Survey: Less than Half Link Easter to the Resurrection

Religion News Service reports that less than half of U.S. adults link Easter directly to the Resurrection of Jesus, even though most describe Easter as a religious holiday. According to a Barna Group survey, seven in 10 respondents mentioned religion or spirituality in their response to an open-ended question about how they describe what Easter means to them personally. But just 42 percent tied Easter to the Resurrection. At 73 percent, baby boomers (ages 45 to 63) were the most likely to describe Easter as a religious holiday, compared to two-thirds of those ages 26 to 44 and Americans 64 and older. The youngest group of adults (ages 18 to 25) were least likely, at 58 percent, to use that kind of description. “The Easter holiday in particular still has a distinctly religious connection for people but … the specifics of it are really fading in a lot of people’s minds,” said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group.

A Call to God from the Nation’s Capital

While the nation is riddled with soaring debt, government expansion, abortion, declining morality and a raging culture war, Christian and Jewish leaders are urging Americans to stop shaking their fists at their television sets and come seek the real solution to today’s moral crisis by calling out to God from the nation’s capital. “May Day: a Cry to God for Our Nation in Distress” will take place May 1 from sunrise to 2 p.m. at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. They will all gather for one purpose: repentance. The group will repent for how the nation has turned from God in every area of influence: 1) business 2) government, 3) media, 4) arts and entertainment, 5) education, 6) the family and 7) religion. Faith2Action President Janet Porter, a coordinator of May Day, called on Christians to take part in a 40-day fast prior to the event. S”We just want God to know we’re serious about standing in the gap for America,” she said. “We are calling the remnant to come and repent. It’s a two-fold plan to not only pray but to proclaim what our founders believed – that we are one nation under God.”

Tea Partiers Rally on Capitol Hill

Tea Party activists from across the country rallied outside Democratic congressional offices in Washington on Tuesday to protest the $875 billion health care bill and demand meetings with their respective members of Congress. And by all appearances, their arrival is not being taken lightly. House Democrats received a formal memo from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, listing tips for how targeted representatives should handle the crowds of activists. In addition, House phone lines were frozen Tuesday afternoon following a barrage of calls on the health care reform debate. “Kill the bill,” shouted protesters, as a string of Tea Party leaders spoke out against the massive health care overhaul. Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group, attributes the Tea Party’s organized push to kill the legislation as reason for its delayed status.

Only 17% of Americans Approve of Congress

Only 17 percent of American voters approve of how lawmakers on Capitol Hill are doing their jobs and, given the choice, half of all respondents in an NBC poll would vote to defeat their own representative and every single member of Congress. It’s a striking finding revealing that a majority of Democrats are sour on their party even as it controls all three branches of government. The public also is sour on the nation’s direction. Nearly six in 10 believe the county is off on the wrong track, compared with 33 percent who think it’s headed in the right direction. Asked which one or two phrases best described their feelings about Congress, the top four responses were all negative: only interested in staying in office (37 percent), too close to special interest groups (28 percent), too partisan (19 percent) and supporting pork projects and waste (16 percent).

House Committee Fast Tracks Health Bill

A House committee has voted for fast-track rules for healthcare legislation, the first step toward a decisive floor vote on President Barack Obama’s sweeping overhaul. The 21-16 largely party-line vote in the House Budget Committee Monday was a procedural but necessary step toward getting the historic overhaul before the full House at the end of this week. The healthcare legislation has not yet been released, and the Budget Committee was voting on a shell bill. But the action set off a 48-hour countdown toward a vote by the House Rules Committee, the final step before the bill can be brought to the floor.

  • Typical, voting on a bill they haven’t read.

Cancer Care Costs Skyrocketing

The cost of cancer treatment is “skyrocketing” — both for individual patients and the nation, a new analysis shows. From 1990 to 2008, spending on cancer care soared to more than $90 billion from $27 billion. The increase was driven by the rising costs of sophisticated new drugs, robotic surgeries and radiation techniques, as well as the growing number of patients who are eligible to take them. Many older, frailer patients — who might not have been considered strong enough to weather traditional surgery — now have the option to have less invasive operations or more tightly focused radiation treatments, the analysis says. More of these patients also are able to have chemotherapy, both because of new treatments as well as “supportive” drugs to manage chemo’s side effects. From 1991 to 2002, for example, the proportion of breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy doubled, to about 24%. The cost of care for each patient also doubled, from $6,642 to $12,802, the analysis says.

