Archive for May, 2010

May 28, 2010

Mexico Harasses Immigrants even as it Criticizes Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona’s new law directing local police to take a greater role in enforcing immigration rules has brought a lot of criticism from Mexico, the largest source of illegal immigrants in the United States. But, in Mexico, undocumented immigrants say they suffer even worse treatment from corrupt authorities. Mexico already has an Arizona-style statute requiring local police to check IDs. That clause has fed an epidemic of kidnappings, rapes and other atrocities against migrants because victims are afraid to talk to police, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission says. Mexican police freely engage in racial profiling, harassing Central American migrants.

Reports are surfacing around the Valley that illegal-immigrant families with school-age children are fleeing Arizona because of a new immigration law. Some school officials say enough parents and students have told them they plan to leave the state this summer to indicate Hispanic enrollment could drop at some schools. But there’s no way to know exactly how many illegal immigrants will depart because schools do not inquire about a student’s or a family’s legal status. Teachers and principals at Alhambra elementary schools in west Phoenix, for example, are saying goodbye to core volunteer parents, who tell them that the new migration law threatens their family stability and that they must leave. The district expects the new law to drive out an extra 200 to 300 students over the summer.

Oil Spill Containment Still Uncertain

The chief executive of BP PLC says it will be about 48 hours before they know if pumping heavy mud into a blown-out well is successful in stopping the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. CEO Tony Hayward said on the CBS “Early Show” that his confidence level in the well-plugging bid remains at about 60 to 70%.Workers resumed pumping heavy mud into the gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico after temporarily suspending the effort to assess the situation, oil company BP said late Thursday. The latest attempt to block the well came as the government confirmed that the undersea gusher of toxic oil and gas is far bigger than what had been initially estimated, making the offshore environmental disaster the largest in the nation’s history. The U.S. Geological Survey said three teams of scientists concluded that between 504,000 and 798,000 gallons a day had been billowing out of the mud a mile beneath the sea. Initial estimates were 210,000 gallons spilling per day. That means 18 million to 30 million gallons have spoiled the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon blew up April 20, dwarfing the previous largest spill, from the tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989.

At once defensive and contrite, President Obama acknowledged Thursday that his administration made mistakes in the months leading up to a Gulf of Mexico oil spill that has reached record proportions. While defending the government’s actions since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Obama said federal officials slipped up three times: they failed to anticipate before the accident what the potential worst-case scenario could be from a spill of these proportions; they did not act fast enough to institute reforms for what he called a “corrupt” relationship between oil companies and federal regulators; and they were late in accurately measuring the amount of oil flowing. Obama announced a series of changes aimed at avoiding future disasters. He extended a moratorium on new drilling for six months and suspended or canceled projects from Alaska to Virginia.

House Votes to End ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The House of Representatives voted Thursday night to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces. The vote was 234 to 194, and repeals a 17-year-old law called “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The policy permitted gays and lesbians to serve in the military, so long as they did not declare their sexual orientation. In exchange, the military brass would not inquire service members about their sexual preference. Earlier Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 to eliminate the old rule. The military has discharged some 13,000 service members since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy went into effect.

Poll Finds Anger Over Country’s Leaders

Americans are increasingly optimistic about the economy, but that brightening outlook hasn’t softened their outrage over the country’s direction and its political leadership, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. Two-thirds of those surveyed this week describe themselves as “angry” about the way things are going in the USA, the highest percentage in the decade the question has been asked. By nearly 2-1, they would rather vote for a candidate who has never served in Congress over one with experience. The nation’s mood hasn’t eased even though attitudes on the economy have begun to turn around. About half of Americans rated the economy as “poor” in April and May, not a glowing appraisal but the lowest percentage since the economic meltdown in September 2008. Half say it’s getting better, the highest level of optimism in six years. The findings are sobering for incumbents who hope an improving economy will ameliorate the throw-the-bums-out sentiment before November.

8th State Says Guns Beyond Feds’ Control

Alaska has become the eighth state to declare that firearms made, sold and owned in the state are beyond the reach of the federal bureaucrats along the Potomac. “The Alaska Firearms Freedom Act frees Alaskans from overly bureaucratic and restrictive federal firearm regulation, and allows our state to assume the responsibility for regulation,” said Rep. Mike Kelly, the lead sponsor on the plan endorsed by lawmakers in the recently closed session of the Alaska Legislature. The law also requires the state to defend any Alaskan who is “prosecuted by the federal government under their authority to regulate interstate commerce.” The federal government has called the move reason in and of itself for federal courts to strike down the state laws that now have been adopted in Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Idaho, Utah, Tennessee and Arizona. In its court filings in Montana – the first state to adopt such provisions and the site of a court battle over its validity – the federal government has argued that since eight states have enacted their own firearms regulations and another 21 are considering similar plans, that “would have an indisputable effect on interstate commerce.”

Ground Zero Mosque Approval Angers New Yorkers

A New York City community panel has given it’s stamp of approval to build a mosque near Ground Zero, despite a very contentious debate over the building. CBN.com reports the city board voted 29-1 in favor of the Cordoba Mosque. Many New Yorkers are furious over the idea of building a mosque near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.”The greatest terrorist act against this nation was Pearl Harbor. The second one was the World Trade Center bombing,” mosque opponent Lou Camonale said. “Now we wouldn’t normally have a Japanese center in Pearl Harbor… this is like pouring salt in the wound of America.” Before the vote Tuesday (May 25), opponents lined up to voice their outrage.”This is an insult. This is demeaning,” one protestor said. “This is humiliating that you would build a shrine to the very ideology that inspired the attacks of 9/11.”

Link Between Tanning Beds, Melanoma

Strong evidence now links tanning beds to melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer that afflicts nearly 69,000 Americans a year. People who have ever used tanning machines were 74% more likely to develop melanoma than others, according to a study of 2,268 patients reported Thursday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Those who tanned the most — for 10 years or more — had more than twice the risk of melanoma compared with people who never used tanning beds. About 2.5% of men and 1.7% of women develop melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society.

FDA Warned Dozens of Drug Factories since 2009

At least 43 drug factories supplying medication to thousands of U.S. consumers have received government warnings in recent months for failing to correct shoddy manufacturing practices that may have exposed patients to health risks, a USA TODAY review of records shows. Violations serious enough to prompt warning letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration include plants using equipment and ingredients contaminated with bacteria or insects, failing to do proper testing to ensure drug strength and purity, and ignoring consumer complaints that products were making them sick. During 2002-06, more than half of inspections at domestic drug plants and 62% at foreign plants supplying the U.S. had violations that didn’t prompt warning letters, but were classified as requiring correction. The House oversight committee held a hearing Thursday into the April 30 recall of children’s liquid Tylenol and other medicine made at a Pennsylvania plant.

Arizona Tax-Tuition Program Goes to Supreme Court

Religion News Service reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of an Arizona program that provides state tax breaks for donations to private school scholarship programs. As part of the 13-year-old tax-tuition program, taxpayers receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction in state income taxes for their donations to not-for-profit school-tuition organizations. Last year, 91.5 percent of the $52 million collected in Arizona went to religious schools. Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and others, argue the program violates the First Amendment, which prohibits government establishment of religion. “Arizona’s convoluted scheme is a backdoor way of subsidizing religious education,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund will defend Arizona’s tax-tuition program.

States Borrowing from Feds to Make Unemployment Payments

EconomicPolicyJournal.com has learned that 32 states have run out of funds to make unemployment benefit payments and that the federal government has been supplying these states with funds so that they can make their  payments to the unemployed. In some cases, states have borrowed billions. As of May 20, the total balance outstanding by 32 states (and the Virgin Islands) is $37.8 billion. The state of California has borrowed $6.9 billion. Michigan has borrowed $3.9 billion, Illinois $2.2 billion.

  • Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul. What a mess.

Economic News

Consumer spending was stagnant in April, turning in the weakest performance in seven months, while incomes posted a tiny advance. The Commerce Department says consumer spending was unchanged last month and personal incomes rose just 0.4%. The flat spending reading for April raises concerns about whether the recovery from the recession could slow in coming months if households cut back on purchases.

The number of newly laid off workers filings claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week but the level still remained higher than expected. Applications for unemployment benefits fell 14,000 to 460,000 last week. The latest level of claims is slightly higher than it was at the start of the year, underscoring that the nation’s workers are still facing tough times even though the overall economy is growing again.

The Treasury Department said Wednesday it raised $6.2 billion from the sale of 1.5 billion shares of Citigroup stock it received as part of the government’s rescue of the bank. The sales took place over the past month and represented 19.5% of the government’s holdings of Citigroup common stock. The sales are the government’s latest move to recoup the costs of the $700 billion financial bailout.

Spain will introduce a new tax for the country’s highest-income earners in the next few weeks, part of a wider effort to raise money and cut a swollen deficit, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Wednesday. His Socialist government recently approved public sector wage cuts and other spending reductions in a bid to save 15 billion euro this year and next to bring Spain’s deficit down and calm jittery markets.

Israel

The Israeli military partially opened a West Bank highway to Palestinian drivers on Friday to comply with a ruling of the country’s highest court. The road, known as Highway 443, is a major link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and is heavily traveled by Israeli commuters. Much of its length runs through the West Bank, one of the territories Palestinians claim for a their hoped-for state and parts of it were paved on land expropriated from Palestinians.The Israeli military, which maintains overall control of the West Bank, banned Palestinian cars in 2002 after a string of Palestinian shooting attacks on the road killed Israeli motorists. In 2007, with Israeli-Palestinian violence winding down, local Palestinians petitioned Israel‘s Supreme Court, demanding to be allowed to use the road. The court agreed that the ban was discriminatory and ordered the highway opened, despite the military’s argument that the move would endanger Israelis because it could allow militants to easily access the road and escape into Palestinian villages.

  • The overlapping areas of Palestinian control within Israel is untenable and unsustainable.

Pakistan

Gunmen armed with grenades attacked two mosques of a minority sect during Friday prayers in eastern Pakistan, seizing control of one mosque and battling with police, officials and witnesses said. At least 20 people were killed, and worshippers were believed held hostage. The attacks by suspected Islamist militants in Lahore city targeted the Ahmadi sect, which has experienced years of state-sanctioned discrimination and occasional attacks by radical Sunnis. It has never before been hit on such a large scale or coordinated fashion. Pakistan has seen scores of attacks by groups of Islamist militants against the government, as well as Western and security force targets over the past three years.

Afghanistan

The American military death toll in Afghanistan has passed the 1,000 mark at a time when President Obama‘s strategy to turn back the Taliban is facing its greatest test — an ambitious campaign to win over a disgruntled population in the insurgents’ southern heartland. More casualties are expected when the campaign kicks into high gear this summer. The results may determine the outcome of a nearly nine-year conflict that became “Obama’s war” after he decided to shift the fight against Islamist militancy from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Afghan insurgents find sanctuary. More than 430 of the U.S. dead were killed after Obama took office in January 2009. And soon, Afghanistan will pass Vietnam as America’s longest war. On June 7, the war will complete its 104th month.

India

Suspected Maoist rebels derailed an overnight passenger train Friday in eastern India, triggering a crash with an oncoming cargo train that killed at least 65 people and injured 200 more Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a statement that a section of the railway tracks had been cut, but “whether explosives were used is not yet clear.” Posters from the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, a group local officials believe is closely tied to the Maoists, had been found at the scene taking responsibility for the attack.

Jamaica

Jamaican security forces claimed a tenuous hold over the slum stronghold in Kingston of a gang leader sought by the U.S., but only after battles that killed at least 44 civilians, the country’s official ombudsman said Wednesday. Officers and soldiers were still fighting holdout defenders of Christopher Coke, known as “Dudus,” in pockets of the Tivoli Gardens area. He was still at large after nearly three days of street battles.

Weather

New England sizzled Wednesday with record temperatures as the region experienced an unusual springtime heat wave. The National Weather Service said the mercury hit 95 degrees at T.F. Green Airport outside Providence, breaking the old record of 91 degrees set May 26, 1965. A temperature of 98 degrees was recorded at Bradley International Airport outside of Hartford, Conn., breaking the previous record of 94 degrees. In Boston, residents and visitors took advantage of the 93 degrees to enjoy the “Rings Fountain” at the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Hail pounded parts of the northeast Denver metro area Wednesday and tornadoes have been reported east and north of the city as thunderstorms sweep along the Front Range and eastern Colorado plains.

The hurricane forecast this year is the most ominous the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has ever issued — “an active to extremely active” season: Eight to 14 hurricanes are predicted, storms with winds of 74 mph or greater, with three to seven of those to be major hurricanes — those with winds exceeding 111 mph. That is the most storms NOAA has forecast since it began issuing the outlook in 1998.

May 26, 2010

Obama to Send 1,200 Troops to U.S.-Mexico Border

A month after Arizona passed an immigration law that reignited a national debate, President Obama is sending up to 1,200 National Guard troops to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border. The troops will be a “bridge to longer-term enhancements” on the Southwestern border, helping with intelligence and surveillance while additional Border Patrol agents are trained. Obama will also request $500 million for border protection and law enforcement. The decision came to light after Obama met with Senate Republicans to discuss immigration legislation — a package that could be difficult to pass this year without Republican support.

Roy Beck of NumbersUSA, a group that wants to reduce legal and illegal immigration, was pleased but called the action a minimal response and based on politics. “I think the White House people are watching the polls and seeing how incredibly popular the Arizona law is,” Beck said. Gov. Jan Brewer says her signing of Arizona’s tough new law targeting illegal immigration lit a fire under Washington, leading to President Barack Obama’s decision.

Police Coalition Challenges Arizona Law

About a dozen major city police chiefs will meet today with Attorney General Eric Holder to oppose the controversial Arizona immigration law that they fear could drive a wedge between the community and local law enforcement. The police coalition, including officials from Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Tucson, represents the largest group of officers to speak against the measure, set to take effect July 29. “This law is the culmination of a very broken immigration system,” Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris said. “It doesn’t fix the immigration problem, it only diverts our scarce resources.” Five federal lawsuits challenging the law have been filed since Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the measure last month. Holder is weighing a similar lawsuit on behalf of the federal government.

Offshore Drilling Here to Stay, but Changes Coming

BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has focused attention on the petroleum industry’s loose regulation and failure to plan for the worst. That is going to change, experts say. Regulators are likely to make permitting, inspections and equipment requirements for rigs more stringent. Lawmakers want to extract more money from the industry to help pay for any future cleanups. And insurers are bound to raise rates for underwriting this risky business. What won’t change, experts say, is the industry’s expanding pursuit of oil and natural gas deposits under the ocean floor. Global offshore oil output has tripled over the past decade – and it is forecast to double in the next five years. The reason is simple: the best prospects lie beneath the ocean floor.

BP was still running tests and expected to decide Wednesday morning if it will go ahead with an effort to choke off its oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico by force-feeding it heavy drilling mud and cement The top kill involves pumping enough mud into the gusher to overcome the flow of the well. The top kill has been successful in aboveground wells but has never been tried a mile beneath the sea. BP now says there was a clear warning sign of a “very large abnormality” in the well, but work proceeded anyway.

White House Backs Compromise on Gays in Military

A proposal to step up the repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military but still allow the Pentagon time — perhaps even years — to implement new policies won the White House‘s backing on Monday after administration officials met with gay rights activists. The White House budget office sent a letter supporting the proposal to remove the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” law even as the Pentagon continues a review of the system. How long implementation might take is not known, but the proposed amendment would have no effect on current practices. “The proposed amendment will allow for completion of the comprehensive review, enable the Department of Defense to assess the results of the review, and ensure that the implementation of the of the repeal is consistent with standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention,” budget chief Peter Orszag said.

Violent Crime Rate Down Again

The violent crime rate in the United States went down in 2009 for the third year in a row and the property crime rate fell for the seventh consecutive year, the FBI reported Monday. The decline last year amounted to 5.5% for violent crime compared to 2008 and the rate for property crime was down 4.9%.The FBI collected the crime data from more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies around the country. According to the numbers, all four categories of violent crime declined compared to 2008 — robbery, murder, aggravated assault and forcible rape. Nationwide, the murder rate was down 7.2% last year. Nationwide, the murder rate was down 7.2% last year. Robbery dropped 8.1%, aggravated assault declined 4.2% and forcible rape was down 3.1%.

