Archive for January, 2010

January 29, 2010

U.S. Passes 50 Million Abortion Mark

Baptist Press reports that at some point during the past two years the United States experienced its 50 millionth legal abortion. The statistic — which spans the 37 years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 — is based on data compiled by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute and tallied by the National Right to Life Committee. The 50 million mark was passed in 2008 and likely approached or reached 52 million in 2009, although data is not yet available for that year. In contrast, the combined number of military deaths in all of America’s wars — from the Revolutionary War to the second Iraq war — is 1.2 million.

Obama Message Turns from Hope to Cope

President Obama‘s speech to a joint session of Congress a year ago was filled with a sense of soaring possibility. On Wednesday night, his State of the Union Address centered instead on hard times and tough choices. The bold promises of last year — a determination to tackle not only a floundering economy but also overhaul health care, limit greenhouse gas emissions and more — have given way to legislative stalls and the electoral jolt of this month’s Republican upset in the Massachusetts Senate race. Now, Obama has narrowed his sights, put his focus squarely on the need to create jobs and added a freeze on domestic spending to reassure independent voters nervous about the billion-dollar bailouts of the past year.

In a nationally televised address, he sought to reframe his presidency as he begins the second year of his tenure. Obama didn’t reverse positions he took a year ago, but he did reorder priorities and recast his message. The health care bill he once demanded be passed last fall is in legislative limbo, and while he called action essential, he didn’t outline a strategy to push it through. In the speech, Obama’s tone was unapologetic and direct, at times almost scolding, warier than before. That was an acknowledgement of a hard political fact: if Obama was unable to push through signature initiatives during the heady first year of his presidency, he is less likely to achieve lofty ambitions during his second year, when members of Congress are focused first on their own re-election battles.

GOP Calls for Limited Government in Its Response

Republicans accused President Obama of long-windedness, hypocrisy and egotism after the State of the Union Address on Wednesday, a night the GOP used to showcase a shift of political momentum in its favor. “It was a needlessly partisan speech at a time when Americans were looking for the president to move to the center and build coalitions,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Party leaders tapped Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, one of three Republicans who have scored statewide victories since Obama’s 2008 election, to deliver the party’s official response. Speaking before a live audience in Virginia’s 318-year-old House of Delegates, McDonnell called for limited government that does not “pile on more taxation, regulation and litigation that kill jobs.”

Obamacare on ‘Life Support’ as Dems Turn to Jobs, Not Healthcare

President Barack Obama’s health care appeal failed to break the congressional gridlock Thursday, dimming hopes for millions of uninsured Americans. Democrats stared down a political nightmare — getting clobbered for voting last year for ambitious, politically risky bills, yet having nothing to show for it in November. Democrats are quickly distancing themselves from President Barack Obama’s signature legislative effort.  “It’s very possible that health care is just a stalemate and you can’t solve it this year,” said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. Obama’s health care overhaul is “on life support,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., “but it still has a pulse.”  If Obama and Democrats fail to pass any legislation this election year, Washington would still face the problem of millions of uninsured, rising medical costs and a dwindling Medicare trust fund forecast to run out of money in 2017.

Little Progress Seen Against Health Insurance Fraud

Two years after the federal government started its latest push to crack down on Medicare fraud, the number of people charged with ripping off health care insurers has barely changed, Justice Department records show. That effort comes at a critical time, because the White House and lawmakers are hoping to use savings from anti-fraud measures in the government-run health plan to help pay for health care legislation. Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion a year, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday. Federal prosecutors charged 803 people with defrauding medical insurers in the fiscal year that ended in September, Justice Department records show. That’s up about 2% since the government began deploying “strike forces” to target fraud in 2007. Nearly all of the charges involved attempts to cheat Medicare. Fraud in the health care system is now “totally out of control,” said Louis Saccoccio, head of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association.

New Orleans, Haiti Linked by History and Tragedy

The USA Today reports that Haiti and New Orleans have shared deep cultural and historical ties, dating to when several shiploads of 19th-century Haitian refugees fleeing the Caribbean island’s slave revolts relocated to New Orleans, forever stamping their culture on the city. Now the two places share another, less-desirable commonality: near-total destruction of their cities. French colonists from Saint-Domingue — later renamed Haiti — had traveled to New Orleans since the early 1700s, says Emily Clark, an associate professor of history at Tulane University. That connection flourished in 1809 and 1810, when 10,000 refugees arrived in New Orleans from Saint-Domingue, she says. The refugees were a combination of French colonists, their slaves and free people of color who had fled the slave uprisings. Another thing the Saint-Domingue refugees brought to New Orleans: voodoo. “Our whole culture is steeped in Haiti and steeped in voodoo,” says Sallie Ann Glassman, a leading New Orleans voodoo priestess. “That mix of African slaves and European Catholics — it certainly left its footprint all over.”

  • As the end-times continue to unfold, unGodly abominations such as voodoo will bring destruction raining down on the perpetrators.

German Evangelical Homeschoolers granted Asylum in Tennessee

A German couple who fled to Tennessee so they could homeschool their children was granted political asylum Tuesday by a U.S. immigration judge. The decision clears the way for Uwe Romeike, his wife and five children to stay in Morristown, Tennessee, where they have been living since 2008. Romeike says his family was persecuted for their evangelical Christian beliefs and for homeschooling their children in Germany, where school attendance is compulsory. Parents can face fines or prison time if they don’t comply.

  • Since homeschoolers are mostly Christian, the New World Order will be pushing for compulsory attendance in their public school indoctrination centers worldwide, including the U.S.

Federal Government to Cut its Emissions 28%

The federal government, the nation’s largest energy consumer, will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 28% over the next decade, the White House announced Friday. The council says the reduction in energy use in the government’s 500,000 buildings and 600,000 vehicles will be equal to taking 17 million cars off the road for a year or not consuming 205 million barrels of oil.  The 28% overall goal was reached after 35 agencies, complying with an executive order issued by President Obama in October, set targets for reducing the gases that scientific data suggest cause the Earth to warm.  “It’s a real opportunity to lead by example,” says Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). “And not just for the environment but to spur innovation and create jobs and savings.”

Cold Snap Killed Florida Coral

A cold snap earlier this month killed or bleached significant amounts of coral in the waters off South Florida and the Florida Keys, according to an analysis this week by Nature Conservancy scientists. “About 50 to 70 percent of the entire coral reef is dead in the upper Keys,” said Meaghan Johnson, marine science coordinator with the Nature Conservancy. The culprit was the 12 consecutive days of extremely cold weather from Jan. 2-14 in Florida. Although coral bleaching and death is most frequently associated with unusually warm water temperatures, coral also can’t withstand water temperatures below 60 degrees.

  • Global warming, where are you?

Cell Phone Bans Have No Impact on Drivers

A national crackdown on distracted driving takes an unexpected turn today. A new study shows that the number of traffic crashes did not drop in three states and the District of Columbia after they banned drivers from using handheld cellphones. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), examined insurance claims for crash damage in New York, Connecticut, California and Washington, D.C., before and after handheld bans took effect and found no reduction in crashes. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and auto club AAA said the study’s implications were unclear. Both also said the findings should not be interpreted to suggest that banning texting while driving would be ineffective.

$5,000 Tax Credit for Each New Job

President Obama will promote tax cuts for small businesses Friday as he continues his renewed focus on job creation, but some of the nation’s job creators are dubious. One sentence from his State of the Union address Wednesday night will become the focus of his visit to Baltimore: a $5,000 tax credit for each job created on a net basis in 2010, up to $500,000 per company. The idea is to prod companies to hire more workers. Small companies also can raise wages or hours and be reimbursed for the Social Security payroll taxes. Either way, the White House says, tax cuts for small business should lower the cost of hiring workers. There’s only one problem: Business groups say the credit won’t do much to boost hiring. “I really don’t think it’s going to be much of an incentive,” says Bill Rys, tax counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business. “Mostly it is going to be used by businesses that would have been hiring anyway.”

Economic News

The U.S. economy grew for a second straight quarter from October through December, posting a 5.7% annual growth rate, the fastest pace since the third quarter of 2003. The Commerce Department report Friday is the strongest evidence to date that the worst recession since the 1930s ended last year. The two straight quarters of growth last year followed a record four quarters of economic decline. Still, the growth at the end of last year was primarily fueled by companies refilling depleted stockpiles, a trend that will soon fade. The country’s economy declined 2.4% in 2009, the largest drop since 1946.

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, but less than expected, fresh evidence the job market remains a weak spot in the economy. And in a second report Thursday, the government said orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods posted a modest increase in December, but the gain wasn’t enough to keep orders from plunging a record amount for the entire year. For all 2009, durable goods orders plunged 20.2%.

New-home sales unexpectedly fell 7.6% last month, capping the industry’s weakest year on record. The results were the weakest since March and indicated demand remains sluggish despite newly expanded tax incentives to spur sales. Only 374,000 homes were sold last year, down 23% from a year earlier and the weakest year on record, dating back to 1963. December’s sales pace was up 4% from the bottom in January 2009, but down 75% from the peak in July 2005.

Phoenix’s budget troubles came into sharper focus Thursday as City Manager David Cavazos proposed shutting down senior centers, libraries and sports complexes, and laying off hundreds of police officers and firefighters for the first time in decades. The plan would help close Phoenix’s $242 million deficit, balancing the general-fund budget through fiscal year 2011. Cavazos’ proposal would eliminate 1,379 of the city’s 16,000 positions, including 353 police officers and 144 fire fighters.

Ford said today it earned a profit of $2.7 billion in 2009, a stunning improvement over its historic, $14.7-billion loss in 2008, especially for a year that saw industry sales drop to their lowest level since 1982. It also marks the company’s first full-year profit since 2005. Ford was the only U.S. automaker to refuse government bailout money.

Average college endowment returns plummeted 18.7% last year, the worst decline for higher education since the Great Depression. Overall, higher education endowments fared better than other indexes; the widely used S&P 500 was down 26.2% over the same period, the 12 months ending last June 30.

Christians Celebrate Victory on UK Equality Bill

Christianity Today reports that Christians in the United Kingdom are breathing a sigh of relief after an amendment protecting religious groups was tacked onto the controversial Equality Bill. The bill would have prevented churches and other religious groups from discriminating against potential hires for reasons of sexuality, religion or belief. Lady O’Cathain’s amendment, which passed the House of Lords on Jan. 25, allows churches to pick job candidates according to their values. “Surely churches should be free to employ people whose conduct is consistent with church teaching,” said the Christian Institute’s Mike Judge. “Surely that’s not asking too much. It’s called freedom of association, and it’s a key liberty in any democratic society. The fact that the Government couldn’t see this will concern many Christians.”

Haiti

There are 160 aid agencies and governments registered in Haiti, providing hundreds of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to the relief effort. There are 43 hospitals and 12 field hospitals operating from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel, a coastal city southwest of the capital, the U.N. says. About 200,000 people have been injured; the latest estimates from the Haitian government say at least 111,500 are dead. Medical care is moving from triage care to post-operative care, particularly for the thousands that have received amputations. The need for emergency surgical care has declined significantly, but there is a worrisome development. Cases of tetanus have been reported, as well as suspected cases of measles. An outbreak would be another major challenge to doctors here.

Bandits in Haiti are preying on vulnerable earthquake survivors, even raping women, in makeshift camps which were set up in the capital of Port-au-Prince after the disaster. “We have more than 7,000 detainees in the streets who escaped from the National Penitentiary the evening of the earthquake… It took us five years to apprehend them. Today they are running wild,” Haiti’s national police chief Mario Andresol said Thursday.

Iran

Iran on Thursday executed two men accused of involvement in an armed anti-government group, as the public prosecutor announced that new death sentences have been issued against opposition activists involved in protests over June’s disputed presidential election. The media’s depiction of the executions may aim to intimidate the opposition ahead of new street demonstrations expected in February. In a further move likely aimed at cowing protesters, Tehran‘s prosecutor announced that five people have been sentenced to death for involvement in the most recent major demonstrations, on Dec. 27.

Afghanistan

World leaders meeting in London on Thursday agreed on a timetable for the handover of security duties in Afghan provinces starting in late 2010 or early 2011 n their final communique, the leaders also pledged funds for a plan aimed at persuading Taliban fighters to renounce violence — but offered no specific figures. The meeting backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai‘s plan to reintegrate Taliban willing to “cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and pursue their political goals peacefully.”

A fierce gunbattle broke out between security forces and a team of Taliban fighters targeting U.N. and government buildings Friday in a major city in southern Afghanistan. The fighting in Lashkar Gah came nearly two weeks after a similar assault in the Afghan capital, once again showing the ability of insurgents to penetrate heavily secured areas. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said seven men armed with suicide vests and machine guns attacked the U.N. office and a guesthouse used by government officials in Lashkar Gah, capital of volatile Helmand province.

U.S. soldiers shot and killed an Afghan cleric as he drove with his young son near an American base on the eastern edge of Kabul, underscoring the dangers facing civilians despite NATO efforts to minimize casualties. Yunus was struck by four bullets fired at his Toyota Corolla. NATO said the troops fired at “what appeared to be a threatening vehicle” near Camp Phoenix, an area where suicide attacks are not uncommon, but later described the incident as “regrettable” and promised an investigation.

Pakistan

A $46 million American aid program aimed at strengthening the government in Pakistan‘s tribal regions and blunting the appeal of al-Qaeda and the Taliban has achieved little since it began two years ago, a U.S. government audit found. The program is one of several U.S. initiatives in the tribal areas close to the Afghan border and elsewhere in Pakistan, which is set to receive $7.5 billion in humanitarian assistance from American taxpayers over the next five years. The audit shows the difficulties facing the Obama administration as it seeks to boost aid to the violence-stricken region. The strategy is to convince impoverished residents that their interests are best served by the government, not by extremists who have seized control of much of the area. The audit, said “little progress” had been made toward either goal of the program.

Militants staged a rare attack in Karachi against trucks carrying supplies for NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan on Thursday, wounding three people in the latest violence to plague the country’s largest city, said police. Pakistan’s financial hub has a long history of political and sectarian violence but has largely been spared attacks by Taliban fighters waging war against the Pakistani government and coalition forces in Afghanistan. But there are concerns that the Taliban may be expanding their fight to target the city, a worry for the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, which ships up to 75% of its supplies to the landlocked country through the port in Karachi.

Nigeria

ASSIST News Service reports that more than 300 people suspected of being involved in last week’s deadly religious clashes in central Nigeria have been arrested, according to police. Troops have been ordered to remain at their posts to avoid the army being dragged into the conflict, AFP reports. “Although an exact death toll is not known, 300 or more are thought to have died in the Muslim-Christian clashes,” the BBC wrote. “Scores of bodies have been found in wells near Jos, a city straddling the Christian south and Muslim north. Many of those arrested were previously taken into custody during similar violence in November 2008, a state government spokesman said. “We are afraid the same situation will occur again. They were moved to Abuja last time, but they were never prosecuted,” Plateau state government spokesperson Gregory Yenlong said. About 5,000 people fled last weekend’s violence.

Honduras

Hours after his successor was sworn in as president, former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya left his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy and flew into exile Wednesday, ending months of turmoil and his thwarted quest to be restored to power after a June 28 coup that drew international condemnation. Zelaya was going to the Dominican Republic as a private citizen under a deal signed by Lobo and the Caribbean country’s President Leonel Fernandez, who flew to Honduras to accompany the former president. Zelaya has not elaborated on plans for his future. But just before boarding the plane, he shouted: “We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”

Weather

A storm that toppled power lines, shut down major highways and buried parts of the southern Plains in heavy ice and snow began moving into the South early Friday, leaving tens of thousands of people in the dark — possibly for several more days. About 13 inches of snow fell Thursday in the northern Texas Panhandle, where Interstate 40 was closed from the Texas-Oklahoma line to New Mexico. Heavy ice brought down electrical lines and trees limbs, leaving nearly 142,000 homes and businesses in Oklahoma without power early Friday.

It has been an unnaturally cold winter for people living in India. Temperatures have dropped below seasonal norms. In just 24 hours, 22 people living in Uttar Pradesh, India, died because of the bitter chill. Most Indian homes do not have central heating, which causes the cold to be felt much more keenly in the northern regions of the country. News sources indicate that in Uttar Pradesh alone, 506 people have already lost their lives. Most victims are reported as homeless, poor or elderly, with only thin clothing and blankets to protect them against the extreme temperatures.

January 27, 2010

Tea Parties Shake up Politics Across U.S.

A once-dismissed loose confederation of Tea Party activists opposed to big government, bailouts and higher taxes is causing heartburn for establishment candidates across the United States. They swept into Massachusetts with lightning speed when polls began to show that the eventual winner of last week’s special election, Republican Scott Brown, had a shot at upsetting Democrat Martha Coakley for the Senate seat that the late liberal lion, Edward M. Kennedy, had held almost 47 years. Relying on Internet tools like Facebook and Twitter for communications, tea partiers have organized meetings, marches and protests almost overnight, often catching establishment politicians off guard.

