Archive for February, 2010

February 26, 2010

Health Summit Displays Divergent Views

Congressional leaders remain pessimistic that a marathon health care policy session with President Obama on Thursday will lead to compromise, which could prompt Democrats to forge ahead alone. After more than seven hours of occasionally acrimonious debate, Democrats and Republicans said they see little chance for bipartisan action. Republicans complained that Democrats showed no sign of retreating from Obama’s 10-year, roughly $950 billion version of bills that passed the House and Senate last year. All day, one Republican after another urged Obama to start over. Obama dominated the meeting at Blair House, the presidential guest residence across from the White House. He challenged Republicans to defend their step-by-step approach to health care or come around to Democrats’ comprehensive measure. Obama said the two sides should take up to six weeks to try and merge their philosophically divergent views about health coverage, costs and ways to overhaul the insurance market. If there’s still no agreement, he said, “that’s what elections are for.”

  • Just a lot more hot air and a photo-op for the President

House Sends Extension of Patriot Act to Obama

Major provisions of the nation’s primary counterterror law would be extended for a year under a bill passed Thursday by the House of Representatives after Democrats retreated from adding new privacy protections. The House voted 315 to 97 to extend the USA Patriot Act, sending the bill to President Obama. Without the bill, the provisions would have expired on Sunday. The Senate approved the extension Wednesday. The privacy protections were cast aside when Senate Democrats lacked the necessary 60-vote supermajority to pass them. Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government’s authority to spy on Americans and seize their records.

Mass Firings at R.I. School a Trend?

Tuesday’s move by Central Falls, R.I., Superintendent Frances Gallo to remove all 74 teachers, administrators and counselors at the district’s only high school may be the first tangible result of an aggressive push by the Obama administration to get tough on school accountability — and may signal a more fraught relationship between teachers unions and Democratic leaders. “This may be one school in one town, but it represents a much bigger phenomenon,” says Andy Smarick of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C., education think tank. “Thanks to years of work battling the achievement gap and the elevation of reform-minded education leaders, we may finally be getting serious about the nation’s lowest-performing schools.” President Obama was elected in 2008 with the support of teachers groups nationwide, but since then, he and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have taken up the cause of fixing the USA’s most struggling schools. Duncan will soon release a list of 5,000 identified as most in need of reform.

Next fall, at least half the teachers at Vaux and 13 more of Philadelphia‘s worst schools could be gone. And the school day, school week and school year could be longer. Even in a school system known for its academic troubles, the numbers at Vaux High School are jaw-dropping: More than 90% of 11th-graders tested last year could not read or do math at grade level.

  • Teacher accountability has been missing for years due to tenure and unions

Government Panel Says Everyone Should Get Flu Shot Every Year

A government panel is now recommending that virtually all Americans get a flu shot each year, starting this fall. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices had gradually been expanding its recommendation for flu shots — 85% of Americans were already included. On Wednesday, the panel voted to recommend a seasonal flu vaccination for everyone except babies younger than 6 months and those with egg allergies or other unusual conditions. But only about 33% of Americans actually get a flu shot, and unusually millions and millions of doses get thrown away annually. The swine flu ‘pandemic’ that hit last year caused a new momentum for flu vaccinations.

  • One has to wonder why the government has pushed vaccinations so hard. Pharmaceutical influence and greed? Or something more sinister?

Fearing Obama Agenda, States Push to Loosen Gun Laws

When President Obama took office, gun rights advocates sounded the alarm, warning that he intended to strip them of their arms and ammunition. And yet the opposite is happening. Mr. Obama has been largely silent on the issue while states are engaged in a new and largely successful push for expanded gun rights, even passing measures that have been rejected in the past. In Virginia, the General Assembly approved a bill last week that allows people to carry concealed weapons in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, and the House of Delegates voted to repeal a 17-year-old ban on buying more than one handgun a month. Arizona and Wyoming lawmakers are considering nearly a half dozen pro-gun measures, including one that would allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit. And lawmakers in Montana and Tennessee passed measures last year — the first of their kind — to exempt their states from federal regulation of firearms and ammunition that are made, sold and used in state. Similar bills have been proposed in at least three other states.

In the meantime, gun control advocates say, Mr. Obama has failed to deliver on campaign promises to close a loophole that allows unlicensed dealers at gun shows to sell firearms without background checks; to revive the assault weapons ban; and to push states to release data about guns used in crimes.

High-Fat Diet Raises Stroke Risk in Women

Eating a lot of fat, especially the kind that’s in cookies and pastries, can significantly raise the risk of stroke for women over 50, a large new study finds. The new study is the largest to look at stroke risk in women and across all types of fat. It showed a clear trend: Those who ate the most fat had a 44% higher risk of the most common type of stroke compared to those who ate the least. Before menopause, women traditionally have had less risk of stroke than similarly aged men, although this is changing as women increasingly battle obesity and other health problems. After menopause, the risk rises and the gender advantage disappears.

Projects Across USA Turn Landfill Gas into Energy

More communities are turning trash into power. Nationwide, the number of landfill gas projects, which convert methane gas emitted from decomposing garbage into power, jumped from 399 in 2005 to 519 last year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. As garbage decomposes, it creates gas that is half methane. Instead of letting the gas escape into the air, these projects collect the gas and treat it so it can be used for electricity or upgraded to pipeline-grade gas. The projects power homes, buildings and vehicles. Landfill gas provides constant power and doesn’t “require the sun to shine or the wind to blow,” says Wes Muir, of Waste Management, a Houston-based company that runs 115 of these projects and plans to have 160 to 170 by 2013.

Migrants Trick E-Verify

Two years after Arizona began requiring all employers to use a federal online program to ensure a legal workforce, a new study indicates that illegal workers are slipping through the system more than half of the time by using stolen identities. Fifty-four percent of the illegal workers whose names were run through the program nationwide were wrongly found to be authorized to work by the system known as E-Verify. The system’s high inaccuracy rate for illegal workers using stolen identities has greatly alarmed business groups in Arizona. The state’s 2008 employer-sanctions law mandates that employers use E-Verify and gives authorities the power to close down businesses found to be knowingly hiring illegal workers. “Arizona employers are relying when they sign up for E-Verify that this is an accurate program,” said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “If the system is busted, it’s obviously unfair to punish employers.”

  • Yet another government boondoggle

Senate Approves Tax Breaks for New Hires

Companies that hire unemployed people would claim new tax breaks under a jobs-promoting bill the Senate passed Wednesday, delivering President Obama and Democrats a much-needed victory. The 70-28 vote sends the bill back to the House, which passed a far more costly measure in December. Many in the House consider the Senate bill too puny, but they may simply adopt it and send it to Obama in order to get a win. Democratic leaders promise more so-called jobs bills are on the way. The bill contain two major provisions. First, it would exempt businesses hiring the unemployed from the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax through December and give them an additional $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year. Second, it would extend highway and mass transit programs through the end of the year and pump $20 billion into them in time for the spring construction season.

Construction Unemployment Continues to Rise

While most of the job market continued to rebound in January, the construction industry remained mired in its worst downturn since the Great Depression. It lost 75,000 jobs last month, almost single-handedly preventing U.S. employment from showing its second gain in two years. Employers overall shed 20,000 jobs. As the jobless rate hovers around 10%, unemployment in construction jumped to 24.7%, highest on record since 1976. Construction has accounted for nearly a quarter of all job losses the past year, though the industry employs 4.3% of non-farm employees. Even manufacturing added 11,000 jobs in January, its first net increase since the recession began in December 2007. Thousands of contractors are going bankrupt or shutting down. And many workers are shifting to new careers, such as truck driving or airplane repair.

FDIC Hits Record “Default” Level As Deposit Insurance Fund Plunges

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Tuesday that its deposit-insurance fund fell to $20.9 billion at the end of 2009, a $12.6 billion drop in the final three months of the year, as bank failures continued at a pace not seen since the savings and loan crisis. The fund’s reserve ratio was -0.39% at the end of the quarter, the lowest on record. The FDIC also said loan losses for U.S. banks climbed for the 12th straight quarter, while the total loan balances for U.S. banks continued to fall. The agency said the quarterly net charge-off rate and the total number of loans at least three months past due both were at the highest level ever recorded in the 26 years the data have been collected. Net charge-offs of troubled loans occurred across all major loan categories, led by a $3.3 billion increase in residential mortgage loans.  

Economic News

Sales of new homes plunged to a record low in January, underscoring the formidable challenges facing the housing industry as it tries to recover from the worst slump in decades. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that new home sales dropped 11.2% last month from December, to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 309,000 units, lowest level on records going back nearly a half century.

Sales of previously occupied homes also took a large drop for the second straight month in January, falling to the lowest level since summer. It was another sign the housing market’s recovery is faltering. The National Association of Realtors says sales fell 7.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million.

The government said orders to factories for big-ticket manufactured goods shot up in January by the largest amount in six months, but the strength came from a surge in demand for commercial aircraft. Orders for durable manufactured goods jumped 3% in January, the biggest increase since a 5.8% increase last July. However, excluding transportation, durable goods orders fell by 0.6%, a weaker showing than economists had expected. Demand for autos, machinery and a host of other products fell last month.

New claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly in the latest week, showing continued weakness in the economy.. The department says first-time claims for unemployment insurance rose 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 496,000. The four-week average, which smooths volatility, rose 6,000 to 473,750. Continuing claims were essentially unchanged at 4.6 million.

General Motors has ended talks with a Chinese buyer for Hummer and will start “a wind-down of the brand” if another suitor doesn’t appear.

Greece

European Union officials are pressing Greece for additional austerity measures after an emergency inspection of its ailing finances amid global worries that Greece’s problems might worsen a weak world economy. A team of officials from the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund wrapped up a three-day visit Thursday. Athens faces a March 16 deadline from the EU to show signs of fiscal improvement or take further action to boost revenues and cut spending. Greece’s woes have affected the euro exchange rate and raised fears of contagion to other weak EU economies, such as Portugal and Spain. Facing intense pressure from EU partners and market speculation, which has sent Greek borrowing costs rocketing, the 4-month-old government has frozen civil service salaries and hirings, cut bonuses and raised retirement ages and consumer taxes.

India

India began to rollback tax cuts Friday as the government’s new budget pledged to trim the swollen fiscal deficit while maintaining spending on social programs and infrastructure. Presenting the budget for the fiscal year ending March 2011 to a belligerent Parliament, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India’s fiscal deficit is now a revised 6.7% of gross domestic product. As expected, he also hiked excise taxes by an average of 2 percentage points. The government had cut those taxes by 6 percentage points in the wake of the financial crisis to stimulate spending. His pledge to reinstate duties on petroleum products and raise excise taxes on petroleum and diesel by 1 rupee a liter brought angry parliamentarians to their feet, shouting and raising their arms in protest.

Pakistan

Nearly 15 senior and midlevel Taliban figures have been detained in Pakistan in recent weeks, including the group’s top commander in eastern Afghanistan whose arrest was confirmed Thursday by the Afghan government. Some of the Taliban were picked up after they fled Afghanistan ahead of a major military assault underway in southern Afghanistan. The officials said Pakistan had shared its investigations with the CIA, which provided key information to Pakistan’s intelligence service about the hide-outs of Taliban leaders. The senior and midlevel Afghan Taliban members were arrested in Pakistan after the detention of the Taliban’s No. 2 leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Information gleaned from Baradar led to the arrests of two Taliban shadow governors — Mullah Abdul Salam of Kunduz province and Mullah Mohammad of Baghlan — and the arrest of Akhunzada Popalzai, also known as Mohammad Younis, a one-time Taliban shadow governor in Zabul province and former police chief in Kabul.

Afghanistan

The Afghan government took official control of the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, installing an administrator and raising the national flag while U.S.-led troops rooted out final pockets of militants. The ceremony occurred in a central market as U.S. Marines and Afghan troops slogged through bomb-laden fields in northern parts of the town. Some 700 residents gathered to see Abdul Zahir Aryan formally appointed as the top government official in Marjah.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned suicide attacks in Kabul, the capital, that killed at least 17 people including Indian citizens saying the strikes won’t hurt Afghan-Indian relations. The terrorist attacks that occurred Friday targeting two guesthouses in central Kabul where most of the guests were Indian. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying five suicide bombers conducted the early morning attacks on two buildings used by foreign citizens. Police said Indians were among those killed in the blasts.

The number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan has reached 1,000, an independent website said on Tuesday, with deadly bombings in the south and east highlighting the struggle to stabilize the country. A website which tracks casualties, http://www.icasualties.org, said 54 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, raising the total to 1,000 since the Taliban’s fall. This compares with eight this year in Iraq, where 4,378 have been killed since 2003.

Iraq

A leading Sunni politician abandoned his call for a boycott of the upcoming national elections only to be accused by a government panel headed by a Shiite rival of supporting an insurgent group. Saleh Al-Mutlaq said he changed his mind because he decided that the stakes in the elections are too high. Voters will vote for 325 members of Iraq‘s parliament. He asked his supporters to vote for the Iraqiya List, a mixed Sunni-Shiite list led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi. “If the Iraqiya list doesn’t emerge as the biggest bloc and the Shiite religious parties are in control, the country will fall into chaos,” he said.

The Iraqi military will reinstate 20,000 Saddam Hussein-era army officers who were dismissed from their posts after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion for serving under the former dictator, an Iraqi defense spokesman said Friday. The announcement, a little over a week before the March 7 parliamentary elections, immediately raised questions about whether the move was timed to pump up votes for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. A defense ministry statement said the rehired officers would be reinstated as of Sunday, meaning they would be allowed to vote in the election.

  • Politics and politicians ruin government regardless of nationality

Open Doors USA reports that Christians in Mosul, Iraq, are again fleeing the city as anti-Christian violence continues. “It was a bloody day yesterday in Mosul,” an Iraqi worker of Open Doors reported today. “In one house all the family members were killed — five people… They even threw two bodies outside the house as a cruel warning for others.” Another worker reported that three family members of a Catholic priest were also killed. In the past week, 40 to 50 families, consisting of an average of five members per family, have left Mosul. Another team member of Open Doors said, “I think that since this weekend one or two families leave Mosul every day. However, we receive about 10 phone calls every day of people who say that they want to leave the city.” Officials have reportedly told Christians that security forces cannot guarantee their safety.

Weather

When even Mongolians complain, you know it’s cold. As Americans shiver through lower than average temperatures this winter, the people of Mongolia and the animals they rely on suffer from temperatures that are extreme even by their standards. Officials in Ulaanbaatar, the snowbound capital, have declared disaster status in more than half of Mongolia’s 21 provinces, and more are set to follow across the vast, sparsely populated nation, roughly the size of Alaska. After weeks of heavy snowfalls, fierce winds and temperatures as low as minus-58 degrees, 2.3 million livestock have perished and an additional 3 million may die by spring, according to the Mongolian government.

A huge, windy winter storm lingered Friday over the Northeast, cutting power to at least a half-million customers, fanning a hotel fire in New Hampshire, and disrupting air and road travel across the region. Power failures were so bad in New Hampshire that even the state Emergency Operations Center was operating on a generator. A fire that started in an unoccupied oceanfront hotel was fanned by winds of near hurricane force and spread to adjacent buildings, engulfing and destroying an entire block of businesses. Winds across the region were near 50 mph as utility companies prepared for even more outages due to toppled trees and near-blizzard conditions. In New York City, 10 inches of snow had fallen before dawn and more was expected. One day after sections of northeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Maine dealt with upward of 20 inches of snow and portions of northern New England weathered heavy rains that pushed some rivers toward flood levels, more of the same was forecast throughout Friday.

February 24, 2010

Obama Unveils a $950B Restart on Health

President Obama took charge of the health care debate on the 399th day of his presidency Monday by proposing a 10-year, $950 billion plan opposed by Republicans and not yet endorsed by Democrats. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called it “a starting point” for bipartisan debate at a health care summit Obama will lead on Thursday. The proposal largely follows the Senate’s health care bill. Republicans in Congress denounced the plan, which is designed to reduce health care costs and expand coverage to 31 million people. “The well has been poisoned,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. “Mixing two bad bills together doesn’t make a good bill.” Congressional Democrats cautiously embraced President Barack Obama’s new health care plan as their last hope for enacting a comprehensive overhaul.

Whether or not Obama ultimately gets a health care bill through Congress, the effort could have practical and political consequences for years to come. Will Obama be able to break bread with Republicans and emerge with potential areas of compromise that lead to bipartisan action? Or will the two parties break knuckles instead and leave Washington as divided as ever?

Senate Jobs Bill Gets Past Filibuster

A bipartisan jobs bill cleared a GOP filibuster on Monday with critical momentum provided by the Senate’s newest Republican, Scott Brown of Massachusetts. The 62-30 tally to advance the measure to a final vote on Wednesday gives both President Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats a much-needed victory — even though the measure in question is likely to have only a modest boost on hiring. Brown and four other Republicans broke with GOP leaders to advance the measure. Most other Republicans opposed the bill because Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada stripped out provisions they had sought and wouldn’t allow them to try to restore them. Although employers seldom make hiring decisions based on tax breaks, the bill could potentially create 250,000 private-sector jobs.

Colorado Man Pleads Guilty in NYC Bomb Plot

A Colorado airport shuttle driver admitted Monday that he plotted with al-Qaeda to bomb New York City subways and other targets to avenge U.S. military action in Afghanistan. Najibullah Zazi, 25, of Aurora, Colo., pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support to a terrorist group. He will be sentenced in June and faces up to life in prison, although prosecutors could recommend a shorter sentence if he cooperates in the investigation. In his plea, Zazi admitted he brought the explosive Triacetone Triperoxide, known as TATP, to New York on Sept. 10, 2009, as part of a plan to attack the subway.