Private Pay Shrinks to Historic Lows

Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of this year, a USA TODAY analysis of government data finds. At the same time, government-provided benefits — from Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs — rose to a record high during the first three months of 2010. Those records reflect a long-term trend accelerated by the recession and the federal stimulus program to counteract the downturn. The result is a major shift in the source of personal income from private wages to government programs. The trend is not sustainable, says University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes. Reason: The federal government depends on private wages to generate income taxes to pay for its ever-more-expensive programs. Government-generated income is taxed at lower rates or not at all, he says.

Budget Cuts Dilute Children’s Coverage

A federal law that President Obama signed early last year to expand health insurance to 4 million more low-income children has gotten off to a slow start because of budget problems in the states. The law makes more than $10 billion in federal aid available each year through 2013 but requires state funds as well. Faced with budget shortfalls, less than half the states have used it to expand the Children’s Health Insurance ProgramThe law makes more than $10 billion in federal aid available each year through 2013 but requires state funds as well. Faced with budget shortfalls, less than half the states have used it to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program. As a result, many states will leave federal money unspent, and the increase of 4 million children may not be reached, state officials and children’s health advocates say.

Economic News

Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods surged in April, propelled by a rebound in demand for commercial aircraft. The Commerce Department says demand for durable goods increased 2.9% last month. It was the best showing in three months. Excluding transportation, orders fell 1%.

A jump in U.S. oil production and lower demand for oil last year as a result of the recession led to a reduction in oil imports which declined to 52% of total usage in 2009 from 60% in 2005.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released Tuesday posted a 0.5% drop from February. The numbers are especially disturbing because they show that improved sales due to the tax credits didn’t translate into higher prices.

Consumer confidence in the economy rose in May for the third straight month in a row as Americans’ hopes for job growth improved. The Conference Board, based in New York, said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 63.3, up from a revised 57.7 reading in April. Economists watch the number closely because consumer spending, including health care and other major items, accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic activity.

European and Asian shares dived Tuesday amid ongoing debt worries and concerns about tensions between North and South Korea. Ongoing concerns about the health of Spain’s banking sector weighed on shares in Europe and triggered a drop in the euro against major currencies. The slump in Europe came on the heels of a big drop in Asia.

Europe

The Italian government is asking citizens to make sacrifices to help get public finances in order and protect the country from the sort of market speculation that pushed Greece to the brink of bankruptcy. The cuts reportedly include pay freezes for most public workers, as well as pay cuts for the highest paid. The nations health system may also be in for a trim. Italy‘s measures are part of a wider wave of austerity cuts underway across Europe as the continent tries to convince markets that it can manage its debt load and avoid another near-default like the one in Greece.

Europe‘s economy will stagnate unless governments make major changes to boost growth — just as they rein in spending to curb soaring debt levels, the European Union‘s economy chief warned Tuesday. Low growth prospects and rocketing debt in many of the EU’s 27 nations have alarmed financial markets in recent months, causing stocks to slide and the euro to fall sharply in value to a four-year low against the U.S. dollar.

Koreas

North Korea declared Tuesday that it would sever all communication and relations with Seoul as punishment for blaming the North for the sinking of a South Korean warship two months ago. North Korea also announced it would expel all South Korean government officials working at a joint industrial park in the northern border town of Kaesong. The North’s committee called the moves “the first phase” of punitive measures against South Korea, suggesting more action could follow. Tensions were rising on the divided Korean peninsula in the wake of an investigation report blaming North Korea for a torpedo attack that sank the Cheonan warship on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

Iraq

Baghdad police say masked gunmen have attacked gold shops in the Iraqi capital, killing 14 people before they fled with a large quantity of gold. The police say the gunmen came in five cars, their faces covered with traditional Arab headscarves, and opened fire on 12 shops in the southwestern Baghdad neighborhood of Baiyaa before noon on Tuesday. They used guns with silencers. Some of those killed were gold shop owners and workers and others were bystanders.

Afghanistan

For the first time since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, there are more U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan than in Iraq. The Pentagon says that as of Saturday, 94,000 U.S. forces were in Afghanistan and 92,000 in Iraq. The figure for Afghanistan will rise to roughly 98,000 later this summer with the Obama administration’s commitment of additional forces. The level of U.S. forces in Iraq has fallen from a high of more than 160,000 in 2007, when they were in heavy combat there. All U.S. combat forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by September.

Senior British officials, including new Foreign Secretary William Hague, arrived in Afghanistan with a warning that Britain wants to withdraw its troops as soon as possible. Hague, Defense Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell are set to meet President Hamid Karzai in their first visit to the country since a new coalition government took power in London this month. Hague described Afghanistan — where around 10,000 British troops are helping fight a Taliban-led insurgency well into its ninth year — as “our most urgent priority.”

United Kingdom

The U.K.’s new coalition government plans to cancel the national ID card program, calling it part of a “substantial erosion of civil liberties” that took place under the former Labour government. Following an election last week where no party gained a majority in Parliament, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats allied to form a new government with David Cameron as prime minister. The parties have also agreed to scrap the National Identity Register, a computer system storing information from biometric passports and ID cards under development by the U.K.’s Identity and Passport Service and Border Agency.

Thailand

A Thai court issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges, accusing the fugitive former leader of fomenting two months of unrest in Bangkok that left 88 people dead. If found guilty of the charges, he could face the death penalty. Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and later fled abroad ahead of a corruption conviction, has been accused by the government of being a key force behind Red Shirt protesters who seized areas of downtown Bangkok before being overcome by army troops last week.

Somalia

Pirates have stepped up their attacks off the coast of Somalia this year despite a large international naval flotilla designed to protect merchant shipping in the Horn of Africa region. Pirates launched 47 attacks in the region off the east coast of Somalia in the first four months of this year, up from 37 during the same period last year, according to U.S. 5th Fleet statistics. Not all of the attempts were successful, but the increase reflects a shift in tactics by pirates. The heavy presence of international forces has forced pirates farther afield. U.S. officials have said the piracy problem can be solved only by establishing order in Somalia, a lawless country where pirates thrive.

Mexico

Mexican federal police have arrested the mayor of the resort city of Cancun on drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime charges, the latest blow to 2010 state and local elections already marred by violence and allegations of drug cartel involvement. Observers have voiced fears that Mexico’s drug cartels could seek to infiltrate politics and control the July 4 local elections in 10 states by supporting candidates who cooperate with organized crime and killing or intimidating those who don’t.

Weather

A moisture-packed storm system fouled the Monday morning commute along the Wasatch Front, dumped deep snow in the mountains and produced the latest spring snow ever recorded at Salt Lake City International Airport. The Wasatch Mountains got significant snow for this time of year. Nine inches were reported at Brighton. In Salt Lake City, a mudslide broke away Monday morning adjacent to Interstate 80, leaving behind a cut in a hillside about 20 feet deep, 30 feet wide and 50 yards long.

The National Weather Service says tornadoes destroyed a rural home in South Dakota‘s Meade County and a rural school in Perkins County. The damage was among reports across Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota as storms tore through the northern Plains on Monday, producing tornadoes, hail and heavy rain.

May 24, 2010

Texas Board Adopts New Social Studies Curriculum

The Texas State Board of Education adopted a social studies and history curriculum Friday that amends or waters down the teaching of religious freedoms, America’s relationship with the U.N. and hundreds of other items. In one of the most significant curriculum changes, the board dilutes the rationale for the separation of church and state in a high school government class, noting that the words were not in the Constitution and requiring students to compare and contrast the judicial language with the First Amendment’s wording. The standards, which one Democrat called a “travesty,” also will be used by textbook publishers who often develop materials for other states based on guidelines approved in Texas, During the months-long revision process, conservatives strengthened requirements on teaching the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation’s Founding Fathers and required that the U.S. government be referred to as a “constitutional republic,” rather than “democratic.” They also rejected language to modernize the classification of historic periods to B.C.E. and C.E. from the traditional B.C. and A.D.

Southern Baptists Post Most Baptisms in 4 Years

Southern Baptist Convention— the nation’s largest Protestant denomination — posted its highest number of baptisms in four years. The baptisms jumped from 342,198 to 349,737 last year, reversing years of decline. Baptist leaders say the numbers show the convention’s renewed focus on reaching nonbelievers is working. “We’ve tried to focus on getting outside the four walls of the church,” said the Rev. Steve Freeman, pastor of Grace Baptist about 30 miles north of Nashville. “We’re taking the Gospel to where the people are.” Not all the Baptist statistics were positive. Monetary donations to the convention dropped by 1.8% last year. Membership declined for the third straight year, down to 16.13 million. Average Sunday morning attendance was up slightly.

Scientists create 1st Bacteria Strain from Man-Made DNA

Genome researchers Thursday unveiled the first bacteria strain with a man-made collection of genes. The long-anticipated advance, reported in the journal Science, is a $40 million milestone in the nascent field of “synthetic biology” and points towards a future of designer microbes manufacturing fuels, chemicals and materials. “This is the first self-replicating cell we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer,” says team chief Craig Venter of the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., who called the bacteria “the world’s first synthetic cell.” In this latest study, the team designed a non-infectious gene map for Mycoplasma mycoides bacteria, ordered the map’s chemical constituents and assembled those chemicals into a gene chromosome inside yeast cells. Finally, they transplanted the genome into a different species of bacteria, “and booted it up.” The altered bacteria reproduced as blue colonies of mycoides cells, now held in a freezer and awaiting a museum.

  • Another “advance” that will bring forth both good and evil in this dual-natured world

Obama Facing Mounting Anger for Handling of Oil Spill

Anger grew along the Gulf Coast as an ooze of oil washed into delicate coastal wetlands in Lousiana, with residents questioning the federal government and others wondering how to clean up the month-long mess that worsens with each day. The government is overseeing the cleanup and response, but the official responsible for the oversight said he understands the discontent. “If anybody is frustrated with this response, I would tell them their symptoms are normal, because I’m frustrated, too,” said Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen. “Nobody likes to have a feeling that you can’t do something about a very big problem.” As simple as it may seem, the law prevents the government from just taking over, Allen said. After the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, Congress dictated that oil companies be responsible for dealing with major accidents — including paying for all cleanup — with oversight by federal agencies.

  • Will oil spill be Obama’s Katrina?

Cleaning Oil-Soaked Wetlands May Be Impossible

Anger grew along the Gulf Coast as an ooze of oil washed into delicate coastal wetlands in Louisiana, with many wondering how to clean up the month-long mess — especially now that BP’s latest try to plug the blown-out well won’t happen until Tuesday. Officials are considering some drastic and risky solutions: They could set the wetlands on fire or flood areas in hopes of floating out the oil. But they warn an aggressive cleanup could ruin the marshes and do more harm than good. The only viable option for many impacted areas is to do nothing and let nature break down the spill. More than 50 miles of Louisiana‘s delicate shoreline already have been soiled by the massive slick unleashed after BP’s Deepwater Horizon burned and sank last month. Officials fear oil eventually could invade wetlands and beaches from Texas to Florida.

Obama Calls for New World Order

President Obama on Saturday vowed to press for a new international order “that can resolve the challenges of our times” and help the United States defeat Al Qaeda and other threats to freedom. Delivering the commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Obama ticked off a list of lofty goals this new order could accomplish; from combating violent extremism to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to stemming climate change and sustaining global growth. Saturday’s comments suggest the Obama administration may be ready to more vigorously court the international community’s support, and further distance itself from the “distinctly American internationalism” pursued by George W. Bush.

Ø      First Obama revealed his socialistic agenda, now he begins to openly support the one-world government prophesied in Revelation 13.

GOP’s Djou Wins House Election in Obama’s Hometown

Republicans scored a midterm election victory Saturday when Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou won a Democratic-held House seat in Hawaii in the district where President Barack Obama grew up — the latest triumph for the GOP as it looks to take back control of Congress. Djou’s victory was a blow to Obama and other Democrats who could not rally around a candidate and find away to win a congressional race that should have been a cakewalk. The seat had been held by a Democrat for nearly 20 years and is located in the district where Obama was born and spent most of his childhood. Republicans see the victory as a powerful statement about their momentum heading into November.

Europe

European Union finance ministers backed tougher sanctions to prevent them running up too much debt in the hopes of winning back market confidence and getting a handle on the debt crisis that is threatening the euro. Current limits on debt and deficits are backed up on paper by heavy fines, which have never been imposed, effectively allowing Greece and others to ignore them and build up massive debt. Germany, which is providing the largest chunks of bailout funds for Greece and the eurozone, is keen on harsher punishments for countries that break the rules to deter them from seeking financial rescue such as such as stripping EU governments of voting rights or development funds or even ejecting them from the euro currency.

Israel

Israeli troops killed two Palestinian militants who had infiltrated Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Friday. The firefight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants took place across the border from the southern Gaza Strip. Security forces sealed off the entrances to the four Israeli communities in the area, where thousands of people live, until the gun battle was over. The military said it was not aware of any other militants having eluded troops. It said the gunmen entered Israel by cutting the security fence along the border.

Afghanistan

The Taliban claimed responsibility Sunday for a nighttime assault on NATO’s biggest base in southern Afghanistan in which insurgents firing rockets, mortars and automatic weapons tried to storm Kandahar Air Field. It was the second such attack on a major military installation last week. Several coalition troops and civilian employees were wounded in Saturday night’s assault, but there were no reports of deaths. Militants unleashed rockets and mortars about 8 p.m. and then tried unsuccessfully to storm the northern perimeter. One of the rockets hit a shop-lined boardwalk where soldiers go in the evening to socialize.

Iraq

A car bomb exploded Friday at an open-air market in a Shiite town northeast of Baghdad, killing 23 people and wounding more than 50 The bombing struck the town of Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, a former al-Qaeda Khalis is a Shiite enclave in the largely Sunni province of Diyala.stronghold that has seen several powerful blasts. In March, twin bombings struck a restaurant in the same town, killing 57.

Mission News Network reports that Christians in Iraq received a direct threat this week, when a Muslim group warned believers in Baghdad and Mosul to leave the area. In a letter to an Iraqi bishop, the General Secretariat of the Islam Supporters warned Christians to “leave the country of Muslims (Iraq) for good and immediately in the form of mass transmigration.” It continues: “You can follow Pope Benedict XVI and his followers who have disfigured humanity and Islam,” the letter said. “There’s no more room for you, infidels, among the Iraqi Muslims. Our swords shall be placed upon your necks and the necks of your followers and other Christians residing in Mosul.” Jerry Dykstra of Open Doors USA confirms the hostility against followers of Christ. “Christians are just being further marginalized, as we’ve heard the reports of random violence.”

Pakistan

Compass Direct News reports that Muslim teachers at a girls school in Sargodha, Pakistan, have openly beaten and demeaned Christians students to the point that several have quit the school. According to area Christians, the teachers have derided Christian students for their faith, beat them, pressured them to convert to Islam and forced them to clean school bathrooms, classrooms and even teacher’s laundry after class hours. “Christian students are teased and mocked by radical Muslim female teachers from the start of the school day to the end,” said a 16-year-old girl named Sana. “Christian students feel dejected, depressed and frustrated. I am totally broken-hearted because of the intolerance and discrimination.” Christians in Pakistan are often discriminated against for their lower social status.

A U.S. missile strike killed two foreign militant suspects and eight Pakistanis near the Afghan border. The attack late Friday targeted the house of a local resident. U.S drones often hit suspected hide-outs of militants in troubled Pakistani tribal region, which Washington considers a center for the remnants of Taliban, al-Qaeda and Pakistani insurgents. Five women and two children were also wounded in the attack.

Yemen

A U.S.-born cleric who has encouraged Muslims to kill American soldiers called for the killing of U.S. civilians in his first video released by a Yemeni offshoot of al-Qaeda, providing the most overt link yet between the radical preacher and the terror group. Dressed in a white Yemeni robe, turban and with a traditional jambiyah dagger tucked into his waistband, Anwar Al-Awlaki used the 45-minute video posted Sunday to justify civilian deaths — and encourage them — by accusing the United States of intentionally killing a million Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. American civilians are to blame, he said, because “the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war.”

