Archive for April, 2010

April 30, 2010

Pro-Life Bills Survive Okla. Governor’s Veto

Following the lead of the state’s House of Representatives, the Oklahoma Senate has voted to override two pro-life bills vetoed by Governor Brad Henry — making the bills law in the Sooner State. “The first one is a bill that would allow the mother to see her unborn child on an ultrasound prior to making that life-and-death decision,” she says, “and the other one prevents wrongful birth/wrongful life lawsuits,” explains Mary Spaulding Balch of the National Right to Life Committee. Nineteen other states have enacted similar legislation that provides women the opportunity to view an ultrasound of their preborn babies before those children are destroyed through abortion.

Va. Governor Restores “Jesus’ Name” by Police Chaplains

Christian Newswire reports that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has restored the rights of six State Police Chaplains to pray publicly “in Jesus name.” The executive order reverses the policy of his predecessor Governor Tim Kaine. “This victory comes after our two-year campaign for Jesus name,” said Chaplain Klingenschmitt, who led a 1,000 person rally outside the Governor’s mansion in 2008, then submitted up to 15,000 petitions to reinstate the chaplains jobs and free speech. Now that McDonnell has fulfilled his campaign pledge, the six chaplain heroes including Rex Carter and Mike Honaker, who had turned in their badges rather than deny Christ, will be invited back to their chaplain jobs, and given free speech to pray “in Jesus name.”

  • Since the federal government is so clearly anti-Christian, states have begun to pick up the mantle to preserve the spiritual foundations of our country and constitution

Arizona Immigration Law Boosts Gov. Brewer’s Rating

Signing the nation’s toughest immigration legislation into law has thrust Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer into the national spotlight, and recent polls suggest the move has given her job-performance ratings a boost. The immigration measure makes it a state crime to be in Arizona illegally and requires police and other law-enforcement officials to check documents of people they reasonably suspect to be illegal. Critics said it could lead to racial profiling, although the governor has said the law-enforcement community will be trained to avoid that.

A poll released Wednesday suggests that 56 percent of Arizonans approve of Brewer’s job performance as governor. In a poll two weeks ago, just 40 percent indicated they approved of the job she was doing. A new Gallup Poll, meanwhile, shows 39% of Americans support the law, 30% oppose it, and 31% have not heard of it or have no opinion of the measure

  • Despite the hue and cry in sensationalist reporting in the mainstream media, the general public is behind stronger immigration measures

Referendum/Lawsuits Could Delay Immigration Law

A referendum launched Wednesday could put Arizona’s tough new law targeting illegal immigration on hold until 2012 if organizers can gather the more than 76,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot. Opponents of the law have until late July or early August to file the signatures – the same time the law is set to go into effect. If they get enough signatures, the law would be on hold until a vote takes place. The first lawsuits in a planned wave of legal challenges to the controversial Arizona immigration law were filed Thursday in Phoenix and Tucson, as a volatile national debate stretched from street protests to the courts. A week after the measure was signed into law, a national consortium of Latino churches and a Tucson police officer sued to try to stop it from taking effect. Three other activist groups announced plans to file legal challenges.

  • A referendum would only yield the same result because the majority favor this bill

Arizona Out of National Health Care Abortion Mandate

At the annual Center for Arizona Policy Family Dinner last week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1305 to opt Arizona out of abortion coverage in any insurance exchanges created by the new federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Arizona is now the first state to have a bill signed into law to drop abortion funding under Obamacare. Approximately 28 other states are considering similar steps. 

Muslims Want Graham Barred from Capitol Hill Prayer Event

Religion News Service reports that just, days after evangelist Franklin Graham was disinvited from a Pentagon observance of the National Day of Prayer, a Muslim organization has asked members of Congress to follow suit. Corey Saylor, national legislative director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, questioned Graham’s inclusion in a Capitol Hill event on May 6 because of his past statements that Islam is an “evil and wicked religion.” John Bornschein, executive director of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, the host of the Capitol Hill observance, also said that Graham will be there. “Although the Pentagon has rescinded Franklin Graham’s invitation to speak at their event, he will still be the keynote speaker at the national observance in Washington, D.C., at the Cannon House Office Building,”

U.N. Elects Iran to Commission on Women’s Rights

Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women, handing a four-year seat on the influential human rights body to a theocratic state in which the stoning of women is enshrined in law and lashings are required for women judged “immodest.” Buried 2,000 words deep in a U.N. press release distributed Wednesday on the filling of “vacancies in subsidiary bodies,” was the stark announcement: Iran, along with representatives from 10 other nations, was “elected by acclamation,” meaning that no open vote was requested or required by any member states — including the United States. Iran’s election comes just a week after one of its senior clerics declared that women who wear revealing clothing are to blame for earthquakes, a statement that created an international uproar — but little affected their bid to become an international arbiter of women’s rights. Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization, is “appalled” that leading feminists, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, continue to give Muslims a pass when it comes to their treatment of women.

Oil Leak Worsens

The Coast Guard revised the amount of oil spewing from a damaged wellhead at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico to 5,000 barrels — or 210,000 gallons — a day, five times higher than earlier estimates. The increased estimate doesn’t change the overall strategy for combating the spilled oil, he said. “We’ve always anticipated and planned for a much larger spill,” Ron Labrec, spokesman for Rear Adm. Mary Landry said. Doug Helton, incidents operations coordinator for NOAA, said strong southeasterly winds will push the oil spill closer to land and could reach Louisiana‘s Mississippi River delta by Friday.

More than a week after the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the Louisiana coast, faint fingers of oily sheen were reaching the Mississippi River delta Friday morning, lapping the Louisiana shoreline in long, thin lines, the Associated Press reported. Thicker oil was about five miles offshore. President Obama pledged “every single available resource” to help, including inflatable booms from the Navy to try and corral the spill. But he warned that the oil eventually could affect a wide stretch of coastline from Texas to Florida.

First Offshore Wind Farm Gets OK

The Obama administration on Wednesday approved the USA’s first offshore wind energy project, but opponents to the turbines off Cape Cod vowed the fight is not over. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced his decision after a nine-year federal review of the project that pitted environmentalists against one another and drew opposition from across party lines. Among opponents to Cape Wind in Massachusetts was Edward Kennedy, a Democrat whose family estate is in nearby Hyannis Port. Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who now holds the Senate seat long held by Kennedy, also opposes it. He has called the Nantucket Sound “a national treasure that should be protected.” The 130 turbines, 440 feet tall, would sit in waters between Nantucket Island and Cape Cod. The turbines would be 5 miles off Cape Cod at their nearest point to land.

Congress Approves Referendum on Future of Puerto Rico

The House on Thursday approved legislation that could set in motion changes in Puerto Rico’s 112-year relationship with the United States, including a transition to statehood or independence. The House bill would give the 4 million residents of the island commonwealth a two-step path to expressing how they envision their political future. It passed 223-169 and now must be considered by the Senate. Initially, eligible voters, including those born in Puerto Rico but residing in the United States, would vote on whether they wish to keep their current political status or opt for a different direction. If a majority are in favor of changing the current situation, the Puerto Rican government would be authorized to conduct a second vote and people would choose among four options: statehood, independence, the current commonwealth status or sovereignty in association with the United States. Congress would have to vote on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state.

Economic News

The economy grew at a solid 3.2% annual rate during the first quarter this year as consumers boosted their spending by the most in three years. Still, growth was weaker than in the fourth quarter last year, when the economy grew at a 5.6% rate. Consumers increased their spending at a 3.6% rate, strongest showing since early 2007, before the economy tipped into recession. That marked a big improvement from the fourth quarter, when consumer spending grew at a lackluster 1.6% pace.

Buyers have been in a final sprint for the past week to meet Friday’s deadline for signing purchase contracts to stay eligible for the tax credit, worth up to $8,000 for first-time home buyers and up to $6,500 for move-up buyers. Many Realtors have been busier than in months past, homes that languished on the market have suddenly gotten offers, and buyers who were sitting on the fence have quickly cobbled together offers in the nick of time. If a binding sales contract is signed by April 30, home buyers have until June 30 to complete the purchase. The tax credit is projected to have added 2 million first-time buyers in 2009 and be adding another 900,000 in 2010, plus 1.5 million repeat buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped for a second week, adding to evidence that the job market is slowly improving. The Labor Department says initial applications for jobless benefits dropped 11,000 to 448,000 the week ended April 24, lowest level in four weeks. However, the four-week average for claims edged up slightly to 462,500, still well above the level economists believe signals sustained improvements in the job market.

Standard & Poor’s cut Spain‘s credit rating one level to AA and maintained its negative outlook. The move came just one day after the rating agency dropped Greece three levels to junk status and pulled also-troubled Portugal down two notches. The European Union said it expects to conclude talks with the IMF and Greek officials on a deal to lift Greece out of its “debt spiral” by the weekend.

Spain’s jobless rate has surpassed 20% for the first time since 1997, the government said Friday as it offered more dismal news for a recession-plagued economy that is being dragged into Europe’s debt crisis. While other major economies in Europe and elsewhere have posted at least tepid growth as they fight to crawl out of recession, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy is still contracting after the collapse of a construction boom that had fueled years of expansion.

Middle East

US President Barack Obama told Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas that he was committed to creating a sovereign Palestinian state within two years and would make great efforts to achieve that goal, an Egyptian official told the Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat on Thursday. The official also claimed Israel had rejected special US envoy George Mitchell’s proposal that the IDF withdraw to its pre-intifada positions of September 2000. Instead, Israel offered other goodwill gestures, such as removing checkpoints and releasing certain Palestinian prisoners. Meantime, the US brokered “proximity talks” between Israel and the PA will begin within two weeks, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman estimated on Thursday. Lieberman added, however, that the Palestinians’ recent conduct has been non-conducive to peace. “It’s unreasonable to talk about peace while at the same time perpetuating terror by naming town squares after bloodthirsty terrorists,” he said. Vice Premier Silvan Shalom also affirmed today that Israel was nearing renewed peace talks with the Palestinians, and that the time had come for Abbas to make the strategic decision to return to the negotiating table. Shalom also stressed the importance of ending the Palestinian method of appealing to the US. “If they want peace, they will find the Israeli government ready for true peace,” he said.

India/Pakistan

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, held their first meeting in more than nine months on Thursday, signaling a thaw in icy relations since the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.. The talks lasted for an hour and 15 minutes Details about the talks were not immediately available. Peace talks between India and Pakistan were stalled after a terror attack on Mumbai, India’s financial hub, in 2008 in which 166 people were killed. New Delhi blamed the attacks on Pakistan-based militants.

Iraq

The Christian Post reports that the National Council of Churches and its partners have appealed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help protect Iraq’s Christian minority. The letter, also addressed to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, cited the region’s violent recent history. “Christians in Iraq have suffered more than a dozen violent deaths so far this year,” the letter states. “Our concern is now particularly acute because it is possible that tensions will increase as various political forces continue to vie for power following the recent elections.” The letter also pointed to the “growing climate of mistrust and animosity” that may upset recent gains in security. The letter comes days after Christians in northern Iraq erected a statue of Jesus, modeled after Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, despite increasing attacks by extremists.

China

The largest ever World’s Fair blasts off tonight with a massive fireworks display over Shanghai. China expects about 400,000 daily visitors. The World Expo 2010 Shanghai, dubbed the “Economic Olympics” by Chinese officials, is a record-breaker in multiple ways. This gathering of 189 nations, including debutantes such as reclusive North Korea, aims to draw 70 million visitors from May to October this year. From food supply to bathroom places, China’s financial powerhouse is shattering World’s Fair records, according to Chinese media feasting on the logistics of the nation’s next march onto the global stage after the successful 2008 Beijing Olympics. Local media have estimated the total cost at $58 billion, including citywide infrastructure projects. That is far more than the $42 billion cost of the Olympics. To leave the right impression, Shanghai authorities have cajoled their sharp-elbowed citizens to line up better, spit less and stop wearing pajamas in public. The 3,500 police who will patrol the Expo site have been forbidden to eat garlic or other noxious foodstuffs.

Weather

A late-season snowstorm dumped up to 2 feet of heavy, wet snow on northern New York, Vermont and New Hampshire by Wednesday morning, cutting off power to thousands, closing some schools and leaving roads slippery. “It definitely caught people off guard, considering we had 80 degrees back in March. It’s a problem because some people swapped their (snow) tires out already,” said Vermont highway dispatcher Greg Fox. About 30,000 customers were without power in Vermont, New Hampshire and northern New York. Large storms so late in the season are rare, said Mark Breen, the senior meteorologist at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury.

April 28, 2010

Noah’s Ark Found on Turkish Mountaintop?

The remains of Noah’s Ark have been discovered 13,000 feet up a Turkish mountain — according to claims by evangelical explorers. A group of Chinese and Turkish evangelical explorers say wooden remains they have discovered on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey are the remains of Noah’s Ark. The group claims that carbon dating proves the relics are 4,800 years old, meaning they date to around the same time the ark was said to be afloat. Mt. Ararat has long been suspected as the final resting place of the craft by evangelicals and literalists hoping to validate biblical stories. “We think it is 99.9 percent that this is it,” Wing-cheung Yeung, a Hong Kong documentary filmmaker and member of the 15-strong team from Noah’s Ark Ministries International. “The significance of this find is that for the first time in history the discovery of Noah’s Ark is well documented and revealed to the worldwide community,” independent Dutch Ark researcher Gerrit Aalten said at a press conference announcing the find. Citing the many details that match historical accounts of the Ark, he believes it to be a legitimate archaeological discovery. “There’s a tremendous amount of solid evidence that the structure found on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey is the legendary Ark of Noah,” said Aalten.

72% of Millennials ‘More Spiritual than Religious’

Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows. If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.” Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.” Some of the findings: 65% rarely or never pray with others, and 38% almost never pray by themselves either; 65% rarely or never attend worship services; 67% don’t read the Bible or sacred texts. Many are unsure Jesus is the only path to heaven: Half say yes, half no. “We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church,” Rainer says.

  • The end-time “falling away” (2Thess. 2:3) is well underway

Catholic Numbers up 33% in Africa, 16% in Asia

The Vatican’s annual statistical report says roughly one out of every five priests in the world comes from Africa or Asia. Those also are the continents where Catholic church growth is strongest. Data released on Tuesday show the number of Catholics in Africa rose by 33% in the period from 2000 to 2008, and by 15.6% in Asia. The number of Catholics in Europe increased only by a scant 1%. And while European priests in 2000 accounted for nearly 51% of the world’s priests, eight years later, that figure dropped to 47%. Throughout the world, Catholics by 2008 numbered 1.166 billion, up from 1.045 billion in 2000. The percentage of increase was almost in line with that for general population growth worldwide.

Supreme Court: Mojave Cross Can Stay

The Supreme Court has said a federal court went too far in ordering the removal of a congressionally endorsed war memorial cross from its longtime home in California. The justices said Wednesday that federal judges in California did not take sufficient notice of the government’s decision to transfer the land in a remote area of California to private ownership to eliminate any constitutional concern about a religious symbol on public land.

Boycotts of Arizona Immigration Law Rising

Calls for boycotting Arizona and its businesses because of its new anti-illegal-immigration law have begun spreading virally, showing Arizona what it’s like to be unpopular in a social-media era in which protesters can organize at the drop of a tweet. Many officials in Arizona’s tourism and hospitality industry fear that the state’s new immigration law is anything but hospitable. Hotel owners, tour operators and convention executives say the law could discourage visitors and companies from meeting there at a time when one of the state’s vital industries already is suffering. The law, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last week, makes it a crime to be in the United States illegally and gives police the right to demand proof of citizenship. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., has called for an economic boycott by businesses that would locate in his state or visitors who would meet there.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association notified JW Marriott in Scottsdale that it’s canceling a meeting of about 300 scheduled for later this year. George Tzamaras, an association spokesman, says, “We didn’t feel it was appropriate to have a meeting in (the) state.” Asian American Hotel Owners Association, whose members own about 40% of U.S. hotels, want lawmakers to reconsider, says Ash Patel, the group’s former chairman who owns several hotels in Arizona. “(Hotel owners) are very afraid right now,” he says. Arizona had to pass a tough immigration law because the Obama administration failed to “secure our borders,” Arizona Sen. John McCain said Tuesday.