3 Google Execs Convicted in Italy of Privacy Violations

Three Google executives were convicted of privacy violations Wednesday in allowing a video of an autistic boy being abused to be posted online — a case that has been closely watched for its implications on Internet freedom. Judge Oscar Magi sentenced the three to a six-month suspended sentence and absolved them of defamation charges. The trial had been closely watched since it could help define whether the Internet in Italy is an open, self-regulating platform or if content must be better monitored for abusive material. Google, based in Mountain View, California, had said it considered the trial a threat to Internet freedom because it could force providers to attempt an impossible task — prescreening the thousands of hours of footage uploaded every day onto sites like YouTube. Thanks to the footage and Google’s cooperation, four bullies were identified and sentenced by a juvenile court to community service.

25 Million New Malware Strains in 2009

More than 25 million new strains of malware were created last year, according to researchers at PandaLabs. The number of new versions of malware identified far outstripped the 15 million that the company had previously identified over the course of its 20-year history. The reports says that two-thirds of the new malware consisted of banking Trojan horses. The report also reveals that 92% of all e-mail messages sent in 2009 were spam, and that social networking sites have become a new distribution channel for malware.

Toyota: Recall May Not Totally Fix Acceleration Problem

Toyota’s top U.S. executive told lawmakers on Tuesday that he is not certain the company has fixed its runaway car problems even though it has recalled millions of vehicles around the world. Although the automaker has blamed obstructing floor mats and sticky gas pedals for reports of cars accelerating out of control, lawmakers at a hearing on Capitol Hill appeared skeptical about the sometimes-conflicting accounts of what has gone wrong. Allegations of unintended acceleration by Toyota models that are not part of the recall and by cars from other automakers have revived debate over whether electromagnetic interference is the cause of such incidents. The theory is that electrical signals — from sources as diverse as cell phones, airport radar and even a car’s own systems — briefly and unpredictably wreak havoc with sensitive electronic controls in vehicles.

Planned Parenthood Caught for 10th Time

Planned Parenthood has been caught covering up child-sex abuse during an undercover sting – for the 10th time. Newly released video footage reveals staff members at a Milwaukee, Wis., Planned Parenthood abortion clinic counseling a woman who posed as a 14-year-old statutory rape victim not to tell anyone about her 31-year-old boyfriend. They also coached her on how to obtain an abortion without her parents’ knowledge or approval, according to student-led nonprofit Live Action, a group that filmed the incident. According to Wisconsin law, sex between an adult and a child younger than 16 years old is a felony, and health professionals are required to report cases of sexual abuse to authorities.

High Blood Pressure Neglected in U.S.

A critical new report declares high blood pressure in the U.S. to be a neglected disease — a term that usually describes mysterious tropical illnesses, not a well-known plague of rich countries. The prestigious Institute of Medicine said Monday that even though nearly one in three adults has hypertension, and it’s on the rise, fighting it apparently has fallen out of fashion: Doctors too often don’t treat it aggressively, and the government hasn’t made it enough of a priority, either. Yet high blood pressure, the nation’s second-leading cause of death, is relatively simple to prevent and treat, the institute said.

Most ‘Test Tube’ Kids are Healthy

More than 30 years after the world greeted its first “test-tube” baby with a mixture of awe, elation and concern, researchers say they are finding only a few medical differences between these children and kids conceived in the traditional way. More than 3 million children have been born worldwide as a result of what is called assisted reproductive technology, and injecting sperm into the egg outside the human body now accounts for about 4% of live births, researchers reported Sunday. The majority of assisted reproduction children are healthy and normal, according to researchers who have studied them. Some of these children do face an increased risk of birth defects and of low birth weight, which is associated with obesity, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Millennial Generation More Educated, Less Employed

The most detailed study to date of the 18- to 29-year-old Millennial generation finds this group probably will be the most educated in American history. But the 50 million Millennials also have the highest share who are unemployed or out of the workforce over the past four decades, according to the study, released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Overall, Pew says, Millennials are confident, upbeat and open to change. They’re more ethnically and racially diverse than their elders and also less religious. In 2008, 66% of Millennials voted for Barack Obama for president, compared with 50% of those 30 and older; 61% grew up in a two-parent household, a smaller percentage than the three previous generations. And just 21% are married (half the percentage of their parents’ generation at the same ages); 38% have a tattoo (and half of those with tattoos have two to five; 18% have six or more); 41% use only a cellphone and have no landline.

Youth Support for Obama/Dems Wanes

Whither the youth vote? A year after backing Barack Obama by an overwhelming 2-to-1 ratio, young adults are quickly cooling toward Democrats amid dissatisfaction over the lack of change in Washington and an escalating war in Afghanistan. A study by the Pew Research Center, being released Wednesday, spotlights the eroding support of people 18 to 29 years old whose strong turnout in November 2008 was touted by some demographers as the start of a new Democratic movement. While young adults remain decidedly more liberal, the survey found the Democratic advantage among people 18 to 29 years old has substantially narrowed – from a record 62 percent identifying as Democrat in 2008, down to 54 percent last December. Concurrent youth support for the GOP increased from 30% to 40%.

Nearly 20 Percent of U.S. Workers Underemployed

Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. workforce lacked adequate employment in January and struggled to make ends meet with reduced resources and bleak job prospects, according to a Gallup poll released on Tuesday. In findings that appear to paint a darker employment picture than official U.S. data, Gallup estimated that about 30 million Americans are underemployed, meaning either jobless or able to find only part-time work. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in January but remains near record highs.

Consumer Confidence Falls Sharply in February

Americans’ outlook on the economy went into relapse in February. Rising job worries sent a key barometer of confidence to its lowest point in 10 months, raising concerns about the economic recovery. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index fell almost 11 points to 46 in February, down from a revised 56.5 in January. Analysts were expecting only a slight decrease to 55. It was the lowest level since the index recorded a 40.8 reading in April 2009. The increasing pessimism, which erased three months of improvement, is a big blow to hopes that consumer spending will power an economic recovery. The February reading is a long way from what’s considered healthy: A reading above 90 means the economy is on solid footing. Above 100 signals strong growth.

Economic News

Three dozen states will launch programs in March and April to distribute almost $300 million in rebates to consumers buying energy-efficient appliances. Eight states launched programs this month. The federally funded programs, similar to the cash-for-clunkers auto rebate program last year, are intended to improve energy efficiency and stimulate the economy. Rebates differ by state and appliance.

Congress enacted legislation last year that targets the credit card industry’s most controversial practices. Some of the most significant provisions became effective Monday. The new provisions prohibit credit card issuers from raising interest rates on existing balances, except under certain circumstances. Once you’re more than 60 days late on a monthly payment, your credit card issuer has the right to raise the interest rate on your outstanding balance.

Freddie Mac(FRE) lost $7.8 billion in the final three months last year, but the mortgage finance company didn’t need a federal cash infusion for the third quarter in a row. The results were a marked improvement over the fourth quarter 2008, when Freddie lost $23.9 billion. However, the company warned there is an increased likelihood that the company will require more cash from the Treasury Department.

Home prices rose in December for the seventh month in a row, but more foreclosures are expected to pull down prices later this year. Seasonally adjusted home prices in 20 major metro areas rose 0.3% in December compared with November. But compared with 2008, prices were still lower in 15 of the 20 cities. Las Vegas, down 20.6% in 2009, had the worst decline. San Francisco had the biggest increase in prices: 4.8%.

America’s banks eked out a small profit in the fourth quarter as the U.S. economy recovered, but the number of banks considered troubled jumped to more than 700, the government reported Tuesday.

In an era of populist outrage and nearly double-digit unemployment, the average Wall Street bonus jumped 25% in 2009 to $123,850 as financial firms rebounded from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression with help from U.S. taxpayers’ money.

Health care costs for large employers will rise more than 6% this year, a study says, and more companies are thinking about revamping their benefits. A total of 83% of companies surveyed say they have either revamped their health care strategy or expect to do so in the next two years. This can mean switching plan designs or increasing employee payments.

Retail gas prices likely bottomed out last week, and they’re again headed to above $3 a gallon this summer, experts said Monday. Retail gas prices rose Tuesday for the sixth straight day to a new national average of $2.66 a gallon, according to AAA. Higher crude oil price is the culprit.

Sears Holdings (SHLD) said Monday that it plans to shut 21 more stores around the country. The announcement brings to 56 the number of stores that the owner of Sears and Kmart has said over the past year that it will close.

California’s insurance regulator said Monday his office has found more than 700 violations by the state’s largest for-profit health insurer, including late payment of claims, giving misleading information to consumers and failing to cooperate with regulators.

Israel-PA Cooperation Averts West Bank Rocket Attack

Palestinian Authority security forces handed over information to the IDF on Monday on a Kassam rocket which had been made in the West Bank and was ready to be fired into central Israel. The rocket was made in a terrorist workshop in a West Bank village and was ready to be launched when PA forces discovered it. The IDF released a statement saying the thwarting of a rocket attack from Judea and Samaria was due to the successful cooperation between the Israeli army and Civil Administration and Palestinian security officials. The IDF also noted several other recent cases of close security cooperation, including the arrest of right-wing Jewish activists in a Jericho synagogue last evening, where close coordination between the two sides has avoided a violent confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis.

Greece

Police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators in Athens after some 50,000 people finished a peaceful march against cutbacks intended to fix the country’s debt crisis. The violence in Greece lasted about 30 minutes, when scores of youths hurled rocks, red paint and plastic bottles near parliament. Windows were smashed at the Finance Ministry’s General Accounting Office, which has been accused by the European Union of slipshod statistics-keeping that made the financial crisis worse. Labor unions organized the protest during a 24-hour general strike that grounded flights, shut schools and crippled public services, in a show of strength against the government.

Sudan

Darfur‘s most powerful rebel group and the Sudanese government on Tuesday signed a truce after a year of internationally sponsored negotiations, raising hopes the bloody seven-year conflict could draw to a close. The international sponsors of the talks announced a $1 billion development fund for the war ravaged region. The next challenge for the mediators will be getting the dozens of other rebel splinter groups to join the process as the arduous power and wealth-sharing talks begin. Previous cease-fires and partial peace deals were short-lived.

Afghanistan

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan took his apology for a weekend airstrike that killed civilians directly to the Afghan people Tuesday, with a video in which he pledged to work to regain their trust. In the video, translated into the Afghan languages of Dari and Pashto on a NATO website, a stern Gen. Stanley McChrystal apologizes for the strike in central Uruzgan province that Afghan officials say killed at least 21 people. Sunday’s attack by NATO jets on a convoy of cars was the deadliest attack on civilians in six months and prompted a sharp rebuke from the Afghan government.

The Afghan human rights commission reported Wednesday that 28 civilians have been killed so far in NATO’s offensive on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, and urged pro-government forces to take greater care in distinguishing between civilians and militants NATO did not report any significant fighting in Marjah on Tuesday.

The battle for Marjah, now in its 11th day, is the first major test for Afghanistan’s new army. Prior to Marjah, the Afghans have been dealing largely with skirmishes and protecting villages. In Marjah, the biggest Taliban stronghold in the country, the Afghan soldiers are out in greater numbers and are more closely partnered with allied forces than any previous operation, the Pentagon says. They appear willing to fight and are competent at basic infantry skills, according to U.S. military members who are watching.

The Pentagon said this week that ending the threat of the Taliban and its explosive devices might take a month or more.

Pakistan

Suspected U.S. missiles killed four people Wednesday in an al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold in northwest Pakistan, intelligence officials said, amid signs of greater cooperation between Islamabad and Washington. The missile strikes have been one of several blows in recent weeks to militants on Pakistani soil. At least three Afghan Taliban commanders have been captured in recent weeks in Pakistan, including the No. 2 leader of the insurgents, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Those arrests were the result of intelligence breakthroughs, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the war in Afghanistan, told reporters in Islamabad on Tuesday night.

Iraq

Eight members of one Shiite family were killed south of Baghdad on Monday in the worst incident of a bloody day across Iraq that left at least 23 dead. The spate of attacks — and the fact that some of the family were beheaded — raised fears that insurgents are trying to re-ignite sectarian warfare at a time when the country is preparing for critical March elections. The March 7 election will determine who will oversee the country as the U.S. forces go home.

Iran

Iran has formally set out its terms for giving up most of its cache of enriched uranium in a confidential document, and the conditions fall short of what has been demanded by the United States and other world powers. The document says Tehran is ready to hand over the bulk of its stockpile in a simultaneous exchange for fuel rods for its research reactor. It says the exchange must be on Iranian territory. World powers want Iran to agree to ship out the material first and then wait up to a year for it to be turned into the reactor fuel. They insist on such terms because that would delay Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon by leaving it with too little enriched uranium to make a warhead.

Yemen

The Pentagon has approved $150 million in military assistance to Yemen, the country where al-Qaeda linked militants planned the failed Christmas Day airliner attack over Detroit. Administration officials said the money is more than double the amount of aid the U.S. gave to Yemen last year. It will pay for military equipment and training for Yemeni forces.

Eritrea

Open Doors USA reports that authorities in Eritrea have released on bail 12 Christians who had spent the past two years in prison. The 12 Christians – seven men and five women – from the Kale-Hiwot Church were in high school at the time of their arrest. At their Feb. 5 release, the young adults were warned not to participate in any Christian activities. They were threatened with execution should they be caught disobeying the order. Officials at Mitire Military camp also released two members of the Rhema Church in Adi-Kuala, who were held at Mitire for the past one year and seven months for witnessing about Christ to fellow military soldiers. They were sent back to the military units where they served before their arrests. Sources inside Eritrea estimate that 2,221 Christians remain incarcerated in Eritrea’s harsh detention centers.

China

Christian Today reports that the need for Bibles in China grew again in 2009, when an estimated half million people converted to Christianity. “As more and more people are joining the Church they are asking for a Bible,” says Bible Society’s China Partnership Coordinator Kua Wee Seng. About 4 million Bibles were distributed across China last year, but continued growth means that more are needed. According to official numbers, about 28.6 million Christians live in China, but that figure could be as high as 90 million if unregistered house churches are included.

Weather

A rain-triggered landslide Tuesday at a tea plantation on Indonesia’s main island of Java killed at least five workers and buried 60 others. No heavy earth-moving equipment was available in the area, so villagers were digging through tons of dislodged mud with farm tools and their bare hands to search for survivors.

A winter storm that dumped 8 inches of snow on parts of southern lower Michigan has closed dozens of schools, caused numerous spinouts and left drivers to battle slippery, snarled roads. Heavy, wet snow began falling late Sunday night and intensified during Monday’s morning commute. Scores of flights were canceled Tuesday as the second winter storm in as many weeks coated parts of Texas in snow. Flurries even sprinkled cities as far south as Austin and San Antonio.

People may have dug out their cars from this month’s historic East Coast snowstorms, but businesses and governments will be digging out for a long time from the lost revenue and extra costs they incurred. Back-to-back snowstorms that pounded the East from Washington to New York City with up to 4 feet of snow in five days cost the nation about $15 billion.

February 22, 2010

Abortion Industry in Decline

A new report asserts the U.S. abortion industry is in significant decline, held together largely through the $300 million-plus that federal taxpayers deliver annually to its major player, Planned Parenthood. “It is very clear that the only abortion group expanding its business is Planned Parenthood, and the only reason it can do so is with the help of our tax dollars,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. While Title X funding isn’t supposed to go directly for abortions, it does pay the mortgage, light bills, staff salaries and the like. Operation Rescue’s goal in listing the names and addresses of abortion businesses is to encourage pro-life activists to maintain a prayer and sidewalk counseling presence at the sites and act as “watchdogs over the abortion cartel.”

Kentucky Panel Approves Bible Classes for Public Schools

Kentucky may follow the lead of Texas and other states in allowing Bible classes to be taught in public schools. Kentucky’s Senate Education Committee has unanimously approved legislation that would effectively return the Bible to the state’s classrooms. The legislation is constitutional because the Bible will be taught from a literary perspective, not a religious one. The proposed Bible courses would be offered as electives, meaning schools could choose whether to offer them as a social studies credit and students could decide whether to take them.

Most Americans Believe Government Broken

Americans overwhelmingly believe that the government is broken, according to a national poll released Sunday. But the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey also indicates that the public overwhelmingly holds out hope that what’s broken can be fixed. Eighty-six percent of people questioned say that the system of government is broken, with 14 percent saying no. Of the 86 percent, 81 percent say that the government can be fixed, but 5 percent say it’s beyond repair. The percentage of Americans who believe the government is broken has increased by eight points since 2006.

Obama’s New Health Care Strategy — His Own Plan

President Obama begins a big health care week with a new approach — his own health care plan. The White House postsed the new Obama plan at 10 a.m. EST, after nearly a year in which the president outlined general principles while leaving most of the details to Congress (see www.whitehouse.gov). The results included two very different House and Senate plans that Obama is now trying to fuse into a starting point for Thursday’s big health care summit with congressional leaders from both parties. Among other items, the Obama plan will reportedly call for new federal restrictions on health insurance rate hikes. The plan would require most Americans to carry health insurance coverage, with federal subsidies to help many afford the premiums. Hewing close to a stalled Senate bill, it would bar insurance companies from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging them more. The expected price tag is around $1 trillion over 10 years.

Obama Unveils $1.5 billion Plan for Homeowners

President Obama has now announced his $1.5 billion plan to help struggling homeowners during a town meeting at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nev. The money will be distributed to state housing agencies in the nation’s hardest-hit housing markets. The money is targeted to Nevada, California, Arizona, Florida and Michigan, states where average home prices have fallen by more than 20% from the peak. The funds, from money earmarked for housing stabilization in the Troubled Asset Relief Program, will be provided for state programs such as those to assist unemployed homeowners and mortgage holders who owe more than their houses are worth.

