Obama Administration emboldening Arab Demand for Old City

Easter celebrations began in Jerusalem with the so-called spread of Holy Fire that begins in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem. Palestinian Prime Minister Fayaad used this occasion to declare that next year he prays that Jerusalem will be the capital of a new state and he will celebrate the Holy Fire ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is no coincidence that he used the age old Jewish prayer Next Year in Jerusalem to make his own political point. Fayaad’s increasing boldness is directly attributable to the hostility of the Obama administration to the state of Israel, according to One Jerusalem. Fayaad’s latest call for the Old City should lay to rest the frequently repeated “fact” that all the Palestinians want is some suburb of East Jerusalem. They have always wanted the Old City and the Temple Mount. And with President Obama they believe they can get it.

Earthquake in Mexico Jolts Southern California

Aftershocks continue to jolt Southern California in the wake of a powerful weekend earthquake in Baja, Mexico. Several aftershocks hit Monday morning, including a 5.1-magnitude temblor that struck at about 4:15 a.m. Monday near El Centro. No injuries have been reported in the border town of Calexico, CA, but windows shattered, a few bricks fell and some cracks appeared in century-old buildings. Police have cordoned off downtown and businesses are closed Monday. Calexico is the U.S. area hardest hit by Sunday’s 7.2-magnitude quake in Mexico that killed two people and injured at least 100, including one person in the California town of El Centro.  Seismic waves from the temblor rolled north into Southern California, damaging Calexico and alarming residents from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Buildings shook as far away as Phoenix and Las Vegas, but most of the U.S. damage appeared to be limited to California’s southeastern Imperial Valley. The U.S. Geological Survey said no major damage was reported from the earthquake, centered 6.2 miles below the open desert about 45 miles southwest of Yuma.

Anti-Government Group Tells Governors to resign or Be Removed

Security has been stepped up at some state capitols after an anti-government group mailed letters to more than 30 governors telling them they would be removed from office if they did not resign within three days. The FBI expects all 50 governors will get the letter from a fringe libertarian group calling itself the Guardians of the Free Republics, the Associated Press writes.  The anti-corporate, anti-tax, anti-bank group promotes a “Restore America Plan” that relies on “de jure” (rightful) grand juries convened by citizens. The group writes on their web site, “Only courageous people of high spiritual intention who are willing to stand when called upon, who are drawn to this calling, with forgiveness in their hearts, should apply. You will also be registering simultaneously as a member of the sovereign People on the land of your respective republic.” The FBI said that although it does not expect violence, it’s concerned that the letters might energize more militant groups.

Another Obama Campaign Promise Broken

President Barack Obama’s decision to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling along parts of the U.S. coastline marks a sharp turnaround from the position he took during his presidential campaign. In a statement issued on June 17, 2008, Obama attacked his Republican opponent John McCain for his call to open the nation’s coastline for oil exploration and drilling. Obama also said offshore drilling would not produce any oil for at least a decade, and the effect on gasoline prices would be negligible. Nevertheless, on Wednesday Obama announced a five-year plan that includes opening up waters along portions of the U.S. mainland and Alaska for oil exploration.

  • Whether or not we agree with the decision to allow offshore drilling for oil, Obama’s flip-flop continues to demonstrate that his word cannot be trusted

Extended Unemployment Benefits Lapse

Extended unemployment benefits will temporarily expire for thousands of Americans on Monday because the Senate went on its spring recess without approving a one-month deadline extension. The unemployment benefits provision was a part of the Continuing Extension Act of 2010, which affects other programs, too. The Senate’s inaction means lapses in funding for COBRA, Medicare payments to doctors and the National Flood Insurance Program, among other things. The Senate is expected to take up the measure after lawmakers return from recess the week of April 12. Key Democrats said they hope to pass a retroactive extension, compensating the unemployed for a gap in funding. If approved, it would be the seventh time the deadline has been extended since June 2008.

Economic News

Two reports cheered investors Monday: The number of buyers who agreed to purchase previously occupied homes rose sharply in February, far exceeding expectations, and a key index of the U.S. service sector grew in March at its fastest pace since 2007. The National Association of Realtors said its seasonally adjusted index of sales agreements rose 8.2% from January to a February reading of 97.6. The index is considered a barometer for future sales activity. Meanwhile, The Institute for Supply Management said its service index rose to 55.4 in March from 53 in February. The group says business activity soared to its strongest level since April 2006 and new orders are near a five-year high. The service sector’s recovery has been bumpy, lagging a resurgence in manufacturing amid high unemployment, slow wage growth and a rocky real estate market.

More cities, counties and states are looking to raise taxes on hotel rooms as they battle budget shortfalls and cuts in services. Among those increasing taxes or considering it: Baltimore; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Santa Clara, Calif.; and Connecticut. Taxing visitors is an old habit for local governments. Revenue from taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars have been used to fund tourism promotion, build stadiums and repair roads. While the taxes can infuriate travelers, they’re seen as a politically palatable option in tough economic times.

The grim economy is hitting some consumers in the wallet in yet another way: their water bills. Many water utilities are raising rates because water use is down, in part because manufacturers have closed or are cutting back, tourism has fallen and the real estate market is in the doldrums. A recent study by the Water Research Foundation, a Denver-based non-profit, on the recession’s impact on water utilities found that home foreclosures and business contractions have reduced water demand in many areas.