Recent U.S. Terror Cases Show Evolving Threat

More than a dozen Americans have been captured or identified by the U.S. government and its allies over the past two years for actively supporting jihad, or holy war. One was a drywall contractor and father, another a petite woman who cared for the elderly, another a U.S. military officer. They underscore the new reality that there is a threat from violent Islamic extremism from within the U.S. It is difficult to say whether the uptick in cases is because law enforcement has gotten better at catching suspects or if there are simply more to catch. Most of the cases ended with suspects captured before they could act on their plans. But some were nearly ready to spring to action, like Queens resident Najibullah Zazi, 24, who pleaded guilty in February as the leader of a plot to bomb the New York subway system. And law enforcement was too late to prevent a shooting rampage in December on the military post at Fort Hood, Texas.

Abuse of Pain Pills by Soldiers Concerns Pentagon

The military is trying to curb the volume of narcotics given to troops as the number of prescriptions for painkillers and instances of drug abuse continue to soar, according to Pentagon data and recent congressional testimony. Military doctors wrote almost 3.8 million prescriptions for pain relief for servicemembers last year — more than four times the 866,773 doses handed out in 2001, according to data from the Pentagon health office. “These are stunning statistics,” says Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who intends to look into the issue next week during a Senate subcommittee hearing that he will chair. Surgeons general of the Army, Navy and Air Force will testify.

Genetically Modified Foods Get Traction

In North America, and increasingly in South America, farmers are increasingly embracing genetically modified crops, arguing they protect the environment by decreasing pesticide use and making no-till crops (where the soil is not plowed) possible. This increases water retention and decreases erosion, and at least by some measures reduces carbon released into the atmosphere. China said it had approved biotech rice and corn varieties, which some believe could be the beginning of a broader acceptance of the 16-year-old technology. A report out last month shows that worldwide, these crops are being adopted at a blistering rate, jumping 7% last year, an increase of 22.2 million acres. By last year, biotech crops accounted for 85% to 95% of some key crops in the U.S., including soybeans and cotton.

Environmental Worries at 20-Year Low

Americans’ worries about environmental issues have hit a 20-year low, largely because of economic concerns, according to a Gallup Poll released Tuesday. Fewer adults worry “a great deal” about each of eight issues surveyed, including global warming, than a year ago. At the same time, a record number — 53% — say economic growth takes precedence, even if it hurts the environment. Also, questions about the science of global warming are affecting other issues, Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief, says. “The whole environmental realm has been politicized.”

Catholic Church Losing Latinos in USA

Latino population growth over the past two decades has boosted numbers in the Catholic Church, but a new, in-depth analysis shows Latinos’ allegiance to Catholicism is waning as some move toward other Christian denominations or claim no religion at all. A report out Wednesday by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., finds Latino religious identification increasingly diverse and more “Americanized.” “What you see is growing diversity — away from Catholicism and splitting between those who join evangelical or Protestant groups or no religion,” says report co-author Barry Kosmin. From 1990 to 2008, the Catholic Church in the USA added an estimated 11 million adults, including 9 million Latinos. In 1990, Latinos made up 20% of the total Catholic population, but by 2008, it rose to 32%.Those who claimed “no religion” rose from fewer than 1 million (6% of U.S. Latinos) in 1990 to nearly 4 million (12% of Latinos) in 2008. The estimated U.S. Latino population has more than doubled in the past two decades, from 14.6 million in 1990 to 30.9 million in 2008.

More Home Owners Leave Mortgages Behind

More Phoenix-area homeowners are walking away from their mortgage payments, and many more are likely considering it. These are not people losing homes due to severe financial problems. “Walking away” now also describes people who can make their payments but don’t want to because they owe much more than their home is worth. Metro Phoenix’s 50 percent drop in home values has left tens of thousands of homeowners here underwater, owing more than the market value of their house. Many people who bought houses during the market peak are paying mortgages double their home’s current worth. Most can’t sell now and will have to wait years before values rise enough for them to sell without taking a loss. So, many walk away.

States Streamline, Reorganize Amid Fiscal Crisis

States facing tough times are eliminating commissions, merging departments and centralizing operations to stave off budget cuts and tax hikes. The moves represent the most sweeping attempts in at least a generation to cut waste in the day-to-day operations of state government, according to government experts. “The budget crisis is so severe that it’s now possible to do some things that everyone knew were smart but couldn’t get done because of political considerations,” says John Thomasian, director of the Center for Best Practices at the National Governors Association.

Faced with a drop in gambling revenue, at least eighteen states are adding games, considering new casinos and increasing lottery options – anything to keep their cut of the profits rolling in. States are adamant that they don’t want to take advantage of anyone, but with budgets in free-fall and tax increases a losing political option, lawmakers acknowledge that they are dependent on gambling revenue.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve brightened slightly its view of the economy and labor market Tuesday but kept interest rates unchanged near zero and gave no signal that that would change anytime soon. The central bank said the economy “has continued to strengthen,” and the job market is “stabilizing.” The Fed lowers interest rates to stimulate the economy and raises them to head off inflation.