Global Warming Suffers Serious Blows

Proponents of man-made global warming have suffered a serious blow as leading climate change scientist Phil Jones now acknowledges that the earth may have been warmer in medieval times than now. Jones also conceded in an interview with the BBC that during the past 15 years there has been no “statistically significant” warming. Jones recently stepped down as director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in Britain after leaked e-mails indicated that scientists there were manipulating data to strengthen the argument for man-made global warming.

Scientists have been forced to withdraw a study on projected sea level rise due to global warming after finding mistakes that undermined the findings. Announcing the formal retraction of the paper from the journal, author Mark Siddall said: “It’s one of those things that happens. People make mistakes and mistakes happen in science.” He said there were two separate technical mistakes in the paper, which were pointed out by other scientists after it was published. A formal retraction was required, rather than a correction, because the errors undermined the study’s conclusion.

Austin Plane Crash Exposes Gap in U.S. Air Security

After 9/11, cockpit doors were sealed, air marshals were added and airport searches became more aggressive, all to make sure an airliner could never again be used as a weapon. Yet little has been done to guard against attacks with smaller planes. That point was driven home with chilling force on Thursday when a Texas man with a grudge against the IRS crashed his single-engine plane into an office building in a fiery suicide attack. “It’s a big gap,” said R. William Johnstone, an aviation security consultant and former staff member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks. “It wouldn’t take much, even a minor incident involving two simultaneously attacking planes, to inflict enough damage to set off alarm bells and do some serious harm to the economy and national psyche.”

No Misconduct for Bush Interrogation Lawyers

Justice Department lawyers showed “poor judgment” but did not commit professional misconduct when they authorized CIA interrogators to use waterboarding and other harsh tactics at the height of the U.S. war on terrorism, an internal review released Friday found. The decision closes the book on one of the major lingering investigations into the counterterrorism policies of George W. Bush’s administration. Liberal Democrats had pressed for action against the authors of the so-called torture memos, and they indicated they aren’t finished discussing the matter. Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said he was “deeply offended” by the legal memos and planned to hold a hearing Feb. 26.

Obama Tops Bush at Ducking Reporters

President Obama, who pledged to establish the most open and transparent administration in history, on Monday surpasses his predecessor’s record for avoiding a full-fledged question-and-answer session with White House reporters in a formal press conference. President George W. Bush’s longest stretch between prime-time, nationally televised press conferences was 214 days, from April 4 to Nov. 4, 2004. Mr. Obama tops that record on Monday, going 215 days – stretching back to July 22. The president has seemingly shunned formal, prime-time sessions since his last disastrous presser, when he said police in Cambridge, Mass., “acted stupidly” by arresting a Harvard professor who broke into a home that turned out to be his own. The off-the-cuff comment took over the news cycle for a week.

Arizona Leads Nation in Immigrant Decline

Arizona has seen the sharpest decline in undocumented population of any state, losing 18 percent, or more than 100,000, of its illegal immigrants in 2008, according to a new government report. Experts agree that the decrease in Arizona’s undocumented immigrant population was fueled by the staggering loss of jobs the state experienced during the recession, and that to lesser extent immigration crackdowns also contributed to the decline. Experts also agree that the number of new illegal immigrants entering the country is in decline. If more immigrants than normal have departed, that could boost the argument of those who support more immigration enforcement, such as employer crackdowns. The statistics show illegal immigrants will leave the country, they say, if government makes it harder for them to get work.

DNA, Hot Line Lead to Arrests in Texas Church Fire

Investigators say DNA evidence collected at the site of one of several Texas churches destroyed by arson links one of two suspects to the blaze. The church near Tyler, about 90 miles east of Dallas, was among 10 in east Texas burned since the beginning of 2010. A telephone hot line established as the number of church fires mounted produced a tip that implicated one of the pair, who could face life in prison if convicted. No motive has yet been established for the two young men.

EPA to Spend $2.2B to Protect Great Lakes

The federal government plans to spend $2.2 billion to clean up pollution in the Great Lakes and halt the spread of invasive species over the next five years. The EPA will use the money to prevent beach pollution, clean up toxic hot spots, and fight Asian carp and other invasive species. The Great Lakes — spanning from Minnesota to New York— have faced environmental threats for decades, ranging from a legacy of industrial pollution to disappearing wetlands and invasive species that threaten local fish populations. State and federal agencies have attempted in the past to fix some of those problems, though most of the efforts have been modest.

Placebo Effect Stronger than Doctors Believed

When it comes to the placebo effect, it really may be mind over matter, a new analysis suggests. In a review of recent research, international experts say there is increasing evidence that fake treatments, or placebos, have an actual biological effect in the body. The doctor-patient relationship, plus the expectation of recovery, may sometimes be enough to change a patient’s brain, body and behavior, experts reported online Friday in Lancet, the British medical journal.

Governors Brace for More Economic Turmoil

On the recession’s front lines, governors are struggling to chart the road ahead for states staggered by unrelenting joblessness and cut-to-the-bone budgets even as Washington reports signs of economic growth. “The worst probably is yet to come,” warned Gov. Jim Douglas, R-Vt., chairman of the National Governors Association, at the group’s meeting Saturday. He called the situation “fairly poor” in most states. States face budget holes totaling $134 billion over the next three years, according to the governors, who explained that tax collections keep declining as Medicaid costs soar. High unemployment persists. States cut 18,000 jobs in January alone and more job losses are anticipated. Because states are required to balance their budgets, shortfalls will be made up by raising taxes or fees or cutting services.

  • Too bad the federal government isn’t also required to balance its budget

Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs

Even as the American economy shows tentative signs of a rebound, the human toll of the recession continues to mount, with millions of Americans remaining out of work, out of savings and nearing the end of their unemployment benefits, the New York Times reported Sunday. Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed. Roughly 2.7 million jobless people will lose their unemployment check before the end of April unless Congress approves the Obama administration’s proposal to extend the payments, according to the Labor Department.

Economic News

Regulators shut four banks from California to Florida on Friday, boosting to 20 the number of U.S. bank failures this year following the 140 closures last year in the worst financial climate in decades. They cost the insurance fund more than $30 billion. There were 25 bank failures in 2008 and just three in 2007.

The number of borrowers falling behind on their mortgage payments dropped at the end of last year, a sign the foreclosure crisis may be beginning to ebb. The Mortgage Bankers Association said Friday that the percentage of borrowers who missed just one payment on their home loans fell to 3.6% in the October to December quarter, down from 3.8% in the third quarter.

Oil prices are again flirting with $80 a barrel after a two-week rally fueled by promising economic reports and worries that troubles in Europe and the Middle East could eventually tighten supplies. The rally in crude comes even though the U.S. is still flush with very large supplies.

Millions of seniors who signed up for popular private health plans through Medicare are facing sharp premium increases this year — another sign that spiraling costs are a problem even for those with solid insurance. A study released Friday by a major consulting firm found that premiums for Medicare Advantage plans offering medical and prescription drug coverage jumped 14.2% on average in 2010. Some 8.5 million elderly and disabled Americans are in the plans, which provide more comprehensive coverage than traditional Medicare.

Netherlands

The Dutch coalition government collapsed Saturday over irreconcilable differences on whether to extend the Netherlands‘ military mission in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the second largest party in his three-party alliance is quitting, in a breakdown of trust in what had always been an uneasy partnership.Tthe resignation of the Labor Party leaves his government with an unworkable majority, and political analysts said early elections appeared inevitable. The coalition, elected to a four-year term, marks its third year in office on Monday.

Afghanistan

Outnumbered and outgunned, Taliban fighters are mounting a tougher fight than expected in Marjah, Afghan officials said Sunday, as U.S.-led forces converged on a pocket of militants in a western section of the town. Despite ongoing fighting, the newly appointed civilian chief for Marjah said he plans to fly into the town Monday for the first time since the attack to begin restoring Afghan government control and winning over the population after years of Taliban rule. With fighter jets, drones and attack helicopters roaring overhead, Marine and Afghan companies advanced Sunday on a 2-square-mile area where more than 40 insurgents were believed holed up.

The Afghan Cabinet says at least 33 civilians are dead as the result of NATO airstrike in southern Afghanistan — an incident that is inflaming already heightened sensitivities over noncombatant casualties in the war. In a statement released on Monday, the Afghanistan Council of Ministers strongly condemned the airstrike, saying it was “unjustifiable.” The Cabinet says initial reports indicate that NATO fired Sunday on a convoy of three vehicles killing at least 33 civilians, including four women and one child.

Pakistan

Teams of coordinated suicide attackers struck two police stations in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing a local police chief and wounding four officers in the latest assault on government officials Elsewhere in the troubled northwest, the Pakistani army said it had killed 30 militants Saturday in an airstrike in South Waziristan, a Taliban-dominated sanctuary near the Afghan border where the army launched a major offensive in October.

Iraq

The Sunni wing of Iraq‘s leading nonsectarian political coalition is dropping out of next month’s elections, saying the vote will be illegitimate because of a Shiite-ordered ballot purge of hundreds of candidates. A statement Saturday by the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue stopped short of urging Sunnis to boycott the March 7 parliamentary elections. But it invited other political parties to withdraw. At least one, the National Council for Tribes of Iraq, said it would.

A spate of defaced, torn down or otherwise trashed posters of candidates across the country has prompted the Shiite-led Iraqi government to vow to impose prison sentences of up to a year on vandals. But others, particularly Sunnis, see the harsh punishment as just the latest display of power by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies.

The Christian Post reports that another Christian student was killed in the Iraqi city of Mosul this week. Wissam George, 20, was shot and killed on Wednesday, becoming the fourth Christian gunned down in Mosul this week. “We don’t want elections, we don’t want representatives, we don’t want our rights, we just want to be alive,” Baasil Abdul Noor, a priest at Mar Behnam church in Mosul, declared Tuesday. “It has become a nightmare,” he said. “The security forces should not be standing by and watching. We hold them responsible, because they are supposed to be protecting us, and protecting all Iraqis.”

Japan

Japan‘s transport ministry may review and improve its car recall system, reports said Sunday, as Toyota Motor Corp. battles accusations it may have delayed acting on drivers’ complaints. The step reflects deepening concerns in Japan over Toyota’s recalls of more than 8 million vehicles, most of them in overseas markets. The agency may require automakers to move more quickly to fix defects and may expand the types of problems subject to reporting requirements.

Weather

Rescue workers in Madeira dug through heaps of mud, boulders and debris Sunday, searching for victims buried by floods and mudslides that have killed at least 42 people on the popular Portuguese island. More than 120 other people were injured and an unknown number were missing, possibly swept away or smothered, authorities said. Heavy rain lashed the island Saturday, turning some streets in the capital of Funchal into raging rivers of mud, water and debris.

Moroccan officials say 36 people died and 71 were injured when a mosque minaret collapsed during weekly Friday prayers. The collapse happened in Meknes, in northern Morocco, which has suffered heavy rainfall for several days.

A band of winter storms that brought more than a foot of snow to southwest Colorado briefly closed some mountain passes for avalanche control work Sunday and prompted travel warnings for parts of Nevada and southern Utah. Avalanche control work briefly shut down U.S. 160 over Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado during the morning, and Colorado 65 at Grand Mesa was closed by an avalanche. An avalanche early Saturday also closed the heavily traveled Interstate 70 over Vail Pass for several hours. A mixture of freezing rain, sleet and snow caused numerous accidents, several of them fatal, in Kansas, authorities said Sunday.

February 19, 2010

Eight Haiti Missionaries Freed

After languishing for nearly three weeks in a Haitian jail, eight of the 10 American missionaries investigated on accusations of kidnapping Haitian children were freed Wednesday and flew to Miami. Judge Bernard Saint-Vil said he still wants to question group leader Laura Silsby and her nanny, Charisa Coulter, about their visit to Haiti in December, before the earthquake. The others were set free after parents of some of the 33 children found with them told the judge they had given up their children voluntarily. The group had been questioned by Haitian officials who said they tried to take the children to the Dominican Republic without proper documentation.

P&G, Walmart Team Up to Clean Up TV

Most Americans know Proctor and Gamble as the name brand behind some of their favorite household products–things like shampoo, dish soap, and laundry detergent. After years of helping to tidy up homes, P&G is ready to clean up television as part of a blockbuster partnership with Walmart. Together, the companies have kicked off a new campaign to produce TV programs that are profanity-free and morality-filled. Launched last week, the collaboration between two of the United States’ corporate powerhouses is part of a broader effort to give parents a refuge from the around-the-clock filth on American networks.

Five Muslim Soldiers Arrested in S.C.

Five Muslim soldiers were arrested for allegedly trying to poison the food supply at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, according to CBN News. A source with intimate knowledge of the ongoing investigation told CBN News that investigators suspect the “Fort Jackson Five” may have been in contact with the five Northern Virginia Muslims who traveled to Pakistan to wage jihad on U.S. troops. The ongoing probe began two months ago, Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, told Fox News.

Austin Plan Crash Mimics 9/11

As it dove out of the sky toward an IRS field office Thursday morning, Joseph Stack’s small single-engine Piper Dakota became a screaming 3,000-pound missile, slamming into the offices that housed 190 IRS employees. Stack, a 53-year-old software engineer apparently enraged over tax issues, plowed the plane into the side of the building, triggering a massive fireball that engulfed the offices. He is presumed dead, and one other person in the building is believed to have been killed; 13 others were injured, two critically.

The smoke hadn’t even cleared from an airplane suicide attack by an anti-tax fanatic Thursday before the mainstream media begin linking the man – without a shred of evidence – to national tea party movements. But the tea party movement has never opposed the IRS – just the wasteful spending of lawfully created taxes.

TSA to Screen for Explosives at Airports

Airport screeners for the first time will begin roving through airports taking chemical swabs from passengers and their bags to check for explosives, the Transportation Security Administration said earlier this week. The program, already tested at five airports after the attempted Christmas Day bomb plot on a U.S.-bound airliner, begins nationwide in a few weeks, TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne said. Screeners will push carts with bomb-detection machines around airport gates and checkpoint lines to randomly check passengers’ hands and carry-on bags for explosive residue. Metal detectors now used at checkpoints can’t spot materials such as the powdered explosives that bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly hid in his underwear to get through a checkpoint in Amsterdam‘s airport.

Mount Vernon Statement Unites Conservatives

History was made today when more than 100 conservative leaders signed and released “The Mount Vernon Statement”, a document defining the conservative movement’s principles, beliefs, and values in light of the blistering, radical attacks that are threatening our liberty and way of life. This historic gathering at Mount Vernon recommits conservatives to constitutional authority, declaring a philosophical war against big government, and radical attempts to recast our nation into a socialist state. The Mount Vernon Statement website says it defines the conservative movement’s “principles, beliefs, and values in light of the challenges facting the country and the need for Constitutional Conservatism since the Obama administration came to power.”

  • You make your voice heard too by clicking here to view and sign the statement

53% of Immigrant Families on Welfare

Numbers USA reports that 53% of immigrant households with children collected welfare from at least one government program in 2008. These programs include food stamps, Medicaid, and free school lunches. And yes, that huge number also includes legal immigrants. The immigrants America is attracting these days are mostly poor and badly educated.

Marketing Used to Push Vaccine

Health departments around the country are going to great lengths to spread the word that swine flu vaccines are in abundant supply and available for free to anyone who wants one. Their advertising tactics include horseback banners at rodeos and wristbands handed out at nightclubs. Maine officials set up a flu clinic at the high school basketball playoffs this week, while other health departments are giving patients shots at airports, malls and even a trade show. The fact that clinics are practically begging people to get vaccinated is a dramatic shift from just a few months ago when people stood in long lines and waited — sometimes for hours — to get the scarce vaccine.

  • One has to wonder why the government has been so anxious to overhype the supposed ‘pandemic’ and now is pushing the vaccine. What is in it that they want so bad for everyone to have it? Not worth the risk.

Census Software Plagued by Defects

A key software system for the 2010 Census is behind schedule and full of defects, and it will have to be scaled back to ensure an accurate count of the U.S. population, according to a government watchdog report. Even as Census takers have begun the decennial head count in Alaska and other remote areas, the system is still not ready to handle the paperwork and payroll data for what eventually will be a half-million Census takers. If changes to the software are not made, the Census risks ballooning costs, delays and inaccuracies.

FAA Oversight of Airplane Maintenance Criticized

The watchdog at the U.S. Transportation Department raised concerns Thursday that the government is failing to police airplane maintenance at U.S. airlines. The department’s inspector general raised that issue in a 27-page report that criticized maintenance procedures at American Airlines and oversight of the airline by the Federal Aviation Administration. The report concluded that a lack of adequate FAA oversight “raises significant concerns about potential maintenance weaknesses going uncorrected — not just at American but at other air carriers.”

Toyota’s Travails Continue

Toyota Motor said in Japan on Wednesday that it’s considering a recall of 2009 and 2010 Corolla sedans because of power steering complaints — just as U.S. safety officials said they plan to open an investigation into Corolla steering by week’s end. Toyota this year has recalled 5.6 million U.S. cars and trucks because ill-fitting floor mats could jam poorly designed gas pedals wide open. It recalled 2.4 million because a faulty pedal assembly design could cause gas pedals to stick open. Toyota also recalled this month 133,000 Prius and 14,000 Lexus HS 250h hybrids in the U.S. because brakes could fail momentarily, 7,314 2010 Camrys because brake fluid might leak, and 8,000 2010 Tacomas because front-drive shafts might fail.

Mortgage Plan Helps Only 12%

A year after the federal government announced a $75 billion plan to slow the rate of foreclosures, more than 1 million homeowners have gotten temporary reductions in their mortgage payments. But only 12% — about 116,000 — have received permanent modifications after a three-month trial period. Some economists say that’s too few to make a meaningful impact when millions of homeowners are in foreclosure or delinquent on their mortgages. The success of the government program is also tempered by homeowners who become delinquent even after getting permanent modifications with lower monthly payments.

