Phoenix Neighbors Complain about Church Outreach

On Saturday mornings, crowds of homeless gather with other needy people at picnic tables outside a church in an upscale Phoenix neighborhood, listen to sermons and settle in for sausage, pancakes and scrambled eggs. The pastor of Crossroads United Methodist Church says it’s the Lord’s work. Neighbors say it should be done elsewhere. Residents say the homeless create blight and pose a danger to them, pointing to the case of a homeless felon caught with child pornography in the neighborhood. A complaint prompted city officials to order the year-old breakfast halted, saying it violated zoning laws. Now, the dispute is in federal court in Phoenix, with the church saying the city is violating its treasured American rights to freedom of religion, as well as a federal law passed in 2000 that protects religious groups from city zoning rules.

Gays Get Licenses to Wed in D.C.

Couples waited in line for hours Wednesday to apply for marriage licenses on the first day same-sex unions became legal in the nation’s capital. Washington is the sixth place in the nation where gay marriages can take place, joining Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Religion News Service reports that the Archdiocese of Washington’s social service branch will stop offering benefits to spouses of new employees. The move is an attempt to balance the District of Columbia’s new same-sex marriage law with Catholic opposition to homosexuality.

Edward Orzechowski, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Washington, informed the group’s 850 employees of the change in a letter on Monday, two days before gay marriage was scheduled to become legal in the city. “We sincerely regret that we have to make this change,” said Orzechowski, “but it is necessary to allow Catholic Charities to continue to provide essential services to the clients we serve in partnership with the District of Columbia while remaining consistent with the tenets of our religious faith.” The local Catholic Charities agency serves 120,000 people yearly in the District and five Maryland counties, according to the archdiocese.

Taliban Chief was Held at Gitmo

A man who was freed from Guantanamo more than two years ago after he claimed he only wanted to go home and help his family, is now a senior commander running Taliban resistance to the U.S.-led offensive in southern Afghanistan, two senior Afghan intelligence officials say. Abdul Qayyum is also seen as a leading candidate to be the next No 2 in the Afghan Taliban hierarchy, adding to the complications President Obama is facing in fulfilling his campaign pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo by sending many of the current prisoners back to their home countries or to other willing nations, while only putting a few on trial.

  • The enemy is adept at subterfuge while the current administration continues to look through its rose-colored glasses

Dems Have Trouble with Health Care Rifts

Although much of the focus during the health care debate has been on the Senate, a push by Obama for an up-or-down vote on health care later this month has triggered a battle for votes in the House of Representatives, where Democrats have struggled to build majorities because of a host of issues dividing the party. A day after vowing to do “everything in my power” to pass the $950 billion, 10-year health care package, Obama ramped up his efforts by meeting with more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers Thursday who could be key to the debate, including two who voted against a similar bill last year. Some oppose abortion, some are worried about premiums, and some have zeroed in on taxes.

President Barack Obama is trying to achieve a health care overhaul the way he once said it couldn’t, and shouldn’t, be done. He now wants congressional Democrats to move ahead without Republican support and pass the legislation with a bare majority in the Senate instead of the broader majority he favored as a presidential candidate. “We’re not going to pass universal health care with a 50-plus-one strategy,” Obama said in an October 2007 interview with the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

Embattled Democrats Mired in Ethics Swamp

A rash of ethics lapses has given Democrats an election-year headache: how to convince skeptical voters that they’re any cleaner than Republicans they accused of fostering a “culture of corruption” in 2006. From the conduct of governors in Illinois and New York to backroom deals over President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, Democrats are drawing their own criticism when it comes to the ethics of public officials. Bleaguered Rep. Charlie Rangel, the 20-term veteran who stepped down from the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee this week, acknowledged that hanging on would only have prolonged distractions and political pain for the Democrats. Rangel gave up his committee chairmanship after the ethics committee admonished him for breaking House rules by accepting corporate-financed travel.

