U.S. Transit Security Boosted

Millions of U.S. subway riders Monday morning saw extra police, some of them heavily armed, as transit agencies stepped up security following suicide bombings in Moscow‘s subway. Police in the Washington transit system, the nation’s second-busiest, staged random sweeps of stations and rail yards all day Monday. The attacks Monday, which killed at least 39 and wounded more than 60, generated fears of a copycat strike in the U.S. and reminded passengers of the vulnerability of subway and rail systems. “Terrorists see surface transportation as an attractive target because of its ease of access,” said Brian Jenkins, director of the National Transportation Security Center in California.

Census Misses 1.6 Million Addresses

About 120 million Census forms have gone out and a second mailing is underway to prod procrastinators, but the Census Bureau is going to have to send an additional 1.6 million to addresses it missed the first time. Nearly 2,600 local governments appealed the Census address list for their communities. Nevada‘s Clark County, home of Las Vegas, appealed the largest number, submitting more than 47,000 additional addresses. New York City submitted 36,181 addresses.

  • And people trust the federal government to increase healthcare and reduce the deficit at the same time????

Vatican to Raise Legal Obstacles to Abuse Claims

Dragged deeper than ever into the clerical sex abuse scandal, the Vatican is launching a legal defense that it hopes will shield the pope from a lawsuit in Kentucky seeking to have him answer attorneys’ questions under oath. Court documents obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press show that Vatican lawyers plan to argue that the pope has immunity as head of state, that American bishops who oversaw abusive priests weren’t employees of the Vatican. The Holy See is trying to fend off the first U.S. case to reach the stage of determining whether victims actually have a claim against the Vatican itself for negligence for allegedly failing to alert police or the public about Roman Catholic priests who molested children.

Two-Thirds of U.S. Oppose Health Law

Almost two-thirds of Americans believe the new healthcare law is too expensive and gives too much authority to the government for healthcare, according to a USA Today/Gallup Poll: 65 percent say the government’s role in healthcare is being expanded too far, 64 percent say the program will cost the government too much, 58 percent say it doesn’t do enough to brake rising costs and 51 percent say it doesn’t do enough to regulate the healthcare industry.

Health Premiums to Rise for Young Adults

Under the health care overhaul, young adults who buy their own insurance will carry a heavier burden of the medical costs of older Americans— a shift expected to raise insurance premiums for young people when the plan takes full effect. Beginning in 2014, most Americans will be required to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty. That’s when premiums for young adults seeking coverage on the individual market would likely climb by 17% on average, or roughly $42 a month, according to an analysis of the plan conducted for The Associated Press. The higher costs will pinch many people in their 20s and early 30s who are struggling to start or advance their careers with the highest unemployment rate in 26 years.

Shortage of Primary Care Doctors to Worsen

Primary care physicians already are in short supply in parts of the country, and the landmark health overhaul that will bring them millions more newly insured patients in the next few years promises extra strain. Recently published reports predict a shortfall of roughly 40,000 primary care doctors over the next decade, a field losing out to the better pay, better hours and higher profile of many other specialties. Provisions in the new law aim to start reversing that tide, from bonus payments for certain physicians to expanded community health centers that will pick up some of the slack. Only 30% of U.S. doctors practice primary care. The government says 65 million people live in areas designated as having a shortage of primary care physicians, places already in need of more than 16,600 additional providers to fill the gaps.

Forecasters at Odds about Warming Threat

Is climate change a serious threat to humanity or a scam trumped up by agenda-minded activists? Even the nation’s TV weathercasters can’t agree on that scientific dilemma, according to the largest survey of the profession to date released Monday by George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. The majority — 63 percent — say global warming is caused “mostly by natural changes in the environment” compared with 31 percent who blamed the phenomenon on “human activities.” More than a quarter said they agreed that the phenomenon is “a scam.” Another 48 percent said global warming should be a “low” priority for President Obama and Congress; one out of three felt is should be given “medium” priority; 23 percent felt is was of “high” importance.

Obama to Allow Oil Drilling off Virginia Coast

In a reversal of a long-standing ban on most offshore drilling, President Obama is allowing oil drilling 50 miles off Virginia’s shorelines. At the same time, he is rejecting some new drilling sites that had been planned in Alaska. However, he is allowing an expansion in Alaska’s Cook Inlet to go forward. The plan also would leave in place the moratorium on drilling off the West Coast. Obama’s plan offers few concessions to environmentalists, who have been strident in their opposition to more oil platforms off the nation’s shores. Hinted at for months, the plan modifies a ban that for more than 20 years has limited drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico. Officials pitched the changes as ways to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and create jobs — both politically popular ideas — but the president’s decisions also could help secure support for a climate change bill languishing in Congress.