Israel

Israel will be compelled to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities by this November unless the U.S. and its allies enact “crippling sanctions that will undermine the regime in Tehran,” former deputy defense minister Brig. Gen. Ephraim Sneh said last week in Tel Aviv. The sanctions currently being discussed with Russia, China, and other major powers at the United Nations are likely to be a slightly-enhanced version of the U.N. sanctions already in place, which have had no impact on the Iranian regime.In an Op-Ed in the Israeli left-wing daily, Haaretz, Sneh argues that Iran will probably have “a nuclear bomb or two” by 2011. He writes, “for practical reasons, in the absence of genuine sanctions, Israel will not be able to wait until the end of next winter, which means it would have to act around the congressional elections in November, thereby sealing Obama’s fate as president.” Sneh believes that the “acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran during Obama’s term would do him a great deal of political damage,” but that the damage to Obama resulting from an Israeli strike on Iran “would be devastating.”

Iraq

Suicide attackers detonated three car bombs in quick succession near foreign embassies in Baghdad on Sunday, killing more than 40 people in coordinated strikes that Iraqi officials said were intended to disrupt efforts to form a new government. The bombings followed the execution-style killings of 24 villagers in a Sunni area two days earlier, a spike in violence that suggests insurgents are seizing on the political uncertainty after the recent election to try to destabilize the country as U.S. troops prepare to leave. No clear winner emerged from the March 7 vote. Authorities said they foiled two other attacks aimed at diplomatic targets by stopping the would-be bombers’ vehicles and defusing the explosives.

Pakistan

Islamist militants attacked a U.S. consulate in northwest Pakistan with car bombs and grenades Monday, killing three people, hours after 41 people died in a suicide attack on a political rally elsewhere in the region. The assaults illustrated the resilience of militants in the country despite intense army operations and U.S. missile strikes in their northwestern havens near Afghanistan. Militants dressed in security uniforms fired mortars or rocket-propelled grenades at the heavily fortified compound in an attempt to make their way inside. Police discovered suicide jackets after the militants were killed and defused them. Shortly before Monday’s attack, a suicide bomber struck a rally held by a Pashtun nationalist party A total of 41 people at the rally in the town of Timergarah were killed and 80 wounded.

Afghanistan

The Obama administration once again is troubled and frustrated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who reportedly is threatening to align with the Taliban while accusing the United States of meddling in his country’s affairs.  Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that the trouble with Karzai could endanger U.S. military operations in the country. The latest spat between the two administrations comes as American-led forces in Kabul reportedly admitted to killing three Afghan women during a February raid — after NATO initially claimed the three women were found dead by the Special Operations team. The New York Times reported Monday that officials have offered conflicting accounts of whether there was evidence of “tampering” at the scene.

Friendly fire clashes on Friday left six Aghan soldiers dead, the same day three German troops died and eight were wounded in heavy fighting with insurgents. Some 4,000 German soldiers control the relatively peaceful north of Afghanistan, and 39 German soldiers have died in Afghanistan in the last nine years. Parts of the north have recently proven more volatile. Friday’s attack on the German soldiers — carried out by an estimated 150 Taliban fighters — was “remarkable in its complexity” and involved several attacks in different locations. The German troops were rushing to the scene of their comrades’ fighting after nightfall and mistook the Afghan soldiers for insurgents.

Russia

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a police station in a troubled Russian province Monday, killing two officers and wounding two others as Islamic insurgency continues to spread across the region. The attack took place in Ingushetia, a primarily Muslim province in the impoverished North Caucasus area, in southwestern Russia. Ingushetia, Dagestan and other Caucasus provinces have been plagued by attacks and bombings by Islamic militants who have spread across the region after two separatist wars in neighboring Chechnya.

China

More than 100 Chinese miners were pulled out alive Monday after being trapped for over a week in a flooded coal mine, where some ate sawdust and strapped themselves to the shafts’ walls with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept. Rescued miners wrapped in blankets, some with their light-sensitive eyes covered but their feet bare, were hurried to waiting ambulances that sped wailing to nearby hospitals. Of the 153 initially trapped, there are still 38 miners in the shaft.

South Africa

A top member of a South African white supremacist group said the slaying of their leader was “a declaration of war” by blacks against whites, as the president appealed for calm amid growing racial tensions in the once white-led country. Andre Visagie of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging movement, better known as the AWB, said the group would also urge soccer teams to avoid the upcoming World Cup tournament in South Africa out of safety concerns. He said the group would avenge the Saturday death of leader Eugene Terreblanche. Terreblanche’s killing also comes amid growing disenchantment among blacks for whom the right to vote has not translated into jobs and better housing and education. Terreblanche’s was bludgeoned to death by two of his farm workers in an apparent wage dispute.

Australia

Workers rushed to contain an oil spill Monday from a coal-carrying ship grounded on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, sending two tugboats to stabilize the vessel so that it would not break apart and further damage the fragile coral beneath. The Chinese-registered Shen Neng 1 rammed into Douglas Shoals late Saturday, an area that has shipping restrictions in order to protect what is the world’s largest coral reef and one that is listed as a World Heritage site because of its gleaming waters and environmental value as home to thousands of marine species.

Weather

Hundreds of people across Rhode Island, including many in Coventry, were evacuated as deep floodwaters overtook homes and businesses and added to the difficulties of a state mired in a prolonged recession. Residents were still drying out basements and cellars Sunday. Providence registered its rainiest month on record in March, with more than 15 inches of rain. The flooding adds to the problems of a state grappling with nearly 13% unemployment, one of the highest jobless rates in the country.

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