Arizona Not Receiving Checks

Tens of thousands of struggling Arizonans have been stuck in limbo trying to collect unemployment. And the waiting is painful. They’re unable to find jobs. Their savings are gone. They can’t pay bills. People have lost homes, apartments and vehicles. They’ve resorted to hocking valuables and skipping meals. The Arizona Department of Economic Security manages unemployment benefits, and it has been overwhelmed by the worst recession in decades. Department officials are apologetic and say the recession is to blame. Operations are jammed with new and continuing claims, phone lines are flooded each day, and delays in paying out money are among the worst in the country. The U.S. Department of Labor mandates that at least 87 percent of first-time payouts should reach people in 14 to 21 days. In the past year, Arizona met that deadline 68 percent of the time. Thousands of first-time filers in the state have waited months to receive their funds.

Economic News

Regulators on Friday shut down Dwelling House Savings and Loan Association, a small bank in Pennsylvania, boosting to 73 the number of federally insured banks that have failed this year, compared with 25 last year and three in 2007.

N. Korea Lifting Border Restrictions

North Korea agreed Monday to lift border restrictions with South Korea to allow reunions of separated families and restart stalled tourism ventures in its latest gesture of conciliation toward Seoul after nearly 18 months of rising tensions. The North, however, said in a separate statement it was putting its army on “special alert” because of South Korea’s joint military drills with the United States this week, a sign that tension between the rival countries is still running high.

Afghanistan

A suicide car bomb exploded Saturday outside the main gate of NATO’s headquarters less than a week before presidential elections, killing seven and wounding 91 in the biggest attack in the Afghan capital in six months. The bomber evaded several rings of Afghan police and detonated his explosives at the doorstep to the international military headquarters, an assault possibly aimed at sending the message that the Taliban can attack anywhere as Afghans gear up for their second-ever direct presidential election. Militants have warned Afghans not to vote and have threatened to attack voting sites.

Gaza

Islamic radicals from an al-Qaeda-inspired group battled Hamas security in the Gaza Strip Friday in shootouts that killed at least 13 people. The fighting began when Hamas forces surrounded a mosque in the southern Gaza town of Rafah where about 100 members of Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Companions of God, were holed up, including some armed with suicide belts and rifles. The confrontation was triggered when the leader of the group defied Gaza’s Hamas rulers by declaring in a Friday prayer sermon that the territory was an Islamic emirate. Jund Ansar Allah and a number of other small, shadowy radical groups seek to enforce an even stricter version of Islamic law in Gaza and have criticized Hamas for not doing so. They are also upset that the Hamas regime has honored a cease-fire with Israel for the past seven months.

  • Just as the Bible says of Ishmael’s descendents, Islamic terrorist groups also fight among themselves

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.8 earthquake hit between Japan‘s southernmost islands and the coast of Taiwan on Monday, briefly prompting a tsunami warning, the Japanese Meteorological Agency said. The quake struck at 8:06 p.m. ET Sunday about 80 miles southwest of Ishigaki. The Japanese resort island is about 125 miles east of Taiwan and some 1,000 miles south of Tokyo. The quake struck at a depth of about six miles, the agency said. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties on the island, which has a population of 40,000.

A series of earthquakes, ranging in magnitude from 6.7 to 4.7, struck off the western coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island on Sunday, the U.S. Geological Survey said. At least seven people were injured and one building collapsed in Padang City in West Sumatra. The quakes were recorded in the Kepulauan Mentawai region, a chain of islands popular with surfers.

Wildfires

There have been nearly 62,000 wildfires across the USA this year. No state has been hotter than Texas. A withering, two-year drought in central and southern Texas has sparked a wildfire season that has already destroyed the most structures in state history. The state has recorded more than twice as many wildfires — 13,083 — as the second-most-active state, California with 5,749, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The fires have scorched more than 660,000 acres in Texas. Texas’ fires have burned menacingly near some of the state’s most populated cities, such as Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.

Hot, dry winds and high temperatures continued to fan wildfires across California Sunday, pushing firefighters into rugged terrain to contain the flames even as they watch for new blazes. A fire near the Santa Cruz mountain communities of Swanton and Bonny Doon was about 50% contained Sunday, after burning 10 square miles since Wednesday and leading to mandatory evacuations of about 2,400 residents. Santa Cruz’s Lockheed Fire was among 11 burning in the state. A state of emergency was declared in the county, while other blazes forced evacuations and knocked out power in other parts of the state. A fire in Yuba County, north of Sacramento, had burned more than 3 square miles after jumping the Yuba River

Weather

Tropical Storm Claudette made landfall on the Florida Panhandle near Fort Walton Beach early Monday, making it the first named storm to hit the U.S. mainland this year. Even before its arrival, Claudette dumped heavy rains in some areas Sunday. But it was not expected to cause significant flooding or wind damage. Claudette’s maximum sustained winds upon making landfall were near 50 mph.

August 14, 2009

End-of-Life Provision Cut from Health Bill

A Senate panel has decided to scrap the part of its health-care bill that has given rise to fears of government “death panels” in recent days, with one lawmaker suggesting that the proposal was just too confusing. The Senate Finance Committee is taking the idea of “end-of-life care consultations” with doctors off the table as it works to craft its version of health-care legislation, a Democratic committee aide said Thursday. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the committee, said the panel dropped the idea because it could be “misinterpreted or implemented incorrectly.” The decision was an apparent acknowledgment that the provision has become a lightning rod for critics of a proposed overhaul of the U.S. health-care system.