They have scheduled a rally at the Capitol just hours before President Barack Obama‘s State of the Union speech Wednesday night to protest his health care plan. Tea partiers boast that they are a leaderless, grass-roots political army not beholden to either party, although some acknowledge that Republican candidates who share their conservative fiscal views are most likely to benefit from the movement’s efforts. The movement takes its name from an event in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1773. Around 200 colonists, incensed that the English crown was demanding payment of duties on cargoes of tea in three British ships, stormed the ships in Boston Harbor and threw the boxes of tea overboard.

Women’s Groups Urge CBS to Jettison Anti-Abortion Super Bowl Ad

A coalition of women’s groups called on the CBS network on Monday to scrap its plan to broadcast an ad during the Super Bowl featuring college football star Tim Tebow and his mother, which critics say is likely to convey an anti-abortion message. The ad — paid for by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family — is expected to recount the story of Pam Tebow’s pregnancy in 1987 with a theme of “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.” After getting sick during a mission trip to the Philippines, she ignored a recommendation by doctors to abort her fifth child and gave birth to Tim, who went on to win the 2007 Heisman Trophy while helping his Florida team to two college football championships.

  • The culture of death would prefer showing ads for beer and sex than promoting life

Teen Birth & Abortion Rates Up

The teen pregnancy rate in the USA rose 3% in 2006, the first increase in more than a decade, according to data out today. The data also show higher rates of births and abortions among girls 15-19. The numbers, calculated by the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit group that studies reproductive and sexual health, show a clear reversal from the downward trend that began in the 1990s. About 7% of teen girls got pregnant in 2006, a rate of 71.5 pregnancies per 1,000 teens. That’s up slightly from 69.5 in 2005, Guttmacher says. In 1990, when rates peaked, about 12% got pregnant. The abortion rate was up 1%. Some experts suggest the increase is related to a focus on abstinence-only sex education programs under the Bush administration.

  • The primary problem is a culture saturated with sex through every media channel. If abstinence education was responsible for the slight rise in 2006, then it must also be responsible for the decline from 12% to 7% from 1990 to 2005.

Welfare Rolls Up

Welfare rolls rose in 2009 for the first time in 15 years, but the 5% increase was dwarfed by spikes in the number of people receiving food stamps and unemployment insurance. The cash-assistance program that once helped more than 14 million people served an average of 4 million in the 2009 fiscal year, up from 3.8 million in fiscal 2008. By comparison, there were more than 37 million people receiving food stamps in September, an increase of 18% from the year before. The number receiving unemployment benefits more than doubled, to about 9.1 million. The disparity has caused some of those involved in passing the 1996 welfare overhaul to question whether it’s failing to help victims of the recession. The purpose of the law, passed by a Republican-led Congress and signed by President Clinton, was to move millions of people from welfare to work.

US Waves White Flag in Disastrous ‘War on Drugs’

After 40 years of defeat and failure, America’s “war on drugs” is being buried in the same fashion as it was born – amid bloodshed, confusion, corruption and scandal. US agents are being pulled from South America; Washington is putting its narcotics policy under review, and a newly confident region is no longer prepared to swallow its fatal Prohibition error. Indeed, after the expenditure of billions of dollars and the violent deaths of tens of thousands of people, a suitable epitaph for America’s longest “war” may well be the plan, in Bolivia, for every family to be given the right to grow coca in its own backyard. The “war”, declared unilaterally throughout the world by Richard Nixon in 1969, is expiring as its strategists start discarding plans that have proved futile over four decades. Prospects in the new decade are thus opening up for vast amounts of government expenditure being reassigned to the treatment of addicts instead of their capture and imprisonment.

College Gender Gap Remains

The gender gap on campus — about 57% female, 43% male — is troubling, but it’s not getting any worse, a report says today. Men have consistently represented about 43% of enrollments and earned 43% of bachelor’s degrees since 2000, says the report by the American Council on Education. The report suggests policymakers and educators can have the greatest effect by focusing efforts on Hispanics. Just 9% of Hispanic young men have earned a bachelor’s degree, the lowest attainment level of any group studied. Among Hispanic young women, 14% have earned a bachelor’s.

Gallup: Obama Most Polarizing President Ever

President Barack Obama is the most polarizing president in American history, according to a poll released by the Gallup organization Monday. The average difference in Obama’s approval ratings between Democrats and Republicans turned out to be 65 percent — the highest first-year gap of any president so measured. Obama’s 88 percent approval rating from Democrats is the second highest level of party support for a first-year president, trailing only the 92 percent Republican support for George W. Bush in 2001.

Obama Praise Planted in U.S. newspapers

Obama supporters are flooding newspapers with pro-Obama letters purportedly from average citizens – with duplicate messages appearing in more than 70 publications across the nation. One writer identified as “Ellie Light” has published identical form letters in newspapers around the country. Sabrina Eaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Light claims to have different hometowns within the respective newspaper readership areas. Each letter is nearly identical in grammar, style and subject. In numerous letters, Ellie Light lists various hometowns in at least 31 states and the District of Columbia. Aside from Light’s messages, duplicate pro-Obama letters have been submitted to dozens of publications by writers identified as “Jan Chen,” “Gloria Elle,” “Cherry Jimenez,” “Janet Leigh,” “Earnest Gardner,” “Jen Park,” “Lars Deerman,” “John F. Stott,” “Gordon Adams,” “Nancy Speed,” “Sheila Price,” “Clarence Ndangam,” “Vernetta Mason,” “Greg Mitchell,” “Ermelinda Giurato,” “J. Scott Piper,” “Robert Vander Molen” and “Terri Reese.”

  • It’s not surprising that an administration stocked with people who supported Acorn’s registration of dead voters would also stoop to submitting letters from fake people.

Obama Administration Earns an ‘F’ on Stopping WMD Attacks

The national WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) commission established by Congress has given the Obama administration an “F” for failing to protect America from nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks. “Nearly a decade after 9/11, one year after our original report, and one month after the Christmas Day bombing attempt, the United States is failing to address several urgent threats, especially bioterrorism,” stated former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The report charges the administration “is simply not paying consistent and urgent attention to the means of responding quickly and effectively so that [WMD attacks] no longer constitute a threat of mass destruction.” Surprisingly, the Commission concluded there still exists “no national plan to coordinate federal, state, and local efforts following a bioterror attack, and the United States lacks the technical and operational capabilities required for an adequate response.”

Obama Proposes Spending Limits

Facing voter anger over mounting budget deficits, President Barack Obama will ask Congress to freeze spending for some domestic programs for three years beginning in 2011, administration officials said Monday. The spending freeze would apply to a relatively small portion of the federal budget, affecting a $477 billion pot of money available for domestic agencies whose budgets are approved by Congress each year. These programs got an almost 10 percent increase this year.

  • Out of a $3.5 trillion budget, this is more show than substance

Obama Gets Bad News from Congressional Budget Office

Jobs and the deficits are going to be big themes of President Obama’s big speech Wednesday — and he got some bad numbers on both topics Tuesday from the Congressional Budget Office. The new report by the Congressional Budget Office says the nation’s $1.4 trillion deficit is likely to stay in that range for the next two years. The 2010 deficit should be about $1.35 trillion, and if Obama keeps President Bush’s tax cuts in place and extends other expiring tax breaks, the 2011 deficit would be about the same, the report says. Over the next decade, the nation would rack up another $12 trillion in deficits, thereby doubling the size of the $12 trillion national debt. The debt would soon be two-thirds the size of the overall economy. By 2020, interest payments on that debt would be more than $700 billion, about four times the size of the current amount.

Senate Nixes Obama’s Deficit-Panel Idea

The Senate on Tuesday rejected a plan to create a bipartisan commission to tackle the nation’s budget problems this year, leaving it up to President Barack Obama to create such a panel by executive order. The commission would have had broad powers to recommend changes to the tax code and cut spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Its recommendations, due after the November elections, would have been guaranteed an up-or-down vote in both chambers of Congress before the year is out. But the measure won just 53 votes in the Senate, not enough to overcome a threatened filibuster. In rejecting the idea, Republicans opposed to tax increases joined Democrats fearful of being forced to cut social programs.

  • As usual, politicians pass the buck when it comes to difficult decisions

Oregon Voters OK Tax Hikes on Wealthy, Businesses

Oregon voters on Tuesday approved tax hikes on businesses and the wealthy, allowing legislators to avert budget cuts they said would have affected schools and services for the poor and elderly. Measure 66 raises tax rates on individuals who earn more than $125,000 and couples with incomes greater than $250,000. Measure 67 increases business taxes. Fifty-four percent of voters had approved both measures. It was a victory for public employee unions and the Democratic majorities in the Legislature that imposed the taxes last year, arguing that deep cuts in school aid and social services were the alternative for a state facing declining revenues due to the recession.

  • That’s the tough choice for states this year: raise taxes or cut sacred programs

Economic News

Consumer confidence rose past expectations in January, the third straight monthly increase as Americans begin to feel slightly better about business conditions and the job picture, according to a survey released Tuesday. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index increased to 55.9 — the highest in more than a year but still relatively gloomy. That compares with 53.6 in December. It takes a reading of 90 to indicate an economy on solid footing and 100 or more to indicate growth.

Home sales last month saw their biggest drop in more than 40 years as buyers left the market because they weren’t sure Congress would extend a tax credit for first-time home buyers. After a surge in sales from September through November, existing home sales tumbled 16.7% in December from November. For all of 2009, there were 5.1 million existing home sales, which was 4.9% higher than the 4.9 million sales in 2008 — the first annual sales gain since 2005.

A closely watched index shows that home prices rose nationally for the sixth straight month in November, with 14 of 20 metro areas tracked showing improvements. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday inched up 0.2% to a seasonally adjusted reading of 145.49. The index was off 5.3% from November of last year.

Federal stimulus funds may have rescued the U.S. wind-power industry from what could have been a disastrous 2009, but it still lost highly sought-after manufacturing jobs, according to a trade association report out Tuesday. Nationwide, the wind-power industry employs about 85,000 people — the same number as a year ago after it gained 13,000 manufacturing jobs in 2008.

The British economy grew 0.1% in the final quarter of 2009, meaning the country officially exited recession. Britain is the last of the major economies to emerge from the downturn created by the global credit crisis, with the French and the German economies returning to growth last summer. Economists expect growth to remain fragile for several months.

Haiti

As many as 1 million people — one person in nine across the country — need to find new shelter, the United Nations estimates, and there are too few tents, let alone safe buildings, to put them in. Thousands of people were camped across from the collapsed National Palace, amid piles of trash and the stench of human waste. Uruguayan U.N. peacekeepers fired pepper spray to try to disperse thousands of people jostling for food aid. The United Nations says 235,000 people have left the city in recent days aboard government-provided buses. The International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental agency, says it could take weeks to locate suitable sites for enough tent cities for those made homeless by the Jan. 12 quake. Tens of thousands of people have returned to the region around the coastal city of Gonaives in northern Haiti, a city abandoned by many after two devastating floods in six years.

More than six out of 10 Americans believe U.S. troops and relief workers should remain in Haiti until life is more or less back to normal, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll released Monday found. The findings came as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling to Montreal to discuss longer-term rebuilding efforts, said the $100 million pledged so far by the U.S. was “just for the emergency … there will be more to come.” Getting life back to normal for Haitians could take years and cost billions of dollars.

Iran

New intelligence acquired by Germany’s BND and reportedly under review in Germany, Israel, the US and the UN in Vienna conclusively shows that Iran’s nuclear program has an advanced military offshoot which answers to the country’s defense establishment, Der Spiegel reported Monday. Aside from exposing the existence of a clandestine weapons development program, the document apparently shows that Tehran is in possession of advanced blueprints for producing a nuclear bomb. Such documents, as well as information passed on to Western intelligence agencies by Iranian defectors and sources within Iran, are causing growing alarm among US and European leaders, and may impact the White House approach to Iran. The intelligence document suggests that Iran’s energy council – a civilian scientific body – has been co-opted by the defense ministry to focus on uranium enrichment for fissile warhead material, while the military has been responsible for research on warheads compatible with Iran’s Shihab-III ballistic missiles. As such, the Islamic republic may be able to produce a crude nuclear bomb – too large to be attached to any missile – by the end of this year, with estimates citing 2012 as a possible date for a functional warhead.

Iraq

A suicide car bomber has killed at least 18 and injured dozens more in a strike Tuesday against Interior Ministry offices in central Baghdad. Officials say the majority of those killed were likely police officers worked in the crime lab at Tahariyat Square in the central neighborhood of Karradah. This week’s bombings — all against prominent and heavily fortified targets — dealt yet another blow to an Iraqi government struggling to answer for security lapses that have allowed bombers to carry out a number of massive attacks in the heart of the capital since August.

Afghanistan

Germany plans to increase its troop contingent in Afghanistan by up to 850 and focus more strongly on training local security forces, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday. She gave the figures after meeting with ministers to thrash out Germany’s position for this week’s London conference on the future of Afghanistan. Germany currently has nearly 4,300 soldiers in northern Afghanistan. The number of soldiers involved in training Afghan forces will be increased from 1,400 from 280 at present, she said.

Taiwan

The Obama administration has decided to approve an arms package for Taiwan, senior U.S. congressional aides say. The decision threatens to worsen a growing rift between the United States and China. The package is likely to include UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and material related to Taiwan’s defense communications network. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and will object vehemently to the sale. The package appears to dodge a difficult issue: The aides say the F-16 fighter jets that Taiwan covets are not likely to be included.

Weather

A winter storm that moved across several Midwestern states Monday brought fierce winds and light snow, leaving travelers stranded and closing some schools and businesses. Strong winds were blowing around what was falling — or had already fallen in the last several days — in the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota, creating whiteout conditions in some places. Ice buildup on power lines also was a problem in some areas.

January 25, 2010

U.S. & San Francisco Protests ‘Holocaust that is Abortion’

A major two-mile Walk for Life is being held this weekend in San Francisco as more than 35,000 people are expected to join the rally against abortion. This year’s crowd is expected to exceed the 32,000 that participated last year, and co-chair Eva Muntean believes the expected turn-out shows that Californians hope to get the administration’s attention. The co-chair explains that she is aware polls show most Americans are against abortion, meaning people are “waking up to the Holocaust that is abortion.”

The national March for Life was held Friday in Washington, DC. According to the estimates, the annual event attracted over 250,000 people yesterday, drawing wide participation in the rally against legalized abortion. The vast crowd marched to its conclusion at the Supreme Court, which is where the 1973 decision was made to legalize abortion. Since that decision in Roe v. Wade, more than 50-million babies have been aborted. Nellie Gray, 84, president of March for Life, later spoke to the crowd, explaining one of the purposes behind being in the streets of the nation’s capitol on a cold, wintery day. “We’ve got to get the president to hear us,” she declared. “We’ve got to get the justices to hear us, and we’ve got to get Congress to hear us.”

Federal Abstinence Funds Dry Up

Now that abstinence-only sex education programs have lost their federal government support, churches and other religious groups are stepping in to keep the message alive. There’s a measure in the U.S. Senate to restore about $50 million to abstinence education, but its passage is uncertain and it would restore funding to less than half of what it had been under the Bush administration. Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, which for the past five years has promoted a national Day of Purity for teenagers, said depending on private money could actually benefit the abstinence message, with more freedom and creativity without the government watching over our shoulders.

Hope & Change Morphs to Fear & Worry

President Obama’s campaign mantra of “hope” and “change” actually has turned into “fear” and “worry” for Americans who believe their freedoms are slipping away little by little, according to a new WorldNetDaily Freedom Index poll from Wenzel Strategies. “Asked specifically if, under the presidency of Barack Obama, respondents feel they are losing freedoms, 52 percent now say ‘yes,’ up from 47 percent last month,” said Fritz Wenzel. “What is most notable is that that percentage is up from 40 percent just two months ago, an indication that people feel the specific policies of the Obama administration are squelching freedom in America today.”

Obama Endorses Deficit Task Force

President Barack Obama Saturday endorsed a bipartisan plan to name a special task force charged with coming up with a plan to curb the spiraling budget deficit, though the idea has lots of opposition from both his allies and rivals on Capitol Hill. The bipartisan 18-member panel backed by Obama would study the issue for much of the year and, if 14 members agree, report a deficit reduction blueprint after the November elections that would be voted on before the new Congress convenes next year. The 14 would have to include at least half of the panel’s Republicans — a big obstacle. The deficit spiked to an extraordinary $1.4 trillion last year and could top that figure this year as the struggling economy puts a big dent in tax revenues. Even worse from the perspective of economists and deficit hawks, the medium-term deficit picture is for deficits hitting around $1 trillion a year for the foreseeable future.