Koreas

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that North Korea‘s sinking of a South Korean warship has created a “highly precarious” security situation in the regionand that the Obama administration is working to prevent an escalation of tension that could lead to conflict. Speaking to reporters in Beijing shortly after the White House issued a statement offering Washington’s full and unequivocal support for Seoul, Clinton said all of North Korea’s neighbors, including its chief ally China, understand the seriousness of the matter and want to “contain” it. The U.S. will work with other nations to see that North Korea feels the consequences of its actions and changes its behavior to avoid “the kind of escalation that would be very regrettable,” she said. President Barack Obama has directed the U.S. military to coordinate with South Korea to “ensure readiness” and deter future aggression from North Korea, the White House said on Monday.

Jamaica

Masked men defending a reputed drug lord sought by the United States torched a police station and traded gunfire with security forces in a patchwork of barricaded slums in Jamaica‘s capital Sunday. The government declared a state of emergency as sporadic gunshots rang out in gritty West Kingston, stronghold of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, a Jamaican “don” charged in the U.S. with drug and arms trafficking. His defiant supporters turned his neighborhood and other areas into a virtual fortress with trashed cars and barbed wire. Four police stations came under heavy fire from gangsters roaming the streets with high-powered guns. In barricaded Hannah Town, black smoke spiraled into the sky from one that was set aflame by molotov cocktails.

Nigeria

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that three churches and two pastors’ houses in northern Nigeria were demolished last week. A mob burned an old Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) building in Kwasam, Kiru Local Government Area (LGA) along with a new building and pastor’s house on May 19, forcing the pastor into hiding. The church leadership was previously brought to a Shari’a court when Muslims brought a complaint regarding the church’s land. On May 15, a Baptist Church in Banaka, Takai LGA, was demolished for the fourth time. After the previous demolition, a group of Christians from Kastina State paid for the construction of a new building, and also drilled a well for church members to use. However, during the demolition, the well was blocked off completely.

Volcanoes

The ash plume at Eyjafjallajökull has decreased over the past few days, suggesting a decrease in magma flow compared to the weekend, the daily report from the Icelandic Meteorological Office and the Institute of Earth Sciences, at the University of Iceland said. Radar observations showed the plume to be at around 18,000 feet. Scientists have not been able to see the volcano for the past two days due to heavy cloud cover. However radar images show no major changes in the ice cauldrons where the cinder cone is forming. There is almost no lava flowing down Gígjökull. Only two micro earthquakes were recorded at the volcano since midnight Thursday, at depths of four and seven and two miles.

Earthquakes

A series of moderate earthquakes south of the California border on Saturday shook buildings in downtown San Diego but there were no reports of damage or injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey says a magnitude-4.9 earthquake struck at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, centered in Baja California about 16 miles southwest of Calexico. A magnitude-4.8 earthquake struck about three minutes later, followed by a 3.6 quake at 10:59 a.m. Saturday’s earthquakes struck in the same area as the magnitude-7.2 quake that killed two people in Mexicali, Mexico, on April 4. The region has seen a surge in seismic activity since then.

Weather

Polish police say the death toll in massive flooding that has hit several regions across the country has risen to 12. Emergency forces were out in full force on Saturday, using helicopters and boats to monitor the situation and evacuate people in flood-stricken areas. Poland was hit by flooding last week after heavy rains. Southern parts of the country were hit the worst, but northern areas are also being inundated as swollen waters in rivers move north toward the Baltic Sea.

May 21, 2010

Calderon, Obama Assail Arizona Law

Mexican President Felipe Calderón on Wednesday criticized Arizona’s tough new immigration law as “discriminatory,” a rebuke of a domestic policy rare for a foreign leader to deliver on U.S. soil. Calderón’s criticism was echoed by President Obama during a joint Rose Garden news conference held hours before Calderón was honored at a state dinner. Arizona’s law “has the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion,” Obama said. “The judgments that are going to be made in applying this law are troublesome.” The law requires police to question people about immigration status if there is a “reasonable suspicion” they are in the country illegally.

  • Of course Calderon opposes the law – he is glad to get rid of the dregs of his country and let them drain America’s social services instead of Mexico’s

Arizona’s immigration law drew more international headlines Wednesday when an electric-utility regulator responded to Los Angeles’ boycott efforts by suggesting it stop using power from Arizona. Arizona provides about a quarter of the Southern California city’s power.

‘Transparent’ Obama Hides from Press

Observers couldn’t help but notice the irony: President Barack Obama on Monday signed the Press Freedom Act, then refused to take any questions from members of the press. In a broader sense, the event was another demonstration of Obama’s standoffish relationship with the news media — despite his campaign vow of a “transparent” administration. Obama has not fielded questions at a full-blown press conference since way back on July 22, 2009. President George H.W. Bush had nearly three press conferences a month. Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson convened an average of about two a month. Obama lags behind both Nixon and Reagan: He called five press conferences during his first six months in office, and none in the 10 months that followed, the Huffington Post reported. As for less formal short exchanges with reporters, Obama has had 47, compared with 147 for George W. Bush in his first year and 252 for Clinton.

ACLU is 0 for 4 on Ten Commandments Lawsuits

The Ten Commandments display in Grayson County, Kentucky, will stand, thwarting an effort by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to have the courts declare it unconstitutional. The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a request to rehear the case, and Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel does not think the ACLU will take their argument any further. “I doubt very seriously the ACLU will ask the Supreme Court to get involved in this matter, because every case that they’ve had since 2005… they’ve lost at the court of appeals,” Staver explains. “So I doubt…they’ll move forward with this,” he reiterates. “This is another defeat. This is the fourth federal court of appeals defeat since 2005 against the ACLU involving the Ten Commandments.”

Oil Spill Reaches Louisiana Marshes

A chocolate-brown blanket of oil about as thick as latex paint has invaded reedy freshwater wetlands at Louisiana’s southeastern tip for the first time, prompting Gov. Bobby Jindal to step up calls Wednesday for building emergency sand barriers near where the mouth of the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig disaster had been lapping at the coast before. But this was not the light rainbow sheen or the scattered tar balls seen in previous days. It was coated with brown sludge, which had stained the lower shafts of the leafy green reeds sticking up to eight feet out of the water. The U.S. government is ordering energy giant BP to find less-toxic chemicals to break up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill amid evidence that the dispersants are not effective and could actually make the spill more harmful to marine life.

Oil giant BP conceded Thursday that the Gulf of Mexico oil leak is larger than it originally estimated, adding more worry as portions of the massive spill began trickling ashore for the first time. workers are capturing about 210,000 gallons a day — the total daily amount the company and the Coast Guard have estimated is gushing into the sea — but some is still escaping, but they would not say how much. As hurricane season looms, forecasters, scientists and residents along the Gulf Coast worry that a major storm could make the oil spill worse. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says a hurricane, or a succession of them, may bring oil up from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico and then push it ashore. Forecasters say a season with multiple storms could send oil farther inland and spread it as far as Cape Hatteras, N.C.

Three Climate Reports: Set Prices on Carbon Emissions

In three reports on global warming, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences called Wednesday for limiting greenhouse gas emissions by setting a price on them. The three “America’s Climate Choices” reports, requested by Congress during the Bush administration, come as roiling debate over climate and energy legislation in Washington and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico cloud future energy decisions. “Together, these reports show that the state of climate change science is strong,” NAS chief Ralph Cicerone says. “The data show the reality of climate change.” In wide-ranging recommendations, the studies call for better coordination of federal climate research efforts and for setting a price on carbon emitted from industrial smokestacks, either through a tax or in a carbon market proposed in a bill that was approved in the House but still debated in the Senate.

  • End-time climate change is real, but carbon taxes will have little impact other than raising energy prices

Senate Passes Massive Wall Street Overhaul

Prodded by national anger at Wall Street, the Senate on Thursday passed the most far-reaching restraints on big banks since the Great Depression. In its broad sweep, the massive bill would touch Wall Street CEOs and first-time homebuyers, high-flying traders and small town lenders. The 59-39 vote came after some bare-knuckled political maneuvering in which Republicans squashed an amendment that would have banned banks from making high-risk trades with their own money. Four Republicans broke with their party to vote for the bill, while two Democrats opposed it, saying it didn’t go far enough. The bill would: set up a new consumer watchdog agency to oversee financial products such as mortgages and credit cards; require banks to spin off their derivatives units and shine a light on trading of the obscure instruments; and establish ways to liquidate faltering financial firms without the need for government bailouts.

  • Another government agency. Now we can all rest easy, right?

Intelligence Chief Resigns after Scathing Report

President Obama’s director of national intelligence said Thursday he will step down on May 28. His decision comes just days after a Senate panel released a scathing report outlining critical lapses that allowed an alleged bomber to board a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day last year. Blair’s position was created after the 9/11 attacks to coordinate the government’s disparate intelligence agencies with the goal of preventing future attacks. His tenure was marked by public turf disputes with CIA Director Leon Panetta over personnel assignments overseas and criticism by lawmakers such as Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., over intelligence agencies’ failure to prevent the attempted bombing over Detroit and another in New York City’s Times Square.

  • The failures were systemic due to bureaucratic lack of cooperation, but government feels better when they have a scapegoat

Cross Returned to Mojave Desert

A cross honoring America’s war dead that was stolen from a federal park in the Mojave Desert has been mysteriously returned. A maintenance worker spotted the cross on Sunrise Rock, the same place a 7-foot metal cross had stood for decades. The cross apparently was put up during the night, but it was unclear whether it was the original or a replica. A cross made of metal pipe and filled with concrete stood on the remote outcropping 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles before someone cut its retaining bolts and made off with it on May 9 or May 10. Veterans groups had offered $125,000 in rewards for information leading to an arrest.

More TB Than Ever, U.N. Efforts Failing

Global efforts to control tuberculosis have failed and radical new approaches are needed experts said Wednesday. With more than 9 million people infected last year, including 2 million deaths, officials say there is more tuberculosis now than at any other time in history. In a special tuberculosis edition of the British medical journal Lancet published on Wednesday, experts said past failures prove new strategies are required. TB isn’t only a medical problem, but is intertwined with poverty, as it spreads widely among people living in overcrowded, dirty places. They said TB programs need to go beyond health and include other sectors like housing, education and transportation. Some officials questioned whether continued U.N. programs could even combat TB. “The main priority for TB control is improved living conditions and economic growth, which is outside the control of the U.N.,” said Philip Stevens, a health policy expert at International Policy Network, a London-based think tank. “TB cannot be tackled in isolation.”

Hospitals See Dramatic Rise of Kids with MRSA

The number of children hospitalized with dangerous drug-resistant staph infections surged 10-fold in recent years, a study found. Disease incidence increased from 2 cases to 21 cases per 1,000 hospital admissions from 1999 to 2008. Most infections were caught in the community, not in the hospital. The study involved methicillin-resistant staph infections, called MRSA. These used to occur mostly in hospitals and nursing homes but they are increasingly showing up in other settings. Recent evidence suggests hospital-acquired MRSA cases may be declining while community-acquired cases are becoming more common. Almost 30,000 children were hospitalized with MRSA infections at the hospitals studied during the 10-year period and 374 youngsters with MRSA died. Overall, MRSA is blamed for more than 18,000 deaths in children and adults nationwide each year.

Economic News

Europe’s debt crisis poses serious risks to the fledgling economic recoveries in the United States and around the globe, a Federal Reserve official said Thursday. Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo, in remarks to a House subcommittee, said the timing of Europe’s problems on the heels of the global financial crisis is a “potentially serious setback.” If the crisis were to crimp lending and the flow of credit globally, triggering more financial turmoil, that would endanger recoveries in the United States and globally, he said.

U.S. stocks opened lower Friday a day after major stock indexes posted their biggest drops in more than a year. The Dow Jones industrials tumbled 376 points Thursday. The Dow and broader indexes are now in correction territory by having dropped more than 10% from their 2010 highs last month. The drop has erased the gains major indexes had made in 2010.

The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week by the largest amount in three months. Applications for unemployment benefits rose to 471,000 last week, up 25,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the first increase in five weeks and the biggest jump since a gain of 40,000 in February. Employers are hiring again, but not at levels needed to make a dent in the unemployment rate. The jobless rate actually increased in April to 9.9%.

The number of homeowners who missed at least one payment on their mortgage surged to a record in the first quarter of the year. More than 10% of homeowners had missed at least one mortgage payment in the January-March period. That number was up from 9.5% in the fourth quarter of last year and 9.1% a year earlier. More than 4.6% of homeowners were in foreclosure, also a record.

Greece

More than 20,000 protesters marched to parliament Thursday, as unions challenged harsh austerity measures in Greece by staging their fourth general strike this year. Riot police held back demonstrators chanting “Thieves, thieves!” Store owners closed up and lowered protective shutters before the march got underway. Police deployed 1,700 officers and detained 36 people in an early show of force. The strike closed schools, halted ferries and trains, and kept hospitals running on emergency staff.

Iraq

A car bomb exploded in front of a restaurant killing six people south of Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraqi officials said, highlighting the fragile nature of Iraq‘s security. The bomb in the mixed Sunni-Shiite town comes as the country enters its third month without a new government, raising concerns that violence will rise as political disputes spill out into the streets.

Pakistan

Compass Direct News reports that Muslim teachers at a girls’ school in Sargodha, Pakistan, have openly beaten and demeaned Christians students to the point that several have quit the school. According to area Christians, the teachers have derided Christian students for their faith, beat them, pressured them to convert to Islam and forced them to clean school bathrooms, classrooms and even teacher’s laundry after class hours. “Christian students are teased and mocked by radical Muslim female teachers from the start of the school day to the end,” said a 16-year-old girl named Sana. “Christian students feel dejected, depressed and frustrated. I am totally broken-hearted because of the intolerance and discrimination.” Christians in Pakistan are often discriminated against for their lower social status.

Thailand

The Thai government declared Thursday it had mostly quelled ten weeks of violent protests in the capital while buildings smoldered, troops rooted out small pockets of resistance and residents attempted a return to normal life. A nighttime curfew was extended in Bangkok and 23 other provinces for three more days. Troops and die-hard protesters exchanged sporadic fire in parts of the city. A major military operation Wednesday, in which at least 15 people were killed and 96 wounded, had cleared a large portion of a protest encampment that had been set up in the center of the capital for six weeks. Thailand‘s prime minister Friday promised an independent probe into “all events” surrounding the Red Shirt protests, and called for reconciliation to heal deep political divisions that led to widespread violence and 83 deaths over two months.

Korea

North Korea said Thursday that South Korea fabricated evidence implicating the North in a torpedo attack in order to pick on the North and any attempt at retaliating for the warship’s sinking would be answered with “all-out war.” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak vowed “stern action” for the attack after a multinational investigation issued its long-awaited results Thursday, concluding the North fired a torpedo that sank the Cheonan navy ship March 26 near the Koreas’ tense sea border.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that evidence was “overwhelming” that North Korea sank a South Korean warship and that the communist country must face international consequences for its actions. Speaking in the Japanese capital at the outset of a three-nation Asian trip, Clinton said that the U.S., Japan, South Korea and China are consulting on an appropriate reaction to an international investigation that blamed North Korea for the incident.

Sudan

DeMoss News reports that three Samaritan’s Purse employees have been abducted in Sudan. The team, comprised of two Sudanese men and one 36-year-old American woman from California, was traveling in a two-vehicle convoy when they were stopped by a group of armed men 25 miles southwest of Nyala in Sudan’s Darfur region early Tuesday evening. Samaritan’s Purse is working with U.S. and Sudanese government officials to secure the safe return of its staff. “I have visited Darfur several times and it is one of the most difficult places in the world to work. I’m asking for the prayers from people around the world for a quick resolution and the safe return of our Samaritan’s Purse staff,” said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse.