  • The voice of the people has been heard and acknowledged, a real victory regardless of the intent of this particular provision

Protesters Raise Voices to ‘Big Government’

Many of those raising their voices and fists at the town halls have never been politically active. Their frustration was born earlier this year with government bailouts and big spending bills, then found an outlet in the anti-tax Tea Parties in April and has simmered in the punishing recession. Many Americans are adding their voices to a populist backlash evident in the taunts, jeers and rants at lawmakers’ health care forums around the country in the past week and a half. The contentious sessions highlight the difficulty for President Obama and the Democrats as they push for a comprehensive remaking of the nation’s health care system. The protesters have several concerns, but a unifying emotion is distrust of the government and federal intrusion into individual liberties or personal choices. The emerging movement is almost the mirror image of the grass-roots campaign that helped sweep Obama into office by pulling in people who’d never been politically active. This time Obama is seeing the other side of what can happen when people are motivated, connect over the Internet and seemingly reach a tipping point that turns them from onlookers into activists.

The raucous protests at congressional town-hall-style meetings have succeeded in fueling opposition to proposed health care bills among some Americans, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds — particularly among the independents who tend to be at the center of political debates. In a survey of 1,000 adults taken Tuesday, 34% say demonstrations at the hometown sessions have made them more sympathetic to the protesters’ views; 21% say they are less sympathetic. Independents by 2-to-1, 35%-16%, say they are more sympathetic to the protesters now. The findings are unwelcome news for President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders, who have scrambled to respond to the protests.

The health care battle bubbling over in town-hall forums across the country this month is shifting to television screens as groups on each side of the issue launch multimillion-dollar ad blitzes to influence the debate. Advocacy groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AARP are spending a combined $500,000 on health care ads every day, according to the non-partisan Campaign Media Analysis Group, and are reaching TV viewers in more than 20 states. All groups have invested a combined $57 million in health care ads this year.

Officials See Rise in Militia Groups Across US

Militia groups with gripes against the government are regrouping across the country and could grow rapidly, according to an organization that tracks such trends. The stress of a poor economy and a liberal administration led by a black president are among the causes for the recent rise, the report from the Southern Poverty Law Center says. Conspiracy theories about a secret Mexican plan to reclaim the Southwest are also growing amid the public debate about illegal immigration. Bart McEntire, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told SPLC researchers that this is the most growth he’s seen in more than a decade. It’s reminiscent of what was seen in the 1990s—right-wing militias, people ideologically against paying taxes and so-called “sovereign citizens” are popping up in large numbers, according to the report. The SPLC is a nonprofit civil rights group that, among other activities, investigates hate groups.

  • The Constitution says states should be maintaining armed militias. In their absence, citizen groups form, sometimes for the wrong reasons. The SPLC is a liberal group, so it sees all the reasons as hate motivated. But there is a real concern that our Big Brother, debt-ridden government will soon collapse and bring social chaos.

Yahoo Poll Shows Obama Failing

A poll at http://js.polls.yahoo.com/quiz/quiziframe.php?poll_id=46067 shows 80% of nearly 2.5 million voters feel that Obama’s economic program is failing, versus only 18% that feel it is working. Presumably the poll is unbiased, since organizations like Yahoo tend to be quite liberal.

Teen Birth Rate Higher in U.S. than Other Countries

Women in the USA and around the world are waiting longer to start families, shows a new federal report released Wednesday. The average age of new moms was 25 in the USA and 29 in other developed countries such as Japan and Switzerland, it says. The report from the National Center for Health Statistics, shows that on average, new U.S. moms were the youngest of 14 countries reviewed, for both years studied: 21.4 in 1970 and 25.0 in 2006. The reason the average age is younger in the USA than those other countries? The USA’s teen birth rate is much higher, says report co-author T.J. Mathews. Data from the United Nations Demographic Yearbook for 2006 shows that the U.S. teen birth rate was more than eight times higher than in Japan, seven times higher than in Denmark and Sweden, and more than three times as high as in Canada.

  • The U.S. also leads the world in marketing sex in every media venue. Think there’s a connection?

Plan to Put Guard Soldiers on U.S. Border Stalls

A proposed government plan to use National Guard troops to help stem Mexican drug violence along the southern border is stymied by disagreements over who will pay for the soldiers and how they would be used. Ordered by President Obama in June to help secure the border with Mexico, the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security drafted a $225 million program to temporarily deploy 1,500 Guard troops to supplement U.S. Border Patrol agents. The two agencies are wrangling over how to structure the deployment, but the primary sticking point is the money. The funding stalemate lingers even after Obama renewed his commitment to Mexican officials on Monday to reinforce the border and to help Mexico battle the drug cartels. Fierce battles between Mexican law enforcement and the cartels have left as many as 11,000 people dead and fueled concerns about violence spilling into the U.S. Meanwhile, state leaders are getting antsy. Military officials have also balked at having a highly visible uniformed presence at border crossings.

Larger Churches More Likely to Be Conservative

Baptist Press reports that a new Barna survey shows that attendees of larger Protestant congregations are more likely than those in smaller ones to have orthodox beliefs. According to the study of 3,000 adults, people who attend larger churches are the most likely to have biblical, orthodox beliefs on a number of issues: the sinlessness of Jesus, a belief in the importance of evangelism and the accuracy of Scripture, among others. The reason may lie in the relative size of different denominations. The data includes attendees of all Protestant denominations — liberal and conservative ones — and other surveys have shown that the larger the church, the more likely it is to be a conservative one. Only 21 percent of megachurches of more than 1,000 people are affiliated with mainline liberal Protestant denominations.

Obama Facing Looming Social Security Crisis

As Congress agonizes over health care, an even more daunting and dangerous challenge is bearing down: how to shore up Social Security to keep it from burying the nation ever deeper in debt. What to do about mushrooming government payments as millions of baby boomers retire? How about a giant federal Ponzi scheme? That might work for a while. But wait. That’s pretty much the current system. Social Security takes contributions from today’s workers and uses them to pay the old-age benefits that were promised to retirees. But there are serious concerns how long that can last. President Barack Obama has said he’ll tackle Social Security and related “entitlement” programs when the health care overhaul is resolved. But the anger and intensity of that debate could complicate his effort.