  • So, the person responsible for the huge deficits wants to know how to curb them? That’s easy. Fire the perpetrator.

Obama to Announce Aid for Middle Class

Previewing key elements of his State of the Union address, President Obama will announce on Monday a series of initiatives aimed at calming some of the economic fears of struggling middle class families. The proposals to be unveiled by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House, and which the president will push in his Wednesday night speech, include a doubling of the child care tax credit for families earning under $85,000; an increase in federal funding for child care programs of $1.6 billion; capping student loan payments to 10% of income above “a basic living allowance;” expanding tax credits to match retirement savings; and increasing aid for families taking care of elderly relatives. The plan would also require all employers to provide the option of a workplace-based retirement savings plan. The proposals are the result of the work of a middle class task force that Biden had headed.

  • More debt, less revenue for our bankrupt federal government. Obama continues to try and buy respect.

Bernanke Faces Senate Opposition to 2nd Term

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke faced mounting Senate opposition for another four-year term as head of the U.S. central bank Friday, even as the White House described President Obama as confident about his confirmation. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced she will vote against Bernanke, adding another Democrat to the ranks of those arrayed against Bernanke. “It is time for a change — it is time for Main Street to have a champion at the Fed,” she said. Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold and Bryon Dorgan also said they will oppose Bernanke on the Senate floor. Feingold faults Bernanke for missing a high-risk culture at financial companies that led to a near economic meltdown late last year. Dorgan also is upset that the Fed has kept secret the identities of firms that drew emergency loans from the Fed.

  • Bernanke is a tool of the New World Order and does not have our interests at the forefront

Panel Recommends 47 Gitmo Detainees be Held Indefinitely

As part of President Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, the task force has recommended 47 detainees be held indefinitely without charge. Another 17 detainees who are Yemenis are likely to be held for some time to come, until U.S. counterterrorism officials can find a secure place in their home country or other foreign countries to send them, the officials said. The presidentially created task force has recommended that 35 Guantanamo Bay detainees face trial or military commissions, two government officials said Friday. Such prosecutions would almost certainly take place in the United States. About 110 detainees have been approved for transfer.

State Department Failed to Monitor Iraq Contracts

For nearly $4.5 million a year, the State Department in June assigned a 16-person security detail to protect six U.S. contractors in Iraq who already had a team of hired guards they didn’t really need. The expensive miscue is one of many described in an audit issued Monday of a $2.5 billion State Department contract with DynCorp International for training Iraq’s police force. The department repeatedly failed to oversee the contract properly, according to the audit by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. The findings also suggest the department remains ill-equipped to watch over the vast amount of U.S. money flowing into Afghanistan.

  • Government ineptness has become the rule, not the exception

Expert Warns of ‘Climategate’ Conspiracy

Renowned meteorologist Dr. William Gray tells Newsmax that a possible new conspiracy regarding global warming has been uncovered in the U.S. He also said environmentalists, socialists, governments and businessmen are trying to take advantage of climate change concerns for their own benefit, and declared that cap-and-trade legislation would do “very little” to improve the climate. Dr. Gray is a pioneer in the science of forecasting hurricanes and a critic of the theory of human-induced global warming. Gray told Newsmax.about a new report out of San Diego calling into question the accuracy of “the data that they’re basing global warming on.” Manmade global warming proponents in the government “are handling the data in ways to obtain data that shows the globe is warming more than it really is.”

Medicare Doctors Waning in Rural Arizona

Seniors in rural Arizona towns and cities with a graying population, such as Yavapai County’s Prescott and Prescott Valley, are facing what health officials acknowledge is a troubling trend: doctors who refuse to see new Medicare patients. Many seniors have struggled to find a local physician and have turned to hospital emergency rooms, clinics or lengthy car trips to Phoenix for health care. Doctors say that Medicare pays too little, and the red tape is too much. Medical professionals say the Prescott area may serve as a valuable lesson for the nation as Congress seeks to expand health care: Even if most Americans are covered under some form of insurance, many still may not find a doctor willing to see them. Because there is a shortage of primary-care doctors, they can afford to be choosy when taking on new patients.

Economic News

Regulators shut down banks Friday in Florida, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, bringing to nine the number of bank failures so far in 2010, following 140 closures last year in the toughest economic environment since the Great Depression.

Unemployment rates rose in 43 states last month, the government said Friday, painting a bleak picture of the job market. The rise in joblessness was a sharp change from November, when 36 states said their unemployment rates fell. Four states — South Carolina, Delaware, Florida and North Carolina— reported record-high jobless rates in December.

The stock market suffered its worst setback in more than 10 months. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 216 points, or 2.1%, on Friday its fourth big drop in five trading days. Wednesday-Friday, the Dow lost 552 points, or 5.2%. Investors continued to worry about President Barack Obama‘s plan to restrict big banks.

Gasoline prices declined for seven straight days last week following a similar slide in crude prices this month. But with the national average at nearly $2.73 a gallon on Friday, pump prices are still more expensive than any day last year. Experts say they still expect gas prices to reach $3 a gallon sometime this spring.

Haiti

Haiti‘s government has declared the search and rescue phase for survivors of the country’s devastating earthquake over, the United Nations said Saturday. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that 132 people were pulled from the rubble alive by international search and rescue teams. Spokeswoman Elizebeth Byrs told The Associated Press that rescue teams still searching through the rubble would not be prevented from carrying out whatever work they felt necessary. “It doesn’t mean the government will order them to stop. In case there is the slightest sign of life, they will act.”

Humanitarian relief efforts are still being scaled up in the capital Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Leogane and other areas affected by the quake, Byrs said. Scores of aid organizations, big and small, have stepped up deliveries of food, water, medical supplies and other aid to the homeless and other needy in seaside city. But obstacles remained at every turn to getting help into people’s hands. The 7.0-magnitude quake killed an estimated 200,000 people, according to Haitian government figures. Countless dead remained buried in thousands of collapsed and toppled buildings in Port-au-Prince, while as many as 200,000 have fled the city of 2 million. The government promised to help nearly a half-million more move from squalid camps on curbsides and vacant lots into safer, cleaner tent cities.

In the devastation left after the Haiti earthquake, the heaviest blow is falling on the: children. Already poor, underfed and underschooled, tens of thousands of Haiti’s children now face the cruelest catastrophe: They are alone. Their parents are dead or have disappeared in the chaos. They have lost their homes, their friends, their sense of security. They are hungry, bleeding and afraid — of the present and of the future.

New bin Laden Tape Warns of More Attacks

A new audio tape allegedly from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden claims responsibility for an attempt to blow up a plane en route to Michigan on Christmas Day and warns the United States of more attacks. The tape, which aired on the Arabic-language news Web site Al-Jazeera on Sunday, says “the United States will not dream of enjoying safety until we live it in reality in Palestine.” CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of the message, but the CIA has in the past confirmed Al-Jazeera reports on tapes from the al Qaeda leader. In another section of the audio tape that Al-Jazeera broadcast, the voice says: “God willing our attacks will continue as long as you support the Israelis.

United Kingdom

The terror-threat level for Britain and the rest of the United Kingdom has been raised to “severe,” meaning a terrorist attack is considered “highly likely,” the BBC is reporting. The threat level had been at “substantial” since July. The highest threat level is “critical,” meaning that an attack is considered “imminent.”

Israel

Israel‘s prime minister declared on Sunday that his country would retain parts of the West Bank forever — a statement sure to provoke Palestinians and complicate the year-old peace mission of a visiting U.S. envoy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid claim to the disputed territory just hours after meeting with George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy. Mitchell has been shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders since late last week in hopes of breaking a deadlock over Israeli settlement construction. “Our message is clear: We are planting here, we will stay here, we will build here, this place will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel for eternity,” Netanyahu proclaimed at a tree-planting ceremony celebrating the Jewish arbor day at a settlement just south of Jerusalem.

  • God Himself said that land belonged to Israel. It is the Palestinians who are operating outside God’s will.

Iraq

The U.S. Marine Corps wrapped nearly seven years in Iraq on Saturday, handing over duties to the Army and signaling the beginning of an accelerated withdrawal of American troops as the U.S. turns its focus away from the waning Iraqi war to a growing one in Afghanistan. If all goes as planned, the last remaining Marines will be followed out by tens of thousands of soldiers in the coming months. President Obama has ordered all but 50,000 troops out of the country by Aug. 31, 2010, with most to depart after the March 7 parliamentary election. The remaining troops will leave by the end of 2011 under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact.

Three car bombs exploded Monday near three Baghdad hotels popular with Western journalists and businessmen, killing at least 16 people and wounding scores more, Iraqi police said. The officials said the death toll was expected to rise. The blasts come about a month a half after a series of five blasts struck Baghdad, killing 127 people and injuring more than 500.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan on Sunday postponed parliamentary elections until September due to a lack of funding from donor nations after widespread fraud in last year’s presidential poll. The announcement came as President Hamid Karzai left for Turkey, the start of a tour that will include Berlin and London. Karzai will appeal for financial and other support for his government. Another flawed election would erode support for Karzai’s government at a time when he has pledged to battle corruption and improve services as fighting against the Taliban escalates.

Weather

Arizona took stock of the damage Friday from a powerful winter storm that swept a 6-year-old boy to his presumed death, flooded a handful of communities, caved in roofs in Flagstaff and made a shambles of a host of expensive collector cars set for auction. In the western Arizona community of Wenden, nearly half of its 500 residents landed in a Red Cross shelter after torrential waters ripped through the area. As many as 40 houses were swamped under varying levels of high water. The Arizona National Guard flew a helicopter loaded with water and medical supplies to Black Canyon City, inundated by the rain-swollen Agua Fria River.

Roofs over 10 to 15 buildings in Flagstaff either collapsed or developed structural problems because of the weight of over 25 inches of snow that fell during the week of storms. In the Valley, damage was estimated Friday at more than $1 million to cars at the Russo and Steele Collector Automobile Auction in Scottsdale. High winds late Thursday blew a huge tent sheltering the cars onto a nearby freeway at about the same time there were unconfirmed reports of a tornado in the area. Sunrise Mountain received 70 inches of snow and the Arizona Snow Bowl 67 inches. Globe had 12 inches of rain while Payson received 9.35 inches of rain.

  • So now people are asking if Arizona’s drought is over. At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the 14-year deficit – the difference between the rain that fell and the annual average of about 7 inches- is more than 27 inches, even after these storms. However, this year’s strong El Nino could produce more southern tier storms.

Officials in Huntsville, Alabama say the city’s Five Points area is getting back to normal after a tornado struck, knocking down power lines and injuring about half a dozen people. The tornado struck the north Alabama city Thursday evening, bringing down trees and leaving up to 10,000 people without power.

January 22, 2010

GOP Win in Mass. Jolts Obama’s Plans

Not in decades has the election of a single new senator caused such an upheaval in the capital’s political calculations. It was not just the passage of a massive health care bill that was thrown into turmoil Wednesday as Democrats furiously debated whether to press forward or go back to the starting line. President Obama, a year to the day after taking office on a promise of change, issued a public mea culpa for having lost touch with the Americans who elected him. And there were questions about whether Democrats’ hold on Congress might be shaken by a “wave” election in November that could sweep more Republicans into office. All this from Scott Brown’s surprise victory over Martha Coakley in the race for the Massachusetts Senate seat held for nearly 47 years by liberal lion Edward Kennedy, who died in August. Brown will become the 41st Republican in the 100-seat Senate, breaking Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority. Obama said Congress should wait for Brown to be sworn in before more votes are taken on health care, and that Democrats shouldn’t “jam” through a bill.

Healthcare Doomed?

As they try to pick up the pieces of their scorched health care legislation, Democrats in Congress are focusing first on the most popular ideas, from expanding patients’ rights to making insurance coverage more affordable. Democrats remained uncertain on how and when to advance those priorities. “We have to step back, take a deep breath and realize that … these bills as they stand now are dead,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, among the Democrats pushing for a more incremental approach.

Brown Strong on Marriage

While in the Massachusetts legislature, Scott Brown was one of the courageous few to stand for marriage, voting yes on the Massachusetts Marriage Amendment in 2007. Now in Washington, he will bring a strong new voice to protect and uphold DOMA against the attacks by President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the pro-gay marriage lobby in Congress.

Obama Takes on Banks

President Obama sent a sharp message to big banks and their lobbyists Thursday: “If these folks want a fight, it’s a fight I’m ready to have,” the president said, announcing plans to impose limits on how much financial institutions can grow and take risks. The announcement came exactly a week after the administration proposed a $90 billion tax on the country’s biggest financial institutions. The White House, reeling from setbacks in Congress, may be spoiling for a showdown with an unpopular industry that has returned to high profits, big bonuses and risky business a year after being rescued with hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars. “My resolve is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform,” Obama said in a press briefing at the White House, “and when I see soaring profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms claiming that they can’t lend more to small business (and that) they can’t keep credit card rates low.”

Muslims Face More Bias than Other U.S. Believers

Americans are more than twice as likely to express prejudice against Muslims than they are against Christians, Jews or Buddhists, a new survey found. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they have little or no knowledge of Islam. Still, a majority dislike the faith. The analysis, for release Thursday, is from the Gallup World Religion Survey. Many analysts who study extremism also say that U.S. Muslims who feel alienated from broader society resist integrating, potentially becoming more vulnerable to radical ideas. In the poll, just over half of Americans said they felt no prejudice against Muslims. However, 43% acknowledged at least “a little” prejudice against Muslims, a significantly higher percentage than for the other four faiths in the survey. About 18% of respondents said they had some level of prejudice against Christians, while the figure was 15% toward Jews and 14% toward Buddhists.

  • Islam is the only religion whose holy book encourages killing unbelievers. No wonder people feel wary.

Justices, 5-4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit

Overruling two important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. The 5-to-4 decision was a vindication, the majority said, of the First Amendment’s most basic free speech principle — that the government has no business regulating political speech. The dissenters said that allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace would corrupt democracy. The ruling represented a sharp doctrinal shift, and it will have major political and practical consequences. Specialists in campaign finance law said they expected the decision to reshape the way elections were conducted. Though the decision does not directly address them, its logic also applies to the labor unions that are often at political odds with big business. The Supreme Court decision will increase the power of lobbyists and interest groups.

Runaway Ohio Girl to Remain Free of Muslim Parents

A runaway teenage girl from Ohio who converted from Islam to Christianity has reached a court settlement that allows her to remain free of her Muslim parents. The agreement Tuesday says that 17-year-old Rifqa Bary will stay in a foster home under state custody in Columbus until she turns 18 in August. After that, she’ll be an adult and free to live whereshe chooses. Bary ran away to Florida last summer, saying she feared her father would harm or kill her for leaving Islam.

Earth Less Sensitive to Greenhouse Gases than First Estimated

Why hasn’t the Earth warmed as expected? ased on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere since the industrial era in the late 1800s, the Earth’s temperature should have risen by about 3.8 degrees.  But scientists have only observed a 1.4 degree increase. A forthcoming study in the Journal of Climate pinpoints two reasons why: 1) The Earth’s climate may be less sensitive to rising greenhouse gases than currently assumed; 2) The reflection of sunlight by atmospheric haze particles could be offsetting some of the expected warming.

Economic News

The number of newly-laid off workers seeking jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week, as the economy recovers at a slow and uneven pace, but a forecast of future economic activity jumped 1.1% in December, suggesting that economic growth could pick up this spring. The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for unemployment insurance rose by 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 482,000. Separately, the 1.1% increase in the Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators was larger than expected.

Metropolitan Phoenix’s housing market is not expected to recover until 2014, two years later than experts had previously predicted. The biggest obstacle to a real-estate rebound in the Valley is a lack of jobs, according to analysts and economists speaking at Urban Land Institute Arizona’s annual forecast conference on Thursday. Without new jobs to draw more residents to fill almost 80,000 area homes left empty by the recession, home prices will remain depressed. But the state is not likely to see pre-recession job levels for another four to five years.

Air America Radio, a radio network that was launched in 2004 as a liberal alternative to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative U.S. commentators, on Thursday shut down abruptly due to financial woes.

General Motor‘s Opel unit will cut 8,300 jobs across Europe, including 4,000 in Germany, and close a plant in Antwerp, Belgium— casualties of the “tough reality” of a shrinking European auto market. The Belgian government had tried to stave off the Antwerp plant’s closure by earlier this year offering the company up to 500 million euros ($707 million dollars) to upgrade the facilities.

More hungry diners gobbling its cheap eats helped McDonald’s (MCD) sales and profit grow in its fourth quarter, the company said Friday in an earnings report showing it continued to weather the downturn better than many competitors. For the three months that ended Dec. 31, the world’s largest burger chain earned $1.22 billion in profits. Revenue climbed 7% to $5.97 billion.