States’ Pension Funds fall $1 Trillion Short

States underfunded their pension plans and retiree health benefits by $1 trillion in 2008, a new report says. The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, says 21 states had less than 80% of the money they needed to pay for future retiree pensions. In 2006, that was true of 19 states. States that don’t address their legal obligations to pay future pensions and retiree health benefits for their public employees may have to raise taxes.

Debt-Reduction Panel: All Options on Table

The Democratic co-chairman of the bipartisan debt-reduction commission that President Barack Obama created Thursday said that “everything is on the table” – including raising taxes and cutting Medicare and Social Security – but declined to discuss his preferences or predict what proposals will prevail. Erskine Bowles, 64, is a former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and currently the president of the University of North Carolina system. The 18-member commission is to make non-binding recommendations to Congress by Dec. 1, after November’s midterm elections, on how to balance the federal budget by 2015, excluding interest on the national debt. The current pace of national debt risks financial calamity over the coming decade, economists warn. In addition, Medicare insolvency is projected in seven years.

Economy Forces States to Reduce Medicaid Spending

More than half the states are reducing Medicaid services and payments to health care providers this year as the recession propelled enrollments to record levels and sapped money from treasuries. Governors who will meet with President Obama this weekend have taken some actions to close budget deficits. Arizona froze enrollment in its Children’s Health Insurance Program. California plans to close adult day health care centers next month. Nevada is cutting coverage for eyeglasses, dentures and hearing aids. Most states are threatening bigger cuts starting in July unless Congress extends a higher federal contribution included in last year’s $862 billion economic stimulus law.

Economic News

The consumer price index rose less than expected in January and prices excluding food and energy actually fell, something that hasn’t happened in more than a quarter-century. The Labor Department said Friday that consumer prices edged up 0.2% in January while prices excluding food and energy slipped 0.1%.

The Federal Reserve raised the discount rate it charges banks for emergency loans by a quarter-point Thursday, the first increase in nearly four years. The central bank said Thursday it would have no effect on interest rates for consumers. Still, investors were surprised at the move.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits jumped to 473,000 the week ended Feb. 13, up 31,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 442,000. Economists had expected a decline, and the large increase served notice that the labor market is still facing serious problems.

The European single currency is facing an ‘inevitable break-up’ a leading French bank claimed Wednesday. Strategists at Paris-based Société Générale said that any bailout of the stricken Greek economy would only provide ‘sticking plasters’ to cover the deep- seated flaws in the eurozone bloc. The stark warning came as the euro slipped further on the currency markets and dire growth figures raised the prospect of a ‘double-dip’ recession in the embattled zone.

Afghanistan

U.S. Marines pummeled insurgents with mortars, sniper fire and missiles as fighting intensified Thursday in two areas of the Taliban southern stronghold of Marjah, where U.S. and Afghan forces are facing stubborn resistance in an operation now in its sixth day. The Taliban is using civilians and hundreds of mines to try to prevent Afghan and U.S. troops from taking over the jihadist group’s largest stronghold in Afghanistan.

U.S. forces here in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah are under orders to “go slow,” troops say. It’s part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s aim of protecting the people rather than just killing the enemy: Hold down civilian casualties to avoid alienating those you wish to win over to your side.

Pakistan

A government official says the death toll in a bomb blast in northwest Pakistan’s tribal belt has reached 29, underscoring the persistent threat of Islamist militants despite army offensives against them, The attack occurred at a mosque in the Aka Khel area of Khyber tribal region. More than 50 people were wounded. Pakistan has suffered numerous bombings over the last few months, many of them apparently in retaliation for an army operation against the Pakistani Taliban in the South Waziristan tribal area.

Pakistani authorities, aided by U.S. intelligence, said Thursday they have apprehended up to nine more militant chiefs following the capture of the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 figure — arrests that together represent the biggest blow to the militant organization since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Iraq

A suicide car bomb exploded Thursday outside the gate the main government compound housing the governor’s office, police headquarters and courts in the capital of Iraq‘s Anbar province, killing at least 12 people, including four police. The province, where al-Qaeda-backed Sunni insurgents once held sway, has seen a rise in attacks against security forces and government officials in recent months. The incident also comes amid fears that next month’s elections will stoke political violence.

Iran

Despite announcements to the contrary, Russia still plans to deliver its S-300 advanced air-defense missiles to Iran, according to a senior Egyptian security official speaking to WorldNetDaily. The official said Russia also intends to see the system delivered to Syria, from which it can also be transferred to the Hezbollah militia operating in Lebanon. The S-300PMU1 is a mobile system designed to shoot down aircraft and cruise missiles. Analysts say the S-300 system would make any Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities more difficult.

The U.N. nuclear agency on Thursday said it was worried Iran may currently be working on making a nuclear warhead, suggesting for the first time that Tehran had either resumed such work or never stopped at the time U.S. intelligence thought it did. The U.S. assessment itself may be revised and is being looked at again by American intelligence agencies.

  • It is sheer foolishness to think that Iran is going to give up its plans for a nuclear arsenal to match that of Israel

North Korea

North Korea vowed Friday not to dismantle its nuclear program — not even in exchange for economic aid — as long as the United States continues a “hostile policy.” “It was none other than the U.S. that pushed [North Korea] to acquiring nuclear deterrence and it is, therefore, wholly to blame for the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. North Korea will never abandon its nuclear program, “even if the earth is broken to pieces unless the hostile policy towards [North Korea] is rolled back and the nuclear threat to it removed,” the agency said.

India

Police say suspected Maoist have killed nine people in an attack on a rural village in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. The assailants set on fire nearly 30 mud huts with thatched roofs, burning to death a family of four. The rebels have fought for more than three decades, demanding land and jobs for the poor. They frequently target police and government officials, whom they accuse of colluding with landlords and rich farmers to exploit the poor.

February 17, 2010

Church Yearbook Shows Liberal Churches’ Continued Decline

The Christian Post reports that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) experienced a decline in membership for the second year in a row, while the Catholic Church in America gained a small number. According to the National Council of Churches’ 2010 yearbook, the Presbyterian Church (USA) lost more members than any other denomination reporting, shedding 3.28 percent of its members. The Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, editor of the annual yearbook since 1998, acknowledged the continued loss of membership in the largest mainline denominations. She attributes the membership losses on “an increasing secularization of American postmodern society, and its disproportionate impact on liberal religious groups.”

Young Adults ‘Less Religious,’ Not Necessarily ‘More Secular’

Members of today’s Millennial generation, ages 18 to 29, are as likely to pray and believe in God as their elders were when they were young, says the report from Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. “They may be less religious, but they’re not necessarily more secular” than the Generation Xers or Baby Boomers who preceded them, says Alan Cooperman, associate director of research. Millennials are significantly more likely than young adults in earlier generations to say they don’t identify with any religious group. Among Millennials, 26% cite no religious identity, compared with 20% for most members of Generation X (born 1965-1980) at the same ages, and 13% for most Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) at those ages.

Worship attendance is sliding steadily, too: 18% of Millennials say they attend worship nearly every week or more often, vs. 21% of Gen Xers when they were in their 20s and 26% of Boomers at those ages. Among Millennials: 40% say religion is very important in their lives, similar to 39% of Boomers at the same ages; 41% report praying daily, like 42% of Gen Xers as young adults; 53% are “certain God exists;” 55% of Gen Xers were certain at the same ages.

States Gain Support in ‘Personhood’ Battle

Signatures are being submitted as Mississippi voters seek the opportunity to decide on a Personhood amendment, and Colorado residents may once again have the chance to determine when a person is legally a person. Keith Mason, head of the national campaign, said “It would change the preborn child’s status from being property, which it currently is in the state of Colorado, to being a human person.” Colorado Personhood spokesman Gualberto Garcia Jones was asked if a state could overturn the Roe v. Wade decision: “Just like we have homicide laws that protect people from other people taking their lives, the states traditionally have had this power to do it,” Jones contends. “It’s under the police powers, the Tenth Amendment.”

  • The Constitution was meant to generate a limited federal government, with states having the responsibility for most matters. We have gotten way out of whack, so it’s good to see states taking more accountability

States Seek Ban of BPA

States are moving to ban the chemical BPA from food and drink containers, primarily those meant for infants and toddlers, because of health concerns. A dozen states are considering restrictions this year on bisphenol A, an estrogen-like chemical used to harden plastics in products such as bottles and cups. It is also in the linings of metal cans, including infant formula, to help them withstand high sterilization temperatures. The Food and Drug Administration, which previously called BPA safe, announced last month that, in light of new studies, it has “some concerns” about the chemical’s potential effects on brain development of fetuses, infants and children. It did not say BPA is unsafe.

Global-Warming Arguments Contested Yet Again

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) faces more challenges to its claim that human pollution is causing global temperatures to rise. One of the challenges comes from a former lead author on the Panel. Dr. John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, believes the weather stations around the world which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years have been compromised by surface development, which he describes as “anything that disturbs the natural cover.” “…I’m not just talking about urbanization with buildings and asphalt and so on,” he explains. “This is also large-scale farming and irrigation and planting trees where there was a desert before.” Those things, says Christy, work together to create a situation that makes temperatures warmer — especially at night. “And if that’s the cause, then the greenhouse effect could not be the main cause of that warming,” he points out.

Poll: Start Over on Health Reform

The American public wants Congress to start the health care debate over from scratch – just as Republicans have been pushing – amid growing talk among Democrats about the need to use a procedural end run to ram through a revised overhaul bill. A Zogby International poll released Tuesday shows that 57 percent of Americans do not like either of the competing health care bills produced by the Senate and House and say Congress should start over. But 33 percent of respondents said they were more supportive of reforming the health care system now versus a year ago

U.N. Small Arms Treaty Just a Gun Grab

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Obama Administration would be working hand in glove with the U.N. to pass a new “Small Arms Treaty.” Disguised as legislation to help in the fight against “terrorism,” “insurgency” and “international crime syndicates,” the U.N. Small Arms Treaty is nothing more than a massive, global gun control scheme. Ultimately, the U.N.’s Small Arms Treaty is designed to register, ban and confiscate firearms owned by private citizens.

Surveys Show Americans Bruised, but Optimistic

In the latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, Americans say they are fed up with Washington and convinced by more than 3 to 1 that the nation is heading in the wrong direction. Even so, confidence that there will be better times ahead — and that the classic American dream endures — hasn’t been extinguished. It’s not even at its lowest ebb. The taken last month and the massive Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has been surveying 1,000 adults a day for more than two years, underscore the persistence and resiliency of American optimism. Those polled cite the will of the American people — named by more than one in three as a fundamental strength — as well as the power of the U.S. military and the promise of technology and innovation as reasons for optimism about the future. The leading reasons given for pessimism: government corruption, the threat of terrorism and the travails of the economy and health care.

  • Unless we veer sharply from the “wrong direction,” such optimism is likely to be misguided

U.S. Housing Aid Winds Down, and Cities Worry

Over the next six months, the federal government plans to wind down many of its emergency programs for housing. Then it will become clear if the market can function on its own, the New York Times reports. It is uncertain whether the government can really pull back without sending housing markets into another tailspin. The government programs, however crucial, are distorting the market. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, wrote in his most recent report to Congress that “the federal government’s concerted efforts to support” housing prices “risk reinflating” the bubble.

Economic News

Housing construction posted a better-than-expected increase in January, pushing activity to the highest level in six months. The solid gain raised hopes that the construction industry is beginning to mount a sustained rebound from its worst slump in decades. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that construction of new homes and apartments rose 2.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 591,000 units.

Motorists are still getting a break at the pump, as gasoline prices continued their month-long slide on Tuesday, dropping to a new low for 2010. Retail gasoline prices hit a nationwide average of $2.61 per gallon. Prices are now 16 cents below the Jan. 15 peak, but still 64.5 cents above year-ago levels.

More than $3.5 billion in economic stimulus funds are going to programs that President Obama wants to eliminate or trim in his new budget. The president’s budget released this month recommends getting rid of Army Corps of Engineers’ drinking-water projects, which got $200 million in stimulus funds, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture flood-prevention program, which received $290 million from the stimulus, a USA TODAY review of stimulus spending reports show. The administration’s budget plan says the corps and USDA programs are inefficient and duplicate similar, more effective work by other agencies.

The government said Tuesday that foreign demand for U.S. Treasury securities fell by the largest amount on record in December with China reducing its holdings by $34.2 billion. The reductions, if they continue, could force the government to make higher interest payments at a time when it is running record federal deficits. Japan also reduced its holdings, cutting them $11.5 billion.

Japan narrowly retained its lead over China last year as the world’s second-largest economy behind the U.S., buoyed by recovering exports and rising consumer spending. Data released Monday by Japan’s Cabinet Office show the country’s inflation-adjusted gross domestic product grew at 1.1% in the fourth quarter and 4.6% on an annualized basis, beating analysts’ expectations. On a nominal basis, before adjusting for inflation, Japan’s GDP last year totaled $5.09 trillion compared with China’s $4.91 trillion. In 2009, China posted strong GDP growth of 8.7% while other nations were eking out much smaller gains.

Haiti

It will take three long years to clear the rubble left by Haiti’s devastating earthquake, said President Rene Preval who admitted even he’s still afraid to sleep under concrete in case another quake strikes. Despite Haitians’ desperate need for shelter, many abandoned houses that survived the quake still stand empty because nobody is quite sure they can withstand another quake. At least 1.2 million Haitians lost their homes. The president, whose five year term is scheduled to end next year, has rarely spoken publicly with his own people in the weeks since a magnitude-7 earthquake pummeled Haiti’s capital city on Jan. 12. The presidential palace and his own private residence were destroyed, as were most government buildings and the headquarters of a 9,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force that guarantees his security.

Damage from Haiti‘s catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake may be more than the value of the country’s annual economy, Latin America‘s main development bank said Tuesday. Economists estimated the magnitude-7 quake wrought damage worth between $8.1 billion and $13.9 billion. Haiti produced only $7 billion worth of goods and services in 2008.

Greece

Eurozone nations have pledged to help Greece if it can’t repay its debts — but they want Greece to make big spending cuts first. n a Tuesday statement, they say Greece must show by March 16 that it is on track to cut its deficit from 12.7% of gross domestic product to 8.7% this year. But if Greece’s budget plans and extra action does not slash the budget deficit, the Eurozone would step in and “will take determined and coordinated measures to safeguard the stability of the eurozone as a whole.”

Iran

Iran‘s president announced Tuesday that his country is installing more advanced centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment facility, even as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of an arms race if Iran acquires a nuclear bomb. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a news conference the new centrifuges are not yet operational but are five times more efficient than an earlier model at its Natanz enrichment plant — news of major concern to the U.S. and its allies because at higher levels the enriched uranium they produce can be used in nuclear warheads.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday any country that tried to impose new sanctions on Iran would regret its actions “Iran will retaliate … of course, if somebody acts against Iran our response will definitely be firm enough … (to) make them regretful,” Ahmadinejad said.

Iraq

The number of American troops in Iraq has dropped below 100,000 for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion The U.S. military plans on maintaining its current 98,000 troops on the ground in Iraq through the March 7 elections. President Obama has ordered all but 50,000 troops to leave Iraq by Aug. 31. The remainder will pull out by the end of next year under an Iraqi-American security agreement.

Pakistan

The Taliban’s top military commander has been arrested in a joint CIA-Pakistani operation in Pakistan in a major victory against the insurgents as U.S. troops push into their heartland in southern Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group’s No. 2 leader behind Afghan Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and a close associate of Usama bin Laden, was captured in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi, two Pakistani intelligence officers and a senior U.S. official said. Baradar is the most senior Afghan Taliban leader arrested since the beginning of the Afghan war in 2001 following the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.

Afghanistan

The Afghan military told Taliban fighters on Monday to lay down their arms and help their countrymen build a better future as the offensive against the militant stronghold of Marjah slowed in the face of gunbattles and sniper attacks. Elders from Marjah here in the capital of Helmand province said their people may wish to be free of the Taliban but are worried about backing the Afghan government. Marjah is in the heart of southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is strongest, and at the center of an opium poppy network that has fueled the insurgency.

Taliban insurgents are increasingly using civilians as human shields as they fight allied troops trying to take the militants’ southern stronghold of Marjah, an Afghan official said Wednesday as military squads resumed painstaking house-to-house searches. NATO hopes to rush in aid and public services as soon as the town is secured to try to win the loyalty of the population. Afghans who had been under the rule of the Taliban for years in Marjah are starting to offer help to U.S. and Afghan troops, pointing out the locations of buried roadside bombs as fighting continues in the town.

Somalia

U.S. restrictions designed to stop terrorists in Somalia from diverting aid are hurting humanitarian operations in the lawless Horn of Africa country, U.N. officials said Wednesday. The U.S. reduced its funding to Somalia last year after its Office of Foreign Assets Control expressed fear that the extended supply line and insurgent-heavy areas where aid agencies were operating meant aid could be diverted to a group with links to al-Qaeda. The reduction contributed to a shortfall in funding that meant only two-thirds of the $900 million needed in 2009 was raised,. U.N. agencies have not seen any evidence from the American government that food aid is being diverted to Islamists fighting the U.N.-backed Somali government, said the top U.N. humanitarian official for Somalia, Mark Bowden.

Weather

What a difference a rain makes. The nationwide drought that had farmers, communities and entire states fighting to conserve water has reversed in the most dramatic turnaround since federal scientists began keeping records. More than 92% of the country is drought-free — the nation’s best showing since 1999. At the worst of the USA’s most recent drought — in August 2007 — almost 50% of the country was involved. In 2007, gigantic portions of the Southeast were in the worst drought in more than a century, sparking water wars among Georgia, Alabama and Florida. In drought-plagued California, the “meteorological drought is pretty much over,” said Le Comte, but the state still has a water supply shortfall.