  • What is it about the word illegal that people don’t get? Illegal by definition is a crime. The new law simply recognizes that fact and empowers police to do something about it. Long overdue.

Mexico Issues Travel Alert over New Ariz. Immigration Law

Typically the subject of global travel warnings due to rampant, drug-fueled violence, Mexico issued an unusual alert Tuesday to Mexican citizens in Arizona. The country warned that the state’s adoption of a strict immigration enforcement law has created “a negative political environment for migrant communities and for all Mexican visitors.” “It must be assumed that every Mexican citizen may be harassed and questioned without further cause at any time,” the Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued Tuesday.

  • Good. Maybe they’ll stay home.

Massive Oil Spill after Rig Collapse

Crews raced to protect the Gulf of Mexico coastline Monday as a remote sub tried to shut off an underwater oil well that’s gushing 42,000 gallons a day from the site of a wrecked drilling platform. If crews cannot stop the leak quickly, they might need to drill another well to redirect the oil, a laborious process that could take about two months while oil washes up along a broad stretch of shore, from the white-sand beaches of Florida’s Panhandle to the swamps of Louisiana. The oil, which could reach shore in as little as three days, is escaping from two leaks in a drilling pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface. The spill has grown to more than 1,800 square miles, or an area larger than Rhode Island. The Coast Guard is considering burning off some of the oil that has spewed from an underwater well. The oil began spewing out of the sea floor after the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank two days later about 40 miles off the Mississippi River delta. Eleven of the 126 workers aboard at the time are missing and presumed dead; the rest escaped. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

Bad Habits Reduce Life Expectancy by 12 Years

Four common bad habits combined can age you by 12 years, sobering new research suggests. The findings are from a study that tracked nearly 5,000 British adults for 20 years, and they highlight yet another reason to adopt a healthier lifestyle. The risky behaviors were: smoking tobacco; downing more than three alcoholic drinks per day for men and more than two daily for women; getting less than two hours of physical activity per week; and eating fruits and vegetables fewer than three times daily. These habits combined increased the risk of death and made people who engaged in them seem 12 years older than people in the healthiest group. “You don’t need to be extreme” to be in the healthy category, said lead researcher Elisabeth Kvaavik of the University of Oslo. For example, one carrot, one apple and a glass of orange juice would suffice for the fruit and vegetable cutoffs in the study, Kvaavik said, noting that the amounts are pretty modest and less strict than many guidelines. Overall, 314 people studied had all four unhealthy behaviors. Among them, 91 died during the study, or 29%. Among the 387 healthiest people with none of the four habits, only 32 died, or about 8%.

Food Companies to Reduce Salt Content

Sixteen food companies plan to cut the amount of salt in bacon, flavored rice and dozens of other products as part of a national effort to reduce American’s sodium consumption by 20%. Companies including H.J. Heinz Co., Kraft Foods Inc., Subway and Starbucks will commit to the voluntary National Salt Reduction Initiative, a public-private partnership initiated by New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday. “Sodium is a major cause of high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to heart attack and stroke,” Bloomberg said. The salt reduction initiative has set a goal of cutting the salt in 62 categories of packaged foods and 25 categories of restaurant foods by 25% over five years.

Economic News

World markets plunged Tuesday as Europe’s debt crisis intensified when Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greece’s debt to junk status and hit Portugal with a two-notch rating cut. The agency is also warning debt holders that they only have an average chance of between 30 to 50 percent of getting their money back in the event of a debt restructuring or default.

U.S. home prices rose in February, producing the first annual increase in more than three years. Home prices in February increased 0.6% from a year ago on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday.

Incidents of residential mortgage fraud increased last year, a sign that scammers are still targeting the industry despite more diligent efforts to find and report it. The number of mortgage fraud reports among loans made in 2009 grew 7%, a smaller increase than the 26% jump the previous year.

Circulation continues to drop at U.S. newspapers. Figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show average weekday circulation fell 8.7% the six months ended March 31, compared with the period a year earlier. The 25 largest newspapers showed some huge losses. The Washington Post’s average circulation fell 13.1% while the USA TODAY lost 13.6% of its circulation. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s weekday circulation dropped nearly 23% from the year before. The Wall Street Journal posted the only gain in circulation among the top 25 newspapers. There are many reasons for the declines in newspaper circulation, including the rise of free news on the Web.

Israel

Israel‘s prime minister has effectively frozen new Jewish construction in east Jerusalem, municipal officials said Monday, reflecting the need to mend a serious rift with the U.S. and get Mideast peace talks back on track. The move comes despite Benjamin Netanyahu‘s repeated assertion he would never halt construction in east Jerusalem and risks angering hard-liners in his government. One lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud Party warned the governing coalition could collapse over the issue. Still, the de facto freeze appeared to offer the promise of reviving peace efforts derailed after Israel announced plans for a major Jewish housing development last month. That set off the worst diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Israel in decades and prompted the Palestinians to call off a new round of U.S.-brokered peace talks.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called on President Obama on Saturday to impose a Mideast peace deal, reflecting growing frustration with what Palestinians see as Washington’s failure to wrangle concessions out of Israel‘s hardline government. In an unusually blunt appeal, Abbas said that if Obama believes Palestinian statehood is a vital U.S. interest, then the American leader must take forceful steps to bring it about.

  • Israel must hold fast to Jerusalem, the apple of God’s eye

Southern Asia

An increase in terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan triggered a spike in the number of civilians killed or wounded there last year, pushing South Asia past the Middle East as the top terror region in the world, according to figures compiled by a U.S. intelligence agency. Thousands of civilians overwhelmingly Muslim continue to be killed in extremist attacks, contributing to the instability of the often shaky, poverty-stricken governments in the region, the statistics compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center show. The struggling nations provide havens for terrorists who are increasingly targeting the U.S. and other Western nations. At the same time, U.S.-led operations against insurgents increased in both countries. The rise in violence in South Asia was offset by a continued decline in attacks in Iraq, leading to an overall decrease in terrorism worldwide in 2009, compared with 2008. In Iraq, the number of attacks fell by nearly a third from 2008 to 2009, and suicide bombings have plunged from more than 350 in 2007 to about 80 last year.

Afghanistan

Insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has offered rewards for the killing of U.S. troops in jihad. He says he helped Osama bin Laden escape Tora Bora. His followers were among those arrested in an assassination plot against President Hamid Karzai. Yet a delegation of Hekmatyar‘s insurgent group Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party) recently spent several weeks in a Kabul hotel discussing sharing power with the Afghan government and his envoys had two personal chats with Karzai. Despite his past, supporters of Karzai’s government say negotiations with Hekmatyar indicate the possible beginning of the end of the eight-year war. Others are not so sure that a man who figures greatly in the country’s bloody power struggles in the past quarter century is sincere. Hekmatyar is one of two warlords (the other is former mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani) who control swaths of Afghanistan and have launched many attacks against NATO troops in conjunction with the Taliban.

Pakistan

Police say a suicide car bomber has killed four police officers near northwest Pakistan’s main city of Peshawar. Senior police official Liaquat Ali Khan says the attacker rammed his vehicle into an armored police vehicle at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the city Wednesday morning. The blast also wounded at least 11 people, including four civilians.

Iraq

The front-runner in Iraq‘s recent parliamentary elections on Wednesday called for the formation of an impartial caretaker government to prevent the country from sliding into violence and counter what he says are efforts to change the vote results. Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite whose cross-sectarian coalition narrowly won the most votes in the March 7 polling, said that disqualifying candidates and holding recounts is a violation of the people’s vote and an attempt to “steal the will of the Iraqi people.” The call comes after an Iraqi court charged with investigating election-related complaints disqualified one of his candidates, over alleged ties to the former regime. The commission is also suggesting that several other candidates lose their seats.

Two Iraqi soldiers were killed Tuesday in an overnight mortar attack on a security station in a Shiite neighborhood in northern Baghdad. Another 14 people were wounded in the 1 a.m. attack on the joint Iraqi army-police office in the capital’s Hurriyah area. Three mortars hit the security station.

Thailand

Thai security forces fired into a crowd of anti-government protesters during a clash just outside Bangkok on Wednesday as they tried to keep the Red Shirts from expanding their demonstrations from a base in the capital. One soldier was killed, and at least 18 protesters were hurt. The Red Shirts, whose protests have paralyzed parts of the capital for weeks in their campaign to bring down a government they view as illegitimate, had announced that they were widening their demonstrations and dared the military to stop them as hundreds headed on motorbikes and pickups to a planned rally in a suburb.

Sudan

Sudan‘s president, Omar al-Bashir, won another term in office Monday with a comfortable majority in elections marred by boycotts and fraud allegations, becoming the first head-of-state to be re-elected while facing an international arrest warrant for war crimes. Sudan’s first multiparty presidential, parliamentary and local elections in 24 years were a key requirement of a 2005 peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war between the predominantly Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the Christian-animist south. The fighting left 2 million people dead and many more displaced. The elections also opened the way for a 2011 referendum in which the south will decide whether it wants to secede.

Weather

Winds gusting more than 100 mph downed power lines in northern Nevada on Tuesday, causing power outages for thousands of Reno residents and wreaking havoc with travel as a storm dumped snow and rain on the Sierra. The California Highway Patrol closed part of westbound U.S. Interstate 80 north of Lake Tahoe Tuesday morning after wind flipped a truck on its side and snow began to fall. As much as a foot of snow is expected in the upper elevations. About 5,000 homes and businesses were without power in Reno, where the wind ripped shingles off roofs, toppled fences, blew a school bus’ door off its hinges and uprooted hundreds of trees, including a 70-foot-tall pine.

A late-season storm expected to dump as much as a foot of snow across the hills and mountains of northern New York and New England was a boon for skiers and ski resorts in a region largely spared by the massive storms that blasted the rest of the nation this winter.

Storm-weary Mississippians might were facing another possible round of severe weather this weekend, only days after tornadoes plowed through the state and left a wide swath of destruction. National Weather Service meteorologist Daniel Lamb said Tuesday that a “potent” storm system could hit Friday or Saturday, possibly stalling and dumping enough rain to cause some flooding.

April 26, 2010

Government to Appeal Ruling Against National Day of Prayer

The Obama administration said Thursday it will appeal a court decision that found the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison ruled last week the National Day of Prayer that Congress established 58 years ago amounts to a call for religious action. In a notice filed Thursday, the Justice Department said it will challenge the decision in the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. The notice came after about two dozen members of Congress condemned the ruling and pressed for an appeal. The case was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group of atheists and agnostics who argue the National Day of Prayer violates the separation of church and state. Its co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, said, “I would have expected something better from a legal scholar,” she said, referring to President Barack Obama’s background as a law professor.

  • Obama and his socialist administration will use this situation to curry favor with Christians while furthering the goal of religious tolerance to turn a Judeo-Christian nation into an interfaith conglomeration.

Federal Court Says Church Bells Are Constitutional

Religion News Service reports that a federal court has ruled a Phoenix city ordinance trying to limit the sound of church bells is an unconstitutional impingement on religious expression. In 2007, one day after Christ the King Cathedral moved to a space near a fire station, neighbors complained the church’s electronic bells — rung every hour, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — violated the city’s noise ordinance. Although the church attempted to appease neighbors by erecting a buffer on its speakers and passing out informational flyers, the city filed a misdemeanor complaint last year. The church’s pastor, Bishop Rick Painter, was found guilty in city court and sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years probation, though he never served time in jail. On Monday, the federal court ruled in favor of the church bells, saying the city cannot prohibit “sound generated in the course of religious expression.”

States Seek New Ways to Restrict Abortions

Dozens of states are passing or debating new restrictions on abortion, a trend fueled in part by passage of the nation’s new health care law. The most significant legislation, both sides say, is a Nebraska law signed by the governor this month that would ban most abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy based on a new rationale that the fetus feels pain. Legal challenges are likely. Previously, abortion bans were based on when a fetus could survive outside the womb, generally beginning around 22 weeks, according to medical studies. At least 22 states have bills to increase counseling or waiting periods; 18 states have bills to expand the use of ultrasound. Tennessee lawmakers last week passed a bill that would ban abortion coverage in any plan sold through future government-run health marketplaces — called exchanges .

Oklahoma Governor Vetoes Two Abortion Bills

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry vetoed two abortion bills that he said are an unconstitutional attempt by the Legislature to insert government into the private lives and decisions of citizens. One measure would have required women to undergo an intrusive ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting abortions. Henry said Friday that legislation is flawed because it does not allow rape and incest victims to be exempted. Lawmakers who supported the vetoed measures promised an override vote in the House and Senate as early as next week. A national abortion rights group has said the ultrasound bill would have been among the strictest anti-abortion measures in the United States if it had been signed into law.

Ariz. Governor Signs Immigration Enforcement Bill

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law the nation’s toughest legislation against illegal immigration Friday, a sweeping measure which President Obama said could violate people’s civil rights. With hundreds of people surrounding the state Capitol, protesting that the bill would lead to civil rights abuses, Brewer said she wouldn’t tolerate racial profiling by police. She said critics were “overreacting.” “We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act,” Brewer said after signing the law. “But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.”

The bill, sent to the Republican governor by the Republican-led Legislature, would make it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. It would also require local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants. Obama said earlier Friday that he’s instructed the Justice Department to examine the Arizona bill to see if it’s legal, and said the federal government must enact immigration reform at the national level or leave the door open to “irresponsibility by others.” Saying the United States “must remain a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws,” President Obama called today for changes to a “broken” immigration system and condemned a new Arizona law requiring migrants to carry documentation.

  • The USA is a nation of legal immigrants

GOP Attacks on SEC over Porn Surfing Staffers

Republicans are stepping up their criticism of the Securities and Exchange Commission following reports that senior agency staffers spent hours surfing pornographic websites on government-issued computers while they were supposed to be policing the nation’s financial system. California Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said it was “disturbing that high-ranking officials within the SEC were spending more time looking at porn than taking action to help stave off the events that put our nation’s economy on the brink of collapse.” The SEC’s inspector general conducted 33 investigations of employees looking at explicit images in the past five years, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press. The memo says 31 of those investigations occurred in the 2 ½ years since the financial system teetered and nearly crashed.

  • Laws and government oversight are not enough to overcome humanity’s sinful nature. Jesus is the only answer.

Military’s Health Care Costs Booming

Military health care spending is rising twice as fast as the nation’s overall health care costs, consuming a larger chunk of the defense budget as the Pentagon struggles to pay for two wars, military budget figures show. The surging costs are prompting the Pentagon and Congress to consider the first hike in out-of-pocket fees for military retirees and some active-duty families in 15 years, said Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, deputy director of TRICARE, the military health care program. Pentagon spending on health care has increased from $19 billion in 2001 to a projected $50.7 billion in 2011, a 167% increase. The rapid rise has been driven by a surge in mental health and physical problems for troops who have deployed to war multiple times and by a flood of career military retirees fleeing less-generous civilian health programs.

Drinking, R-Rated Films Linked in Children

Middle-schoolers who are forbidden to watch R-rated movies are less likely to start drinking than peers whose parents are more lenient about such films, new research on 2,406 children shows. Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School found that among those whose parents let them watch R-rated movies “all the time,” almost a quarter had tried a drink without their parents’ knowledge. That compares with barely 3% who tried a drink among those who were “never allowed” to watch R-movies. The outcome isn’t based on other parenting decisions, such as keeping greater tabs on children’s media use, says pediatrician James Sargent, co-author of the study. He says researchers controlled for parenting style and still found “the movie effect is over-and-above that effect.”

