Archive for June, 2010

June 30, 2010

Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Same-Sex ‘Marriage’

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex “marriage” and civil unions. In a 7-0 vote, the court on Wednesday ruled that the 2006 constitutional amendment was properly put to voters in a statewide referendum. The court rejected a lawsuit that claimed the amendment violated a rule that limits referendum questions to a single subject. The lawsuit, filed by a voter opposed to the amendment, argued that homosexual marriage and civil unions were two different subjects. Justice Michael Gableman says both sentences “carry out the same general purpose of preserving the legal status of marriage in Wisconsin as between only one man and one woman.”

Supreme Court: Christian Group Can’t Bar Gays, Get School Funding

The Christian Legal Society (CLS) at California’s Hastings College of the Law will have to change their charter to include gays and atheists if they want campus recognition. According to The Christian Post, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the school has the legal right to deny official status to campus groups that do not abide by its anti-discrimination policy. CLS’s attorney, Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), says the group allows anyone to join the group, but voting members must sign a statement of belief. ADF says the ruling is specific to Hasting’s unique policy, and should have little immediate effect. “It is very frustrating that the Supreme Court chose to rule on a policy that very few universities have,” said Lorence.

Pope Battles Secularization, ‘Eclipse of the Sense of God’

Pope Benedict XVI is creating a new Vatican office to fight secularization and “re-evangelize” the West — a tacit acknowledgment that his attempts to reinvigorate Christianity in Europe haven’t succeeded and need a new boost. Benedict said parts of the world are still missionary territory, where the Catholic Church is still relatively unknown. But in other parts of the world like Europe, Christianity has existed for centuries yet “the process of secularization has produced a serious crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and role of the Church.” The new pontifical council, he said, would “promote a renewed evangelization” in countries where the Church has long existed “but which are living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God.'”

  • Unfortunately, Catholicism is part of the problem as people reject its unbiblical veneration of Mary, prayers to saints, etc. In addition, its sordid history of political chicanery and, more recently, sexual abuse render it a poor representative of what true Christianity is all about.

Supreme Court Ruling Tilts Law Against Limits on Guns

The Supreme Court’s historic decision Monday allowing gun owners to challenge city and state regulations as a violation of their Second Amendment rights clears the way for new challenges to firearms laws nationwide. A five-justice conservative majority, over vigorous protests from the four more liberal justices, declared the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental to the American notion of liberty and can shield gun owners from certain regulations across the country. Although the majority noted some gun laws would stand, such as prohibitions on felons possessing firearms, its rationale is certain to usher in a new era of litigation over gun control. The case stemmed from a 28-year-old Chicago law that was a rare, total ban on handguns. The law was challenged by four homeowners who said they needed handguns for their safety. In Monday’s case, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito deemed the right to bear arms “fundamental” and noted the court had previously held that most provisions of the Bill of Rights apply to both the federal government and the states. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Kagan Congressional Hearings Begin

On the first day of Senate questioning, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan deflected GOP challenges, declined entreaties by Democrats to attack conservative rulings and made the spotlight at the televised hearings her own. She described herself Tuesday as a pragmatist and insisted, “My politics would be, must be, have to be completely separate from my judging.” Kagan, a former Clinton policy adviser who has been U.S. solicitor general for a year, said she would be swapping her role as an advocate for that of a judge. The testiest exchange was spurred by senior Senate Judiciary Committee Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who challenged Kagan’s action limiting military recruiting as Harvard law dean. Kagan said military recruiters had access to Harvard students throughout the controversy in the mid-2000s over U.S. military policy excluding openly gay soldiers. Sessions replied, “I’m just a little taken aback by the tone of your remarks, because it’s unconnected to reality. … I know you were an outspoken leader against the military policy.”

Kagan said she would abide by two gun regulation rulings, one in 2008 and one Monday, ensuring individual rights under the Second Amendment: “That is settled law.” She declined California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein‘s invitation to condemn Monday’s decision opening the door to new challenges to gun regulation in states and cities nationwide. Kagan deflected other questions by saying, “I’m reluctant to say how I would think about the question as an average, everyday citizen,” she said, “because I might have to think about the question as a judge.” Senators from both parties voiced growing frustration Tuesday over Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s evasive answers on Day Two of her confirmation hearings. A well-prepared Kagan bobbed and weaved, ducking even the most straightforward questions to avoid saying anything remotely controversial. But her evasive tactics left some senators visibly put off.

  • What the court nominees say at these hearings is often different from what they do once on the bench

BP Slows Drilling of Relief Well

Drilling of a relief well, intended to interrupt oil flow from the ruptured well, reached 16,770 feet, 1,230 feet shy of the goal, BP said Monday. But drilling has slowed as engineers perform tests to determine the precise location of the damaged well. The relief well will intercept the original well at 18,000 feet and is scheduled to be complete in mid-August. BP is capturing nearly 1 million gallons of oil a day in two containment systems. The company has begun installing a third system that could double the amount of oil captured by the first two systems. The new system could be disconnected quickly if a hurricane approaches, the company said. The current system requires five days to disconnect, said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government’s incident commander. BP has spent $2.65 billion in its effort to cap a gushing oil well and clean up a growing slick in the Gulf of Mexico, the company reported Monday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Oil giant BP PLC is floating a financial lifeline to the owners, operators and suppliers of the gas stations around America that bear its name and have been struggling because of boycotts prompted by the Gulf spill. The head of a trade group that represents distributors of BP gasoline in the U.S. said Tuesday that the company is informing outlets that they will be getting cash in their pockets, reductions in credit card fees and help with more national advertising. The cash component will be based on distributors’ volume and will be higher for outlets along the Gulf Coast than for those elsewhere in the country.

Immigrant Deaths on the Rise

Every year for a decade, more than 200 suspected illegal immigrants die crossing the U.S.-Mexican border into Arizona. That’s roughly half of all such immigrants who die in the U.S. This year, there have been 88 such cases — above the norm for this time of year. Years ago, the office averaged 19 undocumented immigrant bodies a year. The death tide in Arizona started in 1994 with Operation Gatekeeper and rose in 2002 when President George W. Bush signed a bill that led to the largest restructuring of border enforcement since World War II, according to a 2009 Migration Policy Institute (MPI) study. The squeeze was put on El Paso and San Diego, shifting immigrants to the Arizona border. “We’re the portal of entry now,” Bruce Anderson says. “Hard to survive it, but easy to get across.” Anderson is Pima County‘s forensic anthropologist whose job is to try and identify the deceased and return them to their families.

Federal officials told Arizona‘s attorney general and a congresswoman on Monday that 524 of the 1,200 National Guard troops headed to the U.S. Mexican border will be deployed in the state by August or September. the 524 troops are now being trained for deployment in August, and Goddard said two drone aircraft also will be used in Arizona. Attorney General Terry Goddard says the commitment is a first step. President Obama previously announced that he plans to send 1,200 troops to the border, and he asked Congress for $600 million to pay for 1,000 more Border Patrol agents, 160 new federal immigration officers and two unmanned aircraft.

The U.S. Supreme Court later this year will hear arguments on the constitutionality of Arizona’s landmark 2007 law that penalizes employers for hiring illegal immigrants. A decision is expected next year. The court, following a request from the U.S. solicitor general, announced Monday that it will hear challenges to the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2008.

Economic News

Unemployment benefits are set to run dry for 1.2 million people nationwide Friday after the U.S. Senate decided not to extend a deadline for these benefits last week. Come Saturday, the number of people cut from unemployment benefits will surge to 1.63 million, according to U.S. Department of Labor estimates. By mid-July, about 2 million unemployed Americans could lose their benefits. Before last month, out-of-work Americans were eligible for extensions once they maxed out at 26 weeks of state benefits and 73 weeks of federal benefits — a total of 99 weeks. But, Senate Republicans blocked the extension with a 57-14 vote last week.

Homebuyers would get an extra three months to complete their purchases and qualify for a generous tax credit under a bill overwhelmingly passed by the House on Tuesday. Under current law, homebuyers who signed purchase agreements by April 30 have until Wednesday to close on the sale to qualify for tax credits of up to $8,000. The bill would give buyers until Sept. 30 to complete their purchases. The extended deadline only applies to people who signed purchase agreements by April 30.

Cities across the USA are dousing the fuse on Fourth of July fireworks displays this year because of continued budget woes. Glendale, Ariz., Jersey City and Springfield, Mo., are among the latest cities that have canceled their traditional Independence Day celebrations, joining other cities including San Francisco suburb Redwood City and Ridgefield Park, N.J. A May survey of elected officials found that despite signs of an economic turnaround, growth is lacking, poverty is on the rise, and budgets are still dwindling.

Gasoline prices continue to rise Monday as vacationers in RVs and campers join commuters on the roads during the peak summer driving season. Pump prices likely will increase over the next couple of weeks but fall short of $3 a gallon in most states. The national average for retail gasoline prices rose 0.1 cent to $2.756 a gallon Monday.

Japan‘s economic recovery faltered in May as moderating export demand dented factory output, household spending fell and the jobless rate unexpectedly rose for a third straight month. Industrial production dropped 0.1% from the previous month — the first decline in three months, the government said Tuesday. Shipments overseas fell 1.7%.

China /Taiwan

China and Taiwan signed a tariff-slashing trade pact Tuesday that boosts economic ties and further eases political tensions six decades after the rivals split amid civil war. Beijing hopes the deal, signed live on on state television, can lead to political accommodation. Taiwan is looking for the tighter economic links to keep the island from being marginalized as China’s global clout grows. The pact will end tariffs on hundreds of products traded across the strait and allow Taiwanese firms access to 11 service sectors on the mainland, including banking, accounting, insurance and hospitals. It should boost bilateral trade already totaling about $110 billion a year: some $80 billion in goods flowing to China, and $30 billion to Taiwan.

Russia

The Justice Department has arrested 10 Russian intelligence officers for allegedly serving as “illegal agents of the Russian government in the United States.” The New York Times writes that the complaints filed in federal court “read like a thriller novel”: Secret Russian agents were assigned to live as married couples in the United States, even having children who were apparently unaware of their parents’ true identities. A spy swapped identical bags with a Russian official as they brushed past each other in a train station stairwell. Messages were written with invisible ink, hidden in the data of digital pictures, and encoded in messages sent over shortwave radio. The Times says it’s not clear “what their intelligence reports were about.” Russia’s official and unofficial response to a reported “spy ring” in the United States ranges from questioning the U.S. timing of the affair, to sinister accusations of reviving the “Cold War” to suggestions that the White House is trying to divert attention from setbacks in the Afghan war. So far, no official denials of the accusations, though.

Greece

Dozens of masked youths clashed with police at a union protest Tuesday in Athens during a general strike against the cash-strapped government’s planned pension and labor reforms. Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse troublemakers who threw chunks of marble smashed off a metro station entrance and set rubbish bins on fire. Running clashes continued along a major avenue — lined with shuttered shops and banks — as rioters armed with wooden clubs made repeated sallies against police. One motorcycle policeman was injured in the clashes, while rioters smashed bus stops and phone booths. The violence came as some 10,000 people took part in a demonstration organized by the country’s two main labor unions and fringe left-wing groups. A separate march by some 5,000-6,000 members of the Communist Party-backed PAME union ended peacefully.

Iran

Iran will not hold talks with the West over its nuclear program until late August to “punish” world powers for imposing tougher sanctions against the country, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday. He also vowed that Iran will retaliate should its ships be searched over suspicions that the cargo may violate the new sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council earlier this month. The European Union and U.S. Congress followed with new punishing measures of their own to discourage the Iranian government from continuing its uranium enrichment program, which they fear could be used to produce a nuclear weapon. The Iranian leader also set three conditions for an eventual resumption of talks, saying countries who want to participate should make clear whether they oppose Israel‘s purported atomic arsenal, whether they support the Nonproliferation Treaty and whether they want to be friends or enemies with Iran.

Afghanistan

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in the Afghan capital to talk with officials about improving the justice system and fighting corruption Wednesday, a day after Afghanistan‘s top prosecutor defended himself against allegations that he’s being pressured not to pursue cases against powerful figures. Corruption and an ineffectual court system have undermined public trust in President Hamid Karzai‘s government. The Obama administration and other donor nations, who need Karzai to be perceived as a credible partner, are pushing him to clean up bribery, graft and corruption. Karzai, who has set up an anti-corruption commission, insists that he does not condone or tolerate corruption. In a recent speech, he invited people to come forward with evidence of corruption even if it implicated his relatives, friends or government officials.

Eight militants were killed in a gunbattle after a suicide car bombing Wednesday at the entrance to an airport outside the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad After the car bombing, a group of militants, using light weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, battled international forces for 30 minutes. The Taliban claimed responsibility. In a text message to The Associated Press in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said six suicide attackers killed 32 foreign and Afghan security forces at the airport, about 78 miles east of the Afghan capital.

Worthy News reports that more than 20 Afghan Christians have been detained in Afghanistan after leaked video footage led to official demands for the execution of Christian converts. Conversion and proselytizing are illegal in the Islamic nation. Christian Solidarity Worldwide said the Christians were detained since last week and added that non-Christians with ties to Westerners have also been targeted for interrogation. The crackdown began early this month after an Afghan TV station showed Afghan men praying in Farsi and being baptized. One member of the Afghan parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called for immediate action. “Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them,” Khawasi said.

Pakistan

A government official says fighter jets have bombed suspected militant hide-outs in a new assault on an Afghan tribal region where the army had previously declared victory. He says at least 20 people have died. The aerial bombings Wednesday destroyed six Taliban hide-outs in the region. Field informants confirmed the killing of 20 suspected militants. Pakistan’s army has been bombing Orakzai for months, believing it to be a hiding place for Taliban fighters fleeing another offensive further south in the tribal belt. It declared victory there in early June, but violence persists.

Iraq

A series of bombings and shootings around Iraq Tuesday claimed 13 lives, including four policemen, an Iraqi army general and a 9-year-old girl, Iraqi While violence has dropped overall across the country, the attacks underline the continued threat to government employees and members of the security forces, who are often targeted by insurgents trying to destabilize the country. Also on Tuesday, officials in southern city of Basra said that a bullet-riddled body of Sabri al-Asadi, a municipal official who missing for two days, was found.

Earthquakes

A strong 6.5-magnitude earthquake rattled the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca early Wednesday morning, and was felt at least as far away as Mexico City. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered in a sparsely populated, mountainous area of Oaxaca near the southern Pacific coast. Authorities did not yet know if there were injuries or damage.

Weather

Hurricane Alex strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico into the season’s first hurricane late Tuesday and is the first June hurricane since 1995. The approaching storm prompted residents along the southern coast of Texas to evacuate, and oil spill workers to halt some cleanup efforts in Louisiana. Hurricane Alex will likely make landfall near the Mexico-Texas border Wednesday night. The Category 1 storm, with winds of 75 mph, is expected to dump up to 20 inches of rain in Texas and Mexico.

Hundreds of distraught villagers huddled in tents Tuesday as rescuers searched for family members buried after a landslide trapped at least 107 people in rain-hit southwestern China. But there appeared to be little hope for survival as rescue efforts were hindered by rain Tuesday morning, threatening to wash more mud down hill slopes. Many homes were buried when the landslide struck the village of Dazhai in Guizhou province on Monday afternoon after days of rain. Makeshift tents were set up on site as first aid stations and soldiers carrying villagers waded through water and mud as they evacuated 300 residents.

While other parts of the nation complained about hotter than usual temperatures, New England, a region that often endures chilly, dank springs, welcomed its warmest spring on record with open arms. Each of the region’s six states recorded its warmest spring on record. The Climate Prediction Center’s latest forecast for the months of July, August and September indicates that the entire Eastern Seaboard, from New England to Florida, should see higher-than-average temperatures.

June 28, 2010

House, Senate All-Nighter Produces Financial Overhaul Bill

Congressional negotiators approved the boldest rewrite of financial rules since the 1930s early Friday, creating a new consumer watchdog, extending regulation to the murky market in derivative investments and taking steps to avoid future Wall Street bailouts. The legislation, which emerged at dawn after all-night negotiations, will go to the full House and Senate for final approval next week. Democrats hope President Obama can sign the bill into law by July 4. The legislation is designed to clean up Wall Street excesses and prevent future bailouts by creating a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau inside the Federal Reserve to police the financial marketplace on behalf of borrowers and savers. A key cause of the financial crisis was an explosion in high-cost, subprime mortgages to borrowers who could not afford them and in many cases could have qualified for cheaper, conventional loans. The bill also Extends regulation to the $600 trillion market in over-the-counter derivatives, potentially risky investments that nearly wiped out insurance giant American International Group, which was rescued with a $180 billion taxpayer bailout. It further grants regulators authority to identify and shut down big, failing financial firms before they can damage the entire financial system, and forcing shareholders and unsecured creditors, not taxpayers, to bear the brunt of losses.

G-8 Vows to ‘Follow Through’ on Aid Pledges

Leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations met with their less fortunate counterparts Friday in hopes of improving on their spotty record of helping the world’s poorest nations. Struggling with their own economies as they emerge from a global recession, President Obama and other leaders nevertheless sought to make good on past pledges of financial assistance that aid groups say have fallen short. The G-8 leaders meeting in Canada released a report earlier in the week that showed donor nations were $18 billion short of a goal set in 2005 — to increase annual development assistance to poor nations by $50 billion within five years. Some countries, including the United States and Canada, met their pledges. But others, led by Italy, fell woefully short, the reports showed. France, Germany and Britain also fell short of what they promised at Gleneagles, Britain, in 2005.

The world’s leaders agreed Sunday to begin transitioning from spending to saving as they walk what Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called a “tightrope” between government stimulus and debt reduction. The tenuous agreement, to halve government deficits by 2013, represented a victory for European leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, who sought tough spending cuts. President Obama had urged colleagues not to abandon government spending too soon. Although a deal was reached on spending and saving, other matters were unresolved. Europe’s desire for a global tax on banks went nowhere. Russia demurred on a stronger denunciation of an alleged North Korea torpedo attack on a South Korean warship. Host Canada got only modest support for its initiative to tackle child and maternal health in developing countries. And there were signs of impatience regarding the lengthy war in Afghanistan, which Cameron said must be righted “this year.”

Black-clad demonstrators broke off from a crowd of peaceful protesters at the global economic summit in Toronto Saturday, torching police cruisers and smashing windows with baseball bats and hammers. Police arrested more than 150 people. Police used shields, clubs, tear gas and pepper spray to push back the rogue protesters. Some demonstrators hurled bottles at police. The roving band wearing black balaclavas shattered shop windows for blocks, including at police headquarters. The goal of the militant protesters was to draw police away from the security perimeter of the summit so that fellow protesters could attempt to disrupt the meeting.

U.S. Chamber Official: Disclose Act ‘Shreds’ Constitution

The Disclose Act that House Democrats passed Thursday would “shred” the U.S. Constitution and represents a “blatant partisan maneuver to protect their incumbency,” according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President R. Bruce Josten. In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, Josten says the Disclose Act, which passed by a 219 to 206 margin, reveals just how much Democrats fear the nation’s rising anti-incumbent fervor. The administration declared Monday that the Disclose Act “takes great strides to hold corporations who participate in the Nation’s elections accountable to the American people.” But Josten says the act would heavily restrict the rights of more than 100,000 associations nationwide to run ads expressing their political views. The act requires companies and associations to submit a mountain of paperwork to the Federal Election Commission if they want to run an ad.

Gov. Brewer: Most Border-Crossers are Drug ‘Mules’

Expanding on comments made at a candidates’ debate, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said today she believes that most illegal immigrants crossing the border are “mules” carrying drugs for Mexican cartels. “I believe today, under the circumstances that we’re facing, that the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming into the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels and they are bringing drugs in,” Brewer told the Associated Press. “There’s strong information to us that they come as illegal people wanting to come to work. Then they are accosted and they become subjects of the drug cartel,” she said.