Weather

A powerful cyclone slammed into southeastern India on Thursday, toppling power lines and plunging a large swath of coastal Andhra Pradesh state into darkness after heavy rains and earlier strong winds claimed at least 15 lives. State welfare agencies evacuated more than 50,000 people from low-lying villages as the region braced for its worst storm in 14 years. Even before the cyclone hit, some parts of the state had received up to 1 foot of rain.

Dozens of homes were flooded while hundreds had no power after heavy rain engulfed much of eastern Oklahoma. Two mobile homes were destroyed and several homes and businesses damaged in storms that brought a rash of tornadoes. 4.38 inches of rain fell at the Muskogee airport from 7 p.m. Wednesday until 1 a.m. Thursday, and more strong storms were forecast for later in the day.

May 19, 2010

Angry Electorate Roars at Washington

If Tuesday’s primaries were any indication, incumbents and establishment-backed candidates in November should be shaking in their boots. In Kentucky, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Vice President Dick Cheney, was soundly defeated by Tea Party favorite Rand Paul. In Pennsylvania, five-term Sen. Arlen Specter, who ditched the Republican Party last year to save his career, ended up being sent into retirement anyway by Rep. Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary. And in Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter after she failed to win the majority of votes in the Democratic primary. Taken together, the results of Tuesday’s races sent a clear message to Washington that the anti-incumbent wave that has gripped the nation over the past year isn’t losing steam. Tuesday’s results come in a month when Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia fell in a primary to an opponent who highlighted ethics issues and Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah was denied a spot on the ballot at a Utah Republican convention.

Arizona Voters Approve Prop 100

Arizona voters Tuesday gave a resounding thumbs-up to a temporary sales-tax increase, handing Gov. Jan Brewer a victory in her yearlong crusade to raise money for a strapped state budget. Proposition 100 was passing by more than a 3-2 ratio late Tuesday, according to preliminary returns. The measure increases the state sales tax by 1 cent per dollar, to 6.6 cents. It will take effect in two weeks. The tax will bring sales-tax levies for purchases made in Phoenix to 9.3 cents on the dollar. The statewide sales tax is not a silver bullet for the state’s budget woes. Cuts that have led to the elimination of all-day kindergarten, reductions in health care for low-income Arizonans, a freeze on the KidsCare program and the closure of several state parks and highway rest stops will not be reversed.

Illegals Costing Arizona Billions

Arizona’s illegal immigrant population is costing the state’s taxpayers even more than once thought — a whopping $2.7 billion in 2009, according to researchers at the public interest group that helped write the state’s new immigration law. Researchers at FAIR – The Federation for American Immigration Reform — released data exclusively to FoxNews.com that show a steady cost climb in multiple areas, including incarceration, education and health, in the last five years. Overall, it says, the loss of immigrants either from the deterrent effect of the law, voluntary exodus or from mass deportations, will help the state financially. Also, the savings to the state will far overwhelm any fallout from boycotts (estimated at between $7 million and $52 million) being threatened in the wake of the law’s passage.

Key Critics of Arizona Immigration Law Admit Not Reading It

President Barack Obama and his administration began blasting Arizona’s controversial immigration law the day Gov. Jan Brewer signed it. But over the past week, a growing list of top administration officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, acknowledged that they haven’t read the legislation. The revelations come as Republicans step up their criticism of the Obama administration’s response to the Arizona law, which makes it a state crime to be in the United States without proper documentation and directs local police to pursue, during a lawful stop, detention or arrest, the immigration status of people they reasonably suspect to be illegal immigrants. The law has generated calls for economic boycotts of Arizona and has led to five lawsuits, many filed by civil-rights groups.

Kyl, McCain Plead with Obama: Send Troops to Border

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have called on President Barack Obama to send 6,000 National Guardsmen to the Arizona-Mexico border, according to rollcall.com. The lawmakers argued that troops are needed because violence from the Mexican drug war has “crossed the border and escalated to a point where many Arizonans do not feel safe within their own homes or on their own property. They feel that they live in a lawless area of the country and have been abandoned by the federal government, which has a duty to protect its citizens by securing the nation’s borders.” “We again urge you to deploy at least 6,000 National Guardsmen to protect our southern border, with 3,000 of these troops focused on the Arizona/Mexico border,” McCain and Kyl added.

Constitution Takes Hit from Supreme Court

The fundamentals of the U.S. Constitution possibly have been shoved one step closer to irrelevance by the U.S. Supreme Court, which yesterday cited a U.N. child’s rights treaty that has not been adopted in the U.S. as support for its opinion. The issue is raising alarms for those who have been fighting the trend toward adopting “international” standards for American jurisprudence rather than relying on a strict application of the Constitution. “It is bad enough for the Supreme Court to engage in judicial activism,” said Michael Farris, of the Home School Legal Defense Association. “It is far worse when the justices employ international law in support of their far-reaching edicts. Roger Kiska, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund who is based in Europe, said the Supreme Court’s use of an unadopted precedent “completely overlooks the checks and balances system that is established by the U.S. Constitution.”

  • The New World Order appears to now have control of our Supreme Court

U.S. Missionary Convicted but Freed in Haiti

The last of 10 Americans detained while trying to take 33 children out of Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake was freed Monday when a judge convicted her but sentenced her to time already served in jail. Laura Silsby, the organizer of the ill-fated effort to take the children to an orphanage being set up in the neighboring Dominican Republic, returned to her cell briefly to retrieve belongings before quickly heading to the Port-au-Prince airport. “I’m praising God,” Silsby told The Associated Press as she waited for a flight out of Haiti. She declined to answer further questions. The Idaho businesswoman had been in custody since Jan. 29. She was originally charged with kidnapping and criminal association, but those charges were dropped for her and the nine other Americans who were previously released. Silsby she was convicted of arranging illegal travel under a 1980 statute restricting movement out of Haiti signed by then-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

BP Response Plan Shows Lack of Readiness

An emergency response plan prepared by BP shows the British energy giant never anticipated an oil spill as large as the one seeping through the Gulf of Mexico. The 582-page document, titled “Regional Oil Spill Response Plan — Gulf of Mexico,” was approved in July by the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS). It offers technical details on how to use chemical dispersants and provides instructions on what to say to the news media, but it does not mention how to react if a deep-water well spews oil uncontrollably. Most of the techniques recently attempted by BP to contain the spewing well — from a 100-ton containment device that didn’t work to a mile-long tube aimed at piping out the spewing oil — are not mentioned in the plan.

The federal official who oversees offshore drilling announced his departure Monday in a fallout from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and criticism that federal regulators have been too cozy with industry. President Obama, meanwhile, has decided to have a presidential commission investigate the cause of the rig explosion that unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, where engineers are still struggling after three weeks to stop the flow.

Poll: More Americans Say U.S. Morality Getting Worse

The Christian Post reports that three-quarters of Americans believe that the country’s moral values are slipping. A new Gallup Poll of more than 1,000 American adults found that 76 percent believe America’s moral values are getting worse. That number is up five percent since last year. According to the Christian Post, opinions about moral values in the country tend to stay relatively stable between years. People were most likely to cite declining moral standards, disrespect of others, parents not instilling values in children or governmental and corporate dishonesty as reasons for this.

Food Giants Pledge to Cut 1.5 Trillion Calories

Several of the nation’s largest food companies say they’ll take 1.5 trillion calories out of their products by 2015 in an effort to reduce childhood obesity. The companies made the announcement through the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a coalition of retailers, food and beverage makers and industry trade associations. The industry foundation said the companies will introduce lower-calorie foods, change product recipes and reduce portion sizes to achieve the goal, seeking to reduce 1 trillion of the 1.5 trillion by 2012. To keep the companies accountable, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a non-partisan philanthropic and research organization that works to improve the nation’s health, will evaluate how the groups’ efforts with products affect the number of calories consumed by children and adolescents.

World’s Oceans Could Be ‘Fished Out’ in 40 Years

U.N. experts warn that the world’s oceans could be out of fish in 40 years unless fishing fleets are slashed and stocks allowed to replenish. A Green Economy report finds that mismanagement, lack of enforcement and subsidies totaling over $27 billion annually have left close to 30%of fish stocks classed as “collapsed,” that is, yielding less than 10% per cent of their former potential.

Increased Payroll Taxes Needed for Social Security

Social Security faces a $5.3 trillion shortfall over the next 75 years, but a congressional report says the massive gap could be erased with only modest changes to payroll taxes and benefits. Some of the options are politically dangerous, such as increasing payroll taxes or reducing annual cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients. Others, such as gradually raising the age when retirees qualify for full benefits, wouldn’t be felt for years but would affect millions. Currently, 53 million Americans get Social Security benefits averaging $1,067 a month. In 75 years, 122 million, or one-fourth of the population, will be drawing benefits. For the first time since the 1980s, Social Security will pay out more money in benefits this year than it collects in payroll taxes. The longer action is delayed, the harder it will get to address the program’s finances.

US Debt Nearing 100 Percent of GDP

The United States’ national debt will soon reach 100 percent of gross domestic product, the International Monetary Fund predicts in a new report. The sharp rise in U.S. debt started in 2006 and by 2015, the IMF suggests, debt could reach more than 100 percent of GDP, an extremely dangerous level. At the end of first quarter of 2010, the gross debt was 87.3 percent of GDP. The IMF predicts that the U.S. would need to reduce its structural deficit by the equivalent of 12 percent of GDP, a much larger portion than any other country analyzed except Japan. Greece, in the midst of a financial crisis, needs to reduce its structural deficit by just 9 percent of GDP, according to the IMF’s analysis.

Economic News

Construction of new homes rose more than expected and prices at the wholesale level fell in April, but new building permits fell sharply, signaling that the building industry’s rebound could be short-lived. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that construction of new homes and apartments rose 5.8% last month, the highest since October 2008. However, building permits, a gauge of future activity, sank 11.5%. In another report, the Labor Department said wholesale prices edged down 0.1% last month, the second decline in the past three months.

The consumer price index declined in April for the first time in 13 months while core inflation rose over the past year at the slowest pace in 44 years. The Labor Department said Wednesday that its consumer price index edged down 0.1% last month, reflecting a big fall in energy prices. Over the past 12 months, core inflation is up just 0.9%.

New credit card and overdraft restrictions will save U.S. consumers from being charged at least $5 billion in fees this year alone at the largest U.S. retail banks and credit card companies, a USA TODAY analysis reveals. The analysis — based on institutions’ own estimates — comes during a year when new rules are kicking in to address unfair credit card rate increases and steep bank overdraft fees. In recent years, banks made it easier for consumers to overdraw their bank accounts and raised credit card fees and rates. As consumer outcry swelled in the recession, Congress passed a credit card law and the Federal Reserve issued a regulation to crack down on banks’ aggressive overdraft policies on debit cards.

Amid the new limits on some of the industry’s most profitable practices, banks are turning back to familiar money-making strategies: annual credit card fees, monthly checking account fees and product bundling. The developments are part of a new era of consumer banking, analysts say, one with more fees — but also, more safety nets and disclosures for consumers.

Toyota cut a $16.4 million check today to the U.S. government to pay off its fine for having such a slow response to its sticky gas pedal debacle. The fine is the largest civil penalty ever assessed against an auto manufacturer by the government. Toyota’s fine was the maximum allowed under law after it was accused of hiding earlier defects involving gas pedals. It follows the recall of more than 8 million vehicles worldwide.

“Old Chrysler” — the one that went bankrupt after receiving billions in loans from taxpayers — has repaid the U.S. Treasury $1.9 billion of the $4 billion that went to the automaker’s financing arm. But taxpayers will be on the hook for the remaining $2.1 billion. The Treasury said, “This repayment, while less than face value, is significantly more than the Treasury expected to recover on this loan.” The federal government still owns 9.9% of the “new” Chrysler, a partnership with Fiat, and that the automaker still owes the government $7.1 billion.

Pfizer says it will cut 6,000 jobs as it trims manufacturing capacity worldwide after acquiring smaller rival Wyeth last year. The world’s biggest drugmaker says it will shut eight plants in Ireland, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. by the end of 2015, and reduce operations at six other plants over the next several years. Wal-Mart and Home Depot both reported increased profits in the first quarter of 2009.

Iraq

Iraqi security forces have detained an al-Qaeda militant suspected of planning an attack targeting the World Cup in South Africa next month. Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani was an officer in the Saudi army. He is suspected of planning a “terrorist act” in South Africa during the World Cup beginning June 11. Authorities say al-Qahtani entered Iraq in 2004 and is suspected in several attacks in the capital and elsewhere in the country.

Iran

Iran said Tuesday it expects the U.S. and its allies to accept a nuclear fuel swap deal despite initial skepticism, as key U.N. Security Council member China welcomed the proposal as a way of reviving negotiations over Tehran‘s nuclear activities. The U.S. and some of the other world powers involved in the standoff said a deal reached outside mediation by Turkey and Brazil on Monday failed to ease their concerns that Iran is ultimately intending to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran is offering to trade much of its enriched uranium for fuel rods needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. It is similar to a U.N.-drafted deal proposed in October that would have deprived Iran at least temporarily of the material it would need to produce a nuclear warhead.

Afghanistan

Insurgents launched a brazen pre-dawn assault Wednesday against the giant U.S.-run Bagram Air Field, killing an American contractor and wounding nine service members in the second Taliban strike at NATO forces in and around the capital in as many days. At least 10 insurgents were killed as Taliban suicide bombers attempted to breach the defenses of the base north of Kabul, while others fired rockets and grenades inside. No insurgents managed to get into the base and none were able to detonate their suicide vests.

A Taliban suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy in the Afghan capital Tuesday, killing six troops, five of them American, officials said. Twelve Afghan civilians also died many of them on a public bus in rush-hour traffic. The powerful blast occurred on a major Kabul thoroughfare that runs by the ruins of a one-time royal palace and government ministries. It wrecked nearly 20 vehicles, including five SUVs in the NATO convoy, and scattered debris and body parts across the wide boulevard. The attack is the deadliest for NATO troops in the capital since September comes despite a ramped up effort by Afghan authorities to intercept would-be attackers and better secure a capital city that saw a spate of brazen attacks this winter.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber on a bicycle killed 11 people Tuesday when he attacked a police patrol in an area of northwestern Pakistan where many citizens fled last year to escape a large army offensive against the Taliban. The attack, which killed three police officers and eight civilians, occurred as the patrol vehicle traveled through the town of Dera Ismail Khan. The victims included a senior police officer in the area as well as his guard and driver. The civilians who were killed included two schoolchildren. Another 15 people were wounded. Hundreds of thousands of people fled to Dera Ismail Khan in mid-October when the army launched a big ground offensive against the Pakistani Taliban’s main stronghold in the South Waziristan tribal area.

Thailand

Downtown Bangkok turned into a flaming battleground Wednesday as an army assault toppled the Red Shirt protest leadership, enraging followers who fired grenades and set numerous fires that cloaked the skyline in a black haze. Using live ammunition, troops dispersed thousands of anti-government protesters who had been camped in the capital’s premier shopping and residential district for weeks. Four protesters and an Italian news photographer were killed in the ensuing gun battles and about 60 wounded. After Red Shirt leaders gave themselves up to police, rioters set fires at the Stock Exchange, several banks, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Electricity Authority, the high-end Central World shopping mall and a cinema complex that collapsed. The Thai government rejected holding immediate peace talks with Red Shirt protest leaders, saying negotiations cannot start until protesters in Bangkok disperse. Tuesday’s televised comments came after Red Shirt protest leaders said they would accept a proposal from the Senate leader to mediate talks between the two sides to end deadly violence in the Thai capital that has killed 37 people in the past five days.

Korea

South Korea’s foreign minister said Wednesday it was “obvious” that North Korea sank one of the South’s warships in March, killing 46 sailors. Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told reporters that investigators have enough evidence of North Korean involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan to take Pyongyang to the U.N. Security Council. Yu’s comments are the first by a South Korean official clearly pointing the finger at North Korea for one of the worst attacks on the South since the two Koreas signed a truce in 1953 to end three years of fighting. Investigators will lay out evidence showing that a North Korean torpedo attack triggered the explosion that sank the Cheonan near the Koreas’ tense western sea border.