Colony Collapse of Bees Worsens

In what appears to be a honeybee mystery of Armageddon proportions that has baffled scientists and beekeepers, more than one-third of the nation’s commercial honeybee population is mysteriously disappearing – and researchers warn the unexplained phenomenon threatens one-third of the American diet. In collapsed colonies, adult bees mysteriously disappear, and there is no accumulation of dead bees. Even hive pests such as wax moths and hive beetles are nowhere to be found around affected colonies. Experts warn the implications for the world’s agriculture are nothing to be ignored: according to the United States Department of Agriculture, a full one-third of the human diet depends on honeybee pollination of crops – especially fruit, nut, vegetable and seed production in the United States.

Sallie May to Cut 2,500 Jobs

Sallie Mae says a new law that cuts banks out of the federal student loan business is costing 2,500 workers their jobs. The nation’s largest student lender has told 1,200 staffers in service centers in Killeen, Texas, and Panama City, Fla., they will lose their jobs by year-end. The remaining cuts will follow in 2011, resulting in nearly a third of the company’s total work force of 8,000 losing their jobs. The law strips the middleman role in student lending away from banks. It’s expected to save at least $60 billion in fees that went to banks to process government-backed student loans. Sallie Mae, which wrote a record $7.7 billion in federal student loans in the first three months of the year, says it will also mean a drastic reshaping of the company.

  • Didn’t Obama say the Healthcare bill would increase jobs?

Economic News

Regulators shut down seven banks in Illinois on Friday, putting the number of U.S. bank failures this year at 57. There were 140 bank failures in the U.S. last year, the highest annual tally since 1992 at the height of the savings and loan crisis. They cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Fund more than $30 billion. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008 and only three succumbed in 2007.

As of Friday the Dow Jones industrial average has entered its longest winning streak in more than six years. The Dow Jones industrial average closed the day higher for the 11th time in the past 12 trading days. Friday’s 70-point gain wrapped up the index’s eighth straight weekly rise, which matches its longest string of gains since a two-month stretch that ended in January 2004. Analysts have been saying for weeks that the market could be primed for a pullback, yet it still hasn’t materialized.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is telling Congress that the administration believes the final cost of the government’s heavily criticized financial bailout effort could be as low as $87 billion. A year ago, officials were estimating the bailout could cost as much as $500 billion. He said because of the lower costs, the federal deficit and the total national debt will be lower than earlier projections. In addition to the $117 billion in TARP losses, the administration is estimating losses of $85 billion from the support to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those two categories of losses would be offset by the $115 billion in earnings the administration expects will be realized from the Fed’s support programs.

  • Creative accounting?

China

For years, China curbed its once-explosive population growth with a widely hated one-child limit that at its peak led to forced abortions, sterilizations and even infanticide. Now the long-sacrosanct policy may be on its way out, as some demographers warn that China is facing the opposite problem: not enough babies. Officially, the government remains committed to the one-child policy. But it also commissioned feasibility studies last year on what would happen should it eliminate the policy or do nothing. An official with the National Population and Family Planning Commission said privately that the agency is looking at ways to refine the limit without getting rid of it.

Mexico

Gunmen armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked a convoy carrying the top security official of the western state of Michoacan on Saturday, killing four and wounding 10 in Mexico’s second brazen ambush in as many days. Gunmen also ambushed two police vehicles at a busy intersection in Ciudad Juarez on Friday, killing seven officers and a 17-year-old boy who was passing by, authorities said. Two local police officers remain in critical condition. Ciudad Juarez is one of the world’s deadliest cities, and a two-year turf battle between drug cartels has left more than 5,000 people dead.

Afghanistan

Dozens of Afghan schoolgirls have fallen ill in recent days after reporting a strange odor in their classrooms, prompting an investigation into whether they were targeted by militants who oppose education for girls or victims of mass hysteria. Either way, the reports from three schools within two miles of one another in the northern province of Kunduz have raised alarm in a city threatened by the Taliban and their militant allies.

Pakistan

A suicide car bomber attacked a prison van while gunmen torched six NATO oil tankers in separate strikes Saturday that killed four Pakistani police officers and wounded 10 others. The army, meanwhile, kept up its pressure on the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal belt, killing 20 suspected fighters, while apparent U.S. missiles killed five alleged insurgents in a nearby northwest region, officials said. U.S. officials do not publicly acknowledge being behind the missile attacks. The missiles are fired from unmanned drones launched either from Afghanistan or according to some media reports from secret bases in Pakistan.

Sudan

Sudanese officials say clashes along the country’s north-south border between soldiers from south Sudan’s army and Arab nomads have left scores killed and wounded in south Darfur. Abdullah Massar, a presidential adviser from the Arab tribe involved, said Sunday that local tribal officials report more than 50 Arab nomads were killed in the fighting with soldiers from the southern Sudan’s People Liberation Army. Tension along the north-south border is particularly sensitive in Sudan because much of the border is not demarcated. Southern Sudan will vote next year on whether to separate from the north.

Korea

An explosion from a torpedo likely sank a South Korean warship that went down near the tense border with North Korea last month, the South’s defense minister said Sunday amid growing speculation Pyongyang may be behind the blast. Seoul has not directly blamed North Korea for the blast, and Pyongyang has denied its involvement, but suspicion remains given the country’s history of provocation and attacks on the South.

Thailand

Hopes for a quick, peaceful resolution to Thailand’s political crisis dimmed Sunday after the prime minister rejected a compromise proposal for dissolving parliament and protesters hit back by withdrawing from negotiations. The breakdown of talks Saturday heightened fears of a new confrontation between security forces and the red shirted protesters who have virtually shut down central Bangkok. The protesters, who claim the government took power illegitimately, had previously demanded Parliament be dissolved immediately, while the government said it would disband parliament in six months.

Weather

Severe storms sent tornadoes across the state Saturday afternoon, killing at least 12. Hundreds of homes were damaged in the tornado, which carved a path of devastation from the Louisiana line to east-central Mississippi, and at least three dozen people were hurt.

April 23, 2010

Volcano

Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences reports that as of Thursday, the  Eyjafjallajökull volcano was producing 10 times less lava and ash as it did during its first three days of eruption. The eruption is also much less explosive that in was at first. It’s estimated that the volcano has produced a total of about 3,280 million cubic feet of erupted material, a combination of lava and tephra (volcanic materials such as dust, ashes, or pumice).

European airports sent thousands of planes into the sky Thursday after a week of unprecedented disruptions, but shifting winds sent a new plume of volcanic ash over Scandinavia, forcing some airports in Norway and Sweden to close again. But nearly all of the continent’s 28,000 other scheduled flights, including more than 300 flights on lucrative trans-Atlantic routes, were going ahead.

Bishops Resigns Over Sex Abuse

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop who admitted he didn’t challenge the Dublin church’s policy of covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests. Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare is the third Irish bishop to resign in four months as a result of the Irish sex abuse scandal. Another two have offered to go, as the Vatican comes under increasing pressure to get rid of the bishops who covered up for priests who sodomized and molested children for decades unchecked. Belgium’s longest serving bishop resigned Friday, saying he was “enormously sorry” for having sexually abused a young boy about 25 years ago. Hundreds of people have come forward in recent months, including in Benedict’s native Germany, accusing priests of raping and abusing them while bishops and church higher-ups turned a blind eye.

Vatican to Finance Adult Stem Cell Research

The Vatican will finance new research into the potential use of adult stem cells in the treatment of intestinal and possibly other diseases, officials announced Friday. The Vatican has agreed to donate $2.7 million to the research, which is led by the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine. The church is opposed to embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of embryos, but it supports the use of adult stem cells. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said adult stem cell research respects human life, which according to church teachings begins at conception. The Vatican has drawn criticism for its opposition to embryonic stem cell research. But the Vatican insists there are scientifically viable alternatives.

  • So far, only adult stem cell research has resulted in any substantial breakthroughs

Army disinvites Graham to Pentagon Prayer Day

Evangelist Franklin Graham’s invitation to speak at a Pentagon prayer service has been rescinded because his comments about Islam were inappropriate, the Army said Thursday. Graham, the son famed evangelist Billy Graham, in 2001 described Islam as evil. More recently, he has said he finds Islam offensive and wants Muslims to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins. “We’re an all-inclusive military,” Collins said. “We honor all faiths. … Our message to our service and civilian work force is about the need for diversity and appreciation of all faiths.” The Military Religious Freedom Foundation had raised the objection to Graham’s appearance, citing his past remarks about Islam.

  • “All-inclusive” and “diversity” of faith implies that all have equal merit, meaning none are true. Islam is a false religion that promotes forced conversions or death to all non-Muslims. It is an evil religion.

Report Says Health Care will Cover More, Cost More

President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law is getting a mixed verdict in the first comprehensive look by neutral experts: More Americans will be covered, but costs are also going up. Economic experts at the Health and Human Services Department concluded in a report issued Thursday that the health care remake will achieve Obama’s aim of expanding health insurance adding 34 million to the coverage rolls. ut the analysis also found that the law falls short of the president’s twin goal of controlling runaway costs. The report projected that Medicare cuts could drive about 15 percent of hospitals and other institutional providers into the red, “possibly jeopardizing access” to care for seniors.

Some 3 million middle-class Americans will be required to pay a penalty for not getting health insurance under the Obama administration’s new health care law, raising questions about the president’s willingness to break a campaign promise by increasing taxes on some families earning less than $250,000. A Congressional Budget Office analysis released Thursday said the average cost of the penalty will be slightly more than $1,000 apiece in 2016.

Banks Receiving Government Aid Cut Loans, Increased Salaries

Banks that received federal assistance during the financial crisis reduced lending more aggressively and gave bigger pay raises to employees than institutions that didn’t get aid, a USA TODAY/American University review found. The reduction of credit during the worst of the recession raises questions about whether the $247 billion assistance program achieved one of its primary goals: to stimulate the economy by reviving the flow of credit to businesses and individuals. The amount of loans outstanding to businesses and individuals fell 9.1% for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2009, at banks that participated in TARP compared with a 6.2% drop at banks that didn’t. Average pay at banks getting aid rose 9.4% in the program’s first year. By contrast, non-TARP banks increased salaries 1.8%.Government-aided banks increased branches by 2.7% while non-TARP banks cut branches by 1.2%.

  • Government boondoggle, greedy banks, taxpayer angst

Americans See Obama Inviting Attack

Nearly two of three Americans surveyed in a new poll believe the United States is more likely to be targeted in an attack – either by a hostile military or a terrorist organization – because of the policies of President Obama. Citing the possibility of either a terrorist attack or a military assault on U.S. shores, the poll, the first national assessment to address the issue, asked, “Do you think the current policies of the Obama administration are making it more or less likely that the U.S. will suffer such an attack?” Forty-six percent responded much more likely and another 13.6 percent somewhat more likely. Only about 28 percent said somewhat less likely or much less likely. Even a combined 28 percent of Democrats conceded an attack was somewhat more or much more likely. The categories included more than 92 percent of Republicans and more than 60 percent of independents.

Obama Pushing Israel to Carve Up Jerusalem

The Obama administration is pushing Israel to hand the Palestinian Authority full control of a major neighborhood in Jerusalem as a so-called confidence-building gesture to jumpstart Israeli-PA negotiations, according to WorldNetDaily.com. According to sources in both the PA and in the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Obama administration has demanded from Israel as “confidence-building gestures” toward the Palestinians ahead of any negotiations that Israel to transfer to the PA the town of Abu Dis, a largely Arab neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem that borders key Jerusalem roadways and is home to about 12,000 residents. Some Arab homes in the neighborhood are built illegally on Jewish-owned land.

Government Program Moves People Out of Nursing Homes

A program, known as Money Follows the Person, is the nation’s most ambitious effort to move people out of nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities. It aims to help them live on their own and also save tens of millions of dollars for Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled that pays for two-thirds of nursing home bills in the U.S. Nationally, nursing home care averages about $75,190 per patient each year. Care in the home, through such services as meals-on-wheels and daily visits by a health aide, averages $18,000 a year, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.

The program gives nursing home residents personal and financial help to live on their own or in small group settings, as well as payments for costs such as apartment security deposits, household furniture and alterations to make homes or cars accessible to the handicapped. Congress established Money Follows the Person in 2005, and states set a combined goal of moving out more than 37,000 residents from nursing homes and other facilities by 2013. Two years later, just 5,774 residents have moved nationally.

Ocean Life at Risk from Alarming Rise in Acid Levels

With the oceans absorbing more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide an hour, a National Research Council study released Thursday found that the level of acid in the oceans is increasing at an unprecedented rate and threatening to change marine ecosystems. The council said that the oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were before the Industrial Revolution started roughly 200 years ago and that the oceans absorb one-third of today’s carbon-dioxide emissions. As the ocean becomes more acidic, scientists have raised concerns about dissolving coral reefs and potential effects on fish and other sea life. For example, studies have shown that increasing seawater acidity affects photosynthesis, nutrient acquisition, growth, reproduction and individual survival of certain sea life. Unless emissions are reined in, ocean acidity could increase by 200 percent by the end of the century and even more in the next century, scientists warn.

  • During the Great Tribulation, one-third of ocean life is prophesied to die (Rev. 8:8-9)

Thrift Stores Struggle to Stay Open

Non-profit groups across the country say they are hurting from a recession-fueled decline in thrift store donations, and the pain is being passed down to thrifty shoppers, who increasingly rely on second-hand stores to stretch in hard times. The groups, such as the Salvation Army, rely on thrift shop sales to finance their charitable operations. “Demand is up, but donations are down,” says Major Man-Hee Chang, who is in charge of the Salvation Army’s thrift stores. Salvation Army donations are off 20% in California and other Western states. The South and Mid-Atlantic have also seen declines in clothing and household item donations. Goodwill Industries International CEO Jim Gibbons says demand at Goodwill’s stores “is going through the roof” because of the recession. “The demand and need is … 10 times bigger than our ability to keep up with it,” he says. One-quarter of the local Goodwill operations report donation declines.

U.S. Debt to Hit $20 Trillion in 10 Years

While the global financial system remains transfixed by the problems of Greece and several other European countries risking default over their massive debts, the real threat is whether the credit standing and currency stability of the world’s biggest borrower, the United States, will be jeopardized by its disastrous outlook on deficits and debt. That’s the fear raised in a devastating Op-Ed on the Financial Times website written by Robert Altman, a former deputy U.S. Treasury secretary under President Clinton. “America’s fiscal picture is even worse than it looks,” Altman writes. “The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office just projected that over 10 years, cumulative deficits will reach $9.7 trillion and federal debt 90 percent of gross domestic product. The CBO projects the size of the federal debt to increase by nearly 250 percent over 10 years, from $7.5 trillion to a whopping $20 trillion.

Economic News

Home sales rose more than expected in March, reversing three months of declines, as government incentives drew in buyers and kicked off what’s expected to be a strong spring selling season. The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of previously occupied homes rose 6.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million last month, the highest level since December. New-home sales rose 26.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 411,000 last month as buyers snatched up properties ahead of the tax credit that’s set to expire.

First-time claims for jobless benefits fell 24,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 456,000. The drop comes after claims rose in the previous two weeks. The four-week average of claims, which smooths volatility, increased 2,750 to 460,250. Applications for jobless benefits peaked during the recession at 651,000 in March 2009. A normal level is about 350,000. The tally of people continuing to claim benefits, meanwhile, dropped by 40,000 to 4.65 million.

Employers in March added 162,000 jobs, the most in three years. But the pace of the economic recovery and job creation hasn’t been robust enough to quickly drive down the unemployment rate. It’s been stuck at 9.7% for three months, close to its highest levels since the 1980s.

A wholesale price index rose more than expected last month as food prices surged the most in 26 years. The Labor Department also said the Producer Price Index rose 0.7% in March. The jump in food prices and a rise in gas prices pushed up the index. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, wholesale prices rose just 0.1%.

New orders for durable manufactured goods dropped last month. But excluding the volatile transportation sector, orders rose the most since the recession began. The report is a sign that the once-battered manufacturing sector is healing.

