Both Sides of Abortion Issue Dismiss Executive Order

Both sides in the abortion debate came to a rare agreement on Wednesday: The executive order on abortion signed by President Obama, they said, was basically meaningless. “A transparent political fig leaf,” according to the National Right to Life Committee‘s Douglas Johnson. “A symbolic gesture,” said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. The order states that no public funds will be used to pay for abortions in health insurance exchanges to be set up by the government. It was the coda to a long battle that nearly derailed passage of the roughly health care bill. Obama agreed to issue the order to placate a group of House Democrats who oppose abortion rights, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. They had demanded that the health care bill include specific language banning any use of government funds or tax subsidies for abortions.

Senate Reconciliation Bill Passed

After running through an obstacle course of Republican amendments and procedural objections, the Senate voted Thursday, 56-43, approving changes that were part of a deal made when the House passed the nearly $940 billion legislation on Sunday. The House then approved the bill 220-207, getting only get Democratic votes as it did earlier in the week. Some House Democrats agreed to support the bill on a promise that the Senate would pass some changes. The revisions passed by Congress: Closed a gap in prescription-drug coverage for seniors under Medicare by increasing drug benefits; eliminated a deal to give Nebraska more money for Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor, that was aimed at getting Nelson’s vote in December, when the Senate passed the original health care bill; and delayed a tax on high-priced insurance plans until 2018.

Fourteen States Suing Federal Gov’t over Healthcare

Fourteen states have filed suit against the federal government to protect their citizens from the overreach of the federal government. In addition to the state lawsuits, legislatures in at least 36 states have proposed measures to challenge the constitutionality of the new bill, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-nine states also are calling for ballot questions to amend their constitutions to keep residents from having to buy insurance or face fines. The American Family Association notes that “you will look in vain among the enumerated powers of Article I, Section 8 for the right of the federal government to mandate that American citizens purchase health insurance. It’s not there. When they formed the Constitution, the states delegated 17 powers – and no more – to the central government. Those powers are listed in Article I, Section 8. Since Congress has only the powers granted to it by the states, if a power is not listed in Article I, Section 8, Congress and the president have no legitimate authority to act. Every other ‘power,’ or right to act, is reserved to the states by the 10th Amendment.” Health care is neither a constitutional nor a legal right.

Arizona’s Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard says he won’t join lawsuits filed by other states’ attorneys general to challenge the federal health care overhaul. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer responded to Goddard’s announcement Wednesday by saying through her spokesman that she will pursue a lawsuit even without Goddard’s involvement. Brewer said Tuesday her office has the constitutional authority to do it herself, and could do it, as early as this week.

New Tea-Party Tour Targets Healthcare Supporters

“Tea Party” activists are going after politicians they want removed from office by launching a national bus tour to 44 rallies beginning March 27th.. After a kickoff rally Saturday in Laughlin, Nev., the tour stops in Searchlight, Nev., hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who shepherded the health care bill that President Obama signed into law Tuesday. The Tea Party is the name adopted by a loose confederation of fiscally conservative small-government activists. The bus tour will stop in 23 states, ending in Washington on April 15, the tax filing deadline. Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president in 2008, will headline the Searchlight rally.

Poll Shows Health Care Plan Gaining Favor

More Americans now favor than oppose the health care overhaul that President Obama signed into law Tuesday, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds — a notable turnaround from surveys before the vote that showed a plurality against the legislation. By 49%-40%, those polled say it was “a good thing” rather than a bad one that Congress passed the bill. Half describe their reaction in positive terms — as “enthusiastic” or “pleased” — while about four in 10 describe it in negative ways, as “disappointed” or “angry.” The largest single group, 48%, calls the legislation “a good first step” that needs to be followed by more action. Nearly one-third of those surveyed, 31%, say the bill makes “the wrong types of changes,” and 8% say the health care system doesn’t need reform.

  • Like lemmings, the “give me mine” entitlement mentality of the American public will lead them right off the cliff formed by our mountain of debt and unconstitutional, socialistic government control

Fox Poll: 79% Fear Economic Collapse

A Fox News poll revealed Tuesday that most American voters believe it’s possible the nation’s economy could collapse, and majorities don’t think elected officials in Washington have ideas for fixing it. The poll finds that 79 percent of voters think it’s possible the economy could collapse, including large majorities of Democrats (72 percent), Republicans (84 percent), and independents (80 percent). Voters are clearly concerned with rising deficits and massive government spending places like the new healthcare overhaul. Moreover, 78 percent of voters believe the federal government is “larger and more costly” than it has ever been before, and by nearly 3-to-1 more voters think the national debt (65 percent) is a greater potential threat to the country’s future than terrorism (23 percent).