In another sign of a tech sector recovery, Google (GOOG)on Thursday surpassed Wall Street’s expectations and reported a record fourth-quarter profit of nearly $2 billion. Google said it earned $1.97 billion, or $6.13 a share, in the final three months of 2009, vs. $382 million, or $1.21 a share, in the final three months of 2008. Fourth-quarter revenue totaled $6.7 billion, a 17% increase.

Haiti

U.S. Marines headed farther into the western villages of Haiti on Thursday to deliver food and water to people who have seen very little as the government announced it would move 400,000 people living in camps to remote areas. About 1.5 million Haitians are homeless after an earthquake Jan. 12. Many are in camps in the capital.

An improving relief effort that was getting more food and care to weary Haitians was jolted Wednesday by aftershocks that sent people running for their lives, terrified that another major earthquake was upon them. Rubble tumbled from partly destroyed buildings near the presidential palace. People in relief camps scurried from tents, shrieking. The roar of buildings collapsing could be heard throughout Port-au-Prince.

The U.S. has begun preparing tents at Guantanamo Bay for Haitians migrants in case of a mass migration spurred by the earthquake, a senior official at the base said Wednesday. About 100 tents, each capable of holding 10 people, have been erected and authorities have more than 1,000 more on hand in case waves of Haitians leave their homeland and are captured at sea.

Pakistan

The Pakistani army said Thursday during a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that it can’t launch any new offensives against militants for six months to a year to give it time to stabilize existing gains. The announcement likely comes as a disappointment to the U.S., which has pushed Pakistan to expand its military operations to target militants staging cross-border attacks against coalition troops in Afghanistan. Washington believes such action is critical to success in Afghanistan as it prepares to send an additional 30,000 troops to the country this year.

Turkey

Turkish police on Friday rounded up 120 people suspected of links to the al-Qaeda terror network in simultaneous pre-dawn raids in 16 provinces, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. It was not clear if Friday’s detentions would amount to a major blow to homegrown Islamic militants allegedly affiliated with al-Qaeda. Those detained Friday include a faculty member of the Yuzunci Yil University in the eastern city of Van, who is suspected of recruiting students at the campus and other people through the Internet and of sending them to Afghanistan for training.

China

China has rejected Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s call for China and other nations to lift their restrictions on the Internet, saying it was harmful to relations. Clinton’s speech elevated Internet freedom to the level of a major facet the U.S. human rights agenda as never before. She urged China to investigate cyber intrusions that led search engine Google to threaten to pull out of that country — and challenged Beijing to openly publish its findings.

Malaysia

Christian Today reports that Malaysian police have arrested eight men in connection with the first of eleven recent church firebombings. The men allegedly firebombed Metro Tabernacle church in Kuala Lumpur after the country’s high court ruled that the government could not ban non-Muslims from using “Allah” as a translation for “God.” Federal criminal investigation chief Bakri Zinin says he believes the case is solved, as the eight men may also be connected to the city’s other firebombings. A spokesman for Metro Tabernacle church said the church is ready to move on with its ministry. “We have put this behind us,” Peter Yeow told Agence France-Presse. “We are trying to get out of the limelight and go on with our lives and relocate our church rather than look at who is to blame. We will let the police do their job.” The Muslim-majority country had enjoyed relative religious peace before the ruling.

Weather

The worst winter storm to hit Arizona in 17 years caused Gov. Jan Brewer to declare a state of emergency Thursday as rain pummeled metro Phoenix and heavy snow closed the main route to Flagstaff. The storm submerged roads in the Phoenix area, postponed flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and caused the evacuation of some Sedona residents. It also caused power outages for thousands of residents in Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson. As high winds accompanying the storm blew into the Valley around 8 p.m., local police began fielding a flurry of calls about downed trees, cars going off the road and other storm-related emergencies. The state Department of Public Safety had reports of a tornado touching down near Desert Ridge in northeast Phoenix.

A series of storms that flooded streets and left a trail of damage in southern California have unleashed hail, lightning and thunder as authorities continued to warn of huge mud flows in foothill communities. With predictions for more showers Friday, the supersaturated ground threaten to send damaging debris downhill. Authorities said an extensive flood-control system was working, but many of the basins designed to catch debris-laden runoff from fire-scarred mountains were full and evacuations remained necessary. The siege of Pacific storms has led to several deaths statewide, flooded urban areas and turned the region’s often-dry river and creek channels into raging torrents. Major highways were closed by snow and tornado damage, and strong winds grounded flights at several airports. By late afternoon the storm had added as much as 3.2 inches of rain to the 5 to 6 inches that fell earlier in the week across the mountains of Los Angeles County.

So much Arctic ice has melted that a telecommunication group is moving forward with a project that was unthinkable just a few years ago: laying underwater fiber optic cable between Tokyo and London by way of the Northwest Passage. The proposed system would nearly cut in half the time it takes to send messages from the United Kingdom to Asia, said Walt Ebell, CEO of Kodiak-Kenai Cable Co. The route is the shortest underwater path between Tokyo and London.

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January 20, 2010

Embryonic Stem Cell Research Fails In California

Five years after a budget-busting $3 billion was allocated to embryonic stem cell research, there have been no cures, no therapies and little progress. Supporters of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, passed in 2004, held out hopes of imminent medical miracles that were being held up only by President Bush’s policy of not allowing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) beyond existing stem cell lines and which involved the destruction of embryos created for that purpose. Five years later, ESCR has failed to deliver and backers of Prop 71 are admitting failure. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state agency created to, as some have put it, restore science to its rightful place, is diverting funds from ESCR to research that has produced actual therapies and treatments: adult stem cell research.

  • Only adult stem cell research has achieved results without having to destroy life. Perhaps God knows what He’s doing after all.

Only 2 in 5 Presbyterians Affirm Jesus as Only Way to Salvation

The Christian Post reports that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s research indicates that only two in five of its members believe Jesus is the only way to heaven. According to the church’s latest “Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians” report, only 39 percent of members agree or strongly that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” Among PC(USA) pastors, the number dropped to 35 percent. Among members, only 43 percent disagree or strongly disagree that “all the world’s religions are equally good ways of helping a person find ultimate truth.”

  • Our mainline denominations are leading the “great falling away” prophesied by the Bible

Obama’s Agenda Takes a Big Hit in Massachusetts

In one of the most shocking turnabouts in modern political history, GOP underdog Scott Brown has single-handedly captured the so-called “Kennedy seat” in Massachusetts, wiped out the Democratic supermajority in Congress, and pushed the president’s Obamacare agenda to the very brink of a stunning defeat. One year to the day after his euphoric inauguration, President Obama will spend today trying to rescue his legislative agenda after an election upset in Massachusetts that jeopardizes his top domestic priority, health care. Republican Scott Brown’s triumph over Democrat Martha Coakley in Tuesday’s special Senate race marks the third statewide loss in a row for the president’s party and the one most fraught with political and policy implications. Brown gives the Republicans the 41st vote they need to block legislation in the Senate. Brown, one of only five Republicans in the 40-member state Senate, is the first Republican to win a Massachusetts Senate race since 1972. He will be stepping into a seat occupied for 47 years by Sen. Edward Kennedy, a liberal icon and chief advocate for expanding the nation’s health care coverage.

Obama’s Approval Ratings Spiral Downward

When Barack Obama was inaugurated one year ago Wednesday, his approval rating in the Gallup Poll was a lofty 67%. No more. The latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll puts his standing at 50%, lower than any post-World War II president starting his second year in office except Ronald Reagan, who was at 49%. The poll finds that 50% or more disapproval on health care and the economy. On handling the situation in Afghanistan there is an almost even divide: 48% approve, 47% disapprove.

Kids’ Electronic Media Use Jumps to 53 Hours a Week

Kids these days spend so much time with electronic media — cellphones, iPods, video games and computers — that it might as well be a full-time job: more than 53 hours a week, a study finds. Compared with peers a decade ago, young people spend 79 more minutes of free time each day listening to music, watching TV and movies, playing video games and hanging out online. Nearly twice as many now say they do at least two of these at the same time. The findings, out Wednesday in a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 2,002 people ages 8 to 18, show that young people spend seven hours and 38 minutes using media in a typical day — up from six hours and 19 minutes a decade earlier. About the only thing that seems to be fading: ink. Though daily book readership has held steady at about 47% since 1999, the percentage of young people who say they read a magazine every day has plummeted from 55% to 35%. It’s worse for newspapers, down from 42% to 23%.

The survey also reveals that the more media they use, the less happy young people tend to be. Heavy media users, it finds, are more likely to have bad grades, more likely to be “often sad or unhappy,” less likely to get along well with their parents and twice as likely to “get into trouble a lot.” Actually, the findings present a sort of chicken-and-egg scenario: Does consuming a lot of media make children’s lives more troubled, or do troubled kids simply consume more media?

Debt to Dwarf GDP

A blue-ribbon panel that includes three former heads of the Congressional Budget Office is telling President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress that the federal deficit must be cut now or the national debt within about two generations will be 600 percent of the gross domestic product. “The debt level of the United States is unsustainable, something has to give,” said Rudolph Penner, former head of the CBO and co-chair of a report issued last week by the National Research Council and the National Academy of Public Administration. The report concludes federal deficit spending is so out of control that unless Obama and Democrat leaders on the Hill make changes now, debt in 2080 will be six times what the nation produces.

Economic News

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that construction of new homes and apartments fell 4% in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 557,000. Applications for new building permits, a gauge of future activity, rose 11% to an annual rate of 653,000, a far stronger showing than economists had predicted and the highest level of activity since October 2008. Another report showed that inflation pressures at the wholesale level eased in December as a drop in energy prices offset a big jump in food costs.

IBM (IBM) said Tuesday that it managed a 9% increase in profit in the last quarter as the technology company’s revenue grew for the first time in a year and a half.  American Airlines ended 2009 with a loss and 2010 could have a rocky start if the carrier loses a key partner in the Asian market. The parent of American says it lost $344 million in the fourth quarter as traffic fell and many business travelers stayed home or bought cheaper tickets. Japan Airlines filed for bankruptcy Tuesday, and reports in the Japanese press say the airline wants to dump American and form a partnership with Delta Air Lines.

Tax increases are hitting employers nationwide this year as states struggle to pay the 5.5 million Americans currently collecting state jobless benefits. So far, high unemployment and, in many cases, poor planning have prompted 25 states to borrow more than $25 billion from the federal government to keep benefit checks in the mail. In other states, unemployment compensation funds are still in the black, but reserves are rapidly dwindling. Nine more states likely will be borrowing by mid-year, according to a ProPublica analysis of state revenue and benefits.

  • States borrowing from the bankrupt federal government? Deeper and deeper we go.

The Census Bureau is finding itself with the most highly skilled, highly educated workforce in its 220-year history — thanks in part to a struggling economy that has produced millions of people eager to work. The bureau already has recruited engineers, former corporate vice presidents, college professors and radio disc jockeys to help manage the 2010 Census, which will attempt to count everyone in the United States beginning in March.

Bank robberies surprisingly plunged nearly 20% last year to their lowest point in at least a decade even as Americans grappled with a deep recession and widespread unemployment. Bankers and investigators had anticipated that the nation’s sputtering economy would set off a new wave of holdups as more people became desperate for money. They’re stealing less, too: In the first nine months of last year, robbers made off with about $30.5 million, down more than 25% from the same period the year before.

Haiti

A 6.1-magnitude earthquake that lasted about five to seven seconds awoke Haitians, aid workers and journalists in Port-au-Prince at 6:03 a.m. ET Wednesday. The morning quake was the largest of more than 40 significant aftershocks that have followed the apocalyptic Jan. 12 quake that left much of the country in ruins. The extent of additional damage or injuries was not immediately clear. The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday’s quake was centered about 35 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of a and 6.2 miles (9.9 kilometers) below the surface — a little further from the capital than last week’s epicenter was.

The U.S. Air Force air-dropped more than 14,000 packaged meals and water supplies into Haiti‘s capital Monday in an attempt to overcome severe supply bottlenecks, including a lack of fuel, that are still plaguing relief efforts. The Pentagon had said previously it was hesitant to use airdrops because it could start riots among Haitians suffering from hunger since last week’s earthquake. Congestion at the Port-au-Prince airport prompted the reversal. “There is no other way” to effectively distribute aid right now, said Agron Ferati of International Medical Corps, a medical aid agency. The United Nations said it had run out of fuel for trucks distributing aid, though more was on the way. Ferati warned violence could worsen unless Haitians see “immediate help.”

Limited medical supplies, poor travel conditions that hinder delivery of what medical supplies, contaminated drinking water and a broken sanitation system probably will delay healing of earthquake-inflicted wounds and magnify any pre-existing conditions. Those who incurred minor breaks and abrasions during the quake, who’d normally be on the road to recovery if treated in the U.S., are at risk for more serious illness.

The U.S. military dramatically boosted the amount of troops and aid coming into Haiti on Monday, raising hopes that the rapid increase in help and people would be able to meet the most pressing needs of the earthquake-ravaged country. The latest casualty report, from the European Commission citing Haitian government figures, doubled previous estimates of the dead from the magnitude-7.0 quake, to approximately 200,000, with some 70,000 bodies recovered and trucked off to mass graves.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved 3,500 extra troops and police officers to beef up security in Haiti and ensure that desperately needed aid gets to earthquake victims.

Afghanistan

Afghan forces tightened security in Kabul on Tuesday, a day after a brazen Taliban assault on the city center left 12 people dead and raised concerns about the government’s ability to protect the people. Troops searched vehicles entering the capital and increased the number of checkpoints in the city, along with foot patrols and vehicle patrols. The streets otherwise were calm and traffic was back to normal levels a day after the attack, which sent terrified Afghans racing for cover as explosions and machine-gun fire echoed across the city. Afghan forces along with NATO advisers managed to restore order after nearly five hours of fighting.

Afghanistan’s finance minister says a joint panel has agreed to boost the number of Afghan security forces from the current level of about 191,000 to 400,000 within five years. The announcement came Wednesday after a meeting of Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board to finalize a government action plan to be presented at a Jan. 28 international conference in London to shore up the Afghan leadership.

Half of all Afghan adults paid at least one bribe to a public official over the course of a year to cut through red tape or get help with poor service, the U.N. said Tuesday in a report that documents the extraordinary depth of corruption in Afghanistan. Afghans paid nearly $2.5 billion in bribes — worth almost a quarter of the country’s GDP — in the 12-month period ending last autumn. Most of those surveyed said they could not expect a single public service without paying favors. Many felt it was “normal” to pay extra for services, better treatment or avoiding fines.

  • The culture of corruption runs deep in Afghanistan. Stability is a pipe-dream

Iraq

Officials said gunmen broke into the office of an Iraqi humanitarian organization in Baghdad on Monday and killed five employees. The attackers also left behind a bomb, which exploded later when security forces arrived at the scene, wounding two members of Iraqi security forces. Attacks against humanitarian groups are relatively rare amid the violence that continues to plague Iraq despite security gains over the past two years.

Iran

Diplomats said Tuesday Iran has formally responded to a nuclear fuel swap proposal but rejected the call to ship out most of the enriched uranium it would need to make a warhead. The draft plan would take most of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to Russia and then France, before returning it in the form of fuel rods for its research reactor. The US and its allies would like to strip Tehran of its enriched material as a means to delay its ability to make nuclear warheads. Meanwhile, Military Intelligence  chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin warned the Knesset on Tuesday that Iran is still progressing in its nuclear program “at a rate of a number of kilograms [of enriched uranium] every day… They are also advancing on the military track, but that is being done secretly.”

Nigeria

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that more than 40 people have been killed in the Nigerian city of Jos after Muslim youths attacked Christians near a Catholic Church. Around 200 Muslim youths claimed to gather yesterday to renovate a house next to St. Michael’s Catholic Church, but allegedly launched an unprovoked assault on female passerby before attacks those in the church. The attacks escalated to torched houses, business, and other local churches. Angered by the violence, Christian youths gathered to launch a counter attack, and the violence soon spread to other areas of Jos North. Plateau State’s Police Commissioner said that 30 armed people had been arrested in connection with the attack, five of whom were wearing military uniform.

India

Christian Today reports that displaced Christians in Orissa face premature eviction from their refugee camps prior to this month’s EU delegation visit. “The local government has ordered to vacate people immediately and if we refuse police force will be used,” a worried survivor said. Many of the camp’s residents have been there since 2008, when Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the murder of their leader and burned Christian homes. The European Union delegation will visit for a fact-finding mission starting Jan. 27, and Indian officials are reportedly trying to project a peaceful image. “We cannot go back to our village, because they will not allow us to live there if we do not convert to Hinduism,” said Meena Nayak, a mother of two. “The government is not prepared to provide security and necessary helps. On top of it they are trying to throw us out from here also.”