Greece

Markets hammered Greece on Thursday after the EU revised the debt-ridden country’s deficit and debt figures upward, sending Greece’s borrowing costs to unsustainably high levels and pushing Athens closer to an expensive rescue. Further bad news emerged as ratings agency Moody’s Investor Services downgraded its rating on Greece’s debt. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Friday called for the activation of a joint eurozone-International Monetary Fund financial rescue to pull his country out of a major debt crisis. Saying financial-market pressure threatened to derail Greece‘s economy with high borrowing costs, Papandreou said he had made a formal request for the plan’s activation. The IMF’s managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, promised “to move expeditiously on this request.”

Israel

Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat was targeted Thursday morning by two Katyusha rockets fired from the Egyptian Sinai, but the 107 mm rockets overshot the Red Sea resort and instead landed in the open sea and one in an industrial zone in the neighboring Jordanian city of Aqaba. The IDF is still investigating the source of the attack. The attempted rocket attack on the city follows a “concrete” warning earlier this week by the Israeli Counter-Terrorism Bureau that terrorists were planning to attack or kidnap Israeli citizens visiting the Sinai. In 2005, an al-Qaida linked terror cell fired rockets from inside Jordan at the Eilat airport.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say a series of explosions mainly targeting Shiite worshippers have killed at least 58 people. The violence appeared to be an attempt by insurgents to demonstrate they are still a potent force days after Iraqi authorities announced the killings of the top two al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders in what was seen as a major blow. The biggest of Friday’s bombings targeted the offices of an anti-U.S. Shiite cleric in the vast slum of Sadr City in Baghdad. Police and hospital officials said at least 25 people were killed and more than 100 wounded there. At least 33 people were killed in other explosions, including in western Iraq.

Afghanistan

NATO agreed Friday to begin handing over control of Afghanistan to the Afghan government this year, a process that if successful would enable President Obama to meet his target date of July 2011 for starting to bring U.S. troops home. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the 28-nation alliance is on track with its new strategy for winding down the war in Afghanistan, despite security setbacks and a continuing shortage of foreign trainers for the fledgling Afghan police and army. He said a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, agreed on what it will take to create conditions enabling Afghans to assume control of their own country. He was not specific about what those conditions will be, but said progress in that direction is important in order to avoid further erosion of public support for the war effort.

U.S. government contractor deaths in Afghanistan more than doubled last year as violence and American troop levels increased. The Labor Department received at least 141 insurance claims for contractor deaths in Afghanistan last year, up from 55 in 2008, department records show. U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan doubled to 311 last year. The department collects the claims figures as part of a workers’ compensation program that provides benefits for injuries or deaths at companies doing U.S. government work overseas. The program paid out about $200 million in 2008, up from $9.4 million in 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began.

Pakistan

Militants ambushed a Pakistani army convoy traveling in a tribal region filled with insurgent groups focused on the war in neighboring Afghanistan, killing seven soldiers, the military said Friday. The attack Thursday could raise pressure on Islamabad to wage an offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region, which has largely escaped Pakistani army action in recent years despite U.S. pressure for a crackdown. Sixteen soldiers also were wounded in the attack, one of the worst known to have occurred against the army in the region in several months. Pakistan has carried out several army operations in its semiautonomous tribal belt, where al-Qaeda and various Taliban factions have long thrived.

Thailand

Soldiers and civilians hauled away bloodied victims after a series of grenade attacks Thursday in a new burst of violence in Thailand’s chaotic capital — the scene of a tense, weekslong standoff between anti-government protesters and security forces. Three people were killed and 75 people wounded, according to the government’s Erawan emergency center. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said attackers shot five M-79 grenades from a nearby area where the anti-government Red Shirt protesters are encamped. The Red Shirts consist mainly of poor rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006 after months of demonstrations by the Yellow Shirts. With the “People’s Alliance for Democracy” (yellow shirts) calling for an appointed parliament, and the red shirts claiming to represent the majority after having won 30+ % in the last election, a quick solution is not in sight.

Russia

The president of Georgia confirmed Wednesday that his country seized a shipment of highly enriched uranium, and blamed Russia for creating the instability that allows nuclear smugglers to operate in the region. President Mikhail Saakashvili declined to divulge details of the seizure but said the uranium was intercepted last month coming into his country in the Caucasus region of southeast Europe. Saakashvili’s government no longer controls two breakaway sections of Georgia, separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which declared independence after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, and the president said the smuggling is evidence of a security black hole in the Islamic area.

Mexico

Some Mexican companies complain they are being unfairly accused of money laundering as the United States and Mexico launch new efforts to dismantle the financial empires of drug traffickers. Since 2006, the U.S. Treasury has nearly doubled the number of Mexican companies listed on its international blacklist of alleged drug traffickers and terrorists, from 121 to 220. It is also pouring millions of dollars into software and training to help Mexican authorities investigate financial crimes. But some companies say U.S. authorities have gone overboard by blacklisting law-abiding firms and freezing their assets.

Troops battled a suspected drug gang in a wealthy neighborhood on the outskirts of Mexico City and captured an alleged major trafficker with a $2 million U.S. bounty on his head, officials announced on Thursday. Jose Gerardo Alvarez Vazquez — known as “El Indio” or “El Chayan” — is suspected of being responsible for a spike in violence in states near the capital as part of a struggle for control of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel. Authorities said Alvarez Vazquez, 45, was arrested along with 14 other suspected drug traffickers during a Wednesday night shootout in Huixquilucan, just west of the capital.

April 21, 2010

Volcano Plume Thins

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano that is wreaking havoc with European air traffic may be reverting to a more normal, lava-spewing phase after the past six days of explosive eruption, seismologists say. Geologists in Iceland on Monday reported that the volcano is producing less smoke and ash and more lava and chunks of molten rock. As of late Monday, the ash plume from the volcano was very elongated and thin, and stretched as far east as mid-Russia and as far west as Newfoundland and Labrador. Northwesterly winds are forecast to continue funneling the ash plume into the United Kingdom and Western Europe the next few days.

Britain reopened its airspace Tuesday evening and air controllers lifted all restrictions on German airspace on Wednesday, paving the way for more flights into one of Europe’s busiest airports. Flights resumed in many areas, but the situation was anything but normal as airlines worked through an enormous backlog after canceling over 95,000 flights in the last week. Airlines announced they had cancelled over 80,000 flights and lost at least $1.7 billion and criticized government actions during the volcanic ash crisis. Giovanni Bisignani, the head of the International Air Transport Association, called the economic fallout from the six-day travel shutdown “devastating” and urged European governments to examine ways to compensate airlines for lost revenues.

Martyred: 176,000 Christians in 1 Year

A new ministry partnership has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the fact that an estimated 176,000 Christians around the world were martyred – killed for their faith – in a one-year period from the middle of 2008 to the middle of 2009. That’s 482 deaths per day, one every three minutes. Martyrdom didn’t go away with the Middle Ages, according to reports from Open Doors USA, which now has combined efforts with actor Kirk Cameron of “The Way of the Master” ministry as well as evangelist Ray Comfort of Living Waters ministry to focus on those who are being persecuted for their faith. Emeal Zwayne, executive vice president of Living Waters, said that few Christians in the U.S. are even aware that many Christians today are being martyred for their faith. “It’s so hard to believe that in this day and age so many Christians are losing their life for their faith. It’s as though we in the U.S. live in a different world from the rest of the Body of Christ,” he said. Zwayne said the ministries have been working together “to try and draw attention to the plight of the Persecuted Church.”

National ID Card Included in Immigration Reform Bill

Objections are being raised over a proposed immigration reform measure that involves a provision calling for a national ID card. Senators Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) have proposed the biometric national ID card, but a coalition of groups has written a letter voicing opposition to it. John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, tells OneNewsNow that everyone seeking employment will be required to present the biometric ID, and employers will have to use scanners to verify citizenship. “It will contain your fingerprint, your retina scan information, even a mapping of the veins in the top of your head and other information that is uniquely identifiable to you as an individual,” Whitehead explains. Personal and financial records would be included on the ID card as well, so the Rutherford Institute president warns that the idea could eventually result in government-issued radio frequency identification (RFID) tags which would allow the government to track people. If this bill is passed, the Rutherford Institute plans to file for religious objections. When the biometric ID idea was proposed during his administration, President Ronald Reagan referred to the cards as “the mark of the beast.”

Health-Care Mandates Could be ‘Null and Void’

A group of Americans who believe the federal government overstepped its constitutional bounds in passing the recent health-care legislation is rallying allies to a bold and controversial initiative: state nullification of the federal law. The Tenth Amendment Center is reaching back into the history books to suggest states take up “nullification,” a controversial measure that would essentially involve states saying to the federal government, “Not in our borders, you don’t. That law has no effect here.” The Center is partnering with WeRefuse.com to announce release of model nullification legislation for states, called the Federal Health Care Nullification Act, and a call for 100,000 Americans to join a state-by-state petition to prompt legislators into action. “Nullification will allow Americans to stop the overreaching federal government now, not years from now,” said Trevor Lyman of WeRefuse.com.

SEC Investigating Use of Accounting Trick at 19 biggest Banks

The Securities and Exchange Commission is examining whether any of the 19 largest U.S. banks are using an accounting trick that a bankruptcy examiner has said led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said Tuesday. Schapiro testified at a congressional hearing that the SEC is scrutinizing Lehman’s use of the accounting move, known as Repo 105, that allowed it to mask its weakness before it failed. She said the agency has sent letters to the 19 banks, seeking information about any such transactions. Lehman’s collapse was the biggest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history and threw global financial markets into crisis. The hearing probed the bankruptcy examiner’s report that said the firm masked $50 billion in debt. The “trick” was to sell securities — mainly those made up of mortgages — at the end of a quarter. That wiped them off its balance sheet, avoiding the scrutiny of regulators and shareholders. Then the bank quickly repurchased them — hence the term “repo.”

Economic News

Ballooning government debt poses the greatest risk to global financial stability and threatens to overshadow the improving health of major banks, according to a stark new warning from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF warning comes as government, or sovereign, debt fears are rattling Europe. Greece is moving toward formally asking for up to 30 billion euros (or $40.3 billion) in European Union loans along with additional IMF money. Financial tremors from countries such as Greece “could have cross-border spillovers,” the IMF said. Banks in heavily indebted countries could have trouble obtaining enough money to support adequate lending to businesses. Starved of credit, those economies could spiral into decline. Likewise, banks outside Greece could suffer punishing losses on their Greek loans.

The darkest cloud over the economic recovery — the troubled commercial real estate market — may be clearing a bit. Prices of commercial property are up slightly compared with last fall. Loan modifications have risen sharply the past six months. Commercial mortgage-backed securities, a big funding source that was comatose for two years, has come to life recently. The developments won’t alleviate the sector’s biggest problem: the rising pace of defaults. But they should contain the damage and provide a lifeline to better-performing properties, analysts say. Developers put up too many commercial buildings earlier this decade and paid the price when the economy wilted as vacancies rose and rents fell. Default rates jumped to 3.8% from 1.6% in 2009 and will hit 5.1% this year, Real Capital Analytics says.

Tight budgets and falling revenues are prompting cities across the USA to consider selling municipal water and sewer systems to private companies. American Water, which operates in 35 states, is discussing deals with 75 municipalities and other entities. Aqua America, which operates in 14 states, sent letters to thousands of cities in the past year and is talking with about 40 of them, CEO Nick DeBenedictis says. He expects to acquire about 20 systems this year. Cities that do so are “mortgaging their future” by ceding control of a vital asset and rates often climb, says Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch, a non-profit group.

General Motors has repaid the $8.1 billion in loans it got from the U.S. and Canadian governments, a move its CEO says is a sign automaker is on the road to recovery. GM got a total of $52 billion from the U.S. government and $9.5 billion from the Canadian and Ontario governments as it went through bankruptcy protection last year. The U.S. considered $6.7 billion of the aid as a loan, while the Canadian governments held $1.4 billion in loans.

Iraq

An Iraqi court on Monday ordered a recount of more than 2.5 million votes cast in Baghdad during the March 7 parliamentary election, a decision that could tilt the results in favor of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and inflame sectarian tensions after what has already been a contentious election. Al-Maliki’s bloc won 89 of parliament’s 325 seats, putting him just two seats behind former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Neither has been able to cobble together a majority coalition with the support of other parties yet. In the meantime, al-Maliki has been trying to alter the outcome through court appeals and other challenges, and by trying to woo support away from Allawi.

The deaths of two al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq are a blow to the Islamist insurgency but may not signal its defeat, foreign policy analysts said Monday. The deaths were part of a joint operation Sunday that culminated with U.S. and Iraqi troops rocketing the home where al-Baghdadi and al-Masri were hiding out miles from the northern city of Tikrit, the home town of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. An additional 16 terrorism suspects were arrested in the operation, the U.S. military said. Al-Masri, who is Egyptian, replaced the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after he was killed in 2006 in a U.S.-led airstrike. He was the mastermind behind the series of bombings over the past seven months that left hundreds dead.

Afghanistan

NATO troops fired on a vehicle that approached their convoy in eastern Afghanistan, killing four unarmed Afghans and drawing swift condemnation from President Hamid Karzai. NATO said Tuesday two of those killed Monday night were later identified as “known insurgents,” but Karzai and the provincial chief of police, Abdul Hakim Hesaq Zoy, said they were all civilians. Zoy said one of the victims was a 12-year-old boy. The military concluded two of the men were insurgents based on information found in the military’s bio-metric database. NATO released a statement saying the car kept accelerating toward the military convoy despite attempts to flag the vehicle down by flashing lights and firing warning shots. The U.N. has called for better protection of Afghan civilians after the death toll rose last year to its highest level since the 2001 fall of the Taliban regime. Some 2,412 civilians were killed in 2009.

Pakistan

Two bombs, hours apart, exploded in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday, killing 23 people, wounding more than 30, and underscoring the reach of militants despite successive military offensives close to the Afghan border, police said. A suicide bomber was behind the deadly blast, which occurred just before dusk in a crowded market area. Police said the target was apparently officers watching over a rally by members of a political party against power cuts in the city. Ironically, the rally was being held by the Jamat-e-Islami party, an Islamist grouping that is sympathetic to many of the goals of the Taliban and regularly criticizes army operations against them.

April 19, 2010

Volcanoes

A lingering volcanic ash plume forced extended no-fly restrictions over much of Europe over the weekend, as Icelandic scientists warned that volcanic activity had increased and showed no sign of abating — a portent of more travel chaos to come. By late Sunday, more than 63,000 flights had been canceled in 23 European countries, stifling the lifeblood of the continent’s economy. Because few planes are flying, travelers can’t travel, machinery parts can’t get to factories, food sellers can’t transport their goods, and businesses are finding business increasingly difficult to conduct.

Fewer than one-third of the continent’s 28,000 scheduled flights were taking off Monday. The effects of the cloud of volcanic ash that has grounded air travelers throughout much of Europe spread across the United States on Sunday. Europeans trying to fly home found themselves extending their stays at airport hotels. And Americans mourned vacation plans blasted to pieces. Some participants in Monday’s Boston Marathon won’t make the starting line. Bands scheduled to perform at a California music festival missed their gigs, too.

Dutch airline KLM said it safely flew aircraft without passengers through a window in the cloud of volcanic ash over Europe Sunday, and pressed for an end to the total ban on commercial air traffic that has paralyzed travel across the continent. Other airlines including Lufthansa and Air France said they, too, were conducting test flights. Britain could reopen some of its airspace Tuesday after a “dramatic” decrease in ash thrown up by a volcano in Iceland, transport minister Andrew Adonis said Monday. Britain also sent Royal Navy warships on Monday to rescue those stranded across the Channel by the volcanic ash cloud.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck in mountains north of Afghanistan‘s capital early Monday, killing at least seven people and injuring 30, officials said. The temblor hit just before 1 a.m. in Samangan province, about halfway between Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Roads and communications are sparse in the area, and casualty reports take time to reach authorities. The quake was felt in Kabul as well as the neighboring countries of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The death toll from last week’s 6.9-magnitude earthquake in northwest China has risen to 1,944, state media said Monday. An additional 12,315 were injured in the quake Wednesday in Qinghai province. Of the injured, 1,134 are in serious condition. The earthquake toppled about 15,000 homes and caused more than 100,000 people to flee the area.