BP has Lost More than $100B in Value

BP’s effort to drill a relief well through 2 1/2 miles of rock to stop the Gulf spill is on target for completion by mid-August, the oil giant said Friday. But BP’s stock tumbled anywayto a 14-year low over the mounting costs of the disaster and the company’s inability to plug the leak sooner. The relief well is considered the best hope of halting the crude that has been gushing since April 20 in the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Meanwhile, the first tropical depression of the Atlantic season formed in the Caribbean, raising concerns about what might happen to efforts to contain the oil if bad weather forces BP to abandon them.

Burqa Bans Grow Fashionable in Europe

A growing movement in Europe to ban burqas and niqabs, the face coverings worn by some Muslim women, is igniting a debate over individual religious freedom vs. broader cultural values. The movement started in Belgium when a bill making it a crime to wear a face veil in public passed unanimously in the lower house of parliament in April. The penalty would be a $19-$31 fine or a week in jail. The measure is likely to become law by fall. France followed and lawmakers across the continent are considering similar measures. In France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population — an estimated 7%-10% of its 64 million people — the Cabinet approved a ban on face-covering veils in public areas in May. Lawmakers say they are not concerned about Muslims in general but about the minority who hold extremist views. Many European countries, including France, Belgium and Germany, restrict head scarves and face-covering veils for government employees and in state schools.

Devout Are Less Stressed than Non-Believers

Religion may provide a “buffer” allowing the devout to feel less anxiety when they make mistakes, compared with non-believers, according to new scientific research. Religion News Service reports that researchers at the University of Toronto measured “error-related negativity” — people’s defensive response to errors — and compared it to religious belief. In the experiments, participants had electrodes measuring their brain activity as they performed cognitive tests. They were then asked to quantify their belief in God on a scale of zero to seven. The study found that those who were religious or claimed belief in God “showed low levels of distress-related neural activity” when they learned of their test errors, compared with nonbelievers.  By contrast, atheists demonstrated a “heightened neural response” and reacted more defensively when they learned of their errors, wrote the study’s lead author, Michael Inzlicht, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.

States to Miss Health Care Deadline

Beginning Thursday, residents in most states will be able to apply for new federal health coverage for people denied insurance because of medical problems, but some of the nation’s largest states will miss the deadline, according to state insurance departments. The key early program of the nation’s new health law aims to provide affordable coverage to about 200,000 people with pre-existing medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes, through federal high-risk insurance pools. Applications to buy the coverage will be ready Thursday for residents of about 20 states that asked HHS to run the program for them. About 30 states opted to run the programs themselves. Of those, he said about 20 will be ready to accept applications in early to mid-July. About 10 states are working through legislative and other issues that may take weeks or months to resolve. Details of the costs and coverage will be posted at http://www.healthcare.gov.

Whooping Cough Epidemic Hits California

Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California, and is on pace to break a 50-year record for infections for the year. As of June 15, California had 910 recorded cases of the highly contagious disease, and five babies — all under 3 months of age — have died from the disease this year. This year’s surge in cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a fourfold increase from the same period last year, when 219 cases were recorded. Unimmunized or incompletely immunized babies are particularly vulnerable. Three vaccines are administered for whooping cough, from 2 to 6 months of age. There is no shortage of vaccines, which are provided for free to hospitals and participating counties by the state health department.

Kellogg Recalls Four Cereals

Kellogg Co. is voluntarily recalling about 28 million boxes of Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Froot Loops and Honey Smacks cereals because an unusual smell and flavor from the packages’ liners could make people ill, the company said Friday. Kellogg said about 20 people complained about the cereals, including five who reported nausea and vomiting. The company said the potential for serious health problems is low. Kellogg is trying to identify the substance on the liners that’s causing the problem and is offering consumers refunds in the meantime.

Economic News

Consumer spending rose slightly in May as Americans remain reluctant to open their wallets amid a slow economic recovery. The Commerce Department said Monday that consumer spending rose 0.2% last month, an improvement from April’s reading of no change. Incomes rose 0.4%, boosted by the temporary hiring of census workers.

Regulators on Friday shut down banks in Florida, Georgia and New Mexico, lifting to 86 the number of U.S. bank failures this year. The pace of bank failures far outstrips that of 2009, which was already a brisk year for shutdowns. By this time last year, regulators had closed 45 banks. The pace has accelerated as banks’ losses mount on loans made for commercial property and development.

Bank stocks shot higher Friday after an agreement on a financial regulation bill reassured investors that new rules won’t devastate financial companies’ profits. Analysts said the deal removes a huge cloud that has hovered over the financial industry for much of this year. The market seems to believe that financial companies would do well even with the new limits on their business.

Afghanistan

The Afghan government says an explosion has hit the capital Kabul in an area full of foreign embassies and government offices. The blast has struck near the Foreign Ministry on Saturday morning. There are also a number of embassies and offices of international organizations in the area. The bodies of 11 men, some beheaded, were found Friday in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan. They were killed because the Taliban said they were spying for the government, working for the government.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that the United States and its allies are not “bogged down” in Afghanistan despite the delay of a planned offensive in the southern city of Kandahar. The remarks come one day after President Obama relieved the commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and nominated Gen. David Petraeus to replace him. U.S. officials worked to allay concerns that the abrupt change reflects any lack of commitment on the part of the White House or flaws in its strategy.

North Korea

North Korea says it must bolster its nuclear capability to cope with “hostile” U.S. policy. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday that “continuing hostile U.S. policy and its military threat” have raised the need for North Korea to bolster its “nuclear deterrent” in a new, improved manner. Tension on the Korean peninsula is running high over the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship that Seoul and Washington blamed on North Korea. On Saturday, top world leaders at a G-8 meeting near Toronto criticized North Korea over the sinking and its nuclear program.

Kyrgyzstan

Barely two weeks after ethnic purges left many minority Uzbek communities in smoldering ruin, nearly two-thirds of Kyrgyzstan‘s voters went to the polls Sunday to peacefully and overwhelmingly approve a new constitution they hoped would bring stability to the Central Asian nation. Kyrgyzstan’s interim government had pressed on with the vote even though many of the 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks forced to flee have yet to return to their homes and neighborhoods. The result gave legitimacy to the provisional government backed by most Uzbeks, though some of those displaced by violence were unable to vote Sunday. The vote — supported by the U.N., the U.S. and Russia— is seen as an important step on the road to democracy for the interim government, which came to power after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April following deadly street protests.

Germany

Germany’s Supreme Court has issued a landmark ruling that an assisted suicide can not be punished if it is carried out based on a patient’s prior request. The court on Thursday acquitted a lawyer who had counseled his client in 2007 to cut the tube feeding her mother, who had been in a non-responsive coma for five years. A lower court had handed the lawyer a nine-month suspended sentence. The high court said the then 71-year-old woman had expressed the wish not to be kept alive under such circumstances in 2002 before falling into the coma.

Weather

Alex strengthened back into a tropical storm as it moved across the Gulf of Mexico late Sunday after dumping heavy rains on parts of Central America and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that left four people dead. Alex, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph), was headed on a path that would take it to Mexico’s eastern coast around midweek. Its route was still well clear of the massive oil spill in the Gulf. The National Hurricane Center said the storm will strengthen further over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and could become a hurricane within 48 hours. Alex made landfall on the coast of Belize late Saturday as a tropical storm but weakened into a depression as it passed over land across the Yucatan Peninsula. The heavy rains prompted a landslide in northwestern Guatemala that dislodged a large rock outcropping, killing two men who had taken shelter from the storm underneath. In El Salvador, two people were swept away by rivers that jumped their banks. About 500 people were evacuated from their homes.

Severe storms and strong winds overturned trailers at an eastern Michigan campground Sunday, killing one person and injuring four others The National Weather Service had issued multiple tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings across the southern part of the state and authorities in other areas had reported what appeared to be twisters. Several camping trailers were blown over and about 15 to 20 were damaged. One landed in a pond on the campground.

June 25, 2010

Bible Translators Hope for Every Language by 2025

Progress continues in Wycliffe’s Bible Translators’ efforts to translate at least part of the Bible in every one of the world’s 6,909 spoken languages in the next 15 years, the Denver Post reports. “We’re in the greatest period of acceleration in 20 centuries of Bible translation,” said Morrison resident Paul Edwards, who heads up Wycliffe Bible Translators’ $1 billion Last Languages Campaign. He said portable computers and satellites have helped speed up the process by about 125 years. “Wycliffe missionaries don’t evangelize, teach theology, hold Bible study or start churches. They give (preliterate people) a written language,” Edwards said. “They teach them to read and write in their mother tongue.” About 2,200 languages still have no written Bible.

U.K. Doctors: Fetus Can’t Feel Pain before 24 Weeks

British health experts say the human fetus cannot feel pain before the age of 24 weeks, so there is no reason to change the country’s abortion laws. The study says that nerve connections in the brain are not sufficiently formed to allow pain perception before 24 weeks. The government-commissioned study is a setback for anti-abortion activists, who want the country’s current 24-week time limit for terminations reduced.

  • The Bible says that life is “in the blood” (Lev. 17:11,14, Deut. 12:23), which science has shown forms in the first 6-10 days after conception

House OKs Campaign-Spending Disclosure Bill

Democrats in Congress, scrambling to rein in special-interest spending before November’s midterm elections, pushed through a bill Thursday that would require CEOs to appear in campaign ads they fund and impose broad new disclosure rules on political spending. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives by a 219-206 vote, was opposed by most Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who cast it as violating free-speech protections. The measure’s prospects are uncertain in the Senate, where Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to pass a bill over Republican objections.

Senate GOP Again Blocks Bill Extending Jobless Benefits

For the third time, Senate Republicans have blocked legislation to extend unemployment benefits through November and renew dozens of individual and business tax breaks. The vote was 57-41, with 60 votes needed to end debate and advance the bill. All 40 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, objected because the bill would have added $33 billion to the deficit. The legislation cost of about $100 billion did not offset the additional unemployment insurance with other tax increases or spending cuts.

States Tackle Oil Spill on Their Own

Increasingly, communities are taking oil spill matters into their own hands. Rather than wait for solutions from the federal government or oil giant BP, they are launching their own countermeasures. Local engineers in Alabama are overseeing the installation of a 1,100-foot-long floating boom across the waterway, known as Perdido Pass. It is a local idea implemented with state dollars to keep the oil out of the bay. Instead of waiting for the Coast Guard and BP to improve their strategy, the city hired local engineers who came up with the new fix and tapped into $4 million of a state fund created by BP, the energy giant responsible for the oil spill. It could have taken more than a month to get Coast Guard-BP approval.

Similar innovation is springing up elsewhere. At the mouth of the Fowl River in Mobile Bay, local officials asked the Coast Guard for more boom and a skimmer for more than a month. When those requests were ignored, county leaders drew up a plan to create a 600-foot-long berm made of empty oyster shells that would block the oil from spreading inland and filter the water passing through to one of the area’s most sensitive estuaries. More than 90 million gallons of crude has gushed into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in April.

Oil containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico encountered a major setback Wednesday when an underwater vehicle struck the cap that had been collecting oil on the sea bottom, forcing engineers to remove it. The cap over the damaged well had been capturing 700,000 gallons a day, meaning that additional amount of oil was now flowing directly into the Gulf, according to the Deepwater Horizon Response. Late Wednesday, the cap had been reattached after being off more than 11 hours and was again capturing some of the crude.

  • The Governors of the States of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi as well as the Lt. Governor of the State of Florida had all signed a proclamation, calling for a day of prayer on Sunday.   Let’s join with believers around the world to seek the Lord together for “His wisdom for ourselves and our leaders, and ask him for his merciful intervention and healing in this time of crisis.”

Drilling Ban Blocked

A federal judge in New Orleans on blocked a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling projects that the Obama administration imposed after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House swiftly vowed to appeal the ruling. In a 22-page opinion, the judge, Martin L. C. Feldman of United States District Court, issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of a late May order halting all offshore exploratory drilling in more than 500 feet of water. Citing potential economic harm to businesses and workers, Judge Feldman wrote that the Obama administration had failed to justify the need for such “a blanket, generic, indeed punitive, moratorium” on deep-water oil and gas drilling.

Obama’s Support Continues to Dwindle

Obama’s job approval rating is now down to 45 percent, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. In perhaps worse news for the White House, 62 percent of adults surveyed feel the country is on the wrong track — the highest level since before Obama’s election in 2008. The results show “a really ugly mood and an unhappy electorate,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the Journal/NBC poll with GOP pollster Bill McInturff. “The voters, I think, are just looking for change, and that means bad news for incumbents and in particular for the Democrats.”

  • Hmmm. Didn’t Obama get elected on a platform of change? Be careful what you wish for, voters.

The U.S. Department of Illegal Alien Labor

President Obama’s Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is supposed to represent American workers. But at a Latino voter registration project conference in Los Angeles years ago, Solis asserted to thunderous applause: “We are all Americans, whether you are legalized or not.” So, the woman in charge of enforcing our employment laws doesn’t care about the fundamental distinction between those who followed the and those who didn’t. While in Congress, she opposed strengthening the border fence, supported expansion of illegal alien benefits (including driver’s licenses and in-state tuition discounts), embraced sanctuary cities that refused to cooperate with federal homeland security officials to enforce immigration laws, and aggressively championed a mass amnesty. She has now caused a Capitol Hill firestorm over her new taxpayer-funded advertising and outreach campaign to illegal aliens regarding fair wages: Solis says, “If you work in this country, you are protected by our laws. And you can count on the U.S. Department of Labor to see to it that those protections work for you.”

  • No wonder the Obama administration does absolutely nothing to secure our borders because it sides with granting full-scale amnesty

‘Homo Depot’?

Is Home Depot seeking to introduce children to the homosexual lifestyle? The home-improvement giant has sponsored yet another “gay” pride event and provided children’s craft workshops “in the midst of loud and boisterous gay activities” at the 2010 Southern Maine Pride Festival in Portland, Maine, according to the American Family Association. “The worst offense is that Home Depot has set up kids’ workshops at these gay pride festivals,” explains AFA’s director of special projects. “These are events that have loud, boisterous homosexual activists making their voices heard – and Home Depot is putting money behind setting up kids’ booths at these kinds of events.” In a letter to Home Depot, AFA tells the company its inclusion of children’s activities at homosexual events is “irresponsible.”

Native Americans Embrace Tradition to Defeat Diabetes

Of the 3.3 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the USA, about 16% have diabetes, most of them type 2, says the Indian Health Service, part of the Department of Health and Human Services

. That’s almost twice the rate of diabetes in whites. Though the number of diabetes cases in tribal communities is daunting, it’s not the end of the story, say many tribal members and health care workers. A number of communities in recent years have taken on diabetes with a vengeance and are reaping healthy results. Individual efforts as well as government grants are helping. Improved access to health care, nutritional counseling in schools and businesses, school mentoring programs and community farming are among the programs making headway.

Preserving and renewing cultural identity is a key feature of the programs, Dawn Satterfield, a team leader for the Native Diabetes Wellness Program at the CDC says. “We’ve listened to tribe elders from the beginning, and through our Traditional Foods project, we’ve honored the concepts of harvesting, gathering and preparing traditional foods like squash and berries.” The CDC has been working with 17 tribal communities to improve access to local, fresh produce. For many people living on reservations, grocery stores can be dozens of miles away.

Baby Cribs Recalled

More than 2 million cribs from seven companies are being recalled over concerns that babies can suffocate, become trapped or fall from the cribs. With Thursday’s recall, 9 million drop-side cribs have been recalled in the past five years. Drop-sides, which have a side rail that moves up and down so parents can lift children from them more easily, have been blamed in the deaths of at least 32 infants and toddlers since 2000. The cribs are suspected in another 14 infant fatalities during that time.

Ø      Recalls sure seem to be more prevalent these days, from food to autos to pet food to cribs

1 in 5 Women Going Childless

More women today are childless: Nearly one in five end their childbearing years without having a baby, compared with one in 10 just 30 years ago. That’s true for all racial and ethnic groups and for most education levels, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census data. A higher number of white women are childless, but the rate of childlessness has grown more rapidly among Hispanic and black women. But a very small group — the most highly educated — is the most likely to be childless.. In 2008, 9% of women in the USA had a master’s, doctorate or professional degree; of that group, 24% had not had children, down from 31% of the same group in 1994, the Pew analysis reports. The Census considers ages 40-44 the end of a woman’s childbearing years.

Spending on Local Projects Plummets

States and local governments are slashing spending on schools, roads, offices and other construction projects so fast that even federal stimulus money hasn’t filled in the gap. Investment in infrastructure is on pace to drop almost 7% this year to $269 billion, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal data. That would be the first decline in state and local construction spending since the Census Bureau started tracking in 1993. The cuts are driven by several factors, including voters’ reluctance to take on more debt and fewer new residential subdivisions that require roads and other infrastructure. The stimulus program has helped soften the blow. It will pump $135 billion into state and local construction projects over several years. The types of spending favored in the stimulus bill are booming. Airport spending is up 12%. Mass transit work is up 17%. But the core of infrastructure spending — on schools, sewers, water plants, prisons, fire stations — has experienced sharp drops in nearly every category.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve’s policy-making arm said on Wednesday that it had decided to keep short-term interest rates near zero for “an extended period” in light of continuing threats to economic growth, including “developments abroad.” The Federal Open Market Committee’s decision to stick with its low-interest-rate policy was expected, given the persistently high unemployment rate and continuing weakness in housing and consumer spending.

New-home sales tumbled to a record low in May after a government tax credit for home buyers expired, raising more concerns about the outlook for housing’s recovery. Sales of new homes fell 32.7% from April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 300,000, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That was the lowest since the government began compiling data in 1963. The median sales price in May was $200,900, down 9.6% from a year earlier and the lowest since December 2003.

Initial claims for jobless benefits fell by the largest amount in two months last week but remain above levels consistent with healthy job growth. Despite the drop of 19,000, claims are about the same level they were at the beginning of the year. The stubbornly high level of requests for jobless aid is a sign hiring remains weak even as the economy recovers. First-time requests for unemployment insurance have been stuck about 450,000 since the beginning of this year.

The total number of people receiving benefits, meanwhile, dropped 45,000 to 4.5 million, mostly the result of people dropping off the rolls.. During the recession, Congress added up to 73 weeks of extra unemployment benefits on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states. But those extensions expired earlier this month, leaving about 900,000 people without unemployment insurance, according to the Labor Department. That figure is expected to grow to 1.25 million by the end of this week. The House approved legislation to restore the 73 extra weeks but the Senate is still debating the bill.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that orders for big-ticket manufactured goods fell 1.1% last month as demand for commercial aircraft declined. But excluding the volatile transportation sector, orders rose 0.9%.

The main topic at this weekend’s G-20 summit of major and emerging economies in Toronto will be how to sustain the global recovery. China and India have led the recovery from the global recession with growth rates in the 9%-10% range this year, far surpassing the United States and Europe. In hopes of seeing other countries rebound, Asian leaders are likely to side with Obama against Europe in seeking only a slow turn toward austerity measures. The U.K.’s government is seeking tough spending cuts and tax increases, while Obama still favors additional stimulus measures.

