Court Upholds ‘Under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance

A federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld the use of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency, rejecting arguments on Thursday that the phrases violate the principle of separation of church and state. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected two legal challenges by Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow, who claimed the references to God disrespect his religious beliefs. “The Pledge is constitutional,” Judge Carlos Bea wrote for the majority in the 2-1 ruling. “The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded.” The same court ruled in Newdow‘s favor in 2002 after he sued his daughter’s school district for forcing students to recite the pledge.

Gilbert, AZ Forbids Bible Studies in Homes

The city of Gilbert, Ariz., has ordered a group of seven adults to stop gathering for Bible studies in a private home because such meetings are forbidden by the city’s zoning codes. The issue was brought to a head when city officials wrote a letter to a pastor and his wife informing them they had 10 days to quit having the meetings in their private home. The ban, however, prompted a response from the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed an appeal with the city as the first step in its campaign to overturn a provision it describes as illegal. “The interpretation and enforcement of the town’s code is clearly unconstitutional, ” said Daniel Blomberg, a member of the litigation team for ADF. “It bans 200,000 Gilbert residents from meeting in their private homes for organized religious purposes – an activity encouraged in the Bible, practiced for thousands of years, and protected by the First Amendment.”

There had been no complaints about the meetings, which had been rotating among members’ homes before the officer wrote the letter and ordered the group to “terminate all religious meetings … regardless of their size, nature or frequency,” because he noticed signs about the meetings. The town interprets its law so that “churches within its borders cannot have any home meetings of any size, including Bible studies, three-person church leadership meetings and potluck dinners,” ADF said.

  • Just the beginning, folks. Secularists and humanists, prodded by Satan, will do whatever they can to interfere with Christian expressions of faith.

Dems Look to Healthcare Vote Without Abortion Foes

House Democratic leaders abandoned a long struggle to appease the most ardent abortion opponents in their ranks, gambling Thursday that they can secure the support for President Obama‘s sweeping health care legislation with showdown votes looming next week. In doing so, they are all but counting out a small but potentially decisive group whose views on abortion coverage have become the principal hang-up for Democrats fighting to achieve the biggest change in American health care in generations. Democratic leaders are working to rally rank-and-file members around agreements on several complicated points, health insurance taxes and prescription drug coverage among them, and dozens of other sticky issues — all as Republicans stand ready to oppose the overhaul en masse.

US Avoids Pro-Life Debate at UN Meeting

A U.N. meeting to assess progress in advancing the fight for women’s equality that ended Friday had a dramatically different slant than a similar session held five years ago: This time, the United States was not trying to make an anti-abortion declaration a crucial theme. Much of the 2005 meeting to take stock of what countries had done to implement the landmark platform of action adopted at the 1995 U.N. women’s conference in Beijing was consumed by the Bush administration’s demand that the final declaration make clear that women are not guaranteed a right to abortion. By contrast, abortion was a non-issue during the two-week session that concluded Friday with a rousing speech by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who made just a single reference to the U.S. increasing support for family planning as part of its Global Health Initiative, which also aims to reduce maternal and child deaths and HIV infections.

  • Another example of America’s decline from grace

Senators Load Healthcare Bill with Pork

President Barack Obama says he wants projects helping specific states yanked from the health care bill Congress is writing. Democratic senators, being senators, beg to differ. The Senate-approved health measure lawmakers hope to send to Obama soon would steer $600 million over the next decade to Vermont in added federal payments for Medicaid and nearly as much to Massachusetts. Connecticut would get $100 million to build a hospital. About 800,000 Florida seniors could keep certain Medicare benefits. Asbestos-disease victims in tiny Libby, Mont., and some coal miners with black lung disease or their widows would get help, and there are prizes for Louisiana, the Dakotas and more states. Obama’s proposal to eliminate state-specific items comes with polls finding heightened public opposition to backroom political deals. Republicans have been happy to fan that discontent.