Weather

The U.N. climate change panel has acknowledged that its warning that Himalayan glaciers may melt by 2035 was not backed by sufficient scientific evidence. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the claim in its 2007 report was made from poorly substantiated estimates of glacier recession. The statement on Wednesday came after the Nobel-winning panel was criticized for its forecast on the Himalayan glaciers. India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said the projection is not based on any scientific evidence.

  • The global warming conspiracy continues to unravel

The decade of 2000-09 was the Earth‘s warmest on record, according to data released last week by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The climate center reported that the decade’s average global surface temperature was almost 1 degree above the 20th-century average. This shattered the 1990s reading, which was 0.65°F above average. The global average is based on readings from more than 7,200 ground weather stations around the world and from ships and buoys at sea. Global weather data go back to 1880.

  • That’s only 11 decades worth of readings, hardly sufficient to determine long-term trends

Another massive winter storm system is dumping record rainfalls in the eastern Mediterranean region, bringing relief to the drought stricken area and replenishing water supplies, but also causing widespread flooding and severe damage. An earlier wave of wet weather on Sunday brought flash floods to the arid Negev in Israel, causing at least two deaths in the southern Arava region and destroying a bridge. The current storm is wreaking havoc in the northern Galilee region and more rain forecast for the rest of the week. In northern Israel, several homes, businesses and transportation routes were damaged, and several concrete sewage system covers were blown off by the water pressure from below in Haifa, creating mini-geysers all over the city.

January 18, 2010

Ten Commandments on Winning Streak

The head of Liberty Counsel, a firm that litigates on civil and religious rights issues, says a decision from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has extended a winning streak for the Ten Commandments that dates back to 2005. The organization successfully argued on behalf of the legality of a display in a public building in Kentucky that included the Ten Commandments among other historical references. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling in the case brought by the ACLU that reversed a lower court’s opinion that said the Ten Commandments were impermissible. “The Ten Commandments are as much at home in a display about the foundation of law as stars and stripes are to the American flag,” said Mathew Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman. “The Ten Commandments are part of the fabric of our country and helped shape the law. It defies common sense to remove a recognized symbol of law from a court of law. “The ACLU might not like our history and might run from it, but the fact remains that the Ten Commandments shaped our laws and may be displayed in a court of law. I am sure the ACLU will not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review this case. The ACLU has been running from the Supreme Court since 2005 and has taken loss after loss on the Ten Commandments,” he said.

Canadian Policy Targets ‘Homophobia’

Opponents of “hate crimes” legislation, who have frequently pointed to Canada as an example of how such laws are used to increasingly suppress moral objections to homosexuality, now have more fuel for their fire in the form of the “Quebec Policy Against Homophobia.” The policy, released last month by Quebec’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Kathleen Weil, assigns the government the task of eliminating all forms of “homophobia” and “heterosexism” – including the belief that homosexuality is immoral – from society as a whole. “An inclusive society such as ours must take the necessary steps to combat homophobic attitudes and behavior patterns and move towards full acceptance of sexual diversity,” states the Premier of Quebec Jean Charest in a letter that serves as the policy’s introduction.

Critics, Christians Condemn Robertson’s Haiti Remark

Christian leader Pat Robertson continued his tradition of incendiary remarks last week, saying that Haiti’s deadly earthquake happened because the country’s people once “swore a pact to the devil.” Referencing colonial times, Robertson said, “Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.” His comments sparked widespread outrage from critics and Christians alike. “It is absolute arrogance to try to interpret any of God’s actions as a judgment against this person or that person,” Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Our duty as Christians is to try to help these people pray for these people and to help them.” At least 46 Christian relief organizations are working to get aid into Haiti, according to Christian News Headlines.

  • Voodoo and other ungodly practices have indeed cursed Haiti through the law of sowing and reaping

Haitian Earthquake

The worldwide effort to rescue battered Haiti entered its second week Monday with thousands of frustrated Haitians saying they are still waiting for food, water and medical care and are worried about violence. As the United States and other nations stepped up their efforts Sunday to get aid to millions of people in need, some aid groups said the effort was in disarray. Throughout the country, injured victims still await the arrival of doctors and medical supplies. Doctors Without Borders teams are working in five Port-au-Prince hospitals, but only two are fully functional. Those lucky enough to escape injury face the rising threat of disease and death while awaiting food, water and medicine.

Conditions in Haiti grew worse Sunday as thousands of residents begged for food and water, and bodies were dumped in mass graves. Bulldozer after bulldozer dumped buckets full of bodies and debris into a grave at the Port-au-Prince cemetery downtown. Voodoo priests in Haiti  have objected to the use of anonymous mass burials to remove the thousands of dead from the streets of Haiti, Reuters reports. Haitian officials say so far at least 50,000 bodies have been dumped in mass graves outside the quake-ravaged capital, Port-au-Prince. “The conditions in which bodies are being buried is not respecting the dignity of these people,” Haiti’s main voodoo leader, Max Beauvoir said.

Informed U.S. State Department sources tell WorldNetDaily that Washington has taken de-facto control of earthquake-ravaged Haiti. “USAID has now taken control [of Haiti],” said one source. “We [the U.S.] are the only ones who can get things done.” Vice President Joe Biden told reporters at Homestead Air Force Base, Fla., where relief efforts are underway, that Haiti is a nation “that has totally collapsed.” U.N. relief efforts, however, have been criticized as “disorganized” and “haphazard” by U.S. sources. The U.N.’s Haiti operations center was destroyed in last week’s quake. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative, Hedi Annabi, who remained “missing” more than four days later, was found dead Saturday. Annabi was believed to be in the complex at the time of the quake.

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told the Associated Press that a final toll of 100,000 dead would “seem to be the minimum.” Relief workers warned that unless supplies are quickly delivered, Port-au-Prince will degenerate into lawlessness. There were signs that the desperate — or the criminal — were taking things into their own hands. A water delivery truck driver said he was attacked in one of the city’s slums. There were reports of isolated looting as young men walked through downtown with machetes,

Celebrities, companies, sports teams and regular Americans are mobilizing to help Haiti with an outpouring of generosity that could exceed private donations made after Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami. “We’re hearing that this is breaking all records,” says Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator, an independent group that evaluates U.S. charities. After Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, private donations by Americans totaled $6.47 billion, says Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy. Almost $2 billion was given by private U.S. donors after the Asian tsunami.

H1N1 Swine Flu

About 1 in 5 Americans have been vaccinated against swine flu, according to the government’s first detailed estimates of vaccination rates against the new pandemic. Two government surveys concluded that an estimate 61 million people — or about 20% of the population — got a shot or nasal spray vaccination against swine flu since the vaccine became available this fall. Vaccination rates were a bit higher for people deemed to be especially vulnerable to the new influenza, including pregnant women, children and people with underlying health conditions. About 28% of the 160 million in those targeted groups got vaccine. Hundreds of thousands of children are overdue for a second dose of H1N1 vaccine that’s needed to fully protect them from swine flu, a USA TODAY review of data from 10 states shows.

Drug Recall/Kickbacks

Johnson & Johnson issued a massive recall Friday of over-the-counter drugs including Tylenol, Motrin and St. Joseph’s aspirin because of a moldy smell that has made people sick. It was the second such recall in less than a month because of the smell, which regulators said was first reported to McNeil in 2008. Federal regulators criticized the company, saying it didn’t respond to the complaints quickly enough, wasn’t thorough in how it handled the problem and didn’t inform the Food and Drug Administration quickly. The recall includes some batches of regular and extra-strength Tylenol, children’s Tylenol, eight-hour Tylenol, Tylenol arthritis, Tylenol PM, children’s Motrin, Motrin IB, Benadryl Rolaids, Simply Sleep, and St. Joseph’s aspirin. The smell is caused by small amounts of a chemical associated with the treatment of wooden pallets, Johnson & Johnson said.

Federal prosecutors said Friday that health care giant Johnson & Johnson paid tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks so nursing homes would put more patients on its blockbuster schizophrenia medicine and other drugs. In a complaint filed Friday, prosecutors said J&J paid rebates and other forms of kickbacks to Omnicare, the country’s biggest dispenser of prescription drugs in nursing homes. Prosecutors allege Omnicare pharmacists then recommended that nursing home patients with signs of Alzheimer’s disease be put on the powerful schizophrenia drug Risperdal, which was later found to increase risk of death in the elderly.

Confidence About Race Relations Down in U.S.

When Barack Obama was sworn in as the first African-American president nearly a year ago, gray-haired veterans of the civil-rights movement wept and talked of their joy at seeing Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream realized. For many, it was a euphoric moment, and polls reflected an overwhelming optimism by both Black and White Americans that the election of the nation’s first Black president would improve America’s race relations. Today, many Americans aren’t quite so confident. A new survey of racial attitudes by the Pew Research Center indicates that 54 percent of Blacks and 32 percent of Whites believe Obama’s election has improved race relations. But that is down considerably from the numbers in a Pew poll taken just after Obama’s election, when nearly three-quarters of Blacks and almost half of Whites said they expected to see race relations improve.

Mortgage Plan Falls Short

The Obama administration’s mortgage relief plan provided help to only 7% of borrowers who signed up last year, another black mark for the struggling program. As of last month, only about 66,500 homeowners of the 900,000 enrolled had received permanent relief last year, the Treasury Department said Friday. Another 46,000 have been approved and should be completed soon. The plan was announced with great fanfare 11 months ago, but has done little to stem the foreclosure crisis or its drag on home prices. A record 2.8 million households were threatened with foreclosure last year, up more than 20% from a year earlier, RealtyTrac reported this week. Home prices, meanwhile, are down 30% nationally from the peak in mid-2006.

Economic News

Regulators on Friday shut down two small banks in Illinois and Minnesota, the second and third bank failures of 2010 following 140 closures last year amid the weak economy and mounting loan defaults. As the economy has soured, with unemployment rising, home prices tumbling and loan defaults soaring, bank failures have accelerated and sapped billions out of the federal deposit insurance fund. It fell into the red last year. The 140 bank failures last year were the highest annual tally since 1992, at the height of the savings and loan crisis. They cost the insurance fund more than $30 billion last year. The failures compare with 25 in 2008 and three in 2007.

Consumer inflation was tame in 2009, with prices rising 2.7%. Yet families felt squeezed as their spending power sank in the face of falling wages, job losses and higher prices for energy, medical care and education. A surge in energy prices last year offset the biggest drop in food costs in nearly a half century. Inflation-adjusted weekly wages for the 12 months ending in December were down 1.6%.

Over 100 Christian Teenagers Arrested in Egypt

ASSIST News Service reports that Egyptian State Security has intensified its intimidation of Christians in Nag Hammadi and neighboring Bahgoura by carrying out random arrests of Christian youth. Numerous members of families have been arrested, mostly at dawn, without warrants since Jan. 7. More than 100 Christian youth have been arrested without charge. The arrests of rests of Copts after every crime is the usual scenario as a pressure card in the hands of Egyptian State Security to force the church and Copts to accept “reconciliation,” in which Coptic victims give up all criminal and civil charges against the perpetrators. Bishop Kyrollos was reportedly asked to issue statements downplaying the negligence of State Security in the Jan. 5 drive-by shootings that killed six Christians and a security guard.

Afghanistan

Taliban militants struck in the heart of the Afghan capital Monday, launching suicide attacks on key government targets in a clear sign the insurgents plan to escalate their fight as the U.S. and its allies ramp up a campaign to end the war. At least five people, including a child, were killed and nearly 40 wounded, officials said.

A suicide bomber killed 20 people — including three children — in a market in central Afghanistan in the deadliest attack against Afghan civilians in more than three months. Suicide bombings and other attacks have become the No. 1 killer of Afghan civilians in the intensifying war between U.S.-led forces and the Taliban. A United Nations report released this week found that the number of Afghan civilians killed in war-related violence rose last year to its highest level of the 8-year-old war — with nearly 70% of the deaths blamed on the Taliban and their allies.

Afghanistan‘s parliament Saturday rejected more than half of President Hamid Karzai‘s second list of Cabinet nominees — including two of three women — dealing him a fresh political blow as his government struggles to face the growing Taliban threat.

Pakistan

Five Americans arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of terrorism told a court Monday that they had been tortured by police — charges that could add to political sensitivities surrounding the case. The men made the allegations during a hearing before a special anti-terrorism court in Sargodha. The session was held in order for police to submit a charge sheet alleging that the suspects had conspired in a terrorist act, a formal legal step that brings them closer to a possible indictment. Prison authorities and police denied any ill-treatment. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said he had no immediate comment about the torture allegations, but noted consular officials have visited the men.

U.S. unmanned aircraft fired on a house in Pakistan‘s volatile tribal region Sunday, killing at least a dozen people in an area hit by a surge of such strikes since the beginning of the year, intelligence officials said. Four missiles slammed into a building in the Shaktoi area of South Waziristan that intelligence officials said was used by Uzbek militants fighting with the Pakistani Taliban. At least one suspected U.S. drone fired on a house in Pakistan‘s volatile tribal region, killing 20 people in the 11th such attack since militants in the area orchestrated a deadly suicide bombing against the CIA in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.

Philippines

Fire raced through a slum near the main port in the Philippine capital, killing a 5-year-old girl, gutting hundreds of shanties and leaving 4,000 people homeless, an official said Sunday. Fires in Manila’s overcrowded slums are common, with the tight living conditions allowing flames to quickly spread through houses made of light materials. Saturday’s fire destroyed 500 shanties.

Earthquakes

The island of Hispaniola, home to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, sits on the Enriquillo fault, the boundary between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates. It is a slip-strike fault, where two portions of the Earth‘s crust are sliding past each other. Tuesday’s 7.0 Haiti earthquake, which centered just 10 miles southeast of the capital of Port-au-Prince in the southern portion of the island, was not unexpected,. But while the scientific community was aware there was a potential problem, little was done by Haiti to prepare.

Earthquake monitors say a 6.3 magnitude temblor has shaken the ocean floor between South America and Antarctica, too deep and far from land to cause any damage. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake hit at 8 a.m. Sunday in Drake Passage, about 220 miles southeast of Ushuaia, Argentina, at a depth of 13 miles.

Weather

Residents of canyons and foothills braced for possible mudslides as a series of powerful storms is forecast to begin pounding the West Coast today with heavy rain and snow, strong winds and high surf. National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Meier said the foothills and mountain areas around Los Angeles could receive 8 to 16 inches of rain this week. Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door Sunday, warning residents in the most vulnerable areas that they should leave for safer ground when the rains start and before mandatory evacuations are issued.

January 14, 2010

Governor Brewer Asks Arizona to Pray

In response to a request by more than 40 pastors and ministry leaders throughout Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer has issued an historic proclamation for a Day of Prayer for Arizona’s economy and state budget on January 17th, 2010. The proclamation states: “Throughout this day of prayer, we ask for God’s favor, blessing, wisdom, and guidance to rest upon our state government, businesses, and our citizens … that God would aid and empower the citizens and businesses in our state ….” You can read the rest of Governor Brewer’s proclamation here. Pray that the churches of Arizona answer the call to prayer. Check to see whether your church is aware of this Proclamation.

Earthquakes

As the scope of the devastation from a magnitude-7.0 earthquake became clearer Wednesday, survivors spoke in terms of all that has disappeared. Most hospitals, houses, schools, roads and grocery stores — virtually every necessity of basic life — were transformed into piles of rubble. Thousands were dead, President René Préval said, and one of the world’s poorest countries had become almost entirely dependent on outside help to survive. Piles of bodies lined the streets. The parliament and presidential palace were destroyed. Even the main prison crumbled, unleashing hundreds of inmates. Aid organizations were beginning what they said may be one of the biggest, most complex relief efforts in recent history. The absence of clean water, electricity and medical supplies could result in more deaths in the days ahead unless dramatic action is taken, they said. “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Curt Welling, president and CEO of AmeriCares, an aid organization. “Pretty much all the vital infrastructure in Port au Prince seems to have been destroyed. This could all take years to repair.”

The earthquake Tuesday evening hit an impoverished, often dysfunctional country that has dealt with more than its fair share of tragedy. Since just 2004, Haiti has faced floods, food riots, mudslides, at least five hurricanes and a rebellion that left it briefly without a functioning government, forcing United Nations peacekeepers to take charge. The succession of calamities — made worse by decades of dictatorship and political mismanagement — has led to a country where most people survive on $2 or less a day. Even before the earthquake, Haiti relied on foreign aid for most of its food.