As in a Ponzi scheme, the concept works fine at first. So long as there are more new “investors” pumping money into the system to pay off the earlier ones, everyone is happy. But at some point not enough new money is coming in and the scheme collapses. With baby boomers working, Social Security — the biggest social spending program — has produced a surplus that has helped finance the rest of the government for the past quarter century. But that will change within a decade. Trustees of the system recently said that in 2016 — a year earlier than previously forecast — money paid out in benefits will start exceeding the tax dollars flowing in. With no changes, Social Security will be completely depleted in 2037, the trustees said.

Economic News

The consumer price index was flat in July vs. June, but the past 12 months it took the biggest drop since 1950, the Labor Department said Friday. In a second report Friday, the Federal Reserve said industrial production at the nation’s factories, mines and utilities rose more than expected in July, with the first gain in nine months driven by increased output from auto companies. The Fed says industrial production rose 0.5% in July, after falling in 17 of the previous 18 months.

Sales at retailers unexpectedly fell in July from June, a government report showed Thursday, and new claims for unemployment benefits rose, casting a shadow over an anticipated rebound in the third quarter. The Commerce Department said retail sales edged down 0.1% after increasing a revised 0.8% in June. The Labor Department says new claims for unemployment benefits increased to a seasonally adjusted 558,000 in the latest week, from 554,000 the previous week. But the number of people remaining on the benefit rolls fell to 6.2 million from 6.34 million the previous week.

The stock market’s enthusiasm over the government’s “cash for clunkers” program waned in the face of data suggesting consumers have exchanged old cars for newer models only at the expense of other retail spending. Stocks fell sharply Friday as investors worried that nervous consumers will short-circuit the economic recovery.

  • Apparently it’s our patriotic duty to spend, spend, spend – just like the government

Home sales rose in most of the country in the second quarter compared with the first, a trend driven by falling prices, lower interest rates, and a tax credit for first-time home buyers. The sales increase is viewed as a positive sign that the struggling housing market is showing more signs of stabilization, even though foreclosures continue to escalate. Existing home sales rose 3.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.76 million units in the second quarter. That is still 2.9% below the second quarter of 2008.

But foreclosures are rising, and that’s pulling down home prices. Foreclosure filings were reported on 360,149 properties in July, according to a RealtyTrac report today. That’s an increase of nearly 7% from the previous month and a jump of 32% from July 2008.

The U.S. trade deficit edged up slightly in June as imports rose for the first time in 11 months, another sign that the worst recession since World War II is beginning to loosen its grip on the economy. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the deficit rose 4% to $27 billion, from May’s $26 billion. The May imbalance had been the lowest deficit in nearly a decade.

The recession in the 16 countries that use the euro eased substantially between April and June after unexpected growth in Germany and France, the currency bloc’s two largest economies, official figures showed Thursday. Euro zone gross domestic product fell by only 0.1% in the second quarter from the previous three month period. That was the fifth straight quarterly decline, but the drop was much less than expected and provides the clearest evidence so far that the worst of the recession appears to be over.

Pentagon Offers Grim Afghan Report

The Pentagon presented a grim portrait of the Afghanistan war Thursday, offering no assurances about how long Americans will be fighting there or how many U.S. combat troops it will take to win. Defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda will take “a few years,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, with success on a larger scale in the desperately poor country a much longer proposition. He acknowledged that the Taliban has a firm hold on parts of the country President Obama has called vital to U.S. security. With 62,000 U.S. troops already in the country, and another 6,000 headed there by the end of the year, Gates suggested there is little appetite in Washington to add many more. Obama has made Afghanistan one of his top foreign policy priorities.

Pakistan

Fierce clashes between Taliban fighters and those loyal to a pro-government warlord killed at least 70 people Wednesday, intelligence officials said, a week after a CIA drone reportedly killed the top Taliban leader in Pakistan. The battles pitched Taliban militants against followers of tribal warlord Turkistan Bitani. Pakistan’s army sent in helicopter gunships as reinforcements to pound about 300 Taliban fighters attacking Bitani’s mountain stronghold.

Polio Surges in Nigeria

Polio, a dreaded paralyzing disease stamped out in the industrialized world, is spreading in Nigeria despite efforts to stamp it out. And health officials say in some cases, it’s caused by the vaccine used to fight it. So far, 124 Nigerian children have been paralyzed this year — about twice those afflicted in 2008. The polio problem is just the latest challenge to global health authorities trying to convince wary citizens that vaccines can save them from dreaded disease.

For years, myths have abounded about vaccines — that they were the Western world’s plan to sterilize Africans or give them AIDS. The sad polio reality fuels those fears and underscores the challenges authorities face using a flawed vaccine. Nigeria and most other poor nations use an oral polio vaccine because it’s cheaper, easier, and protects entire communities. But it is made from a live polio virus — albeit weakened — which carries a small risk of causing polio for every million or so doses given. In even rarer instances, the virus in the vaccine can mutate into a deadlier version that ignites new outbreaks.

The vaccine used in the United States and other Western nations is given in shots, which use a killed virus that cannot cause polio. So when WHO officials discovered a polio outbreak in Nigeria was sparked by the polio vaccine itself, they assumed it would be easier to stop than a natural “wild” virus. They were wrong. Genetic analysis proves mutated viruses from the vaccine have caused at least seven separate outbreaks in Nigeria.

Weather

Floods and mudslides unleashed by Typhoon Morakot last weekend have killed about 500 people on Taiwan. Morakot left 7,000 people homeless and caused agricultural and property damage in excess of $1.5 billion, the most severe damage to the island in 50 years.