Morocco

The government of Morocco has notified another 23 mostly Christian foreigners, including one American, that they’re scheduled for imminent expulsion from the North African country. And an analyst says that those targeted by the deportation order indicate the government of Morocco, which historically has been considered a moderate Muslim nation, now is fearful that Muslims will convert if exposed to Christianity. This is the second large deportation action taken by the Moroccan government against mostly Christian individuals in the past two months. More than 40 Christian workers were deported from Morocco in March.

Earthquakes

An estimated 5.1-magnitude earthquake near the California-Mexico border has shaken a wide area of Southern California including San Diego. The U.S. Geological Survey’s automated seismic reporting system said the quake struck at 5:38 p.m. PT Tuesday and was centered 18 miles west-southwest of El Centro in the state’s southeastern corner. The area has been shaking with aftershocks since a 7.2 quake that struck northern Baja California on April 4. The quake was strongly felt but there have been no immediate reports of damage.

Weather

Two separate sources of temperature data – the National Climatic Data Center and NASA – report that, through April, 2010 is the warmest year since recordkeeping began in 1880. The climate center (NCDC) reports that the Earth’s combined land and ocean average surface temperature from January-April was 56 degrees, which is 1.24 degrees above the 20th-century average. El Nino — a periodic natural warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean — is at least partly to blame for the unusual warmth.

A hail storm that moved in from northwestern Oklahoma pounded the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, leaving broken windows and other damage in its wake. The storm Sunday afternoon brought hail as large as softballs and driving rain, forcing motorists off roads in an effort to avoid shattered windshields and other damage. The storm produced so much hail, it looked like a snowstorm had hit. Emergency Medical Services Authority spokeswoman Lara O’Leary says paramedics took 21 patients to local hospitals as a result of the storm. At least 34 tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma last week, including two in central Oklahoma that had wind speeds of between 166 mph and 200 mph..

May 17, 2010

Total U.S. Churches No Longer in Decline, Researchers Say

The Christian Post reports that America is not bleeding churches as fast as previously thought. According to Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research, more churches are now planted in the U.S. than close each year. “[C]hurch planting is on the mind of North American Christians at unprecedented levels,” Stetzer wrote with researcher Warren Bird. Stetzer called church planting the “it” thing right now after decades of church decline. In “Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers,” Stetzer and Warren encouraged Christians to move past the “don’t we already have enough churches?” mentality to a “passionate pursuit of the lost.” Other Christian leaders agreed. “The only way to increase the number of Christians in a city is to plant thousands of new churches,” said Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Pro-Life Groups Find Useful Tool in Obamacare

Pro-life proponents are using a provision in the new health reform law to limit abortion coverage by private insurers. An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets. Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes. Since Obama signed the legislation law March 23, Arizona and Tennessee have enacted laws restricting abortion coverage by health plans in new insurance markets, called exchanges. About 30 million people will get their coverage through exchanges, which open in 2014 to serve individuals and small businesses. In Florida, Mississippi and Missouri, lawmakers have passed bans and sent them to their governors. Three other states may act this year – Louisiana, Ohio and Oklahoma. Overall, there are 29 states where lawmakers or public policy groups expressed serious interest in similar legislative bans.

Kagan Unlikely to See GOP Filibuster

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is unlikely to face a GOP filibuster but should expect difficult questions from lawmakers who will decide whether she deserves the lifetime appointment despite having no judicial experience, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican said Sunday. “The filibuster should be relegated to the extreme circumstances, and I don’t think Elena Kagan represents that,” said Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. GOP senators are placing great weight on her testimony in determining the fate of President Barack Obama’s second nominee for the high court. At issue is her lack of a judicial paper trail. Kagan is now solicitor general, the top government lawyer who argues the administration’s cases before the Supreme Court, and was dean of Harvard Law School. But she has never been a judge.

Elena Kagan contributed financially to and was a listed member of an organization whose stated goal is to promote access to abortion services and blocks attempts to limit female “reproductive rights.”  Kagan’s listed herself as a member in the National Partnership for Women and Families, or NPWF in a 1999 questionnaire she filled out as part of judicial nomination hearings that year.

Oil Spill Tube Partially Successful

Engineers Sunday successfully threaded a mile-long tube into a section of the blown pipe that has been spewing thousands of gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, marking a major step in corralling the massive spill. The tube is siphoning oil gushing out of the well and sucking it up 5,000 feet to a tanker ship on the surface, said Kent Wells, senior vice president for exploration and production with BP, which owns the underground oil well. BP engineers should know by today or Tuesday how much of the oil is being captured. In the next week to 10 days, engineers plan to pump mud through valves in the blowout preventer, a massive device that sits on top of the well, Wells said. The mud will be used to jam up the oil flow and buy time so that workers can finish drilling a nearby relief well, he said. The relief well, which would alleviate pressure and permanently seal the leaks, is still several months from completion.

The underwater plume of oil billowing from a renegade wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico is headed away from the coast and back out to sea, according to federally-funded scientists studying the spill. In the first on-site measurements of the oil spreading below the surface, researchers found the plume of crude stretches 15 to 20 miles southwest from the site of the damaged wellhead and is about 5 miles wide. The plume is compact, much thicker than the lighter remnants reaching the surface and suspended in about 3,000 feet of ocean. A deepwater current is dragging it out to sea. A researcher told The Associated Press that computer models show the oil may have already seeped into a powerful water stream known as the loop current, which could propel it into the Atlantic Ocean. The underwater oil cloud is not connected to the surface slick — now the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Mental Care Cases Up in Military

Mental health disorders caused more hospitalizations among U.S. troops in 2009 than any other reason according to medical data released recently by the Pentagon. This historic high reflects the growing toll of nearly nine years of war. Last year was the first in which hospitalizations for mental disorders outpaced those for injuries or pregnancies in the 15 years of tracking by the Pentagon’s Medical Surveillance Monthly report. In 2009, there were 17,538 hospitalizations for mental health issues throughout the military, the study shows. That compares with 17,354 for pregnancy and childbirth reasons, and 11,156 for injuries and battle wounds. Hospitalizations for mental disorders have increased significantly among troops since 2005. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a speech that “health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive.”

R.I. District to Rehire Fired Teachers

A school district that gained the support of President Barack Obama for promoting accountability after it fired all its teachers from a struggling school announced Sunday it reached an agreement with the union to return all the current staffers to their jobs. The two sides said a so-called transformation plan for Central Falls High School for the coming school year would allow the 87 teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and other staffers who were to lose their jobs at the end of this year to return without having to reapply. The agreement also imposes a longer school day, more after-school tutoring and other changes. “Both the school district and the union agree that while this has been a difficult process for everyone involved, the negotiations resulted in a newfound appreciation for shared responsibility, and a solid commitment to bring lasting solutions that will improve teaching and learning at Central Falls High School,” said a joint statement from the union and the district.

  • Accountability is important. Time will tell if those involved have learned the lesson.

Bleak California Budget

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday called for eliminating California’s welfare-to-work program, one of the deep cuts he proposed to close a $19 billion budget deficit in the coming fiscal year. Slashing the welfare program would affect 1.4 million people, two-thirds of them children. The state’s 12.6% unemployment rate ranks among the highest in the nation and tax revenue remains low. In April, personal income tax was $3 billion less than projected, which wiped away earlier revenue gains. The deficit accounts for more than 20% of all projected spending.

Economic News

General Motors rode expense cuts from its bankruptcy and strong sales of redesigned models to its first quarterly net income in nearly three years. The $865 million first-quarter profit is a dramatic reversal from the $6 billion loss in the period last year. GM lost $3.4 billion in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The stock bull market that began in March 2009 has lost its mojo amid an onslaught of sobering new risks that have injected fresh fear into Wall Street. While the broad market has not suffered an official correction — a 10% drop — in the 14-month bull, the market has suddenly turned diabolically volatile, causing investors to wonder if a sizable decline is underway. Market jitters are back, despite better economic data in the U.S. and improving corporate profits, due to economic uncertainty in Europe.

Euro Woes

The euro’s fall from grace continued Monday as Europe’s single currency slid to a four-year low against the dollar amid ongoing concerns about the ability of European governments to get a handle on their debts. Early Monday, the euro had fallen to $1.2237 its lowest since April 2006 meaning it had fallen nearly 10 cents in the space of a week. The shared currency has now fallen a staggering 12% over the past week in spite of the massive 750 billion euro “shock and awe” financial rescue package unveiled last weekend from the EU, together with the International Monetary Fund.

Europe is embarking upon a protracted period of austerity. The belt-tightening in several continental nations is needed to curb ballooning government debt loads that have spooked investors. But in trying to resolve their fearsome public debt crisis, European leaders may be risking another equally dangerous malady. The new debt-fighting measures will siphon demand from a eurozone economy that was expected to barely grow 1% this year even before concerns over a potential Greek default roiled world markets. Now, some analysts warn that the fiscal discipline could even tip Europe into outright deflation, a potentially destabilizing episode of self-reinforcing price declines that once begun would be enormously difficult to escape. Already in April, consumer prices fell in Spain for the first time since the government began keeping such records in 1986.

Great Britain

Britain‘s new coalition government will outline spending cuts of some 6 billion pounds ($8.9 billion) this year in an emergency budget next month, Treasury chief George Obsorne said Monday. Osborne said the June 22 budget will help the country come to grips with a record deficit, as he also announced a new independent watchdog to keep an eye on government spending. Britain is grappling with a record 163 billion-pound ($235 billion) budget deficit following a deep 18-month recession during which about 1.3 million people were laid off and tens of thousands of people lost their homes.

Middle East

If Israel and the Palestinians fail to reach an agreement to create a Palestinian state, the Obama administration will look into imposing a solution on the parties, a senior Palestinian Authority negotiator told WorldNetDaily. The negotiator said the PA agreed to resume direct talks with Israel earlier this week only after a U.S. pledge to ensure against any new Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem and the strategic West Bank. The PA negotiator told WND the Obama administration told the Palestinians if a deal is ultimately not reached with Israel the U.S. will consider imposing a solution “that the Israelis won’t appreciate.” Further, the PA negotiator said recent meetings between the Obama administration and the Palestinians revealed the White House is on board a Palestinian threat to unilaterally ask the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state outside of negotiations with Israel.

  • Obama the messiah knows what’s best for everyone, including God’s capital

Thailand

A Thai government ultimatum Monday failed to dislodge thousands of Red Shirts from a protest camp in central Bangkok as their leaders made a fresh offer to negotiate on the fifth day of raging street battles that have killed 37 people. A small plane dropped leaflets urging the estimated 5,000 protesters to abandon their fortified camp by 3 p.m. or face criminal charges and up to two years in prison. The demand had little apparent effect, and unrest still flared in various parts of the downtown area, with troops firing live ammunition at protesters who were lighting tires to hide their positions. The thick smoke darkened the sky. Thai troops clashed with protesters for a third day in Bangkok on Saturday as streets in the center of the Asian metropolis became battlegrounds and authorities struggled to contain demonstrators demanding the prime minister’s resignation.

Red Shirt protesters occupy one of the capital’s most upscale areas. The army set up barricades in an attempt to seal off the area, where all shops, hotels and businesses were closed. The spiraling violence has raised concerns that Thailand a longtime tourism magnet that promotes its easygoing culture as the “Land of Smiles” was teetering toward instability.

China

The signs of trouble should have been clear — the man who launched a deadly rampage through a Chinese kindergarten had been depressed and suicidal for weeks — but his behavior raised no red flags in China’s feeble mental health system. The attack by Wu Huanming, who stormed onto the grounds of the private school in northern Shaanxi province and slashed and killed seven preschoolers and two adults, was the latest of five assaults against schoolchildren in the last two months that have left 17 dead and more than 50 wounded. Sociologists say the recent attacks reflect the tragic consequences of ignoring mental illness and rising stress resulting from huge social inequalities in China’s fast-changing society.

At least three of the attackers had prior mental health histories and two committed suicide after the attacks. A study in the British medical journal The Lancet last year showed that about 173 million Chinese people, or 17.5% of the population, have some form of mental disorder, from depression to schizophrenia. The vast majority of those — about 158 million — have never received any kind of professional help.

Pakistan

The military killed 58 suspected militants in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday with a mix of airstrikes and ground combat, the latest violence in a months-long campaign to rout Taliban fighters from a mountainous area near the Afghan border. Persistent artillery and aircraft attacks have killed hundreds of insurgents over the past two months, the military says. Thousands of people have fled the offensive in the area and many have moved in with relatives in nearby districts. Elsewhere in Pakistan’s tribal region Sunday, militants who kidnapped 60 people at gunpoint the day before released 40 of their hostages. Another 10 people told the local government they managed to escape the militants. The kidnappers kept the wealthier men so they could demand ransom from their families.

Afghanistan

Afghan and coalition forces conducted sweeps across Afghanistan that left at least 30 militants dead, while insurgents in the east killed five security guards in an ambush on a convoy, officials said Saturday. Mullah Mohammed Hassan, a “prominent” Taliban commander who was involved in many insurgent attacks in northern Helmand province, was captured in the Sangin village of Pirqadam Kariz during the raid.

Iran

Iran agreed Monday to ship most of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in a surprise nuclear fuel swap deal that could ease the international standoff over the country’s disputed atomic program and deflate a U.S.-led push for tougher sanctions. The deal, which was reached in talks with Brazil and Turkey, was similar to a U.N.-drafted plan that Washington and its allies have been pressing Tehran for the past six months to accept in order to deprive Iran at least temporarily of enough stocks of enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran, which claims its nuclear program is peaceful, dropped several key demands that had previously blocked agreement. In return for agreeing to ship most of its uranium stockpile abroad, it would receive fuel rods of medium-enriched uranium to use in a Tehran medical research reactor that produces isotopes for cancer treatment

Volcano

London’s two major international airports — Heathrow and Gatwick — reopened to some flights Monday after a no-fly zone was imposed due to dense volcanic ash drifting down from Iceland. Airports in Amsterdam, Scotland and Ireland were still closed. Airports in Northern Ireland, much of Scotland — including Edinburgh and Aberdeen— and parts of Wales were under a no-fly order Monday as winds pushed the ash plume into Europe’s busy airspace.

Weather

The National Weather Service reports the October-through-April period was one of the driest rainy seasons in Hawaii in the past 55 years. It says only three other wet seasons had what it called “comparable rainfall deficits.” The dry weather is being blamed on an El Nino weather pattern. But National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama says El Nino conditions in the Pacific appear to be tapering off. The leeward Kohala section of the Big Island is listed under the “exceptional drought” category.

May 14, 2010

Oil Rig Spill Continues Unabated

Emergency shut-off valves that could have prevented the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were plagued by leaking hydraulic fluid, malfunctioning parts and poor maintenance, Congressional investigators said Wednesday. The problems with the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig could explain why it failed April 20, allowing a spout of oil and gas to explode and kill 11 workers. BP engineers unveiled a plan Thursday to thread a 6-inch-wide steel tube into a leaking oil pipe, hoping to stop oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Marine scientists warn that submerged oil and chemical dispersants in the widening Gulf of Mexico oil disaster could have long-lasting effects on the region’s sea life, from tiny plankton to giant squids. The underwater plume of oil and chemicals is spreading from the damaged well nearly a mile below the surface where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank last month. An estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day is still spewing from the well.

Tens of thousands of Gulf Coast business owners and workers livelihoods have been or could be hurt by the oil spill, which has defied efforts to be capped. Economists say, the oil slick could devastate the Gulf Coast tourism and the seafood industry that had expected a rebound to pre-Katrina health this summer.

Other States to Copy Arizona Immigration Law

Lawmakers in at least nine U.S. states have introduced or plan to craft legislation that mirrors Arizona’s tough new immigration law. But they face an uphill battle in getting such measures enacted. Arizona reignited national debate over border security and related issues when Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 on April 23. Although immigration topics have long been at the forefront of the political spectrum here, they are now being discussed with renewed vigor from coast to coast. For some, their legislative sessions are drawing to a close, leaving them virtually no time to drum up support for new legislation. Many also are running into opposition from political colleagues at the state capitols or in the governors offices. In short, few other states have the unique combination of circumstances and political leadership that allowed SB 1070 to become law.