  • Haiti is the voodoo capital of the Western Hemisphere even as New Orleans is the voodoo capital of the USA. Severe earthquakes will become more common as these last days unfold (Matthew 24:7)

Weather

Throw a Category 3 hurricane at Florida and the state is ready. But brush it with 20-degree weather for a few days, and millions of fish turn up dead, power companies beg customers to ease up, winter vegetable crops are decimated, and iguanas start falling from the sky. The Sunshine State routinely gets brief snaps of cold in the winter, but a prolonged arctic blast that finally started easing Tuesday broke records across the state. Florida accounts for about half of the aquarium fish sold in North America.

The Florida Tropical Fish Farms Association estimates that up to 90% of their fish — numbering in the millions — died in the past two weeks. The cold has killed wild fish across the state: Hundreds of people have called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to report mass fish kills, spokeswoman Carli Segelson said. She said about 300 dead sea turtles were found off Florida’s shores, and 1,500 live ones were taken to rehabilitation centers. In South Florida, the cold has placed thousands of iguanas into a comalike state, said Ron Magill of Miami Metrozoo. He said the iguanas, which are not native to the state, go into a type of “suspended animation” and have been falling out of trees.

  • We will continue to see greater weather extremes during this time period Jesus called the “beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8, Rev. 8:7)

Obama Wants $33 Billion More for War

The Obama administration plans to ask Congress for an additional $33 billion to fight unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, on top of a record request for $708 billion for the Defense Department next year, The Associated Press reports. The extra $33 billion in 2010 would mostly go toward the expansion of the war in Afghanistan. Obama ordered an extra 30,000 troops for that war as part of an overhaul of the war strategy late last year. The request for that additional funding will be sent to Congress at the same time as the record spending request for next year, making war finding an especially difficult pill for some of Obama’s Democratic allies.

Repeated Deployments Wearing Down U.S. Troops/Wives

American soldiers of the 21st century are quietly making history, serving in combat longer than almost any U.S. soldiers in the nation’s past, military historians say. For many, the fighting seems without end, a fatalism increasingly shared by most Americans. The cycles of combat have been so long and so frequent that nearly 13,000 soldiers now have spent three to four cumulative years at war in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Army records. About 500 GIs have spent more than four years in combat, the Army says. Suicides are at record levels. The divorce rate among enlisted soldiers has steadily increased during the war years. Rates of mental health and prescription drug abuse are on the rise.

Wives of soldiers sent to war suffered significantly higher rates of mental health issues than those whose husbands stayed home, according to the largest study ever done on the emotional impact of war on Army wives. Those rates were higher among wives whose husband deployed longer than 11 months, according to findings published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. When soldiers were deployed 11 months or longer, their wives had a 24% higher rate of suffering from depression.

Students More Stressed than During Great Depression

A new study has found that five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues as youth of the same age who were studied in the Great Depression era. The findings, culled from responses to a popular psychological questionnaire used as far back as 1938, confirm what counselors on campuses nationwide have long suspected as more students struggle with the stresses of school and life in general. Mental health professionals speculate that a popular culture increasingly focused on the external — from wealth to looks and status — has contributed to the uptick in mental health issues. Overall, an average of five times as many students in 2007 surpassed thresholds in one or more mental health categories, compared with those who did so in 1938.

Black Optimism Rises

Despite high unemployment and shrinking incomes, black Americans are more satisfied with their situation than at any time in the past 25 years, and more than half say life will get better for them. A poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, which studies American attitudes and trends, found that 39% of blacks say things are better for them than they were five years ago — almost twice the percentage that said that in 2007. Twelve percent said things are worse. More than half of blacks surveyed, 53%, say they think life will get better, compared with 44% two years ago. The reason: the “halo effect” of electing the first black president, says Paul Taylor, the Pew center’s executive vice president, a co-author of the study.

Most Americans Support Ethnic Profiling

Americans are divided over whether President Obama’s response to the foiled bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner on Christmas Day went far enough, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds: 42% say Obama’s measures didn’t go far enough; 38% call them “about right” and 4% say they go too far. However, there was broad support for the controversial practice of ethnic profiling in airline security. By 3-1, those polled favor the idea of subjecting airline passengers to more intensive security checks if they fit a profile of terrorists based on age, ethnicity and gender. The findings could fuel an already heated debate about whether profiling is appropriate or effective.

Some Patients Willing to Pay Extra for ‘Boutique’ Doctors

Primary care physicians are increasingly offering exclusivity to those willing to pay for it. These practices, known as concierge, boutique or retainer practices, typically charge annual fees that range from $1,500 to $10,000 or more. The fee allows the doctors to prosper with a far smaller roll of patients than has become the norm under the traditional system. Patients like the extra attention and lack of crowded waiting rooms. Doctors say they need alternatives to a payment system that forces them to cram their schedule with appointments. But the growth comes with concerns about doctor access, particularly since a bill moving through Congress could cover millions of uninsured people and flood doctor offices with new primary care patients.

Hepatitis B, C Overlooked

They’re the overlooked viruses: Hepatitis B and C together infect three to five times more Americans than the AIDS virus does, and most don’t know it. In the next 10 years, these two liver-damaging infections will kill about 150,000 people in the U.S. alone, says a new report Monday from the prestigious Institute of Medicine. It calls for a major public health push to decrease the stigma of these simmering viruses, which are to blame for nearly half the liver transplants performed every year. People at highest risk for hepatitis B include those born in parts of Asia and Africa where the virus is particularly widespread, infants born to infected mothers, sexual partners of the infected, and injecting drug users. At-risk adults can seek vaccination. Those at highest risk for hepatitis C include current or former injecting drug users and people who received a blood transfusion before 1992.

Public Universities Becoming ‘Far Richer, Far Whiter’

The follow-up to a 2006 analysis of federal data concludes that 50 flagship public universities, one in each state, “continue to enroll students who are far richer and far whiter” than most in their states, says Kati Haycock, director of the non-profit Education Trust, which released both reports. The report says the schools are less generous to needy students than they could be; it calls “obscene” the $761 million spent in 2007 on students with family incomes over $80,000 — nearly as much as on those with incomes under $54,000. And even as the representation of minorities improved slightly, gaps in enrollment and graduation rates persist.

Economic News

The federal budget deficit hit an all-time high for the month of December, and the red ink for the first three months of the current budget year is rising at a more rapid pace than last year’s record clip. The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the deficit last month totaled $91.85 billion, the largest December deficit on record. For the first three months of the current budget year, which began on Oct. 1, the deficit totals $388.51 billion, 16.8% higher than the $332.49 billion imbalance recorded during the same period a year ago. Last year’s deficit surged to $1.42 trillion, more than three times the record of the previous year.

Retail sales fell in December as demand for autos, clothing and appliances all slipped, a disappointing finish to a year in which sales had the largest drop on record. Meanwhile, the number of newly laid-off American workers requesting unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week as jobs remain scarce amid a sluggish economic recovery.

Foreclosure filings increased 14% in December from November, the first monthly increase since foreclosure activity peaked in July, according to a RealtyTrac report out Thursday. Foreclosure filings were reported on 349,519 properties in December, which were also 15% higher than in December 2008.

President Barack Obama is expected to announce a new fee Thursday on the country’s biggest financial firms to recover up to $120 billion in taxpayers’ money used to prop up corporations during the economic crisis. Obama is targeting an industry whose political deafness has vexed his administration. Banks once threatened by the undertow of a Wall Street collapse are now posting profits and proposing robust bonuses for their executives. The $120 billion recovery goal is the most that administration officials expect to lose from the government’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program that bailed out banks, automakers and other financial firms.

Recession pain has hit widely and deeply among U.S. churches — driving down contributions and limiting budgets, according to surveys from two groups specializing in Christian research. A national survey of 1,002 Protestant pastors in November by Nashville-based LifeWay Research found: 57% said the poor economy was hurting their church; 70% reported increased requests from people outside their congregation for assistance.

19 Christians Arrested in Xinjiang, China

ASSIST News Service reports that Han and Uyghur Christians faced a new wave of persecution recently in the religiously-charged Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. On Dec. 25, 2009, farm leaders and police broke into the home of Wang Qiyue, a 71-year-old widow, disrupting the Christmas gathering and ransacking her home. According to ChinaAid, these “People’s Police” burned Ms. Wang’s furniture, as she was thrown against a police car by the Korla Chief of Security, Yu Fagan. ChinaAid goes on to say that six farm leaders next barged into the home of 69-year-old hemiplegic He Cuiying, and confiscated more than 30 Bibles and Christian books. The leaders then burned the materials in a bonfire outside her home, as a means of public humiliation. Later, five elderly Christians were arrested with no cause and fined 5,000 Yuan each.

Yemen

A Yemeni governor says security forces killed a suspected al-Qaeda figure in a raid in a remote mountainous province. Security officials also say two members of the security forces were killed and four wounded when suspected al-Qaeda fighters attacked their patrol Wednesday elsewhere in Shabwa province, east of the capital. Shabwa’s governor, Ali Ahmadi, says the militant, Abdullah Mizhar, was killed Tuesday night in the raid on a house in the Maysaa region. Ahmadi says Mizhar was the leader of a local group of al-Qaeda fighters. Security officials say four others with Mizhar were arrested, while the rest fled.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber apparently planning to attack a meeting of NATO and tribal officials blew himself up in a busy market district Thursday in central Afghanistan, killing at least 20 people, officials said, making it the deadliest attack against civilians in more than three months. Two U.S. service members died and four Afghan soldiers were killed in separate explosions Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan, an area of the nation rife with violence, officials said. Nine members of the Afghan National Police were injured Wednesday in other incidents.

Pakistan

U.S. missiles killed at least 12 alleged militants Thursday in a compound formerly used as a religious school in Pakistan‘s North Waziristan tribal region, officials said, the eighth such attack in two weeks. The strike illustrated the Obama administration’s unwillingness to abandon its missile campaign against insurgent targets along Pakistan’s northwest border with Afghanistan. Despite Pakistani protest, the attacks have surged in number in recent days.

Iraq

A Baghdad court on Thursday sentenced 11 Iraqis to death for their roles in a series of deadly attacks that rocked the country’s capital last August. The attacks were a major blow to Iraq‘s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is seeking to reassure Iraqis his government has security under control ahead of crucial March elections. A criminal court in Baghdad’s eastern Risafa district found the 11 defendants guilty of financing, planning and participating in the Aug. 19 bombings that devastated the foreign and finance ministries.

January 12, 2010

Most OK with TSA Full-Body Scanners

Air travelers strongly approve of the government’s use of body scanners at the nation’s airports even if the machines compromise privacy, a USA TODAY/Gallup poll finds. Poll respondents appeared to endorse a Transportation Security Administration plan to install 300 scanners at the nation’s largest airports this year to replace metal detectors. The machines, used in 19 airports, create vivid images of travelers under their clothes to reveal plastics and powders to screeners observing monitors in a closed room. In the poll, 78% of respondents said they approved of using the scanners, and 67% said they are comfortable being examined by one. Eighty-four percent said the machines would help stop terrorists from carrying explosives onto airplanes.

Fort Hood Review: Doctors Voiced Concerns, Did Not Act

A Defense Department review of the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, has found the doctors overseeing Maj. Nidal Hasan‘s medical training repeatedly voiced concerns over his strident views on Islam and his inappropriate behavior, yet continued to give him positive performance evaluations that kept him moving through the ranks. The picture emerging from the review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates is one of supervisors who failed to heed their own warnings about an officer ill-suited to be an Army psychiatrist,. Hasan, 39, murdered 13 people on Nov. 5 at Fort Hood, the worst killing spree on a U.S. military base.

Suicide Rate of Veterans Increases

The suicide rate among 18- to 29-year-old men who’ve left the military has gone up significantly, the government said Monday. The rate for these veterans went up 26% from 2005 to 2007, according to preliminary data from the Veterans Affairs Department. It’s assumed that most of the veterans in this age group served in Iraq or Afghanistan. If there is a bright spot in the data, it’s that in 2007 veterans in the group who used VA health care were less likely to commit suicide than those who did not. That’s a change from 2005.

Analysts Question Savings in Health Care Bill

As Democratic leaders continue talks this week over how to pay for health care legislation, they are coming under renewed pressure from independent analysts who question whether long-term savings called for in the bill are realistic. From proposed Medicare cuts to a program for seniors that would accumulate money only in its first years, the bill contains provisions that add up to billions in savings and revenue. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, over the next decade, the House bill would cost about $1 trillion, compared with $871 billion for the Senate version. The office projects the Senate’s health care bill would reduce budget deficits by $132 billion over 10 years. A December Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) report said some of the cuts “may be unrealistic” and could reduce access to care. Rudolph Penner, a fellow at the Urban Institute, said it would be “very hard” politically for Congress to ultimately allow the cuts to occur.

  • When have government projections ever been right? Costs always wind up higher and savings lower.

Justice Dept. Orders Crackdown on Tribal Crime

The Justice Department on Monday ordered prosecutors in 33 states to step up their efforts to combat persistently high violent crime on Indian reservations, particularly offenses against women and children. Attorney General Eric Holder was to announce the initiative after his deputy, David Ogden, issued a memo to federal prosecutors in those areas instructing them to do more to fight tribal crime — a problem the Justice Department has long been accused of ignoring. Ogden’s memo also said 47 new prosecutors and FBI personnel will be assigned to handle such crimes. While the nationwide crime rate continues to fall, statistics show American Indians are the victims of violent crime at more than twice the national rate — and some tribes have murder rates against women 10 times greater than the national average.

N.J. Approves Medical Marijuana Bill

The Legislature on Monday approved a bill that would make New Jersey the 14th state to allow chronically ill patients access to marijuana for medical reasons. The bill allows patients with ailments such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis to buy up to 2 ounces of marijuana a month at state-monitored dispensaries. A provision allowing patients to grow marijuana was removed from the bill before it was passed. Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine supports the legislation and could sign it before leaving office next week, making it law. Incoming Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said he supported the concept of the bill but remained concerned that a loophole could lead to abuses.

U.S. Lags in Electric Cars

A new report says the U.S. is way behind Europe and Asia when it comes to electric transportation, from plug-in hybrids to electric-car-like features in the name of saving gas. Almost half of all vehicle nameplates sold around the world – some 20 million units – will will offer some form of electrified propulsion technology by 2020, reports automotive forecasting firm CSM Worldwide. One million vehicles will be built in the U.S. with electrified propulsion systems and most of them will be mild- or full-hybrids. That’s not as great as in the rest of the world: By contrast, Europe will have about 15 million units electrified by 2020.

Spirit of Giving Drops Off after Holidays

A post-holiday slump in donations and volunteerism has some social-service agencies and non-profit groups wondering whether people packed away generosity with the tinsel. It’s a particularly troubling trend now as the number of clients climbs each month because of the troubled economy. The Volunteer Center of Fond du Lac County is trying to get people involved again by asking them to make volunteering a New Year’s resolution.

Arizona to Tackle Extreme Budget Deficit

As the Arizona Legislature begins its regular session today, balancing the budget is not just the main issue. It is the issue, as lawmakers must balance not one budget but two: the current year’s budget and the one for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The cumulative deficit is about $4.5 billion. With the stimulus money gone, the state will have to use its general fund to replace more than $1 billion that has been used to prop up education, health care and prison programs. “We lovingly refer to that as the federal ‘cliff,’ ” John Arnold, the governor’s budget director, said of the drop-off in federal dollars. The ripple effects of job losses in Arizona continue: Unemployment-insurance taxes paid by Arizona businesses will rise an average of 50 percent in 2010, which could further stall hiring.

  • 2010 will be the year that severe state budget cuts will cause the greatest economic consternation

Arizona’s state buildings — including the capitol, the governor’s office, the state hospital and state prisons — go on sale Tuesday as the financially pressed state tries to raise money to plug a $4.5 billion deficit. The state hopes to raise $732 million. The state expects to fetch $18.5 million each for the House and the Senate buildings. The state archives building should go for $29.5 million, the huge prison in Florence, Ariz., is likely to sell for $123 million, and the executive office tower, or governor’s office, is pegged at $43 million. Under the terms of the 20-year sale-leaseback offer, investors will buy tax-exempt “certificates of participation” in the buildings in $5,000 increments and will earn an interest rate of 4 to 5 %, the Arizona Republic says.

  • What a hare-brained scheme, trading ownership for debt. Over the long term costs will be greater and lack of ownership will come back to bite the government in many unforeseen ways.

Road Projects Did Not Spur Employment

Ten months into President Barack Obama’s first economic stimulus plan, a surge in spending on roads and bridges has had no effect on local unemployment and only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, an Associated Press analysis has found. Spend a lot or spend nothing at all, it didn’t matter, the AP analysis showed: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless of how much stimulus money Washington poured out for transportation, raising questions about Obama’s argument that more road money would address an “urgent need to accelerate job growth.” Obama wants a second stimulus bill from Congress that relies in part on more road and bridge spending, projects the president said are “at the heart of our effort to accelerate job growth.” AP’s analysis, which was reviewed by independent economists at five universities, showed that strategy hasn’t affected unemployment rates so far.

