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.

One Response to “”

  1. Priest Says:

    Holy conscie data batman. Lol!

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