  • Increased volcanic and seismic activity are key signs of the latter days

4 out of 5 Americans Don’t Trust Washington

For Americans, public confidence in government is at one of the lowest points in a half century, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. Nearly 8 in 10 people in the country say they don’t trust the federal government and have little faith it can solve America’s ills, the survey found. The survey found that just 22% of those questioned say they can trust Washington almost always or most of the time and just 19% say they are basically content with it. Nearly half say the government negatively effects their daily lives, a sentiment that has grown over the past dozen years. This anti-government feeling has driven the so-called tea party movement, reflected in fierce protests this past week. Majorities in the survey call Washington too big and too powerful, and say it’s interfering too much in state and local matters. About half say they want a smaller government with fewer services, compared with roughly 40% who want a bigger government providing more.

World’s View of U.S. Improves Sharply

Most countries around the world now hold a positive view of the United States according to a BBC World Service poll. The poll shows views of the U.S. have improved sharply in Europe, with Spain swinging into the positive column after negative views toward the U.S. fell 23 points. In France, last year’s majority negative view of the U.S. at 53% has dropped 14 points. Overall, 19 countries give U.S influence positive ratings, while six lean negative and two are divided. In only two countries is the negative view of the United States in the majority — Turkey at 70% and Pakistan at 52%. The attitudes, the BBC reports, reflect a marked change, moving up from a low of 28% in 2007.

  • While Obama caters to world perceptions, he’s destroying the core values that made America great. The rest of the world wants us to simply be one of them, not a superpower – that’s why they like what’s going on.

New Financial Rules Required to Avert Another Financial Crisis

The U.S. is destined to endure a new economic crisis that sticks taxpayers with the bill unless Congress tightens oversight of the financial industry, President Obama said Saturday. The overhaul is the next major piece of legislation that Obama wants to sign into law this year, but solid Republican opposition in the Senate is jeopardizing that goal. A proposal that Senate Democrats are readying for debate creates a mechanism for liquidating large financial companies to avoid a meltdown. The proposal also would create a council to detect threats to the financial system and set up a consumer protection agency to police people’s dealings with financial institutions.

  • Good objective, but it’s impossible to completely protect dumb consumers from greedy financiers without further expanding an already bloated federal bureaucracy

Arizona Legalizes Carrying Concealed Gun

In Arizona, it’s now legal for (most) adults to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer just signed the legislation, putting her state in the same camp as Alaska and Vermont. The state had issued 154,000 permits under the old law, which required background checks and instruction. Gun buyers still face federal background checks when purchasing weapons from a store. Currently, carrying a hidden firearm without a permit is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Supporters say gun restrictions only affect people who want to follow the rules because criminals will carry hidden guns regardless of the law.

Support for Gun Control at an All-Time Low

Public support for government control of handguns is at an all-time low, according to a recent Gallup Poll. The percentage supporting gun control decline to 28% in 2009 from 36% in 2004. A recent USA Today poll shows 78% of Americans supporting the statement that “having a gun in the home makes it a safer place to be.”

Illegal Aliens Costly to Taxpayers

A new report from Numbers USA, which advocates for limits on immigration into the United States, says each American paid $330 last year to provide government services for illegal aliens. Numbers USA staffer Chad MacDonald said if an amnesty plan becomes law, allowing illegals from coast-to-coast to suddenly establish citizenship, their retirement program will set U.S. taxpayers back an estimated $2.6 trillion. He said since 1990, immigrants who have come to the U.S. have swelled the welfare rolls. “Fifty-three percent of recent immigrants use welfare services and immigrants who have arrived since 1990 and their legally born children account for a 75 percent growth rate in the nation’s uninsured population,” MacDonald said.

Justice Clarence Thomas: We’re ‘Evading’ Eligibility Issue

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told a House subcommittee that when it comes to determining whether a person born outside the 50 states can serve as U.S. president, the high court is “evading” the issue. The comments came as part of Thomas’ testimony before a House appropriations panel discussing an increase in the Supreme Court’s budget earlier this week. “We’re evading that one,” answered Thomas, referring to questions of presidential eligibility.

White Supremacists, Demonstrators Square Off in L.A.

A white supremacist group rallied against illegal immigration in downtown Los Angeles Saturday as hundreds of counter-protesters gathered to shout them down in a tense standoff that included several arrests, thrown rocks and police in riot gear. Police officers stood between the white supremacists and counter-demonstrators on the south lawn of Los Angeles’ City Hall, where about 50 members of the National Socialist Movement waved American flags and swastika banners for about an hour. The white supremacists, many of them wearing flack helmets and black military fatigue uniforms, shouted “Sieg Heil” before each of their speakers took the podium to taunt counter-protesters with racial, anti-Semitic and misogynistic epithets. Members of the Detroit-based group said they picked the location for their rally because of Los Angeles’ large immigrant population. Group members also said they were reacting to the recent number of street marches across the country encouraging legislators to enact reform that includes amnesty for some illegal immigrants.

28 States to Expand Nurses’ Role

A nurse may soon be your doctor. With a looming shortage of primary care doctors, 28 states are considering expanding the authority of nurse practitioners. These nurses with advanced degrees want the right to practice without a doctor’s watchful eye and to prescribe narcotics. And if they hold a doctorate, they want to be called “Doctor.” For years, nurse practitioners have been playing a bigger role in the nation’s health care, especially in regions with few doctors. With 32 million more Americans gaining health insurance within a few years, the health care overhaul is putting more money into nurse-managed clinics. The medical establishment is fighting to protect turf. In some statehouses, doctors have shown up in white coats to testify against nurse practitioner bills. The American Medical Association, which supported the national health care overhaul, says a doctor shortage is no reason to put nurses in charge and endanger patients.

  • The AMA is another bloated bureaucracy that fights to maintain its stranglehold on national healthcare with complete disregard for the health and wellbeing of its patients (e.g. its attempts to discredit and eliminate proven alternative medicinal remedies)

Economic News

Regulators on Friday shut down eight banks — three in Florida, two in California, and one each in Massachusetts, Michigan and Washington — putting the number of U.S. bank failures this year at 50. Last year, 140 banks failed in the U.S. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008 and three in 2007.

The government has accused Goldman Sachs of defrauding investors by failing to disclose conflicts of interest in mortgage investments it sold as the housing market was collapsing. The Securities and Exchange Commission said in a civil complaint Friday that Goldman failed to disclose that one of its clients helped create — and then bet against — subprime mortgage securities that Goldman (GS) sold to other investors. The allegations are expected to kick off a new era of litigation that could entangle Goldman and other banks for years to come.

Citigroup provided more evidence that the nation’s big banks may have turned a corner, reporting a surprise first-quarter profit Monday as trading revenue offset losses from failed loans. Citigroup said it earned $4.4 billion after payment of preferred dividends, compared with a loss of $696 million a year earlier. The bank cited strong trading of bonds, equities and other securities for its big profit.

Afghanistan

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan said Friday that the coalition depends too much on private-sector contractors Gen. Stanley McChrystal said, “I think we’ve gone too far. I think we would be better to reduce the number of contractors involved.” McChrystal said the use of contractors was founded upon “good intentions,” such as to limit military commitments or to save money for governments. A Congressional Research Service report in January about the Pentagon’s use of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan said that as of September, more than 11,400 private security contractors were in Afghanistan. The issue of contractors — who carry out tasks as diverse as security for diplomats, advisory roles or mercenary work — has been a thorny one for U.S. and some allied commanders and policymakers.

Pakistan

Two suicide bombers dressed in burqas blew themselves up Saturday in a camp for refugees fleeing military offensives in northwestern Pakistan, killing 41 people and wounding 62. The blasts occurred at a food distribution point. The camp is used by foreign humanitarian groups, including the World Food Program, to deliver aid. Meanwhile, the Pakistani army admitted that civilians were killed in an airstrike last Saturday in the northwest that supposedly targeted militants.

Iraq

The planned withdrawal of nearly 45,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of August is on track in spite of a recent increase in attacks by militant forces, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Sunday. There are now about 95,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, according to Army Gen. Ray Odierno. The U.S. plans to cut that number to 50,000 by Aug. 31, when it will end combat operations. As part of an agreement with Iraq, the U.S. will withdraw all forces by the end of 2011.

Wildfires

Wildfire activity was very heavy last week with 2,274 new fires reported, mostly in the eastern half of the country, primarily Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

Weather

Although a large chunk of the USA didn’t get in on the warmth in March, the rest of the world sure did. March was the warmest March ever recorded worldwide, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reported Thursday. NCDC records go back to 1880. According to the climate center, the combined global land and ocean average surface temperature in March was 56.3 degrees, which is 1.39 degrees above the 20th-century average of 54.9 degrees. Additionally, the worldwide ocean surface temperature was the highest for any March on record — 1.01 degree above the 20th century average of 60.7 degrees.

  • With worldwide weather patterns sometimes taking many centuries to fully manifest, drawing conclusions from data going back to 1880 could be spurious

April 16, 2010

Judge Rules National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional Thursday, saying the day amounts to a call for religious action. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic. Congress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group of atheists and agnostics, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2008 arguing the day violated the separation of church and state. President Obama issued a proclamation last year but did not hold public events with religious leaders as former President George W. Bush had done.

  • The Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution prayed to the Judeo-Christian God in Congress, so how can prayer be unconstitutional?

Tea-Partiers Flood Capital on Tax Day

Thousands “Tea Party” protesters marked Tax Day on Thursday by descending on the nation’s capital for demonstrations and seminars in which political pragmatism vied with boiling anger against President Obama. In meetings before and after different rallies, veteran political strategists tried to channel the movement’s energy from street theater to boiler-room organizing. The Tea Party movement, which is strongly against taxes and big government, has no national leader and is not aligned with either major party. Hundreds of additional rallies were held all across the U.S. as well.

Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45. They hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally. And while most Republicans say they are “dissatisfied” with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “angry.”

$18 Billion Jobless Benefits Bill Passed by Congress

Congress is sending President Barack Obama an $18 billion bill to restore unemployment benefits for people who have been out of a job for months and resume full Medicare payments to doctors threatened by a 21% cut. The House cleared the bill Thursday night by a 289-112 tally taken just two hours after it emerged from the Senate on a 59-38 vote that capped an unusually partisan debate. Republicans largely chose to take a stand against the legislation for adding to the $12.8 trillion national despite backing it by wide margins in December and again recently. But the vote comes as welcome relief to hundreds of thousands of people who lost out on the additional weeks of benefits after exhausting their state-paid benefits. They will be able to reapply for long-term unemployment benefits and receive those checks retroactively under the legislation.

Abusive Priests Transferred Around the Globe

In an investigation spanning 21 countries across six continents, The Associated Press found 30 cases of priests accused of abuse who were transferred or moved abroad. Some escaped police investigations. Many had access to children in another country, and some abused again. “The pattern is if a priest gets into trouble and it’s close to becoming a scandal or if the law might get involved, they send them to the missions abroad,” said Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and critic of what he says is a practice of international transfers of accused and admitted priest child abusers. “Anything to avoid a scandal.”

The Vatican on Wednesday tried to defuse growing anger over remarks by the pope’s top aide that the problem behind the pedophile priest scandals is homosexuality and not the church’s celibacy requirement. The Vatican has been increasingly on the defensive from unrelenting contentions that both church hierarchy, by trying to cover up rape and molestation, and church policy, by making celibacy a requirement for the priesthood, are major factors behind decades of often systematic sex abuse in parishes, orphanages, schools and other Catholic institutions around the world.

  • The politics of the Vatican is no different than that of government, a sad testament for Christianity. However, the structure of the Catholic Church is non-Biblical which opens the door wide for Satanic influence.

NPR Changes Archive Regarding President’s Birth

National Public Radio has joined Snopes and UPI among websites that have changed their archives regarding Barack Obama to bring their stories into alignment, in NPR’s case eliminating a statement about the “Kenyan-born” senator “since Obama was born in Hawaii.” NPR’s records were altered shortly after the WorldNetDaily.com story was posted last week. Other organizations have made similar changes.

The U.S. Army says a surgeon who has publicly refused to follow any further orders until he sees documentation that Barack Obama is eligible to be president is being “reassigned” at Walter Reed Army Hospital after he refused to deploy to Afghanistan as scheduled. While there have been reports Lt. Col. Terry Lakin is facing an imminent court-martial, Army spokesman Chuck Dasey told WND today that Lakin is only “under investigation” at this point.

Human Smuggling Shuttles Shut Down

An elaborate human-smuggling network that ferried tens of thousands of illegal immigrants into Arizona using shuttle vans was broken up Thursday during a series of raids, federal authorities said. In what officials called the biggest operation of its kind targeting illegal-immigrant smuggling, 47 people were arrested at five companies in Phoenix, Tucson and Nogales during sweeps involving more than 800 federal agents and local police. Mexican police rounded up more people south of the border in the culmination of a two-year Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation into human smuggling linked to Mexican drug cartels. Owners and employees at the shuttle-van companies are accused of bringing illegal immigrants from Mexico into Arizona, where they often were placed in drophouses and later transported to other U.S. cities. The organization targeted in the raids is accused of illegally transporting more than 80,000 immigrants into the U.S. in the past 10 years. They brought daily van loads of undocumented migrants into the country, using Phoenix as a primary hub.

Maternal Deaths Decline Sharply Across the Globe

For the first time in decades, researchers are reporting a significant drop worldwide in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth, to about 342,900 in 2008 from 526,300 in 1980. The findings, published in the medical journal The Lancet, challenge the prevailing view of maternal mortality as an intractable problem that has defied every effort to solve it. The study cited a number of reasons for the improvement: lower pregnancy rates in some countries; higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of “skilled attendants” — people with some medical training — to help women give birth. Improvements in large countries like India and China helped to drive down the overall death rates.

President Eyes Mars, Not Moon

President Obama took on critics of his space exploration plans Thursday, vowing that his proposals will allow the nation to “reach space faster and more often.” The president said his space program would allow astronauts to visit an asteroid by 2025 for the first time and then orbit Mars by the mid-2030s. Obama’s plans to end the Constellation program, aimed at returning astronauts to the moon, have angered NASA’s supporters in Congress and others, including former Apollo astronauts such as Jim Lovell, who said the president’s vision would end the nation’s leadership role in space exploration. The president’s proposals would affect thousands of NASA workers who are likely to be out of work when the space shuttle soon retires.

Massive Fireball in Midwestern Sky

Authorities in several Midwestern states were flooded Wednesday night with reports of a gigantic fireball lighting up the sky, the National Weather Service said. The fireball was visible for about 15 minutes beginning about 10 p.m., said the National Weather Service in Sullivan, Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee. “Well before it reached the horizon, it broke up into smaller pieces and was lost from sight,” the service said. “Several reports of a prolonged sonic boom were received from areas north of Highway 20, along with shaking of homes, trees and various other objects including wind chimes,” it said. CNN affiliate WISN-TV said that people in Ohio also saw it. Video from WISN showed a massive ball of light exploding across the sky. No explanations have yet been forthcoming.

IMF Preps for Global Catastrophe

In preparation for a possible worldwide financial meltdown, the International Monetary Fund has announced that it is expanding its New Arrangement to Borrow (NAB) multilateral facility from its existing $50 billion by a whopping $500 billion to $550 billion. The current lending participant group of 26 entities will be increased by 13 new members all of whom will contribute token amount of capital to the NAB. The one country most on the hook in the new and revised NAB – the United States of America, will provide over $105 billion in total commitments, or 20% of the total facility. The US is currently on the hook for just $10 billion, meaning its participation in global bail outs just increased by $95 billion. And the bulk of these bailouts will certainly be located across the Atlantic.