U.S. Lags in Internet Speed

Broadband Internet speeds in the United States are only about one-fourth as fast as those in South Korea, the world leader, according to the Internet monitoring firm Akamai. And, as if to add insult to injury, U.S. Internet connections are more expensive than those in South Korea, too. In fact, 17 countries have faster broadband service than the good old USA. The cause? Government control has limited our options. In the U.S., competition among companies that provide broadband connections is relatively slim. Most people choose between a cable company and a telephone company when they sign up for Internet service. In other countries, including South Korea, the choices are more varied.

It’s an App World, and It’s Growing Fast

More than 100,000 apps (shorthand for the ubiquitous software applications that live on smart phones) now populate Apple‘s App Store, which opened for business two years ago. Since then, more than 2 billion apps have been downloaded. Tech specialists estimate the annual app market at $2 billion, despite the fact that most apps are free or 99 cents. “The sea change here is that people are gradually moving away from spending time with TV and computers to their mobile devices,” says Matt Murphy, who manages the iFund. He points to recent statistics prepared by Morgan Stanley showing that typical cellphone users now spend 30% of their 40-minutes-a-day average on data, and iPhone users spend 55% of their 60-minute average on non-talking phone activities.

One in Four U.S. Christians Identify as Charismatic

The Barna Group reports that the charismatic movement is very much alive in young Christians, both Protestant and Catholic. More than half (56) of younger Christians, aged 18 to 25, say they believe charismatic gifts are valid today, and about one in four identified as charismatic or Pentecostal. That number was slightly lower among U.S. Christians as a whole, but 25 percent of Protestants and 20 percent of Catholics still identify with the charismatic movement. Younger Christians, however, are less likely to adopt specific theology with their charismatic beliefs. “It raises the question of what will define the next generation of young charismatics and Pentecostal believers in the U.S.,” said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. “Facing less criticism from within the ranks of Christians, they must focus on being grounded theologically and finding a way to live faithfully within the broader culture of arts, media, technology, science, and business.”

Economic News

Home prices showed the smallest annual decline in almost three years in January. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index is down just 0.7% from last year on a seasonally adjusted basis. Better still, prices rose 0.3% from December to January, the eighth consecutive monthly gain. Among the 20 cities in the index, 12 rose.

Factory orders rose in February, bolstered by strong demand for industrial machinery and commercial aircraft. It was the 10th increase in 11 months as manufacturing provides crucial support for the economic recovery.

Consumer confidence in the economy rebounded in March. But Americans are still wary as they deal with a weak job market. The Conference Board said Tuesday its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 52.5 in March, recovering about half of the nearly 11 points it lost in February. A reading of 90 would indicate a healthy economy.

The Obama administration unveiled Monday $600 million in financial aid for five more states with high unemployment that have been slammed by the housing bust. The funding is for North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina and Rhode Island. It comes on top of the $1.5 billion in funding announced last month by the Obama administration for Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada, which all have deeply depressed home prices. State agencies must design programs that need to be approved by the Treasury Department.

Ireland’s government said Tuesday it will help banks raise nearly 22 billion euros ($30 billion), much of it from taxpayers, to meet stiff new capital requirements that are part of a plan to resolve the nation’s banking crisis. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan also announced terms for the first transfers of bad loans, around 16 billion euros ($21.5 billion) worth, to the new “bad bank” — the National Asset Management Agency. The state already has a 16% stake in Bank of Ireland and a 25% indirect stake in Allied Irish, and it was unclear how large the stakes might grow.


Two suicide bombers including one impersonating a police officer killed 12 people in southern Russia on Wednesday, two days after deadly suicide bombings blamed on the region’s militants tore through the Moscow subway system. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday’s blasts in the province of Dagestan may have been organized by the same militants who attacked the Moscow subway. Bombings and other attacks occur almost daily in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia, provinces in Russia’s North Caucasus region where government forces are struggling against a separatist Islamist insurgency.


