Would-Be Terrorists Arrested at NJ Airport

Two New Jersey men intent on killing American troops were arrested Saturday as they boarded flights to link up with a virulent jihadist group in Somalia, authorities said. The men, both North Jersey residents, were charged with conspiring to commit an act of international terrorism through a group tied to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network. Mohamed Hamoud Alessa, 20, of North Bergen, and Carlos Eduardo “Omar” Almonte, 24, of Elmwood Park were apprehended at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens before they could board separate flights to Egypt, where they were to start journeys to Somalia. The men were arrested by teams of state and federal law-enforcement agents who have been investigating the pair since October 2006. The men were inspired by the same American-born cleric linked to the Fort Hood shootings and the failed Times Square bombing attempt.

Oil Spill

As BP made progress containing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill over the weekend, the number of birds hobbled by the oil increased at an alarming rate, indicating the oil is spreading farther into sensitive marshlands.  Driftwood and seashells glazed with rust-colored tar lined the surf along the Gulf Coast’s once-pristine white sand beaches Saturday, the crude from a busted oil well deep underwater showing up in greater quantities and farther east. Reports of clean-up workers falling ill are on the rise. More than a dozen workers have been treated at local medical centers for flu-like symptoms ranging from chest pain to dizziness, nausea and headaches, presumably due to exposure to different chemicals emanating from the slick. The oil has reached the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. It has turned marshlands into death zones for wildlife and stained beaches rust and crimson. Some said it brought to mind the plagues and punishments of the Bible.

A cap and siphon system installed last week over the ruptured Deepwater Horizon well is now capturing about 420,000 gallons of oil a day, BP officials say. Scientists have estimated that 500,000 to 1 million gallons of oil a day are gushing from the well. The gusher will not stop until BP completes drilling a relief well, can divert the oil and plug the broken well with cement.

Obama to Nationalize Oil Companies?

While management of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has shaken many Americans’ confidence in the current administration, some voices in entertainment, news and academia see the crisis as reason to give the federal government even more power – namely, the ability to take over the oil industry. The notion is catching on with the public, too. A CBS poll recently tabulated 63 percent of Americans believe the Obama administration should be doing more in response to the spill, and activists working through the SeizeBP.org website are planning protests in 50 cities throughout the week demanding the federal government take over BP, the company that owns and operates the leaking oil drill. The Seize BP organization is demanding BP assets be nationalized not only to clean up the spill, but also to compensate families affected by what the organization calls “this capitalist-made disaster.”

  • Greed and power are the problems, not capitalism. Nationalizing industry merely shifts the same problems into government hands, making a bad situation worse.

4-day School Week Gains Popularity Nationwide

Students attend school just four days a week in more than 120 school districts across the country, a cost-saving tactic gaining popularity among cash-strapped districts struggling to make ends meet. The results in Peach County, Georgia? Test scores went up. So did attendance — for both students and teachers. The district is spending one-third of what it once did on substitute teachers. The four days that students are in school are slightly longer and more crowded with classes and activities. Many districts that have the shortened schedule say they’ve seen students who are less tired and more focused, which has helped raise test scores and attendance. But others say that not only did they not save a substantial amount of money by being off an extra day.

Doctors Tack on Fees for Patients

A growing number of doctors across the country are boosting revenue by asking patients to pay new fees for services they say insurance doesn’t cover. The extra payments include no-show fees of $30-$50 for missed appointments, widely varying charges for filling out health forms for school, work or athletic teams, and annual administrative fees of $35-$120 or more to simply be a patient in some practices. “It’s not unlike the airlines,” said William Jessee, president of the Medical Group Management Association, which generally advises against extra fees that may anger patients or run afoul of insurance contracts. “They’ve gone from all-inclusive to a la carte.”

High Schools Face Harsh Economic Lessons

Across the country, mass layoffs of teachers, counselors and other staff members — caused in part by the drying up of federal stimulus dollars — are leading to larger classes and reductions in everything that is not a core subject, including music, art, clubs, sports and other after-school activities. Educators and others worry the cuts could lead to higher dropout rates and lower college attendance as students receive less guidance and become less engaged in school. They fear a generation of young people could be left behind. State budget cuts will make things even worse next year. The federal government’s $787 billion economic stimulus package saved an estimated 300,000 education jobs for this year, but many of those positions are once again in jeopardy as that money dries up.

Economic News

The federal government is now over $13 trillion in the red. That figure has risen by $2.4 trillion in about 500 days since President Obama took office, or an average of $4.9 billion a day. That’s almost three times the daily average of $1.7 billion under the Bush administration.

Stocks fell to their lowest level in four months Friday after the government said hiring remains weak and another European country, Hungary, warned its economy was in trouble. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 323 points to close below 10,000.

The stock of U.S. money as measured by ‘M3’ money supply fell to $13.9 trillion from $14.2 trillion during the three months ending in April. This 9.6% annualized contraction is unprecedented in the post-Depression era, and shows how, in this sense, America isn’t printing more money – it’s borrowing funds, mainly from other countries. There are actually less dollars in the system since U.S. money supply is crashing, even well into the recent economic recovery.