The U.S. and the U.K. have moved “substantially” closer to losing their AAA credit ratings as the cost of servicing their debt rose, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The governments of the two economies must balance bringing down their debt burdens without damaging growth by removing fiscal stimulus too quickly, Moody’s said.

The United Auto Workers and Toyota have agreed on terms to shut down the Nummi plant that employs 4,600 workers. It is California’s sole remaining auto plant. The terms weren’t disclosed Monday but include a pay package when the plant is shut down April 1. Toyota said earlier this month that it will spend $250 million assisting employees at the factory. Toyota has fallen from first to sixth place in its Perceived Quality Score since its myriad recalls began.

Housing construction fell in February as blizzards held down activity in the Northeast and South. The decline highlighted the challenges facing builders as they struggle to emerge from the worst housing slump in decades. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that construction of new homes and apartments fell 5.9% in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 575,000 units.

A price index at the wholesale level plunged in February by the largest amount in seven months as a big drop in energy prices offset higher food costs. The Labor Department said Wednesday that its wholesale inflation index dropped 0.6% in February. Excluding food and energy, prices edged up a slight 0.1%.

China retained its spot as the biggest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt in January even as it trimmed its holdings for a third straight month. The string of declines underscored worries that the U.S. government could face much higher interest rates to finance soaring budget deficits. The Treasury Department said Monday that China’s holdings dipped by $5.8 billion to $889 billion in January compared with December. Japan, the second-largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt, also trimmed its holdings but by a much smaller $300 million, to $765.4 billion.

Israel

Israel on Wednesday lifted its tight restrictions on Palestinian access to Jerusalem‘s holiest shrine and called off an extended West Bank closure after days of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. While Israel moved to end the lockdown, it also kept thousands of police officers on alert as an uneasy calm settled over the holy city. The unrest was set off by persistent rumors that Jewish extremists were planning to take over the compound. The hilltop compound is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, as well as Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, the place where the biblical Jewish temples once stood. The conflicting claims to the complex make the future of the holy city the most charged issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Obama administration’s fierce denunciation of Israel last week has ignited a firestorm in Congress and among powerful pro-Israel interest groups who say the criticism of America’s top Mideast ally was misplaced. Since the controversy erupted, a bipartisan parade of influential lawmakers and interest groups has taken aim at the administration’s decision to publicly condemn Israel for its announcement of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem. With diplomats from both countries referring to the situation as a crisis, the outpouring of anger in the United States, particularly from Capitol Hill, comes at a difficult time for the administration, which is now trying to win support from wary lawmakers — many of whom are up for re-election this year — for health care reform and other domestic issues. And those criticizing the administration’s unusually blunt response to Israel say they fear it may have distracted from and done damage to efforts to relaunch long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Iraq

Nearly 80% of the vote has been counted, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki‘s coalition has emerged as the biggest winner in this month’s parliamentary elections. Al-Maliki’s bloc searched Tuesday for alliances to keep him atop Iraq‘s government. No candidate will come close to winning a majority of the seats in the new parliament. Maliki will have to form alliances to form a government with the prime minister’s coalition on track to win as only 104 seats in the 325-seat parliament. Ali al-Adeeb, a top member of al-Maliki’s coalition, said the vote counting process was marred by “irregularities” and the coalition has requested a recount.

The followers of Moktada al-Sadr, a radical cleric who led the Shiite insurgency against the American occupation, have emerged as Iraq’s equivalent of Lazarus in elections last week, defying ritual predictions of their demise and now threatening to realign the nation’s balance of power. Their apparent success in the March 7 vote for Parliament — perhaps second only to the followers of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as the largest Shiite bloc — underscores a striking trend in Iraqi politics: a collapse in support for many former exiles who collaborated with the United States after the 2003 invasion.

The U.S. military handed over control of a prison holding some 2,900 detainees to Iraqi authorities on Monday as the Americans move ahead with preparations for a full withdrawal by the end of 2011. Control of prisons is a sensitive issue for many Iraqis. Torture was widespread in Iraqi prisons under the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein before his fall in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. And the scandal following the release of photos showing American troops mistreating detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison sparked outrage across Iraq and the Arab world. Iraq. Taji was the second prison to be relinquished by the U.S. as it moves to release thousands of detainees or transfer them to Iraqi custody before the end of this year according to an agreement. That leaves only one prison in Iraq in American hands.