  • Most of the remaining 8% of the country still in drought is in Arizona

Ohio is still moving slowly after the latest winter storm forced numerous cancellations and delays. Schools were closed around Ohio Tuesday. Ohio State University, the country’s largest campus, also canceled classes Tuesday. Winter-weary Kentucky was walloped by another storm Monday that sent highway crews scurrying to clear roads covered by fresh accumulations of snow. Forecasters predicted accumulations across the state of a half-foot of snow or more from the latest winter storm. A week after the winter storm that wasn’t, Massachusetts has been hit by the storm that was. Blinding snow caused numerous car accidents north of Boston Tuesday, just as the evening rush hour started.

February 15, 2010

Court Bans Illegal Word “Jesus” During Public Prayers

A federal judge in North Carolina just ruled it’s illegal to pray “in Jesus name” before Forsyth County public meetings.  The seven-member board of county commissioners is evenly split about whether to appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court, or cave-in to ban Jesus permanently. Alliance Fund is representing, but will NOT cover the risk of loss to pay opposing ACLU attorney fees, so Pro-Jesus groups have raised $155,000 of the $225,000 needed to mitigate that risk of loss. (Otherwise the county just won’t risk tax-payer funds, and Jesus will be permanently banned.)

PepsiCo Practices Reflect Change; AFA Suspends Boycott

Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association reports: “When AFA called for a boycott of PepsiCo because of its support of homosexual activist groups, I knew we were taking on a huge task. After all, PepsiCo is a huge company. But I knew we had a lot of friends who would stand with us. Now, I’m glad to report to you that we are suspending the boycott of PepsiCo. After monitoring the company for several months, AFA is satisfied the company has withdrawn its major financial contributions to gay activist groups. I truly believe this is a direct result of your willingness to become involved. In fact, more than 500,000 people signed the Boycott PepsiCo Pledge.”

Freedom-Destroying Dietary Supplement Safety Act

New legislation targeting nutritional supplements would considerably broaden the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) already expansive regulatory authority by allowing the FDA to impose draconian restrictions on developers, manufacturers, and sellers of nutritional products and on the products themselves. The misleadingly titled Dietary Supplement Safety Act, introduced by Senator John McCain on February 4 as S. 3002 (bill text), is a regulatory scheme which would dictate which vitamins, minerals, or herbal products will be permitted for use and in what potency; install an onerous registration system for dietary supplement manufacturers; impose a burdensome documentation process for sellers complete with monetary penalties for non-compliance; and grant sole discretionary powers to the Secretary for immediate product recall.

  • To help preserve the freedom to control your own health treatments, contact your federal legislators urging them not to cosponsor, support, or vote for S. 3002 or any similar bill.

Mixed GOP Response to White House Health Summit

Republicans sent mixed signals after President Obama challenged them to participate in a one-of-a-kind televised summit with Democrats to come up with health care legislation. House Republicans derided the Feb. 25 event, casting doubt on whether it would produce any bipartisan agreement to extend coverage to millions of people and rein in medical costs. The summit is considered a last attempt to revive Obama’s year-long health overhaul quest, now stalled after Democrats lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority. Some in the GOP wondered if it would be nothing but a spectacle that could benefit the president at their expense.

Health Care Declaration

Nearly 100 lawmakers have signed a formal Declaration of Health Care Independence to reject an unconstitutional Washington takeover of American health care – and now one representative is challenging Americans to deliver it to Congress and the White House to hold them accountable to the people. The declaration is a commitment to protect the rights of the American people to make their own health decisions, reduce bureaucratic red-tape, decrease intergenerational debt and implement 10 common-sense principles for future health-care reform.

Federal Judge Rules Against ‘Muslim Mafia’

A federal judge has dismissed an attempt by the Council on American-Islamic Relations to re-file yet another lawsuit against Air Force special agent P. David Gaubatz and his son Chris, the father-and-son team that investigated and exposed the group’s terrorist ties. Defense lawyers are hailing the decision as a victory over CAIR’s alleged plan to “chill” free speech critical of the organization through an avalanche of court cases and legal costs.

New Uncertainty Surrounds 9/11 Terrorist Trial

The Obama administration appears increasingly unsure what to do with professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after officials indicated they are reconsidering not just where he should go on trial, but whether he should face civilian or military justice. Trying Mohammed in military court would mark a further political retreat from the announcement last year that Mohammed and the four other Sept. 11 suspects now held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be tried in federal court in New York.

Obama Names Envoy to Global Islamic Group

President Obama on Saturday named a White House lawyer as his special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, part of his continuing effort to repair strained U.S. relations with the world’s Muslims. Obama announced Rashad Hussain’s appointment during a video address to the 7th U.S.-Islamic World Forum meeting in Doha, Qatar. As his liaison to the OIC, the president said Hussain will continue working to repair U.S.-Islamic relations and develop the types of partnerships Obama called for when he addressed the Muslim world during a speech last year in Cairo. In the video address, Obama said he called in Cairo for the U.S. and Muslims to start anew “based on mutual interest and mutual respect” because the relationship had “slipped into a cycle of misunderstanding and mistrust that can lead to conflict rather than cooperation.”

  • What would improve relations a whole lot more would be a cessation of Islamic terrorism

Dem. Rockefeller on Obama: Prez isn’t ‘believable’

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson created waves that left Washington rocking for weeks by shouting “You lie” to Barack Obama during the president’s address to Congress last fall, and now a similar message has been delivered by a member of the president’s own party. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., told an audience Friday the president is “beginning to be not believable to me.” The comment was just the latest evidence of the dissension in the Democratic Party that prevented Obama from passing his health care proposal last year despite having a significant party majority in the U.S. House and a supermajority of 60 votes in the Senate.

Economic News

Wall Street tactics akin to the ones that fostered subprime mortgages in America have worsened the financial crisis shaking Greece and undermining the euro by enabling European governments to hide their mounting debts, according to the New York Times. As worries over Greece rattle world markets, records and interviews show that with Wall Street’s help, the nation engaged in a decade-long effort to skirt European debt limits. One deal created by Goldman Sachs helped obscure billions in debt from the budget overseers in Brussels. Even as the crisis was nearing the flashpoint, banks were searching for ways to help Greece forestall the day of reckoning.

For the U.S., the crushing weight of its debt threatens to overwhelm everything the federal government does, even in the short-term, best-case financial scenario — a full recovery and a return to prerecession employment levels. The government already has made so many promises to so many expanding “mandatory” programs. Just keeping these commitments, without major changes in taxing and spending, will lead to deficits that cannot be sustained. Social Security, Medicare and other benefits plus interest payments on a national debt that now exceeds $12.3 trillion will gobble up 80 percent of all federal revenues by 2020, government economists project.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans support cutting the size of the government workforce to reduce the deficit — and a majority favor cutting pay for non-military government employees, according to a new poll by Rasmussen Reports. The survey found that 58 percent of respondents think the government workforce should be trimmed; 22 percent are opposed to the idea; and the rest are “not sure.” The poll disclosed that 51 percent favor cutting government employees’ pay; 32 percent oppose it; and 17 percent are not sure.

Australia

An Australian court Monday sentenced five Muslim men to prison terms of 23 to 28 years after convicting them of preparing for terror attacks on unspecified targets by stockpiling explosive chemicals and firearms. The men were found guilty last October on charges linked to preparing for a terrorist act between July 2004 and November 2005. The men — Australian-born or naturalized citizens with Muslim immigrant backgrounds — had all pleaded not guilty to the charges. During the trial, a former associate of the suspects testified the group had considered bombing an Australian Rules football final in Melbourne in 2005 that was attended by almost 92,000 people. They had also discussed killing former Prime Minister John Howard, prosecutors said.

Haiti

Ask any of the hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims living outdoors in Haiti‘s shattered capital and you’re apt to get the same plea: “Give us a tent.” Few will get one. Aid agencies and Haitian officials have given up plans to shelter the homeless in tents, even if that means many will likely face hurricane season camped out under flapping sheets of plastic. Tents are too big, too costly and too inefficient, aid groups say. So Haitians must swelter under flimsy tarps until fixed shelters can be built — though no one believes nearly enough can be will be up in time for spring storms.

A man who provided legal assistance to 10 jailed U.S. missionaries and who may be wanted for human trafficking in El Salvador was not known to the Americans’ church group before their arrest, a relative said Saturday. Lawyers for the missionaries argued, his legal troubles should have no bearing on whether the missionaries are released provisionally, as a judge has recommended. They thought Puello, a yarmulke-wearing Jew from the Dominican Republic, was a good Samaritan and had no reason to doubt his intentions.

The U.S. military is scaling back — a month after its troops arrived in haste to aid victims of Haiti’s catastrophic quake. U.S. Navy ships have been leaving Haiti’s battered shores as thousands of U.S. service members pack up. Troop strength is down to 13,000 from a Feb. 1 peak of 20,000. The mission, however, is far from over. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States will be in Haiti for the long haul.

India

A bomb detonated in a crowded bakery popular with foreigners in western India killing nine people and wounding 57, officials said Sunday, the first terrorist attack in the country since the 2008 Mumbai massacre. The blast Saturday in the city of Pune, 125 miles southeast of Mumbai, threatened to damage new efforts to reduce tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, with Hindu nationalist leaders placing blame for the attack on India’s Muslim neighbor.

Iran

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that Iran is becoming a military dictatorship, a new U.S. accusation in the midst of rising tensions with Iran over its nuclear ambitions and crack down on anti-government protesters. Speaking to Arab students at Carnegie Mellon’s Doha campus, Clinton said Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps appears to have gained so much power that it effectively is supplanting the government. The Revolutionary Guard has long been a pillar of Iran’s regime as a force separate from the ordinary armed forces.

Iraq

A leading Sunni politician said Sunday that he may call on his supporters to boycott next month’s national elections in Iraq. Saleh Mutlak, who is among more than 400 candidates banned from running because of purported ties to Saddam Hussein‘s outlawed Baath Party, told USA TODAY he hopes Iraq’s parliament or Supreme Court will intervene to reverse the ban by the Accountability and Justice Committee. If that doesn’t happen, Mutlak said, a boycott is an option — a move that could threaten the credibility of the vote that U.S. commanders see as a milestone ahead of the American withdrawal from Iraq.

Afghanistan

Sniper teams attacked U.S. Marines and Afghan troops across the Taliban haven of Marjah, as several gun battles erupted Monday on the third day of a major offensive to seize the extremists’ southern heartland. Multiple firefights in different locations taxed the ability of coalition forces to provide enough air support as NATO forces forged deeper into the town, moving through suspected insurgent neighborhoods. The massive offensive involving some 15,000 U.S., Afghan and British troops is the biggest joint operation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Twelve Afghans died Sunday when two rockets fired at insurgents missed their target and struck a house in Marjah.

Winter weather failed to deter insurgents from stepping up roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan, as both blasts and casualties among U.S. and allied troops in January more than doubled from a year earlier, Pentagon data show. Coalition troops found 727 bombs in January compared with 276 in the same month of 2009. Blasts killed 32 U.S. and allied troops and wounded 137 others, compared with 14 deaths and 64 injuries in January 2009. These bombs are the top killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan

A suspected U.S. drone fired a missile at a vehicle in Pakistan’s volatile northwest on Monday, killing three people in the second such strike in as many days in an area dominated by militants who regularly attack U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has stepped up the use of missile strikes in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area since taking office, partly in response to the Pakistani government’s reluctance to target Taliban militants who are not deemed a direct threat to the state.

Burma

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that more than 70 houses, a mobile health clinic and two schools in eastern Burma have been burnt down by army patrols stepping up the offensive on a Christian minority. According to the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), Burma army allied troops set fire to 46 houses in Toe Hta area and 28 houses in Ka Di Mu Der area of Ler Doh township, Nyaunglebin District. Other schools have been forced to close. Thousands of people have been displaced and are still in hiding following the attacks, according to Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a relief organization working in the conflict zones of eastern Burma. Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader at CSW, said, “These latest attacks serve as clear evidence of a brutal plan of ethnic cleansing against the minorities, instigated by Burma’s military regime.”

Earthquakes

A magnitude 4.1 earthquake rattled San Bernardino County but there are no reports of damage or injury. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake struck at 1:39 p.m. Saturday about three miles south of Redlands. It was followed by two aftershocks within eight minutes, a magnitude 1.5 and a 1.4. Earlier Saturday a magnitude 3.4 earthquake shook a desert area about 170 miles to the south in San Diego County.

Weather

Cyclone Rene slammed into Tonga on Monday with powerful winds ripping off roofs, tearing down trees and downing power lines in the South Pacific island nation. The central islands group of Ha’apai faced “very destructive hurricane force winds” with gusts of 143 miles an hour, the Meteorological Office said. Heavy rain, thunderstorms, sea swells and flooding were expected. People were moved to higher ground and into emergency centers from low-lying Ha’apai.

The Big Chill turned into the Big Dig on Saturday for many Southerners in America — those who least expect to open their doors to see up to a foot of snow. Dallas got 12.5 inches of snow, while Harkers Island, North Carolina, got 8.8 inches, Belleville, Alabama, got 6 inches, Foreman, Arkansas, got 4 inches (10 centimeters) and Atlanta got more than 3 inches. The weather was blamed for deaths in the Macon, Georgia, and the Louisville, Kentucky, areas. Airlines canceled nearly 1,900 flights on Friday. More flights were canceled Saturday due to weather.Aanother dose of snow could roll through some parts of the region on Monday.

Forty-nine states had snow on the ground as of Friday, from the Gulf Coast’s Redneck Riviera to the skyscrapers of Dallas. The lone holdout? Hawaii. Although snow falls every winter on Hawaii’s two tallest volcanoes, the National Weather Service in Honolulu said there was no snow in the state Friday.

Due to a strong El Nino climate pattern, the Earth’s temperature in January 2010 was the warmest it’s been in January in 32 years, according to climate scientists from the University of Alabama-Huntsville. El Nino is a periodic natural warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean, which also heats the atmosphere to above-average levels, and can affect weather worldwide. Overall, the Earth was about 1.3 degrees above average in January. Is global warming strengthening El Ninos? No, says atmospheric scientist John Christy. “I haven’t seen any evidence that El Ninos are becoming more intense,” he said.

  • El Nino is a regularly occurring event. Temps should be compared to previous El Nino years, not just to last year

February 12, 2010

Some Presbyterians See Salvation in Non-Christian Faiths

The Presbyterian Church USA’s statement of faith says God through Jesus Christ delivers followers “from death to life eternal.” But one in three members of the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination seem to believe there’s some wiggle room for non-Christians to get into heaven, according to a recent poll. The Presbyterian Panel’s “Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians” found that 36% of members disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement: “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” Another 39% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. A 2007 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 70% of Americans with a religious affiliation believe many religions can lead to eternal life.

  • Universal salvation is the key tenet of New World Order religious tolerance. Unfortunately, too many Christians are taking the bait

‘Gay’ Judge Asked to Quit Prop. 8 Case

An activist attorney is challenging the claim that the reported homosexual lifestyle of the judge deciding the constitutionality of California’s limitation of marriage to one man and one woman is a “nonissue.” “This is no different than having an avid gun collector preside over a Second Amendment case,” Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs with Liberty Counsel said Thursday, “or a frequent user of medical marijuana deciding the legality of medical marijuana.” “Even his fellow judges on the notoriously liberal 9th circuit have been forced to step in and overturn more than one of his inexplicable rulings relative to this case. Based on his demonstrated misbehavior, there’s no reason to believe anything will change,” Barber said.

The dispute over the constitutional definition of marriage adopted by voters in the state has implications across the nation. The case 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.

  • The New World Order has worked for decades to fill the courts and media with their liberal leftist supporters and are now reaping the benefits of an electorate and church asleep at the switch

Majority Supports Gays in Military

A majority of U.S. voters believe that homosexual men and women should be allowed to serve openly in the US military, according to a poll out Wednesday. The independent Quinnipiac University poll asked Americans about their views on the law that requires gay service members to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face expulsion from the military, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The poll found that 57 percent of US voters believe that gays should serve openly, an idea opposed by 36 percent. Americans also believe by a 66 to 31 percent margin that it is discriminatory to prevent openly gay men and women to serve. However, by a 54 to 38 percent margin, those surveyed also believe that gays serving in the military should limit displaying their sexual orientation on the job.

No Consensus for Obama Advisers on Tricky Church-State Issues

Religion News Service reports that the 25-member council advising the White House on faith-based issues has voted on two contentious issues for religious charities that receive government funds. By a vote of 13-12, the council members said the government should require houses of worship to form separate corporations in order to receive direct federal funding for social services. Separately, when asked whether the government should permit charities to offer social services in rooms containing religious art, symbols, messages or scripture, 16 said yes, two said no, and seven said they should be permitted if no other space is available. Melissa Rogers, chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the votes will be included in a forthcoming report for President Obama.

800K Fewer Illegal Immigrants in U.S. in ’09

An estimated 800,000 fewer illegal immigrants were in the United States in 2009, the biggest drop in years, according to Census data cited in a new report from the Department of Homeland Security. That still leaves roughly 10.8 million people who were in the country illegally. Georgia was the only state to experience an increase, from 460,000 to 480,000. California’s population fell 200,000, to 2.6 million. Some immigration watchers attributed the drop to fewer people crossing the border illegally because of the recession, while others claimed it’s because many are leaving voluntarily or being deported.

Airport Body Scanners Violate Islamic Law

Saying that body scanners violate Islamic law, Muslim-American groups are supporting a “fatwa” — a religious ruling — that forbids Muslims from going through the scanners at airports. The Fiqh Council of North America — a body of Islamic scholars — issued a fatwa this week that says going through the airport scanners would violate Islamic rules on modesty. “It is a violation of clear Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and women,” reads the fatwa issued Tuesday. “Islam highly emphasizes haya (modesty) and considers it part of faith. The Quran has commanded the believers, both men and women, to cover their private parts.”