Hurricanes in the Atlantic are more frequent than at any time in the last 1,000 years and could get worse due to global warming, according to a study published in the journal Nature. There were a record 15 Atlantic hurricanes, including hurricane Katrina, in 2005. These peaks contrast with lulls in hurricane frequency that the study identified before and after the 1000 A.D. peak, when 8 or 9 hurricanes occurred each year, Nature says.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more unstable regardless of whether global warming is real, human-induced or not

Wildfires

An extended drought throughout California is helping fuel a blaze along the central coast, forcing more than 2,400 people from their homes in communities about an hour south of San Francisco. The Lockheed Fire ignited Wednesday evening in the Santa Cruz Mountains, burning through 2,800 acres and forcing mandatory evacuations for the communities of Bonny Doon and Swanton. Because the fire is burning through canyons in the mountains, heavy machinery cannot reach the fire, forcing hand crews to try and stem the out-of-control blaze.

Also in California, the La Brea fire in the Los Padres National Forest continues to burn and is only 10% contained after consuming 48,457 acres (almost 76 square miles). The Big Pole fire in Utah has burned 43,923 acres and 11 structures. Another wildfire in Texas has destroyed 18 structures and burned 8,568 acres.

August 12, 2009

Christian ‘Fish’ Symbol Spawns Discrimination Claims

Two Virginia realtors have been taken to task by the state’s Fair Housing Board for using the Ichthys, or “Jesus fish,” and John 3:16 in their advertising. Allegedly, the person that made the complaint believes that it was illegal because it seemed to indicate that they were only soliciting Christian clients and, therefore, was tantamount to some form of discrimination. However, Dr. Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission points out the realtors see their business as their ministry. “In fact, they are self-identified as Christian ministers who support Christian missions, and they felt that it was important to advertise that — but they in no way discriminated against any potential client,” he adds.

School Officials Face Jail Time for Meal-Time Prayers

A principal and an athletic director are facing criminal charges for a lunch-time prayer. The two school officials are facing criminal charges for offering meal-time prayers at an appreciation dinner for adults who had helped with a school field house project. Principal Frank Lay and athletic director Robert Freeman are scheduled to go on trial next month on criminal contempt charges. If convicted, both are subject to fines and imprisonment. Matt Staver founder of Liberty Counsel, says “it is outrageous to punish a school official with potential jail time for simply praying.”

  • Christian persecution will continue on the upswing as the end-times roll on

Big Brother Britain Spies on Questionable Families

Great Britain plans to place 20,000 24-hour surveillance cameras in troubled homes in order to cut down on abuse and neglect. The British government said in late July that it will monitor the activities of thousands of “problem families” who have run afoul of social services officials. In addition, those same families will be subject to surprise inspections by government representatives. Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council tells OneNewsNow that “they are focusing on truancy, alcohol abuse, or reports of malnutrition, and parents will be monitored to make sure children go to bed on time, eat proper meals, and attend school.” Sprigg says that is chilling, and argues that what the government should challenge are the underlying causes of abuse, but not invade the privacy of homes. In all, there are 4.2million closed circuit TV cameras in Britain, one per every 14 people.

  • America’s spiritual parent, Britain, shows where the New World (Dis)Order will soon be taking our country – down the path of increased government intrusion and control

Homeschoolers Score Higher

A newly released study from the Home School Legal Defense Association shows that not only do homeschoolers incur expenses only 5 percent of what public schools spend on each student, they score nearly 40 points higher on standardized achievement tests. “These results validate the dedication of thousands of homeschool parents who are giving their children the best education possible,” said Michael Smith, president of the advocacy organization. The HSLDA said homeschooling in the United States already includes about 4 percent of the school-aged population and is growing at about 7 percent a year, now involving some two million children.

  • An additional benefit to homeschooling is removing our children from the secular humanism indoctrination centers also known as public schools.

Substantial Reduction’ in Tobacco Sales to Minors

Retail sales of tobacco products to people under 18 are at the lowest level they have been in many years, says a report being released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The national rate of tobacco sales to minors for fiscal 2008 was 9.9%, compared with 16.3% in 2002 and 40.1% in 1997. The report also indicates that for the third year in a row, all 50 states and the District of Columbia are in compliance with the Synar Amendment, a federal regulation that aims to reduce young people’s access to tobacco by requiring states to implement laws and other programs that limit the sale of tobacco to minors. States that don’t comply with the law may face a 40% reduction in their Federal Substance Abuse and Prevention Treatment Block Grant funding, the report says.

Obama Law Tab up to $1.4 Million

President Obama may be using his political action committee funds to stomp out eligibility lawsuits brought by Americans, as he has paid more than $1.35 million to his top lawyer since the election. Obama for America, Obama’s 2008 political campaign, merged with the Democratic National Committee in January and is now known as Organizing for America. The grassroots army that some refer to as “Obama 2.0” is still collecting financial contributions. Federal Election Commission records for “Obama for America” show that the lobby organization has paid international law firm Perkins Coie exactly $1,352,378.95 since the 2008 election. In total, Obama has paid Perkins Coie, a single law firm, $2.3 million since he announced his campaign for presidency. Robert Bauer of Perkins Coie – top lawyer for Obama, Obama’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and Obama’s Organizing for America – is the same Washington, D.C., lawyer defending President Obama in lawsuits challenging his eligibility to be president

  • Except for the eligibility question, it’s hard to see why a sitting president would require so much legal work, especially when he has the Attorney General on staff

GOP Sidesteps Palin’s ‘Death Panel’ Comment

Republican governors said Monday that Americans are justifiably frightened by health care proposals but stopped short of embracing Sarah Palin‘s suggestion that President Obama would require the elderly and disabled to appear before a bureaucratic “death panel.” A provision in the plan passed by a House committee last month would allow Medicare to reimburse seniors who seek information and counseling on end-of-life issues. That provision has sparked a backlash among opponents, who suggest the plan would deny coverage to elderly or disabled people. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said the anger expressed at town hall meetings across the country was “democracy in action” and legitimately reflected the concerns many voters have about the health care plan. The House’s top two Democrats said Monday that some of the behavior of health care overhaul opponents, specifically drowning out opposing views, is “simply un-American.”