AWOL Afghans Found … on Facebook

At least 11 of the 17 members of the Afghan military who went AWOL from an Air Force base in Texas and are considered deserters by their nation have turned up in the exact place you’d expect to find them in the year 2010. They’re on Facebook. And, by the look of things, they’re not unlike millions of other young men on the social networking site. One proclaims to be a fan of Paris Hilton and is a member of a group named “FREE Webcam Sex with ME!” Another is a fan of hip hop music, Michael Jackson, the tearjerker movie The Notebook, Family Guy and Sports Center. Another is a fan of soccer and the Godfather. But others have friends whose motives may be much more sinister. Some belong to the “Afghanistan Mujahideen” group, a page that features, among other content, videos from the American-born Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn, a.k.a. Azzam the American. Many of the men found on Facebook appear unconcerned that they are being actively sought by law enforcement officials, having made little or no attempt to disguise their identities or whereabouts.

Afghanistan

Prime Minister David Cameron says a British general is temporarily taking charge of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan following the ouster of American Gen. Stanley McChrystal. President Barack Obama accepted McChrystal’s resignation Wednesday and nominated Gen. David Petraeus to replace him. McChruystal was sacked for voicing criticism of Obama in the Rolling Stone magazine. Obama placed his hopes for the future of the war in Afghanistan on the same man — Gen. David Petraeus— who helped turned around the Iraq war for Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Petraeus, the current head of the military’s Central Command overseeing U.S. forces in the Middle East, helped craft the current Afghanistan strategy.

The man handpicked by President Obama to rescue the flagging American war effort in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, must wage a critical battle on two fronts: Taking on the Taliban while quelling bureaucratic rivalries in Washington that present a serious threat to military morale. Several military experts and commentators say disenchantment with how the administration is fighting the Afghanistan war transcends the loose-lipped McChrystal. Several analysts believe the McChrystal run-in reflects a growing distance between the Obama administration and some in the military. In part the friction appears to stem from infighting among Obama’s own advisers.

  • Narcissists can’t stand criticism, justified or not

Pakistan

Five American men were convicted Thursday on terror charges by a Pakistani court and sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case that heightened concerns about Westerners traveling to Pakistan to contact al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups. The trial of the young Muslim men from the Washington, D.C., area was sensitive for the U.S., which has a duty to insure justice for its citizens but also has pushed Pakistan to crack down on militancy. Prosecutors said e-mail records and witness statements proved they were plotting terror attacks in Pakistan. One allegedly left behind a farewell video in the United States showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.

Earthquakes

A rare earthquake, measuring magnitude-5.5, struck at the Ontario-Quebec border region of Canada on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The midday quake was felt in the city of Toronto in Canada and in a number of U.S. states, including Michigan, Vermont and New York. There were no immediate reports of damage.

Wildfires

The Schultz fire in Arizona flared from an abandoned campfire Sunday and by Wednesday burned over 14,000 acres (20 sq. miles) of hiking and camping grounds popular with local residents and tourists that also include the town’s watershed, said Erin Phelps a public information officer for the Coconino National Forest. There have been no injuries or structures lost. Fire crews battling the enormous Schultz Fire north of Flagstaff fought fire with fire Thursday and won. The blaze was 40 percent contained Thursday evening after crews set a line of burnout fires to keep flames from the city’s precious “inner basin” watershed in the mountains north of the city. The idea is to contain and starve the main fire by burning out the fuel ahead of it.

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Bible Translators Hope for Every Language by 2025

Progress continues in Wycliffe’s Bible Translators’ efforts to translate at least part of the Bible in every one of the world’s 6,909 spoken languages in the next 15 years, the Denver Post reports. “We’re in the greatest period of acceleration in 20 centuries of Bible translation,” said Morrison resident Paul Edwards, who heads up Wycliffe Bible Translators’ $1 billion Last Languages Campaign. He said portable computers and satellites have helped speed up the process by about 125 years. “Wycliffe missionaries don’t evangelize, teach theology, hold Bible study or start churches. They give (preliterate people) a written language,” Edwards said. “They teach them to read and write in their mother tongue.” About 2,200 languages still have no written Bible.

U.K. Doctors: Fetus Can’t Feel Pain before 24 Weeks

British health experts say the human fetus cannot feel pain before the age of 24 weeks, so there is no reason to change the country’s abortion laws. The study says that nerve connections in the brain are not sufficiently formed to allow pain perception before 24 weeks. The government-commissioned study is a setback for anti-abortion activists, who want the country’s current 24-week time limit for terminations reduced.

Ø      The Bible says that life is “in the blood” (Lev. 17:11,14, Deut. 12:23), which science has shown forms in the first 6-10 days after conception

House OKs Campaign-Spending Disclosure Bill

Democrats in Congress, scrambling to rein in special-interest spending before November’s midterm elections, pushed through a bill Thursday that would require CEOs to appear in campaign ads they fund and impose broad new disclosure rules on political spending. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives by a 219-206 vote, was opposed by most Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who cast it as violating free-speech protections. The measure’s prospects are uncertain in the Senate, where Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to pass a bill over Republican objections.

Senate GOP Again Blocks Bill Extending Jobless Benefits

For the third time, Senate Republicans have blocked legislation to extend unemployment benefits through November and renew dozens of individual and business tax breaks. The vote was 57-41, with 60 votes needed to end debate and advance the bill. All 40 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, objected because the bill would have added $33 billion to the deficit. The legislation cost of about $100 billion did not offset the additional unemployment insurance with other tax increases or spending cuts.

States Tackle Oil Spill on Their Own

Increasingly, communities are taking oil spill matters into their own hands. Rather than wait for solutions from the federal government or oil giant BP, they are launching their own countermeasures. Local engineers in Alabama are overseeing the installation of a 1,100-foot-long floating boom across the waterway, known as Perdido Pass. It is a local idea implemented with state dollars to keep the oil out of the bay. Instead of waiting for the Coast Guard and BP to improve their strategy, the city hired local engineers who came up with the new fix and tapped into $4 million of a state fund created by BP, the energy giant responsible for the oil spill. It could have taken more than a month to get Coast Guard-BP approval.

Similar innovation is springing up elsewhere. At the mouth of the Fowl River in Mobile Bay, local officials asked the Coast Guard for more boom and a skimmer for more than a month. When those requests were ignored, county leaders drew up a plan to create a 600-foot-long berm made of empty oyster shells that would block the oil from spreading inland and filter the water passing through to one of the area’s most sensitive estuaries. More than 90 million gallons of crude has gushed into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in April.

Oil containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico encountered a major setback Wednesday when an underwater vehicle struck the cap that had been collecting oil on the sea bottom, forcing engineers to remove it. The cap over the damaged well had been capturing 700,000 gallons a day, meaning that additional amount of oil was now flowing directly into the Gulf, according to the Deepwater Horizon Response. Late Wednesday, the cap had been reattached after being off more than 11 hours and was again capturing some of the crude.

Ø      The Governors of the States of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi as well as the Lt. Governor of the State of Florida had all signed a proclamation, calling for a day of prayer on Sunday.   Let’s join with believers around the world to seek the Lord together for “His wisdom for ourselves and our leaders, and ask him for his merciful intervention and healing in this time of crisis.”

Drilling Ban Blocked

A federal judge in New Orleans on blocked a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling projects that the Obama administration imposed after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House swiftly vowed to appeal the ruling. In a 22-page opinion, the judge, Martin L. C. Feldman of United States District Court, issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of a late May order halting all offshore exploratory drilling in more than 500 feet of water. Citing potential economic harm to businesses and workers, Judge Feldman wrote that the Obama administration had failed to justify the need for such “a blanket, generic, indeed punitive, moratorium” on deep-water oil and gas drilling.

Obama’s Support Continues to Dwindle

Obama’s job approval rating is now down to 45 percent, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. In perhaps worse news for the White House, 62 percent of adults surveyed feel the country is on the wrong track — the highest level since before Obama’s election in 2008. The results show “a really ugly mood and an unhappy electorate,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the Journal/NBC poll with GOP pollster Bill McInturff. “The voters, I think, are just looking for change, and that means bad news for incumbents and in particular for the Democrats.”

Ø      Hmmm. Didn’t Obama get elected on a platform of change? Be careful what you wish for, voters.

The U.S. Department of Illegal Alien Labor

President Obama’s Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is supposed to represent American workers. But at a Latino voter registration project conference in Los Angeles years ago, Solis asserted to thunderous applause: “We are all Americans, whether you are legalized or not.” So, the woman in charge of enforcing our employment laws doesn’t care about the fundamental distinction between those who followed the and those who didn’t. While in Congress, she opposed strengthening the border fence, supported expansion of illegal alien benefits (including driver’s licenses and in-state tuition discounts), embraced sanctuary cities that refused to cooperate with federal homeland security officials to enforce immigration laws, and aggressively championed a mass amnesty. She has now caused a Capitol Hill firestorm over her new taxpayer-funded advertising and outreach campaign to illegal aliens regarding fair wages: Solis says, “If you work in this country, you are protected by our laws. And you can count on the U.S. Department of Labor to see to it that those protections work for you.”

Ø      No wonder the Obama administration does absolutely nothing to secure our borders because it sides with granting full-scale amnesty

‘Homo Depot’?

Is Home Depot seeking to introduce children to the homosexual lifestyle? The home-improvement giant has sponsored yet another “gay” pride event and provided children’s craft workshops “in the midst of loud and boisterous gay activities” at the 2010 Southern Maine Pride Festival in Portland, Maine, according to the American Family Association. “The worst offense is that Home Depot has set up kids’ workshops at these gay pride festivals,” explains AFA’s director of special projects. “These are events that have loud, boisterous homosexual activists making their voices heard – and Home Depot is putting money behind setting up kids’ booths at these kinds of events.” In a letter to Home Depot, AFA tells the company its inclusion of children’s activities at homosexual events is “irresponsible.”

Native Americans Embrace Tradition to Defeat Diabetes

Of the 3.3 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the USA, about 16% have diabetes, most of them type 2, says the Indian Health Service, part of the Department of Health and Human Services

. That’s almost twice the rate of diabetes in whites. Though the number of diabetes cases in tribal communities is daunting, it’s not the end of the story, say many tribal members and health care workers. A number of communities in recent years have taken on diabetes with a vengeance and are reaping healthy results. Individual efforts as well as government grants are helping. Improved access to health care, nutritional counseling in schools and businesses, school mentoring programs and community farming are among the programs making headway.

Preserving and renewing cultural identity is a key feature of the programs, Dawn Satterfield, a team leader for the Native Diabetes Wellness Program at the CDC says. “We’ve listened to tribe elders from the beginning, and through our Traditional Foods project, we’ve honored the concepts of harvesting, gathering and preparing traditional foods like squash and berries.” The CDC has been working with 17 tribal communities to improve access to local, fresh produce. For many people living on reservations, grocery stores can be dozens of miles away.

Baby Cribs Recalled

More than 2 million cribs from seven companies are being recalled over concerns that babies can suffocate, become trapped or fall from the cribs. With Thursday’s recall, 9 million drop-side cribs have been recalled in the past five years. Drop-sides, which have a side rail that moves up and down so parents can lift children from them more easily, have been blamed in the deaths of at least 32 infants and toddlers since 2000. The cribs are suspected in another 14 infant fatalities during that time.

Ø      Recalls sure seem to be more prevalent these days, from food to autos to pet food to cribs

1 in 5 Women Going Childless

More women today are childless: Nearly one in five end their childbearing years without having a baby, compared with one in 10 just 30 years ago. That’s true for all racial and ethnic groups and for most education levels, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census data. A higher number of white women are childless, but the rate of childlessness has grown more rapidly among Hispanic and black women. But a very small group — the most highly educated — is the most likely to be childless.. In 2008, 9% of women in the USA had a master’s, doctorate or professional degree; of that group, 24% had not had children, down from 31% of the same group in 1994, the Pew analysis reports. The Census considers ages 40-44 the end of a woman’s childbearing years.

Spending on Local Projects Plummets

States and local governments are slashing spending on schools, roads, offices and other construction projects so fast that even federal stimulus money hasn’t filled in the gap. Investment in infrastructure is on pace to drop almost 7% this year to $269 billion, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal data. That would be the first decline in state and local construction spending since the Census Bureau started tracking in 1993. The cuts are driven by several factors, including voters’ reluctance to take on more debt and fewer new residential subdivisions that require roads and other infrastructure. The stimulus program has helped soften the blow. It will pump $135 billion into state and local construction projects over several years. The types of spending favored in the stimulus bill are booming. Airport spending is up 12%. Mass transit work is up 17%. But the core of infrastructure spending — on schools, sewers, water plants, prisons, fire stations — has experienced sharp drops in nearly every category.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve’s policy-making arm said on Wednesday that it had decided to keep short-term interest rates near zero for “an extended period” in light of continuing threats to economic growth, including “developments abroad.” The Federal Open Market Committee’s decision to stick with its low-interest-rate policy was expected, given the persistently high unemployment rate and continuing weakness in housing and consumer spending.

New-home sales tumbled to a record low in May after a government tax credit for home buyers expired, raising more concerns about the outlook for housing’s recovery. Sales of new homes fell 32.7% from April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 300,000, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That was the lowest since the government began compiling data in 1963. The median sales price in May was $200,900, down 9.6% from a year earlier and the lowest since December 2003.

Initial claims for jobless benefits fell by the largest amount in two months last week but remain above levels consistent with healthy job growth. Despite the drop of 19,000, claims are about the same level they were at the beginning of the year. The stubbornly high level of requests for jobless aid is a sign hiring remains weak even as the economy recovers. First-time requests for unemployment insurance have been stuck about 450,000 since the beginning of this year.

The total number of people receiving benefits, meanwhile, dropped 45,000 to 4.5 million, mostly the result of people dropping off the rolls.. During the recession, Congress added up to 73 weeks of extra unemployment benefits on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states. But those extensions expired earlier this month, leaving about 900,000 people without unemployment insurance, according to the Labor Department. That figure is expected to grow to 1.25 million by the end of this week. The House approved legislation to restore the 73 extra weeks but the Senate is still debating the bill.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that orders for big-ticket manufactured goods fell 1.1% last month as demand for commercial aircraft declined. But excluding the volatile transportation sector, orders rose 0.9%.

The main topic at this weekend’s G-20 summit of major and emerging economies in Toronto will be how to sustain the global recovery. China and India have led the recovery from the global recession with growth rates in the 9%-10% range this year, far surpassing the United States and Europe. In hopes of seeing other countries rebound, Asian leaders are likely to side with Obama against Europe in seeking only a slow turn toward austerity measures. The U.K.’s government is seeking tough spending cuts and tax increases, while Obama still favors additional stimulus measures.

AWOL Afghans Found … on Facebook

At least 11 of the 17 members of the Afghan military who went AWOL from an Air Force base in Texas and are considered deserters by their nation have turned up in the exact place you’d expect to find them in the year 2010. They’re on Facebook. And, by the look of things, they’re not unlike millions of other young men on the social networking site. One proclaims to be a fan of Paris Hilton and is a member of a group named “FREE Webcam Sex with ME!” Another is a fan of hip hop music, Michael Jackson, the tearjerker movie The Notebook, Family Guy and Sports Center. Another is a fan of soccer and the Godfather. But others have friends whose motives may be much more sinister. Some belong to the “Afghanistan Mujahideen” group, a page that features, among other content, videos from the American-born Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn, a.k.a. Azzam the American. Many of the men found on Facebook appear unconcerned that they are being actively sought by law enforcement officials, having made little or no attempt to disguise their identities or whereabouts.

Afghanistan

Prime Minister David Cameron says a British general is temporarily taking charge of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan following the ouster of American Gen. Stanley McChrystal. President Barack Obama accepted McChrystal’s resignation Wednesday and nominated Gen. David Petraeus to replace him. McChruystal was sacked for voicing criticism of Obama in the Rolling Stone magazine. Obama placed his hopes for the future of the war in Afghanistan on the same man — Gen. David Petraeus— who helped turned around the Iraq war for Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Petraeus, the current head of the military’s Central Command overseeing U.S. forces in the Middle East, helped craft the current Afghanistan strategy.

The man handpicked by President Obama to rescue the flagging American war effort in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, must wage a critical battle on two fronts: Taking on the Taliban while quelling bureaucratic rivalries in Washington that present a serious threat to military morale. Several military experts and commentators say disenchantment with how the administration is fighting the Afghanistan war transcends the loose-lipped McChrystal. Several analysts believe the McChrystal run-in reflects a growing distance between the Obama administration and some in the military. In part the friction appears to stem from infighting among Obama’s own advisers.

Ø      Narcissists can’t stand criticism, justified or not

Pakistan

Five American men were convicted Thursday on terror charges by a Pakistani court and sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case that heightened concerns about Westerners traveling to Pakistan to contact al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups. The trial of the young Muslim men from the Washington, D.C., area was sensitive for the U.S., which has a duty to insure justice for its citizens but also has pushed Pakistan to crack down on militancy. Prosecutors said e-mail records and witness statements proved they were plotting terror attacks in Pakistan. One allegedly left behind a farewell video in the United States showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.

Earthquakes

A rare earthquake, measuring magnitude-5.5, struck at the Ontario-Quebec border region of Canada on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The midday quake was felt in the city of Toronto in Canada and in a number of U.S. states, including Michigan, Vermont and New York. There were no immediate reports of damage.

Wildfires

The Schultz fire in Arizona flared from an abandoned campfire Sunday and by Wednesday burned over 14,000 acres (20 sq. miles) of hiking and camping grounds popular with local residents and tourists that also include the town’s watershed, said Erin Phelps a public information officer for the Coconino National Forest. There have been no injuries or structures lost. Fire crews battling the enormous Schultz Fire north of Flagstaff fought fire with fire Thursday and won. The blaze was 40 percent contained Thursday evening after crews set a line of burnout fires to keep flames from the city’s precious “inner basin” watershed in the mountains north of the city. The idea is to contain and starve the main fire by burning out the fuel ahead of it.

There have been 28,278 wildfires so far this year in the USA, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. The compares to the 10-year, to-date average of 37,355 fires. 1.37 million acres have burned, compared to the 10-year average of 1.54 million acres.

Weather

A suspected tornado tore through Connecticut‘s largest city Thursday — a rare occurrence in the state — toppling trees and power lines and collapsing a building as a powerful line of storms swept across parts of the Northeast. Remarkably, no serious injuries were reported. Hundreds of bricks shook loose from buildings, trees split in half and crushed cars, and a billboard hung precariously several stories up over Main Street. Tree limbs and power lines blocked traffic on some roads in Bridgeport.

The drought that has gripped northern Wisconsin for eight years is drying up lakes and distressing wildlife and forests. Parts of this state’s North Woods and the adjacent Upper Peninsula of Michigan are the only areas in the continental USA experiencing “extreme” drought. It’s the region’s most severe drought since the 1930s and its longest dry period since the 1950s. It will take 30-50 inches of precipitation to make up the deficit, probably over two or more years. Some of the drought’s visible effects are striking. The Rainbow Flowage, a reservoir just east of here, is down 13 feet from its maximum depth, exposing rocks that should be underwater and creating new beaches. The frog population has declined because shallow ponds have dried up. By hindering the growth of saplings, berries and other vegetation, droughts affect animals’ food supplies.

Weather

A suspected tornado tore through Connecticut‘s largest city Thursday — a rare occurrence in the state — toppling trees and power lines and collapsing a building as a powerful line of storms swept across parts of the Northeast. Remarkably, no serious injuries were reported. Hundreds of bricks shook loose from buildings, trees split in half and crushed cars, and a billboard hung precariously several stories up over Main Street. Tree limbs and power lines blocked traffic on some roads in Bridgeport.

The drought that has gripped northern Wisconsin for eight years is drying up lakes and distressing wildlife and forests. Parts of this state’s North Woods and the adjacent Upper Peninsula of Michigan are the only areas in the continental USA experiencing “extreme” drought. It’s the region’s most severe drought since the 1930s and its longest dry period since the 1950s. It will take 30-50 inches of precipitation to make up the deficit, probably over two or more years. Some of the drought’s visible effects are striking. The Rainbow Flowage, a reservoir just east of here, is down 13 feet from its maximum depth, exposing rocks that should be underwater and creating new beaches. The frog population has declined because shallow ponds have dried up. By hindering the growth of saplings, berries and other vegetation, droughts affect animals’ food supplies.

