Judge Blocks Parts of New Arizona Abortion Law

A state judge has blocked implementation of key parts of a new Arizona law restricting abortion, a day before they were to take effect. Judge Donald Daughton of Maricopa County Superior Court late Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction granting most of a request by Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest abortion provider. Daughton’s order allows a 24-hour waiting period to take effect, but blocks parts requiring that a woman see a doctor in person for advance disclosures before getting an abortion. Other blocked provisions include a requirement that parental consents for a minor’s abortion be notarized and a ban on nurse practitioners performing abortions. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said they were reviewing Daughton’s order to determine how to proceed. The preliminary injunction will stay in place unless it is successfully challenged in court.

N.Y. Health Care Workers Protest Mandatory Swine Flu Shots

Several hundred health-care workers, civil libertarians and members of anti-vaccine groups on Tuesday railed against a mandate that medical professionals get seasonal and swine-flu vaccines. Nurses and other health-care workers said they shouldn’t be forced to get a vaccine that they don’t believe has been tested appropriately as a condition of keeping their jobs. But the state health commissioner said their arguments are baseless. The state Hospital Review and Planning Council unanimously approved a requirement that health-care workers in hospitals, outpatient clinics and home-care programs receive seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines by Nov. 30, unless they have medical reasons why they cannot.

‘Public Option’ Health Insurance on Respirator

A Senate committee drafting health care legislation soundly rejected two versions of a proposed government-run program Tuesday. Supporters of the “public option” vowed to resurrect the provision later this fall. Moderate Democrats twice voted with a unanimous bloc of 10 Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee to beat back attempts by more liberal Democrats to insert the public option into the $900 billion, 10-year plan under consideration by the committee. Defeat of the public option underscored divisions among Democrats. Supporters of a public insurance program, including President Obama, have argued it would lower health care costs by offering competition to private insurance companies. Most Republicans counter that a government-run plan would drive private insurers out of business.

  • Now it’s time to pull the plug and kill the plan altogether.

Five More Nuke Plants Spotted in Iran

Deep-cover MI6 agents who have described the workings of the once-secret underground uranium enrichment plant near the Iranian city of Qom now have discovered a staggering five more similar operations, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the online newsletter published by the founder of WorldNetDaily. They, like the Qom facility, are buried deep inside the mountains of north Iran and are guarded by divisions of Revolutionary Guards. The MI6 agents have established that, like Qom, the new plants are staffed by nuclear scientists from Iran’s main weaponization program. It is known by the acronym Metfaz, and is headquartered at 180 Western Avenue in the Pars district of eastern Tehran.

  • There isn’t just smoke anymore, it’s a major fire

Earthquakes/Tsunamis Rock Samoa/Indonesia

A powerful earthquake in the South Pacific hurled a massive tsunami at the shores of Samoa and American Samoa, flattening villages and sweeping cars and people out to sea, leaving at least 99 dead and dozens missing. Survivors fled the fast-churning water for higher ground and remained huddled there hours after the quake struck early Tuesday. Four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high roared ashore on American Samoa, reaching up to a mile inland. Signs of devastation were everywhere, with a giant boat washed ashore lying on the edge of a highway and floodwaters swallowing up cars and homes. The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck around dawn about 125 miles from Samoa, an island nation of 180,000 people located about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. It struck about 120 miles from neighboring American Samoa, a U.S. territory that is home to 65,000 people. Hampered by power and communications outages, officials struggled to determine damage and casualties.

A major earthquake that struck Indonesia Wednesday killed at least 13 people and injured hundreds more. The 13 were crushed when the quake collapsed buildings. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami alert for Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Thailand. The Indonesian agency said the tremor had a magnitude of 7.6. Its epicenter was just off the coast of Sumatra The shaking could be felt in high buildings in the capital, Jakarta, several hundred miles, kilometers away and in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

4 Million on AIDS Drugs; 5 Million Waiting

United Nations health officials estimate about 4 million people who need AIDS drugs worldwide are now getting them, a 10-fold jump in five years,.according to a report issued Wednesday. The figure represents a major increase in rolling out the drugs to patients across Africa, where the AIDS epidemic is focused, but an estimated 5 million or more across the globe are still waiting for the drugs. Overall, about 44% of people with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa who need AIDS drugs are now taking them. In the U.S., about 71% of patients who need the AIDS drugs are taking them. Last year, the global community spent nearly $9 billion on AIDS. For every dollar spent on public health, AIDS gets about 23 cents. It causes about 4% of deaths globally.