Religious Left backs Obama on Health Overhaul

Liberal religious groups announced Monday they are teaming up with President Obama in a national campaign to counter the surprisingly vehement conservative opposition to his plan for overhaul of the U.S. healthcare industry this year. Organized by liberal-leaning evangelicals, some mainline Protestant clergy, and some Catholic groups, it will include Obama participating in a call-in program with religious leaders streamed on the Internet on Aug. 19, prayer meetings and nationwide television ads. Anger fueled in part by Christian and conservative radio that healthcare would lead to taxpayer funded abortion and even euthanasia for the old, have incited much of the loudest and most dramatic reaction.

  • The liberal left is selling Christ down the drain and joining forces with the “progressive, tolerant” agenda of the New World (Dis)Order

School Nurses in Short Supply

If swine flu reappears in schools this fall, it’ll probably be a school nurse who first discovers it. But nationwide, the ratio of nurses to students falls short of the federally recommended standard, raising concerns that the shortage could undermine efforts to catch and control what could be a deadly flu season. In its 2007 survey, the National Association of School Nurses found the ratio was 1,151 students per nurse. In 13 states, the ratio is more than 2,000 to 1. The association recommends a 1-to-225 ratio for schools that require “daily professional school nursing services” and 1-to-125 in schools with “complex health care needs.”

Will Americans be Forced to take Flu Shots?

Alarmist language over possible outbreaks of swine flu as well as a series of moves by the federal government are fueling fears federal agents will soon be forcing citizens to be vaccinated – prompting one political party to launch a pre-emptive defense against any such effort. The Constitution Party, a fast-growing alternative to the dominant Democratic and Republican parties in many elections, has come out strongly in opposition to any “mandatory injections” of “potential toxic (H1N1) ‘swine flu’ vaccine.” Citing the Fourth Amendment, which says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons … shall not be violated,” Constitution Party National Committee Chairman Jim Clymer said the issue isn’t that complex. “It comes down to the most fundamental of all freedoms. If government can force potentially dangerous substances into our bodies what, then, can’t government do to us?” he said.

House’s Global Warming Bill: $8B

It will cost nearly $8 billion over the next decade to pay for the expanded federal bureaucracy needed to combat global warming under a bill passed by the House of Representatives, a report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says. The budget office also found that the House bill would shrink the federal deficit in that 10-year period because it requires businesses to buy permits to emit global-warming pollution. That would add hundreds of billions of dollars to federal coffers. Critics of the House bill have seized on the increased size of government to try to stir opposition in the Senate, which is scheduled to consider its climate-change bill in the fall. Meanwhile, July 2009 was officially the coldest July on record in six U.S. states, and the second coldest in four others. However, for the world as a whole, July was the 2nd-warmest ever recorded.

  • More federal bureaucracy when it’s already overly bloated and stultified. But we know from experience that a federal bureaucracy will solve the problem, don’t we?

Soaring Deficit may Defy Forecasts

Stagnant unemployment, shrinking tax revenue and a struggling economy threaten to quadruple the size of last year’s federal budget deficit, raising more questions about the timing of costly proposals to overhaul health care. A fiscal year 2009 deficit of $1.8 trillion was anticipated by the White House, $1.7 trillion by Congress. Reaching that level would produce a deficit four times last year’s $459 billion deficit, just as Congress is considering health care overhaul plans that could cost $1 trillion over 10 years. While revenue continues to decline, government spending is rising as a result of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan passed six months ago. Stimulus spending will increase further The total current $11.7 trillion debt already equals about $38,500 for every U.S. resident.

  • We need to drastically shrink government or drown in debt

Economic News

The Labor Department said Tuesday that non-farm productivity rose at a 6.4% annual rate in the second quarter, much more than expected and the biggest gain since the third quarter 2003. The report said hours worked plunged at a 7.6% rate in the second quarter. And unit labor costs, a gauge of inflation and profit pressures closely watched by the Federal Reserve, fell 5.8%, biggest decline since the second quarter 2000. The productivity number shows that companies have taken advantage of their slimmed-down workforces by wringing more out of each employee.

Businesses slashed inventories at the wholesale level for a record 10th consecutive month in June, a decline that has contributed to the longest recession since World War II. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that wholesale inventories declined 1.7% in June. But in an encouraging sign, sales rose 0.4% for a second straight month, the first back-to-back increases in a year. The hope is that a rebound in sales will encourage businesses to switch from reducing their stockpiles to building up inventories to meet rising demand.

Despite signs the financial system has stabilized, banks remain threatened by billions of dollars of bad loans on their balance sheets, and more could fail if the economy worsens, a congressional watchdog panel says. Ten months into the federal rescue program, the troubled assets “remain a substantial danger to the financial system,” the report says.

Personal bankruptcies show no sign of abating after rising more than a third this year and may hit 1.4 million by Dec. 31 as jobs are lost and loans are harder to get, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. More than 126,000 consumers filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. last month, 34% more than in July 2008. Steeply rising bankruptcy filings by consumers are hurting banks.

Iran Leaders Pave Way for Messianic ‘Mahdi’

Iran last week held a multi-day conference, bringing together politicians, mullahs, students – Shiite and Sunni alike – to plot what can be done on this earthly plane to hasten the coming of the anointed one, a messianic, endtimes personage known as the Mahdi. It wasn’t a conference covered by the western press. But Joel Richardson, author of the new book, “The Islamic Antichrist,” conducted interviews with participants of this year’s conference, as well as previous conferences, which have been held for the last five years – all in a bid to lay the groundwork for an apocalyptic vision of the day Muslims will rule the world. “For the past five years, the Iranian religious and political leaders have annually gathered together for two days in the city of Qom for what is called ‘The International Conference of Mahdism Doctrine,’ sponsored by the Bright Future Institute,” explains Richardson in a WorldNetDaily commentary. “The purpose of the Bright Future Institute is ‘to introduce Imam Mahdi to the world’ and ‘to pave the ground for his reappearance’ and as [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad stated at last year’s conference, ‘help bring all of humanity to the knowledge of the true savior of mankind, Imam al-Mahdi.'”