Arizona Fears Flood of Uninsured Patients

Arizona’s community health centers, a vital safety net for the uninsured and the working poor, are bracing for an onslaught of new patients and preparing to roll back their services after two state health-care programs were killed and the state’s Medicaid spending was slashed. New patients cut off from government insurance programs could flood the centers, and the centers would not have reimbursements from those programs to cover the full cost of providing care. The 16 federally qualified centers, which are non-profits and operate more than 130 clinics in mostly rural and underserved areas, rely mainly on state and federal insurance and federal grants to operate. The losses will likely be far greater than the millions of dollars in additional federal money for community clinics that is part of health-care reform legislation, which was signed Tuesday.

Arizona hospitals say the Legislature’s steep cuts to health-care programs may trigger more hospital cuts and layoffs, longer emergency-room waits and a deepening doctor shortage. Arizona hospitals say the Legislature’s steep cuts to health-care programs may trigger more hospital cuts and layoffs, longer emergency-room waits and a deepening doctor shortage. Hospital executives worry that they will have to absorb the cost and burden of providing treatment for the low-income residents and children until the more generous federal subsidies arrive in 2014 as part of the federal health-reform bill. Hospitals are required to provide care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

Health Care Bill Requires Calories on Menus at Chain Restaurants

A requirement tucked into the massive U.S health care bill will make calorie counts impossible for thousands of restaurants to hide and difficult for consumers to ignore. More than 200,000 fast food and other chain restaurants will have to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and even drive-throughs. The new law, which applies to any restaurant with 20 or more locations, directs the Food and Drug Administration to create a new national standard for menu labeling, superseding a growing number of state and city laws. Many restaurants currently post nutritional information in a hallway, on a hamburger wrapper or on their website. The new law will make calories immediately available for most items.

States Struggle to Tally Food-Borne Illnesses

State and local reporting of food-borne illnesses is the first line of defense against national outbreaks. Yet a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest finds that almost half of states do a poor job of tracking outbreaks — and suggests passing legislation to reform the Food and Drug Administration will help. Tracking the number of reported illnesses is a good measure of a state’s investment in public health surveillance. It is key to figuring out the causes of big, multistate outbreaks. The Food Safety Modernization Act, scheduled to go before the Senate in April, would require FDA to coordinate federal, state and local surveillance systems. More than 350,000 Americans are hospitalized each year and 5,000 die from preventable food-borne illness.

Irish Bishop Resigns over Sex Abuse Scandal

Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation Wednesday of Bishop John Magee, a former papal aide accused of endangering children by failing to follow the Irish church’s own rules on reporting suspected pedophile priests to police. Magee apologized to victims of any pedophile priests who were kept in parish posts since he took charge of the southwest Irish diocese of Cloyne in 1987. Pope Benedict has yet to accept resignation offers from three other Irish bishops who were linked to cover-ups of child-abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese.

Milwaukee’s Roman Catholic archbishop warned a top Vatican office led by the future Pope Benedict XVI about a priest who may have molested as many as 200 deaf boys, according to documents obtained by The New York Times, but the priest was never defrocked. In 1996, then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland sent letters about Murphy to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope. Weakland received no response from Ratzinger, the New York Times reported. Eight months later, the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone— now the Vatican’s secretary of state — told the Wisconsin bishops to begin secret disciplinary proceedings, according to the documents. But Bertone halted that process after Murphy wrote to Ratzinger saying he already had repented, was ailing and that the case’s statute of limitations had run out, the Times reported.

Germans are asking just when Pope Benedict XVI might say something about the clerical abuse scandal rocking the Catholic church in his native country. As the scandal has intensified in recent weeks, he chose not to say anything Wednesday during his weekly public audience, an occasion when he offers greetings and issues pronouncements in nine languages. More than 300 former students in German Catholic schools and choirs have come forward since January with abuse claims.

Catholic Clergy Abuse Claims Drop in USA

While the Roman Catholic church in Europe reels from a widening sex abuse crisis, the scandal that has plagued the U.S. church for nearly a decade is tapering off, a report released Tuesday says. The number of abuse victims, allegations and offending clergy in the U.S. dropped in 2009 to their lowest numbers since data started being collected in 2004. The latest annual report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops identifies 398 allegations of abuse involving clergy from Catholic dioceses in 2009 — a 36% decline from 2008. The price paid by the church has fallen, too. Dioceses and their insurers paid $104 million in settlements, attorneys’ fees and other abuse-related costs in 2009, down from $376 million in 2008. All told, the scandal’s price tag for settlements and other costs has risen to more than $2.7 billion, according to estimates.