The Republican National Committee on Wednesday chose Florida over Arizona and Utah for its 2012 national convention, picking the most strategically significant state and sidestepping a furor over illegal immigration. Republicans hope their pick helps generate momentum in a crucial and diverse swing state that dwarfs Arizona in electoral influence. Florida is a state where Republicans have made deep inroads with Hispanic voters.

Meanwhile, a new Pew Research Center poll shows that 59 percent of Americans approve of Arizona’s new law cracking down on illegal immigrants while only 32 percent disapprove. Specific provisions of the law enacted last month draw even more support: Fully 73 percent endorse its provisions requiring people to show police officers documents proving their legal status when asked. And 67 percent approve of police detaining anyone who can’t prove their legal status.

Pope: Abortion, Gay Marriage World’s Greatest Threats

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called abortion and same-sex marriage some of the most “insidious and dangerous” threats facing the world today, asserting key church teachings as he tried to move beyond the clerical abuse scandal. Benedict made the comments to Catholic social workers, health providers and others after celebrating Mass before an estimated 400,000 people in Fatima. The central Portuguese farming town is one of the most important shrines in Catholicism, where three shepherd children reported having visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917. Benedict’s visit to Fatima on the anniversary of the apparitions was the spiritual centerpiece of his four-day visit to Portugal, which ends Friday. It was cast by Vatican officials as evidence that he had turned a page in weathering the abuse scandal, which has dogged him for months.

  • Abortion and gay marriage undermine God’s plan for families and bolster the moral decline prophesied for the end times (2Timothy 3:2-5)

Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) Achieves Legislative Success

The 2010 Legislative Session has come to an end with 12 CAP-supported bills receiving Governor Jan Brewer’s signature. This marks CAP’s most successful session in its 15-year history, throughout which they’ve led the way to see a total of 84 pro-family bills enacted into law. The new bills cover the sanctity of life, school choice, parental rights, child prostitution, and religious freedom.

U.S. War on Drugs Fails to Meet Goals

After 40 years, the U.S. war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives – and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence is even more brutal and widespread. Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked. In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske said. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.” This week, President Barack Obama promised to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public-health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment. Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

Record Federal Deficit in April

The federal budget deficit hit an all-time high for the month of April as government revenue fell sharply. The Treasury Department said Wednesday the April deficit soared to $82.7 billion, the largest imbalance for that month on record. That was significantly higher than last year’s April deficit of $20 billion. The government normally runs surpluses in April as millions of taxpayers file their income tax returns. However, income tax payments were down this April, reflecting the impact of a severe recession that has pushed millions of Americans out of work. Revenue for April was down 7.9% from a year ago, dipping to $245.3 billion.

Millions of Jobs Lost Won’t Return

The economy is strengthening. But millions of jobs lost in the recession could be gone for good. And unlike in past recessions, jobs in the beleaguered manufacturing sector aren’t the only ones likely lost forever. What sets the Great Recession apart is the variety of jobs that may not return. Fewer construction workers will be needed. Don’t expect as many interior designers or advertising copywriters, either. Retailers will get by with leaner staffs. That helps explain why economists think it will take at least five years for the economy to regain the 8.2 million jobs wiped out by the recession, longer than in any other recovery since World War II. Employers found ways to produce the same level of goods or services with fewer workers. Automation, global competition and technological efficiencies helped solidify the trend.

Economic News

New claims for unemployment benefits dipped for a fourth week, a sign the job market is improving, but at a glacial pace. The Labor Department says first-time claims dropped last week by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 444,000. The four-week average, which smooths volatility, registered a steeper decline, falling 9,000 to 450,500. Around 350,000 is considered normal.

Foreclosure filings dropped 2% in April from a year ago, the first annual decrease in more than five years. Foreclosure filings were reported on 33,837 properties in April, a 9% decrease from March. Nevada posted the highest state foreclosure rate for the 40th-consecutive month. One in every 69 housing units there received a foreclosure filing in April — more than five times the national average. Arizona and Florida ranked second and third.

Growth in retail sales slowed sharply in April as consumers eased up their spending after a busy March. The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales rose 0.4% last month, far below the 2.1% surge in March. Excluding autos, retail sales were up 0.4%. The overall gain marked the seventh straight monthly increase.

World stock markets and the euro fell Friday on worries that Europe’s fiscal austerity measures and stubbornly high unemployment in the U.S. will slow the global economic recovery.

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish coalition partners vowed Thursday to keep building Jewish homes and demolishing unauthorized Palestinian homes in contested east Jerusalem despite indications the Israeli leader has put the brakes on both. The United States opposes both at this delicate time, when indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians have just begun. The remarks by Netanyahu’s partners show the thin tightrope he has to walk in trying to address the conflicting demands of his political allies at home and Israel’s strongest ally abroad. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for a future capital.

Afghanistan

The monthly cost of the war in Afghanistan, driven by troop increases and fighting on difficult terrain, has topped Iraq costs for the first time since 2003 and shows no sign of letting up. Pentagon spending in February, the most recent month available, was $6.7 billion in Afghanistan compared with $5.5 billion in Iraq. As recently as fiscal year 2008, Iraq was three times as expensive; in 2009, it was twice as costly. The cumulative cost of the two wars now surpasses $1 trillion, including spending for veterans and foreign aid. Those costs could put increased pressure on President Obama and Congress, given the nation’s $12.9 trillion debt.

Iraq

A late night car bomb that tore through a cafe in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood appears to have detonated prematurely, killing three suspected militants riding inside, police said Thursday. The death toll from the blast, excluding the three suspected militants, rose to nine in what appears to be the latest attempt by militants to stoke a sectarian conflict by striking at a Shiite neighborhood with strong ties to militias.

Iran

Iran has set up new equipment that will allow it to boost its efficiency at enriching uranium at higher levels, diplomats said Friday. The move is likely to give the U.S. more leverage with Russia and China in its push for new U.N. sanctions on Tehran. Iran’s clandestine enrichment activities were discovered eight years ago and have expanded since to encompass thousands of centrifuges churning out material enriched to 3.5%. But despite three sets of Security Council sanctions meant to enforce demands of a freeze, Tehran moved to a new level in February, when it set up a small program to produce material enriched to near 20%. Uranium at 3.5%, can be used to fuel reactors which is Iran’s avowed purpose for enrichment. If enriched to around 95%, however, it can be used in building a nuclear bomb, and at 20%, uranium can be turned into weapons-grade material much more quickly than from lower levels.

Thailand

Thai troops fired bullets and tear gas at anti-government protesters rioting near the U.S. and Japanese embassies Friday as an army push to clear the streets sparked clashes that have killed two and turned central Bangkok into a virtual war zone. Violence since late Thursday has also wounded at least 20 others. With security deteriorating and hopes of a peaceful resolution to the two-month standoff fading, the unrest plunged Thailand deeper into political uncertainty, threatening the country’s stability, economy and already-decimated tourism industry. Fighting has now killed 31 people and injured hundreds since the Red Shirts, mostly rural poor, began camping in the capital on March 12, in a bid to force out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They claim his coalition government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military.

Haiti

Four months after an earthquake devastated Haiti, Americans have donated $1.3 billion for disaster relief there, almost on a par with theirgiving after the Asian tsunami in 2004. Four months after the tsunami struck Asia, Americans had given $1.5 billion. Lower giving for Haiti could be the result of the recent recession. The pace for Haiti relief donations also trails that of giving by Americans after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

  • Nonetheless, Americans still donate more than any other country

Mexico

Mexican prosecutors say a pile of five bodies has been found in a northern city near the U.S. border and two other corpses were discovered nearby. The seven dead are all apparently young men who were shot or tortured to death. Cartridges found at the scene were from 9 mm weapons frequently used by Mexico’s drug gangs. More than 22,700 people have been killed in drug violence since the government began its offensive against cartels in late 2006.

Weather

Residents were faced again with surveying damage Thursday after a possible tornado, strong winds and large hail fell throughout Oklahoma, damaging homes and businesses and knocking down trees, power poles and signs. Officials received reports of winds gusting to 80 mph, and estimate that winds may have reached 90 mph.

A spring storm has dropped nearly three feet of snow in the mountains of central Wyoming, closing some highways and schools and causing scattered power outages from broken and sagging tree limbs. In Colorado, more than a foot of snow was reported on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park on Wednesday. A 50-mile section of Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie in southeast Wyoming was closed early Wednesday.

May 12, 2010

Alarm Bells Sounding Over Kagan’s Supreme Agenda

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council Action organization has summarized the concern being expressed over President Obama’s nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. “She has the least amount of experience of any nominee in the last three decades. Her judicial experience is zero, as is her real-world experience, having spent most of her career in academia or working as a Democratic Party insider,” he wrote. “Her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School is marked by kicking the military off campus during the height of the Iraq War, a move that even Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled was wrong-headed,” he continued. “In her brief tenure as solicitor general, she argued that the federal government has the power, under campaign finance laws, to ban certain books and pamphlets.” And, he noted, she served on an advisory committee for Goldman Sachs during the financial meltdown of 2007.

In her undergraduate thesis at Princeton, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, lamented the decline of socialism in the country as “sad” for those who still hope to “change America.” CBS News reported that President Obama’s new Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan will be the “first openly gay justice,” pleasing much of Obama’s liberal base.  But after complaints by an anonymous White House staffer that parts of the report were not public, the CBS reporter updated the post to say “I have to correct my text here to say that Kagan is apparently still closeted — odd, because her female partner is rather well known in Harvard circles.”

Pope Says Sex Scandal Greatest Threat to Catholic Church

The clerical abuse scandal represents the greatest threat to the Roman Catholic Church and the crisis was “born from sins within the church” not outside, Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday on a trip to Portugal. He called for profound purification and penance within the church as well as pardon and justice. His comments appeared to repudiate the Vatican’s initial response to the scandal, in which it blamed the media as well as pro-choice and pro-gay marriage advocates for mounting a campaign against the church and the pope in particular.

  • While Catholicism is not a good representation of true Christianity, the world sees it that way. Thus, this abuse scandal will give a big black eye to all of Christendom.

Oil Spill Continues Unabated

A remote-controlled submarine shot a chemical dispersant into the maw of a massive undersea oil leak Monday, further evidence that authorities expect the gusher to keep erupting into the Gulf of Mexico for weeks or more. Crews using the deep-sea robot attempted to thin the oil which is rushing up from the seabed at a pace of about 210,000 gallons (795,000 liters) per day after getting approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency had halted two previous rounds of the dispersant to test its potential impact on the environment. The EPA said in a statement the effects of the chemicals were still widely unknown.

BP engineers focused their attention Monday on a number of short-term solutions to plug the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, after attempts to cap the largest of two leaks failed over the weekend. Within the week, crews will attempt to lower a 5-foot-tall, 2-ton “top hat” dome to block the main leak. The dome is equipped with inner and outer pipes, one to suck up oil and the other to disperse heated seawater and methanol that will act as antifreeze to prevent frozen natural gas from forming as it did on the larger containment box. Within two weeks, crews will inject materials into the valves on the blowout preventer atop the oil wellhead. The blowout preventer, designed to cut off leaks with a series of valves and pipe shears, is still partially open. The injection, called a “junk kill,” is designed to gum up that leak using items such as wood chips and golf balls. If the injection successfully plugs the well, crews would then fill it with concrete.

Mohave Cross Stolen

Private caretakers are vowing they will replace the steel cross honoring American war veterans that was stolen from its rocky base in the Mojave Desert less than two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled the memorial could remain on federal land. Wanda Sandoz, who with her husband, Henry, have maintained the cross and its predecessor for more than 25 years, said she was stunned to learn Monday that thieves had cut welded bolts and made off with the cross. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, which first placed a wooden cross on the rock in 1934 to honor troops killed in World War I, has offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the theft.

Health Bill Costs Ratchet Up

Question: When is less than $1 trillion actually more than $1 trillion? Answer: When the White House and Congress are estimating health care costs. It’s no surprise that the Congressional Budget Office now says the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill passed by Democrats and signed by President Obama likely will cost at least $115 billion more. “These revelations widen the serious credibility gap President Obama is facing,” House Minority Leader John Boehner said. “The lesson learned here is don’t trust what Washington’s saying on ObamaCare,” added Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Senate Votes to Audit the Federal Reserve

Moving to further open the Federal Reserve to public scrutiny, the Senate unanimously voted Tuesday to require audits of the Fed’s emergency loans during the financial crisis. The 96-0 vote was a rare display of bipartisan harmony in an otherwise bruising battle over the sweeping bill to overhaul financial regulation. The Fed has drawn fire over its failure to prevent the crisis and to reveal which institutions received more than $2 trillion in emergency loans in the aftermath. The amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to audit the Fed’s liquidity initiatives starting in December 2007. The Fed also would have to disclose by Dec. 1 which banks got funds. Passage became all but certain last week after the Fed staved off a requirement to audit its decisions on interest rates. The Fed says such reviews would compromise its independence and spark inflation fears.

Tax Bills at Lowest Level Since 1950

Amid complaints about high taxes and calls for a smaller government, Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman‘s presidency, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data found. Federal, state and local taxes — including income, property, sales and other taxes — consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010. The real problem is spending,counters Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks, which organizes Tea Party groups. “The money we borrow is going to be paid back through taxation in the future,” he says.

  • Eight years of Bush policies lowered our taxes, now they’re increasing again. With the enormous stimulus debt burden, rates will rise high once again.

Economic News

Mortgage finance company Fannie Mae (FNM) has again asked taxpayers for more money after reporting a first-quarter loss of more than $13 billion. The company, which was rescued by the government in September 2008, said it needs another $8.4 billion to help cover mounting losses. The rescue of Fannie Mae and sister company Freddie Mac (FRE) is turning out to be one of the most expensive aftereffects of the financial meltdown. The new request for aid will bring Fannie Mae’s total to $83.6 billion. The total bill for the duo will now be nearly $145 billion.

Home prices are widely expected to fall now that a tax credit for home buyers has expired. That’s raising concern about a possible double dip in home prices. National housing prices stopped falling early last year and rose 0.3% over the 12 months ending in February. A shrunken pool of buyers due to the tax credit’s expiration is one reason. Another reason is the increasing number of distressed houses — including foreclosures and short sales — that are on the market or that will be in coming months.

The U.S. trade deficit rose to a 15-month high as rising oil prices pushed crude oil imports to the highest level since the fall of 2008, offsetting another strong gain in exports. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the trade deficit rose 2.5% to $40.4 billion in March. Exports of goods and services rose 3.2% to $147.87 billion, highest since October 2008. Imports were up 3.1% to $188.3 billion.

Gasoline prices are poised to fall as Memorial Day approaches, a welcome change for motorists who have gotten used to seeing seasonal increases cut into their summer vacation money. Experts who had been predicting a national average of more than $3 a gallon by Memorial Day now say prices have likely peaked just short of that. Rising supplies and concern about a weakening global economy have helped send wholesale gasoline prices plummeting by 25 cents a gallon since last week.

Britain

Britain woke up to a new political era Wednesday with the first coalition government since World War II an unlikely marriage between the Conservative Party and the left-leaning Liberal Democrats. With a handshake, smiles and waves, the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed his new coalition partner, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, outside the shiny black door at 10 Downing Street and set off on the business of running the country. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced his resignation Tuesday. Brown’s startling news conference came as the Conservatives, who won the most seats in the election but not a majority in Parliament.

Israel

Israel‘s deputy premier said Monday that Israel’s air force has improved its capabilities and is better prepared for a war with Iran, considered a dangerous enemy because of its nuclear program. Moshe Yaalon Israel considers Iran a serious threat because of its nuclear program, missiles and references by its leaders to Israel’s destruction. Israel also views Iran as a threat because of its continued material support to Hezbollah and Hamas militants who have struck Israel. In past years, Israel has launched a limited number of pre-emptive attacks against strategic military targets, including a strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981.