  • If the IMF is gearing up to the tune of half-a-trillion dollars, what do they know that we aren’t hearing about?

Economic News

The number of newly laid off people signing up for unemployment benefits climbed for the second straight week, and industrial production edged up just 0.1% in March, lagging expectations. The Labor Department reported Thursday that first-time requests for jobless benefits rose 24,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 484,000, the highest level since late February. The number of people continuing to draw unemployment benefits moved higher. They rose to 4.64 million, from 4.57 million.

Home foreclosures are accelerating — and many more people are losing their homes — more than a year after the government launched a program to aid financially distressed borrowers. Foreclosure filings in March totaled 367,056, jumping nearly 19% from February and up almost 8% from March 2009.

Housing construction posted a better-than-expected performance in March, rising to the highest level in 16 months on the strength of multi-family homes. Overall, construction rose 1.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 626,000. However, construction of single-family homes, the most important segment of the market, fell. It dropped 0.9% to an annual rate of 531,000 units, after a strong 5.7% gain in February.

Federal bank regulators failed to stop “shoddy” lending and excessive risk-taking at Washington Mutual for years because they were too chummy with WaMu executives, a Senate panel says. WaMu’s primary regulator, the Office of Thrift Supervision, failed to properly oversee the bank, according to a report released Thursday by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The OTS’ lax oversight led to WaMu’s failure, the biggest by a U.S. bank, the report said.

Bank of America said Friday its first-quarter earnings rose 0.7% to $2.83 billion as strong trading revenue helped the bank offset continuing losses on consumer loans. The bank reported a $2.1 billion loss in its home mortgage business, but said its other consumer loan businesses were showing signs of healing.

Afghanistan

Deaths of Afghan civilians by NATO troops have more than doubled this year, NATO statistics show, jeopardizing a U.S. campaign to win over the local population by protecting them against insurgent attacks. NATO troops accidentally killed 72 civilians in the first three months of 2010, up from 29 in the same period in 2009. In addition, civilian injuries due to roadside bombs and other explosives in southern Afghanistan have soared so far this year, the International Committee for the Red Cross said in a report, amid rising Taliban violence across much of the country. The Red Cross-supported Mirwais Hospital in the city of Kandahar admitted up to 40% more patients wounded by bombs in the first two months of the year compared to the same period last year, the group said in a report issued Wednesday. The insurgency employs roadside bombs to attack Afghan government forces and NATO troops and spread fear among the populace.

The United Nations said five of its Afghan employees were missing Friday amid reports their vehicles were hijacked in the same northern province where fierce fighting killed four German soldiers and three Afghan police the previous day. Twin bombings Thursday targeted foreign companies in the southern city of Kandahar that killed at least three people.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber attacked a hospital emergency room where Shiite Muslims were mourning a slain bank manager on Friday, killing eight people including a journalist and two policemen in Quetta, Pakistan’s main southwest city. It wasn’t the first time that Shiite mourners have been attacked at hospitals in Pakistan, evidence of a tactic in vogue for their Sunni extremist foes.

Iran

Iran has succeeded in producing its first significant batch of further enriched uranium, the country’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Wednesday, a move defying U.N. demands to halt the controversial program. The uranium has been enriched from around 3.5% to 20% purity, needed to fuel a medical research reactor, Salehi said, according to the ISNA news agency. That level is far below the more than 90% needed to build a nuclear weapon, but U.S. officials have expressed concern Iran may be moving closer to the ability to reach weapons-grade level. Washington is accelerating its campaign for a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend enrichment, as demanded by the United Nations.

Myanmar

Three explosions ripped through traditional New Year festivities in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon on Thursday, killing at least nine people and injuring 60 others There was no indication who was behind the blasts, which occurred at about 3 p.m. near some 20 pavilions erected for the celebrations, close to the city’s Kandawgyi Lake. Myanmar is celebrating the annual four-day water festival, when people drench each other with water to usher in the Myanmar New Year on Saturday. Bombings are rare but not unknown in the cities of Myanmar, whose military rulers are fighting several insurgencies in remote provinces.

Earthquakes

China poured workers and equipment into a mountainous Tibetan region Thursday in a bid to find survivors more than a day after strong earthquakes killed more than 600 people and injured thousands. The series of quakes flattened buildings across remote western Yushu county and sent survivors, many bleeding from their wounds, flooding into the streets of Jiegu township. State television showed block after devastated block of toppled mud and wood homes. Local officials said 85% of the buildings had been destroyed. Survivors spent the night outdoors, where temperatures fell below freezing and aftershocks continued, residents said. With limited medical supplies and doctors, survivors with broken limbs could do no more than wait for help.

Volcanoes

Ash from an erupting volcano blanketed the ground in Iceland on Friday and left a widening trail of grounded aircraft across Europe, as thousands of planes stayed on the tarmac to avoid the hazardous cloud. The flight disruptions that upended travel in Europe and reverberated throughout the world are expected to become even worse on Friday. Half a dozen European nations have closed their air space — and the delays will continue into Saturday, it said. The World Health Organization says Europeans should try to stay indoors if ash from Iceland’s volcano starts raining down from the sky.

The last time Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano blew, the eruption lasted more than a year, from December 1821 until January 1823, reports Sally Sennert, a geologist at the Smithsonian Institution. “This seems similar to what’s happening now,” she says. Volcanic ash is formed during explosive volcanic eruptions. Once in the air, the wind can blow these tiny ash particles tens to thousands of miles away from the volcano. Life-threatening and costly damages can occur to aircraft that fly through an eruption cloud, reports the geological survey. Fortunately for the USA, Sennert says the wind direction is such that the ash cloud is traveling east-southeast, toward Europe and away from the USA.

Weather

Aid workers distributed rice, dried fruits, water and tarpaulins Thursday to the victims of a ferocious cyclone that killed at least 119 people in northeastern India and demolished ten of thousands of mud huts. Rescuers cleared hundreds of uprooted trees and electricity poles blocking roads to the devastated areas in Bihar state. Hundreds of people were injured and thousands left homeless. They were caught unaware as there was no cyclone warning from the weather department.

April 14, 2010

Nuclear Security Summit Yields Accord

Nearly four dozen nations signed a non-binding agreement Tuesday to secure vulnerable nuclear material by 2014, a goal President Obama said would make the world safer from a stockpile big enough to produce 120,000 nuclear bombs. The 47 summit participants signed a 12-point “communiqué” that committed leaders to account for and reduce their stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. The statement urges countries to use safer materials at nuclear reactors “where technically and economically feasible” and share information about the illegal trafficking of materials. It also acknowledges each country’s right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The gathering and individual commitments made by countries such as Ukraine and Mexico were praised by nuclear security advocates as unprecedented. Obama called it a “cruel irony of history” that, in the wake of the Cold War, the world faces a potentially more serious threat that so-called loose nukes could be turned into catastrophic weapons by terrorist groups or criminal gangs.

Vatican Mandates Reporting Sexual Abuse

The Vatican on Monday made clear for the first time that bishops and other church officials should report clerical sex abuse to police if required by law. But the policy failed to satisfy victims who charge that the church deliberately hid abuse for decades. The Vatican has insisted that it has long been the Catholic Church’s policy for bishops, like all Christians, to obey civil reporting laws. In a new guide for lay readers posted on its website, the Vatican explicitly spells out such a policy. “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed,” the Vatican guidelines said.

The Vatican’s second-highest authority says the sex scandals haunting the Roman Catholic Church are linked to homosexuality and not celibacy among priests. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, made the comments during a news conference Monday in Chile, where one of the church’s highest-profile pedophile cases involves a priest having sex with young girls. His comments drew angry reactions from Chile’s gay rights advocates.

Arizona Bill Outlaws Illegals

The Arizona House on Tuesday approved a bill to crack down on illegal immigration by making it against state law to be in Arizona without legal immigration documents. House Republicans advanced the measure on a 35-21 party-line vote. The Senate approved a similar measure in February but must concur to changes made in the House before sending it to Gov. Jan Brewer. House Republicans advanced the measure on a 35-21 party-line vote. The Senate approved a similar measure in February but must concur to changes made in the House before sending it to Gov. Jan Brewer. The bill will allow officers to arrest immigrants unable to show documents proving they’re legally in the country.

States Fret Over Health Insurance Scams

Bogus health plans that advertise comprehensive coverage at bargain prices are on the rise, luring desperate consumers to pay for policies that won’t cover their medical bills, state insurance commissioners say. In recent weeks, Missouri regulators have cracked down on 13 companies. California has ordered firms to stop selling misleading and unlicensed health discount cards. Tennessee regulators have seized a company they allege has collected more than $14 million from people across the U.S. — then stranded them with unpaid bills. James Quiggle, spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, which represents consumers and insurance companies, said: “There’s high unemployment, health premiums are expensive and tens of millions of people have no health coverage. This is an ideal breeding ground for scams.”

Little Progress Against Serious Hospital Infections

The nation’s hospitals are failing to protect patients from potentially fatal infections despite years of prevention campaigns, the government said Tuesday. The Health and Human Services department’s 2009 quality report to Congress found “very little progress” on eliminating hospital-acquired infections and called for “urgent attention” to address the shortcomings — first brought to light a decade ago. Of five major types of serious hospital-related infections, rates of illnesses increased for three, one showed no progress, and one showed a decline. Starting in a few years, Medicare payments to hospitals will be reduced for preventable readmissions and for certain infections that can usually be staved off with good nursing care.

Growing Concern Over Tainted Beef

Beef containing harmful pesticides, veterinary antibiotics and heavy metals is being sold to the public because federal agencies have failed to set limits for the contaminants or adequately test for them, a federal audit finds. A program set up to test beef for chemical residues “is not accomplishing its mission of monitoring the food supply for … dangerous substances, which has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce,” says the audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s Office of Inspector General. The testing program for cattle is run by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which also tests meat for such pathogens as salmonella and certain dangerous strains of E. coli. But the residue program relies on assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency, which sets tolerance levels for human exposure to pesticides and other pollutants, and the Food and Drug Administration, which does the same for antibiotics and other medicines. Limits have not been set by the EPA and FDA “for many potentially harmful substances, which can impair FSIS’ enforcement activities,” the audit found.

  • Getting federal bureaucracies to work cooperatively together is like getting two-year olds to share their toys

Neb. Lawmakers Pass New Pre-Abortion Requirements

Nebraska lawmakers have given final approval to a first-of-its-kind bill that supporters say could help prevent post-abortion medical problems, but opponents say is really meant as a barrier to abortions. The bill requires women to be screened by doctors or health professionals to determine whether they’ve been pressured into having abortions. Women also must be screened for risk factors indicating they could have mental or physical problems after an abortion.

Documents Show Continual Dangers in West Virginia Mine

The operator of the West Virginia coal mine where 29 miners were killed last week exposed workers to potentially fatal or disabling conditions nearly 300 times since late 2008, records show. More than 1,100 pages covering more than 700 citations released by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) give the most comprehensive picture yet of the Upper Big Branch Mine, where an April 5 explosion caused the worst U.S. mining disaster since 1970. Inspectors repeatedly found dangerous conditions such as inadequate air, faulty fire extinguishers, exposed wiring, malfunctioning communication systems, inaccurate gas monitors and water as deep as 4 feet “that could result in drowning.”

Traffic Deaths Down, But Not Low Enough

Fewer Americans are killed in automobile crashes than at any time since the 1950s, but the nation can do better — much better, according to a growing number of highway safety advocates and transportation officials pushing the USA to adopt a goal of zero traffic fatalities. The approach is called Toward Zero Deaths. The goal: to alter behaviors that cause fatalities, such as speeding, drunken or distracted driving, and lack of seat belts. Speeding is a factor in more than 31% of road deaths, drunken driving in 32%, and distracted driving in about 16%. And 55% of those killed in passenger vehicles are not wearing seat belts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Last year, 33,963 people died in traffic crashes in the USA, an 8.9% decline from 2008 and the lowest total since 1954, according to the Department of Transportation. The fatality rate of 1.16 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was the lowest since the government started tracking it.

Stimulus Reduced Tax Burden

Last winter’s economic stimulus law has put billions of dollars into taxpayers’ pockets and the economy this spring, the White House plans to say in a report out today from the Council of Economic Advisers. The report, coming a day before the April 15 tax deadline, says the law has delivered more than $200 billion in tax relief and other direct benefits, mostly to middle- and lower-income families. The $862 billion stimulus law, signed by President Obama in February 2009, included tax breaks for dependent children, college education, first homes, new vehicles, even unemployment benefits. The costliest was a $400 “Making Work Pay” tax credit for individuals and $800 for couples. The credit begins to be phased out at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples. Internal Revenue Service figures show the average tax refund this year is nearly $3,000, or 9.4% larger than last year’s. Millions of workers received the tax credit in 2009 through lower payroll tax withholding, which made it largely invisible.

Economic News

Retail sales rose for the third straight month in March as better weather and auto incentives encouraged more spending. Sales rose 1.6% last month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, up from February’s revised 0.5% gain.

Consumer prices edged up a modest amount in March with prices outside of food and energy rising at the slowest pace over the past 12 months in six years. The Labor Department said that consumer prices edged up 0.1% last month. Core inflation, which excludes food and energy, was unchanged. Over the past 12 months, core inflation is up just 1.1%.

The state and local government debt market is up to a whopping $2.3 trillion, increasing from $295 billion in 1968 to $2.3 trillion today. States do not have the ability to print money at the whim of any central banker, so this becomes the taxpayers’ burden. As Greece is demonstrating, there is such a thing as having too much debt and at a certain point the markets no longer have an appetite for so much borrowing.

The multibillion-dollar pension funds that promise to pay lifetime benefits to millions of the USA’s retired teachers are more than $900 billion in the red, a new analysis shows. The shortfall could put taxpayers on the hook for nearly three times as much as the funds say they need to balance the books.

The U.S. trade deficit widened more than expected in February as a huge gain in exports, to the highest level in 16 months, was offset by a bigger jump in imports, reflecting increased demand for consumer goods from televisions to clothing. Exports edged up 0.2% while imports jumped 1.7%. The wider deficit is a sign of a rebounding U.S. economy. Economists expect the trade deficit to rise this year but hope expanding exports will continue to lift the fortunes of U.S. manufacturing companies.

  • Large deficits = improved economy appears to be the formula of the Obama administration, but that only pushes off the problems to a larger future meltdown

Middle East

Israel issued an “urgent” warning Tuesday to its citizens to leave Egypt‘s Sinai Peninsula immediately citing “concrete evidence of an expected terrorist attempt to kidnap Israelis in Sinai.” The statement from the Israeli prime minister’s anti-terror office took the unusual step of calling on families of Israelis visiting the Sinai to establish contact with them. Egyptian security officials said about 35,000 Israelis are in the Sinai now, and they expected thousands more to arrive later this month on vacation along its Red Sea coast.

Afghanistan

The strafing of a bus by NATO troops that killed four passengers Monday prompted protests and harsh words from Afghans whom the U.S. is courting for help in defeating the Taliban. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force has been trying to minimize civilian casualties as it battles the Taliban for the support of ordinary Afghans. The bus was from Kandahar, where NATO plans to launch the next phase in its offensive against the Taliban, the Islamist militant group that ruled Afghanistan prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Pakistan

Up to 71 civilians were killed in a weekend strike by Pakistani jets near the Afghan border, survivors and a government official said Tuesday — a rare confirmation of civilian casualties that risks undercutting public support for the fight against militants. Authorities handed out the equivalent of $125,000 in compensation to families of the victims in a remote village in the Khyber tribal area. Also Tuesday, a village elder claimed 13 civilians had been killed in U.S. missile strike on Monday night elsewhere in the northwest, contesting accounts by Pakistani security officials that four militants were killed.

