Archive for July, 2010

July 31, 2010

Arizona Appeals Injunction on Immigration Law

Arizona officials asked a federal appeals court to lift a judge’s ruling that blocks full enforcement of the state’s illegal-immigration law, as dozens of the law’s opponents were arrested across the city. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer called on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside a lower court’s ruling that put key parts of the law on hold until the full legal dispute is aired. Among them: a requirement for police to check suspects’ immigration status during routine stops if there’s a reasonable suspicion they are in the U.S. illegally. Some parts of the law took effect Thursday as scheduled. The governor’s action came as hundreds of demonstrators, most of them pressing for the law to be struck down permanently, blocked parts of downtown. Traffic and light-rail service near City Hall were stalled for nearly an hour,. Several hundred protesters converged on the local jail where at least six people were arrested after chaining themselves to the building. Arizona Gov.

A federal appeals court has denied Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s request for an expedited hearing on the state’s controversial immigration law. Instead, the case has been scheduled for a hearing during the first week in November. Meanwhile, Brewer is asking the state legislature to consider changing the state’s controversial immigration law so that police officers can question the immigration status of suspects.

Is Back-Door Amnesty in the Works?

A group of Republican senators has written to top immigration officials in the Obama administration asking them to reveal whether large-scale plans are under way to provide a so-called non-legislative version of amnesty. The lawmakers cite an 11-page draft document written by staff to the director of the Citizenship and Immigration Service that says they are reviewing several executive orders and other mechanisms that effectively would serve as a substitute for comprehensive immigration reforms. The objective would be to promote “family unity, foster economic growth … and reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United States without authorization.” Among the suggestions, the document offers proposals for rewriting legal opinions to allow unaccompanied minors, victims of human trafficking or extreme hardship and others who’ve overstayed their visas to remain in the U.S.

  • “Transparent” Obama would like nothing more than to bypass Congress and the will of the people to enact his own priorities

FBI Seeks New Powers over Internet Data

If the Obama administration persuades Congress, Internet providers would be more easily forced to hand over records to the FBI without a court order for terrorism and intelligence investigations, The Washington Post reports. The new data being sought by the Justice Department could include web browsing history, search history, e-mail times and dates, your location and even Facebook friend requests. “It’ll be faster and easier to get the data,” said Stewart Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official. “And for some Internet providers, it’ll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI.” The digital-freedom advocate Electronic Frontier Foundation calls the proposal “one of the most powerful and frightening tools of government surveillance to be expanded by the Patriot Act,” and says the lack of oversight “make this power ripe for abuse.”

Exploding US Debt a Huge Risk says Congressional Budget Office

The mushrooming U.S. government debt burden may cause a new financial crisis by spurring a sharp rise in interest rates, warns Doug Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Countries such as Greece already have seen such crises, as their debt buildups sent interest rates soaring and drove away international bond investors. The CBO projects that U.S. federal government debt will reach 62 percent of Gross Domestic Product by Sept. 30, up from 36 percent just three years earlier. Only once before has that figure surpassed 50 percent, during and just after World War II. The debt has been created by massive budget deficits, with the White House projecting a gap of $1.47 trillion this year. Current government policies aren’t encouraging, Elmendorf notes. Spending on Social Security and Medicare are set to ratchet higher as the population ages. “A high level of federal debt, combined with an unfavorable long-term budget outlook, would also increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis,” Elmendorf writes.

  • Strap on your seat belts – the “sudden fiscal crisis” looms just over the horizon

62 Percent Think U.S. Is on the Decline

A Fox News poll released Friday finds widespread belief among American voters that the country is on the decline as a civilization. In addition, a majority thinks the country is moving toward socialism. A 62 percent majority of voters thinks the United States is on the decline. That’s more than twice as many as the 26 percent who believe it is on the rise. Most Republicans — 76 percent — think the country is in decline, and 64 percent of independents agree. Views among Democrats are more evenly split: 41 percent say on the rise and 43 percent say on the decline. The poll also finds 73 percent of voters think the government in Washington has too much power, up from 64 percent who thought so in 1997. Almost all voters — 89 percent — think elected officials in Washington are employees of the American public and “should therefore try to follow the will of the people when making decisions.”

