Southerners Lead U.S. in Religious Devotion

There’s a reason the South is known as the Bible belt: A survey shows that Southerners— and Mississippians in particular — are most active in their religious practices and beliefs. Residents of Mississippi ranked first among Americans in all four measures of a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, with 82% saying religion is very important in their lives. Five other states had at least seven in 10 people stating that religion holds that kind of importance for them: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and South Carolina. Pew researchers found New Hampshire and Vermont to be the states where the lowest percentage of respondents viewed religion as very important in their lives.

Climate History Gets ‘Erased’ Online

A new report reveals a British scientist and Wikipedia administrator rewrote climate history, editing more than 5,000 unique articles in the online encyclopedia to cover traces of a medieval warming period – something Climategate scientists saw as a major roadblock in the effort to spread the global warming message. Recently hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit expose a plot to eliminate the Medieval Warm Period, a 400-year era that began around A.D. 1000, the Financial Post’s Lawrence Solomon reports. A 1995 e-mail predating the recent Climate Research Unit scandal was sent to geophysicist David Deming. A major climate-change researcher told Deming, “We have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period.” One chief practitioner identified as Keith Briffa, said in a Sept. 22, 1999, e-mail, “I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards ‘apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data’ but in reality the situation is not quite so simple. … I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1,000 years ago.”

Senate health care bill passes

After 25 consecutive days of debate, the U.S. Senate today approved sweeping health care legislation, moving a goal that has eluded Democratic presidents since Franklin Roosevelt closer to enactment than ever before. President Obama, who put off his Hawaii Christmas vacation to remain in town for the 60-39 vote, says the legislation goes a long way toward meeting the goals he set in last year’s campaign. “I am very satisfied,” the president told the PBS NewsHour in an interview on the eve of the roll call. Underscoring the administration’s support for the bill, Vice President Biden exercised his prerogative to chair the Senate for a roll call vote that took place as the sun was rising over the Capitol Dome. It was the first time since 1963 that the Senate met on the day before Christmas and the first time since 1895 that senators cast a roll call vote on this day. The Senate vote now sends the legislation to a conference committee, where Democratic leaders will try to reconcile differences between House and Senate bills. Each chamber will then vote again on a final bill next year. Deep divisions over abortion are the party’s biggest obstacle to combining the Senate and House bills, which also differ on a public plan and how to pay to expand insurance coverage.

Democrats say the bill will improve the nation’s health and economy by making insurance available to 31 million Americans who do not have it and by preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions. It also allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26, and it addresses the so-called “donut hole” in Medicare that forces seniors who have prescription drug costs of more than $2,700 a year to pay the full amount until the tab reaches $6,154. The bill would require most individuals to purchase health insurance and offer subsidies for those who cannot afford the coverage. It also makes companies with more than 50 employees subject to penalties if they do not provide health care and their workers require subsidies. Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Republicans argued that the bill will make health care more expensive for most Americans, limit Medicare benefits for senior citizens and raise the national debt.

Health Bill Mandates Insurance Coverage

The House and Senate bills revamping health care require most Americans to carry health insurance or pay a penalty. Yet government mandates don’t necessarily ensure compliance: Not all Americans buckle up, or get their children vaccinated. Some health experts worry the proposed penalties are too low and that many younger, healthier people may opt to pay the fee and gamble on their health. That could drive up the costs of covering older and sicker people. Yet Congress risks a political backlash if penalties are too steep, particularly among those who earn too much to qualify for subsidies. Under the Senate bill, people who don’t buy coverage would face a maximum penalty of $95 beginning in 2014. That would jump in 2016 to $750 or 2% of their annual income up to the cost of the cheapest health plan, whichever is greater.

  • Mandated health insurance. What aspect of our lives is next on the mandate list for our socialist government?

Health Care: Republicans Blast States’ Special Deals

Dubbing them the “Louisiana purchase” and the “Cornhusker kickback,” Republicans on Sunday attacked special deals for individual states included in the health care bill heading for a Senate vote this week. Aimed at a small group of Democratic senators who were wavering on the underlying 10-year, $871 billion health care bill, the carveouts for Nebraska, Louisiana and other states represent hundreds of millions of dollars. Hours after the bill was unveiled, Republicans zeroed in on a new provision that would provide tens of millions of dollars in funding to Nebraska, home to Sen. Ben Nelson. Nelson was the last Democrat to support the measure and did so after days of intense talks with Reid and the White House over abortion. Last-minute deals came a month after Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., agreed to vote to start debate on the bill after scoring a $300 million bump in Medicaid funding for her state.

Senators Overseeing Health Bill Get PAC Money

As the health care bill moves toward a critical vote in the Senate, the five senators charged with overseeing the floor debate count health interests among their biggest campaign contributors, records show. The political action committees and employees of drug makers Schering-Plough and Amgen have been the top two contributors in the past five years to Montana Sen. Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is one of three senators managing the bill for Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In all, health care interests have donated more than $2.5 million to Baucus’ fundraising committees since 2005, the center’s data show. Health care interests also dominate contributions to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, giving more than $1.3 million to the five-term senator between 2005 and this year. The political action committee and employees of Amgen top his list of contributors during the same period. Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny said “there’s no relationship” between contributions and legislation.”