Afghanistan

The Obama administration sought Monday to smooth over past differences with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who arrived here on a four-day mission to convince Americans that his country is not a lost cause. At a White House news conference, Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, acknowledged that relations with Karzai have been shaky at times. Appearing with Eikenberry, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told reporters that he has a good relationship with Karzai. Karzai and a large delegation of Cabinet ministers arrived for the Karzai government’s widest engagement with U.S. leaders since his re-election in a flawed vote last year. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton kicked off a day of closed talks with Afghan government leaders by assuring President Hamid Karzai that the U.S. will remain committed to his country’s security and reconstruction long after the last U.S. combat troops have departed.

A bomb attack killed two U.S. service members in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, while Afghan officials said at least 18 militants died in a recent operation in the same region. Thousands of U.S., NATO and Afghan forces have poured into southern Afghanistan in recent months to try to rout Taliban from areas long ruled more by the militants than by the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Pakistan

Pakistani Taliban shot and killed two men Wednesday whom they accused of spying for the United States, while a bomb ripped through a NATO oil tanker near the Afghan border and killed a passerby. The slain men were from Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region which is effectively under militant control. The bodies were dumped in an open area in the town.

Up to 18 American missiles slammed into a Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan close to the Afghan border Tuesday, killing 14 alleged insurgents in the third such strike since a failed car bombing in New York drew fresh attention to the region. The number of missiles fired into North Waziristan was unusually high, reflecting multiple targets. They struck cars, homes and tents across a wide area in the Doga area, where insurgents have hideouts and training facilities. North Waziristan has been the target of nearly all of about 30 other American attacks this year. In recent months, it has become a new haven for militants who fled a Pakistani army offensive in their previous stronghold, neighboring South Waziristan.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say two explosions in a Baghdad neighborhood have killed five people. The blasts went off in the Dora neighborhood, a Sunni area in southwestern Baghdad that is also home to a small Christian community. Police and hospital officials said three of the dead were police officers and 16 other policemen and bystanders were wounded. The sheer breadth of the attacks was a blow after recent victories against insurgents and demonstrated the militants’ resilience. Officials blamed the violence, which stretched from the volatile north to the normally peaceful Shiite south, on the political vacuum resulting from inconclusive March 7 elections. Two months after the voting, it still is not clear who will control the next Iraqi government.

Haiti

Food for the Poor reports that more than 1 million people in Haiti are still homeless following January’s crippling earthquake. Thousands of people are still living in tent cities outside of Port-au-Prince and other areas, despite the coming of the rainy season.

Weather

Violent storms that tore through the southern Plains killed five people and injured dozens more, leaving behind flattened homes, toppled semitrailers and downed power lines. Several tornadoes were reported in Oklahoma and Kansas on Monday as the storms moved through the area, dumping hail as big as baseballs and leaving tens of thousands of people without power. Officials reported that at least 58 others were injured — two of them critically.

Age has not been kind to Glacier National Park. The gorgeous million-acre park in northwestern Montana celebrated its 100th birthday on Tuesday. But many of its glaciers have melted, and scientists predict the rest may not last another decade. The forests are drier and disease-ridden, leading to bigger wildfires. Climate change is forcing animals that feed off plants to adapt. Many experts consider Glacier Park a harbinger of Earth‘s future, a laboratory where changes in the environment will likely show up first. Average temperatures have risen in the park 1.8 times faster than the global average.

  • Global warming is real but not human caused, instead an end-time phenomenon

May 10, 2010

Obama Taps Kagan for Supreme Court Post

Fox News has learned that President Obama will nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court Monday morning at 10am, Eastern. The president called Kagan last night to inform her of his decision. If confirmed by the Senate, the relatively young Kagan– 50 years old– will fill the gap left by the imminent retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens. Kagan received her law degree from Harvard University, where she later served as dean of the law school. She previously served in the Clinton administration as associate White House counsel. Conservatives have already said Kagan’s confirmation would amount to a rubber stamp of the Obama agenda that many Americans are opposed to. Hurdles for Kagan in her confirmation process could include the fact that she has never been a judge and her push to oust military recruiters from the Harvard Law School campus when she was dean. Kagan opposes the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

  • No Judicial experience? Just an ideologue? Lord have mercy on us.

FEMA Running on Low

With a flooded Tennessee becoming the latest disaster to strike the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is confronting its own emergency as its relief funds run perilously low. Last month, FEMA Director W. Craig Fugate wrote a letter to Congress warning that its relief fund had fallen to $693 million as of April 7 but the agency owed $645 million to 47 states for past disasters. Now FEMA is handing out money to the residents of Tennessee after deadly floods ravaged the region last weekend. FEMA has already approved $1.5 million in individual assistance and more than 12,000 Tennesseans had registered with FEMA for disaster assistance by midmorning Friday with 250 inspections complete. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday that FEMA will probably need a shot of supplemental funding. The administration is seeking $5.1 billion in emergency funding from Congress.

  • More and more debt as everyone turns to the government to bail them out.

Methane Gas Bubble Triggered Deadly Oil Rig Explosion

The deadly blowout of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP’s internal investigation. As the bubble rose up the drill column from the high-pressure environs of the deep to the less pressurized shallows, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers.

BP’s first attempt to divert the oil with a specially constructed containment box was foiled, its mission now in serious doubt. Meanwhile, thick blobs of tar washed up on Alabama’s white sand beaches, yet another sign the spill was worsening. It had taken about two weeks to build the box and three days to cart it 50 miles out and slowly lower it to the well a mile below the surface, but the frozen depths were just too much.

The company that owns the offshore well spewing crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico and other major oil companies spearheaded a campaign to thwart a government plan to impose tighter regulations aimed at preventing similar disasters, according to government records. Tighter regulations would have required that drillers perform independent audits and hazard assessments designed to reduce accidents caused by human errors, but the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS) has so far not imposed the rules in the face of near unanimous opposition from oil companies.

  • Once again greed wins, we lose.

4th State Adopts Abortion Opt-Out

A number of states are moving on legislation to opt out of abortion coverage in healthcare reform legislation. Critics say one of the major problems with the new healthcare law is related to federal funding of abortion. But a provision allows states to make a decision. Attorney Mary Harned of Americans United for Life (AUL) reports that four states have passed bills modeled after the organization’s Abortion-Mandate Opt-Out Act. “Three of the opt-outs — Arizona, Mississippi and Tennessee — would all prevent plans that cover abortion from participating in their exchanges,” Harned Explains. “Florida would still allow plans that cover abortions to be in the exchanges but would prohibit any federal or state money from going to those plans.” As AUL has been in contact with elected leaders and groups from 28 other states, lawmakers around the country have begun focusing on the idea as well.

Lettuce Recall Hits 23 States

Federal investigators are looking at a farm in Yuma, Ariz., as a possible source of a widespread E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce, according to the distributor. Freshway Foods of Sidney, Ohio, said Thursday it recalled lettuce sold in 23 states and the District of Columbia because of a possible link to an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least 19 people — three with life-threatening illness. Freshway Foods worked with the Food and Drug Administration to trace the contaminated lettuce to a Yuma grower. The recall only applies to romaine lettuce with “best if used by” date before or on May 12. The recall also affects “grab and go” salads sold at Kroger, Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets and Marsh grocery stores.

Interfaith School for Military Chaplains Opened

Priests, rabbis, imams and Protestant ministers who serve as U.S. military chaplains came together Thursday to dedicate themselves and the nation’s first joint military school for tending warriors’ souls. Congress ordered the military services five years ago to merge their disparate chaplain and chaplain assistant schools. Representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force said they put aside differences of military culture to build a multi-faith education center. This year, the three services expect to graduate just under 2,800 chaplains and chaplain assistants. Military chaplains hold their own faith services, but may oversee non-denominational events. If requested, they can offer counseling to any uniformed service members or relatives, as well as civilians and contractors who work for the military.

  • Interfaith efforts look good on paper but serve to diminish Christianity and subliminally support the message that all roads lead to God

FCC Chief Seeks Regulation of Speedy Internet

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski kicked off a potentially ferocious fight over the legal rights of high-speed Internet users Thursday by unveiling a plan to give the FCC solid authority to block discriminatory practices and price-gouging. He jolted cable and phone companies, but pleased consumer advocates and Web content providers, by proposing to change the legal classification of high-speed Internet. He would deem it a regulated telecom service, similar to telephones. It’s now a lightly regulated information service. The change would enable the FCC to set rules for consumer privacy, fair billing practices and cybersecurity, among other things.

  • More government control. Just what we don’t need. The Internet has done fine without the government stepping in.

Gates Cites Urgent Need to Cut Defense Bureaucracy

Warring against waste, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday he is ordering a top-to-bottom paring of the military bureaucracy in search of at least $10 billion in annual savings needed to prevent an erosion of U.S. combat power. He took aim what he called a bloated bureaucracy, wasteful business practices and too many generals and admirals, and outlined an ambitious plan for reform that’s almost certain to stir opposition in the corridors of Congress and Pentagon.

  • At last someone in Washington gets it. Now apply that formula to all departments of the government nationally and locally.

Economic News

The Dow Jones industrials whipsawed again Friday, a day after their largest one-day plunge. The average was down as much as 279 points then ended with a loss of 139. However, stocks rose steeply Monday, buoyed by the European Union‘s $1 trillion plan to defend the embattled 16-country euro currency and prevent a spreading government debt crisis from choking the global economic recovery.

Consumer borrowing posted an unexpected increase in March, only the second gain in the last 14 months. It could be a sign that households are feeling more confident about boosting spending, a key development needed to support a sustained economic recovery, economists say. The Federal Reserve reported Friday that consumer borrowing rose by $1.95 billion in March. Consumer credit was also up in January but other than those two gains, it has been falling steadily since February of last year as households have cut back on their borrowing to repair their battered balance sheets.

The rate of late mortgage payments dropped in the first quarter for the first time since 2006. The 60-day delinquency rate slipped to 6.77%, from 6.89% in fourth quarter 2009. That was the first decline after 12 quarters of steady increases. The first-quarter figure still represents a substantial jump from a year ago, when delinquencies were at 5.22%.

Regulators on Friday shut down banks in Florida, Minnesota, Arizona and California, bringing the number of U.S. bank failures to 68 this year. Commerce Bank of Arizona, based in Tucson, Ariz., agreed to assume all of the deposits and assets of Towne Bank, and City National Bank of Los Angeles will assume all of 1st Pacific Bank’s deposits and assets. With the 68 closures so far this year, the pace of bank failures this year is double that of 2009. By May 1 last year, U.S. regulators had shut down 32 banks. There were 140 bank failures in the U.S. last year, the highest annual tally since 1992.

Venezuela‘s annual inflation rate has surpassed 30% after consumer prices surged in April. The Central Bank and National Statistics Institute on Friday reported a 5.2% increase in consumer prices during April, driving up the annual rate to 30.4%. President Hugo Chavez‘s government has been struggling against the highest inflation rate in Latin America and a weakening economy in general.

EU Meets to Avert Crisis

In a bid to stop the “Aegean flu” from spreading and support their currency, European Union leaders Sunday night announced a deal with the International Monetary Fund to provide as much as 750 billion euros ($965 billion) in loans and other financing to the EU’s weakest members. The USA has a big stake in their success. U.S. banks hold only $16.5 billion in loans to all Greek borrowers, including the government and private companies. But American banks hold 10 times that amount — more than $165 billion — in loans to customers in three other troubled European economies, Spain, Italy and Ireland, according to the Bank for International Settlements. German and French banks are most exposed to a possible Greek default. But U.S. financial institutions also could be hurt if their European counterparts absorb big losses on their Greek loans.

Greece‘s cash-strapped government is cutting the schoolteacher’s $27,300 salary by about $5,300 as part of a dramatic austerity move the prime minister says is needed to pay the country’s ballooning debt. Even as teacher’s salaries fall, the government is raising the value-added tax on most purchases for the second time in as many months, to 23%, and increasing electricity and water charges.

US Troops March in Red Square for Victory Day

U.S., French and British troops strode across Red Square for the first time Sunday in a Victory Day parade marked both by the usual impressive display of Russia’s military might and by an unusual emphasis on international cooperation. In recent years, the parade commemorating the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany has been used by Russian leaders to launch veiled criticism of the West, but President Dmitry Medvedev struck a different tone this year. “Today at this solemn parade, the soldiers of Russia, the states of the CIS and the anti-Hitler coalition march together,” he said in his address to the more than 11,000 soldiers on the vast square. “Only together can we counter present-day threats. Only as good neighbors can we resolve problems of global security in order that the ideals of justice and good triumph in all of the world and that the lives of future generations will be free and happy.” Foreign leaders in attendance included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, China’s Hu Jintao, Israeli President Shimon Peres and acting Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, whose predecessor died last month in a plane crash.

Iraq

Two car explosions and a suicide bomber have killed at least 40 people outside a textile factory, taking the day’s death toll to 75, Iraq’s bloodiest day of the year so far. A man with explosives strapped to his belt detonated himself Monday outside the factory in Hillah where a crowd was trying to help victims of two earlier car bombs. At least 135 were wounded in the triple blasts. The bombings were the latest in a series of deadly blasts and drive-by shootings in Baghdad and across the country.

Afghanistan

The Taliban threatened Saturday to launch a fresh offensive across Afghanistan this coming week, as President Hamid Karzai said international forces have yet to secure large parts of the country. The Taliban said the offensive starting Monday will include assassinations of government officials, roadside bombs and suicide attacks against foreigners and those who support them. A crucial test of the nine-year war is coming this summer, when a U.S.-led military operation tries to clear the Taliban from the key southern city of Kandahar, the group’s spiritual heartland.

Stepped up U.S. and Afghan military operations in southern Afghanistan have loosened the Taliban’s grip on narcotics trafficking, a key funding source for the militant group, a top Marine commander said. “This is not going to be a good year for them money wise,” Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, the commander of Marines in southern Afghanistan. U.S. and Afghan forces have seized about 4,000 kilos (or roughly 4.5 tons) of drugs or chemicals used to process narcotics in the past two weeks. Poppy farmers have just finished harvesting their crop, providing a critical opportunity for U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan to disrupt the Taliban’s drug-trafficking operations.

Pakistan

Pakistan successfully test-fired two ballistic missiles Saturday capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the military said, as the Islamic nation’s leader urged the world to recognize it as a legitimate nuclear power. The Shaheen-1 missile has a range of about 400 miles (650 kilometers), while the second Ghaznavi missile could hit targets at a distance of 180 miles (290 kilometers), an army statement said. Both can carry conventional and nuclear warheads. Pakistan’s missiles are mostly intended for any confrontation with archrival India. The latest Pakistani missile test came more than a week after the leaders of two sides met in Bhutan on the sidelines of a regional conference, hoping to improve relations that have been strained since the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks blamed on Pakistani militants.

Suspected U.S. missiles killed 10 people in a militant-controlled region close to the Afghan border Sunday, the first such strike since an alleged Pakistani-trained extremist was accused of a failed Times Square attack. Last week’s attempted car bombing in New York City has added to pressure on Pakistan to crack down on al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who have long had safe havens along the Afghan border. Top U.S. officials said Sunday they believe the Pakistani Taliban directed the plot.

Haiti

The catastrophic earthquake that left at least 1.3 million of Haiti‘s 9 million people homeless was the final push over the edge for families that could barely afford to feed their children before. Now stuck in leaky tents with dwindling aid handouts, Haitian families are abandoning their children in the hope that rescue organizations will offer them a better life, aid workers say. Toddlers are being found alone in hospital waiting rooms. The United Nation’s Children’s Fund set up a toll-free hot line in February for abandoned or lost children who had been separated from their families during the quake. The call center has registered 960 children so far.

Volcanoes

Ash spewing from an Icelandic volcano prompted flight cancellations in parts of Europe again on Sunday. Officials in Italy closed airports in Milan, Pisa and Florence at least until afternoon. In Spain, the Santiago de Compostela, Vigo and La Coruna airports were also expected to remain closed until Sunday morning. Six Scottish airports have also been closed. The ash cloud also disrupted flights to and from Switzerland, southern and central France, and northern Portugal, authorities said.