June 23, 2010

American Christians Hauled to Jail for Preaching Jesus

One of the nation’s top legal teams regarding civil and religious rights has stepped into a dispute stemming from last weekend’s Arab Festival in Dearborn, Mich., where police are accused of enforcing Islamic law. “Officers arrested four Christian missionaries and illegally confiscated their video cameras which were recording the events surrounding their arrests,” said a statement today from the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich. Officials in the police department with the city of Dearborn declined to comment to WorldNetDaily. But the law center announcement said the incident has been described as “police enforcement of Shariah law.” The organization said it would represent the Christians. “These Christian missionaries were exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion, but apparently the Constitution carries little weight in Dearborn, where the Muslim population seems to dominate the political apparatus,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center. The Christian missionaries reported police told them they would have to be five blocks away from the festival to give away copies of the Gospel of John.

  • Muslims now have more freedom in the U.S. than Christians

Christian Group Slams Obama Salute to Gay Dads

A Christian group is denouncing President Obama’s salute to families headed by “two fathers” in the president’s June 18 Father’s Day proclamation. The proclamation says, “Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step father, a grandfather, or caring guardian.” American Family Association president Tim Wildmon says, “This is the first time in our nation’s history that a president has used Father’s Day as an excuse to promote the radical homosexual agenda and completely redefine the word ‘family.'”But White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton says Obama was simply trying to be “inclusive,” and notes that the president used similar language in his Mother’s Day proclamation. That May 7 proclamation said “nurturing families” include those headed by “two mothers.” Obama will host a gay pride event at the White House Tuesday evening.

  • The terms ‘inclusive’ and ‘tolerance’ are the keywords for the New World Order objectives to marginalize Christianity

Obama Promises to Push Gay Rights Agenda

President Obama is promising gay rights activists he’ll keep pushing for action on their priorities including benefits for same-sex partners and repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military. At an event in the White House East Room in honor of gay pride month, Obama told activists Tuesday that he’s delivered on promises including passage of anti-hate crimes legislation. But, the president said, “We’ve got a lot of hard work we’ve still got to do.” He said he’d keep his promise to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” an area where gay activists are pushing the president to move faster. Obama also said that the Health and Human Services Department would be moving to get hospitals to allow visitation rights for same-sex couples.

  • Gay-rights is another satanic goal to destroy the family and God’s natural order

$1 Billion in Tax Dollars Given to Abortion Advocates

The Christian Post reports that organizations advocating abortion have received more than $1 billion in taxpayer money over the last eight years. A new report from the Government Accountability Office shows the funds went to just six organizations between 2002 and 2009. Almost two-third of the funds went to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which received $657.1 million. “By funding Planned Parenthood and their allies, we are unwittingly supporting an abortion organization and everything they do,” said Ken Blackwell, senior fellow for family empowerment at the conservative Family Research Council. “When taxpayer money goes to abortion groups for any reason, it supports the work of the abortion industry.”

Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Terror Law

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a law that makes it a crime to provide “material support” to designated foreign terrorist groups, even when the support involves training or advice on humanitarian activities. The 6-3 decision marked the first time the high court had looked at restrictions on free speech in U.S. anti-terrorism policy since the 9/11 attacks. Monday’s decision strengthens the hand of government to block any form of support, no matter how peaceful or seemingly benign, to foreign terrorist groups. The law subjects anyone who provides material support, including “training,” to up to 15 years in prison. The majority emphasized that it was endorsing restrictions on coordinated work with foreign terrorist groups but not on any independent work a humanitarian organization might do on its own. Dissenting justices said the activities involve advocacy usually covered by the First Amendment. Former president Jimmy Carter, whose center advocating human rights had sided with the challengers, expressed disappointment in a statement that said the law “inhibits the work of human rights and conflict resolution groups.”

Mexico Joins Suit Against Arizona’s Immigration Law

Mexico on Tuesday asked a federal court in Arizona to declare the state’s new immigration law unconstitutional, arguing that the country’s own interests and its citizens’ rights are at stake. Lawyers for Mexico on Tuesday submitted a legal brief in support of one of five lawsuits challenging the law. The law will take effect July 29 unless implementation is blocked by a court. The law generally requires police investigating another incident or crime to ask people about their immigration status if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they’re in the country illegally. It also makes being in Arizona illegally a misdemeanor, and it prohibits seeking day-labor work along the state’s streets. Until recently, Mexican law made illegal immigration a criminal offense — anyone arrested for the violation could be fined, imprisoned for up to two years and deported. Mexican lawmakers changed that in 2008 to make illegal immigration a civil violation like it is in the United States, but their law still reads an awful lot like Arizona’s.

FCC’s Gives Gov’t More Power to Control the Internet

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) vote to give itself authority to increase its regulatory role of broadband Internet service is worrisome, according to an attorney with the American Family Association (AFA). The proposal would designate broadband as a telecommunications service, which would subject it to stricter regulation. Pat Vaughn, general counsel with AFA, finds the move troubling. “During the life of the Internet over the last 15-20 years, Congress has taken the position of not regulating it, because it was flourishing; it was growing,” he explains. “They were afraid that if they…stepped in and put regulations, they would actually stifle the growth, and…rather than causing the Internet to flourish and develop, they would harm it.” Vaughn points out that putting broadband into the same classification as telephone service gives the government more power over the Internet. “What you really have here is an administration that thinks that government can do everything better than the industry,” he comments. “Because of their basic mistrust of the industry, they’re saying, ‘We’ve got to step in — and if government’s not there to be a referee, we can’t trust what’s happening.'”

  • Big Brother is more untrustworthy than Big Business

Federal Health Care Web Site Coming July 1

Wish finding health insurance were as easy as shopping for an airline ticket? A federal government website that starts July 1 takes a step in that direction. The site, for the first time, will give consumers a list of all private and government health care plans for individuals and small businesses in their areas. The nation’s new health care law requires the site (www.healthcare.gov). Initially, it will provide just basic facts, such as the names of companies, health plans and Web links. Beginning in October, it will list detailed cost and benefits information. Consumer groups and insurers already are clashing over exactly what information should be displayed. “What we are trying to do is create some order in the marketplace,” says Karen Pollitz, a top official at the new Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Department of Health and Human Services. She acknowledges the site won’t be the Expedia of health care any time soon: “This ain’t like buying a plane ticket; it is much more complicated.”

  • If this goes like most government projects, it will just be another boondoggle wasting taxpayer money

Over 115 Million Widows Worldwide Live in Poverty

At least 245 million women around the world have been widowed and more than 115 million of them live in devastating poverty. The most dire consequences are faced by 2 million Afghan widows and at least 740,000 Iraqi widows who lost their husbands as a result of the ongoing conflicts; by widows and their children evicted from their family homes in sub-Saharan Africa; by elderly widows caring for grandchildren orphaned by the HIV/AIDS crisis, and by child widows aged 7 to 17 in developing countries, the report said. Many are cheated out of their husbands’ assets and property and expelled from their family home — and since they have no money they can’t support their children. The report entitled “Invisible Forgotten Sufferers: The Plight of Widows around the World,” was commissioned by the Loomba Foundation which works in a dozen countries to help widows and educate their children. “The plight of widows — in the shadows of the world — is a human rights catastrophe,” said Cherie Blair, the foundation’s president. “It’s really a hidden humanitarian crisis.”

Banks Repaying Taxpayers, but AIG Loss Likely

Members of a watchdog panel on Tuesday pressed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on looming losses for banks and foreclosure relief for struggling homeowners, as he assured them that taxpayers are recovering their investment from the government’s $700 billion financial bailout. Geithner told the Congressional Oversight Panel that banks have repaid about 75% of the bailout money they received, and the government’s investments in the banks have brought taxpayers $21 billion. He acknowledged there likely will be a partial loss from the rescue of giant insurer American International Group, into which the government plowed $182 billion. Geithner also said the auto industry has made significant structural changes, and the prospect that General Motors and Chrysler will repay their nearly $60 billion in bailout money has improved. The oversight panel was created by Congress to oversee the Treasury Department’s financial bailout program that came at the height of the financial crisis in fall 2008. The panel has been critical of the politically unpopular program, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP, which included aid to banks, AIG and the automakers. It is scheduled to expire on Oct. 3, and no new money will be available after that. The panel’s chair, Elizabeth Warren, underlined concerns that regional and small banks could be facing $200 billion to $300 billion in losses the next few years on commercial real estate loans, and thousands of banks could fail as a result.

Economic News

Sales of existing homes took an unexpected tumble in May, disappointing economists who had expected a federal home buyers’ tax credit to deliver more impact. nstead of the expected increase, existing home sales dropped 2.2% from April. However, May sales were 19.2% above the year-ago rate of 4.75 million. To qualify for the tax credit, buyers had to have a binding purchase contract by April 30. They have until June 30 to close on their purchase to get the credit. Because sales are counted when they close, the tax credit was expected to give some boost to sales through this month.

For all the focus on the historic federal rescue of the banking industry, it is the government’s decision to seize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September 2008 that reportedly is likely to cost taxpayers the most money. So far the tab stands at $145.9 billion and rising, the New York Times reports. The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that the final bill could reach $389 billion.

Toyota and Honda said Wednesday they stopped production at some of their car assembly plants in southern China after parts suppliers were hit by more labor unrest. The fresh walkouts at the Japanese carmakers are slowing output and adding to costs at a time when both companies have been ramping up production to meet strong demand. Chinese migrant workers, the backbone of the country’s industrial sector, are becoming increasingly vocal in demands for higher wages.

Afghanistan

Taliban and Afghan warlords are extorting some of the $2.16 billion the Defense Department has paid to local contractors who transport food, water, ammunition and fuel to U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, according to a House investigation released Tuesday. Trucking contractors say they pay as much as $150,000 a month to warlords in “protection” money, and investigators concluded that payments for safe passage are a significant source of Taliban funding, according to the report. In a letter to subcommittee members, Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass criticized the Pentagon for a contract “that put responsibility for the security of vital U.S. supplies on contractors and their unaccountable security providers.” He wrote, “This arrangement has fueled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders and corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others.” He said the payoffs violate the law and appear “to risk undermining the U.S. strategy for achieving its goals in Afghanistan.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave a strong endorsement Tuesday to embattled Gen. Stanley McChrystal, describing him as the “best commander” of the war and expressing hope that he keeps his job despite a magazine interview with him that was replete with derogatory comments about President Barack Obama and members of the U.S. national strategy team. While Obama’s relationship with Karzai has sometimes been rocky, McChrystal has cultivated the Afghan leader, encouraging him to visit remote areas of the country and assume responsibility for military operations against the Taliban. McChrystal also received a vote of confidence from the secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who appeared concerned over the impact of a possible change of command at a time of rising casualties and faltering political support within allied capitals. Kabul was abuzz Tuesday as the flap unfolded throughout the day. McChrystal publicly apologized and made a round of phone calls to those maligned by comments made by him and his staff. Obama, who was angered by the article, hastily summoned the top commander in Afghanistan to Washington, ordering him to attend a White House meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person Wednesday.

Christian Today reports that more than 150 Afghan Christians who fled to India recently are pleading with the international community to help fellow believers. “We left our country because we were sentenced to death on the account of our Christian faith … Christians are called pagans and infidels and are sentenced to death by the Afghan Government. Death penalty is waiting for all those who want to leave the darkness and come to true light, repent from their sins, and put their faith on (sic) the Lord Jesus Christ,” they wrote in a letter earlier this month. Afghan Muslims rioted in the streets last month after seeing footage of Afghan men converting and being baptized. Christians in the group say they have received reports of Afghan Christians being arrested, tortured and forced to reveal names of other converts and churches.

Iraq

Iraqis say their government has mismanaged the oil industry and abused its wealth for personal gain. They wonder why a country with the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves can’t fuel power plants and spend more oil revenue improving the country’s faltering electrical grid and other services. Now some Iraqis are blaming the oil industry for the country’s failure to fuel electric plants during the hot summer months, when temperatures can reach 120 degrees. People here commonly have only a couple hours of power a day for appliances such as fans and air conditioners. Those who can afford it rely on costly gas-powered generators to produce electricity. Last week, frequent electricity outages prompted thousands in the oil-rich southern province of Basra to take to the streets.

Bombs killed at least nine Iraqis on Tuesday, including two leaders of government-backed Sunni militias that have fought al-Qaeda in Iraq. Members of so-called Awakening Councils, which have been key to a sharp drop in violence in recent years, frequently have been targeted by insurgents, along with government officials and others seen as allied with U.S.-led efforts to stabilize the country. The number of attacks has declined sharply since local tribal leaders revolted against al-Qaeda in Iraq and formed Awakening Councils in late 2006 and 2007. But fears are high that frustration over a political deadlock following the March 7 parliamentary elections could stoke new violence.

Morocco

Religion News Service reports that Republican lawmakers are urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help Christian aid workers and foster parents gain re-entry to Morocco. In March, approximately 50 U.S. Christians were deported after they were accused of breaking a Moroccan penal code that prohibits people from trying to convert Muslims. At a June 17 briefing on Capitol Hill, four American foster parents testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The commission called on Clinton and the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, Morocco, to help the Americans retrieve their children and belongings from the north African country. “At a time when the rights of Americans under Moroccan law are clearly being violated, I’m disappointed that both Ambassador (Samuel) Kaplan and Secretary Clinton have neglected to publicly defend the rights of U.S. citizens,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., the chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

Wildfires

More than 800 firefighters continued to battle the 14,000-acre wildfire for a third day Tuesday just north of Arizona‘s premier summer getaway. About 1,000 Flagstaff residents evacuated from their homes may be allowed to return home today as firefighters made progress in containing the 22-square-mile wildfire. Efforts to fight the blaze will likely continue for at least two weeks. Strong winds had quickly fanned the fire that broke out Sunday. No major injuries have been reported, and no structures have burned.

Weather

Residents in several communities in central Indiana were urged to evacuate Tuesday after overnight thunderstorms dumped up to 5 inches of rain, causing widespread flash flooding that stranded motorists and closed roads. In southern Wisconsin, authorities conducted door-to-door searches after a warning siren failed before a tornado touched down in Eagle, damaging at least 100 homes, destroying 25 and injuring one person. The National Weather Service confirmed two tornadoes in Wisconsin, with the one in Eagle possibly having winds of up to nearly 160 mph.

Officials scrambled Tuesday to get food and medical aid to two flood-hit Brazilian states where torrents of water ripped through towns, killing at least 41 people and driving 120,000 from their homes. Floodwaters toppled bridges and cut roads to dozens of cities. The Civil Defense department of Alagoas state received reports from local officials of 600 people missing in the chaos. The heavy rains started last week and within two days dumped a month’s worth of water on areas of Alagoas and neighboring Pernambuco state. Some small towns were nearly destroyed by the flooding.

June 21, 2010

Political Rhetoric Ignores Border Reality

The Arizona Republic reports that, amid a growing national angst about illegal immigration, Americans keep hearing a chorus: Secure the border first. Then talk about immigration reform. The idea appeals to public sentiment, and it seems like a simple demand. But what do pundits and politicians mean? Is a border secure only when no one crosses illegally and when no contraband slips through? If some permeability is acceptable, what is the tolerable amount? Political leaders mostly dodge those questions, and for good reason: Anyone with a minimal knowledge or understanding about the nearly 2,000-mile swath of land between Mexico and the United States realizes that requiring a secure border establishes an impossible standard.

One reason: There is no way to conclude success because authorities have no idea how many undocumented immigrants are getting through. Authorities can count only the number of unauthorized intruders captured. Such unavoidable uncertainty prevents any absolute assurances that no one is sneaking over, making declarations of victory impossible. Another reason: The motivation and creativity of those trying to get across. Impoverished Mexicans, willing to gamble their lives and savings to reach America, subject themselves to desert heat and extortion or torture by coyotes. Drug runners risk being caught and imprisoned or getting killed by competitors. So the smugglers dig tunnels, create false compartments, bribe border guards, fly ultralight planes and use every means imaginable to get over, under or across the line. The more security there is, the higher the smuggling price and the greater the profit incentive.

  • While it is true that rhetoric clouds the immigration debate, it serves no purpose to imply the problem is intractable. Reducing the flow from a geyser to a trickle is what’s needed. More forces, more fences, more enforcement and less tolerance is the prescription, but the current administration won’t do it because they have a lock on the votes coming from the illegals and their supporters.

Gulf Oil Spill Costs Reach $2 Billion

BP PLC said Monday that its partners in the leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well must share responsibility for the costs in dealing with the disaster, on which BP said it has now spent $2 billion. And with no end yet in sight, that number is expected to keep rising rapidly. BP PLC agreed last week to set up a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the disaster on the Gulf coast. The company said Monday it has so far paid out $105 million to 32,000 claimants. Kenneth Feinberg , the man overseeing a $20 billion claims fund told CNN on Monday he wants the claims payment process accelerated and its transparency increased. To date, more than 65,000 claims have been submitted. The news came as teams drilling the relief wells designed to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf continue a daunting task — hit a target roughly the size of a salad plate about three miles below the water’s surface. The relief wells are slowly grinding their drill bits 13,000 feet below the seafloor until they intersect the damaged Deepwater Horizon well.

Obama: Republicans Blocking Progress in Congress

President Obama accused Republicans on Saturday of blocking legislation that would boost the U.S. economic recovery and lift a $75 million limit on what oil companies must pay to families and small businesses affected the spill. Obama said the Senate bill would extend unemployment benefits to workers without jobs and a tax credit for first-time homebuyers. He also said the legislation would save thousands of jobs across the country. “Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in the Senate won’t even allow this legislation to come up for a vote,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address. BP had paid out $95 million as of Friday and written about 30,000 checks to settle about half of the 63,000 claims it has received, a company spokesman said.

  • Under pressure to perform, Blame-Master Obama does what he does best – blame somebody else. It’s surprising he didn’t blame Bush again.

In Elena Kagan’s E-mails, Politics often Trumps Policy

As a Clinton White House aide, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan called herself one of the Clinton administration’s biggest fans of a law to protect religious freedom but warned then-Vice President Al Gore against endorsing it for fear of creating “a gay/lesbian firestorm.” “We’ll let you know as soon as it’s safe to go back in the water,” she wrote to Ron Klain, who was Gore’s chief of staff and now holds the same job for Vice President Joe Biden. The missive — one of tens of thousands of pages of Kagan’s e-mails released Friday — shows how as an aide to President Bill Clinton, Kagan’s job was often to place political considerations ahead of her policy views. The e-mails also portray Kagan as a driven and highly opinionated person who has a flair for political tactics and little tolerance for high-flying rhetoric. The e-mails were part of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library’s final release of documents related to Kagan’s service as a domestic policy aide and White House counsel. The Senate Judiciary Committee requested the documents in preparation for its hearings on Kagan’s nomination, scheduled to begin June 28.

  • A politically motivated justice is just what we don’t want on the Supreme Court

H1N1 Flu Undergoing Genetic Changes in Swine

Although the pandemic H1N1 “swine” flu that emerged last spring has stayed genetically stable in humans, researchers in Asia say the virus has undergone genetic changes in pigs during the last year and a half. The fear is that these genetic changes, or reassortments, could produce a more virulent bug. In humans, the 2009 H1N1 virus has stayed genetically the same and still causes relatively mild disease, when it causes disease at all (the virus has all but disappeared in recent weeks, although experts suspect it will be back). The H1N1 virus circulating in humans apparently looped back to pigs, where it underwent this genetic change. Theoretically, the changed virus could now hop back to humans, potentially causing more dangerous disease.