  • The devil has a counterfeit for everything

Pakistan’s Nuclear Facilities Vulnerable?

A military spokesman denied a recent report that militants have attacked Pakistan’s nuclear facilities three times in two years, saying Wednesday there is “absolutely no chance” the country’s atomic weapons could fall into terrorist hands. Taliban militants’ brief takeover of areas some 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad, raised new fears about the security of Pakistan’s atomic weapons being seized by extremists linked to al-Qaeda, although the country insists its arsenal is secure. Shaun Gregory, a professor at Bradford University’s Pakistan Security Research Unit, wrote that several militant attacks have already hit military bases where nuclear components are secretly stored.

5 Foreign Islamic Preachers Killed in Somalia

Masked gunmen killed five foreign Islamic preachers Wednesday outside a mosque in Somalia, witnesses said. The preachers are believed to be Pakistanis. It is not clear who is behind Wednesday’s killing. Somali militiamen rarely target religious preachers, known as Tabliq, who freely move around the overwhelmingly Muslim country. Somalia has been mired in anarchy and chaos for 18 years. Warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, plunging the country into a seemingly unending cycle of violence.

Death Toll Climbs in Islamic Attack in Nigeria

Compass Direct News reports that 12 Christians, including three pastors, have been confirmed killed in rioting ignited by an Islamic sect, but that number may rise. “We are still taking inventory of how the crisis affected our members, but so far we have confirmed some of the Christians killed and churches burnt,” Samuel Salifu, national secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Compass. Rampaging members of the sect burned 20 churches before police captured and killed Boko Haram’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf. The chairman of the Borno state chapter of CAN, the Rev. Yuguda Zubabai Ndurvuwa, said many Christians abducted by Boku Haram extremists were yet to be found.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake hit Tokyo and nearby areas shortly after dawn Tuesday, halting trains and forcing two nuclear reactors to shut down for safety checks. More than 30 people suffered minor injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey said another, unrelated quake with a 7.6 magnitude hit the Indian Ocean about 160 miles (257 kilometers) north of Port Blair in India’s Andaman Islands.

Wildfires

Although the wildfire season hasn’t produced any monster blazes this year in the southwest, it’s keeping firefighters hopping to contain smaller breakouts. “There are lots of fires – lots,” said Jim Payne, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service’s Southwest region.

Two wildfires on opposite ends of California prompted evacuations as a blaze in Shasta County closed in on a handful of homes and another in Santa Barbara County approached 14 ranches Tuesday afternoon. About 111 square miles of the Los Padres National Forest, mostly inaccessible backcountry, were closed

Weather

A massive landslide triggered by a deadly typhoon toppled at least six four-story apartment buildings at the foot of a mountain, burying an unknown number of residents in eastern China, a state news agency said Tuesday. Six people were pulled out alive, although one was in critical condition. Typhoon Morakot, which means emerald in Thai, forced the evacuation of 1.4 million people in eastern China after slamming Taiwan over the weekend with as much as 80 inches of rain. Taiwanese authorities put the confirmed death toll in Taiwan at 23, but that seemed certain to rise. Taiwan’s military has rescued about 300 people from a village wiped out by a mudslide triggered by Typhoon Morakot.

August 10, 2009

Pro-Family Leaders Fight Congress to Save DOMA

Providing federal benefits for domestic partners, such as same-gender couples living together, could lead to litigation. Recently a communication from the White House began the process of providing some benefits of marriage for domestic partnerships, not including health insurance. Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel believes that action could violate the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. That law protects the traditional view of marriage. Staver told OneNewsNow that when the federal government gives marital benefits to same-gender couples, it is violating DOMA, which Congress is bound to implement and obey. “For federal purposes, the marriage definition is one man and one woman — and therefore, you can’t recognize a relationship that is similar to or approximates marriage as one man and one woman or treat it like marriage.”

  • Breaking down the God-created family structure is Satan’s number one goal

Obama’s Ambitious Reforms Lose Steam

President Barack Obama’s ambitious legislative agenda has stumbled on Capitol Hill, imperiling not only his marquee health-care reform initiative but complicating efforts to reform energy and immigration policies. Senate and House Democratic leaders missed Obama’s deadline on health-care reform, and Congress has left Washington for its annual August recess without passing any legislation on what is considered the administration’s No. 1 priority. Its momentum slowed by Democratic infighting between moderates and progressives, the debate over national health care now moves back to fall as the White House and Democratic leaders reconsider their strategies and goals. At the same time, Republican health-care reform foes, who call the Democratic approach too costly and intrusive, are invigorated.

The public’s gloves are starting to come off over gov­ern­ment health­care, while Obama’s approval num­bers fall like a rock.  Cur­rently, he is even below where Jimmy Carter was at the com­pa­rable time in 1976. A recent AARP meeting turned ugly as mem­bers protested AARP’s sup­port of health­care leg­is­la­tion; meeting leaders packed up their stuff and ran out of the meeting. Town hall meet­ings are turning vio­lent all over the country. Physi­cians jammed into a meeting in Houston in protest of the prospect of social­ized medicine. The liberal media are working overtime to spin the grassroots opposition to ObamaCare as an “orchestrated” effort that is funded by Big Business.

Public Divided on Healthcare Reform

As supporters and opponents of overhauling the health care system try to shape public opinion at congressional town-hall-style meetings, both sides face a big complication: Public opinion on the issue is complex in ways that defy an easy Republican-Democratic divide. Analysis of a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds views on what priority to emphasize, how fast to act and what’s important to protect vary and sometimes conflict depending on a person’s age and region of the country, whether he or she has insurance, and is healthy or ailing. Seniors are by far the most resistant to the idea of changing the current system — an opening for opponents who have focused on proposed cuts in Medicare spending and accusations about planning for “end-of-life” care.