  • Islamic terrorists now have yet another way to avoid scrutiny

Arizona Quits Western Climate Endeavor

Arizona will no longer participate in a groundbreaking attempt to limit greenhouse-gas emissions across the West, a change in policy by Gov. Jan Brewer. Brewer stopped short of pulling Arizona out of the multistate coalition that plans to regulate greenhouse gases starting in 2012. But she made it clear in an executive order that Arizona will not endorse the emission-control plan or any program that could raise costs for consumers and businesses. State officials said the policy shift was rooted in concerns that the controversial emissions plan would slow the state’s economic recovery. Brewer says the state should focus less on regulations and more on renewable energy and investments by businesses that can create green jobs.

Senators Back Cuts in Deficit, Not in Budget

Even as they call for reining in the record federal budget deficit of $1.6 trillion, more than one-third of the nation’s 100 U.S. senators have criticized proposed spending cuts in President Obama‘s budget that would affect their states. Some of the proposed cuts are big: NASA‘s manned moon mission, the Pentagon’s C-17 cargo planes, farm payments and crop insurance, oil and gas subsidies. Some of them are smaller: a flood-control project in California, a regional water system in South Dakota, a rural health program in Alaska, cleanup of abandoned mines in Wyoming. What binds these proposals is the opposition they have engendered in Congress, where lawmakers have criticized Obama for not cutting enough nationally — but cutting too much in their states and districts. Congress, which must OK all annual spending bills, will have the last word.

  • Just like the American public, legislators say they want budget cuts but NIMBY (non in my backyard). Getting something for nothing is the hallmark of our materialistic culture, the “entitlement generation”

Faced with criticism that the Democratic-sponsored jobs bill would not primarily create new jobs, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid abruptly announced Thursday that he had drastically slimmed down the bill from $85 billion to just $15 billion, tossing out key priorities of both Republicans and Democrats. But it is far from clear if that package really will be “bipartisan” because the smaller package jettisons some key provisions, namely a popular package of tax extenders that Republicans are keen to renew.

Obama Backtracks: Now Open to Taxes for Middle Class

Backtracking on a firm and fast campaign promise, President Barack Obama now says he is “agnostic” about raising taxes on households making under $250,000 a year — including the idea in the general tool bag needed to lower the nation’s crippling deficit. Obama declared that a presidential budget commission needed all options of the table — including tax increases and cuts in such programs as Social Security and Medicare. Obama repeatedly pledged during the 2008 campaign to exempt households earning less than $250,000 a year from tax increases.

Economic News

Retail sales posted a better-than-expected increase in January. The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales increased 0.5% last month, with strength coming from a surge at general merchandise stores, a category that includes big national chains such as those owned by Wal-Mart Stores.

Home sales posted strong gains in the fourth quarter. Bolstered by low interest rates and a first-time home buyers tax credit, existing-home sales rocketed 27.2% from the fourth quarter of 2008 to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.03 million. The national median price for an existing single-family home was $172,900, or 4.1% below the median price in fourth-quarter 2008. That was the smallest price decline in more than two years.

The number of U.S. households facing foreclosure in January increased 15% from the same month last year. More than 315,000 households received a foreclosure-related notice in January, about 1 out of every 409 homes. That number is down nearly 10% from 349,000 in December.

The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time claims for unemployment insurance dropped 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 440,000. A Labor Department analyst said the decline largely reflects the end of administrative backlogs in California and other states that had elevated claims in the previous three weeks.

China ordered banks Friday to increase reserves for a second time in a month to cool a credit boom without resorting to interest rate hikes that might derail a recovery in the world’s third-largest economy. Beijing declared China had emerged from the global crisis after economic growth rebounded to 10.7% in the final quarter of 2009.

EU Reaches Offers Moral Support to Greece but No Money

European Union leaders on Thursday offered Greece moral support but no money to help it weather a debt crisis — vague assurances that didn’t calm the market fear that has shaken the entire EU and undermined the shared euro currency. The 16 countries that use the euro said only that they “will take determined and coordinated action, if needed, to safeguard financial stability in the euro as a whole.” But no money or loan guarantees were put on the table. Markets appeared disappointed at not seeing a concrete backstop to ward off a potential default by Greece, which needs to borrow 54 billion euros this year to cover its outsized budget deficit.

EU Won’t Give U.S. Data on Bank Transfers

The European Parliament on Thursday strongly rejected a deal that would have allowed U.S. authorities access to European bank transfers — a vote the United States said disrupted an important source of information for anti-terror investigators. The parliament’s president, Jerzy Buzek, said the assembly wants more safeguards for civil liberties and believes human rights have been compromised in the name of security. The EU wants a deal that would eventually allow European authorities see U.S. banking information.

Saudi Religious Police See Red

The Saudi religious police are cracking down on stores selling items that are red or in any other way allude to banned celebrations of Valentine’s Day. A Saudi official says policemen are inspecting shops for red roses, heart-shaped products or gifts wrapped in red, and ordering storeowners to get rid of them. Such items are legal at other times of the year, but as February 14 nears they become contraband. Saudi Arabia bans celebration of Western holidays such as Valentine’s Day, named after a Christian saint said to have been martyred by the Romans in the 3rd Century.

Haiti

The judge presiding over the case of 10 American missionaries accused of kidnapping Haitian children has requested that they be freed. “I’m asking that they drop the charges and that they be released,” Judge Bernard Saint-Vil said outside the courthouse where he has spent the week questioning the Baptists. Saint-Vil said he privately questioned the last of a group of Haitian parents who said they willingly gave their children to the missionaries to educate and care for them. Saint-Vil said his request to free the missionaries was forwarded to the prosecutor-general’s office, which can object. But he said he intends to accept a request from the group’s lawyers to free the Americans while an investigation of the case continues.

Iran

Hundreds of thousands of government supporters massed Thursday in central Tehran to mark the anniversary of the revolution that created Iran‘s Islamic republic, while a heavy security force that fanned across the city moved quickly to snuff out counter protests by the opposition. Police clashed with protesters in several sites around Tehran, firing tear gas to disperse them and paintballs to mark them for arrest. Dozens of hard-liners with batons and pepper spray attacked the convoy of a senior opposition leader, Mahdi Karroubi, smashing his car windows and forcing him to turn back as he tried to join the protests.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed Thursday that Iran has produced its first batch of uranium enriched to a higher level, saying his country will not be bullied by the West into curtailing its nuclear program a day after the U.S. imposed new sanctions. Tehran has said it wants to further enrich the uranium — which is still substantially below the 90 percent plus level used in the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Afghanistan

The battle for Marjah is to be a key test of the strategy of the U.S.-led coalition to hammer Taliban radicals and persuade Afghans to help keep the jihadists out, military officials say. Marjah is a town of about 80,000 people in the Taliban’s southern stronghold of Helmand province. Under the Taliban’s control for months, Marjah is the subject of one of the largest military operations in Afghanistan since the invasion of the country in 2001. The U.S. military sacrificed the element of surprise in announcing the attack on Marjah to protect the townspeople and not alienate those who may be thinking of abandoning the Taliban. Thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops have ringed the town.

China

The Christian Post reports that China’s reporting of persecution cases has increased 19 percent since 2008, but even that figure includes only a small percentage of actual cases. Human rights group ChinaAid logged 77 total cases affecting almost 3,000 people in 2009, and 389 Christians arrested. The number of harassment and abuse cases skyrocketed 90 percent – ChinaAid confirmed that 114 people were abused in 2009. Many of the reported cases happened in urban areas, where ChinaAid theorized that cases have a greater chance of being reported. “[But] it may well reflect a policy of the central government according to which maintaining stability in urban areas is key to the whole country’s stability,” ChinaAid wrote in its “Annual 2009 Persecution Report.”

Weather

A third major snowstorm this season smacked the East Coast on Wednesday with shutdowns of highways, power failures, collapsed roofs and still more time off from work and school. Wednesday’s blizzard set seasonal snowfall records in Washington, Baltimore and Wilmington, Delaware. The latest storm dumped nearly 16 inches in Philadelphia, about 20 inches in central New Jersey, and totals ranged from 10 to 16 inches around New York City. The total snowfall this winter set many new records: Baltimore had 72.3 inches so far this winter, the Washington area had 54.9 inches and Philadelphia had 70.3 inches.

Schools were shuttered and flights canceled across the South on Friday as snow began falling, bringing a rare white landscape that could stretch into areas that haven?t seen snow in a decade — or longer. Winter storm warnings spanned the Gulf Coast states early Friday as the snow crawled east out of Texas, where it left the Dallas area with more than a foot of snow, nearly 200 traffic accidents and hundreds of canceled flights. Snow, ice and sleet closed parts of Interstate 49 in central Louisiana early Friday. The result? An unusual weather phenomenon — snow on the ground in all 50 states at the same time.

February 10, 2010

Focus on the Family Got Super Bowl Buzz It Wanted

One day after the evangelical group Focus on the Family aired its Super Bowl commercial — following a storm of controversy — it was clear on Monday that the group achieved its goal: a torrent of new attention for its website and its message in social media land. “Our website is crashing,” jokes Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family. In fact, it would have crashed had the group not beefed up its servers in anticipation. After the ad aired, the site’s traffic ballooned to 40 times its normal volume — with 50,000 unique visitors and 500,000 hits. Between Dec. 1, 2009, and Monday at 3 a.m., Focus on the Family generated more Super Bowl advertising-related social-media conversations than any other advertiser. Before the ad aired, negative comments and sentiment far outweighed positive. By Monday at noon positive comments outnumbered negative ones by 53.4% to 47.6%

Baptists to Flood Texas with Bible CDs

The largest state Baptist group in the United States wants Jesus Christ’s message of hope heard in every home in Texas — all 9 million of them — within the next two months. The Baptist General Convention of Texas is promoting a multilingual, multimedia CD that allows people to listen to important biblical passages in their native languages. The CD includes a toll-free telephone number and six 2-minute video testimonies of black, white and Hispanic Texans sharing their personal stories. CDs are just an upgrade of communication methodology instead of giving them a tract or booklet.

Airport Scanners Stir Fears Over Security Lines

The government’s plan to install body scanners in dozens of airports could lengthen security lines and congest terminals, airline and airport officials warn. Scanners that look through passengers’ clothing to find hidden weapons are significantly larger than the metal detectors they will replace. And they take at least five times longer to scan a single passenger. Steve Lott of the International Air Transport Association, an airline group, said scanners “would lead to significant passenger delays at the checkpoint.” The Transportation Security Administration plans to install 950 scanners at airports in the next two years.

Republicans Cool to Obama Call for Health Talks

Republicans gave a chilly reception Monday to President Obama‘s invitation to discuss health care in a bipartisan, televised setting later this month, part of the White House effort to revive the stalled legislation. The House and Senate Republican leaders said Obama and his fellow Democrats must shelve their long-debated health care bill, which was on the verge of becoming law until the Republicans won a special Senate election in the state of Massachusetts last month. That deprived the Democrats of a 60-vote supermajority in the 100-member Senate that could overcome Republican delaying tactics. Republicans may have little incentive to cooperate with Obama on health care. They won the Massachusetts seat campaigning against Obama’s plans and hope to use the issue to score big gains in the November congressional elections.

Ø      Obama’s offer is merely a ploy to shift blame

New Federal Office for Global Warming

Amid the growing fight over the accuracy of climate data, President Obama is seeking to have the federal government put its imprimatur on the science by calling for the creation of a new federal office to study and report on global warming. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Service office would help federal agencies and businesses prepare for and cope with global changes. The NOAA Climate Service office, which requires requires congressional committee approval, has been under development for years. It will cull existing data and programs from various Commerce offices under one roof.

  • More government bureaucracy for a spurious cause, just what we need

U.S. Request for Foreign Fliers’ Data Meets Resistance

The government is pushing foreign countries and airlines to deliver personal and criminal information about people planning to fly into the U.S., but the efforts have met with resistance. The diplomatic push is part of the Obama administration’s effort to stop terrorists from getting on airplanes overseas. The Homeland Security Department is seeking better information about the 23 million people a year who fly to the U.S. from Europe, potentially including their phone numbers, frequent flier numbers and credit card numbers. Those details, which can link people to terrorists, are given to Homeland Security for some U.S.-bound passengers but not all. Airlines worry about the potential cost of revising reservation systems to make passenger information routinely available. Under a 2007 agreement with the European Union, Homeland Security has access to airline reservation records that show passenger information such as phone numbers. The department can see 19 categories of information for everyone flying to the U.S. from the European Union.

Alcohol Abuse Weighs Heavy on Army

The Army needs to double its staff of substance-abuse counselors to handle the soaring numbers of soldiers seeking alcohol treatment, said Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s No. 2 officer. About 300 more counselors are needed to meet the demand, cut wait times and offer evening and weekend services. Last year, 9,199 soldiers enrolled in treatment after being diagnosed with alcohol problems, a 56% increase over 2003, when the Iraq war started. Substance abuse has been identified as an issue in many of the suicides, which reached 160 confirmed and suspected cases in 2009.

Fires Strike 2 More Texas Churches

A sheriff’s dispatcher says fires have struck two more rural east Texas churches, just hours after investigators announced that a blaze last week marked the eighth arson against a house of worship in the state this year. Fire struck a Baptist church near Tyler Monday night. Another hit a church about 3 miles away. There have been no reported injuries or arrests.

Medical Marijuana Big Business in California

In California alone, the medical-marijuana business could be worth as much as $2 billion, says Dale Gieringer, state coordinator for NORML, a marijuana advocacy group. Prices vary widely, but dispensaries have advertised an ounce of dried marijuana for $340 or more. Now, people from across the country come to learn how to legally grow, distribute and profit with pot, even though it remains illegal under federal law. About 7,000 people have taken classes at Oaksterdam, says Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Clare, who oversees all branches. There are waiting lists to enroll — 850 students started courses this semester, and more than 300 have signed up for next semester, she said.

Stimulus Funds for High-Speed Internet Access Tangled Up in Red Tape

The Obama administration knew that there’d be a lot of interest in the $7.2 billion for high-speed Internet projects it included in last year’s huge economic stimulus package. The goal was to quickly create tens of thousands of jobs and connect millions of poor and rural communities to broadband, a high-speed Internet technology that’s deemed essential for economic development, modern medicine and education. But officials had no idea that the demand for the cash would be so overwhelming. After nearly a year, only about 7% of the funds has been assigned to specific projects.

Trade Deficit Surged in December

The U.S. trade deficit surged to a larger-than-expected $40.18 billion in December, biggest trade gap in 12 months. The wider deficit reflected a rebounding economy that is pushing up demand for imports. The Commerce Department said the December deficit was 10.4% higher than November’s. In December, exports of goods and services rose for an eighth month, climbing 3.3% to $142.70 billion, reflecting strong gains in sales of commercial aircraft, industrial machinery and U.S.-made autos and auto parts. Imports were up 4.8% to $182.88 billion, led by a 14.8% surge in oil imports, which rose to the highest level since October 2008. For all 2009, the deficit totaled $380.66 billion, smallest trade gap in eight years, as the deep recession cut into imports.

  • Debt-induced pressures on the dollar continue to ramp up; the smallest trade gap in eight years was still a staggering $380 billion

Economic News

Serious delinquencies on prime jumbo mortgages rose again last month, nearing 10% the 32nd straight monthly increase. Jumbo mortgages are loans larger than Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac can finance. “Serious delinquencies” are payments at least 60 days late.

Employers are getting hit with a massive tax hike at a time when they can least afford it. Companies in at least 35 states will have to fork over more in unemployment insurance taxes this year. The median increase will be 27.5%. And employers in places such as Hawaii and Florida could see levies skyrocket more than ten-fold. The states are scrambling to restore their unemployment insurance trust funds, which cover claims.

Now that air travelers are warming to the idea of paying extra for service amenities, American Airlines is going to ask them to pay to stay warm in the air. Beginning May 1, coach passengers on American’s domestic flights that last more than two hours, as well as those on flights to Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, will have to pay $8 for a blanket and inflatable neck pillow.

State Farm, the nation’s largest auto insurer, says it alerted federal safety regulators in late 2007 about a rise in reports of unexpected acceleration in Toyota vehicles. Congressional investigators are looking into whether the government missed warning signs of problems with Toyota vehicles. The Japanese automaker has recalled millions of vehicles. Honda is adding 437,000 vehicles to a 15-month-old global recall for faulty air bags in the latest quality problem to hit a Japanese automaker.

Germany‘s multi-year reign as the world’s No. 1 exporter is officially over, with the crown formally passing to rising Asian power China after new figures showed that German exports slid by nearly a fifth in 2009, the biggest decline in 60 years. China’s runaway economy has shown growth and resilience amid the worldwide financial crisis.

Greece

A civil servants’ strike grounded flights and shut down public services across Greece on Wednesday, as labor unions mounted their first major challenge to austerity measures in the debt-plagued country. Air traffic controllers, customs and tax officials, hospital doctors and schoolteachers walked off the job for 24 hours to protest sweeping government spending cuts that will freeze salaries and new hiring, cut bonuses and stipends and increase the average retirement age by two years. Greece has come under intense pressure from its European Union partners to slash spending after it revealed a massive and previously undeclared budget shortfall last year that continues to rattle financial markets and the euro, the currency shared by 16 EU members. Wealthy European nations were moving closer toward swallowing a bitter pill Tuesday: rescuing Greece from its overspending before its debts drag down the euro and global markets.

Haiti

The second stage of Haiti’s medical emergency has begun, with diarrheal illnesses, acute respiratory infections and malnutrition beginning to claim lives by the dozen. And while the half-million people jammed into germ-breeding makeshift camps have so far been spared a contagious-disease outbreak, health officials fear epidemics. They are rushing to vaccinate 530,000 children against measles, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. Haiti’s government raised the death toll for the Jan. 12 earthquake to 230,000 on Tuesday. Some 300,000 people are injured.