Abuse Expert Says Scouts Put Boys at Risk

A psychologist testifying in a $14 million lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America says the organization put boys at risk by hiding information about child molesters among troop leaders. Gary Schoener, a national expert on child sex abuse, told a jury in Portland on Wednesday that confidential files the Boy Scouts kept on suspected abusers from 1965-1984 were the deepest and most complete information about pedophiles then available in the country. He said the organization showed a reckless indifference by not sharing the information with parents and authorities. Attorneys for the Boy Scouts of America say the organization kept files on suspected molesters to protect children.

  • Secrecy by the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts, however well-intentioned, only served to allow pedophiles to continue their abusive ways

Judge: Lesbian Student’s Rights Violated

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Itawamba County, Miss., school board violated the rights of a lesbian student by canceling the prom when the student challenged a ban on same-sex dates, but the judge stopped short of ordering the district to reinstate the April 2 prom. Constance McMillen, 18, and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Itawamba County school district when she was denied her request to bring her girlfriend, a sophomore, to the dance and to wear a tuxedo. U.S. District Court Judge Glen Davidson said he denied the injunction request because a private prom parents are planning will serve the same purpose as the school prom and because “requiring defendants to step back into a sponsorship role at this late date would only confuse and confound the community on the issue.”

Pentagon Releases New ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Rules

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced today that the Pentagon will make it more difficult to discharge openly gay or lesbian members of the military. Known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law was passed in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton. It allows openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the military but limits attempts to discover or reveal their sexuality if they do not engage in disallowed behavior. Supporters of scrapping the law applauded Gates’ move, saying it would limit abuses made under the policy and lead to its repeal. No longer will anonymous members of the military or public be able to make complaints about the sexuality of gay, lesbian or bisexual service members, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

  • The net effect will be to add a “Don’t Listen, Don’t Enforce” approach to the already unacceptable “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” compromise, as gays gain another foothold in society

Homeless Shelters Cost More than Rent

Cities, states and the federal government pay more to provide the homeless with short-term shelter and services than what it would cost to rent permanent housing, the U.S. government reports. Emergency shelter for families was the most costly. In Washington, D.C., the average bill for a month in an emergency shelter ranges from $2,500 to $3,700. In Houston, the average is $1,391. Many communities probably don’t know that they are spending as much “to maintain a cot in a gymnasium with 100 other cots” as it would cost to rent an efficiency apartment, says Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor who studies housing policies. “We are paying for a form of housing that is largely substandard, and we are paying as much, if not more, than standard conventional housing.”

  • Everything costs more when run by the federal government – why would healthcare be any different?

Bees in More Distress after Tough Winter

The mysterious 4-year-old crisis of disappearing honeybees is deepening. A quick federal survey indicates a heavy bee die-off this winter, while a new study shows honeybees’ pollen and hives laden with pesticides. Two federal agencies along with regulators in California and Canada are scrambling to figure out what is behind this relatively recent threat, ordering new research on pesticides used in fields and orchards. Scientists are concerned because of the vital role bees play in our food supply. About one-third of the human diet is from plants that require pollination from honeybees, which means everything from apples to zucchini. Bees have been declining over decades from various causes. But in 2006 a new concern, “colony collapse disorder,” was blamed for large, inexplicable die-offs. The disorder, which causes adult bees to abandon their hives and fly off to die, is likely a combination of many causes, including parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition and pesticides, experts say.

Economic News

New claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week. The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time claims for jobless benefits dropped 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 442,000. The four-week average of claims, which smooths volatility, dropped 11,000 to 453,750, lowest since September 2008, when the financial crisis intensified, but still well above levels associated with a sound economy.

Sales of new homes fell unexpectedly to the lowest level on record in February as stormy winter weather kept buyers on the sidelines. The weak results make clear the difficulties facing the housing industry as it tries to recover from the worst slump in decades. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that new home sales fell 2.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 308,000. It was the fourth consecutive month of declines and the worst showing on records dating to 1963.

Existing-home sales dipped 0.6% in February for the third month in a row to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.02 million from 5.05 million in January. That was still 7% higher than the 4.69 million pace in February 2009. An approaching deadline for claiming a home buyers’ tax credit is still expected to boost spring sales. The current credits, available to first-time and repeat buyers, require buyers to sign purchase contracts by April 30.

Orders for big-ticket manufactured goods rose for a third month in February, bolstered by strong demand for commercial aircraft and machinery. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for durable goods advanced 0.5% last month.

Cash-strapped states are hitting smokers hard in the pocketbook, raising cigarette taxes to help plug budget shortfalls. So far this year, legislators have voted to raise cigarette taxes by $1 per pack in Utah and 75 cents a pack in New Mexico. At least a half dozen other states have been considering increases.

Last year, China spent more than any other major country on clean energy, including wind and solar, toppling the U.S. from the top spot for the first time in five years, the Pew report says. Unless U.S. policies change to encourage more investment, the U.S. could miss its chance to lead the expanding clean-energy industry, says Phyllis Cuttino, project director at Pew.

