Lutheran Bishops Prepare to Welcome Gay Clergy

Religion News Service reports that bishops in the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination have approved preliminary steps to welcome a group of openly gay and lesbian ministers. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ECLA) Conference of Bishops approved a draft proposal on March 8 for the new liturgical rites, which include prayers and the laying on of hands by the local bishop. The proposal only applies to 17 pastors who had followed normal ELCA procedures for education and ordination, but remained barred from the denomination’s official clergy roster because of their sexuality. The clergy are all members of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a group devoted to gay rights in the ELCA. Last summer, the ELCA, which has about 4.6 million members, voted to change its longtime policy barring noncelibate gays and lesbians from the pulpit. The church’s executive council is expected to vote on the proposed rites at its meeting in Chicago next month, when it is also expected to draw up new rules for other gay and lesbian clergy candidates.

  • Our mainline denominations are leading the flock on the wider path that leads to hell rather than holding fast to Biblical principles that lead through the narrow gate

Activist Cindy Sheehan Revives Anti-War Efforts

Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan is restarting her campaign against wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today, setting up tents and teaching protest seminars near the Washington Monument. Dubbed “Camp OUT NOW,” the protest is geared to pressure President Obama and Democrats, whom Sheehan says have abandoned the anti-war cause now that they have control of the White House and Congress. “Obama said there’d be one combat battalion coming home per month, and that has not happened,” Sheehan says. “We still have significant troops in Iraq, and he’s ramped up in Afghanistan. I don’t think this is what people understood they were voting for. I think they were voting for a change.”

  • This is significant not because of Sheehan, but as an example of how Obama has lost his base constituency. Turns out Obama wasn’t messiah after all, just another politician.

Education Groups Vary in Response to White House Plan

The Obama administration’s plan to make sweeping changes to the 2002 No Child Left Behind education law is getting mixed reaction among educators: Teachers unions complained that teachers are being scapegoated by the overhaul; a school board leader praised it but called for more flexibility; and an administrators group said it was just glad to see NCLB go away. The Obama administration is asking Congress to toss out the old system under NCLB in which schools either passed or failed and replace it with one that labels schools one of three ways: high-performing, needs improvement or chronically low-performing, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says.

Duncan said he will give the high performers both freedom and financial incentives to stay that way. For the USA’s lowest 5% of schools — about 5,000 — Duncan says he’ll require them to take drastic steps to improve, including firing their principal and, in some cases, at least half of their staff, as happened last month at a Rhode Island high school. That proposal could widen an administration rift with teachers unions, normally strong backers of Democratic regimes.

Voters Consider Illegal Aliens a Major Budget Burden

A recent Rasmussen poll has concluded what many struggling Americans have realized for years; voters consider illegal immigration to be one of the biggest drains on government services, and a dominant factor why so many state and local governments cannot maintain their budget projections. Two-thirds of U.S. voters believe that illegal aliens are a significant strain on the U.S. budget; that government money and services act like a magnet and draw illegal aliens to the United States; and that gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing illegal aliens

Voter Turnout for Primaries Declining

Since 1962, the percentage of eligible voters picking Democratic and Republican nominees for governor and U.S. Senate has declined to less than 10% per party. The percentages are even lower for U.S. House and state legislature primaries. Top election officials in most states are planning to launch a public-private partnership later this year to increase both voter registration and participation. Advertisers are joining with state voting officials to target the nation’s youngest voters, those ages 18-25. A new federal law to ensure that ballots cast by members of the U.S. military get counted requires states to provide a 45-day period for absentee voting. That’s forcing some states that normally hold primaries in September to move them to August — when many families are on vacation and turnout could be even lower than usual.

Congress, AZ School District Sues Taxpayers

A handful of taxpayers in a small community north of Wickenburg, Arizona are being targeted by the local school district in a lawsuit that asks a judge to declare they have no right to request public records, sue the district, or complain to outside agencies. The Congress Elementary School District claims that past efforts by these residents to obtain documents such as minutes of board meetings and spending reports amount to harassment that should not have to be tolerated. But Jean Warren, one of the four defendants named in the lawsuit filed January 28, 2010, said the complaint is an illegal attempt to silence citizens who have questioned the district’s policies and spending practices. “The whole thing is based on trying to shut us down so that nobody has any rights,” Warren said. “Just because you live in a small area does not mean you don’t have rights. Everything I believe about the Constitution and what it means to be a citizen of the USA is being shot down.”