Dubbed the “Cornhusker kickback” and the “Louisiana purchase,” the deals with Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana drew derision for the perception of sneakiness they created. The top spokesman for Gov. David Paterson resigned Thursday, saying he couldn’t “in good conscience continue” in his job, becoming the third key administration member to jump ship as the governor faces two misconduct investigations and increasing calls for him to quit.

U.S. Sees ‘Explosion’ of Extremist Groups

The U.S. has seen an “explosion” in the number of extremist groups and armed militias which advocate radical anti-government doctrines and conspiracy theories, a recent report has found. The number of active “Patriot” groups nearly tripled last year to 512 from 149 in 2008, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Some 127 of those groups were paramilitary militias, up from 42 a year earlier. “The economy being in shambles, and so many people unemployed has left a lot of people hurting, frustrated, angry and looking for a reason why they are in the place they are in,” said Mark Potok, who directs the group’s Intelligence Report.

Resentment of the U.S. government and suspicions over the 9/11 attacks have surfaced in writings by the Californian identified as the gunman who shot two Pentagon police officers before he was mortally wounded in a hail of return fire. And there was the case of the man who was angry at the IRS and flew his small plane into their offices in Austin, TX.

  • While some of these groups are racist and violent, others reflect a sincere belief that government is the problem and worry that Constitutional gun rights will soon be enacted. Lumping them together is a favorite government ploy to justify greater government intrusion.

Cyber-Terrorism a Growing Threat

Terrorists, crooks and nation states are ramping up cyber-assaults that are eating away at data, cash and security in the United States, the head of the FBI warned. “The risks are right at our doorsteps and in some cases they are in the house,” Federal Bureau of Investigation chief Robert Mueller said in a Thursday speech at an RSA Conference of computer security professionals. Mueller was the third high-ranking federal official in as many days to urge private industry cyber-warriors to join forces with the US government to battle spies, terrorists and crooks plaguing the Internet. Al-Qaeda uses for the Internet range from recruiting members and inciting violence to posting ways to make bio-weapons and forming social-networks for aspiring terrorists, according to Mueller. Threats are also rising from online espionage, with hackers out for source code, money, trade and government secrets, according to the FBI. Every major company in the US and Europe has been penetrated — it’s industrial warfare.

Body Scanners Headed to 11 Major Airports

Eleven major airports will begin using body scanners to screen passengers as the Transportation Security Administration launches a plan to buy 1,000 of the machines over the next two years. Boston Logan International Airport received one new scanner this week and will get two more next week. Among the other airports getting the scanners are Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare and Charlotte Douglas International. The Transportation Security Administration bought 150 scanners in September using $25 million from the federal stimulus package. It plans to buy 300 more this year and 500 next year.

U.S. Survey Shows Drop in Bullying

There’s been a sharp drop in the percentage of America’s children being bullied or beaten by their peers, according to a new national survey. The study found that the percentage of children who reported being physically bullied over the past year has declined from nearly 22% in 2003 to under 15% in 2008. The percentage reporting they’d been assaulted by other youths, including siblings, dropped form 45% to 38%. Anti-bullying programs proliferated and received funding boosts following the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.

Slight Increase in Home Births Reverses 15-Year Decline

After a steady 15-year decline, the percentage of U.S. babies not born in a hospital rose slightly in 2005 and remained stable in 2006, according to a government report released Wednesday. Even so, the proportion of out-of-hospital births is still less than 1% — a far cry from the 44% in 1940. The increase in home births occurred only among non-Hispanic white women. While midwives attended the majority of home births in 2006, more than a third of babies born at home were delivered by “other” birth attendants.

Economic News

The unemployment rate held at 9.7% in February as employers shed fewer jobs than expected, evidence that the job market may be slowly healing. The Labor Department said employers cut 36,000 jobs, below analysts’ expectations. The unemployment rate, which hasn’t risen since October, could be bottoming out. Still, 14.9 million Americans are unemployed, nearly double the total when the recession began, and the economy has shed 8.4 million jobs during that time.