Afghanistan

The U.S. force in Afghanistan is undergoing a major restructuring that will bring virtually all American troops under NATO command. Vice Adm. Greg Smith, the top military spokesman in Afghanistan, said the intent was to integrate most of the 20,000 U.S. troops currently serving in eastern part of the country under separate command known as Operation Enduring Freedom, into the 100,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. NATO officials noted that the practical effect of this move will be to streamline and simplify the command structure, since both forces are already under the operational control of the senior commander in Afghanistan, USA Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The Afghan government was holding secret talks with the Taliban‘s No. 2 when he was captured in Pakistan, and the arrest infuriated President Hamid Karzai, according to one of Karzai’s advisers. The detention of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — second in the Taliban only to one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar— has raised new questions about whether the U.S. is willing to back peace discussions with leaders who harbored the terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks. Karzai “was very angry” when he heard that the Pakistanis had picked up Baradar with an assist from U.S. intelligence, the adviser said. Besides the ongoing talks, he said Baradar had “given a green light” to participating in a three-day peace jirga that Karzai is hosting next month.

Pakistan

An apparent U.S. missile attack destroyed a suspected militant compound in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least nine people, intelligence officials said. The area is the home of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a powerful warlord whose fighters are battling U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The CIA has stepped up missile strikes on militant positions in Pakistan’s tribal regions since December, when a suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees in neighboring Afghanistan. Suspected U.S. drones also fired missiles at vehicles and hit a militant hide-out in a tribal region of northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least nine insurgents. In the first attack, the drones fired four missiles at a vehicle and flattened a nearby house near Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region, killing six militants. About 50 minutes later, drones fired three more missiles at a vehicle in Madakhel town, about 25 miles west of Miran Shah, killing three insurgents.

Mexico

Scores of police officers — including the entire department of one town — have been detained in Mexican probes of killings and kidnappings. About 90 city policemen were being held for questioning about the kidnapping of undocumented Central American migrants to shake them down for money. The officers — the town’s entire local force — were detained by state police and soldiers and taken to the capital of the Gulf coast state of Veracruz for questioning. In the central State of Mexico, prosecutors announced the arrest of two policemen and two former officers on charges they participated in 11 killings related to robberies.

  • Corruption is rampant in Mexico with drug cartels wielding more power and influence than the government

Earthquakes

A pair of earthquakes rattled coastal Chile, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. A strong 6.7-magnitude quake hit at 11:22 p.m. Monday, and a moderate 5.5-magnitude quake followed at 12:05 a.m. Tuesday. There were no immediate reports of injuries or significant damage.

A 4.4-magnitude earthquake jolted southern California early Wednesday. The quake, which hit at 4 a.m. PT,  was centered about 10 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, near Pico Rivera. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage.

Weather

Madagascar’s disaster officials say at least 36 people have died and more than 38,000 were made homeless by Tropical Storm Hubert. The storm hit the southeast coast of the Indian Ocean island nation on Wednesday. Officials also said Monday that many rice plantations, roads and homes have been affected or destroyed by flooding. Disaster officials also say that some evacuation teams cannot reach disaster victims because of flooded roads. Madagascar lies off the southeastern coast of Africa and is in the main storm path of the Indian Ocean basin.

Fiji has suffered overwhelming damage in a powerful weekend cyclone, the prime minister said Wednesday, as the first word of houses blown away, trees uprooted, and roads blocked trickled in from regions cut off since the storm. One death has been reported, but the full extent of the damage has yet to be determined because communications to the hardest hit areas were cut off for days. Cyclone Tomas, packing winds of up to 130 mph at its center and gusts of up to 175 mph, first hit Fiji late Friday.

More than a third of the contiguous USA has a higher-than-average risk of flooding in the coming months, and residents in the Midwest are likely to see the worst of it, government forecasters warned Tuesday. Devastating and potentially deadly floods are forecast across much of the central and eastern USA over the next two months. The most significant threat is forecast for the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa, including along the Red River Valley. Crests there this week and into next week could approach the record levels set just last year.

Winter storms plastered Arizona’s high country with snow and soaked the lower deserts with rain until the ground was almost sloshing, but that was just the first half of an increasingly wet story. As temperatures rise this week, the snow will start to melt, gushing down streams and rivers into reservoirs that, in many cases, are already full. The overflow on the Salt and Verde rivers alone could exceed a year’s supply of water for Valley residents. The runoff will ease drought conditions across much of the state, rejuvenating parched forests and rangelands and replenishing groundwater aquifers. Whether the winter has ended the drought, now more than a decade old, probably won’t be known for another year or more. It’s already clear that drought conditions will persist on the Colorado River.

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