Americans Say Public Schools Flunking

The U.S. public school system is failing dismally, according to a new WorldNetDaily/Wenzel poll that reveals “barely half believe the public schools are providing students a comprehensive basic education.” “The American public education system is in deep trouble and faces an uncertain future,” Fritz Wenzel of Wenzel Strategies, wrote in his analysis of the results. According to Wenzel, “A major problem, the [education] poll shows, stems from the curriculum. Just 29 percent said they think schools are teaching appropriate subjects, while 50 percent said they believe the public schools are dabbling in topics in the classroom in which they have no business.” He said the current system has significantly stronger support among Democrats, who split on that question 38 percent to 38 percent. Sixty-five percent of Republicans think the public schools teach improper subjects, while just 15 percent said they think the subject matter is proper. Among independents, 47 percent said they think some topics in public schools are improper, while 35 percent said they are appropriate. Half of all respondents – 50 percent – said they think American kids are falling short internationally because they are lazy.

Extended School Year Would Have Dire Economic Effects, Critics Say

If the academic year gets pushed deeper into summer, as President Obama is advocating, the grumbling will not be limited just to students and teachers who will be forced to spend more days in school. Critics say the president’s call for a longer academic calendar and a shorter summer vacation will bring on a host of unintended consequences — including increased costs for school systems, major cuts to the nation’s hotel and tourism industries, and a serious blow to summer camp operators. Obama says kids in the U.S. spend too little time in the classroom, putting them at a disadvantage when competing with students in other countries. The president has suggested that making school days longer and extending the school year will increase learning, raise test scores and close the achievement gap.

Number, Role of Obama’s Policy ‘Czars’ Spark Debate

The latest skirmish between conservatives and the Obama administration — the proliferation of “czars” named by the president to handle pressing issues — is prompting efforts in Congress to put limits on the White House. Lawmakers from both political parties agree that the term itself is subjective, and they acknowledge that they aren’t sure how many czars there are — or whether some of the special advisers are even czars at all. “The question is: What do these guys do, and how much are they costing us?” says Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. He is sponsoring a bill to withhold funding from any top policy adviser not confirmed by the Senate, which signs off on Cabinet secretaries and other top officials. In the Senate, Democrats, such as Robert Byrd of West Virginia, are questioning the constitutionality of the advisers the White House says it needs to coordinate policy and advise the president on issues from health care to the Middle East. Republicans, such as Susan Collins of Maine, are trying to curb funding for them. Unlike Cabinet secretaries, who regularly testify before Congress, most special advisers are accountable only to the president. Some, such as Carol Browner, who oversees climate change and energy issues, earn $172,200 a year, according to the White House’s report on staff salaries.

Scammers Hit Twitter with Tainted Tweets

A flurry of tainted micropostings is swamping Twitter with malicious scams, making it tougher to trust tweets even from people you know, security researchers say. Several attacks that launched last week used tried-and-true e-mail spamming techniques. “We’re seeing old scams migrating to the popular social networks,” says Matt Marshall, lead researcher at Redspin, which tests network defenses. Two began when crooks created Twitter accounts en masse, then sent tweets carrying links to promotions for fake anti-virus protection. One wave keyed off Twitter’s top 10 “trending topics,” spreading bad links in tweets purportedly about subjects generating the most microposts globally. Another copied tweets sent by real people and resent them with links triggering fake anti-virus pitches.

  • In some ways, cyberspace is more dangerous than the real world because the crooks have greater anonymity. At least it’s not violent crime.

Income Gap at Record Level

The recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans as rippling job layoffs ravage household budgets. The wealthiest 10% of Americans — those making more than $138,000 a year — earned 11.4 times the $12,000 or so made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008, according to newly released census figures. Household income declined across all groups, but more sharply for middle-income and poor Americans. Median income fell last year from $52,163 to $50,303, wiping out a decade’s worth of gains to hit the lowest level since 1997. the median is the midpoint — half of households made more, half less. Poverty jumped sharply to 13.2%, an 11-year high Analysts attributed the widening gap to the layoffs in the economic downturn that have devastated household budgets. They say while the richest Americans may be seeing reductions in pay, those at the bottom of the income ladder are often unemployed and struggling to get by.

Economic News

A closely watched index of home prices shows year-over-year improvement for the sixth month in a row. Prices rose in all but two of 20 cities surveyed from June to July. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday says prices rose 1.2% from June. although home prices are still 13.3% below July a year ago.