Doctors Limit New Medicare Patients

The number of doctors refusing new Medicare patients because of low government payment rates is setting a new high, just six months before millions of Baby Boomers begin enrolling in the government health care program. The American Academy of Family Physicians says 13% of respondents didn’t participate in Medicare last year, up from 8% in 2008 and 6% in 2004. The American Medical Association says 17% of more than 9,000 doctors surveyed restrict the number of Medicare patients in their practice. Among primary care physicians, the rate is 31%. The federal health insurance program for seniors paid doctors on average 78% of what private insurers paid in 2008. Some U.S. areas already face a shortage of primary care physicians. Policy director John Rother says the trend away from Medicare threatens to make it worse.

Number of Uninsured Jumped by Nearly 3 Million in 2009

The number of U.S. adults not covered by health insurance jumped by 2.9 million people from 2008 to 2009. In 2009, 46.3 million American adults had no health insurance, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means one in five working-age adults is uninsured, and the situation is still worse in some states: nearly one in four Texans, for example, lack any form of health coverage. The percentage of uninsured adults of working age climbed from 19.7% to 21.1% in 2009, and a whopping 58.5% of American adults went without insurance for at least part of the year. The jump in uninsured Americans appears to be caused by the current recession and a drop in the number of employers offering health coverage.

Encouraging Drop Seen in Heart Attack Rate

Efforts to help people lower their risk of heart disease have resulted in a drop in the number of serious heart attacks over a 10-year-period. A study of more than 46,000 patients at Northern California Kaiser Permanente facilities showed the rate of heart attacks among Kaiser patients fell 24 percent between 1999 and 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed heart attacks doing the most damage — known as ST-segment elevation heart attacks — fell 62 percent. Preventive measures, the study authors say, are working to keep the rates down. These include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, decreasing or eliminating smoking and the use of beta-blockers and/or aspirin, the Chronicle said.

Few Americans Use Electronic Medical Records

Despite years of hype around the issue, less than one in 10 American adults now utilize electronic medical records or turn to e-mail to contact their doctor, a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll finds. Nearly half of respondents weren’t even sure if their physician offered these technologies, according to the survey. Still, most of those polled said they would like their doctors to access their medical records with the click of a mouse. On the other hand, only about a third (30%) believe their insurer should have that same access. Despite the Obama administration’s campaign to expand the use of health information technology, public attitudes toward electronic medical records haven’t budged much over the past few years, the poll shows.

Economic News

The city of San Diego should consider bankruptcy, the county of San Diego Grand Jury said in a recent report. The grand jury, which examines local governments in addition to indicting suspected criminals, says such a step could help the city cut its onerous retirement and health benefits. The city has an unfunded pension obligation of $2.2 billion and an unfunded retiree healthcare liability of $1.3 billion, according to the report. San Diego represents the fifth major city this year to arouse bankruptcy talk.

Many states are acknowledging this year that they have promised pensions they cannot afford and are cutting once-sacrosanct benefits, to appease taxpayers and attack budget deficits. Illinois raised its retirement age to 67, the highest of any state, and capped public pensions at $106,800 a year. Arizona, New York, Missouri and Mississippi will make people work more years to earn pensions. Virginia is requiring employees to pay into the state pension fund for the first time. New Jersey will not give anyone pension credit unless they work at least 32 hours a week. But there is a catch: Nearly all of the cuts so far apply only to workers not yet hired, so the impact will not be immediate. Lawmakers wanted to avoid legal battles or fights with unions, whose members can be influential voters. So they are allowing most public workers across the country to keep building up their pensions at the same rate as ever.

China followed through Monday on its pledge to allow greater flexibility in exchange rates. The yuan is considered undervalued by many economists and U.S. lawmakers who have threatened to push legislation to make it easier to slap import duties on Chinese goods unless the yuan’s value goes up. For several years, the U.S. has called on China to allow its currency to rise against the dollar, which would likely boost U.S. exports by making them less expensive for Chinese customers and make Chinese exports more expensive in the U.S.

Non-profit groups and special interests spent 73% more in the first three months of the year jetting members of Congress on domestic and foreign trips, a USA TODAY review of records compiled by CQ MoneyLine shows. Twelve lawmakers, some accompanied by their spouses, traveled to Spain, nine went to Israel and three to Turkey. Groups funding the trips spent $435,000 in the first quarter, up from $251,000 over the same period last year.

  • Recession? Not for Congress. Paid vacations on the rise.

Israel

The Cairo newspaper A-Dar reported on Friday that Israel has formally approached Egypt with a request  to prevent aid ships from Iran from reaching Gaza by blocking their passage through the Suez Canal, but Egypt has refused, insisting the request “contradicts the law.” Cairo has responded that international law does not allow it to block the passage of any ship through the canal unless it is a ship belonging to a state that is at war with Egypt, which is not the case with Iran. Egypt has also already approved entry permits to Gaza for hundreds of Iranians that will accompany the aid ships.

Jerusalem‘s mayor pressed ahead Monday with a contentious plan to raze 22 Palestinian homes to make room for a tourist center that Palestinians fear would tighten Israel‘s grip on the city’s contested eastern sector. Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes has in the past provoked harsh reaction from the United States. Palestinians hope to build the capital of a future state in east Jerusalem and see any Israeli construction there as undercutting their claims to the land. Although Israel claims it is simply enforcing the law by knocking down illegally built structures, many of the unapproved homes have gone up without authorization because Palestinians have a hard time obtaining construction permits in east Jerusalem.

  • The Palestinians have no legitimate claim to any part of Jerusalem.

Iraq

Suicide bombers in a crowded Baghdad commercial district and Saddam Hussein‘s hometown of Tikrit killed at least 33 people Sunday as insurgents tried to turn a monthslong deadlock over forming a new Iraqi government to their advantage. The attacks added weight to warnings that insurgents would try to foment unrest as politicians squabble over forming a new government more than three months after inconclusive national elections.

An al-Qaeda-linked insurgent shot and killed his own father as he slept in his bed Friday for refusing to quit his job as an Iraqi interpreter for the U.S. military, police said, a rare deadly attack on a close family member over allegations of collaborating with the enemy. Hameed al-Daraji, 50, worked as a contractor and translator for the U.S. military for seven years since shortly after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

  1. An enemy this resolute is difficult to defeat

Bangladesh

It could be the worst mass poisoning in history. And the terrible irony is that it may all be due to an idealistic push to clean up drinking water for some of the world’s poorest people. A new study published in British medical journal The Lancet says that up to 77 million people in Bangladesh are being exposed to toxic levels of arsenic, potentially taking years or decades off their lives. An international team of researchers from Chicago, New York and Bangladesh followed 12,000 people over the past decade, monitoring their arsenic intake and mortality rates from contaminated wells. By the end of the study, one in five deaths were determined to be directly related to elevated arsenic levels in their system. Stretch that over the entire population that takes its water from wells, and the impact is daunting. The problem has been known about for years, if not the overall deadly impact.

Well-meaning development groups had encouraged remote villages across Bangladesh to dig wells over the past decades, rather than rely on potentially contaminated surface water and dirty rivers. But now potentially a much worse problem has been found far below the surface. Arsenic is found in abundance in the soil and rock in Bangladesh. It’s leached up through the water table in tens of millions of water wells across the country. Arsenic and its derivatives are used in many industries, such as metal smelting and as a component in products ranging from insecticide to micro-chips. Experts didn’t speculate, though, on how the arsenic contaminated the soil.

Wildfires

Two wildfires raging in Coconino County near Flagstaff charred more than 5.000 acres, shutting down parts of Route 89. Coconino County and the city of Flagstaff were in a state of emergency as the Schultz and Hardy fires continued to burn. The second wildfire to hit Flagstaff, Arizona in two days drove residents from more than 1,000 homes Sunday, and authorities arrested a man they say caused the first blaze by dumping coals from a campfire on the ground. Coconino County authorities asked residents of 1,044 homes in three neighborhoods north of the city to leave because of the latest fire. The first wildfire, burning 350 acres in southeastern Flagstaff, forced the evacuation of about 170 homes, briefly shut down a hotel and remained uncontained Sunday. Authorities knew of no buildings that had been burned. U.S. Route 89 northeast of the city was closed because of smoke from the second fire, and each blaze had forced an animal shelter to evacuate.

Weather

Residents in northeast Kansas and western Missouri have been cleaning up after damaging winds roughed up the region over the weekend, displacing a few residents, severely damaging a school roof and causing power outages. Winds in the region reached speeds up to 80 mph winds, and there were reports of 1-inch hail. A tornado touched down in Billings, Mont., tearing off much of the roof of a mostly empty 10,000 seat arena and caused other damage to the building Sunday evening. Trees and telephone poles on the outside of the arena were snapped. Big pieces of metal could be seen hanging from power lines, and tangles of insulation and metal debris were strewn for hundreds of yards in the surrounding area.

June 20, 2010

BP Fires CEO Tony Hayward

The New York Daily News headline says it all: “Tony Hayward, BP CEO, gets his life back, no longer in charge of running Gulf cleanup operations.” A day after his congressional barbecue, Hayward has been replaced by New York-born, Mississippi-raised Robert Dudley. BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told Britain’s Sky News, “It is clear Tony has made remarks that have upset people.” The company, under intense pressure to contain a spill that continues to grow nearly two months after its leased rig exploded and sank, said Friday that BP is working on enhancements to its containment strategy that it says will push the collection capacity to more than 50,000 barrels a day by the end of this month and to as much as 80,000 by mid-July.

Congress Fails to Spare Doctors from Medicare Cuts

The Senate passed legislation Friday to spare doctors a 21% cut in Medicare payments — but the last-ditch effort did not come in time. Moments after the Senate acted, Medicare announced it would begin processing claims it has already received for June at the lower rate. The reason: the House cannot act on the fix until next week. That means doctors, nurse practitioners, physical therapists and other providers who bill under Medicare’s physician fee schedule will have to resubmit their claims if they want to be made whole, with added paperwork costs both for the providers and for taxpayers. “Congress is playing Russian roulette with seniors’ health care,” Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement. “This is no way to run a major health coverage program.”

Muslims Disappointed by Obama

Muslims around the globe remain uneasy about the U.S. and are increasingly disenchanted with President Barack Obama, according to a Pew Global Attitudes poll that suggests his drive to improve relations with the Muslim world has had little impact. Among the seven countries surveyed with substantial Muslim populations, the U.S. was seen favorably by just 17% in Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan and 21% in Jordan. The U.S.’s positive rating was 52% in Lebanon, 59% in Indonesia and 81% in Nigeria, where Muslims comprise about half the population. None of those figures was an improvement from last year. In all seven of those countries, the percentage of Muslims expressing confidence in Obama has also dropped since last year.

ConAgra Recalls Marie Callender’s Meal

Food giant ConAgra has issued a national recall of all Marie Callender’s brand Cheesy Chicken & Rice frozen meals, regardless of when they were made, because they appear to be linked to an outbreak of salmonella Chester that has sickened 29 people in 14 states since April. “We estimate that prior to recall there would be 50,000 to 100,000 cases (each containing eight dinners) in market. So that would be 400,000 to 800,000 individual packages possibly in market,” a ConAgra spokesperson said. The company sells 5.6 million of the frozen dinners a year. “There are 29 laboratory confirmed cases, which means that hundreds of people have become ill,” said William Keene, an epidemiologist with the state of Oregon who¹s been a part of the national investigation of the outbreak.

Economic News

Regulators on Friday shut down a Nevada bank, raising to 83 the number of U.S. bank failures this year. The 83 closures so far this year is more than double the pace set in all of 2009, which was itself a brisk year for shutdowns. The pace has accelerated as banks’ losses mount on loans made for commercial property and development.

Stocks rose for a fourth straight day Friday, led by shares of minerals companies after gold prices settled at another record high. The Dow posted its second consecutive weekly gain. The Dow has risen back 6.4% from its lowest close of the year on June 7, but it’s still down 6.7% from the 2010 high it reached on April 26. Gold settled up $1,258.30 an ounce, a gain of $9.60.

Mexico

A new kind of Mexican immigrant is making it big in the USA: huge Mexican corporations that are snapping up U.S. brand names, opening U.S. factories and investing millions of pesos north of the border. From Thomas’ English Muffins to Borden milk, Saks Fifth Avenue department stores to The New York Times newspaper, Mexican investors have taken advantage of low interest rates and depressed prices during the economic downturn to expand their holdings in el norte. In some cases, Mexican companies have taken over U.S. brands. Others have expanded their U.S. operations or increased their investments in U.S. firms. Grupo Lala, Mexico’s largest dairy company, bought a yogurt plant in Omaha in 2007. In 2009, it purchased Dallas-based National Dairy Holdings, which controls the Borden brand and 18 regional dairies. Grupo Bimbo, Latin America‘s largest baked-goods company, bought the U.S. baked-goods operations of Weston Foods for $2.4 billion, taking over 22 industrial bakeries and 4,000 distribution routes, turning out national brands such as Entenmann’s pastries, Boboli pizza crusts and Thomas’ English Muffins to regional brands such as Brownberry bread and Mrs. Baird’s snack cakes. New investment in the USA by Mexican companies rose from $3.6 billion in 2005 to nearly $8 billion in 2008. In 2008, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim bought a 6.9% share in The New York Times Co., making him the largest shareholder outside the Ochs-Sulzberger family. He increased his stake in the Saks Fifth Avenue department stores from 10.9% to 18%.

Turkey

Turkish warplanes launched air raids at suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq Saturday after a rebel attack on a military outpost in Turkey touched off clashes in which eight soldiers and 12 rebel fighters died. Two other soldiers were killed in a land mine explosion while chasing the rebels. Special forces were immediately sent to reinforce the border area where the clashes occurred and Turkish warplanes bombed detected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq. At least 14 other soldiers were wounded in the fighting. Kurdish rebels have dramatically stepped up attacks in Turkey in recent months, threatening a government attempt to end one of the world’s longest guerrilla wars. The military said Friday more than 40 soldiers had been killed since March — including six who died in a rocket attack on a vehicle near a naval base in southern Turkey — and warned it anticipated more attacks. The rebels belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have used northern Iraq as a springboard to stage hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets in their decades-long campaign for autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast.

Iraq

Twin car bombs exploded Sunday near a major square in Baghdad, killing at least 18 people and wounding dozens in the latest attack targeting a high-profile area in the capital. The explosives-packed cars were parked a few hundred yards apart near a government agency that issues national identification cards, the telephone exchange building and a state-run bank. The nearly simultaneous blasts occurred shortly after 11 a.m. as the area was crowded with people at the start of the work week.

Yemen

Heavily armed militants wearing military uniforms on Saturday stormed the Yemeni intelligence service’s southern headquarters, killing at least 11 people, security officials said. An eyewitness outside the facility in the southern port city of Aden, about 200 miles south of the capital, San’a, said the gunmen, suspected to be from the local branch of al-Qaeda, freed several prisoners. The brazen prison break highlights the challenges Yemen‘s U.S.-backed government faces in battling increasingly bold al-Qaeda elements that have found refuge in this impoverished country at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Weather

Massive flooding in southern China has killed 132 people and forced 860,000 to flee their homes, and more storms were forecast, the government said Sunday. Another 86 people are missing and more than 10 million people have been affected since torrential rains began June 13. China sustains major flooding annually along the mighty Yangtze and other major rivers, but this year’s floods have been especially heavy, spreading across nine provinces and regions in the south and along the eastern coast. Thousands of houses have been destroyed and economic losses have topped 14 billion yuan.

Police and National Guard soldiers blocked off neighborhoods Friday as city officials organized a cleanup from tornadoes that ripped through the city the night before, part of a turbulent system that fueled twisters across the state and killed at least three people. Dozens more were injured in Thursday’s heavy weather. The National Weather Service collected 36 reports of tornado sightings, with northwestern and southern Minnesota hit hardest. If the sightings are all confirmed, it would exceed the previous state record of 27 in one day, in 1992.

June 18, 2010

Alert Issued for 17 Afghan Military Members AWOL in U.S.

A nationwide alert has been issued for 17 members of the Afghan military who have gone AWOL from an Air Force base in Texas where foreign military officers who are training to become pilots are taught English, according to Foxnews.com Friday. The Afghan officers and enlisted men have security badges that give them access to secure U.S. defense installations, according to the lookout bulletin, “Afghan Military Deserters in CONUS [Continental U.S.],” issued by Naval Criminal Investigative Service in Dallas. “I can confirm that 17 have gone missing from the Defense Language Institute,” said Gary Emery, Chief of Public Affairs, 37th Training Wing, at Lackland AFB. “They disappeared over the course of the last two years.”

  • Why the alert now? Is something up? Or had the military been attempting to keep this info buried as usual? Importing the terrorists ourselves – what a concept.

California’s Gay Marriage Trial Over, Await Ruling

The fate of California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is in the hands of a federal judge who heard closing arguments from supporters and opponents Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision in the case could come within weeks but is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, regardless of which side prevails in his court. The lawsuit challenges Proposition 8, the statewide ban approved by voters in 2008 with 52% of the vote. Plaintiffs filed the federal suit last year after the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8. An estimated 18,000 same-sex couples from around the country married in California before voters approved the ban.

FDA Panel Gives New ‘Morning After’ Pill Thumbs Up

A panel of the Food and Drug Administration has recommended approval of a new “morning-after” pill that could be dangerous. The so-called “new generation” contraceptive is called ellaOne and reportedly is effective up to five days after intimacy. It has been commercially available in France, German, and the United Kingdom since last fall — but the European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use, which studied the drug, admits they have no solid information on how the drug would affect women who do get pregnant. Jeanne Monahan with Family Research Council says she is disappointed in the FDA’s action. She tells OneNewsNow the drug can cause an abortion — an aspect was barely talked about during the agency’s hearing this week on the contraceptive. “In addition, we know that because the chemical compound is similar to RU-486, which is the one legal abortion drug in the United States, there could be some serious potential health effects on women,” cautions Monahan. In the six years after that abortion drug was legalized, more than a thousand medical emergency incidents were documented in the U.S. “Six deaths, nine life threatening incidents, 232 hospitalizations, 116 cases needing blood transfusions — and then 88 infections,” Monahan summarizes. Just as with RU-486, there has been no research on ellaOne to determine long-term side effects on use of the drug, especially multiple uses — effective making women who use it guinea pigs.

Oil Spill Impact Worsening

Dolphins and sharks are showing up in surprisingly shallow water just off the Florida coast. Mullets, crabs, rays and small fish congregate by the thousands off an Alabama pier. Birds covered in oil are crawling deep into marshes, never to be seen again. Marine scientists studying the effects of the BP disaster are seeing some strange — and troubling — phenomena. The animals’ presence close to shore means their usual habitat is badly polluted, and the crowding could result in mass die-offs as fish run out of oxygen. Also, the animals could easily get devoured by predators. The nearly two-month-old oil spill has created an environmental catastrophe unparalleled in U.S. history as tens of millions of gallons of have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. BP CEO Tony Hayward says the reservoir that feeds the gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico probably still holds about 2 billion gallons of oil. That means the reservoir likely holds 94 to 97 percent of its oil. At the current flow rate, it would take from two to nearly four years for all the oil to leak from the field if it can’t be stopped.

An overlooked danger in oil spill crisis is that the crude gushing from the well contains vast amounts of natural gas that could pose a serious threat to the Gulf of Mexico’s fragile ecosystem. The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits. That means huge quantities of methane have entered the Gulf, scientists say, potentially suffocating marine life and creating “dead zones” where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.