New claims for unemployment benefits fell last week in a sign that layoffs may be easing as the economy slowly recovers. The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for unemployment insurance fell 29,000 to a seasonally adjusted 469,000. Last week’s drop only partly reverses a sharp rise in claims in the previous two weeks.

Federal employees earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers in more than eight out of 10 occupations, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data finds. Accountants, nurses, chemists, surveyors, cooks, clerks and janitors are among the wide range of jobs that get paid more on average in the federal government than in the private sector. Overall, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008, the most recent data available.

The Census Bureau is having trouble finding qualified temporary workers in some neighborhoods for the national head count despite the record number of jobless who have swelled the nationwide pool of applicants for the 1.2 million jobs needed to conduct the 2010 Census. But meeting the government’s goal of hiring workers in the neighborhoods where they live is a challenge in some places. This week, about 56,000 Census workers started delivering the questionnaires to 12 million homes, mostly locations that do not have city-style addresses.

Despite doubts among many lawmakers that it will create many jobs, the House on Thursday passed legislation giving companies that hire the jobless a temporary payroll tax break. Some Democrats feel the approximately $35 billion jobs bill is too puny, while others say the tax cut for new hires will not generate many new jobs.

Shoppers shrugged off the snow and worries about the U.S. economy to buy full-price spring clothing and other items at America’s malls, resulting in the strongest retail sales gain since November 2007, a month before the recession started.

More Toyota drivers say their cars have sped up by themselves even after being fixed to correct the problem. The complaints, which are submitted online or through a NHTSA hot line, have not been independently verified. Government investigators said Wednesday that they had found 10 possible cases of post-fix problems.

Greece raised badly needed cash with a successful bond issue Thursday, passing a key test of its ability to avoid a disastrous debt default and dig out of a financial crisis that has shaken the European Union. The government received 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion), offering a 6.3% yield. The sale is a key test of Greece’s ability to raise money to pay off expiring bonds and avoid default.

Chile

Mission News Network reports that continuing aftershocks and rain are making it more difficult for aid groups to reach survivors of Saturday’s earthquake in Chile. Craig Dyer with Bright Hope International says the group is helping local churches gear up to help the country, where an estimated 2 million people were affected. “We’re empowering the local churches in these communities to reach out to the other churches so that people’s needs can be met. Right now, it’s primarily focused on food and safety. We’ve released the funds to be able to purchase food, and that’s being distributed through the local churches.” Parts of the country are currently subject to curfews and military presence in the face of looting and general unrest. Chilean officials said on Wednesday that the death toll has reached 795, a number that will rise as rescue and aid workers continue their efforts.

Haiti

Christian Newswire reports that Haiti’s rural communities are at risk for chronic food and water shortages as the burden to care for the displaced grows. According to relief and development group World Vision, families in these communities are struggling to cope with the influx of people seeking refuge from the destruction in the capital city. As the rainy season approaches, this influx could further burden communities and lead to more displacement and deeper poverty as resources are rapidly depleted. “Haiti’s rural communities were already struggling to make ends meet before the earthquake,” said Jean-Claude Mukadi, the relief response manager for World Vision in Haiti. “Now, as people continue to arrive in these communities, joining the hundreds of thousands who have already fled, they are all looking for food, water, and shelter.”

Iraq

A string of blasts across the Iraqi capital targeting voters killed 17 people Thursday, authorities said, ratcheting up fear in an already tense city as many Iraqis cast early ballots ahead of Sunday’s nationwide parliamentary elections. Insurgents have repeatedly threatened to use violence to disrupt the elections, which will help determine who will oversee the country as U.S. forces go home and whether the country can overcome its deep sectarian divides. Two of Thursday’s blasts hit voters outside polling stations. Many of the victims were believed to be security personnel — the main group to cast their ballots during early voting since they will be working on election day.