  • No Relationship? Sure, right. History has shown a strong correlation between campaign contributions and legislation. Money talks, voters are ignored.

Health Experts Worried by Apathy on Swine Flu

Now that the vaccine is finally available to anyone who wants it, public-health officials are noticing a drop-off in demand. The growing complacency about the novel flu virus is likely the result of multiple factors, experts say. The illness is spreading more slowly than it was earlier this fall, people are preoccupied with the holidays, and surveys suggest that many people are still concerned about the vaccine’s safety. The growing apathy worries public-health officials, who predict the H1N1 virus will re-emerge and cause another round of widespread illness in the coming months, during what is typically the peak flu season.

  • The public is simply tired of the over-hyped virus that fell well short of the experts’ dire warnings

Senate Raises Government Debt Ceiling to $12.4 Trillion

The Senate voted Thursday to raise the ceiling on the government debt to $12.4 trillion, a massive increase over the current limit and a political problem that President Obama has promised to address next year. The Senate’s rare Christmas Eve vote, 60-39, follows House passage last week and raises the debt ceiling by $290 billion.. The vote split mainly down party lines, with Democrats voting to raise the limit and Republicans voting against doing so. The bill permits the Treasury Department to issue enough bonds to fund the government’s operations and programs until mid-February. The Senate will vote again on the issue Jan. 20. Obama must sign the measure into law to prevent a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. obligations. The government piled up a record $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009 to counter a meltdown in financial markets and help bring the nation out of its worst recession in seven decades.

  • This massive increase in debt only get us through another six weeks, then they’ll vote to increase the limit again. The albatross of debt continues to increase at a record rate and will soon destroy the value of the dollar

Census Reports Slow Growth/Immigration

Population growth nearly ground to a halt this year in many longtime boom states, a sign the recession has taken a toll on the migration habits of Americans. The Census Bureau’s new state population estimates released today reported that more people moved from Florida and Nevada to other states this year than moved in. Both states experienced modest population growth this year because of births. California had its fourth-lowest growth rate since 1900. Texas was a key exception among boom states, gaining 478,000 residents, more than any other state. The U.S. population grew to 307 million, up 0.86%, the slowest growth rate this decade.

Pay Czar Agrees to Let AIG boost Exec’s Pay

A top executive of American International Group has been granted a $4.3 million pay-package bump by the troubled insurance giant’s majority owner — the U.S. government — because the executive has decided to remain with the company. Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration’s pay czar, approved an AIG request to grant the executive a long-term compensation package that includes stock options with a current value of $3.26 million and an additional incentive award of up to $1 million. The package comes on top of the executive’s 2009 base salary of $450,000.

  • Pay Czar? Very troubling, very socialistic. Just the fact that we actually have a Pay Czar is a problem, let alone granting a pay-package “bump” equivalent to almost 10 times the execs base salary. These are indeed perilous times.

Economic News

Personal incomes rose in November at the fastest pace in six months while spending posted a second straight rise. The report raises hopes that the recovery from the nation’s deep recession might be gaining momentum. The 0.4% rise in incomes followed a 0.3% October gain.

Home resales surged 7.4% in November from October, to the highest level in nearly three years, as the federal tax credit spurred buying, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday. Sales were 44% above last year’s level, a record jump. However, sales of new homes plunged unexpectedly last month to the lowest level since April, a sign the housing market recovery will be rocky. The Commerce Department says November sales fell 11.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 355,000. The reason for the difference in new vs. pre-owned is that people are buying up cheaper foreclosed homes.

The economy grew at a much slower pace than initially thought in the third quarter, restrained by weak business investment and a slightly more aggressive liquidation of inventories, according to the latest data. The Commerce Department’s final estimate showed gross domestic product grew at a 2.2% annual rate instead of the 2.8% pace it reported last month. It was still the fastest pace since the third quarter 2007 and ended four straight quarters of decline.

New claims for unemployment benefits fell 28,000 in the latest week, to a lower-than-expected 452,000, sign of a more stable labor market. The four-week average for claims, which smooths out fluctuations, fell to 465,250 — the16th straight weekly decline, the Labor Department said

Uganda Pastors Chide Rick Warren, Defend Anti-Gay Bill

The Christian Post reports that a proposed anti-homosexuality law in Uganda has split Ugandan and American pastors. Ugandan pastors late last week demanded an apology from California megachurch pastor Rick Warren after he appealed to Uganda’s pastors to oppose the bill. The pastors accused Warren of “very inappropriate (sic) bully use of your church and purpose driven pulpits to coerce us into the ‘evil’ of Sodomy and Gaymorrah (sic),” the pastors, which include Martin Ssempa, state in a letter emailed to Warren. Ssempa and supporters say the bill is misunderstood, and only extends current rape statutes to same-gender incidents. Warren and others note that the bill would force pastors to report gays instead of counseling them, while inflicting life imprisonment on those found guilty.