Economic News

The U.S. trade deficit jumped to the highest level in 10 months as an improving U.S. economy pushed up demand for imports. However, exports rose as well, boosted by a weaker dollar, supporting the view that American manufacturers will be helped by a rebounding global economy. The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that the trade deficit jumped 9.7% to $36.4 billion in November. Exports rose 0.9%, the seventh consecutive gain, as demand was up for American-made autos, farm products and industrial machinery. Imports, however, rose a much faster 2.6%, led by a 7.3% rise in petroleum imports.

The Federal Reserve said Tuesday it made a record profit of $46.1 billion last year as the U.S. central bank made money off its extraordinary efforts to rescue the country from the worst economic and financial crisis since the 1930s. It marks the biggest profit on records dating back to 1914 when the Fed was created. The windfall gets turned over to the U.S. Treasury. The Fed says the increase was primarily due to increased earnings on securities it held last year.

Malaysia

Malaysia strongly condemned attacks on nine Christian churches and sought to assure foreign governments Monday of its commitment to religious freedom for minorities. The unprecedented attacks have strained ties between minority Christians and the majority Malay Muslims, denting Malaysia’s image as a moderate Muslim-majority country and raising questions about its political stability. The attacks, which started Friday, were apparently triggered by a Dec. 31 High Court decision that overturned a government ban on Roman Catholics’ using “Allah” to refer to their God in the Malay-language edition of their main newspaper, the Herald. The ruling also applies to the ban’s broader applications such as Malay-language Bibles, 10,000 copies of which were recently seized by authorities because they translated God as Allah. The government has appealed the verdict.

Middle East

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Dr. Michael Oren, claimed that a two-year timetable for concluding an Israeli-Palestinian peace recently promoted by US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was an “unrealistic goal.” Oren told The Washington Post in remarks published Monday that Mitchell’s proposed deadline “is unrealistic and might prove counterproductive.” Oren’s response came two days after Mitchell suggested that the Obama administration was free to withhold loan guarantees from Israel should the latter delay the peace process.

Afghanistan

U.S. forces have driven the Taliban from most towns and villages in the strategic Helmand province of Afghanistan, leaving incoming troops with the mission of holding key areas and rebuilding the economy, Marine commanders say. “They’ve taken on the Taliban, the insurgency, right in the heartland and they’ve defeated them,” said Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills.

Thirteen insurgents were killed Tuesday in southern Afghanistan by a missile that international forces fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle, NATO said. On Monday, another missile fired from an unmanned aircraft killed three insurgents farther south in the Nad Ali district of Helmand, NATO said.

Three U.S. service members were killed Monday in fighting in southern Afghanistan, underscoring the unrelenting violence in the Taliban heartland as the Obama administration steps up efforts to rout the insurgents. The deaths raised to at least 10 the number of U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan already this year, according to an Associated Press tally.

The Jordanian doctor who killed seven CIA employees in a suicide attack in Afghanistan said in video clips broadcast posthumously Saturday that all jihadists must attack U.S. targets to avenge the death of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. Footage showed Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi — whom the CIA had cultivated as an asset against al-Qaeda — sitting with Mehsud’s successor in an undisclosed location. It essentially confirmed the Pakistani Taliban’s claim of responsibility for one of the worst attacks in CIA history

Iraq

Iraqi security forces locked down parts of Baghdad Tuesday and were searching neighborhoods, said Baghdad’s chief military spokesman, in what appeared to be a wide-ranging operation across the city. While there are hundreds of checkpoints throughout Baghdad, such large-scale lockdowns and searches of neighborhoods have become rare since the height of the insurgency. The security operation comes as Iraq is preparing for crucial nationwide parliamentary elections in March, and officials have warned that insurgents trying to disrupt the vote could try to launch attacks as the election nears.

Weather

Record low temperatures chilled Florida from top to bottom Monday, endangering fruit and vegetable crops and taxing the power grid of a state unaccustomed to the cold. It was 14 degrees Monday morning in Tallahassee, breaking the record of 15 set in 1982. Record-tying lows of 29 were observed in Orlando, and Tampa’s 25-degree weather beat its old record of 27. The National Weather Service reported 36 degrees at the Miami airport, beating an 82-year-old record of 37 degrees. It dipped to 42 degrees in Key West, one degree off the record and the second-coldest reading since 1873. South Florida is usually around 68 degrees this time of year.

Cold weather across much of the eastern United States is increasing demand for energy and bringing higher heating bills at a time when the down economy has sent millions of families in search of winter fuel aid. In Scranton, Pa., the agency that handles requests for home heating assistance has been deluged with requests, many from families that have never sought help before.

Despite an unusually chilly year in the Midwest, the national U.S. temperature was slightly above average in 2009, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Overall, the nation measured 53.1 degrees for the year, which ranked it as the 35-warmest year on record since the late 1800s. The long-term average is 52.8 degrees. Three states –Illinois, Arkansas, and Alabama– slogged through their second-wettest year on record. Meanwhile, six other states had one of their top 10 wettest years ever recorded: Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, and Missouri. Arizona was the only state that recorded one of its 10-driest years on record.

January 10, 2010

Marriage Victory in N.J.

The New Jersey Senate rejected the same-sex marriage bill by a vote of 20-14. Thursday’s victory likely blocks same-sex marriage in New Jersey for at least four years, as incoming Governor Christie has promised to veto any same-sex marriage measure that would come to his desk.

Elected Officials Bail on U.S. Marriage Law

In a case with implications for the entire country, California’s Proposition 8 defining marriage as between one man and one woman goes on trial Monday with only private citizens speaking up for the voter-passed constitutional amendment – because state officials have refused to defend it. Much is riding on the case of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, for the lawsuit is petitioning a federal court to overturn not just a law, but a constitutional amendment passed by the people and affirmed by the state’s Supreme Court. A victory for same-sex marriage advocates in the case could set a precedent for federal courts to overturn every law and amendment in the country currently protecting the traditional definition of marriage. And yet, though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California Attorney General Jerry Brown are named as defendants in the suit, both have refused to act in defense of the amendment, leaving it up to the people of California to take a stand for their constitution on their own.

  • Heavy prayer required on this situation

North Korea Tops Christian Persecution List

North Korea, which reportedly has used believers as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons, is the world’s worst persecutor of Christians, while Iran, which may be using Christians as scapegoats for internal opposition to its president, is No. 2 on the Open Doors 2010 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians in which Shariah, the Islamic religious law, is dominant. A total of 35 nations on the list are under some form of Shariah. The ranking is derived from a questionnaire of 53 questions sent to Open Doors workers, church leaders and experts in 70 nations. North Korea is No. 1 on the list for the eighth straight year. Open Doors reports an estimated 50,000 North Korean Christians are in political prisons. Iran, which previously has been No. 3 on the list, moved up to No. 2, bumping Saudi Arabia, after a wave of arrests of Christians that began in 2008 continued and even intensified last year.

Obama Orders Security Upgrade

President Obama, declaring that the “buck stops with me” when it comes to protecting the nation from terrorists, ordered stepped up aviation security and released a declassified report on intelligence failures behind the near-catastrophic Christmas Day attack. Under the directives issued Thursday, airline passengers will face more pat-downs and many will be put through body-scanning machines in coming months while counterterrorism officials revamp the government’s terrorist watch lists and establish clearer lines of accountability to follow intelligence leads about plots. The changes Obama ordered for the intelligence community steered clear of broad systemic changes, focusing instead on refining and strengthening existing programs. President Obama’s push to revamp the terror watch list, improve airport screening and hold the intelligence community more accountable for tracking suspects does not go far enough, some lawmakers say, arguing that more specific steps need to be taken to avoid a repeat of the attempted Christmas Day bombing.

In a six-page report on the incident, the White House offered a stinging critique of the government’s lapses leading up to the day alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a flight from Amsterdam headed for Detroit. The report said that the government “had sufficient information to have uncovered and potentially disrupted” the attack. Analysts failed to “connect the dots” between those plots and information given by Abdulmutallab’s father to U.S. officials that his son had become radicalized and planned to travel to Yemen. Counterterrorism agencies knew that a potent branch of al-Qaeda in Yemen, where the Associated Press has reported that Abdulmutallab told authorities he received training and explosives, was plotting to attack the United States.

Democratic Departures Encourage Republicans

A stunning wave of Democratic retirements and defections signals a “tsunami” of voter discontent that will hurt President Obama’s ability to deliver on his ambitious legislative agenda, Fox News political analyst Dick Morris told Newsmax in an exclusive interview Tuesday. In a single day Tuesday, three Democrats announced they would not run for re-election: Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.; Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; and Gov. Bill Ritter, D-Colo. Their decisions followed closely on the heels of the announcement by Alabama blue dog Rep. Parker Griffith that he would switch parties and become a Republican. The Democratic setbacks are expected to make it much more difficult for President Obama to persuade skittish Democrats to enact his legislative agenda, including energy cap and trade, pro-union “card check” legislation, and immigration reform.

IRS Helpline a Joke

The most serious problem facing taxpayers is finding someone at the IRS to answer their questions, according to a federal report. Taxpayers who call the IRS’ toll-free number to speak with a customer service representative face lengthy waits, and many never get through, Nina Olson, the IRS’ national taxpayer advocate, said in her annual report to Congress on Wednesday. Olson said the percentage of callers who reached an IRS representative has been declining, from 83% during the 2007 filing season to 64% last year. The IRS also has estimated that callers who get through will have to wait an average of 12 minutes.

Youth Population Dropping

States in the Northeast and Midwest saw their youth population drop by more than 1.2 million in the past decade, a decline that threatens the regions’ economic stability and future growth. An analysis of Census data released Thursday shows that the number of children under 18 fell in half of the nation’s states and the District of Columbia from 2000 to 2009. Vermont‘s youth population fell 14%. North Dakota and Maine also experienced double-digit drops. Nevada had the largest growth in its under-18 population, a 33% jump. Arizona was second at 27%.The USA’s youth population grew 3% in the nine years while the overall population increased 9%.

  • More retired people, fewer workers. Doesn’t bode well for the U.S. economy, particularly Social Security

Youths Sexually Abused in Juvenile Prisons

More than 12% of youths in juvenile prisons are sexually abused while in custody there, according to a Justice Department study out Thursday, and the vast majority of cases involve female staff and boys under their supervision. In the worst facilities surveyed — in Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina and Texas — more than 30% of youths reported they had been sexually victimized. The study, the first of its kind, shows a rate of sexual assault more than seven times higher than that indicated by a 2008 Justice Department report that collected sexual abuse claims to juvenile facility administrators. In nearly half the incidents with staff, youths reported having sexual contact as a result of force.

California Passes Major School-Reform Package

The California Legislature has passed landmark education reforms designed to overhaul the state’s worst schools. The reforms will allow California to compete for part of the $4.3 billion being made available to states under the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative. Under the legislation, state officials could close failing schools, convert them to charter schools or replace the principal and half the staff. Parents whose children are stuck in the lowest-performing schools would be given greater leeway to send their children elsewhere and could petition to turn around a chronically failing school.

Companies Balk at EPA’s Smog-Limit Recommendations

Utility companies, refineries and factories may have to spend up to $90 billion to meet new smog standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, a cost they say is too high in the current economy. The EPA said those costs will be offset by up to $100 billion in savings in health care as people breathe cleaner air, resulting in fewer cases of asthma, bronchitis and other smog-related symptoms. The EPA proposal would lower the permitted concentration of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, to a level of between 60 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion. The exact level will be decided by the Obama administration later this year after hearings.

Hazards of Obesity Now Rival Smoking

Obesity now poses as great a threat to Americans’ quality of life as smoking, a new study shows. Researchers at Columbia University and The City College of New York analyzed 1993-2008 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System that included interviews with more than 3.5 million adults. The results showed that the quality-adjusted life years lost to obesity are equal to, or greater than, those lost because of smokingFrom 1993 to 2008, the number of adult smokers decreased 18.5% and smoking-related quality-adjusted life years lost remained relatively stable. Over that same time, the proportion of obese Americans increased 85%, resulting in more quality-adjusted life years lost.

Recession’s Scars Will Linger

The aftershocks from deep recessions reverberate for years, even decades, and take an enduring toll on everything from government finances to countless upended individual lives. Millions of workers who’ve lost their hold on the labor market are seeing their incomes reset to a permanently lower level. Young people who entered the workforce this year can expect to earn substantially less during their careers than those who start work during booms. As state and local governments slash spending, some children will lose educational opportunities, including the chance to attend college. Others will be weakened by untreated physical and mental illnesses. The ballooning U.S. debt will cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars more each year in annual interest payments.

Today, 15.4 million workers are jobless, more than twice as many as in December 2007. With the Fed expecting the unemployment rate to remain as high as 7.5% through 2012, many Americans will search in vain for new work. Of those laid off, few will regain their previous standard of living. To get work, many will face unwelcome moves to distant states or be forced to abandon preferred careers.

Economic News

Consumer borrowing dropped by a record amount in November, the 10th straight month that Americans relied less on credit cards and banks hoarded their cash. The dramatic decline in borrowing — $17.5 billion in November versus $5 billion that analysts had projected — underscores the battered state of household finances and the uncertain employment picture. Households are struggling “to put their balance sheets in order after the credit and asset bubbles popped,” Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc. said.

Companies cut 84,000 jobs in December, the fewest since March 2008. Layoff announcements also fell to the lowest in two years. Jobs advertised online rose 255,000 last month, the most since October 2005, the Conference Board said.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits for the first time barely rose last week, after two weeks of sharp drops. The four-week average of claims, which smooths fluctuations, fell for the 18th straight week to 450,250. The number of continuing claims dropped 179,000 to 4.8 million, the department said. But that figure doesn’t include an additional 5.4 million people receiving unemployment under federal emergency programs.

Last-minute holiday shoppers brought relief to the nation’s retailers, handing them modest sales gains for the holiday season and prompting several to raise their fourth-quarter profit outlooks. The improved profit picture comes because retailers never had to resort to drastic price-cutting after keeping inventories lean. Still, retailers are facing tough months ahead as consumer spending is expected to remain weak amid high unemployment and tight credit.

China overtook the United States as the biggest auto market in 2009 and automakers should see more strong growth there this year, an industry group reported Friday Boosted by Beijing‘s stimulus, 2009 total vehicle sales are estimated at 13.6 million, growing about 45% from 2008. By contrast, U.S. sales of cars and light trucks plunged 21% in 2009 to 10.4 million.

China also overtook Germany as the world’s top exporter after December exports jumped 17.7% for their first increase in 14 months, data showed Sunday, in another sign of China’s rise as a global economic force.

Israel

The long period of calm in Israel’s south seemed to be unraveling on Thursday as a Katyusha rocket landed near Ashkelon, ten mortars were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, and an IDF unit patrolling near the border fence was shot at by Palestinian gunman, while Israeli air forces struck four targets in the Strip in response, killing one person and wounding two others according to Palestinian sources.

Yemen

Yemen‘s foreign minister said Wednesday that his country opposes any direct intervention by U.S. or other foreign troops in the fight against al-Qaeda. His comments came as Yemeni security forces launched a manhunt for the suspected leader of an al-Qaeda cell believed to be behind a threatened attack that forced the closure this week of the U.S. and British embassies in San’a. The U.S. says the Arhab cell was behind a plot to send al-Qaeda fighters into San’a to carry out attacks, possibly against foreign embassies.

Egypt

Police arrested on Friday three men suspected of carrying out a Christmas Eve drive-by shooting in southern Egypt that killed six Christians, a security official said.. Witnesses and security officials say relatives of six people killed in an attack on churchgoers leaving a midnight Mass for Coptic Christmas smashed ambulances in riots outside a southern Egyptian hospital to demand the bodies be turned over for burial. Three gunmen in a car sprayed automatic gunfire into a crowd leaving a church in the town of Nag Hamadi, about 40 miles from the ancient ruins of Luxor. The lead attacker is identified as a Muslim.

Egyptian security forces engaged in a series of violent clashes on Wednesday with hundreds of foreign activists of the Viva Palestina movement arriving as part of an aid convoy to Gaza and then with Palestinians throwing stones and shooting across the Rafah border area, leaving one Egyptian policeman dead and dozens wounded on all sides.

Pakistan

A blast apparently caused by a suicide vest stored in a house in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi killed eight suspected militants Friday, underscoring the city’s use by insurgents bent on destabilizing the nuclear-armed, U.S.-allied country. The explosion occurred in Baldia, a mostly ethnic Pashtun neighborhood that is a suspected Taliban hide-out. TV footage showed police seizing guns, suicide vests and grenades from the site.