BP Pledges $20B Compensation Fund

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg apologized for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history and backed up his vow to regain Americans’ trust by agreeing to set aside $20 billion for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. Eight weeks after oil started gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, Svanberg issued his apology Wednesday after a lengthy White House meeting that included a one-on-one session with President Obama. BP also agreed to put another $100 million into a foundation for out-of-work oil rig workers. The $20 billion, in line with a typical one-year profit for BP, “is not a cap” on what BP ultimately may have to spend, Obama said. Obama and BP agreed that the fund will be run by Kenneth Feinberg, now the White House’s “pay czar” who sets salary limits for executives of companies getting government bailout money. Feinberg previously managed $7 billion in government payments to families of 9/11 victims.

Obama Exploiting Oil Spill to Push Liberal Agenda

Sen. David Vitter of oil spill-ravaged Louisiana tells Newsmax that he is “offended” by President Obama’s attempt to use the crisis to push his cap-and-trade legislation. “I was offended, quite frankly, that the president used a big chunk of the speech to essentially use the ongoing crisis to push his cap-and-trade agenda. This is a crisis. It’s an ongoing flow affecting Louisiana every hour of every day. I’d like him to deal with it, not use and abuse it to push his preexisting legislative agenda.” The Republican lawmaker also complains that the federal response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been “completely inadequate,” and asserts that Obama’s moratorium on new offshore drilling is “killing” his state economically.

New FDA Website Catalogs Drug Safety Info

The Food and Drug Administration launched a website Tuesday where patients and health care professionals can find safety information about recently approved drugs and vaccines. On the Postmarketing Drug Safety Evaluations site, the FDA plans to share what it has learned about the safety of a new drug or biologic, such as a vaccine, 18 months after approval or after 10,000 patients have used it, whichever comes later. The agency is making a “broad sweep” of adverse-event reports, medical studies and research, and drug utilization databases to look for safety problems The agency is making a “broad sweep” of adverse-event reports, medical studies and research, and drug utilization databases to look for safety problems, a spokesperson said at a news briefing. The agency has drawn criticism in recent years for not paying enough attention to safety once drugs are approved and enter the “real world,” where they’re used by much larger and more diverse groups of patients than those in pre-approval trials.

Feds to Sue Arizona over Immigration Law

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer expressed outrage Thursday over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments that the Obama administration will sue over Arizona’s controversial immigration law — and Brewer said she’s ready for a fight. Clinton said in an interview with a TV station in Ecuador that the Obama administration “will be bringing” suit against Arizona for its immigration law, though the Justice Department for weeks has said that the issue is still under review. What a disappointment,” Brewer told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren on Thursday, saying she was shocked the administration would make such an announcement on foreign TV without giving Arizona officials the news first. “We are not going to back away from this issue,” Brewer said. “We are going to pursue it, we’re going to be very aggressive,” Brewer said. “We’ll meet them in court … And we will win.”

Border Land Closed Due to Violence

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reporting that 3,500 acres in southern Arizona have been closed off to U.S. citizens because of increased violence along the U.S.-Mexican border, according to the Fox News website. The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is part of the closed-off area. As of late, the refuge has been affected by drug smuggling and other alleged illegal activity. Violence involving law enforcement officers and U.S. citizens has increased in the area, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told the network. “It’s literally out of control,” Babeu said. “We need support from the federal government. It’s their job to secure the border and they haven’t done it.”

Nearly 500 Arrests in Mortgage Fraud Probe

The Justice Department announced Thursday that investigators have made nearly 500 arrests since March in a major crackdown on mortgage fraud. The nationwide initiative called Operation Stolen Dreams is the largest collective enforcement effort aimed at confronting the problem of mortgage fraud, Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference. It involves 1,215 criminal defendants in cases that uncovered more than $2.3 billion in losses. Hundreds of FBI agents are working on task forces with other law enforcement agencies to combat a type of crime that poses “a risk to our economic stability” as a nation, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the news conference. Two Countrywide companies will pay $108 million to settle allegations that they inflated the fees that homeowners paid.

Flood Insurance Program Drowning in Debt

Established in 1968, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is for homeowners who live in flood-prone areas that are considered too great a risk for private insurers. The program was able to support itself through premiums and fees until 2005, but in blew Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the program was flooded with claims and it’s now drowning in debt. $19 *billion* dollars in debt in fact, and the program doesn’t bring in enough in premiums to cover all of the risk and claims. Homeowners also pay below market rates for the insurance. The problem lies in areas which are repeatedly flooded… where homes are repeatedly lost… and rebuilt. While only one percent of the homes insured by the flood program are considered to be these repetitive loss properties, they account for about *40* percent of the claims. Recently, the NFIP paid more than $400,000 to raise a home in Pennsylvania by 10 feet. In recent years, more than $800,000 worth of flood claims have been filed for that house and it’s valued at only $500,000.

  • Yet another example of how the federal government bungles its way into debt. We need less government not more.

Uh Oh, Campbell Soup Recalls 15M pounds of SpaghettiOs

Campbell Soup is recalling 15 million pounds of SpaghettiOs with meatballs after a cooker malfunctioned at one of the company’s plants in Texas and left the meat undercooked. The Agriculture Department announced the recall late Thursday. Campbell spokesman Anthony Sanzio said the company is recalling certain lots of the product manufactured since December 2008 “out of an abundance of caution” because officials don’t know exactly when the cooker at the Paris, Texas, plant malfunctioned. Officials believe it happened recently but aren’t sure.

Economic News

The number of people filing new claims for jobless benefits jumped last week after three straight declines, another sign that hiring remains weak. The Labor Department says initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the highest level in a month. First-time claims have hovered near 450,000 since the beginning of the year after falling steadily in the second half of 2009. The number of people continuing to claim benefits rose by 88,000 to 4.57 million.

The Labor Department also said its consumer price index fell for a second month. Less expensive energy was the main factor pulling down prices. The index dropped 0.2% in May, following a 0.1% dip in April. So-called “core” prices, which strip out energy and food, edged up 0.1% in May, after a flat reading the month before.

The private Conference Board’s leading economic index, a gauge of future economic activity, rose 0.4% in May, signaling slow growth for the U.S. economy in the summer and fall. Turmoil in stock markets and a troubled housing market weighed on the index, while measures related to interest rates and an increasing amount of money in the economy tugged it higher

Spain, which is fighting speculation it will need a bailout, raised nearly 3.5 billion euro Thursday as investors snapped up a bond offering — although at sharply higher interest rates that indicate they still view government finances with skepticism.

Middle East

Israel agreed Thursday to ease its land blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, hoping to quell growing worldwide outrage following a deadly raid on an international flotilla bound for the Palestinian territory. In one of the major changes, Israel will now allow in more desperately needed construction materials for civilian projects, provided those projects are carried out under international supervision, government and military officials said. Israel has barely allowed in materials such as cement and steel, fearing Hamas militants could use them to build weapons and fortifications. That policy has prevented rebuilding after Israel’s brief but fierce war with Hamas in Gaza last year. An Israeli military official told The Associated Press that all foods would be freely let in to Gaza, effective immediately. A brief government statement announcing Thursday’s decision also indicated the naval blockade on Gaza would remain in force.

Israeli officials warned on Wednesday that aid flotillas departing from the “hostile” states of Lebanon and Iran which are expected to near Gaza in coming days would be treated differently than previous attempts to break the naval blockade against Hamas. “They are coming from an enemy state and it means that of course the treatment is different, because legally they are different,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor in reference to several Iranian and Lebanese ships reportedly preparing to head for Gaza. Israeli diplomats were also urging Western countries to issue travel advisories to discourage their citizens from joining other attempts to break the Gaza arms embargo. The Israeli efforts to deter further attempts to run the sea blockade come as the militant Turkish group IHH, which sponsored the provocative Gaza aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli naval forces on May 31, told members of the European Parliament today it has assembled another six ships for a flotilla that will set sail for Gaza next month.

Led by US President Barack Obama, the West has cast its lot with Hamas. It is not surprising that Obama is siding with Hamas. His close associates are leading members of the pro-Hamas Free Gaza outfit. Obama’s friends, former Weather Underground terrorists Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayres participated in a Free Gaza trip to Egypt in January. Their aim was to force the Egyptians to allow them into Gaza with 1,300 fellow Hamas supporters. Their mission was led by Code Pink leader and Obama fund-raiser Jodie Evans. Another leading member of Free Gaza is James Abourezk, a former US senator from South Dakota. All of these people have open lines of communication not only to the Obama White House, but to Obama himself.

Egyptian Foreign Minister (Secretary of State) Ahmed Abul Gheit, who met privately with President Obama, is now openly stating on Arabic television that, quote: “he told me that he was a Muslim, the son of a Muslim father and stepson of Muslim stepfather, that his half-brothers in Kenya were Muslims, and that he was sympathetic to the Muslim agenda. He asked the Arabs to show patience. Obama promised that once he overcame some domestic American issues (like healthcare reform), he would show the Muslim world how he would deal with Israel.” This explains why Obama has ordered all federal agencies to stop refering to “Islamic  extremism” when discussing global acts of terrorism.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan‘s untapped mineral wealth is worth at least $3 trillion — triple a U.S. estimate, according to the government’s top mining official, who is going to Britain next week to attract foreign investors to mine one of the world’s largest iron ore deposits in the heart of the war-torn nation. Geologists have known for decades that Afghanistan has vast deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other prized minerals minerals, but a U.S. Department of Defense briefing this week put a startling, nearly $1 trillion price tag on the reserves. Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani said Thursday that he’s seen estimates that the minerals could be worth at least $3 trillion. Critics of the war have questioned why the nation’s mineral worth was being promoted at a time when violence is on the upswing and the international coalition is under rising pressure to prove that its counterinsurgency strategy is working. They argue that if impoverished Afghanistan is seen as having a bright economic future, it could help foreign governments persuade their war-fatigued publics that securing the country is worth the fight and loss of troops. It also could give Afghans hope, U.S. officials say.

Kyrgyzstan

The U.N. humanitarian office says the number of people uprooted by unrest in Kyrgyzstan has reached 400,000. The estimated number of people driven from their homes but still inside Kyrgyzstan is 300,000, and there are now also about 100,000 refugees in neighboring Uzbekistan. Thousands of ethnic Uzbeks remain fearful of returning to their homes from border areas and are awaiting their chance to leave the country for camps on the Uzbekistan side. Kyrgyzstan‘s interim president said Friday that the death toll from the ethnic clashes of Kyrgz against Uzbeks that have rocked the country’s south could be near 2,000, as she made her first visit to a riot-hit Osh since the unrest broke out.

Kyrgyz Christians are already risking extra hostility for protecting Uzbek believers in the midst of the violent ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan. Wednesday, a pastor in Kyrgyzstan told Barnabas Fund that threats are now being voiced against Christians – rather than simply against a particular ethnic group. Christians live in many of the towns and villages around Osh and Jalalabad. Amid the carnage, Kyrgyz Christians are trying to help their Uzbek brothers and sisters escape the violence – despite the prospect of severe retribution from fellow Kyrgyz if they are caught. Predominantly converts from Islam, Kyrgyz and Uzbek Christians are always vulnerable to persecution from the Muslim majority community or the authorities. They are now being threatened by the mob simply for being Christians.

  • News reports fail to mention that this violence is once again being perpetrated by Muslims

Iran

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that it would penalize an Iranian bank and several Iranian companies and individuals it says are deeply involved in developing Iran‘s nuclear program. The targets include five companies and 90 ships that Iran used to evade three previous rounds of sanctions, said Stuart Levey, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. Levey said Iran even renamed and repainted some ships to try to evade recognition. The announcement came a week after the United Nations Security Council approved a fourth round of sanctions. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country will not make “one iota of concessions” and continued to insist its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes only.

Ø      The Qu’ran encourages Muslims to lie to the enemy to achieve its goals

China

To tackle a wave of strikes at auto parts factories in southern China, company managers and government officials applied some traditional tactics. Mixing promises of wage increases with moves to hire replacement workers, Japan‘s Honda persuaded strikers to return to work. The government restricted news coverage, in fear it could promote copycat strikes, and made no concessions on workers’ demands for a more representative trade union. Still, change is happening in this nation dubbed the workshop of the world. The factory towns that mushroomed across southern China in the past two decades house armies of low-paid workers, predominantly from the poorer countryside, who make the low-cost consumer goods found in homes worldwide. Now those workers boast more awareness of their legal rights and more stomach to fight for them, says Liu Kaiming, director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation. Collective action will spread, he predicts, as younger workers communicate and organize using text messaging and Internet bulletin boards.

Weather

Three people were killed and dozens injured as a series of tornadoes tore through Minnesota on Thursday, flattening homes, toppling power lines and leaving a big chunk of Wadena treeless.

June 16, 2010

Christian Colleges Flourish in Distance Learning Environment

The combination of America’s religious character, its large and well-organized evangelical population, its sophisticated online education market, and the big-tent approach to Christian education taken by many of its faith-based universities has set the stage for rapid expansion of Christian-oriented distance learning. Investing heavily in online has already allowed some institutions to enroll many more students than they ever could have hoped to at a physical campus. Grand Canyon University, which enrolled about 3,500 students at its peak as a traditional university in the mid-1990s, was forced to reinvent itself as a for-profit online university earlier this decade after coming close to financial ruin. Now it serves 36,000 students, about 90% of whom are distance learners. Grand Canyon is not the only Christian institution taking cues from the for-profit sector in an effort to maximize the market for online education. Indiana Wesleyan University years ago enlisted a subsidiary of the Apollo Group, the company that owns the for-profit juggernaut University of Phoenix, to help with online recruitment. That subsidiary, an online-education consulting firm called the Institute for Professional Development, has 17 other higher-education partners, most of them Christian institutions. Meanwhile, online enrollment at the nonprofit Liberty University has boomed to 45,000 — nearly twice as many online students as the 25,000 that its late televangelist founder, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., prescribed as a goal only three years ago, and significantly more than its 12,000 or so on-campus learners.

Theology School Integrates Studies of Different Faiths

The venerable Claremont School of Theology, which has taught Methodist ministers and theologians for more than a century, will try an unorthodox approach this fall: cross-training the nation’s future Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders in classrooms scattered around Southern California as they work toward their respective degrees. The experimental approach launched last week is intended to create U.S. religious leaders who not only preach tolerance in an era of religious strife, but who have lived it themselves by rubbing shoulders with those in other Abrahamic faiths. The idea already faces resistance from more conservative elements in some religious communities; its architects say that only underscores the need for such an approach.

  • Tolerance, a New World Order tactic, is meant to dilute the truth about the One True God and make Christ just another role model

Schools Unsure about New Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona’s immigration law that goes into effect next month has some school and law enforcement officials wondering whether students being sent to detention face the possibility of being deported. There is no clear line that will determine when school resource officers (SRO) — police officers or sheriff’s deputies assigned to work in schools — can investigate a student’s immigration status under the new law. The law requires an officer to determine a person’s immigration status if they are stopped, detained or arrested and there is “reasonable suspicion” they are in the U.S. illegally. Many school officials agree that a student who brings a gun to school, is caught with drugs, threatens the life of a teacher or is involved in gang activity is committing a serious crime and can have their immigration status checked by police. But issues such as school fights and petty thefts are less clear.

BP Cut Corners while Constructing Oil Well

Big oil industry executives defended the safety of offshore drilling in front of Congress on Tuesday and said common industry standards weren’t deployed at the BP-owned well that’s caused the worst U.S. oil spill in history. BP repeatedly cut corners on safety as it rushed to complete its deepwater oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, overlooking concerns raised by its contractors and some of its own employees, according to documents released Monday by congressional investigators. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the committee, and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., head of an investigative subcommittee, said preliminary evidence points toward questionable choices by BP. “Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense,” they wrote. In the days leading to the accident, BP was focused on spiraling costs and missed deadlines instead of safety, according to documents released by the committee. Scientists have released their revised estimate of how much oil is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico each day. They now calculate the daily disaster at between 1.47 million and 2.52 million gallons/day.

Federal regulations require tests to ensure cement can hold back oil in problem-plagued wells, but BP chose to do without the test. BP opted to use a single metal casing in the well despite internal documents saying it was riskier than adding a second liner down the shaft. In the days before the blowout, BP did not follow its own operations plan and the recommendations of Halliburton when it did not flush drilling mud from the well. Flushing the mud can detect a leak. The oil firm did not install a sleeve at the top of the well to ensure that it did not leak. A computer simulation performed three days before the blowout by Halliburton, a BP subcontractor responsible for cementing the well, predicted a leak was likely because of uneven cement inside the well shaft. BP rejected Halliburton’s suggestion to add special equipment to ensure the cement was adequate. President Obama, in the first televised Oval Office message of his presidency, sought to quell rising anger over his response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by saying he will demand that BP’s chairman set aside whatever money is needed to compensate those who have been harmed by the company’s “recklessness.”

  • Greed triumphs once again

Permanent Majority by Silencing Minority

The Family Research Council.says, “If you can’t guarantee re-election, legislate it! Unfortunately, that’s the net effect of a bill called the DISCLOSE (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) Act. Essentially, H.R. 5175 would try to blunt the effectiveness of groups like FRC by limiting what we can say before the November elections. If, for instance, FRC Action decided to run a TV ad about a particular candidate, this bill would force us to reveal the names of our top donors on the spot-even if those donors didn’t fund that specific project! Congress is hoping that these rules would deter organizations like us from educating voters about candidates’ record on certain issues. And what a coincidence! These reporting requirements would take effect just in time to protect vulnerable Democratic incumbents from conservative ads. As more primaries hint at some major upheaval this fall, House leaders are racing pass the Act.”

Volunteering in America on the Rise

Americans spent 100 million more hours helping their communities last year, a new federal report says, and the number of people getting involved went up by 1.6 million to 63.4 million, according to a report being released Tuesday by the government-run Corporation for National and Community Service. The rise in volunteers comes as the nation struggles to regain its economic footing amid high unemployment. The report points to lower volunteer rates in states with high rates of unemployment and in cities with high rates of foreclosures. The report reflects those serving through more formal organizations and nonprofits, and doesn’t capture those giving in other ways like neighbors helping neighbors.

.Doctors’ Medicare Pay Cut Delayed

The Obama administration has delayed a deep pay cut for doctors treating Medicare patients. The 21% cut was scheduled to take effect tomorrow. The cut technically took effect June 1, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has delayed claims until Friday. The administration is expecting Congress to intervene this week. The House has passed legislation to provide a fix through 2011 but Republicans have blocked action in the Senate, saying there are no offsets for the $23 billion cut. Majority Leader Harry Reid said he hoped to have the bill passed by the end of the week.

Americans get Most Radiation from Medical Scans

We fret about airport scanners, power lines, cellphones and even microwaves. It’s true that we get too much radiation. But it’s not from those sources — it’s from too many medical tests. Americans get the most medical radiation in the world, even more than folks in other rich countries. The U.S. accounts for half of the most advanced procedures that use radiation, and the average American’s dose has grown sixfold over the last couple of decades. Too much radiation raises the risk of cancer. That risk is growing because people in everyday situations are getting imaging tests far too often. CT scans — “super X-rays” that give fast, extremely detailed images — have soared in use over the last decade, often replacing tests that don’t require radiation, such as ultrasound and MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. Radiation is a hidden danger — you don’t feel it when you get it, and any damage usually doesn’t show up for years. Taken individually, tests that use radiation pose little risk. Over time, though, the dose accumulates. Doctors don’t keep track of radiation given their patients — they order a test, not a dose. Except for mammograms, there are no federal rules on radiation dose.

Economic News

The number of families in homeless shelters increased 7% to 170,129 from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2009.