Russia

The State Department is trying to head off a further decline in international adoptions by holding talks with Russian officials outraged that a Tennessee woman sent her adopted 7-year-old son back to Moscow last week. Russia threatened to suspend adoptions by U.S. families after the boy’s return. The uproar comes as the number of U.S. adoptions abroad continues to fall. Russia has been one of the top three countries from which Americans have adopted children. About a dozen well-publicized cases of Russian children abused or even killed by adoptive U.S. parents have occurred in the past 15 years. Any child who spent years in a Russian orphanage has been through a lot, and “it is not uncommon for them to behave in ways that parents would find challenging,” says Joan Jaeger of The Cradle, an Illinois adoption agency.

Poland

Russian investigators suggested human error may have been to blame in the plane crash that killed the Polish president and 95 others, saying Monday that were no technical problems with the Soviet-made plane. The Tu-154 went down while trying to land Saturday in dense fog near Smolensk airport in western Russia. The pilot had been warned of bad weather in Smolensk, and was advised by traffic controllers to land elsewhere. In Warsaw, there was concern that the pilots may have been asked by someone in the plane to land at Smolensk anyway instead of diverting to Minsk or Moscow, in part to avoid missing the commemoration ceremonies honoring thousands of Polish military officers who were executed 70 years ago by Josef Stalin‘s secret police.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan‘s interim leader said Tuesday that her government will extend the lease of a U.S. air base key to the war in Afghanistan. Roza Otunbayeva told the Associated Press that the agreement allowing the U.S. to use the Manas air base will be prolonged after the current one-year deal expires in July. The U.S. base, at the capital’s international airport provides refueling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and serves as a major transit hub for troops.

Kyrgyzstan’s ousted president says he is willing to resign if his security is guaranteed. He also proposed that Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the interim government, come to his southern home base for talks and guaranteed safety for her and other officials. Although the crowd of supporters that greeted Bakiyev on Tuesday was highly emotional, there have been persistent doubts about how much backing he has and whether he commanded enough loyalty in the security forces to mount serious resistance.

Ireland

Northern Ireland‘s Catholic and Protestant leaders elected a new justice minister Monday, reaching a new peacemaking milestone despite an audacious bomb attack hours earlier on the province’s British spy headquarters. The Real IRA splinter group admitted responsibility for forcing a Belfast cabbie to drive the bomb to the gates of Palace Barracks, the high-security home of the anti-terrorist agency MI5. The blast caused little damage to the base or nearby homes, and injured nobody seriously. But it did dramatically underscore the problems facing Northern Ireland’s new Justice Department in seeking to build greater support for law and order, particularly in a minority Catholic community that still harbors Irish Republican Army die-hards.

Congo

Eight Red Cross staff have been kidnapped by an armed group in eastern Congo, the international aid group said Tuesday. The seven Congolese and one Swiss national were seized last Friday. The Red Cross has several offices in eastern Congo which has been wracked by violence since the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda spilled war across the border. Franz Rauchenstein, the head of the ICRC’s mission in Congo said, “We continue to insist that the strictly neutral, impartial and humanitarian nature of our work be recognized, and that our colleagues be able to return to their loved ones soon.”

Mexico

A Mexican government report says at least 22,700 people have been killed in Mexico by drug gang violence since a military crackdown on cartels began more than three years ago. The report says 2009 was the deadliest year in the drug war, with 9,365 people killed in violence tied to organized crime. That compares to 2,837 in 2007, the first year of President Felipe Calderon’s military-led offensive. The report says more than 120,000 drug suspects have been detained since Calderon deployed thousands of soldiers and federal police to root out cartels in December 2006.

Volcanoes

A volcano under a glacier in Iceland rumbled back to life Wednesday, melting ice, shooting smoke and steam into the air and forcing hundreds of people to leave their homes. Emergency officials evacuated 800 residents from around the Eyjafjallajokull glacier as rivers rose by up to 10 feet and flooded a sparsely populated area. There were no immediate signs of large clouds of volcanic ash, which could disrupt air travel between Europe and North America, and Iceland’s international airport remained open.

Earthquakes

A series of strong earthquakes struck a far western Tibetan area of China on Wednesday, killing at least 400 people and injuring more than 10,000 as houses made of mud and wood collapsed, trapping many more. The largest quake was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey as magnitude 6.9. In the aftermath, panicked people, many bleeding from their wounds, flooded the streets of a Qinghai province township where most of the homes had been flattened. Downed phone lines, strong winds and frequent aftershocks hindered rescue efforts.

Weather

A cyclone packing winds of more than 100 mph demolished tens of thousands of mud huts in northeastern India, killing at least 68 people, officials said Wednesday. The cyclone struck Tuesday night, uprooting trees and snapping telephone and electricity lines. Hundreds of people were injured. The cyclone demolished nearly 50,000 mud huts in West Bengal and more than 1,000 in Bihar.

The threat of new mudslides forced Rio de Janeiro officials to begin removing 2,600 families from at-risk areas Monday and prompted the closure of the trolley ride that leads tourists to the Christ the Redeemer statue. The Rio city government said in a statement that the 2,600 families being evacuated from risk areas will receive a stipend to pay for housing until they are relocated to new homes provided by the government. Officials said at least 250 homes will likely be demolished within the next two weeks. All together, nearly 13,000 families are living in homes at risk for slides and will have to be relocated. Churches and samba schools have been sheltering families since last week, when heavy rains and landslides killed at least 231 people.

April 12, 2010

Justice Stevens to Retire from Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, an unassuming Chicagoan in bow ties who became a shrewd strategist and liberal leader of the modern Supreme Court, announced his retirement Friday morning. He has served nearly 35 years and is about to turn 90. In many ways, Stevens’ departure may be more significant for the Supreme Court than fellow liberal David Souter‘s retirement last year. Stevens, more than any other justice on the left, has taken the lead to craft coalitions that include swing-vote conservatives, allowing liberals to prevail in some key cases that limited the death penalty and expanded gay rights even as the court shifted increasingly to the right. In the past 15 years, he became a more vigorous supporter of affirmative action and a strong critic of the conservatives’ effort to diminish the federal government’s power to become involved in state affairs. With Stevens’ departure, the next most senior justice on the left is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was appointed by Clinton in 1993. Ginsburg, 77, has twice survived serious battles with cancer and could retire in upcoming years.

  • Unlike all the prophecies we heard for years about Bush getting to appoint judges to the Supreme Court, it is Obama who will be able to swing the court far left in further support of his socialist agenda

Vatican City

Pope Benedict XVI is willing to meet with more victims of clerical sexual abuse, the Vatican spokesman said Friday. Sex abuse allegations have swept across Europe in recent weeks, including in Benedict’s native Germany. The pope himself has come under fire for the handling of cases that date to his tenure as archbishop of Munich and as a Vatican cardinal in charge of the office dealing with abuse cases. Benedict has already met with abuse victims during trips to the United States and Australia and with Canadians at the Vatican. Many victims are looking not for financial compensation but for moral help. The Vatican has denounced accusations that the church, including Benedict, engaged in a cover-up, and has blamed the media for what it calls a smear campaign against the pontiff and his advisers.

According to correspondence obtained by The Associated Press, the future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including “the good of the universal church,” according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature. This is the strongest challenge yet to the Vatican‘s insistence that Benedict played no role in blocking the removal of pedophile priests during his years as head of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog office.

  • Vows of celibacy clearly do not work and there is no Biblical requirement for priests to do so

Kenyan Official: Obama Born Here

A Kenyan lawmaker told the nation’s parliament last month that Barack Obama was born in Africa and is therefore “not even a native American.” During debate over the draft of a new Kenyan constitution, James Orengo, the country’s minister of lands and a member of parliament for the Ugenya constituency, cited America’s election of a Kenyan-born president as an example of what can be accomplished when diverse peoples unite: “If America was living in a situation where they feared ethnicity and did not see itself as a multiparty state or nation,” Orengo posited, “how could a young man born here in Kenya, who is not even a native American, become the president of America?”

Was CNN ‘Tea-Bagged’?

In a year when America’s tea party activists have been surging, cable news networks that slam the grassroots movement have been dying in the ratings. Is it merely coincidence? Compared to the numbers in 2009, Fox News Channel, frequently reported as a favorite of the tea partiers, actually gained 3 percent over last year’s numbers, but MSNBC, whose left-leaning commentary has been far more critical of the movement, has dropped 15 percent of its audience. Even more startling, however, is the ratings freefall of the former news giant CNN, whose viewing audience has been sliced by 39 percent.

  • Obama’s crusade against Fox News has backfired

Casual Sex Increasing in U.S.

People in nonromantic sexual relationships today are likely to have multiple partners, researchers have found, and that behavior could promote the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, they note. “The United States has seen a major shift toward nonromantic sexual partnerships — people becoming sexually involved when they are just casually dating or not dating at all,” study author Anthony Paik, a sociologist at the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said in a university news release. Being sexually involved with a friend increased the likelihood of not being monogamous by 44% for women and 25% for men. Involvement with an acquaintance or stranger increased the likelihood by 30% for women and 43% for men.

  • Satan promotes sex as a means to break down the family, a key end-times strategy

Prescription Drug Overdoses Jump

Hospitalizations caused by accidental and intentional abuse of prescription sedatives, tranquilizers and other painkilling drugs has risen dramatically over the last decade, new research reveals. Hospital stays from an unintentional overdose of opioids (such as Vicodin and Percocet) and sedatives (such as Valium and Ativan) jumped 37% between 1999 and 2006, the study found. Intentional overdoses of these drugs skyrocketed by 130% in that time. The researchers found that hospitalizations that resulted from prescription opioid, sedative and tranquilizer use had increased 65% during the seven-year study period. In the United States, in fact, poisoning — which includes overdoses — now ranks as the second-leading cause of death from unintentional injury, according to the study.

Local Budget Cuts Reducing Police Forces

As budget cuts ripple downward from national, to states, to counties, to cities and towns, police departments are beginning to scale back as well. When the sheriff’s department in Ashtabula County, Ohio, was cut from 112 to 49 deputies, just one vehicle was left to patrol the 720-square-mile county. Asked what residents should do for protection, Common Pleas Judge Alfred Mackey replied, ” Arm themselves,” and added, “We’re going to have to look after each other.”

Economic News

Inventories held by wholesalers rose by a larger-than-expected amount in February while sales increased for the 11th consecutive month. The gains were an encouraging sign that stronger demand is prompting businesses to restock depleted shelves, a development that will help sustain the economic recovery.

Regulators on Friday shut down a bank in South Carolina, marking 42 bank failures in the U.S. so far this year amid mounting loan defaults, especially in commercial real estate. There were 140 bank failures in the U.S. last year, the highest annual tally since 1992 at the height of the savings and loan crisis. They cost the insurance fund more than $30 billion. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008 and only three succumbed in 2007.

A record number of tax preparers were charged Thursday with filing 35,000 suspected fraudulent returns that cost the government tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. The 26 tax preparers in Manhattan, the Bronx and New Jersey were charged with submitting tax returns with more than $95 million in deductions, most of which were believed to be fraudulent.

Two former Fannie Mae executives said Friday at a Congressional hearing that competitive pressures, combined with the political goal of increasing homeownership, were to blame for the company’s decision to back riskier mortgages that fueled the housing bubble.

  • It’s always somebody else’s fault. Accountability is a lost principle in this godless age.

Greece

European leaders provided a long-awaited financial rescue line to Greece on Sunday, offering the country up to $40 billion in aid to meet its giant debt obligations. Under the plan, Greece would receive loans at about 5 percent interest, significantly lower than the rate of 7.5 percent that the markets were demanding last week, though not as low as Greece had wanted. Concerns about a potential Greek default had caused anxiety among markets worldwide and raised fears that the euro would be severely undermined if other struggling countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy followed Greece to the financial precipice.

  • Greece’s deficit spending as a percentage of GDP (~12.5% this year) looks a lot like ours, which is right around 11% at present.  Is anyone in Washington DC paying attention to what’s happening over there?

China

China posted a $7.24 billion trade deficit in March, its first in almost six years, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Saturday, citing customs figures. Officials say the trend will be short-lived. Economists say the deficit reflected weak exports to the United States and other major markets still struggling to recover from the recession. Strong demand for commodities and components to fuel China’s own booming industrial sector contributed to the 66% jump in imports. The return to deficit after many years of surplus could help ease pressure on China to allow the value of its currency to rise against the dollar — a key source of contention with the U.S. and other trading partners. But even China’s minister of commerce, Chen Deming, described March’s deficit as only a “blip on the radar.” Chinese officials have resisted pressure to allow the yuan to rise in value, saying the trade sector remains weak and prey to weaknesses elsewhere.

Poland

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and some of the country’s highest military and civilian leaders died on Saturday when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog in western Russia, killing 96. Russian and Polish officials said there were no survivors on the 26-year-old Tupolev, which was taking the president, his wife and staff to events marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police. The crash devastated the upper echelons of Poland‘s political and military establishments. On board were the army chief of staff, national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers.

Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, suggested the death will have serious implications for Poland and the world. He raised the specter of questionable circumstances swirling around the death, telling Czech television that the tragedy evoked “the well-known, strange death of General Sikorski” in a plane crash decades earlier. The death in 1943 of Wladyslaw Sikorski, Poland’s then premier-in-exile, later helped the Soviet Union gain control over Poland.

Afghanistan

International troops opened fire on a bus carrying Afghan civilians early Monday, killing four people and setting off anti-American protests in Kandahar, a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency. Another 18 people were wounded in the incident in Kandahar province’s Zhari district, provincial government spokesman Zelmai Ayubi said. He said international forces took 12 of the wounded to a military hospital. NATO said it was investigating the shooting. Within hours, scores of Afghans had blocked the main highway out of Kandahar city with burning tires, chanting “Death to America,” and calling for the downfall of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, himself a Kandahar native.

Pakistan

More than 200,000 people have fled Pakistan’s latest offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest, the United Nations said Monday, as fresh clashes in the remote region killed 41 insurgents and two soldiers. The clashes were the latest violence in the Orakzai tribal region, where the military launched an operation in March to rout Pakistani Taliban fighters who have fled there to escape other offensives. More than 300 suspected militants have been killed in three weeks of constant airstrikes and occasional ground clashes. The U.S. has applauded Pakistan’s push to go after militants in the volatile border area near Afghanistan. But American officials would like the country to do more to target those fighters who have been staging cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The exodus of civilians from Orakzai adds to the more than 1.3 million people driven from their homes by fighting in the northwest and unable to return.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan‘s deposed president on Monday rallied supporters in his home village, testing his ability to mount resistance to the opposition forces that drove him out of the capital last week. At least 81 people died in the capital last Wednesday when a confrontation between police and protesters exploded into gunfire and chaos. Protesters stormed government buildings and Bakiyev fled to his native southern region. He has refused to step down and the rally in Teyit brought an array of speakers who vowed their support and waved banners with slogans such as “Hands off the legitimate president.”

Thailand

Red-shirted protesters paraded coffins through Thailand‘s capital Monday in a renewed attempt to pressure the government to step down after street fighting left 21 people dead, pushing this Southeast Asian nation closer to political anarchy. Anti-government protesters dug into their encampments around Bangkok and rejected talk of negotiations after a month-long standoff. Bullet casings, pools of blood and shattered army vehicles littered the streets near a main tourist area where soldiers had tried to clear the protesters. At least 874 people were injured in what one newspaper called “The Battle for Bangkok.” Protesters are demanding that the prime minister dissolve Parliament, call early elections and leave the country.

Africa

After getting millions of dollars to fight AIDS, some African countries responded by slashing their health budgets, new research says. For years, the international community has forked over billions in health aid, believing the donations supplemented health budgets in poor countries. It now turns out development money prompted some governments to spend on entirely different things, which cannot be tracked. The research was published Friday in the medical journal Lancet. International health aid jumped from about $8 billion in 1995 to almost $19 billion in 2006, with the United States being the biggest donor. In the Lancet study, for every dollar received from donors, poor countries transferred up to $1.14 originally slated for their health budgets elsewhere.