The Haitian government will be seeking about $3.8 billion at a donors conference this week to start rebuilding the country after January’s devastating earthquake. U.N. officials urged donor nations to respond generously so that the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation can reconstruct hospitals, schools, government buildings, roads and ports. Haiti needs to “rebuild and redesign the country in a way that puts … (it) on the road to growth and modernization,” they said. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are chairing Wednesday’s fundraising conference. Co-chairs include Brazil, Canada, the European Union, France, and Spain— all leading donors to Haiti. Representatives of more than 100 nations will attend the conference Wednesday.


Getting the support of tribal elders for the Karzai government in the Arghandab District is critical to U.S. plans to push the Taliban from Kandahar province, birthplace of the jihadist movement. Coalition forces are trying to navigate the complexities of Afghan politics — a mixture of tribal feuds, government corruption and varying levels of sympathy for the Taliban — to persuade the people to turn from the Taliban to Karzai. Over the course of 60 years in Afghanistan, tribal leaders have heard promises from an Afghan king, Soviet commanders, mujahedin fighters and Taliban mullahs. Over the last decade, they’ve heard from two U.S. presidents and countless coalition officials. Needless to say, they are highly skeptical of new promises.

President Hamid Karzai and representatives of a major militant group wrapped up a first round of peace talks Tuesday, reaching no final deal but pledging to continue a dialogue that if successful would split the ranks of the Taliban-led insurgency. The talks with Hizb-i-Islami were the first public face-to-face negotiations in the capital between Karzai and representatives of an insurgent group. Hizb-i-Islami, led by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is far smaller than the Taliban but is active in at least four provinces of eastern Afghanistan and parts of the north.


Pakistani fighter jets bombed several militant hide-outs near the Afghan border Tuesday, killing at least 30 suspected insurgents The assault took place in Orakzai, a tribal region where many Pakistani Taliban fighters are believed to have fled to escape an army offensive further south. The military launched another operation in Orakzai last week, and nearly 150 alleged militants and five soldiers have died in gunbattles and airstrikes so far. The remote, dangerous nature of the region makes it nearly impossible to verify the military and government accounts, and it is unclear how the authorities are distinguishing civilians from insurgents in the death tolls.


A recently published report by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iran is still working on building a nuclear weapon despite some technical setbacks and international resistance — and the Pentagon say it’s still concerned about Iran’s ambitions. “Iran continued to expand its nuclear infrastructure and continued uranium enrichment and activities related to its heavy water research reactor, despite multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions since late 2006 calling for the suspension of those activities,” the report says. The CIA’s new characterization of Iran’s nuclear program stands in contradiction to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which determined the country halted its nuclear production efforts in 2003.


At least 30 residents of El Porvenir, located about four miles from the Texas border town of Fort Hancock, have crossed into the U.S. and asked for political asylum, telling authorities that they fear for their lives. Residents of the small Mexican border town under siege by at least one of the country’s most notorious drug cartels are fleeing into a tiny Texas community, which is on high alert and preparing for a surge of illegal immigrants should a street battle break out with another cartel – or if gunmen begin carrying out a threat to start killing the town’s children. The cartel posted signs in El Porvenir earlier in the month ordering people in the town of 10,000 “to get out or pay with blood.” Since then, Fort Hancock, population 1700, has been in the grip of fear.


Floodwaters in New England have forced scores of people from their homes for the second time in a month after a record-setting deluge poured more than 8 inches of new rain over the area. In Warwick, R.I., 300 apartments and 100 businesses were evacuated this week, including a couple dozen homes that did the same thing two weeks ago. The storm dumped almost 10 inches in 36 hours in some places. According to the National Weather Service, it has been the wettest March ever in New York City; Bridgeport, Conn.; and Islip, N.Y. In Boston, the 13.63 inches that have fallen since March 1 made it the second-wettest month since record-keeping began in 1872.

This year may be one of the worst on record for the beleaguered monarch butterfly, experts say. Massive hailstorms that dropped 2 inches of ice on the trees where the orange-and-black-winged butterflies spend the winter in Mexico, followed by 15 inches of rain, could mean that as many as 50% were killed this year. The area northwest of Mexico City where the winged creatures gather was hit hard by the severe weather. Fifty people died in the area. The monarch population is typically measured by the number of acres of pine trees the butterflies fill. This year, scientists found the smallest area of monarchs overwintering in the 16 years they have been looking — down to 4.7 acres from an average of 18.3 acres.

  • End-time weather will continue to destabilize regardless of what humans do or don’t do about global warming

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