It looks like the nearly six-week run in lower gasoline prices is just about over. Gasoline prices have dropped about 8% since hitting $2.93 a gallon on May 6 on the back of lower oil prices. Pump prices fell 0.3 cent to a national average of $2.698 a gallon Monday. Experts expect that prices likely will climb beginning in July

Israel

Israel will significantly ease its bruising land blockade of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, officials said, in an effort to blunt the widespread international criticism that has followed a deadly Israeli commando raid on a blockade-busting flotilla. The three-year-old embargo has shuttered hundreds of Gazan factories, put tens of thousands of people out of work and brought the territory’s fragile economy to a standstill. Travel restrictions that confine most of Gaza’s 1.5 million people to the territory are also likely to remain in effect. Israel, with Egypt’s cooperation, has blockaded the Palestinian territory by land and sea ever since Hamas militants, with a violent anti-Israel agenda, seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Mexico

Monday was another bloody day in Mexico’s drug war. An ambush killed 10 Mexican federal police and an unknown number of suspected drug cartel hit men in Michoacan state, and 17 inmates died in suspected drug- related violence in Sinaloa. Gunmen blocked a Michoacan highway with a big truck and fired on a police convoy with automatic weapons and other guns. Michoacan is the headquarters for the notorious “La Familia,” one of Mexico’s deadliest drug cartels. It is also the home of President Felipe Calderon. Mexico‘s drug cartels are becoming increasingly skilled at ambushing police and soldiers, luring them into traps, cutting off escape routes with flaming vehicles and overwhelming their targets in commando-style raids. The attacks have driven the death toll of police and soldiers to record levels this year and fueled fears that government forces, often outgunned by the cartels, are now being out-strategized as well.

Afghanistan

A string of militant attacks in Afghanistan have killed 12 police officers while six civilians died in bombings. Both NATO troops and Afghan security forces have been suffering heavier casualties in recent weeks. Including the latest deaths, 41 international service members have been killed in Afghanistan so far this month, 27 of them American. The Taliban have declared a summer offensive against NATO forces and those allied with the coalition or the Afghan government — ramping up attacks as NATO troops prepare operations in the Taliban heartland of southern Kandahar province.

Pakistan

An American armed with a pistol and a 40-inch sword was detained in northern Pakistan and told investigators he was on a solo mission to kill Osama bin Laden. The man was identified as 52-year-old Californian construction worker Gary Brooks Faulkner. He was picked up in a forest in the Chitral region late on Sunday. Faulkner told police he visited Pakistan seven times, and this was his third trip to Chitral. The area is among several rumored hiding places for the al-Qaeda leader, who has evaded a massive U.S. effort to capture him since 2001. Khan said Faulkner was also carrying a book containing Christian verses and teachings. When asked why he thought he had a chance of tracing bin Laden, Faulkner replied, “God is with me, and I am confident I will be successful in killing him,” said Khan.

Thailand

Eleven leaders of bloody, anti-government protests could face the death penalty after being charged Tuesday with terrorism during the worst political upheaval in modern Thai history. The leaders, including Veera Musikapong and Nattawut Saikua, had been detained since surrendering to the government on May 19 following weeks of clashes between so-called Red Shirt protesters and security forces in which nearly 90 people were killed and more than 1,400 injured. Most of the dead and injured were protesters, largely made up of rural and urban poor, who demanded a dissolution of Parliament and new elections, claiming the government had come to power through illegitimate means. Since the quelling of the Bangkok protests, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has attempted to implement a reconciliation policy to heal the social and economic rifts in Thai society. But critics said the charges of terrorism will only serve to deepen the divisions and possibly lead to more violence.

Kyrgyzstan

The first United Nations aid plane arrived Wednesday in Uzbekistan to help the thousands of people who have fled ethnic clashes in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, officials with a U.N. Refugee agency said. The U.N. cargo plane carrying about 800 lightweight tents will add to a growing effort to try and aid the estimated 100,000 people who have fled fighting in Kyrgyzstan to refugee camps in Uzbekistan. Several countries, including the United States and Russia, have also sent aid. Relative calm continued in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, Wednesday. But sporadic gunfire could be heard.

Earthquakes

An earthquake has rocked Southern California, shaking the Los Angeles area and causing a momentary pause at the Toronto Blue Jays-San Diego Padres baseball game in San Diego. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-5.7 quake was centered five miles southeast of Ocotillo near the U.S.-Mexico border. It struck Monday at about 9:30 PT Monday. Several aftershocks, measuring between 3.2 and 3.9, followed. It was felt as a gentle rolling motion in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Orange County. San Diego’s Petco Park swayed during the earthquake, and the public address announcer asked that everyone at the ball game remain calm. The crowd cheered.

A series of powerful earthquakes rattled Indonesia on Wednesday, killing at least three people, triggering landslides and demolishing dozens of homes. A tsunami warning sent panicked residents fleeing buildings to high ground. The 7.0 magnitude quake was centered 18 miles beneath the ocean floor and 125 miles off the northern coast of Papua province, the U.S. Geological Survey said on its website. It was accompanied by a series of strong aftershocks, the highest measuring 6.4.

Weather

Millions are hopelessly trapped in Sudan’s “Valley of Death” during the worst drought in decades. The lack of rain has caused a rampage of starvation and its related diseases. It has become a mass killer that is destroying the lives of refugees in Sudan. According to the United Nations, the number of people in dire need in Sudan has quadrupled – from 1 million last year to a staggering 4.3 million in 2010.

Residents and public workers cleared muck and debris Tuesday from homes and streets a day after record rains caused widespread flooding across Oklahoma. Flash flooding on Monday stranded commuters on washed-out roads and prompted crews to send boats into inundated neighborhoods, rescuing dozens of residents and motorists who sought safety in trees and on rooftops. No injuries were immediately reported across the city. Portions of three interstates and numerous thoroughfares in and out of the metro area were closed. Dozens of stranded motorists were rescued from vehicles in the northern suburb of Edmond. A temporary shelter for displaced residents was set up at a local elementary school. About 300 homes and businesses in two Nebraska towns have been damaged by flooding in recent days.

Regional authorities in southeastern France say 15 people have been killed and 12 are missing in the aftermath of flash floods that followed powerful rainstorms. Unusually heavy rains recently in the Var region have transformed streets into muddy rivers that swept up trees, cars and other objects. S Tens of thousands of people are without electricity, and some schools are closed.ome 1,200 people spent the night in shelters.

June 14, 2010

Obama Breaks Promise on Healthcare Reform Coverage

Over and over in the healthcare debate, President Barack Obama said people who like their current coverage would be able to keep it. But an early draft of an administration regulation estimates that many employers will be forced to make changes to their health plans under the new law. In just three years, a majority of workers — 51 percent — will be in plans subject to new federal requirements, according to the draft. Employers say it’s more evidence that the law will drive up costs. Republicans say Obama broke his promise. The types of changes that employers would be forced to make include offering preventive care without copayments and instituting an appeals process for disputed claims that follows new federal guidelines. The law already requires all health plans to extend coverage to young adult children until they turn 26. But such changes also nudge costs up.

Obama Pushes New $80 Billion Stimulus

President Barack Obama and his aides are stepping up a push for further government spending to boost the economy as signs grow of the recovery’s fragility. The White House is calling urgently for Congress to pass measures to extend jobless benefits, aid cash-strapped states, and provide targeted tax breaks to encourage research and development by businesses. Obama’s Democratic allies, facing congressional elections in November, have grown cautious about additional spending. Seizing on voter anxiety about deficits, Republicans have cast the administration’s policies as fiscally reckless as they seek to challenge Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would renew expiring unemployment benefits and extend business and individual tax breaks. They would offset some of the bill’s costs by raising taxes on hedge fund managers and other steps. The bill complements one passed in the House last month that would authorize about $80 billion in new spending and add $31 billion to the deficit.

  • More debt to solve a debt crisis is not the answer, but rather fuel on the fire

ACLU Chief Disgusted with Obama

American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero has lambasted the Obama administration for its handling of civil liberties issues, including its unwillingness to prosecute officials from the George W. Bush administration.  “I’m disgusted with this president,” Romero told a conference of liberal activists on Wednesday. “Guantanamo is still not closed. The administration still uses state secrets to shield themselves from litigation. There’s no prosecution for criminal acts of the Bush administration. Surveillance powers put in place under the Patriot Act have been renewed. If there has been change in the civil liberties context, I frankly don’t see it.” Romero added: “The unwillingness of the administration to stick by its guns and prosecute the Sept. 11 defendants in criminal court does not bode well for the broader civil liberties agenda.”  Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, said most of Obama’s problems stem from his quest for bipartisanship with Republicans on almost every issue.

  • Liberals and conservatives need to realize that Obama is first and foremost a narcissistic politician, sure to disappoint both groups as he seeks a middle ground to ensure his re-election

Kagan Memos Released

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, as a Clinton White House counsel, drafted legal language designed to narrow a proposed ban on a procedure that critics call “partial-birth” abortion. In a 1996 memo, Kagan argued it would be unconstitutional to prohibit the procedure outright — without an exception for cases where it was needed to avert “serious adverse health consequences” for the mother — and she recommended wording for such an exemption. Kagan wrote that one of the virtues of her proposal was that “it will not make the groups” — presumably abortion-rights groups — “go crazy … because it fully protects the right of the woman to any medically necessary procedures.” The memo is part of a roughly 40,000-page trove of documents released by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library on Friday that shed more light on what kind of justice Kagan might be. Most of them date from her stint as an associate White House counsel for Clinton from 1995 to 1996. Republicans complained that the documents are emerging too slowly.

Florida Gov. Vetoes Ultrasound Abortion Bill

As expected, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has vetoed legislation that would have required a woman to get an ultrasound test before an abortion. “This bill places an inappropriate burden on a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy,” Crist said in his veto message. The measure would have required most women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion, unless the woman could prove she was a victim of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking. Women could choose not to see the ultrasound or hear a description of it. The bill also included language that legislative Republicans wrote to prevent what they considered the possibility of federal funding being used for abortion in Florida, along with some provisions intended to thwart President Obama’s national health care program. In April, when it became clear he would not win the primary, Crist left the Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent.

Coast Guard/Obama Pressures BP

The Coast Guard has demanded that BP step up its efforts to contain the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of the weekend, telling the British oil giant that its slow pace in stopping the spill is becoming increasingly alarming as the disaster fouled the coastline in ugly new ways Saturday. The Coast Guard sent a testy letter to BP’s chief operating officer that said the company urgently needs to pick up the pace and present a better plan to contain the spill by the time President Barack Obama arrives on Monday for his fourth visit to the beleaguered coast. The dispute escalated on the same day that ominous new signs of the tragedy emerged on the beaches of Alabama. Waves of unsightly brown surf hit the shores in Orange Beach, leaving stinking, dark piles of oil that dried in the hot sun and extended up to 12 feet from the water’s edge for as far as the eye could see.

President Obama heads to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill Monday to begin a critical week that includes his first prime-time address on the growing environmental disaster and a sit-down with BP’s top executives. Facing growing complaints about his handling of the deep-sea oil gusher, Obama plans to demand that BP set up an escrow account to pay claims of individuals and businesses harmed by the spill, the president’s top political adviser said Sunday. Democratic senators want BP to set aside $20 billion to pay for cleanup and other costs from the Gulf oil spill.

A pair of deepwater relief wells still represent the best chance of stopping the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of drilling for oil, workers are targeting the 7-inch-wide steel-casing pipe located just above the spot where the well enters the oil reservoir 18,000 feet deep. While containment chambers and “top kill” and “junk kill” attempts at the well’s failed blowout preventer have made headlines, the relief wells have quietly continued. If all goes as planned, the wells will intersect the leak hole, far beneath any leaking fractures of the casing pipe and the faulty blowout preventer, then pour mud and cement inside to seal it forever. Relief well 1, started May 2, has drilled to a depth of 13,978 feet. Relief well 2, started May 16, has halted at 8,576 feet down, while BP engineers double-check its blowout preventer. If the ongoing relief wells stop the BP leak in early August as planned, it will have occurred after about 100 days of spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

Homegrown Terrorist Threat

A homeland security expert thinks Americans should be concerned with the increase in the number of U.S. citizens being “radicalized” to Islam, often with a Somali connection. FBI agents recently arrested Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte as they prepared to fly from New York to Egypt, then to Somalia. “I think we have to be concerned that there seems to be an increase in the number of U.S. citizens being radicalized,” notes Jena Baker McNeill, policy analyst for homeland security at The Heritage Foundation. She goes on to point out that Somalia has unfortunately not had a functioning government for more than a decade. “Clearly, because of that, al-Qaeda organizations like al-Shabab, which is the group under scrutiny right now, operate freely within their borders,” McNeill laments. The policy analyst adds that she has serious concerns about the Obama administration’s ability to stop terrorist plots earlier in the process, which she contends has to be done in order to stay ahead of the terrorists.

A Decade Later, Genetic Map Yields Few New Cures

Ten years after the first draft of the human genome was complete, medicine has yet to see any large part of the promised benefits, the New York Times reports. For biologists, the genome has yielded one insightful surprise after another. But the primary goal of the $3 billion Human Genome Project — to ferret out the genetic roots of common diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s and then generate treatments — remains largely elusive. Indeed, after 10 years of effort, geneticists are almost back to square one in knowing where to look for the roots of common disease. One sign of the genome’s limited use for medicine so far was a recent test of genetic predictions for heart disease. A medical team led by Nina P. Paynter of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston collected 101 genetic variants that had been statistically linked to heart disease in various genome-scanning studies. But the variants turned out to have no value in forecasting disease among 19,000 women who had been followed for 12 years. The old-fashioned method of taking a family history was a better guide. The pharmaceutical industry has spent billions of dollars to reap genomic secrets and is starting to bring several genome-guided drugs to market. While drug companies continue to pour huge amounts of money into genome research, it has become clear that the genetics of most diseases are more complex than anticipated and that it will take many more years before new treatments may be able to transform medicine.

Violence on the Rise in U.S. Hospitals, Clinics

More and more violent crimes are occurring in America’s hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities, according to a new alert issued by the Joint Commission, an independent health care oversight group. Since 2004, there have been “significant increases in reports of assault, rape and homicide, with the greatest number of reports in the last three years,” the group said in its “Sentinel Event Alert” released last week, the latest in a series of alerts on serious adverse events occurring in health care settings. According to the Joint Commission’s voluntary reporting system for these adverse events, there have been 256 assaults, rapes or homicides of patients and visitors to American health centers since 1995, with 110 of those acts occurring since 2007. And the report also noted that the actual numbers are believed to be significantly higher. Only a very small percentage of violent incidents are reported, the commission says. A number of reasons for the increase in violent outbreaks in health care settings include an increase in drug and alcohol abuse and a lack of adequate care for psychiatric patients.

Experts Revise Guidelines for Brain Death

Determining brain death is a complex process that requires dozens of tests to make sure doctors come to the correct conclusion. With that goal in mind, the American Academy of Neurology has issued new guidelines — an update of guidelines first written 15 years ago — that call on doctors to conduct a lengthy examination, including following a step-by-step checklist of some 25 tests and criteria that must be met before a person can be considered brain dead. The goal of the guidelines is to remove some of the guess work and variability among doctors in their procedure for declaring brain death, which previous research has found to be a problem. According to the U.S. Uniform Determination of Death Act, brain death occurs when a person permanently stops breathing, the heart stops beating and “all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem” cease. While no one disagreed with that description, a 2008 study that included 41 of the nation’s top hospitals found widespread and worrisome variability in how doctors and hospitals were determining who met the criteria.

Military Fails on Brain-Test Follow-Ups

The Pentagon has failed to comply with a congressional directive to give all troops tests before and after they serve in combat to measure their thinking abilities and uncover possible brain injuries, military records show. More than 562,000 tests of troops taken before they deployed have not been readministered on their return by military health officials, the records show. That means the Pentagon could be missing thousands of cases of brain injury. Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, and other Army officials say the test is flawed and no better than a “coin flip.” The test, called the Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics (ANAM), produces too many false positive results, said Lt. Col. Michael Russell, head of the Army’s ANAM program.

Puerto Rico Scraps Birth Records

In an effort to end what it describes as a brisk black market in Puerto Rican birth certificates, which confer U.S. citizenship, the Puerto Rican government decided in December to invalidate all existing birth certificates. Those born on the island, including about 1.35 million who live on the mainland, must apply for a new birth certificate. The black market is not fueled by counterfeiting but by multiple official copies of individual certificates. In Puerto Rico, it is customary to hand over an official birth certificate to register for school or sports leagues. In 2008, federal agents confiscated 14,000 stolen birth certificates in an investigation that resulted in five convictions, says Ivan Ortiz, a spokesman for the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency in Puerto Rico. In previous cases, birth certificates were bought from drug addicts for $25 and then sent to the U.S. mainland to be sold for $5,000 each.

Economic News

From big banks’ exotic trades to the credit cards in people’s wallets, it only takes a few of the most contentious issues to upend a careful political equilibrium as lawmakers try to blend House and Senate bills into a single rewrite of U.S. banking regulations. The final measure, which President Barack Obama wants by July 4, is intended to prevent another financial crisis like the 2008 meltdown, which triggered a deep recession. Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of a panel resolving differences in the two bills, and Sen. Christopher Dodd, who shepherded the Senate’s measure, must fend off industry efforts to dilute the final legislation. And they will need to hold together a fragile Senate coalition that included only four Republicans. The financial industry is no stranger to the lawmakers working on the legislation. At least 56 industry lobbyists have served on the personal staffs of the 43 Senate and House members who will have a hand in shaping the bill over the next two weeks, according to an analysis by Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics, two government watchdogs.

The risks to a robust global recovery have “risen significantly” as many governments struggle with debt, a top International Monetary Fund official has warned. “After nearly two years of global economic and financial upheaval, shockwaves are still being felt, as we have seen with recent developments in Europe and the resulting financial market volatility,” Naoyuki Shinohara, the IMF’s deputy managing director, said last week. “The global outlook remains unusually uncertain and downside risks have risen significantly,” Shinohara said, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph. Some economists fear that moves by countries ranging from Britain to Spain to rein in public spending at the same time will set back a global recovery.

The Dow Jones industrial average has logged its first winning week in a month. The Dow rose 39 points Friday and ended the week with a gain of 2.8%, its best weekly advance since mid-February. The Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index showed consumer confidence rose to its highest level since January 2008 and came in well ahead of forecasts.

Israel

EU officials said Monday there were indications Israel may agree to relax its blockade of Gaza by opening at least one border crossing to large-scale commercial traffic. EU diplomats also said Israel would likely drop its restrictive list of goods permitted into the region, which has left the territory’s 1.5 million Palestinians mired in poverty. Instead, there would be a short, agreed list of items banned because of Israeli security concerns. Israeli security officials have said talks are now underway to replace the Israeli supervision with an international presence, with the involvement of the Palestinians and the Egyptians. The 27-nation EU bloc has been pressing Israel to ease its three-year old blockade which was instituted when the terrorist Hamas organization violently took control of Gaza.

Kyrgyzstan

Ethnic riots wracked southern Kyrgyzstan over the weekend, forcing thousands of Uzbeks to flee as their homes were torched by roving mobs of Kyrgyz men. At least 100,000 had fled for the border and were awaiting entry into Uzbekistan. The interim government begged Russia for troops to stop the violence, but the Kremlin offered only humanitarian assistance. Officials said more than 77 people were killed and more than 1,500 injured in the violence. Interim President Roza Otunbayeva acknowledged that her government has lost control over the south as its main city of Osh slid further into chaos. Her government sent troops and armor into the city of 250,000, but they have failed to stop the rampage. Much of central Osh was on fire Saturday, and the sky was black with smoke. Gang gangs of young Kyrgyz men armed with firearms and metal bars marched on minority Uzbek neighborhoods and set homes on fire. Stores were looted and the city was running out of food. Thousands of terrified ethnic Uzbeks were rushing toward the nearby border with Uzbekistan. An Associated Press reporter at the border saw the bodies of children killed in the panicky stampede.