Somalia

The U.S. Navy is holding six suspected pirates after a sea battle off the Horn of Africa. It’s the third U.S. Navy encounter with pirates in the past 10 days in the violence-plagued waters off Somalia and nearby regions. At least 21 suspected pirates have been captured. The U.S. Navy says suspected pirates began shooting at the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland Saturday, The Ashland returned fire and the suspected pirate skiff was destroyed.

Earthquakes

A cluster of moderate earthquakes near the U.S.-Mexico border is continuing to rattle southern California one week after a magnitude 7.2 quake slammed the area. The U.S. Geological Survey says a magnitude 4.4 earthquake struck at 9:42 a.m. Sunday, about 11 miles west of downtown Calexico. At least 17 other quakes in the magnitude 3 range were also reported in the same area Sunday. No damage or injuries have been reported.

Wildfires

Wildfire activity was very heavy with 2,274 new fires started last week. Eighty-six new large fires (over 100 acres) were reported and firefighters have contained 75 of them. Currently, 18 large fires are burning in eight states, with the heaviest concentration in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.

Weather

Some of the same regions of the country that experienced unusually cold temperatures this past winter are now in the middle of one of the worst pollen seasons in several years. The problem has been particularly bad in the Southeast, where allergy sufferers are dealing with a constant yellow blanket of near-record pollen. In normal seasons, a pollen count of 120 is considered high. Last week in Atlanta, the pollen count hit 5,733, the second-highest level on record.

The National Weather Service has confirmed that several tornadoes touched down in South Carolina when severe thunderstorms crossed the state. No one was injured by the storms, but more than a dozen homes and five barns were damaged in Anderson County and part of a roof was blown off a mobile home and numerous trees were snapped off or uprooted in Oconee County. Vehicles, fences and trees also were damaged in the Beaufort County storm.

The death toll from landslides and floods in and around Rio de Janeiro this week reached 219 on Saturday as crews continued searching through the debris. Authorities believe many more are still buried in the mud, and the official tally of the dead is likely to keep going up. Although the rains have eased, the water-soaked terrain threatens further slides. Most of the victims were swept away in landslides that roared through slums built on steep, unstable hillsides.

April 9, 2010

Obama, Medvedev Sign START Treaty

President Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, pulled off what the Russian called a “mission impossible” at Prague Castle on Thursday, signing a landmark treaty that would reduce both countries’ active nuclear arsenals by up to 30%. “This day demonstrates the determination of the United States and Russia, the two nations that hold over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, to pursue responsible global leadership,” Obama said after signing START, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The 10-year treaty, in discussion since a 1991 nuclear arms agreement expired at the end of last year, requires ratification by the U.S. Senate and the Duma, Russia’s parliament.

Pursuing a nuclear-free world, Obama said, “will move us further beyond the Cold War, strengthen the global non-proliferation regime and make the United States, and the world, safer and more secure.” “The U.S. is going through a startling period of auto-emasculation,” writes Tunku Varadarajan in The Daily Beast, calling Obama’s policies “a mission of almost messianic outreach to our foes and most adamant competitors.”

  • Russia (Rosh) is prophesied to be one of the key anti-Israel/Christ players (Ezek. 38:2-3, 39:1)

Unprecedented: U.S. Bargaining on Behalf of Palestinians

In an unprecedented move, the U.S. has been conducting negotiations with Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, according to a senior PA negotiator and sources in the Israeli government. The U.S. has been calling for the resumption of indirect talks, with Obama administration officials publicly proposing to serve as a go-between to facilitate dialogue between Israel and the PA. A senior PA negotiator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said rather than act as an intermediary, the U.S. has been negotiating with Israel on behalf of the PA, assuming all Palestinian positions and bargaining with Israel from the Palestinian side.

  • The loss of support for Israel is another sign that the tribulation draws nigh

NPR Archive Describes Obama as ‘Kenyan-born’

Those crazy “birthers” are now citing National Public Radio. Really? The ultra-liberal NPR? Archives for the tax-supported organization reveal that a 2008 report described then-Sen. Barack Obama as “Kenyan-born”  and a “son of Africa.” NPR’s promotion for the story cited “the U.S. presidential race of Kenyan-born Sen. Barack Obama.” At about 9:45 of the audio report, interviewer Michelle Martin said “a son of Africa. Barack Obama is poised to at least have the opportunity to become the next president of the United States.” Quist-Arcton responded by describing Obama as a member of the Kenyan Luo tribe and reporting how Africa viewed the race.

  • “For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17

Tea Party Gears Up

America’s tea-party movement is set to explode in less than one week with taxpayer rallies in an estimated 800 U.S. cities and a massive march on the White House. The movement is now putting President Obama himself on notice with a Tax Day tea party at the White House Ellipse on April 15, 2010, from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. “This April 15 will be the largest network of events across the country that I believe we’ve seen in a long time,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said.

Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, a target of the Tea Party and an anti-abortion Dem who drew harsh criticism for agreeing to support health care legislation, says he won’t seek re-election to Congress. As much as Stupak claimed he was a good candidate for re-election, he may be among the first casualties of the new law, which has not gained traction among Americans who roundly disapprove of it because of its massive price tag.

State No. 7 Tells Feds to Stuff Their Gun Regs

A seventh state – Arizona – now has declared that guns made and kept inside its borders essentially are free from federal application, registration and ownership regulations in a surging movement among states as a direct challenge to “a government monopoly on the supply of firearms.” Gov. Jan Brewer this week signed the state’s version of a “Firearms Freedom Act,” which originated in Montana and now has been adopted by six states, with several dozen more in various stages of their own plans. Brewer issued a statement that the law is intended to give Washington the message that they should not try to “get between Arizonans and their constitutional rights.” Arizona joins Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, Idaho and Montana.

Arizona Joins States’ Lawsuit Against Obamacare

Governor Jan Brewer announced earlier this week that Arizona will join the other 15 states who have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care legislation. “We must join this suit to assure that Arizona has a voice and that our citizens enjoy the benefits and protections of court rulings in favor of the states. This matter is too important to our state to sit back and do nothing.”

Keep Children Home for “Day of Silence” on April 16

The Day of Silence, which is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), fast approaches. This year it will take place in most public schools on April 16. On this day, thousands of public high schools and increasing numbers of middle schools will allow students to remain silent throughout an entire day-even during instructional time-to promote GLSEN’s socio-political goals and its controversial, unproven, and destructive theories on the nature and morality of homosexuality.

The American Family Association says, “Parents must actively oppose this hijacking of the classroom for political purposes. Please join the national effort to restore to public education a proper understanding of the role of government-subsidized schools. You can help de-politicize the learning environment by calling your child out of school if your child’s school allows students to remain silent during instructional time on the Day of Silence. Parents should no longer passively countenance the political usurpation of public school classrooms through student silence.”

  • We can’t mention anything associated with Christianity in the public schools, but the devil’s agenda is A-OK??

Security Alerts Divert More Flights

The number of flights forced to land prematurely because of security alerts doubled in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2009. Thirty-five U.S. flights were diverted from their destination to a different airport from Jan. 1 through March 31 for security reasons. The diversions represent a tiny fraction of the 550,000 monthly commercial flights. But the growing number reflects a more tense atmosphere in airplanes since a passenger tried to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day. “People are quick to react to anything that’s not normal,” said Gary Boettcher, an American Airlines pilot and former president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association, a pilots’ group focused on security and safety. “Any assault on everyday procedures is taken as a threat right away, so it can be nipped as soon as possible.”

Federal Program Used to Hide Flights

A federal program designed to protect sensitive business deals and executives’ safety is being used by politicians, business executives, university athletic recruiters and others to avoid publicity by hiding their flights on private aircraft from the public, a ProPublica review has found. The aircraft owners don’t have to demonstrate any need need to keep flights secret. They simply request secrecy from the National Business Aviation Association, which lobbied for the program and runs it for the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA removes the flights from its database before disseminating the information. This week, after a 15-month effort, ProPublica obtained the current list of 1,100 aircraft whose flights had been removed from the database. The FAA released the list after a federal judge rejected the NBAA’s argument that it should remain confidential for security and competitive reasons.

  • The rich and well-connected usually can find ways around the laws that bind the average citizen

Green Homes a Legacy of Katrina

As New Orleans continues to mend, hundreds of state-of-the-art sustainable, energy-efficient homes are being built in lower-income neighborhoods, a trend that’s outpacing most of the rest of the country. More than 500 homes are being built with features such as solar panels, rain-catching cisterns and eco-friendly materials in neighborhoods that received the brunt of the damage from the 2005 floods following Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds of other homes are being given green upgrades. Green building has traditionally been left to higher-end homes, whose owners can afford the costlier solar panels and other elements, says Forest Bradley-Wright of the New Orleans-based Alliance for Affordable Energy. But as New Orleans began to rebuild, non-profits stepped in with innovative development techniques and eco-friendly plans to rebuild lower-income neighborhoods

Economic News

The number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits rose last week in the U.S., a sign that jobs remain scarce even as the economy recovers. The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time claims increased by 18,000 in the week ending April 3, to a seasonally adjusted 460,000. On a more positive note in the Labor Department’s report, the tally of people continuing to claim benefits for more than a week fell by 131,000 to 4.55 million, the lowest level since December 2008.

Warmer weather and an earlier Easter enticed shoppers into stores for spring merchandise in March, helping retailers post strong sales gains for the month. Of 20 retailers that reported results early on Thursday, 18 beat analyst expectations and 2 missed.

Consumer borrowing fell again in February, reflecting weakness in credit cards and auto loans. It marks a setback to hopes that U.S. consumers are beginning to feel more confident and will start spending more. The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that borrowing declined by $11.5 billion in February. The February decline was the 12th decrease in the past 13 months.

  • The average consumer is smarter than government officials who continue to increase debt

Tax Day is a dreaded deadline for millions of Americans, but for nearly half of U.S. households, it’s simply somebody else’s problem. About 47% will pay no federal income taxes for 2009. Either their incomes were too low, or they qualified for enough credits, deductions and exemptions to eliminate their liability, according to projections by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research organization.

Retail prop­erty vacan­cies are the highest since 1991, and still rising, while rents are falling. Mort­gage rates are rising and loan apps are falling, while the Feds are pur­chasing as much as 49 per­cent of new mort­gages, according to Patrick Wood of the August Review.

General Motors says it lost $4.3 billion in the second half of 2009 after its July 10 emergence from bankruptcy court, but is sticking to its promise of paying back U.S. and Canadian government loans by June this year. The now-private company is 60.1% owned by the U.S. government, which converted most of its $50 billion in bailout loans to equity.

The average cost of owning and operating a sedan in the USA rose 4.8% this year to 56.6 cents per mile, or $8,487 per year, according to a study released Thursday by auto club AAA. Rising gas prices are primarily responsible for the increased costs as well as lower resale or trade-in value of cars that don’t get good gas mileage.

World markets slid Thursday amid mounting worries about a potential Greek debt default as the country’s borrowing costs continue to go through the roof.

Afghanistan

Afghan police said Thursday they have thwarted a major attack in Kabul, arresting five would-be suicide bombers, the largest such group ever apprehended in the capital. “If this team had made it through it would have been a disaster,” said Abdul Ghafar, deputy commander of the Afghan National Police crisis unit. He said police, acting on intelligence, stopped the suicide bombers as they were traveling in an SUV in the southeastern part of the city. He said the bomb team had been sent by the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network. Such attacks are a hallmark of the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction whose leader was once a U.S. ally.

Pakistan

ASSIST News Service reports that a Pakistani Christian rights group is again calling for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Riaz Anjum Masih, Chairman of the Pakistan Christian Movement (PCM), has urged Pakistani Christians to launch a united effort for scrapping of all discriminatory laws against minorities. He also called for repeal of those sections of the constitution which allegedly discriminate against religious minorities. “Although the constitution of Pakistan is unanimously agreed-upon, the Christians and other religious minorities have some reservations about it,” said Masih, who alleges that only Muslims can attain high posts in government currently, while Christians are underrepresented in the national assembly.

Iran

Mission News Network reports that Christianity is growing in Iran, even as the government’s agenda grows more radical. “There has been a continual movement not to back down and to continue moving forward with their Islamic agenda,” evangelist Sammy Tippit said of the government. “The church has continued to grow, although it has become much more difficult for the church. We continue this year to receive reports of people who are being arrested.” Some Christians have been released, but that does not point to increased freedom, he said. “It seems to me that everything is moving toward some kind of boiling point.” Even with this kind of persecution, however, Tippit believes “there’s no place in all of the Middle East that is as receptive to the Gospel as Iran.”

Kyrgyzstan

An opposition coalition proclaimed a new interim government Thursday in Kyrgyzstan after clashes left dozens dead nationwide and said it would rule until elections are held in six months. It also urged the president, who has fled the capital, to resign. But a respected private news agency said the president had proclaimed in an e-mail that he would not relinquish power. Opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva, the former foreign minister, said parliament was dissolved and she would head the interim government. She said the new government controlled four of the seven provinces in the Central Asian nation, home to a key U.S. military base supporting the fighting in Afghanistan that the opposition has said it wants to close.

Thailand

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in Bangkok on Wednesday, handing the army broad powers to restore order after anti-government protesters broke into Parliament, forcing some lawmakers to flee by helicopter. Other lawmakers scaled the compound’s walls to escape the most chaotic protest in several weeks of demonstrations by a group demanding Abhisit dissolve the government and call elections within 15 days. He has offered to do so by the end of the year. The government already had placed Bangkok under the strict Internal Security Act. But a state of emergency includes more sweeping powers. It gives the military authority to restore order and allows authorities to suspend certain civil liberties and ban all public gatherings of more than five people.

Mexico

Deep underground, tunneling crews are racing against time as they try to save Mexico City, the world’s third-largest metropolis, from catastrophe. Above them, the Mexican capital is sinking into the earth at a record rate, tilting the city’s sewage tunnels so they are actually running backward. Crews are rushing to build a 37-mile drainage tunnel to save the city from drowning. Across this city of 18.7 million, workers have started a flurry of projects to shore up areas that are sinking by as much as 8 inches a year. Flooding poses the most danger, and there are already signs of trouble. In February, the Remedios River, a sewage canal, backed up and broke through its dike, flooding 4,000 homes with raw waste.

Mexico City’s sinking problem dates back centuries. It is where the Aztecs built their capital, known as Tenochtitlan, on a flat island in the middle of a lake. The city flooded frequently. After the Spanish defeated the Aztecs in 1521, Spanish colonizers began draining the lake to control flooding. One flood, in 1629, left the city underwater for five years. As the water disappeared, the city settled into the mud, forcing the government to build ever-deeper drainage tunnels to carry the water to lower ground. In recent decades, the city’s population soared, forcing authorities to pump more drinking water from underground aquifers and worsening the sinking.

  • With its physical and spiritual history, Mexico City is in deep trouble

Weather

Cleanup is underway after spring thunderstorms hit Iowa for a second day with strong winds, hail and heavy rain. In eastern Iowa, winds gusting around 75 mph blew over semitrailers, ripped sheet metal off roofs and toppled barns and power poles. Near Newton, a camper and three semis were blown off Interstate 80. No serious injuries were reported. Winds also blew a semitrailer off a highway near Independence, causing another truck, a van and a car to end up in a ditch. Tennis ball-sized hail pelted the Waterloo area.

At least 200 people were buried and feared dead under the latest landslide to hit a slum in Rio de Janeiro‘s metropolitan area, authorities said Thursday. The deaths would raise the toll sharply from the 153 people already known to have perished in slides this week triggered by record rains. Record rainfall since Monday afternoon has triggered deadly mudslides across Rio’s metropolitan area. Nearly all the deaths occurred in mudslides that smashed through slums — yet another reminder that life in one of the world’s most famous playgrounds is much different for the poor than it is for the rich.

Glacier National Park has lost two more of its glaciers to climate change and many of the rest may be gone by the end of the decade, a government researcher said Wednesday. Warmer temperatures have reduced the number of named glaciers in the northwestern Montana park to 25 They once numbered as many as 150, and 37 of those glaciers eventually were named. A glacier needs to be 25 acres to qualify for the title.