Chaos, a lack of jobs and thousands of escaped prisoners could cause drug trafficking to jump in Haiti, where cocaine already flows through and into the United States, law enforcement officials say. The U.S. Justice Department says Haiti and the Dominican Republic are way stations for drugs coming to the USA from Latin America. The department says the number of drug planes landing in Haiti has been on the rise in recent years and may get worse in the earthquake‘s wake.

Geologists say beleaguered Haiti may still be waiting for the other shoe to drop, seismologically speaking. Analysis of high-resolution radar images shows that only half of the Enriquillo fault ruptured in the Jan. 12 quake that devastated the island nation’s capital. The western portion of the fault segment ruptured, but the eastern segment did not. That means half the energy locked up in the ground under Port au Prince has yet to be released.

Iran

Iran’s state TV says the country started enriching its uranium to a higher 20% level from 3.5%, over the objections of the international community. Uranium has to be enriched to fuel nuclear power plants. Enriching uranium to 90% creates material for atomic bombs. France and the U.S. said Monday Iran’s action left no choice but to push harder for a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions to punish Iran’s nuclear defiance. Russia, which has close ties to Iran and has opposed new sanctions, appeared to edge closer to Washington’s position, saying the new enrichment plans show the suspicions about Iran’s intentions are well-founded.

Afghanistan

Avalanches roared down a mountain pass north of Kabul, Afghanistan‘s capital, killing at least 157 people and leaving hundreds more stranded in their vehicles on snow-blocked roads, officials said Tuesday. Another 70 people were injured and transported to hospitals as the military and police continued rescue efforts to dig out those trapped in the snow, an Afghan Defense Ministry statement said. Some 1,500 people were rescued, it said.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s interior minister and a senior intelligence official say the country’s Taliban chief has died. The officials did not provide details of how or when Hakimullah Mehsud died. But it was the first time Pakistani authorities have categorically said the militant chief is dead. Rumors of Mehsud’s death have swirled for weeks, after a spate of U.S. missiles hit his stronghold in Pakistan’s northwest in mid-January.

  • The Taliban hardly miss a beat when their leaders fall, with many others ready to step up.

A suicide car bomber has attacked a tribal police patrol in northwestern Pakistan, killing 10 policemen. The attacker rammed his car into a vehicle carrying the police Wednesday on a main highway in the Khyber tribal area near the Afghan border. Another 15 people were injured in the attack.

China

China found 170 tons of tainted milk powder that was repackaged. The discovery has punched a major hole in China‘s promises to overhaul its food safety system. Officials say they’ve found yet another case where large amounts of tainted milk powder from the country’s 2008 scandal that should have been destroyed were instead repackaged. China ordered tens of thousands of milk products laced with an industrial chemical burned or buried after more than 300,000 children were sickened and at least six died from the contamination. But, crucially, the government did not carry out the eradication itself, and this month an emergency crackdown has made it clear that tons of compromised products are still on the market.

India

Compass Direct News reports that Karnataka state recorded the highest number of anti-Christian attacks in India last year, and it is keeping pace this year. Christians in Karnataka are being attacked “at rapid regularity” and “with near impunity,” said Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. Much of the violence occurs under the vigilante pretext of rounding up Christians supposedly involved in “forcible” or “fraudulent” conversion efforts. On Feb. 1 in Thagadur village, Kodagu district, Hindu extremists dragged 11 Christians – including four women – from their homes and colluded with police to arrest them on such false charges. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that all of the Christians were tortured at the Siddapur police station to pressure them to admit to the charges. Police denied torturing the Christians but seem to erroneously believe that laws against fraudulent conversion apply to any kind of proclamation of faith.

Cambodia

According to End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking (ECPAT), as many as one-third of all sex workers in Cambodia are children. Government entities, including the U.S. State Department, are pressuring countries like Cambodia to do more to stop the modern-day slavery epidemic. “Worldwide, 12.3 million is a baseline number that everybody agrees that there are at least that many people in forced labor, and that’s far too many,” said Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca, who leads the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Earthquakes

An magnitude-4.3 earthquake  struck Illinois early Wednesday about 48 miles west northwest of Chicago, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage from the quake, which hit around 5 a.m. ET. The quake hit around the towns of Sycamore and Virgil, rattling residents out of bed and producing a foot-long crack in one kitchen wall.

Weather

Blizzard warnings spanned the Mid-Atlantic early Wednesday as the second major snowstorm in less than a week barreled into the region, leaving more than 10 inches of new snow in the Washington area before dawn and threatening a similar whiteout for New York City. The storm started in the Midwest, where it was blamed for three traffic accident deaths in Michigan on Tuesday. Plows have been rolling around the clock for days in the nation’s capital, Philadelphia and Baltimore after a total of nearly 3 feet of snow had accumulated in some areas.

New York, which managed to avoid last week’s blizzard, was not so lucky Wednesday. Flakes were coming down fast during the morning commute, and the National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings and predicted 10 to 16 inches of snowfall. Thousands remained without power from the last storm in parts of western Pennsylvania, Maryland and other areas. Utilities said deep snow was hindering some crews trying to fix damaged power lines. About 230,000 federal workers in Washington have been off since Friday afternoon, when the first storm began.

On the West Coast, where the National Weather Service predicted up to 1.5 inches of rain could cause mudslides in areas affected by wildfires last year, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door with evacuation orders for 541 hillside homes

February 8, 2010

Palin Tells ‘Tea Party’ Activists: It’s Revolution Time

Sarah Palin declared “America is ready for another revolution” and repeatedly assailed President Obama on Saturday before adoring “tea party” activists, a seemingly natural conservative constituency should she run for president. Her audience waved flags and erupted in cheers during multiple standing ovations as Palin gave the keynote address at the first national convention of the “tea party” coalition, an anti-establishment grass-roots network motivated by anger over the growth of government, budget-busting spending and Obama’s policies. Catering to her crowd, Palin talked of limited government, strict adherence to the Constitution, pro-life policies and the “God-given right” of freedom. She said the “fresh, young and fragile” movement is the future of American politics because it’s “a ground-up call to action” to both major political parties to change how they do business. “You’ve got both party machines running scared,” she said.

Military Poll Shows Less Opposition to Gays

Opposition to gays serving openly in the military has declined sharply among active-duty troops since 2004, the Military Times newspaper reports. The poll of about 3,000 active-duty troops will show that opposition has dropped from nearly two-thirds (65%) in 2004 to about half (51%) today. Earlier this week,  Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress the time had come  to end both the law banning open service by gays and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. One major concern voiced in the survey and interviews: how to  implement new policies for sharing close quarters and living facilities with openly gay members.

EU Debt Crisis

The newly elected Socialist government revealed that last year’s budget deficit was more than three times as large as previously estimated. The EU says Greece’s financial figures have been fudged for years. With debt piling up to 113% of the economy, investors fear Greece won’t pay its debts, in the form of government bonds — or will need a lifeline from other EU countries to meet its 54 billion euro ($74 billion) borrowing needs this year. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has proposed deep budget cuts, a freeze on public sector wages, pension reforms, increases in fuel taxes and renewed efforts to rein in the rampant tax evasion in Greece.

Greece’s debt crisis has global implications because it’s the most visible example of the massive build-up in public deficits around the world after governments loosened the purse strings to mitigate the global credit crunch. Portugal and Spain are now also in the spotlight because their public finances have deteriorated badly during the last couple of years. Italy, Ireland and Belgium are also on the radar, while Britain, which doesn’t use the euro but is a member of the European Union, has been warned it may lose its triple A credit rating if it doesn’t introduce measures to bring its massive budget deficit down.

U.S. Drops Out of Moon Race

Forty years ago the U.S. raced to plant the first foot on the moon. Now, as India, Russia, South Korea and China compete to return for further exploration, the U.S has all but dropped out. Many argue that letting other countries win the race to return is akin to admitting failure. Beyond inspiring millions with the magnitude of what Americans are capable of, the race to the moon was viewed as essential to proving scientific competition for the country. Future space missions are uncertain following news that President Barack Obama is canceling the Constellation Program’s missions to the moon and ultimately Mars.

Texas Church Arsons

Eight Texas churches barely 150 miles apart have caught fire since New Year’s Day, putting pastors and congregations on edge and on guard wondering whether theirs is next. Authorities determined seven of those fires were intentionally set and they are investigating one that broke out Thursday as a possible arson. There have been no reported injuries or arrests. Six of the seven arsons were just nine days apart, sending many congregations in east Texas scurrying to install security systems and prompting volunteers to keep close eyes on church properties from dusk to dawn. All seven churches varied in size and denomination.

Obama Invites Republicans to Health Care Talks

In the first major step to revive his health care agenda after his party’s loss of a filibuster-proof Senate majority, President Obama on Sunday invited Republican and Democratic leaders to discuss possible compromises in a televised gathering later this month. Obama’s move came amid widespread complaints that efforts so far by him and his Democratic allies in Congress have been too partisan and secretive. The Feb. 25 meeting’s prospects for success are far from clear. GOP leaders demanded Sunday that Democrats start from scratch, and White House aides said Obama had no plans to do so.

  • Obama will most likely use the talks to shift blame to the Republicans

U.S. Swine Flu Cases Diminishing

One U.S. expert said the epidemic has “one foot in the grave,” and there are many reasons to believe there won’t be another wave later in the year. For one thing, the virus has shown no signs of mutating. The vaccine against it is effective. And roughly half the people in the U.S. probably have some immunity because they were infected with it or got vaccinated. The World Health Organization is witnessing an international decline as well, and is discussing criteria for declaring the pandemic over.

  • The worldwide hoopla over swine flu was clearly overstated

Gov. Who Linked Christians to Violence Latest Obama Pick

President Obama has picked to advise him on military actions inside the U.S. the Missouri governor whose state “Information Analysis Center” last year linked conservative organizations to domestic terrorism and said law enforcement officers should watch for suspicious individuals who may have bumper stickers from Ron Paul or pastor Chuck Baldwin. Missouri Gov. Jeremiah Nixon, a Democrat, is among Obama’s nominations for the 10 positions on Obama’s new “Council of Governors” that he will use for advice on “military activities in the United States.” It was in 2009 when the Missouri Information Analysis Center,issued a report that not only linked conservative groups to domestic terrorism, it also warned police to watch out for individuals with “radical” ideologies based on Christian views, such as opposing illegal immigration, abortion and federal taxes.

Rash of Retirements Push Social Security to Brink

Social Security’s annual surplus nearly evaporated in 2009 for the first time in 25 years as the recession led hundreds of thousands of workers to retire or claim disability. The impact of the recession is likely to hit the giant retirement system even harder this year and next. The Congressional Budget Office had projected it would operate in the red in 2010 and 2011, but a deeper economic slump could make those losses larger than anticipated. Since 1984, Social Security has raked in more in payroll taxes than it has paid in benefits, accumulating a $2.5 trillion trust fund. But because the government uses the trust fund to pay for other programs, tax increases, spending cuts or new borrowing will be required to make up the difference between taxes collected and benefits owed. “The moment of truth has arrived,” says Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., top Republican on the House Budget Committee.

  • The truth is there has never been a trust fund, only on paper. Those funds have been routinely spent as part of the overall budget. Now those misguided policies are coming home to roost.

Economic News

In January, a record 6.3 million people — 41.2% of the unemployed — had gone without jobs at least 27 weeks. The average unemployed American has been jobless more than 30 weeks, another grim record, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday. The Economic Policy Institute figures there are 6.4 jobless people for every job opening.

Americans borrowed less for an 11th consecutive month in December, paying off credit cards while increasing borrowing for cars and other products. The mixed picture raises the hopes of economists and government officials that Americans may soon return to spending, a necessary condition for economic recovery. But the record 11-month decrease in overall borrowing shows consumers are still holding back amid lingering economic uncertainty and 9.7% unemployment.

  • Consumers have let officials down, but they are still encouraging us to follow their example and feed debt to the voracious god of materialism in defiance of Biblical principles

Non-performing loans in China have risen into the “trillions of renminbi” because of poor lending practices, an insolvency lawyer said. “We work really closely with SASAC, the state-owned enterprise regulator in China, and there are literally trillions and trillions of renminbi of, frankly, defaulting loans already in China that no one is doing anything about,” Neil McDonald, a Hong Kong-based business restructuring and insolvency partner with Lovells LLP, said at an Asia-Pacific Loan Market Association conference yesterday. “At some point there’s going to be a reckoning for that.”

Mexico

Across Mexico, the continuing ability of traffickers to topple governments, intimidate police and keep drug shipments flowing is raising doubts about the Mexican government’s 3-year-old, U.S.-backed war on the drug cartels. Far from eliminating the gangs, the battle has exposed criminal networks more ingrained than most Americans could imagine: Hidden economies that employ up to one-fifth of the people in some Mexican states. Business empires that include holdings as everyday as gyms and a day-care center. And the death toll continues to mount: Mexico saw 6,587 drug-related murders in 2009. Cartels have multiplied, improved their armament and are perfecting simultaneous, terrorist-style attacks. Some analysts are warning that Mexico is on the verge of becoming a “narco-state” like 1990s-era Colombia.

Canada

As the host of the 17-day Olympics that begin Feb. 12, Canada plans to spend about $900 million (U.S.) to keep the Games safe. Yet the costly security effort does not stop at the Canadian-U.S. border. The Vancouver Olympics, perhaps unlike any other recent Olympics, highlight an unusually close relationship between two neighboring countries for which security has become a binational responsibility amid renewed concerns about the international terror threat. U.S. officials have constructed an elaborate, $4 million communications complex where law enforcement, public health and military analysts representing 40 agencies will scrutinize potential threats to the Olympics. Vancouver’s proximity to the United States— just 30 miles from the U.S. border crossing in Blaine, Wash. — has spurred an extensive security effort on the U.S. side.

Haiti

Ten U.S. Baptist missionaries charged with child kidnapping returned to jail Friday after failing to persuade a judge to grant them provisional release pending the outcome of their case, their lawyer said. The weary looking Americans were led one by one into the back of a police van after spending half the day at a courthouse in the rubble-strewn capital. A judge scheduled three more days of hearings next week, starting Monday.

Nearly a month after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake Jan. 12, Port-au-Prince residents still complain about what to them seems chaotic and unfair aid distributions. Yet in interviews last week across the city and its suburbs, nearly all surveyed said they had benefited in some way from the help. There are gaps in the effort, however, and one is that relief supplies are not getting to rural areas where the United Nations estimates 482,000 refugees from Port-au-Prince have fled. Tens of thousands of people who were living in Port-au-Prince for jobs are returning to their impoverished home villages. Others left the capital in the hope of finding someplace better. Many are finding that things are often no better in the country’s outlying areas, even if there are buildings standing.

North Korea

Robert Park is back home with his family after spending 43 days in the hands of the North Koreans for entering the communist nation intent on urging a change in its leadership. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Park as saying he was ashamed of the “biased” view he once held of the country. Robert Park said he was now convinced “there’s complete religious freedom for all people everywhere” in North Korea, citing the return of the Bible he carried as he entered the country and a service he attended at Pongsu Church in Pyongyang, KCNA said.

  • North Korea is just using Park to counter justified allegations of widespread religious intolerance and abuse

Iran

Iran‘s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered his country’s atomic agency on Sunday to begin the production of higher enriched uranium, a move that’s likely to deepen international skepticism about the country’s real intentions on the crucial issue of enriched uranium. Producing enriched uranium is the international community’s core concern over Iran’s disputed nuclear program since it can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Iran’s state media says Tehran has arrested seven people linked to the U.S.-funded Radio Farda and accused some them of working for American spy agencies. State radio and the official IRNA news agency reported Sunday the suspects played a key role in provoking protesters during a violent anti-government demonstration in Tehran in late December. Radio Farda broadcasts in Farsi into Iran. It is based in Prague, the Czech Republic and Washington, D.C.

Iraq

Hundreds of protesters denounced Iraqis still loyal to Saddam Hussein‘s Baath Party on Sunday as tensions soared over the decision to blacklist suspected Baathists from next month’s election. Shiite officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political allies, are trying to purge all high-level posts of Iraqis with ties to the Baath party, which was outlawed in Iraq in 2003. A decision to ban about 450 candidates from March 7 parliamentary elections because of suspected ties to Saddam’s regime has threatened to reopen wounds between once-dominant Sunnis and the Shiite majority. The ban is widely seen as targeting Sunnis, though Shiites are on the blacklist as well.

Afghanistan

The success of a planned major U.S.-Afghan offensive in the south depends on how quickly troops and civilian development workers can get public services up and running once the Taliban have been driven away, the top U.S. and NATO commander said Sunday. The military has widely publicized the upcoming offensive in Marjah — the biggest Taliban-held community in the south — although the precise date for the attack in Helmand province remains classified. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the element of surprise is not as important as letting Marjah’s estimated 80,000 residents know that an Afghan government is on its way to replace Taliban overlords and drug traffickers.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake shook several small islands off Japan’s southern coast on Sunday, rattling buildings over 100 miles away in Taiwan and causing officials to temporarily issue a tsunami warning. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. Japan’s Meteorological Agency said the earthquake hit at 3:10 p.m. and registered magnitude 6.6 on the Richter scale.

A moderate earthquake hit off the coast of Northern California Thursday, in the same area that was hit with a 6.5 quake less than a month ago.  Geologist says it hit a different fault, but locals say it struck the same nerve. The quake did not lead to any tsunami warnings despite striking under water. Thursday’s quake was felt in the city of Eureka which is about 47 miles from the epicenter. 