Controversial bank account fees, which have fattened banks’ bottom lines at the expense of vulnerable consumers, are rapidly becoming a black eye for the industry. Under siege are the fees charged to consumers who spend more than they have in their accounts, whether by check, debit card or at the ATM. Last week, four of the nation’s largest banks said they would scale back some of their overdraft policies. Their efforts, while meaningful, have failed to appease lawmakers, including powerful Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who is preparing legislation to crack down on what he calls a pattern of “abusive” practices.

U.S. bank regulators, expecting bank failures to cost $100 billion through 2013, said Tuesday that they plan to make banks prepay three years worth of deposit insurance premiums in an attempt to salvage the fund that insures bank deposits. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) says the insurance fund will technically run out of money Wednesday, drained by $25 billion worth of bank failures this year and nearly $18 billion in 2008.

The percentage of Arizonans living in poverty increased twice as fast as the national average last year. New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that an estimated 938,924 residents were in households below the poverty level. That computes out to 14.7 percent of the state. Mississippi tops the list with 21.2 percent of its population considered living in poverty.

The average retail price for gasoline dipped below $2.50 a gallon for the first time in two months Monday as swelling oil supplies and slumping demand overshadowed even a fire at a major U.S. refinery. Gas is 11 cents less than a month ago, and nearly $1.16 below what drivers were paying at this time last year.

Mexico Aging Quickly

Long known for big families with numerous children, Mexico is going gray. The population 60 and older is growing twice as fast as in the United States as life expectancy climbs and birth rates drop. And new programs — from a Senior University to free Viagra — are being set up to cater to them. In an affluent area of Mexico City where elementary schools have closed or shrunk because families are having fewer children, the city government opened a university in April only for people 60 and older. In the past, the Mexican government offered few benefits to seniors because children usually took care of their aging parents, but the dropping birthrate means there are fewer children to share the responsibility. The federal government stepped in two years ago by giving subsidies of 500 pesos a month, about $38, to people 70 and older in poor areas. Mexico City started its own subsidy program in 2001, giving $61 a month to people 68 and older.

157 Dead in Guinea Opposition Protest

Doctors treated hundreds of injured civilians Tuesday, a day after soldiers fired at a pro-democracy rally in the capital’s stadium as the death toll in the West African country rose to 157, local Red Cross officials said. More than 1,000 were wounded. Burned-out cars littered quiet streets Tuesday morning as most terrified residents stayed home. At least two police stations were torched after the shooting spree and were blackened shells. Tensions have risen in Guinea amid rumors that military leader Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara may run in presidential elections set for Jan. 31. “The killing of dozens of unarmed protesters is shocking even by the abusive standards of Guinea’s coup government,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

24 Killed in Nepal Church Collapse

Police in Nepal say a church has collapsed in the eastern part of the country, killing at least 24 people and injuring an additional 62. Police official Arjun Khadka says several people were gathered in the eastern town of Dharan for a Christian conference and most of them were sleeping in the building when it collapsed early Wednesday. Among those killed were 17 women and four children. The area is about 240 miles southeast of the capital, Katmandu.

Afghanistan

After nearly eight years of war, Afghanistan’s security forces are still plagued by corruption, high levels of absenteeism, a lack of proper training and an excessive dependence on their American counterparts, U.S. commanders and troops in the field say. The security forces’ persistent flaws are one of the biggest considerations facing President Obama as he evaluates potentially major changes to the U.S. war strategy here. Other recent complications include the resurgence of the Taliban insurgency and this summer’s disputed presidential elections, but the performance of the Afghan army has a direct impact on how long the U.S. military must remain here. In describing his long-term exit strategy for Afghanistan, Obama has spoken of the need to produce a large, professional Afghan force that will take control so that U.S. troops can then depart — much as is happening in Iraq.

Iraq

The top general in Iraq is sending home thousands more U.S. troops by the end of October as the American military pulls back from the six-year war. Army Gen. Ray Odierno said in remarks prepared for a congressional hearing Wednesday that the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq will total about 120,000 over the next month. He said that will mean about 4,000 fewer troops than are in Iraq now — about the size of an Army brigade.

Pakistan

Intelligence officials say a suspected U.S. missile attack has killed six alleged militants in northwestern Pakistan. The strike Wednesday by an unmanned U.S. plane was the third attack in 24 hours against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets close to the Afghan border.

Weather

Officials say the death toll in the massive flooding in the Philippine capital and surrounding areas has climbed to 246 people, with 38 others missing. The National Disaster Coordinating Council said Tuesday the homes of nearly 1.9 million were inundated, with nearly 380,000 people brought to schools, churches and other evacuation centers. The extent of devastation became clearer Monday with mud-covered communities, cars upended on city streets and huge numbers of villagers without drinking water, food and power.

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