Corporation Runs for Congress

Murray Hill is actually Murray Hill Inc., a small, five-year-old Silver Spring public relations company that is seeking office to prove a point. After the Supreme Court declared that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to funding political campaigns, the self-described progressive firm took what it considers the next logical step: declaring for office. “Until now, corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence-peddling to achieve their goals in Washington,” the candidate, who was unavailable for an interview, said in a statement. “But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.” William Klein, a “hired gun” who has been enlisted as Murray Hill’s campaign manager, said the firm appears to be the first “corporate person” to run for office and is promising a spirited campaign that “puts people second, or even third.” The corporate candidate already has its own Web site, a Facebook page with 2,600 fans and an online ad on YouTube that has drawn more than 172,000 hits.

  • All facetiousness aside, this new law will open the floodgates to all sorts of problems in upcoming political campaigns

Social Security Going Broke

For more than two decades, Social Security collected more money in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits — billions more each year. Not anymore. This year, for the first time since the 1980s, when Congress last overhauled Social Security, the retirement program is projected to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes — nearly $29 billion more. Sounds like a good time to start tapping the nest egg. Too bad the federal government already spent that money over the years on other programs, preferring to borrow from Social Security rather than foreign creditors. In return, the Treasury Department issued a stack of IOUs in the form of Treasury bonds. Now the government will have to borrow even more money, much of it abroad, to start paying back the IOUs, and the timing couldn’t be worse. The government is projected to post a record $1.5 trillion budget deficit this year, followed by trillion dollar deficits for years to come. Social Security’s shortfall will not affect current benefits — as long as the IOUs last, benefits will keep flowing.

Economic News

Industrial production edged up 0.1% in February, beating expectations and marking the eighth monthly increase. But the key manufacturing sector produced less. The Federal Reserve reported Monday that manufacturing output, the index’s largest component, fell 0.2%; while output at mining companes and utilities increased 2.0% and 0.6%, respectively. The index’s consistent upward trend suggests economic improvement is durable, if modest.

The Obama administration’s mortgage relief plan has helped only about 16% of borrowers who signed up since its launch last year, while hundreds of thousands of homeowners remain in limbo. The Treasury Department says that as of last month, about 170,000 homeowners had completed the application process and had their loan payments reduced permanently. That compares with nearly 1.1 million homeowners who have enrolled since the plan started. The program is designed to lower borrowers’ monthly payments by reducing mortgage rates to as low as 2% for five years and extending loan terms to as long as 40 years.

China

With China’s exports soaring, even as other major economies struggle to recover from the recession, evidence is mounting that Beijing is skillfully using inconsistencies in international trade rules to spur its own economy at the expense of others, including the United States. China had a $198 billion trade surplus with the rest of the world last year, with its exports to the United States outpacing imports by more than four to one. Despite that, in the last 12 months, Beijing has filed more cases with the W.T.O.’s powerful trade tribunals in Geneva than any other country complaining about another’s trade practices. In addition, Beijing has worked to suppress a series of International Monetary Fund reports since 2007 documenting how the country has substantially undervalued its currency, the renminbi. China buys dollars and other foreign currencies — worth several hundred billion dollars a year — by selling more of its own currency, which then depresses its value. That intervention helped Chinese exports to surge 46 percent in February compared with a year earlier.

Israel

Israeli officials said Monday that the U.S. is pressing Israel to scrap a contentious east Jerusalem building project whose approval has touched off the most serious diplomatic feud with Washington in years. Tensions in the city at the center of the spat were high, with police out in large numbers in Jerusalem’s volatile Old City in expectation of renewed clashes. Top U.S. officials have lined up in recent days to condemn the Israeli plan to build 1,600 apartments in east Jerusalem, the sector of the city that the Palestinians claim for their future capital. U.S.-Israeli relations have hit a 35-year low, Israel’s envoy to Washington was quoted as saying Monday.

  • Jerusalem belongs to Israel. The Obama administration clearly supports the so-called ‘Palestinians.’ In fact, when Romans first called the area Palestine, in included many ethnic groups, including Jews.

Chile

A power failure plunged nearly the entire Chilean population into darkness Sunday night, rattling a country already anxious after last month’s 8.8-magnitude quake. Officials blamed a transformer failure that caused a ripple effect and ultimately a total collapse of the Central Interconnected System grid. Between 80% and 90% of Chile‘s 17 million people get power from the system and were affected. Officials said the blackout did not coincide with one of the dozens of powerful aftershocks that have jolted the nation since the Feb. 27 quake.