Sudan on Brink of New War, Diplomat Warns

Baptist Press reports that Sudan may again face war between northern Muslims and southern Christians and animists unless the international community pressures the government of President Omar al-Bashir. According to South Sudan’s top diplomat in the United States, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, an estimated 400,000 civilians have died in the ongoing genocide in Darfur and more are threatened by a scheduled referendum in April. That referendum on secession could derail the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a war in which about 2.5 million southern Sudanese people died. International Christian Concern’s regional manager for Africa, Jonathan Racho, said, “We are very concerned about the possibility of another jihad against Christians and animists in South Sudan as well as the ongoing genocide in Darfur.”

Mexico

Mexico City lawmakers on Monday made the city the first in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, a change that will give homosexual couples more rights, including allowing them to adopt children. The bill calls for changing the definition of marriage in the city’s civil code. Marriage is currently defined as the union of a man and a woman. The new definition will be “the free uniting of two people.” The bill passed the capital’s local assembly 39-20 and leftist Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of the Democratic Revolution Party was widely expected to sign the measure into law. Mexico City’s left-led assembly has made several decisions unpopular elsewhere in this deeply Roman Catholic country, including legalizing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. That decision sparked a backlash, with the majority of Mexico’s other 32 states enacting legislation declaring life begins at conception.

China

The World Trade Organization‘s top arbitrators upheld a ruling that China is illegally restricting imports of U.S. music, films and books, and Washington pushed forward with a new case accusing China of manipulating the prices for key ingredients in steel and aluminum production. Monday’s verdict by the WTO‘s appellate body knocked down China’s objections to an August decision that came down decisively against Beijing‘s policy of forcing American media producers to route their business through state-owned companies. If China fails over the next year to bring its practices in line with international trade law, the U.S. can ask the WTO to authorize commercial sanctions against Chinese goods.

Iraq

A bomb targeting a church in northern Iraq killed two men and damaged the historic building Wednesday, a day before Christmas Eve services that will be heavily guarded for fear of more attacks on the country’s Christian minority. The bomb in the city of Mosul was hidden under sacks of baking flour in a handcart left 15 yards (meters) from the Mar Toma Church, or the Church of St. Thomas,. The blast damaged the wooden doors, windows, some furniture and one of the walls of the church, which is more than 1,200 years old.

Iran

Security forces clashed with opposition protesters gathered Wednesday for a memorial for Iran‘s most senior dissident cleric, beating men and women and firing tear gas The gathering at the main mosque in the central city of Isfahan, 200 miles (325 kilometers) southeast of Tehran, was meant to honor Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the spiritual leader of the Iranian reformist movement who died Sunday. His death set off large memorial ceremonies that turned into pro-opposition protests in defiance of a months long government crackdown on protesters rallying against the disputed June presidential elections. Iran has been in turmoil since the vote, which the opposition alleges Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by fraud.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside a press club in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, leaving three people dead. Seventeen other people were injured in the attack, many of whom were traveling in a bus that was passing the press club when the explosion occurred. Peshawar has been hit by at least seven attacks in the past two months in retaliation for a military offensive launched in mid-October against the militant stronghold of South Waziristan in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area near the Afghan border. A suicide bomber struck a neighborhood full of government buildings in Pakistan‘s main northwest city Thursday, killing four people and underscoring that militant groups retain strength despite being under siege by the army.

Haiti

Poverty has forced at least 225,000 children in Haiti‘s cities into slavery as unpaid household servants, far more than previously thought, a report said Tuesday. The Pan American Development Foundation’s report also said some of those children — mostly young girls — suffer sexual, psychological and physical abuse while toiling in extreme hardship. Young servants are known as “restavek” — Haitian Creole for “stays with” — and their plight is both widely known and a source of great shame in the Caribbean nation that was founded by a slave revolt more than 200 years ago. The report recommends Haiti’s government and international donors focus efforts on educating the poor and expanding social services such as shelters for girls, who make up an estimated two-thirds of the child servant population.

Weather

A massive winter storm threatened to spoil Christmas travel plans for much of the nation with road closures forecast for highways in the Plains, hundreds of canceled flights in Chicago and Minneapolis and flash-flood warnings in the Southeast. The “big, big storm” is forecast to blanket Kansas, northern Colorado, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri with up to 2 feet of snow, said Bruce Terry, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service. Winds of up to 40 mph and snow drifts several feet deep are likely, Terry said. Snow on Wednesday caused 260 flight cancellations in Chicago’s two major airports.

A sudden dust storm Tuesday spawned a series of collisions involving as many as 20 vehicles on Interstate 10 south of Phoenix, leaving at least four people dead. A second series of accidents was reported farther south along the main route between Tucson and Phoenix. The midday accidents led authorities to close I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson.

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