Two suspected U.S. drone missile strikes killed at least 13 people Wednesday in an area of Pakistan‘s volatile northwest teeming with militants suspected in a recent suicide attack that killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said. The lawless North Waziristan tribal area hit Wednesday is home to several militant groups that stage cross-border attacks against coalition troops, including the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network. Counting the latest strikes, suspected U.S. drones have attacked North Waziristan five times since the CIA bombing a week ago, killing at least 20 people.

Iraq

A series of blasts killed six people in Iraq‘s western province of Anbar on Thursday, a police official said, in the latest attack to hit the province that was once the heartland of the al-Qaeda-led insurgency. One explosion targeted a house belonging to Lt. Colonel Mohammed Slaiman, the director of the anti-terrorism unit in the town of Hit, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) west of Baghdad. A second explosion targeted the home of his father next door. Slaiman was wounded and his mother, two sisters, another family member and a child were killed. The combat death of a U.S. soldier Tuesday in Iraq was the first in 43 days, the longest stretch since the war began.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber killed seven people at a busy bazaar in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, and a bomb hidden in a garbage container outside a provincial governor’s compound slightly wounded the official.  NATO says a U.S. service member has been killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan. Use of improvised explosive devices by Afghanistan’s insurgents has risen sharply and take a heavy toll on international forces. About 40% of all U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in 2009 were caused by such bombs.

China

Chinese authorities kept concerns about the safety of a Shanghai dairy’s products secret for nearly a year before announcing last week that the company had been shut for manufacturing contaminated milk, an official said Thursday. The delay in notifying the public about the tainted products raises questions about the effectiveness of China’s efforts to restore confidence in its food industry after several safety scandals in recent years — including one involving contaminated milk — that exposed serious flaws in monitoring the nation’s food supply. The bureau said the dairy was selling milk powder and condensed milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure. The same chemical had been introduced into infant formula and other milk products in 2008 in one of the country’s worst food safety crises

Earthquakes

A powerful offshore earthquake rattled communities in far northern California, cutting power to thousands of customers, causing minor damage to homes and businesses and forcing many people to seek treatment for cuts and bruises from falling debris. Authorities said no major injuries have been reported.  The 6.5 magnitude temblor hit at about 4:27 p.m. PT Saturday and was centered in the Pacific about 22 miles west of Ferndale, but was felt as far south as Capitola in central California and as far north as central Oregon, the U.S. Geological Survey said. In Eureka, about 240 miles north of San Francisco, residents of an apartment building were evacuated, and an office building and two other commercial structures were declared unsafe for occupancy. More than a dozen aftershocks, some with magnitudes as powerful as 4.5, rumbled for several hours after the initial quake.

Weather

By the end of this weekend, 180 million Americans will have shivered through a record-setting bout of arctic cold sweeping from the Great Plains and the Midwest to the Deep South. Sixty percent of the U.S. population will experience temperatures 15 to 30 degrees below average at some point by Sunday night. A week-long cold snap has shut down scores of schools, delayed hundreds of flights, threatened and damaged crops and even knocked iguanas out of trees. At least 19 deaths have been blamed on the cold and icy roads.

Snow was piled so high in Iowa that drivers couldn’t see across intersections and a North Dakota snowblower repair shop was overwhelmed with business as residents braced Thursday for heavy snow and wind chills as low as 52 below zero. Dangerously cold wind chill levels hit the Midwest early Thursday including 52 below zero in northern North Dakota, negative 40 in parts of South Dakota and minus 27 in northeast Nebraska,. Frigid weather also is gripping the South, where a rare cold snap was expected to bring snow and ice Thursday to states from South Carolina to Louisiana. Forecasters said wind chills could drop to near zero at night in some areas.

Germans faced the cancellation of hundreds of flights Saturday as fresh snow blew in from the south, and Britons shivered through the country’s longest cold snap in three decades as icy weather maintained its grip on Europe. One meteorologist called the conditions Siberian. More than 300 car accidents were reported on icy streets in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg; more than 40 people were injured. The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia reported 108 accidents.

January 6, 2010

Congressional ‘Earmarks’ Down by One-Third

The 2010 federal spending bills disclose $10.2 billion for pet projects inserted by members of Congress, a drop of nearly a third since 2008, an analysis of the bills shows. The 9,297 “earmarks” reported in spending legislation for 2010 were down from 11,282 reported for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to data compiled by the non-partisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. The 2009 earmarks were worth $14.3 billion. Still, the spending bills contain billions of dollars for other special-interest programs that aren’t reported as earmarks, says Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Ellis said his group found $4.9 billion worth of such undisclosed funding in last year’s spending bills, for example, but hasn’t finished its analysis of the latest bills.

  • While it’s good that earmarks are down, it’s still reprehensible that over $10 billion is being spent on lawmakers’ pet projects – especially during a severe recession

Where’s the Transparency & Bipartisanship?

President Obama and congressional Democrats head into another strategy session Wednesday over health care reform after deciding Tuesday night to keep the final negotiations as GOP-free as possible by bypassing the traditional conference committee process.  The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress decided to keep the last leg of talks a closed-door affair. Obama is expected to meet with top House Democrats Wednesday afternoon, as they craft strategy well before Congress returns. The aim is to get a final bill to Obama’s desk before the State of the Union policy address sometime in early February. 

Obama to Give Illegals Health Care with Amnesty?

A report from the nation’s capital suggests the White House is working on a deal that would offer immigration reform advocates citizenship for illegal aliens in exchange for support of the health care bill. In November, Roll Call reported that Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., warned President Obama that the 20 members of her caucus would fight health care reform unless it covered illegal immigrants. The president, however, had pledged earlier that illegal aliens would not be covered – a promise that prompted Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., to shout, “You lie!” The Senate version of health care reform, indeed, bars illegal immigrants from coverage, a point that could prove sticky in negotiations with the House’s Hispanic Caucus members in seeking a final version of the bill. Now, however, Talking Points Memo’s D.C. division reports that immigration advocates may be willing to back health care if the president will promise a 2010 push for immigration reform that provides health care coverage for illegals who are granted citizenship.

Americans Slow Spending on Health Care

A decades-long boom in spending on doctors, hospitals and drugs slowed in 2008 to its lowest level, even as health care costs accounted for a greater share of the nation’s economy, the federal government said in a report released Tuesday. Health care spending rose 4.4% in 2008 to $2.3 trillion, or $7,681 per person, the smallest increase since the spending was first tracked in 1960, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The report suggests the down economy forced Americans to go without care. The report also shows private insurance premiums rose 3.1% in 2008.

Americans’ Job Satisfaction Falls to Record Low

Even Americans who are lucky enough to have work in this economy are becoming more unhappy with their jobs, according to a new survey that found only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work. That was the lowest level ever recorded by the Conference Board research group in more than 22 years of studying the issue. In 2008, 49% of those surveyed reported satisfaction with their jobs. The drop in workers’ happiness can be partly blamed on the worst recession since the 1930s, which has made it difficult for some people to find challenging and suitable jobs. But worker dissatisfaction has been on the rise for more than two decades. Workers have grown steadily more unhappy for a variety of reasons: fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting; incomes have not kept up with inflation; and the soaring cost of health insurance has eaten into workers’ take-home pay.

Federal Reserve Wants More Power?

If only we’d had more power, we could have kept the financial crisis from getting so bad. That has been the position of Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, and other regulators. So let’s consider what an empowered Fed might have done during the housing bubble, based on the words of the people who were running it, notes the New York Times. In 2004, Alan Greenspan, then the chairman, said the rise in home values was “not enough in our judgment to raise major concerns.” In 2005, Mr. Bernanke — then a Bush administration official — said a housing bubble was “a pretty unlikely possibility.” As late as May 2007, he said that Fed officials “do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy.” The fact that Mr. Bernanke and other regulators still have not explained why they failed to recognize the last bubble is the weakest link in the Fed’s push for more power. It raises the question: Why should Congress, or anyone else, have faith that future Fed officials will recognize the next bubble?

  • The only people who want the Fed to have more power and control are those aligned with the New World Order

States Braced to Tighten 2010 Belts

States across the nation begin the year facing grim budget shortfalls that could mean a repeat of the service cuts, layoffs or furloughs and higher fees imposed in 2009 States passed fiscal 2010 general-fund budgets totaling $627.9 billion, 5.4% less than a year earlier, says a study released last month by the National Association of State Budget Officers and National Governors Association. Despite cuts, shortfalls for the 2010 fiscal year, which in most states began July 1, are $14.8 billion, the study says. The gap in 2011: $21.9 billion. One of the big challenges for (this) year is that states have done most of the easy things. Another problem: Federal stimulus funds, which helped fill gaps, will soon begin to expire. Every state except Montana and North Dakota still faces budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2010. California has a $6.3 billion projected shortfall for the current fiscal year and a $14.4 billion gap in its next budget.

Arizona $37 billion in Debt Despite Constitutional Debt Limits

The State of Arizona has taken on an unprecedented amount of debt, $6.3 billion, despite a strict debt limit of $350,000. When local government debt is included, the total amount of debt for all levels of Arizona government swells to $37 billion. That’s about $6,000 for every man woman and child in Arizona. In just four years, from 2004 to 2008, state and local debt in Arizona increased by more than $10 billion. Debt allows government spending to grow virtually unchecked because it eliminates pressure on elected officials to set spending priorities. And, it costs taxpayers more to pay for government services with debt than with cash on hand. In 2008, for example, Arizona taxpayers spent $696 million on state debt interest payments alone. That’s more than the state spent on the Department of Health Services which administers behavioral health, disease prevention and control, and community public health programs and regulates the state’s childcare and assisted living centers, nursing homes, and hospitals, among other things. The state’s mounting debt, combined with its current fiscal problems, is leading to calls for reforms that will help keep Arizona solvent.

  • Arizona is in real bad shape with severe budget deficits and huge debt, thanks to Janet Napolitano

Economic News

U.S. consumers and businesses filing for bankruptcy totalled more than 1.4 million in 2009, an Associated Press tally showed Monday, an increase of 32% from 2008. Arizona saw the fastest increase, a jump of 77% from the year before, followed by Wyoming (60%), Nevada (59%) and California (58%).

Automakers ended a dreadful 2009 — the worst U.S. sales year since 1982 — on a positive note: Sales rose 15.1% in December compared with a year ago, reports released Tuesday show. Even with the improvement late in the year, 2009 industry sales fell 21.2%, to 10.4 million, compared with 2008. Despite winding down Pontiac, Saturn and Saab and cutting a deal to sell Hummer, GM remained the No. 1 U.S. seller. It will have just four brands going forward: Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. Ford came close to passing Toyota for second place. Detroit’s laggard continues to be Chrysler. Sales fell 35.9%, and it was passed by Honda for fourth place in the U.S.

The cost of filling up the car is rising in the wake of soaring crude and by this weekend, pump prices may race past the highs for all of 2009. By the weekend a gallon of gas will hit $2.70, higher that the peak for 2009, and will be pushing $3 by spring, experts predict. Falling supplies in recent weeks have contributed to prices driven higher by the falling dollar.

Yemen

The U.S. Embassy in the capital reopened Tuesday after having been closed for two days amid security threats. Yemeni security forces arrested three suspected al-Qaeda militants from a cell that the U.S. has said was linked to a plot against the American or other embassies, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

Although American officials have been saying for years that Yemen‘s instability poses a terrorism threat, annual U.S. military and development aid to that country in the past decade has been less than $50 million, government records show, a fraction of the sums sent to its regional neighbors. Yemen, located on the Arabian Peninsula, is the ancestral homeland of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the site of the 2000 USS Cole bombing that killed 17 American sailors. Yemen has long grappled with the presence of extremists on its soil. Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen was behind the failed attempt to bomb a U.S. airliner heading to Detroit on Christmas.

Although Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, the United States was sending just a few million a year in development assistance before the 9/11 attacks, according to State Department budget records. In 2003, when the U.S. Agency for International Development re-opened its mission in the country after a seven-year absence, civilian aid to the country more than doubled, but remained a paltry $15 million, records show. Even after more increases, aid to Yemen pales compared with the $2.8 billion the Obama administration will send to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are at war, or even the $238 million slated for Lebanon,

Russia

A suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car at a police station in Russia‘s troubled North Caucasus on Wednesday, killing at least six officers and wounding 16 in Dragestan, police said. A similar bombing in Ingushetia in August killed 24 people and injured more than 200. Dagestan and Ingushetia border Chechnya, where Russian troops have fought two full-scale wars against separatist rebels in the past 15 years. All three predominantly Muslim republics in the North Caucasus have seen a sharp rise in violence in the past year, with many of the nearly daily attacks targeting police and other officials.

  • So why is it that almost all the terrorism in the world is Muslim sponsored and yet we are told it is a peaceful religion?

Afghanistan

Fourteen suspected terrorists died Tuesday night when the bus they rigged with explosives blew up prematurely, police said. The explosion occurred as the suspects were riding the bus in the province of Kunduz, said police chief Abdul Raziq Yaqobi. Yaqobi said the Islamic suspects wanted to attack Afghan police or foreign soldiers.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber struck an army facility in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir on Wednesday, killing at least three soldiers and wounding 11 others, police said. More than 500 people have been killed in Pakistan in attacks by Muslim militants, many of them targeting the government, since mid-October, when the army launched a major offensive against the Pakistani Taliban‘s stronghold of South Waziristan in the northwest. However, such attacks are rare in Kashmir. The territory is divided between Pakistan and India, and both claim it in its entirety. The two neighbors have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir after gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

Iraq

The Christian Post reports that a car bomb set near a church in a mostly Christian Iraqi town injured a dozen people on Tuesday. Five people were hospitalized after the blast went off near St. George Church in the northern town of Bartilla. The bombing is the second act of violence against Bartilla’s Christians in two weeks; a minority mob attacked another church on Christmas morning. The town has checkpoints set up as a precaution against such violence, but the Christmas day mob overcame those guards. They were stopped at St. Mary Church by church guards. According to the Post, more than 200 Christians have been killed in Iraq since 2003, and more than 65 churches have been targeted since 2004.

Iran

A new U.S. intelligence assessment delivered to the Obama administration maintains that Iran is at least 18 months away from testing a nuclear device, and is highly vulnerable to economic sanctions meant to rein in its renegade nuclear, as Tehran struggles with internal political dissent, high unemployment, and aging oil infrastructure.

The New York Times reports that last September, when Iran’s uranium enrichment plant buried inside a mountain near the holy city of Qum was revealed, the episode cast light on a wider pattern: Over the past decade, Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightens fears about other undeclared sites.

  • Given the secrecy and hidden tunnels, Iran may be further along than our intelligence community knows

Somalia

The U.N. food agency is stopping aid distribution to about 1 million people in southern Somalia because of attacks against staff and demands by armed groups that aid groups remove women from their teams, the agency said Tuesday. The World Food Program is moving staff and supplies to northern and central Somalia from six areas in the south that are largely controlled by the al-Shabab Islamist group. “Up to a million people that have been dependent on food assistance in southern Somalia face a situation that is particularly dire,” Emilia Casella, a WFP spokeswoman.told reporters in Geneva.

India

Compass Direct News reports that 2009 brought hardly any respite for minority faiths in India. Christians faced an average of more than three violent attacks a week, continuing two years of unprecedented attacks. There were at least 152 attacks on Christians in 2009, according to the “Partial List of Major Incidents of Anti-Christian Violence in India” released by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. The of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh all have anti-conversion laws, which Hindu hardliners routinely use to arrest Christians on spurious accusations of “forcible conversion.” Southern India, which had long been considered a haven for Christians, recorded the highest incidence of anti-Christian violence. Of the total 152 incidents, 86 were reported from southern states, mainly Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The morale of Christians in Orissa remained low as few assailants in the 2008 rampage were brought to justice.

Weather

Unusually heavy snowfall stranded hundreds of motorists, disrupted trains and shut down schools and airports across Britain on Wednesday as the country suffered through its longest cold snap in nearly 30 years. The British military was called in overnight to help rescue motorists when up to 1,000 vehicles were caught in a massive snow-related traffic jam in Hampshire, in southern England. Many people were evacuated to nearby rescue centers but some people slept in their vehicles overnight.

Cold records are breaking from Arkansas to Florida, and residents and tourists alike are bracing for a rare spell of prolonged freezing temperatures. Among the record lows set Tuesday were 12 degrees in North Little Rock, Ark., and 21 degrees in Gulfport, Miss. Orlando set a record when its high temperature was only 47 degrees. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared an emergency late Tuesday because of possible damage to citrus and other crops.

Homeless shelters are swamped as an extended cold snap in the eastern half of the country raises alarms about people living on the streets or in unheated buildings. The problem is acute in New Orleans, where thousands displaced since Hurricane Katrina live in abandoned houses. Overnight temperatures have fallen into the 20s. In Nashville, where the temperature fell to 12 degrees Monday night, four people died outside.