Middle East

Israeli naval forces shot and killed four men wearing wet suits in the waters off the coast of Gaza Monday, and a militant group said they were members of its marine unit training for a mission. Israel claimed the forces had prevented an attack on Israeli targets. The attack was the latest escalation in tensions over the 3-year-old blockade of Gaza. The closure has been in place since 2007, when the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory and it has kept out all but basic humanitarian goods. Israel and the West consider Hamas a terror group responsible for firing thousands of rockets at Israel and carrying out hundreds of attacks, including suicide bombings. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Israel‘s prime minister claimed Sunday that the Turkish activists who battled Israeli naval commandos in a deadly clash last week prepared for the fight ahead of time, before boarding the ship in a different city from the rest of the passengers. The Al-Jazeera reporter who first set off worldwide hysteria and rage over an alleged brutal IDF assault on the Gaza aid flotilla appears to be coming clean, telling Reuters that some 20 Turkish men on board the Mavi Marmara flagship had planned a hostile reception which – with other evidence found on board – indicates they were out to maim and kidnap Israeli soldiers.

Israeli forces seized another Gaza-bound aid vessel without meeting resistance on Saturday, preventing it from breaking an Israeli maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory days after a similar effort turned bloody. The takeover stood in marked contrast to a violent confrontation at sea earlier this week when Israeli commandos blocked a Turkish aid vessel trying to break the blockade. The standoff has raised international pressure on Israel to lift the 3-year-old blockade that has plunged the territory’s 1.5 million residents deeper into poverty.

Afghanistan

At least three suicide bombers attacked a police training center Monday in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan‘s largest city, but the assailants were killed before they could inflict any casualties,. The midday attack started with a blast that could be heard throughout much of the city. One of the three attackers managed to blow through a defense wall as he detonated his explosives. The two remaining bombers were shot dead when they engaged police in a gunbattle while trying to enter the compound. A bomb exploded Saturday outside the provincial governor’s office in the Afghan city of Kandahar, killing one policeman and wounding at least 14 civilians.

The attack reflects deteriorating security in the largest city in the country’s volatile south — also the Taliban‘s spiritual home — where NATO is preparing for a major operation seen as key to combating the insurgency. The bombing also comes a day after a national peace conference in Kabul boosted President Hamid Karzai‘s plans to seek negotiations with the Taliban in a bid to end the nearly nine-year war. Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday removed two of the country’s top security officials — each with longtime ties to the Americans— over last week’s attack on a national conference to explore peace with the Taliban.

International Christian Concern reports that an Afghan parliamentary secretary has called for the public execution of Christian converts from the parliament floor. According to ASSIST News Service, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, deputy secretary of the Afghan lower house in parliament, made the demand after seeing footage of men being baptized and praying in Farsi. He said, “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.” Two aid organizations, Norwegian Church Aid and U.S.-based Church World Service, were suspended in the country after the footage was made public. According to Afghan law, proselytizing is illegal and conversion from Islam is punishable by death.

Iraq

Gunmen killed two candidates from the Sunni-backed coalition that won the most seats in Iraq‘s March parliamentary election, slayings that the alliance said Saturday were part of a politically motivated campaign of assassinations. Neither candidate was expected to take a seat in the new parliament as both failed to win enough votes. But the killings were the third and fourth of candidates from the secular Iraqiya alliance in recent months, raising concerns about political intimidation of the top vote-getting bloc in the March 7 election.

A car bomb exploded outside a Baghdad police station Sunday in the deadliest of a pair of attacks that killed six people in the Iraqi capital. A suicide attacker drove the bomb-rigged car up to a gate protecting the police post in western Baghdad’s al-Amil neighborhood during an early morning shift change when officers were gathered outside its blast walls. The blast killed four police officers and one civilian, and wounded 15 people.

Pakistan

Pakistan is no longer a safe place for Christians. Violent incidents against individuals and churches have increased recently, as part of a growing campaign of violence by Islamist militants against the country’s religious minorities. The fears of the Christian community have been fuelled further in the past week by co-ordinated attacks on two mosques in Lahore belonging to the minority Ahmadi sect. Ninety-three people were mown down in a hail of gunfire or blown up by grenades or suicide bombers. Nearly a hundred more were injured. In this climate of chronic instability and insecurity, Christian children are especially vulnerable. Not only are they easy targets for violence, unable to protect themselves or to flee; girls in particular may also be kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. Barnabas Fund’s South Asia Regional Coordinator has just returned from visiting churches in Pakistan, and he reports that Christian parents long for safe havens where they know their children will be protected. Unfortunately most non-Christian schools, whether government-run or private, tend to worsen the plight of Christian children instead of helping them. Christian pupils frequently face discrimination.

Weather

Tornados and thunderstorms that swept through the Midwest killed at least seven people in Ohio, sent several to hospitals, destroyed 50 homes and damaged scores more, as well a high school gymnasium. Authorities in northwest Ohio are still searching through homes and couldn’t say whether anyone else is missing,. The storm left an eight-mile path of destruction in a straight line over an area of farm fields and light industry. The storm narrowly missed the heavily populated suburbs on southern edge of Toledo. The line of thunderstorms that triggered the twister also collapsed a movie-theater roof in Illinois and knocked the side off a building at a Michigan nuclear plant, forcing a shutdown.

Oman’s Civil Defense Chief says Tropical Cyclone Phet has killed 16 people and left four others missing. General Malik al-Muamri said Saturday that oil exports from Oman’s al-Fahl port have resumed and the liquefied natural gas plant reopened after the cyclone, which was downgraded to a tropical storm, moved toward Pakistan.

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