Greece

German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised a hard-won deal to rescue heavily indebted Greece from its financial woes, insisting Friday that it will steady the wobbly euro and showed that Europe could cope with the crisis despite having asked the International Monetary Fund to join in on a bailout package. The deal, reached late Thursday night at a meeting of European leaders, aims to halt the government debt crisis undermining Europe’s currency union. The joint eurozone and IMF bailout program comes with strict conditions, making no money available to Greece right now. It could be tapped only if Greece — or other financially troubled eurozone members — cannot raise funds from financial markets and would require the unanimous agreement of the 16 eurozone countries to release the loan funds.

Israel

The U.S. and Israel failed to heal their deepest dispute in decades as a two-day visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended late Wednesday without resolving a rift over new Israeli housing planned in east Jerusalem. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in an unusual pair of low-profile meetings at the White House amid a serious dispute about settlement construction. In a break with custom that seemed linked to the crisis complicating U.S.-Israeli relations, reporters were not invited to see them either for photographs or statements. At issue is Israel‘s announcement two weeks ago, as Vice President Joe Biden visited, that it will build 1,600 new apartments in east Jerusalem, the largely Arab section of the disputed holy city. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and have delayed new U.S.-sponsored peace talks over what they say is an Israeli land grab.

  • The political snub of Netanyahu is more than show. It represents a significant departure from traditional U.S. support of Israel which itself results from our country’s abandonment of the Judeo-Christian beliefs upon which this country was founded. In the long-term, there will be hell to pay for dissing God.

Afghanistan

A professional police force in Afghanistan is an important part of the strategy that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, has laid out for victory over the Taliban. U.S. forces are working on getting the police ready for their role, but they are not there yet. And it may be years before they are. Kandahar is where McChrystal is planning the next phase of his strategy to win over the locals and push out the Taliban. Honeycombed with jihadists, Kandahar is the birthplace of the radical Muslim group, which ruled this country and protected Osama bin Laden until it was ousted by the U.S.-led military invasion of 2001.

Pakistan

Five Pakistani soldiers and at least 21 suspected militants were killed in clashes in a region near the Afghan border where the military is pursuing Taliban insurgents fleeing a U.S.-backed offensive, authorities said Friday. The reports came a day after officials said 61 suspected militants died in airstrikes in the same region. The clashes occurred when security forces were trying to recapture a checkpoint taken Thursday night by militants in the Kalaya area of Orakzai. On Thursday, jet fire rained down in the Mamuzai area of Orakzai, targeting a religious seminary, a mosque and a school.

Russia

The United States and Russia have reached an agreement on “all documents” necessary to sign a new nuclear arms treaty, a senior Kremlin official said Wednesday, and the White House said the two nations are “very close” to signing it. Czech officials announced that Prague will host the signing of the new U.S.-Russian treaty to reduce long-range nuclear weapons that would replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. They did not give a date.

Columbia

A car bomb exploded in the administrative center of Colombia‘s Pacific port of Buenaventura on Wednesday, killing six people and wounding more than 30, authorities said. Buenaventura is a key cocaine trafficking center that is rife with rival criminal bands from the right and left. Outgoing President Alvaro Uribe has put the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia on the defensive since taking office in 2002. But the group known as the FARC remains capable of damaging attacks and in recent months it has stepped up raids on military posts in Valle del Cauca in particular.

Weather

A yellow haze descended across Nigeria, blotting out the sun, canceling airline flights and coating everything with a fine layer of dust. The sudden storm comes from the harmattan, a yearly trade wind that brings dust from the Sahara Desert through Nigeria and the rest of West Africa. This year, however, the harmattan has come at an abnormal time. Experts say it may delay the rainy season in Africa‘s most populous nation and there are worries it may even throw off future seasonal changes.

A spring snowstorm that whipped though Colorado left the state a slushy mess Wednesday, with thousands stuck at Denver’s airport or left without power or schools. The heavy snowmaker dumped more snow than even some spring break ski vacationers bargained for. The snowstorm was no surprise for Colorado residents; March is the state’s snowiest month. But the storm that piled about 9 inches of mushy snow in Denver — and up to 23 inches in Denver’s western suburbs — shut down business for many.

Residents in northern New Jersey who started cleaning up from days of flooding are braced for more Tuesday after a night of heavy rain. However, it may be days before some of the rivers that forced hundreds from their homes could flood again. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the Passaic River at Pine Brook and Little Falls. There also are flood warnings posted for the Wanaque River at Wanaque Dam in Passaic County, the Rockaway River at Boonton in Morris County, and along the Pequannock River below Macopin Dam in Morris and Passaic counties.

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