  • Re-election time is coming up this year for some Senators whose primary way to get votes is to buy them

Tea Partiers to ‘Surge’ Capitol Hill

In less than one week, more than 100,000 Americans have signed their names to a petition demanding that lawmakers resist using “reconciliation” to ram a government takeover of America’s health-care system through Congress – and those signatures will be delivered directly to lawmakers Tuesday. FreedomWorks launched its “No Reconciliation” petition on March 6. It has already collected thousands of signatures to hand deliver during its March 16 rally called the “People’s Surge Against Obamacare 2.0.” The group is urging Americans to sign their names before the petition is presented. “We the undersigned ask all senators to respect Senate tradition and resist using inappropriate ‘reconciliation’ rules to pass the health-care legislation on narrow partisan lines,” the petition states. “The traditional 60 vote threshold is meant to avoid the tyranny of the majority and is why the Senate is called the most deliberative body in the world.”

Groups Offer to Hold Canceled Prom

The Itawamba County school board Wednesday canceled the school’s planned April 2 dance after a lesbian student challenged the district’s policy against same-sex dates. As news of the board’s decision spread across the nation, Matthew Sheffield of the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition said his office was flooded by people looking to help. “We have so many people willing to donate money, resources, time,” he said. “We are trying to figure out what we are going to do.” Constance McMillan, the 18-year-old senior who challenged the school district’s policy, and the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in federal court Thursday alleging the school board’s actions violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.

Sex Abuse Scandal Reaches Vatican

Germany’s sex abuse scandal has now reached Pope Benedict XVI: His former archdiocese disclosed that while he was archbishop a suspected pedophile priest was transferred to a job where he later abused children. The pontiff is also under increasing fire for a 2001 Vatican document he later penned instructing bishops to keep such cases secret. The revelations have put the spotlight on Benedict’s handling of abuse claims both when he was archbishop of Munich from 1977-1982 and then the prefect of the Vatican office that deals with such crimes — a position he held until his 2005 election as pope. After accusations of abuse connected to the Regensburg boys choir directed by the pope’s elder brother for some 30 years, the Munich archdiocese acknowledged Friday that it had transferred a suspected pedophile priest to community work while Benedict was archbishop there.

Women on Birth Control Pill May Live Longer

Women who took the birth control pill beginning in the late 1960s lived longer than those never on the pill, a new study says. Experts concluded the pill cut women’s risk of dying from bowel cancer by 38% and from any other diseases by about 12%. Doctors aren’t sure exactly why the pill may lower death rates. It contains synthetic hormones to suppress ovulation, which may have some role in preventing certain diseases.

Road Fatalities Down Sharply

Traffic deaths in the USA last year fell to levels not seen since 1954, and the fatality rate was the lowest since the federal government began tracking it in 1966, the Department of Transportation said Thursday. Highway deaths in 2009 dropped to 33,963, an 8.9% decline from 2008. Road fatalities have fallen every year since 2005, when 43,510 people died in crashes. Experts say high-unemployment is the greatest factor behind the decline in traffic fatalities. Federal officials also cited state efforts, such as the annual Click It or Ticket campaign, which has helped push seat belt usage in the United States from 67% of drivers in 1999 to 83% in 2008; drunken-driving crackdowns, which helped cut impaired-driving deaths from 15,935 — 38% of the total — in 1998, to 11,773, 32% of the total in 2008; and safer roads and vehicles.

Internet Fraud Losses, Complaints Jumped in ’09

Internet fraud losses doubled last year to more than $550 million and complaints jumped 22%, the FBI says. The Internet Crime Complaint Center logged 336,655 complaints in 2009 compared with 275,284 the year before, Reuters says. Nearly 12% involved sellers failing to ship merchandise or buyers failing to pay for it, while 10% were people who paid money upfront for rewards that never materialized. Think the cyber-crooks are mostly in Nigeria, China, Russia or other faraway places? More than 65% were in the United States. Just 8% were in Nigeria.

Ground Zero Workers Reach Deal Over Claims

A settlement of up to $657.5 million has been reached in the cases of thousands of rescue and cleanup workers at ground zero who sued the city over damage to their health, according to city officials and lawyers for the plaintiffs. They said that the settlement would compensate about 10,000 plaintiffs according to the severity of their illnesses and the level of their exposure to contaminants at the World Trade Center site. Payouts to the plaintiffs would come out of a federally financed insurance company with funds of about $1.1 billion that insures the city. At least 95 percent of the plaintiffs must accept its terms for it to take effect.