The idea of controlling insurance costs has broader support overall than expanding coverage for the uninsured, which has prompted the White House to begin describing its goal as “insurance reform.” Two-thirds of blacks and six in 10 Hispanics say the key goal should be expanding coverage to the uninsured, but six in 10 whites say controlling costs is the priority. There’s less urgency for healthcare reform among those who have insurance and whose health is excellent or good — groups that make up the majority of those polled.

Drug Industry to Bailout Healthcare?

The nation’s drugmakers stand ready to spend $150 million to help President Barack Obama overhaul health care this fall, according to numerous officials, a staggering sum that could dwarf attempts to derail Obama’s top domestic priority. The White House and allies in Congress are well aware of the effort by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a somewhat surprising political alliance, given the drug industry’s recent history of siding with Republicans and the Democrats’ disdain for special interests. The campaign, now in its early stages, includes television advertising under PhRMA’s own name and commercials aired in conjunction with the liberal group, Families USA. Any health care bill that makes it to Obama’s desk is expected to extend health insurance to the nearly 50 million who now lack it. That would mean a huge new pool of potential customers for drug companies and other health care providers. That, in turn, has created an incentive to offer concessions to the White House and lawmakers in hopes of shaping the bill, rather than simply opposing it.

Swine H1N1 Flu

Fifty-one American troops in Iraq have been diagnosed with and treated for swine flu, while another 71 soldiers remain in isolation suspected of contracting the potentially deadly virus, the U.S. military said Sunday. A woman in the southern holy Shiite city of Najaf died of the disease, raising fears about a possible outbreak among worshippers making pilgrimages to the revered sites.

National Guard to Hire Internment/Resettlement Specialists

An ad campaign featured on a U.S. Army website seeking those who would be interested in being an “Internment/Resettlement” specialist is raising alarms across the country, generating concerns that there is some truth in those theories about domestic detention camps, a roundup of dissidents and a crackdown on “threatening” conservatives. The ads, at the GoArmy.com website as well as others including Monster.com, cite the need for: “Internment/Resettlement (I/R) Specialists in the Army are primarily responsible for day-to-day operations in a military confinement/correctional facility or detention/internment facility. I/R Specialists provide rehabilitative, health, welfare, and security to U.S. military prisoners within a confinement or correctional facility; conduct inspections; prepare written reports; and coordinate activities of prisoners/internees and staff personnel. At a NationalGuard.com website, a front page video describes the position thoroughly.

  • The National Guard’s focus is domestic, not foreign.

States Bank on Gambling to Boost Revenue

States are aggressively expanding legalized gambling, eager to shore up battered revenue sources during the economic crisis and concerned that residents will cross state lines to gamble elsewhere if they don’t. Gambling will expand in about a dozen states this year in an effort to generate an extra $2 billion in gambling taxes by 2010, a record-breaking increase if state projections are accurate. States collected $6.8 billion in gambling revenue in 2008, about 1% of all tax revenue. Gambling taxes fell 2.2% last year, despite the opening of new casinos and the installation of 37,000 new slot machines. Legalized gambling has grown for two decades, the big jumps occurring during economic downturns.

California Won’t Accept Its Own IOUs”

Small businesses that received $682 million in IOUs from the state say California expects them to pay taxes on the worthless scraps of paper, but refuses to accept its own IOUs to pay debts or taxes. The vendors’ federal class action claims the state is trying to balance its budget on their backs. Vendors say California has used them as “suckers” as it looks for a way to bankroll its operations while avoiding its own financial obligations. “Instead of seeking funds through proper channels, the State has created a nightmare,” the class action suit says. “Many of these businesses will not survive if they are required to wait until October 2009 to have these forced IOUs redeemed by the State.” The lawsuit claims the state is violating the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. It demands that California be ordered to honor its own IOUs, plus interest.

Wall Street Bankers Still Raking in Billions

Despite all the apparent momentum building to rein in runaway pay, it looks as if Wall Street’s compensation practices will largely emerge unscathed. Flush from two quarters of profits and having repaid the government its bailout money, Goldman Sachs has set aside $11.36 billion for compensation and benefits in the just first six months of the year, a 33% increase from last year. JPMorgan Chase, which also has paid back taxpayer money, reported record second-quarter revenue and has carved out $14.5 billion for pay in the first half of the year, up 22%. While Morgan Stanley, too, has repaid the government, the bank recorded its third-consecutive loss in the second quarter. Despite that, the bank has set aside $6 billion so far this year for compensation expenses, and $3.87 billion just in the second quarter, which represents 72% of its revenue. The Wall Street community is not particularly plugged into the public sentiment,” says Peter Cappelli, management professor at Wharton business school. “It’s a culture that hasn’t cared very much about the political realities elsewhere.”

  • Unrestrained greed, the god of this age, has not only infected Wall Street but also Main Street. The “something for nothing” mentality drove ordinary people to assume mortgages they couldn’t afford and to buy pricy electronic toys instead of saving for a rainy day, all of which has contributed to bankrupting America.

Economic News

The federal deficit grew by another $181 billion in July. Bailouts for financial firms and billions in tax revenue lost because of the recession drove the total deficit to a record $1.3 trillion in July, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Spending through July of 2009 has increased by $530 billion, which is 21 percent over the same period in 2008.

Regulators on Friday shut down two banks in Florida and one in Oregon, bringing to 72 the number of federally insured banks to fail this year under the weight of the weak economy and rising loan losses. There were 25 bank failures nationwide last year and three the year before.

Consumers paid down their credit cards and cut other debt in June for the fifth straight month as they rebuild savings battered by the recession. Outstanding U.S. consumer debt fell $10.3 billion, or 4.9% at an annual rate, to $2.5 trillion. June’s reduction follows a 2.6% cut in May and a steep 8.2% drop in April, when consumers reduced their borrowing $17.4 billion. That was the most in dollar terms on records dating back to 1943.