Iraq

Iraq‘s new parliament convened Monday in what was little more than a symbolic inaugural session because of unresolved differences over key positions including parliament speaker, president and prime minister — a precarious political limbo three months after inconclusive elections. The sides are sharply divided over the formation of a new government, and analysts and some lawmakers have warned that a decision could still be months away. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is battling to keep his job after the rival Sunni-backed Iraqiya list narrowly won the most seats in the March 7 balloting. Under Iraq’s constitution, the legislature should have chosen a parliament speaker and a president, but these appointments had to be put off because they are part of the negotiations between major political blocs over the rest of the new leadership — including a prime minister and top Cabinet officials.

Insurgents wearing military uniforms stormed Iraq‘s central bank Sunday during an apparent robbery attempt, battling security forces in a three-hour standoff after bombs exploded nearby in a coordinated daylight attack that left as many as 26 people dead. The assault on Iraq’s top financial institution stoked fears that insurgents are taking advantage of political deadlock after inconclusive March 7 national elections to try to derail security gains as the U.S. prepares to withdraw its forces by the end of next year.

Afghanistan

A team of U.S. geologists and Pentagon officials has discovered vast mineral wealth in Afghanistan, conceivably enough to turn the scarred and impoverished country into one of the world’s most lucrative mining centers, a senior military official told Fox News on Monday. “There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, told the New York Times in a report published Monday. The geologists discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, including iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium, according to the report. The Times quoted a Pentagon memo as saying Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and cell phones.

President Hamid Karzai gave the green light to a major security crackdown in the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar on Sunday, assuring residents the operation was aimed at battling corruption and bad government as much as insurgents. Hundreds of tribal and religious leaders, sitting cross-legged in a steamy conference hall, publicly endorsed the plan, although Afghan officials acknowledged skepticism remains over the high-stakes operation, seen as a possible turning point in the nearly nine-year-old war. Afghan and international forces already have started to ramp up security, raising fears among the estimated half-million people living in and around the city that military action will lead to more bloodshed.

Five Afghan police and a NATO serviceman died Saturday in separate roadside bomb blasts. Violence has spiked recently in Afghanistan’s volatile south as Taliban insurgents step up attacks ahead of a planned major operation by NATO forces to secure the main city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in Brussels on Friday that insurgents have killed 59 Afghans last week, 54 of them in Kandahar. He told NATO ministers that insurgents also wounded 116. Separately, NATO announced Friday that it has opened an alternate supply route to Afghanistan via Russia and central Asia — a critical development that gives the alliance the ability to bypass the previous ambush-prone main routes through Pakistan.

Pakistan

Pakistan‘s main spy agency continues to arm and train the Taliban and is even represented on the group’s leadership council despite U.S. pressure to sever ties and billions in aid to combat the militants, said a research report released Sunday. The findings could heighten tension between the two countries and raise further questions about U.S. success in Afghanistan since Pakistani cooperation is seen as key to defeating the Taliban, which seized power in Kabul in the 1990s with Islamabad‘s support. The report issued Sunday by the London School of Economics offered one of the strongest cases that assistance to the Taliban is official Inter-Services Intelligence agency policy, and even extends to the highest levels of the Pakistani government.

Egypt

Egyptian security forces hit protesters and knocked some to the ground before rounding dozens up at a demonstration Sunday against a police beating that killed a young man a week ago. Human rights groups say police torture — including sexual abuse — is routine in Egypt though the government denies it is systematic. Reformers say a three-decade-old emergency law they describe as a central tool of repression by President Hosni Mubarak‘s regime is to blame. Cases of police brutality rarely result in punishment. A couple hundred protesters gathered near the Ministry of Justice in the capital Cairo Sunday afternoon, some chanting “Down with Hosni Mubarak” and others holding up signs calling for an end to military rule and the prosecution of the interior minister for Said’s death. Security forces, some of them in plainclothes, beat protesters and knocked some to the ground. They put them in headlocks and handcuffed them before dragging them off to waiting trucks for arrest.

Kenya

An explosion ripped through a park in Nairobi‘s capital during a packed political rally late Sunday, killing three people and wounding 75, officials said. The rally was held to protest a draft constitution the country will vote on in August. The country’s president and prime minister support it, but several prominent political leaders do not. Prime Minister Raila Odinga confirmed the toll of dead and wounded. He said officials don’t yet know the cause of the blast.

Mexico

At least 30 gunmen burst into a drug rehabilitation center in a Mexican border state capital and opened fire, killing 19 men and wounding four people, police said. Gunmen also killed 16 people in another drug-plagued northern city. The killings marked one of the bloodiest weeks ever in Mexico and came just weeks after authorities discovered 55 bodies in an abandoned silver mine, presumably victims of the country’s drug violence. Violence has surged this year amid a turf battle between the Gulf cartel and its former ally, the Zetas gang of hit men.

Weather

Floodwaters that tore through an Arkansas campground, killing at least 19 people, also washed away records of who was there, making the daunting search for dozens of missing in heavily wooded forest even more difficult as anguished families waited for word of their loved ones. Crews planned to use ATVs, canoes and horses as they resumed their search Saturday morning in the Ouachita National Forest, where heavy rains caused the normally quiet Caddo and Little Missouri rivers to climb out of their banks early Friday. The search was expected to take several more days — and perhaps even weeks.

June 11, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Public Funding for Candidates

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the state this morning from distributing matching funds to candidates, sharply changing the rules of the game in the middle of the election. Without comment, the justice accepted arguments by opponents of the funding scheme that it would be unfair to allow extra funds to be distributed while the legality of the system is unclear. The decision is not the last word, as the justices said they want to hear arguments by foes of why the 9th Circuit was wrong when it upheld the constitutionality of the plan. But Todd Lang, director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission said the ruling effectively kills matching funds, at least for the August primary. And Lang, whose agency administers the public funding system and defended the matching funds, said he doubts the high court will have a decision before the November general election.

The decision immediately changes the political landscape in dozens of races. That starts right at the top with the campaign for governor among Republicans. Publicly funded candidates Jan Brewer and Dean Martin had counted on getting about $2.1 million for their Republican primary battle. That is based on the fact that Buz Mills, running with his own cash, already has spent close to $2.3 million. And the law — at least as it existed until today — said publicly funded contenders can get up to three times their original allocation if privately financed foes spend more. Now they will have to live with the $707,440 base amount. Brewer, in a prepared statement, called today’s Supreme Court action “terribly troubling.’ She even held out hope that the justices will have a change of heart and let her get that $2.1 million.

U.S., BP Headed for Showdown over Liability

The Obama Administration ratcheted up its demands on Wednesday that BP PLC cover all costs stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including millions of dollars in salaries of oil-industry workers laid off because of the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling. The sudden increase in BP’s potential liabilities—along with growing evidence that even more oil than expected is gushing from BP’s crippled well—helped send BP’s shares plummeting almost 16% in New York, to $29.20. The stock has lost close to half its value, more than $82 billion, in the seven weeks since the spill started. BP didn’t comment directly on the latest demand from Washington. But it is expected to argue that under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, BP is liable only for the direct costs of the clean-up and couldn’t be held responsible for the lost wages of oil workers. Several legal experts said they couldn’t think of any law or precedent that would allow the U.S. to try to recover damages from BP on behalf of rig workers thrown out of work by a government moratorium on deep offshore drilling.

Meanwhile, oil from the massive spill in the Gulf has moved into the inland waterway along coastal Alabama, prompting the U.S. Coast Guard to close Perdido Pass, the main water access route for fishermen and boaters in the popular resort town of Orange Beach. BP and the government have tried to protect the pass for weeks with thousands of feet of boom, but thick waves of oil have seeped into the pass and down the waterway, coating the marshy shoreline as it moves through. The New York Times is that a new assessment suggests that the amount of oil released into the Gulf was double earlier estimates.

Feds Arrest 400+ as Part of Border Strategy

In what they hope was a major blow to Mexican drug traffickers, federal authorities on Wednesday launched raids across the country and arrested more than 400 people, according to law enforcement sources. The raids were the culmination of a 22-month investigation by the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who have now captured more than 2,200 suspects. During the operation, dubbed “Project Deliverance,” law enforcement agents also seized large quantities of U.S. money, cocaine, marijuana and weapons. Charges were brought and arrests made in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington state and Mexico. Sources said Project Deliverance is part of the Obama administration’s broader strategy to stem violence along the U.S.-Mexican border. A significant part of that strategy targets Mexican drug cartels.

Mexico Upset over Border Killing

Pointing their rifles, Mexican security forces chased away U.S. authorities investigating the shooting of a 15-year-old Mexican by a U.S. Border Patrol agent on the banks of the Rio Grande. The killing of the Mexican by U.S. authorities — the second in less than two weeks — has exposed the distrust between the two countries that lies just below the surface, and has enraged Mexicans who see the death of the boy on Mexican soil as an act of murder. The Mexican authorities accused the Americans of trying to recover evidence from Mexican soil and threatened to kill them if they crossed the border, prompting both sides to draw their guns. The confrontation occurred Monday night over the body of Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereka, who died of his wounds beside the column of a railroad bridge connecting Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso. Hernandez was found 20 feet (six meters) into Mexico, and an autopsy revealed that the fatal shot was fired at a relatively close range. That would violate the rules for Border Patrol agents, who are supposed to stay on the U.S. side — and could open the agent to a Mexican homicide prosecution. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed “regret” Thursday the fatal shooting and said the FBI is reviewing the incident.

Immigrant Processing Fees May Increase

The Obama administration is requesting rate increases on most immigration applications, three years after the last round of hikes. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Wednesday proposed a new set of prices, citing efforts to close a $200 million revenue shortfall. The price to apply for a green card — given to foreigners to live and work in the U.S. permanently — would go from $930 to $985. The cost to replace a lost green card would go from $290 to $365. And an application to become a temporary resident would rise $420 to $1,130. The application to become a U.S. citizen will remain unchanged at $595. A combination of higher fees and a bad economy resulted in a sharp drop in applications in the past two years. In 2007, the government received more than 5.7 million immigration-related applications, compared with 4.9 million in 2009. That drop led some to question why the agency needs to raise rates when its workload has diminished.

Minority Births Drive Growth in U.S. Diversity

Record levels of births among minorities in the past decade are moving the USA a step closer to a demographic milestone in which no group commands a majority, new Census estimates show. Minorities accounted for almost 49% of U.S. births in the year ending July 1, 2009, a record high, according to data released Thursday. They make up more than half the population in 317 counties and four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas) and the District of Columbia), with increases in every state since 2000. Much of the rapid growth in diversity is driven by an influx of young Hispanic immigrants whose birthrates are higher than those of non-Hispanic whites, creating a race and ethnic chasm and a widening age gap.

Infection Control Lax at Surgery Centers

A new federal study finds many same-day surgery centers — where patients get such things as foot operations and pain injections — have serious problems with infection control. Failure to wash hands, wear gloves, and clean blood glucose meters were among the reported breaches. Clinics reused devices meant for one person or dipped into single-dose medicine vials for multiple patients. The findings, appearing in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest lax infection practices may pervade the nation’s more than 5,000 outpatient centers. The study was prompted by a hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas believed to be caused by unsafe injection practices at two now-closed clinics.

Hawaii Elections Clerk: Obama Not Born Here

A college instructor who worked as a senior elections clerk for the city and county of Honolulu in 2008 is making the stunning claim Barack Obama was definitely not born in Hawaii as the White House maintains, and that a long-form, hospital-generated birth certificate for Obama does not even exist in the Aloha State. “It’s like an open secret. There isn’t one. Everyone in the government there knows this,” says Tim Adams. He says during the 2008 campaign when the issue of Obama’s constitutional eligibility first arose, the elections office was inundated with requests to verify the birthplace of the U.S. senator from Illinois. “I had direct access to the Social Security database, the national crime computer, state driver’s license information, international passport information, basically just about anything you can imagine to get someone’s identity,” Adams explained. “I was informed by my boss that we did not have a birth record [for Obama].”

Economic News

Retail sales fell in May by the largest amount in eight months as consumers slashed spending on everything from cars to clothing. The Commerce Department said Friday that spending fell 1.2% last month. Auto sales were down 1.7%. The big decline cast new doubts about the strength of the economic recovery. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of total economic activity. Economists are concerned that households will start trimming outlays as they continue to be battered by high unemployment.

The foreclosure crisis leveled off in May as the number of people facing foreclosure was nearly flat from a year ago. A third fewer people are receiving legal warnings that they could lose their homes. And foreclosures are receding in some of the hardest-hit cities. Still, the number of foreclosures remains extraordinarily high. Experts caution that a big reason for the stabilization is that banks are letting delinquent borrowers stay longer in their homes rather than adding to the glut of foreclosed properties on the market.

The tally of laid-off workers continuing to claim jobless benefits fell by the largest amount in almost a year, suggesting that more unemployed workers may be finding work. At the same time, new claims for unemployment insurance dipped slightly for the third straight week. The Labor Department said the total unemployment benefit rolls fell by 255,000 to a seasonally adjusted 4.5 million, the lowest total since December 2008. New claims fell by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 456,000. The four-week average of new claims, which smooths volatility, rose for the fourth straight week to 463,000.

Inventories held by wholesalers rose for a fourth straight month in April while sales rose for the 13th consecutive time. Both gains were encouraging signs pointing to a sustained U.S. economic recovery. The Commerce Department says wholesale inventories increased 0.4% last month. Sales increased 0.7% in April, helped by higher demand for autos, lumber, computers and electrical equipment.

China‘s inflation rose in May amid signs its rebound from the global slump is slowing, adding to pressure on Beijing to keep growth on track and control politically sensitive prices. Rising inflation has prompted concern Beijing might hike interest rates or take other steps to cool growth that hit 11.9% in the first quarter. That could affect the United States, Europe and others that look to China, the world’s No. 3 economy, to help drive demand for their iron ore, factory machinery and other exports.

Israel

Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles will soon be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline. The Egyptian government believes July will be a decisive month that may see an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to a senior Egyptian security official speaking to WorldNetDaily. The official said Egypt already has implemented security measures that take into account an Israeli strike against Iran within the next month or so. The Egyptian security official said his country bolstered security forces along the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza, believing Iran will urge Hamas to retaliate against Israel during any war with the Jewish state.

President Barack Obama called on Wednesday for sharply limiting Israel‘s blockade of the Gaza Strip in the wake of the botched Israeli naval raid that’s straining U.S. and Israeli relations with allies around the world. The White House also announced a $400 million aid package for Gaza and the West Bank. “The situation in Gaza is unsustainable,” Obama declared as he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office. Obama called for narrowly tailoring Israel’s broad blockade on goods entering the Gaza Strip so that arms are kept out, but not food, building materials or other items needed for the Palestinians’ daily life and economic development.

  • Obama seizes any opportunity to help Muslims at the expense of Israel

Afghanistan

Months after the Marines pushed the Taliban from Marjah, a city of mud-walled homes and irrigation canals, many of its 40,000 residents remain frightened of their former overlords. The offensive in February swept most jihadists from the city, but not the region. Men allied with the Taliban hunker down in hide-outs surrounding Marjah or in sanctuaries within the city. They have ambushed Marines on patrol and executed townspeople who do not resist the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The intimidation campaign bedevils the U.S.-led effort to bring order and good government to what had been a lawless refuge for insurgents and drug traffickers. The resistance illustrates the challenge the United States faces elsewhere, especially in the much larger city of Kandahar, another Taliban stronghold that coalition forces plan to quell this summer. Pushing the Taliban out of town was only the start of the Marjah campaign. Just as important was installing what the NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, called a “government-in-a-box.” The idea: to quickly get a government running and to win public support away from the Taliban by providing security, delivering services and offering people jobs on public works projects.

The campaign to secure the crucial Kandahar region of Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency was born, will take longer than planned because local people do not yet welcome the military-run operation, the top U.S. and NATO war commander said Thursday. A military and civilian campaign to neuter the Taliban began in the Kandahar region this spring, and had been expected to ramp up in June and largely conclude by August. It will now probably stretch far into the fall.

  • Although well-intentioned, this strategy just will not work. The enemy will just hunker down and outwait us, while continuing to inflict casualties through isolated attacks and suicide bombings. The population understands this because they outwaited the Russians and others before us. Instead, we should bomb them into submission or get out.

A suicide bomb ripped through a wedding party in full swing in the Taliban‘s heartland in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens more. The blast occurred late Wednesday in a housing compound where men had gathered during the festivities, with female guests at a different house that was not hit. The family that was attacked included a number of Afghan police officers. Two U.S. troops and at least 11 civilians died in violence across southern Afghanistan on Friday, including one attack in which a suicide bomber wearing a burqa blew himself up in a bazaar.

Pakistan

A volley of U.S. missiles killed 15 alleged militants in an extremist stronghold in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, the second such strike in less than 12 hours. Six missiles were fired in Friday’s attack on a house in a village close to the border. The Obama administration regards missile attacks from drone aircraft as a key weapon against al-Qaeda and the Taliban close to the Afghan border. Earlier this month, al-Qaeda’s reputed No. 3 official, Mustafa al-Yazid, was killed in a similar strike in the North Waziristan region.

Iran

A divided U.N. Security Council on Wednesday imposed a fourth round of financial and commercial sanctions on Iran’s military establishment, bringing to a close more than six months of diplomatic efforts by the Obama administration to penalize Tehran for building a covert nuclear facility and accelerating its enrichment of uranium. The 15-member council adopted its fourth sanctions resolution on Iran in four years by a vote of 12-2. Brazil and Turkey voted against the resolution, citing concerns that the council had not exhausted diplomatic efforts to resolve its standoff with Iran. Lebanon abstained. The 10-page resolution would modestly reinforce a range of economic, high-technology and military sanctions against Iran and target the head of the of Iranian atomic energy agency, Javad Rahiqi, and 40 entities linked to the nation’s military elite, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, with a travel ban and an asset freeze. The resolution falls short of the “crippling sanctions” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to impose on Iran a year ago. But U.S. officials hailed Wednesday’s vote as a show of international resolve in the face of Iran’s continued defiance of Security Council resolutions.

Kyrgyzstan

Riots in south Kyrgyzstan killed at least 14 people and injured more than 140, officials said Friday, as fears grew of a new cycle of violence in the Central Asian nation. Local media reported that gangs of young men armed with sticks and stones smashed shop windows and set cars alight in the center. Several buildings across the city were on fire. Sustained gunfire was also heard. Kyrgyzstan has been enjoying an uneasy calm since a mass revolt in April led to the overthrow of then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The southern area has a large Uzbek minority and a history of ethnic violence.

Wildfires

Alaska continues to burn with 21 wildfires over 100 acres in size having already consumed about 425,000 acres. Significant fire potential is predicted for the Southwest due to high winds and hot and dry weather.

Weather

The Northeast USA enjoyed its warmest spring ever recorded, the National Climatic Data Center reported Tuesday. The Northeast’s regional average was 49.6 degrees, which was about 5 degrees above normal,. Eight states in the Northeast — Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont — had their warmest March-May in the 116 years that temperatures have been measured. In the Midwest, Michigan also had a record-warm spring.

Mission News Network reports that the people of Haiti lost another round against nature in May, as the rainy season caused rivers to flood already-crippled areas. Compassion International said that at least nine of its sponsored children were affected by flooding in the area of Bozan in Leogane, Haiti. Locals lost bedding, school materials and income-generating materials after the Rouyon River overflowed its banks. Meteorologists and scientists are predicting a severe hurricane season in the Atlantic, which could cause even greater damage to the earthquake-ravaged country. Thousands of Haitians still live in temporary tent cities with poor drainage and overflowing sewage, leaving them extremely vulnerable to rains, flooding and landslides.