Earthquakes

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.4 rattled Indonesia’s North Sumatra province Sunday, prompting a brief local tsunami watch, knocking out power and damaging some homes. The U.S. Geological Survey said the afternoon quake hit 135 miles southeast of Banda Aceh at a depth at 38 miles. Indonesia and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu issued a tsunami watch for the area, but both canceled their warnings less than 90 minutes later. Local media reports said the quake caused panic in many parts of Aceh, which was hit hard by the earthquake that triggered the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people.

Weather

Rain and snow are on the increase in the USA: According to a 2009 report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, precipitation across the USA has increased an average of about 5 percent over the past 50 years. “The amount of rain falling in the heaviest downpours has increased approximately 20 percent on average in the past century, and this trend is very likely to continue, with the largest increases in the wettest places,” the report notes. “During the past 50 years, the greatest increases in heavy precipitation occurred in the Northeast and the Midwest.”

May 7, 2010

Prayers Prevail Despite Court Ruling

Defiance tinged National Day of Prayer hundreds of prayer gatherings across the nation Thursday as thousands of participants decried a court ruling last month that the annual event is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled April 15 that the National Day of Prayer, created by Congress in 1952, amounts to a call for religious action. Enforcement is suspended pending an appeal by the Justice Department. The case was initiated by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis., group that argues the events violate the separation of church and state.

‘No-Fly List’ Flaws Exposed in Bomber’s Boarding of Plane

Suspected terrorist Faisal Shahzad’s boarding of a flight in New York on Monday exposes a security hole that the government has yet to close after spending seven years and half a billion dollars to fix the problem. The breach by Shahzad occurred partly because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) still leaves it to airlines to check the government’s “no-fly list” to make sure no one barred from commercial airplanes is a passenger. The TSA has wanted since 2003 to take over the process, but its proposed “Secure Flight ” program has been stalled by opposition and controversy over privacy. The Homeland Security Department said Emirates Airlines missed an alert that added Shahzad to the no-fly list. Homeland Security on Wednesday ordered all airlines to begin checking for updates to the government’s “no-fly list” within two hours.

Home-Grown Terrorists Hard to Spot

What is most disturbing about Shahzad, terrorism analysts say, is a background free of any obvious past links to terrorism that would have alerted authorities to potential threats earlier. Until this week, he was not on any watch lists that impeded his travel here or abroad. Faisal Shahzad appeared to lead an ordinary life. The 30-year-old was a naturalized U.S. citizen with a computer science degree and an MBA. He owned a home in Connecticut and has a wife and two children. Shahzad’s case has similarities to those of Najibullah Zazi, the Denver airport shuttle driver who pleaded guilty in a foiled plot to bomb the New York subway system, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused in the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. “These are people who don’t look like terrorists or act like terrorists,” said Evan Kohlmann, a terror analyst who has been a consultant for the U.S. government. “But because the most experienced operatives in this area have been compromised by their past travel or affiliations, (terrorism) organizations have been forced to make a devil’s bargain: They are willing to trade experience for people who simply are less likely to be caught.”

Efforts Underway to Contain Oil Spill

A mission to the bottom of the sea to try to avert a wider environmental disaster began as crews eased a 100-ton concrete-and-steel box a mile deep in an unprecedented attempt to capture gushing oil from a blown-out well on the Gulf floor. A crane late Thursday lowered the containment vessel designed to collect as much as 85% of the oil spewing into the Gulf and funnel it up to a tanker. Eventually the crane would give way to underwater robots that will secure the contraption over the main leak at the bottom, a journey that would take hours. A steel pipe will be installed between the top of the box and tanker. If all goes well, the whole structure could be operating by Sunday. Oil giant BP PLC is in charge of cleaning up the mess. The quest took on added urgency as oil reached several barrier islands off the Louisiana coast, many of them fragile animal habitats.

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Experience Record Drop

The federal Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday that U.S. fossil fuel-use-related emissions of carbon dioxide, the most significant global warming greenhouse gas, fell a record 7% last year. “While emissions have declined in three out of the last four years, 2009 was exceptional,” says an EIA statement noting the drop of 405 million metric tons represents the biggest decline in such emissions in six decades, since such tracking began. Overall, a severe recession in heavy industry and a turn towards a service economy, coupled with drops in transportation, led to the decline, finds the analysis. “Longer-term trends continue to suggest decline in both the amount of energy used per unit of economic output and the carbon intensity of our energy supply, which both work to restrain emissions,” the EIA notes.

Poll: Most Americans Support Arizona’s Immigration Law

Most American voters think Arizona was right to pass its own immigration law, and think the Obama administration should wait and see how the new law works rather than try to stop it, according to a Fox News poll released Friday. The new poll finds 61 percent of voters nationally think Arizona was right to take action instead of waiting for the federal government to do something on immigration. That’s more than twice as many as the 27 percent who think securing the border is a federal responsibility and Arizona should have waited for Washington to act. Most Republicans (77 percent) and independents (72 percent) support Arizona taking action. Democrats are divided: 43 percent think the state was right, while 41 percent think Arizona should have let the federal government take the lead.

Migrant Border Deaths Rise

The number of people who died trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally last year rose to 417, the first increase in four years, despite declines in apprehensions. The number of deaths hit a peak of 492 in 2005, but had fallen every year since then to a low of 390 in 2008. Meanwhile, apprehensions of illegal immigrants trying to cross the southern border fell to 538,000 last year, down from 705,022 the previous year. Apprehensions peaked at 1.17 million in 2005. A lack of U.S. jobs and tighter enforcement are thought to be reasons for the steady drops in apprehensions.

Students Sent Home for Wearing U.S. Flag on T-Shirts

Five high-school students were sent home from school for wearing American flag T-shirts when they were expected to be “fostering a spirit of cultural awareness” on a Mexican holiday. Meanwhile, students wearing the colors of the Mexican flag were allowed to remain at school. Administrators at Five Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Calif., called the T-shirts “incendiary” when they were worn on Cinco de Mayo. “They said we could wear it on any other day,” Daniel Galli told NBC News. As the story gained wider attention, about 200 Hispanic students from Live Oak school skipped classes on Thursday to march to Morgan Hills city hall to express their displeasure over the action by the four on Wednesday on what many Hispanic students consider the equivalent of a national holiday.

  • It should never be a problem to wear our country’s colors on any day of the year.

Sex Outside of Marriage Gaining Support

Americans 45 and older are far more open to sex outside of marriage than they were 10 years ago, but they’re engaging in sex less often and with less satisfaction, according to a major new survey by AARP. One of the most pronounced changes over the 10-year span dealt with sex outside of marriage. In the 1999 survey, 41% of the respondents said nonmarital sex was wrong. That figure dropped to 22% in the new survey. Asked if they were satisfied with their sex lives, 43% in the new survey said yes, down from 51% in 2004.

  • Another benchmark in the moral collapse of Western society

Mosque Going Up in NYC Building Damaged on 9/11

A building damaged by debris from the Sept. 11 airliners that brought down the World Trade Center is soon to become a 13-story mosque. Many see it as a painful reminder of the religious extremism that killed their loved ones. Two Muslim organizations have partnered to open the mosque and cultural center in lower Manhattan, saying the $100 million project will create a venue for mainstream Islam and a counterbalance to radicalism. It earned a key endorsement this week from influential community leaders. But some 9/11 victims’ families said they were angered that it would be built so close to where their relatives died.

  • Muslim extremists are making “moderate” Islam seem acceptable. Inroads in the U.S. are moving America off its Judeo-Christian foundations onto sinking sand.

Michelle Calls Barack a ‘Kenyan’

A video has been posted online in which Michelle Obama, at a 2007 fundraiser, describes her husband as “Kenyan.” The statement from the now-first lady adds weight to another video revealed earlier in which she describe Kenya as Barack Obama’s “home country.” “Is Michelle Obama a Birther?” wrote a commentator at American Thinker. The video apparently was from a Tampa, Fla., fundraiser in December 2007.

Household Size Increasing

The number of people living under one roof is growing for the first time in more than a century, a fallout of the recession that could reduce demand for housing and slow the recovery. The Census Bureau had projected the average household size would continue to fall to 2.53 this year. Instead, the average is likely to hit 2.63, a small but significant increase because it is a turnabout. The USA could end this decade with up to 4 million excess housing units because of the reversal in household size. Multi-generational households are on the rise: 49 million, or 16% of the population, live in a home that had at least two adult generations in 2008. In 1980, there were 28 million, or 12%.

Economic News

U.S. stocks opened modestly lower Friday, a day after taking the biggest intra-day plunge in trading history. Investors around the world are uneasy about the prospect of trouble in the euro zone from Greece’s crisis. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 347.80, or 3.2 percent, Thursday. It had been down as much as 998.5 points, or 9.2 percent..Asian stock markets plunged in opening trade Friday following massive losses on Wall Street amid fears over the Greek debt crisis. Many economists say Greece may be insolvent in the end despite an EU-IMF bailout, and there are fears that other countries will face bond market skepticism — and higher borrowing costs that will worsen their finances in a vicious spiral.

Freddie Mac is asking for $10.6 billion in additional federal aid after posting a big loss in the first three months of the year. It’s another sign that the taxpayer bill for stabilizing the housing market will keep mounting. The McLean, Va.-based mortgage finance company has been effectively owned by the government after nearly collapsing in September 2008. The new request will bring the total tab for rescuing Freddie Mac to $61.3 billion.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week for a third time, a sign the job market is slowly recovering. The Labor Department says initial claims for unemployment insurance fell 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 444,000. Layoffs have dropped to pre-recession levels and employers have slowly resumed hiring. That has brought claims down from a peak of 651,000 in March 2009. That’s above the 425,000 many economists believe claims need to drop below to signal sustained job growth. The four-week average of claims, which smooths fluctuations, declined 4,750 to 458,500, first decrease in five weeks.

Employers stepped up job creation in April, expanding payrolls by 290,000, the most in four years. But the unemployment rate rose to 9.9% as more people came back into the job market looking for work. The hiring of 66,000 temporary government workers to conduct the 2010 census helped payroll growth last month.

Labor productivity jumped in the first quarter. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said productivity increased at a 3.6% annual rate during the first quarter of 2010. The economy has been growing since last summer but firms have been reluctant to hire back workers. They are instead opting to push their slimmed-down workforces to produce more. The 3.6% rise in productivity for the first three months of this year marked a drop from the rates turned in over the last three quarters. That is something that economists expect as companies reach the limit of how much they can expand output without hiring.

Consumers slowed in April after their March shopping spree, partly because Easter came earlier. Consumers bought less clothing and footwear in April than they did in the same month last year but opened their wallets for electronics, major appliances and status goods, purchase data released Wednesday show. The month’s rainy weather contributed to mixed results, including a sharp increase in online sales.

Greece

Striving to avoid a bankruptcy that could shake global markets, the Greek parliament Thursday approved a deeply unpopular plan that would raise taxes while cutting wages and pensions. The vote, largely along party lines, came one day after protests against the measure turned deadly. The 172-121 win was a joyless affair, however, for Prime Minister George Papandreou and his Socialist Party. The three-year austerity package, which the European Union and the International Monetary Fund required in return for a 110-billion-euro ($145 billion) bailout, will impose painful and far-reaching changes on Greece. More than 30,000 demonstrators filled downtown streets, chanting “They declared war. Now fight back.” Labor unions opposed to the deal have scheduled additional strikes next week.

Middle East

A U.S. mediator launched Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations Wednesday after a break of more than a year, starting a shuttle mission between a hard-line Israeli government and a Palestinian administration in control of only part of its territory. President Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, met for three hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start the indirect negotiations. Mitchell will travel between Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem and the headquarters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, less than half an hour’s drive away.

Syria

Syria has delivered advanced solid-fuel M600 rockets to Hizbullah in Lebanon within the past year, Israeli defense officials said Wednesday. The M600, a Syrian copy of the Iranian Fateh-110, has a range of 300 km and carries a half-ton warhead. It would be capable of hitting Tel Aviv if fired from southern Lebanon. IDF’s head of intelligence research, Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, told the Knesset that the Scud transfer was the “tip of the iceberg” of continuing missile shipments to Hizbullah, which were banned under a UN Security Council arms embargo imposed after the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Great Britain

After one of the most passionately contested elections in decades, the opposition Conservative Party made big gains but did not secure a majority of seats in Parliament. The Conservatives, led by David Cameron, won the largest number of seats, dozens more than Labour, with the third party, the left-of-center Liberal Democrats, failing to make the gains forecast before Thursday’s vote. But no single party commanded a majority and on Friday there was no definitive indication about the likely complexion of a new government. Without a majority, Mr. Cameron — and the country — could be heading for days of agonizing uncertainty as the two main parties set about trying to outmaneuver each other for power.

Christianity Today reports that Christians in Britain are worried that the arrest of a street preacher in Cumbria may lead to more restrictions on religious freedom in the UK. A part-time police officer arrested Dale McAlpine in his home town of Workington, in Cumbria, last month for publicly saying that homosexuality is a sin. McAlpine says he included homosexuality in a larger list of sins listed in the Bible in a conversation with a passerby, and did not publicly preach on the subject. Former Catholic Herald editor Cristina Odone condemned the event in the UK Telegraph, calling McAlpine’s arrest part of a “new inquisition.” “Fuelling the inquisitors is a vicious secularism that allows no tolerance for views based on Christian values,” she said. “A civilized, tolerant society requires negotiation between… a preacher’s right to proclaim his beliefs and a gay’s freedom to live out her sexuality.”

China

Every hour a baby is born in China with syphilis, as the world’s fastest-growing epidemic of the disease is fueled by men with new money from the nation’s booming economy, researchers say. The easy-to-cure bacterial infection, which was nearly wiped out in China five decades ago, is now the most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease in its largest city, Shanghai. Prostitutes along with gay and bisexual men, many of whom are married with families, are driving the epidemic, according to a commentary published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The increase reflects the country’s staggering economic growth, providing both businessmen and migrant laborers more cash and opportunity to pay for unsafe sex while away from home.

Nigeria

Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in Thursday as the president of Nigeria, Africa‘s most populous nation, just hours after the death of the oil-rich country’s elected leader whose long illness had sparked a leadership crisis. Yar’Adua, who long had suffered from kidney ailments and was recently hospitalized in Saudi Arabia because of heart inflammation, died at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Yar’Adua’s death came almost three months after Jonathan had assumed control of Nigeria as acting president and less than a year away from the next presidential elections in a country once plagued by military coups. An unwritten power-sharing agreement within Nigeria’s ruling party calls for the presidency to alternate between Nigeria’s Christians and Muslims. Yar’Adua, a Muslim, was still in his first four-year term though. Jonathan remained seated during Muslim prayers offered on Yar’Adua’s behalf, but stood for a Christian invocation.

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il left China Friday after a secretive five-day visit that produced an affirmation of long-delayed nuclear disarmament talks but no firm dateline for rejoining that process. Kim’s armored train crossed the border back into North Korea midmorning after leaving Beijing Thursday following talks with Chinese leaders that touched on the six-nation denuclearization talks stalled since December 2008. “Kim said that the DPRK will work with China to create favorable conditions for restarting the six-party talks,” the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Volcanoes

Iceland’s volcano has produced a 1,000-mile-wide ash cloud off the west coast of Ireland that will force western Irish airports to shut down again Friday. The authority said shifting winds, currently coming from the north, had bundled recent days’ erupted ash into a massive cloud that is growing both in width and height by the hour. Eurocontrol, which determines the air routes that airliners can use in and around Europe, says the ash accumulation is posing a new navigational obstacle — because the cloud is gradually climbing to 35,000 feet and into the typical cruising altitude of trans-Atlantic aircraft. Until recent days, the ash had remained below 20,000 feet.

Weather

A tornado and strong winds swept through southwestern China early Thursday, killing at least 29 people and injuring nearly 200, More than 70,000 people were relocated after torrential wind, rain and hail lashed the city of Chongqing overnight. Thousands of buildings have been damaged in the hardest hit counties of Liangping and Dianjiang.