Mexico

Suspected drug gang hit men separately ambushed two cars carrying families with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez, a violent border city, killing an American couple and a Mexican man. Three young children survived, although two suffered wounds. The slayings came amid a surge in bloodshed along Mexico‘s border with Texas Authorities place the blame on members of a gang of hit men allied with the Juarez drug cartel. Several U.S. citizens have been killed in Mexico’s drug war, most of them people with family ties to Mexico. It is very rare for American government employees to be targeted. The State Department noted the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City has advised American citizens to delay unnecessary travel to parts of the Mexican states of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua.

Afghanistan

The governor of Kandahar province demanded more security Sunday after 12 coordinated explosions in Afghanistan‘s largest southern city killed dozens of people in the Taliban heartland. The attacks around Kandahar city Saturday night included two car bombs, six suicide attackers on motorbikes and bicycles plus four homemade bombs, Gov. Tooryalai Wesa said. At least 33 people died, including 10 women and children attending a wedding celebration in a hall next to a police station that was targeted. Among the targets of Saturday night’s explosions were a newly fortified prison and police headquarters. Wesa said at least six police officers were among the dead. Kandahar province is considered the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban insurgency and is widely believed to be the next target of NATO and Afghan forces.

U.S. forces have recovered a huge cache of weapons that was given to Afghan security forces but wound up in the hands of the Taliban, a U.S. military review has found. The Afghan army and national police had lost 13,000 weapons, 200,000 rounds of ammunition, 80 vehicles. All the gear was bought for the Afghans by Americans, part of $330 million in weapons purchases.

Iraq

Partial counts from all of Iraq‘s 18 provinces show the prime minister’s bloc with the overall lead in the country’s key parliamentary elections. Iraq’s electoral commission said Sunday that Nouri al-Maliki‘s State of Law coalition is leading in eight provinces. The secular Iraqiya bloc headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi leads in four, while the religious Shiite Iraqi National Alliance and the main Kurdish coalition lead in three provinces each.

Thailand

Tens of thousands of red-shirted protesters rallied in Bangkok, Thailand‘s capital, Sunday to press their demand that the government dissolve Parliament or face massive demonstrations at key sites in the city. The protesters — many from the impoverished northeast and north — want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to call new elections, which they believe will allow their political allies to regain power. The crowd estimated by police at more than 100,000 rallied peacefully under a blazing sun. Many of the protesters, popularly known as the Red Shirts, back former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power. They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class who were alarmed by Thaksin‘s popularity, particularly among the poor.

Nigeria

Twin explosions rocked a government building in Nigeria’s restive and oil-rich Niger Delta region Monday, only minutes after a militant group promised to attack amnesty talks being held there. Two people were injured in the bombing, which occurred at a government building in Warri. It appearsThe Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main militant group in the region, issued a statement to reporters only minutes before the attack. The group claimed to have planted three bombs around the building. that the two bombs were placed inside cars near where a Nigerian newspaper, Vanguard, was helping hold a discussion with government officials about an amnesty deal offered to militants in the region.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake hit off the eastern coast of central Japan on Sunday, rattling buildings across a broad swath of the country, including the crowded Tokyo capital. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties, and the government said there was no danger from tsunamis. The quake had an initial estimated magnitude of 6.6, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries.

Weather

Tropical Cyclone Tomas battered Fiji’s northern islands on Monday evening with gusts of up to 275 km/h (170 mph) and heavy rain, but weather officials had not received immediate reports of damage. The Category 4 storm is the second-most destructive on a five-point scale. As it heads southeast, it is expected to sideswipe the main island, Viti Levu. The South Pacific nation’s capital, Suva, is on that island.

Strong winds and heavy rain pounded parts of the Northeast on Saturday, knocking out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses and stranding about 500 passengers on a New York-bound train for more than six hours. Gusts approached 75 mph. It was the second time in two weeks that more than 500,000 homes and businesses in the Northeast were left in the dark after a powerful storm. The violent storm killed six people and disrupted countless parties, concerts and other events.

An avalanche struck a rally of up to 200 snowmobilers in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, killing at least three people and leaving an unknown number missing. Four of the injured were transferred to larger hospitals due to the severity of their injuries. The Canadian Avalanche Center issued an avalanche warning for the region, which includes Revelstoke, for Saturday and Sunday, after a powerful storm blanketed the region with snow.

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