Arizona Budget Passes; Cuts Total $1.1 billion

State lawmakers delivered on Gov. Jan Brewer’s promise to end the days of “expanded government,” passing a budget Thursday that eliminates programs and cuts $1.1 billion in spending. On largely party-line votes, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved an $8.9 billion spending plan that ends a health-care program for 47,000 low- income children, removes 310,000 adults from state health coverage and cuts the funds that were one of the last best hopes for the state parks system to stay afloat. The cuts are needed, Republicans said, to bring state spending in line with its sagging revenue. Arizona faced a $2.6 billion deficit for fiscal 2011.

Democrats shot back that Brewer and the Republicans rushed through a budget that ignored alternatives that wouldn’t have cut so deeply into state services. They complained that many of the budget moves don’t merely cut off funding during the coming year but terminate programs such as KidsCare, a children’s health-care program, and local transportation funds. They argued that the permanent elimination of the programs will make it hard to bring them back when the good times return.

States May Hold onto Tax Refunds for Months

Residents eager to get their state tax refunds may have a long wait this year: The recession has tied up cash and caused officials in half a dozen states to consider freezing refunds, in one case for as long as five months. States from New York to Hawaii that have been hard-hit by the economic downturn say they have either delayed refunds or are considering doing so because of budget shortfalls. New York, hit with a $9 billion deficit, may delay $500 million in refunds to keep the state from running out of cash. Hawaii’s Department of Taxation says some residents may not see state income tax refunds until the end of August. Most states typically issue refunds within 30 days.

Economic News

Regulators on Friday shut down banks in New York, Florida and Louisiana, raising to 30 the number of failures this year of federally insured banks. The number of banks on the FDIC’s confidential “problem” list jumped to 702 in the fourth quarter from 552 three months earlier, even as the industry squeezed out a small profit. Last year, 140 banks failed. Last year’s bank closures cost the insurance fund more than $30 billion. There were 25 bank failures in 2008 and just three in 2007.

Americans regained more of their shrunken wealth last quarter, mainly because the healing economy boosted stock portfolios. But the gain was less than in the previous two quarters. The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that household net worth rose 1.3% in the fourth quarter to $54.2 trillion. It marked the third straight quarter of gains. Net worth rose a stronger 4.5% in the second quarter of 2009 and an even faster 5.5% in the third quarter. Net worth is the value of assets such as homes, checking accounts and investments minus debts like mortgages and credit cards. Even with the gain, Americans’ net worth would have to rise an additional 21% just to get back to its pre-recession peak of $65.9 trillion.

Retail sales posted a surprising increase in February as consumers did not let major snowstorms stop them from storming the malls. The advance, the biggest since November, provided hope that the recovery from the recession is gaining momentum. The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales rose 0.3% in February. The overall gain was held back by a 2% decline in auto sales, reflecting in part the recall problems at Toyota. Excluding autos, sales rose 0.8%.

U.S. airlines flew fewer passengers last year than at any time since 2004. The number of domestic and international travelers ferried by U.S. carriers for all of 2009 dropped 5.3% from the year before. But the planes were fuller than ever, largely because airlines cut back on flights or moved to smaller planes. U.S. carriers set a record, with flights that were on average 80.4% full system-wide in 2009.

The U.S. will spend about $1.8 trillion more than it gets in revenue this year. Next year, it will add an estimated $1.2 trillion to the debt. As big as the U.S. debt is, it’s not as bad as many other countries’ debt, relative to gross domestic product. Economists say no other country has a currency as strong or as well-regarded as the U.S. has, even with its current fiscal woes.

  • If the world debt problems exceed those in the U.S. then the next downturn will be much worse than this recession.

Israel

Israel has sealed off the West Bank for 48 hours, preventing Palestinians from entering Israel because of fears of unrest. There have been clashes after Friday prayers at mosques in Jerusalem and elsewhere in recent weeks, sparked by deadlock in peace talks and Israel’s inclusion of two West Bank shrines on a list of national heritage sites. Several Palestinians have been badly wounded and dozens of protesters and Israeli policemen have suffered light injuries.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday delivered a stinging rebuke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his government’s announcement this week of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem, calling it “a deeply negative signal” for the Mideast peace process and ties with the U.S. “The announcement of the settlements on the very day that the vice president was there was insulting,” Clinton said in an interview with CNN Friday.