The U.S. price of gasoline jumped nearly 16 cents a gallon during the past two weeks to $2.64. The average price for a gallon of mid-grade was $2.77. Premium was at $2.88. Charleston, S.C., had the lowest price, $2.38 for a gallon for regular. Honolulu was the highest at $3.07.

Angola

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton the first secretary of state to visit Angola in seven years, signed a new agreement with Angolan health officials to help treat and control the spread of HIV/AIDS. The Obama administration will more than double funding for Angola to combat the disease, from $7 million to $17 million. On Sunday, she urged Angola’s government to build on successful legislative elections held in 2008 — the first in 16 years — by holding presidential elections as soon as possible and dealing with the legacy of 27 years of civil war.

  • A worthy cause, no doubt, but one wonders where the bankrupt U.S. will find the extra money

Iraq

A double truck bombing tore through the village of a small Shiite ethnic minority near the northern city of Mosul, while blasts in Baghdad Monday also targeted Shiites in a wave of violence that killed at least 45 people and wounded more than 200, Iraqi officials said. The attacks provided a grim example of U.S. military warnings that insurgents are targeting Shiites in an effort to re-ignite the kind of sectarian violence that nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007. The U.S. military has stressed that despite the rise in attacks, the Shiites are showing restraint and not retaliating as they did more than two years ago when a similar series of attacks and bombings provoked a Shiite backlash that degenerated into a sectarian slaughter claiming tens of thousands of lives.

Iran

Dozens of opposition activists and protesters stood trial in Tehran Saturday on charges of rioting and plotting to topple the ruling Islamic system following the disputed presidential election. The mass trial in Tehran’s hardline Revolutionary Court demonstrates the government’s resolve to discredit the reform movement in one blow and bring an end to anti-government protests that have persisted since the June 12 election. During the session, a prosecutor read out an indictment outlining what he said was plans by the U.S. and Britain to foment unrest in Iran with the aim of toppling the ruling Islamic system through a “soft overthrow”, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Pakistan

Pakistan‘s prime minister pledged on Thursday to review laws that may be sharpening tension among Pakistan’s religious communities, days after a Muslim mob burned homes in rioting that left eight Christians dead. The killings Saturday in the eastern city of Gojra came amid concerns that rising extremist Islam has deepened the vulnerability of Pakistan’s minorities. “A committee … will discuss the laws detrimental to religious harmony to sort out how they could be improved,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told a gathering in Gojra. His announcement suggests the government may seek to change Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which can carry the death penalty for those convicted of insulting Islam.

The Associated Press reports that last weekend’s deadly attack on Christians was planned by an group with al-Qaida links. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan head Asma Jahangir, interviews with victims’ families and witnesses said many attackers came from a neighboring district known as a stronghold of banned militant groups. “The attackers seemed to be trained for carrying out such activities,” she said. Muslim clerics were also implicated, she said, as many of them had encouraged Muslims the day before to “make mincemeat of the Christians.” Other reports indicate that militants fleeing an army offensive in northwest Swat Valley were also involved in the killings. The verbal attacks culminated in mob violence that killed eight Christians.

Afghanistan

Insecurity in significant portions of Afghanistan has hindered election preparations and disproportionately affected Afghan women, a report co-authored by the U.N. mission in the country said. Afghans will vote for president and provincial councils in a nationwide election Aug. 20, which the Taliban has vowed to disrupt. Violence has “severely limited freedom of movement and constrained freedom of expression for candidates and supporters, hampering their ability to campaign openly through public gatherings or door-to-door visits,” the joint report from the U.N. mission and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said.

The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas. Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come. Gen. McChrystal said the Taliban are moving beyond their traditional strongholds in southern Afghanistan to threaten formerly stable areas in the north and west.

Venezuela

President Hugo Chavez told his military on Sunday to be prepared for a possible confrontation with Colombia, warning that Bogota’s plans to increase the U.S. military presence at its bases poses a threat to Venezuela. Chavez has issued near daily warnings that Washington could use bases in Colombia to destabilize the region since learning of negotiations to lease seven Colombian military bases to the United States. Colombian officials say Venezuela has no reason to be concerned, and that the U.S. forces would help fight drug trafficking.

Honduras: Political Instability Hurts Missions

Mission News Network reports that political limbo in Honduras has hampered missions and compounded a growing humanitarian problem. Twenty-four hour curfews have prevented people from accessing water, food, medical care and even shelter. Military troops patrol many areas of the country, raising tensions even higher. John Lowrey with Christian Resources International says his group’s mission trip has been continually pushed backward, ultimately leading them to cancel the trip. “We did go ahead and ship all of the materials that we intended to use for our ministry while we were in country,” Lowrey said. “We shipped it to [a Honduran pastor] so those resources are there. And we also had a pastor and his wife from Mississippi that chose to go ahead and do the trip on their own.”

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake struck off the south coast of Japan on Sunday night local time, “jolting Tokyo and wide areas of eastern Japan,” the country’s Kyodo news agency reported. The 7.1 earthquake hit 200 miles (320 kilometers) south-southwest of Tokyo. Its epicenter was 188 miles (303 kilometers) deep, the USGS said. There were no immediate reports of damage.

Weather

A powerful typhoon toppled houses, flooded villages and forced nearly 1 million people to flee to safety on China’s eastern coast before weakening into a tropical storm Monday. Hundreds of villages and towns were flooded and more than 2,000 houses collapsed, the official Xinhua News Agency said.  The storm struck after triggering the worst flooding in Taiwan in 50 years, leaving hundreds missing or unaccounted for and bringing down a six-story hotel. It earlier lashed the Philippines, killing at least 22 people.

A 50-year government study found that the world’s glaciers are melting at a rapid and alarming rate. The ongoing study is the latest in a series of reports that found glaciers worldwide are melting faster than anyone had predicted they would just a few years ago. The Arctic Ocean has given up tens of thousands more square miles of ice in a relentless summer of melt, with scientists watching through satellite eyes for a possible record low polar ice cap.