Burma

Eleven villages in Nyaunglebin District were attacked as villagers ran for their lives. When some people later returned to one village to retrieve some of their belongings, two men were shot and killed, including Saw Mya Kaw Htoo (48) who leaves a wife and six children. This is the terrible plight that has repeatedly confronted so many Christians in Burma. Thousands of families have had to hide in the jungle without food or shelter after fleeing their villages. Countless children have witnessed their parents’ being dragged out of their houses, tortured, raped, shot dead or even burned alive in their homes. These families have no shelter and no food; rice fields and crops have been destroyed.

  • Barnabas Fund supports a ministry in Burma that provides shelter, food and education for families left homeless and children left orphaned by the anti-Christian violence. If you would like to make a gift for the Christian children in Burma, please send your donation to project 75-821 (Christian orphans in Burma). Click here to donate online. If you prefer to telephone, dial: +44 1672 565031.

Weather

Residents in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. were faced Sunday with the prospect of clearing more than two feet of snow in some areas. Hundreds of thousands of people from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Virginia were without power. The heavy, wet snow snapped tree limbs onto power lines and several roofs collapsed under the weight. Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth-largest city, was virtually shut down with a record of nearly 27 inches while Washington D.C. received about a foot-and-a-half. The snow comes less than two months after a Dec. 19 storm dumped more than 16 inches (40 centimeters) on Washington. According to the National Weather Service, Washington has received more than a foot of snow only 13 times since 1870. A new winter storm is on track to hit the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning which could dump up to another foot of snow in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Thunderous mudslides damaged dozens of homes, swept away cars and pushed furniture into the streets of the foothills north of Los Angeles on Saturday as intense winter rain poured down mountains denuded by a summer wildfire. No injuries were reported but residents and emergency responders were caught off guard by the unpredicted ferocity of the storm, which damaged more than 40 homes and dozens of vehicles. Some 540 homes were eventually evacuated at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains after heavy rains overflowed debris basins, carried away cement barricades and filled houses with mud and rocks.

A massive avalanche hit an Indian army training center at a ski resort town in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Monday, killing at least 11 soldiers and trapping nearly 50 others. Fifteen soldiers, all in need of emergency medical care, were found during the search-and-rescue operation underway at Gulmarg. The avalanche hit a training center at the army’s High Altitude Warfare School at about 11 a.m. and swept away soldiers during a training session. About 400 people, including 30 civilian workers, were at the training center, but the avalanche hit only one portion of the facility.

February 5, 2010

Vegetative Brains Show Signs of Awareness

Scientists have detected glimmers of awareness in some vegetative brain-injury patients and have even communicated with one of them — findings that push the boundaries of how to assess and care for such people. The new research suggests that standard tests may overlook patients who have some consciousness, and that someday some kind of communication may be possible. In the strongest example, a 29-year-old patient was able to answer yes-or-no questions by visualizing specific scenes the doctors asked him to imagine. The two visualizations sparked different brain activity viewed through a scanning machine. This was a patient who was believed to be vegetative for five years. The new work, published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, came from researchers in Britain and Belgium.

Report: 40% of Cancers are Preventable

About 40% of cancers could be prevented if people stopped smoking and overeating, limited their alcohol, exercised regularly and got vaccines targeting cancer-causing infections, experts say. To mark World Cancer day on Thursday, officials at the International Union Against Cancer released a report focused on steps that governments and the public can take to avoid the disease. According to the World Health Organization, cancer is responsible for one out of every eight deaths worldwide — more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. WHO warned that without major changes, global cancer deaths will jump from about 7.6 million this year to 17 million by 2030.

In the report from the International Union Against Cancer, experts said about 21% of all cancers are due to infections like the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which causes cervical cancer, and hepatitis infections that cause stomach and liver cancer. While the vaccines to prevent these cancers are widely available in western countries, they are almost nonexistent in the developing world. Nearly 80% of the world’s cervical cancer deaths are in poor countries, according to the agency.

Medical Spending Continues to Increase

Spending on health care consumed an estimated 17 cents of every dollar spent last year in the United States, representing the largest one-year increase since the federal government started tracking the number in 1960. By 2019, health care spending will represent 19.3% of the nation’s total economic output, according to a report released today by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. he rapid increase in health care spending as a percentage of the economy — up from 16.2% in 2008 to 17.3% last year — can be partly explained by the recession. Although the nation’s gross domestic product declined in 2009, health care spending rose to an estimated $2.5 trillion in 2009, or $8,047 per person, according to the report. That number will grow to $4.5 trillion in 2019, or 19.3% of the GDP, which is the entire economic output of the USA. The proportion of health care spending is projected to remain flat in 2010 and 2014 as the economy improves, the report said.

For all the hue and cry over a government takeover of health care, it’s happening anyway. Federal and state programs will pay slightly more than half the tab for health care purchased in the United States by 2012, says a report by Medicare number crunchers released Thursday. the shift to a health care sector dominated by government is being speeded up by the deep economic recession and the aging of the Baby Boomers, millions of whom will soon start signing up for Medicare.

Obama Blasts D.C. ‘Tower of Babble’ at Prayer Breakfast

President Obama criticized Washington’s coarsened political culture at Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, including a reference to “birthers” who claim he was not born in the United States. “Surely you can question my policies without challenging my faith — or for that matter my citizenship,” Obama said. Renewing his call for more civility in Washington, D.C., Obama said, “this tower of babble can lose the sound of God’s voice.” Gay rights is another example, he said. People can have legitimate disagreements about gay marriage, but everyone can agree that it’s wrong to physically attack someone for their sexual orientation. He added: “I assure you, I’m praying a lot these days.”

  • The primary concern is to which god Obama prays

Obama’s Budget Curbs Border Programs

The Obama administration is proposing to scale back some border security programs set up after the 9/11 attacks and ramp up aviation security following the attempted Christmas bombing, in what some conservative lawmakers say is a dangerous priority shift. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says her department’s $56.3 billion budget for next year, up 2% over this year, enhances security “across the board.” The Border Patrol, which doubled to 20,000 agents during the Bush administration, would lose 180 agents through attrition. A “virtual” fence of pole cameras and sensors aimed at stopping illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and terrorists on the U.S.-Mexican border, faces a $225 million cut from $800 million last year. Five of the Coast Guard’s 13 elite Maritime Security and Safety Teams (MSST), created since 2001 to protect waterfront cities, would be eliminated. The existing 643 miles of concrete-and-steel border fence would be maintained but no new barriers would be built.

Haiti Fundraising Scams Soar

Federal law enforcement officials have gotten more than 170 complaints about fundraising scams tied to Haitian earthquake relief, and they’re bracing for more online cons using Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Scams are growing more diverse, and the FBI has a special team of computer analysts, fraud investigators and white-collar crime experts reviewing complaints. The FBI and at least five state attorneys general have issued alerts on Haiti relief scams.

Tight Times Put Gravel Back on Roads

Gravel roads, once a symbol of quaint times, are emerging as a sign of financial struggle in a growing number of rural towns. High costs and tight budgets have prompted communities in Maine, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Vermont to convert or consider converting their cracked asphalt roads back to gravel to cut maintenance costs, officials in those states say. New technology allows asphalt to be recycled into a durable gravel-like surface that is cheaper to maintain and adequately prevents potholes and mud. Thirty-eight counties in Michigan replaced a total of 100 miles of asphalt roads with gravel because of decreasing funds in 2008-09. In Montcalm County, Mich., 10 miles were converted to cut patching costs in 2009.

Sales-Tax Hike Goes to Arizona Voters

A divided Arizona Legislature on Thursday sent a temporary 1-cent-per-dollar increase in the state sales tax to voters, setting a May 18 election date. The 34-25 vote in the state House was a win for Gov. Jan Brewer, who has been pushing for the tax hike since she became governor a year ago. It capped nearly a year of debate over the wisdom of tax hikes to ease budget problems. The Senate had approved the increase Tuesday in a narrow 16-12 vote. The bipartisan votes were a rarity in the Legislature, where attempts over the previous months to pass the tax referral drew unified Democratic opposition, along with a few Republican dissenters.

  • Rather than search for more revenue options (i.e. direct or indirect taxes on you and me), it is time for the size of government to be scaled way back. But the fat-cats would rather have us bear the brunt than them.

Congress Increases Debt Limit by $1.9 Trillion

The House on Thursday voted to allow the government to go $1.9 trillion deeper in debt — an increase of about $6,000 more for every U.S. resident that provided a vivid election-year reminder of the nation’s perilous financial condition. The huge debt increase, approved 217-212, is only enough to keep the government afloat for about another year as it borrows more than 40 cents of every dollar it spends on programs like defense, health care, feeding the poor and protecting the environment. The huge increase — to $14.3 trillion — in the cap on federal borrowing was designed by Democratic leaders to ensure that the rank and file won’t have to vote again to run up another increase before facing voters increasingly angry over government spending and debt in the November midterm elections. Already, the accumulated debt amounts to roughly $40,000 per person, $160,000 for a household of four.

Lobbying Industry Booms in Recession

The recession has battered the U.S. economy, but the lobbying industry is humming along in the nation’s capital, even for companies that have shed thousands of jobs in the past year. The 20 trade associations and companies that spent the most on lobbying increased their spending by more than 20% in 2009 to $507.7 million, up from $418.2 million a year earlier, according to a USA TODAY report. The top 20 include oil giant ConocoPhillips, which announced nearly 1,300 layoffs in January 2009, and drug maker Pfizer, which shed 4,200 jobs since completing its merger with drug company Wyeth last fall.

  • Our upside down political system built on debt and special interests can’t come crashing down soon enough

Economic News

The unemployment rate dropped unexpectedly in January to 9.7% from 10% while employers shed 20,000 jobs, the government said Friday. The rate dropped because a survey of households found the number of employed Americans rose by 541,000, the Labor Department said.

The number of newly laid-off workers filing initial claims for jobless benefits rose unexpectedly last week, evidence that layoffs are continuing and jobs remain scarce. The rise is the fourth in the past five weeks. The number of people continuing to claim benefits was unchanged at 4.6 million.

  • The disparity between unemployment numbers increasing and jobless claims also increasing is primarily due to the statistical error inherent in these surveys, which the government doesn’t like to admit.

The mayor of Los Angeles has ordered the immediate layoff of 1,000 city employees to help to balance the city’s budget. City budget analyst Miguel Santana says the cuts are necessary because of the city’s $208 million budget gap.

The Labor Department said worker productivity rose more than expected in the October-December quarter as companies squeezed more output from their employees. Productivity rose a seasonally adjusted 6.2% in the fourth quarter,. The increase follows two quarters of sharply rising productivity. Productivity often rises at the end of recessions as companies ramp up output before hiring new workers.

Many retailers reported modest sales gains for January, as limited racks of holiday clearance items failed to entice shoppers to spend more freely. “Retailers are breathing another sign of relief,” said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, a research firm. “There are more winners than losers.” But he emphasized that shoppers were still tight with their purse springs.

Executives in AIG’s financial products division are getting $100 million richer, and the White House pay czar calls the bonuses outrageous but legal. The payments are contractual obligations entered into years ago, and AIG executives have pledged to repay $39 million out of $45 million in previous bonuses to the U.S. Treasury.

Toyota acknowledged design problems Thursday with the brakes in its prized Prius, adding to the catalog of woes for the Japanese automaker as it reels from massive gas-pedal recalls in the U.S.

Video game software sales in 2009 were down 8% in the top three global markets, says a recent industry research report. Japan experienced the smallest decline, as software sales slid by 2%. Both the U.S. (7%) and the U.K. (14%) saw larger drops in software purchases.

EU Economic Woes Pound Stocks

A rout in stock markets that began in Europe spread to Wall Street on Thursday and around the globe to Asia on Friday, amid fears that Europe may be the world’s next financial flashpoint. Pressure has been mounting across the Atlantic as Greece, Portugal and a handful of struggling countries that use the euro scramble to pay off mountains of debt accumulated from years of profligate spending. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 2.61 percent, or 268.37 points, to 10,002.18 Thursday, after briefly falling below 10,000 for the first time since November, as American investors grew more uncertain about Europe’s economy. Stock markets across Europe slumped as much as 6 percent, and worries that the troubles might push even big European nations like Spain into a financial crisis drove the euro to $1.37, a seven-month low against the dollar.

Haiti

Parents in Callebas,a struggling village above Haiti‘s capital said Wednesday that they willingly handed their children to American missionaries who are being investigated on child-trafficking allegations. Orphanage worker Isaac Adrien said he told the villagers their children would be educated at a home in the Dominican Republic so that they might eventually return to take care of their families. Many parents jumped at the offer when the Baptist group arrived in a hired bus after the Jan. 12 quake. “It’s only because the bus was full that more children didn’t go,” said Melanie Augustin, 58, who gave her daughter, Jovin, 10, to the Americans. The 10 Baptists, most from Idaho, were arrested last week trying to take 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic without required documents.

To find Haiti‘s lawmakers, drive to the police academy, then hunt through the rows of corrugated tin shacks sitting on cement blocks. Inside some of them, members of parliament, whose headquarters collapsed, have been meeting in special session. Many are seething because they have had no input into how the massive influx of earthquake aid is being allocated. Haiti’s government has been decimated by the earthquake. Most official buildings — including the National Palace, collapsed. Many government officials were killed, and those who weren’t were looking for missing family members or sorting through damaged property. The government has been unable to pay its remaining employees.

Iran

The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has threatened to strike a “telling blow” against “global arrogance” on February 11. That date will mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Shah and installed the radical mullahs in Tehran. The coming anniversary is also being used as a rallying point by the opposition to continue their attacks on Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent and corrupt theft of the presidential election in Iran. This new threat—and the action that is likely to follow—is thought to be an attempt to divert popular unrest against the Iranian government by focusing anger outward against an enemy nation. The US government clearly is taking this threat seriously, as the Administration has announced deployment of new troops, ships and Patriot anti-missile defense systems to the Gulf Region.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ruled out on Wednesday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s suggestion that three detained American hikers in Iran be swapped for Iranian citizens held in the United States. Clinton said the hikers, along with other Americans jailed in Iran, should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds. She said there is there is no basis for their continued detention. Her comments came a day after Ahmadinejad suggested in a television interview that the three American hikers be traded for Iranians that Tehran says are currently in U.S. jails. Ahmadinejad also suggested talks were underway regarding such a swap, which Clinton denied.

Iran announced Wednesday it has successfully launched a research rocket carrying a mouse, two turtles and worms into space — a feat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said showed Iran could defeat the West in the battle of technology. Ahmadinejad also unveiled the model of a light booster rocket that is being built and three new, Iranian-built satellites, touted as the latest in the country’s ambitious space program. The Iranian space program has worried Western powers, which fear the same technology used to launch satellites and research capsules could also be used to build long-range intercontinental missiles and deliver warheads.

Iraq

An Iraqi appeals court Wednesday set aside a ban on hundreds of candidates for suspected ties to Saddam Hussein‘s regime, allowing them to run in next month’s parliamentary election and offering a chance to ease political showdowns that had deeply worried the White House. The decision could remove — at least temporarily — a major trouble spot in the planning for nationwide voting March 7 to pick lawmakers and the political blocs that will shape the next government in Baghdad. The blacklist, with more than 450 names, has been widely denounced by Sunni political leaders who view it as a way for the Shiite-led government to undercut Sunni efforts to expand political clout. Iraq‘s prime minister says he will not allow the U.S. ambassador to meddle in an effort to bar hundreds of candidates from running in March parliamentary elections because of suspected ties to Saddam Hussein‘s regime.

A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb Friday alongside a crowd of Shiite pilgrims walking to a holy city south of Baghdad, killing at least 27 people and wounding 60 Shiite pilgrims have been targeted by several bombings in recent days, and Friday’s attack struck during the culmination of a pilgrimage in which hundreds of thousands walked to the city of Karbala to mark a Shiite holy day.

Afghanistan

NATO and Afghan forces have killed 32 suspected militants in a southern province that is the focus of an imminent anti-Taliban offensive, officials said Thursday. The blast in Kandahar happened as NATO and Afghan forces are preparing for a joint offensive against Taliban militants in the neighboring province of Helmand in a major bid to break the Taliban stranglehold on the south. NATO has sent reinforcements into Kandahar, 260 miles southwest of Kabul, fearing the Taliban were encroaching on the city of 800,000 people. At the same time, the international community launched a program of economic aid and development projects.

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Thursday the security conditions there are no longer “deteriorating.” Gen. Stanley McChrystal acknowledged the Taliban has made strides and said he is “not prepared to say we’ve turned a corner.” Yet he said the Afghan government and U.S. forces are making progress that leaves him feeling more optimistic about than he did last summer, when he said conditions were backsliding.

Pakistan

A bomb tore through a bus carrying Shiite Muslim worshippers in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on Friday, killing at least 11 people. Karachi has seen a number of attacks aimed at minority Shiites in recent weeks, including one that killed dozens at a procession for a religious holiday and sparked subsequent riots. Extremists from Pakistan’s Sunni Muslim majority have been blamed.

China

China has doubled the amount of energy generated from windmills last year, a report from the global wind industry said Wednesday. China became the biggest market for new wind turbines last year, as it doubled power capacity from 12 gigawatts to 25 gigawatts. The world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases is turning to renewables as well as coal as its growing economy calls for more power. The Global Wind Energy Council said the sector grew rapidly last year — with total wind capacity up 31% — despite the economic downturn. The global market for new wind turbines was worth $63 billion in 2009.

Weather

A winter storm forecast to blanket areas from Philadelphia to Washington with 2 feet or more of snow caused airlines to cancel hundreds of weekend flights and schools across the region to cancel classes today and weekend activities. As it subsides Saturday evening, temperatures will drop, and winds of 20 to 30 mph will cause blizzardlike conditions. Philadelphia, canceled all 300 of today’s flights in and out of airports in the Washington area, Philadelphia and LaGuardia in New York.