Germany

German educators sharply criticized Catholic church officials for their handling of a spiraling child abuse scandal even as more alledged victims came forward Thursday, including a former member of the all-boys choir led by the pope’s brother. Germany’s top education representative, Ludwig Spaenle, blasted the church for failing to report cases of physical and sexual abuse in a timely fashion. At least 170 former students from Catholic schools in Germany have come forward with claims of sexual abuse recently and others have spoken of physical abuse.

  • Nothing hurts the cause of Christ more than these kinds of incidents/allegations

Pakistan

A suicide bomber driving a motorized rickshaw blew himself up at a security checkpoint in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, officials said, killing at least 13 people, injuring 52 and underscoring the nation’s relentless security threat. The blast in the small town of Saidu Sharif in Pakistan’s violence-battered Swat Valley was the second major attack in the country in less than 24 hours, raising fears of a new wave of violence by anti-government militants.

A pair of suicide bombers targeting army vehicles detonated explosives within seconds of each other Friday, killing at least 43 people in this eastern city and wounding nearly 100, police said. It was the fourth major attack in Pakistan this week, indicating Islamist militants are stepping up violence after a period of relative calm. The bombers, who were on foot, struck RA Bazaar, a residential and commercial neighborhood where several security agencies have facilities.

Afghanistan

Russia‘s envoy to NATO has sharply criticized the alliance’s shift away from fighting drug trafficking in Afghanistan, saying the resulting surge in heroin smuggling is endangering Russia’s national security. Moscow is also “(Russia) is losing 30,000 lives a year to the Afghan drug trade, and a million people are addicts,” Rogozin said. “This is an undeclared war against our country.” worried about declining public support in Europe for the war. For years, the allies tried to eradicate poppy crops, but that resulted in a boost to the insurgency as impoverished poppy farmers joined the Taliban. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s new policy of trying to win the support of the population means that these farmers are now left alone, enabling them to tend crops that produce 90% of the world’s heroin.

A remote-controlled bomb killed six Afghan civilians Saturday as they traveled in a central province. Insurgents detonated the explosives planted in a road as the civilians’ vehicle passed by in Tirin Kot, capital of central Uruzgan province. Roadside bombs are a favorite weapon of insurgents fighting the U.S.-backed government elected after the 2001 invasion that drove the hard-line Taliban from power. While a leading killer of international troops in Afghanistan, the homemade explosives planted by insurgents often kill civilians. Nearly 70% of the 2,412 civilian deaths last year were caused by insurgents.

Turkey

Famed PLO terrorist-turned-Christian Walid Shoebat is warning that the United States needs to be watching not Iran, Syria or even Hamas and Hezbollah as closely as it needs to follow the actions of the Islamic leaders of Turkey. Turkey appears to be seeking the restoration of the old Ottoman Empire. Turkey’s increasing disinterest in the European Union combined with its efforts to re-establish its influence in Turkic countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and its outreaches to Russian, Syria and Iran are cause for concern. Turkey is the strongest military power in the region, and it’s the second largest army in NATO.

  • Turkey is a key end-time, anti-Israel player according to some interpretations of Biblical prophecies

Weather

Much of the nation may be snow-weary, but farmers and ranchers who rely on winter snowpack in the northern Rockies for irrigation during the dry months of the growing season could face water shortages this summer unless more snow arrives soon. In Spokane, Wash., the winter of 2009-10 has been the least snowy on record, with a mere 13.7 inches of snowfall recorded so far, according to the National Weather Service. The city usually averages more than 46 inches of snow each winter.

Pothole patching crews are making repairs earlier this year after an unusually severe winter of heavy snowstorms followed by freezing temperatures, then a quick warm-up. Wichita has patched 13,000 potholes in the first two months of the year, three times the 4,000 it repaired in the same period last year. The extra cost is nicking already tight budgets. Medford, Mass., has spent almost double its $500,000 snow and ice budget since Christmas to repair potholes. The pothole problem is unlikely to improve unless more money is spent to maintain roads, says Peter King, executive director of the American Public Works Association. “What we are seeing is the result of deferring maintenance over time,” King says. “Next year it will be worse, and two years from now even worse.”

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