Afghanistan

The hardest fighting is over, but the battle for Marjah is just beginning. The outcome of last month’s military campaign was never in doubt. With 15,000 combined NATO and Afghan troops pouring in to oust an estimated 400-1,000 insurgents, it was simply a question of how long it would take to clear the southern Afghan city that belonged to the Taliban for years. Now, the fight for Marjah focuses on keeping the population safe and — perhaps harder — setting up the first clean and effective civilian administration there in decades.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber targeted Shiite Muslims on two buses in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing 12 people and wounding 30 in the latest violence to rock the Afghan border region. The attack may have been motivated by tensions between Pakistan’s majority Sunni Muslims and minority Shiites. The area is also near tribal strongholds of Sunni extremist groups like Taliban and al-Qaeda. Pakistan’s northwest has been plagued for years by Islamist extremist violence fueled by anger over the war in Afghanistan and Islamabad‘s alliance with Washington.

An army offensive that began in October against the Pakistani Taliban spurred attacks that killed more than 600 people. But with the exception of a few attacks on northwest police stations, violence appears to have subsided in recent weeks, an indication that the army operation in the South Waziristan tribal region may be having an impact. Pakistan’s cooperation marks a shift after years of tolerating the presence of homegrown extremists operating openly in the country.

India

A stampede broke out at a Hindu temple in northern India on Thursday as thousands of people jostled one another to get free clothes and food, leaving at least 63 people dead and dozens more injured Most of the victims were women and children. Thousands of farmers and villagers had gathered at the temple around noon to receive free goods to mark the anniversary of the death of the wife of the religious leader, Kripalu Maharaj.

Taiwan

A powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked southern Taiwan on Thursday, terrifying residents, disrupting communications and triggering at least one large fire. Sixty-four people were injured The quake was centered in the same mountainous region of rural Kaohsiung county that endured the brunt of the damage from Typhoon Morakot, a devastating storm that killed about 700 people last August. Rail service in southern and central Taiwan was suspended, as was the state-of-the-art subway system in Kaohsiung city, Taiwan’s second largest with a population of 1.5 million. Kaohsiung is about 250 miles south of Taipei. “This is the biggest quake to hit this region in more than a century,” said Kuo Kai-wen, director of the Central Weather Bureau’s Seismology Center.

Weather

The Obama administration on Thursday laid out a plan to deal with the catastrophic dangers of rising sea levels, hurricanes and erosion on the Gulf Coast, and backed efforts to invest in restoring barriers islands and wetlands in Mississippi and Louisiana. Experts hailed the policy document as the strongest sign of support for coastal restoration on the Gulf Coast ever endorsed by a White House. The document, called a “roadmap” for the coast, said the nation’s energy supply, crucial ports and waterways, vital habitat for fish and wildlife and the Gulf Coast’s “rich cultural legacy” were at stake. The administration said it would work with state officials to develop long-term solutions to pay for the massive multibillion-dollar ecosystem restoration project, which would be one of the largest ever undertaken. Over the next 18 months, the administration said it would cut through red tape, finish critical reports looking at what can and cannot be saved, fill in data gaps to gain a complete scientific understanding of the problem and do a better job of using Mississippi River sediment, most of which washes out to the Gulf of Mexico.

Research released Thursday finds that underground methane appears to be seeping through the Arctic Ocean floor and into the Earth‘s atmosphere, thanks to a weakening of the protective layer of permafrost at the bottom of the ocean. Once released into the atmosphere, methane could wreak havoc with the world’s climate. Although scientists have known about the methane under the Arctic— and its potential for leakage — since the 1990s, the study is the first to document it to this degree. The release to the atmosphere of only 1% of the methane assumed to be stored in shallow hydrate deposits” could increase the level of atmospheric methane worldwide by three or four times, says the study.

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