  • The American public usually has things right – it’s the self-serving politicians who are out of step

Obama Official Led Fund Supporting World Government

President Obama’s assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, Eric P. Schwartz, previously served as the director of a George Soros-funded organization that promoted global governance. Schwartz also coordinated meetings on behalf of Obama’s transition team with a group that advocates placing more blue United Nations helmets on U.S. troops and coercing the U.S. to join the U.N.’s International Criminal Court, which could prosecute American citizens and soldiers for “war crimes” and other offenses. A 2009 report by Cliff Kincaid, president of America’s Survival Inc, warned joining the International Criminal Court “could spark a revolt in the U.S. Armed Forces.” In a separate posting, Kincaid wrote, “Schwartz and his associates are clearly laying the groundwork for the Obama Administration’s acceptance of and membership in the International Criminal Court.”

  • The New World Order folks haven’t just infiltrated the Obama administration, they have been welcomed and empowered by our globalist/socialist President

BP Plans $100M Fund for Jobless Rig Workers

BP announced Friday that it will set up a $100 million charitable fund to support unemployed oil rig workers experiencing economic hardship due to the deepwater drilling moratorium imposed by the Obama administration. The fund will be administered by the Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation, a supporting organization of The Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF). “BRAF has a strong track record of meeting community needs, and we are confident the Foundation will respond effectively to assist the rig workers who today are struggling to make ends meet,” incoming BP CEO Bob Dudley said in the statement.

House Approves Bill on Drilling, Oil Spills

The House approved a bill Friday to boost safety standards for offshore drilling, remove a federal cap on economic liability for oil spills and impose new fees on oil and gas production. Democratic leaders hailed the bill as a comprehensive response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and said it would increase drilling safety and crack down on oil companies such as BP. Companies with significant workplace safety or environmental violations over the preceding seven years would be banned from new offshore drilling permits. Republicans and some-oil state Democrats opposed the measure, calling it a federal power grab that would raise energy prices and kill thousands of American jobs because of the new fees and liability provision. The legislation, which passed 209-193, has yet to be taken up in the Senate, where partisan disagreements will likely delay final consideration of a joint House-Senate bill until after the August congressional recess.

Pot Farms Raided in California

Winding down a three-week sweep of large-scale marijuana-growing on remote public lands, U.S. and California agents have arrested 97 people, most of them Mexican nationals. More arrests are planned. Several Mexican drug cartels established the pot farms in the Sierra Nevada. Agents have so far destroyed more than 432,000 marijuana plants valued at $1.7 billion. “Tremendous devastation has been done and continues to be done by these industrial-sized grows,” Gil Kerlikowske, who directs the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

California Declares State of Emergency over Budget Woes

Increasing pressure on lawmakers to negotiate a state budget that closes a $19 billion shortfall, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency over the state’s finances this past week. In the declaration, Schwarzenegger ordered three furlough days per month beginning in August for thousands of state employees to preserve the state’s cash to pay the state’s debt obligations and for essential services. California’s budget is several weeks overdue and Schwarzenegger and top lawmakers are at impasse over how to balance the state’s books. Analysts say it could be several more weeks before the Republican governor and leaders of the Democrat-led legislature reach an agreement, a delay that may threaten to lower the state’s already weak credit rating, now hovering just a few notches above “junk” status. 

Economic News

Economic growth slowed last quarter as consumers continued to pinch pennies in the aftermath of the worst recession since the 1930s. Economic output rose at a modest annual rate of 2.4% in the second quarter, down from 3.7% in the first quarter and 5% in fourth-quarter 2009. The Bureau of Economic Analysis‘ second-quarter report on gross domestic product was bleak news for an economy struggling to gain momentum with unemployment at 9.5%. Growth would have to equal 5% for a full year to drive the unemployment rate down 1 percentage point.

Consumer spending grew at a lackluster 1.6% annual rate in the second quarter, down from 1.99% the first quarter. State and local governments, whose budget cuts have been a drag on economic growth, incrased spending 1.3%, first rise since second-quarter 2009.

Afghanistan

NATO announced Friday that six more U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan, bringing the death toll for July to at least 66 and surpassing the previous month’s record as the deadliest for American forces in the nearly 9-year-old war.U.S. and NATO commanders had warned casualties would rise as the international military force ramps up the war against the Taliban, especially in their southern strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

In Kabul, police fired weapons into the air Friday to disperse a crowd of angry Afghans who shouted “death to America,” hurled stones and set fire to two vehicles after an SUV, driven by U.S. contract employees, was involved in a traffic accident that killed four Afghans on the main airport road. Afghan police, some carrying riot shields, converged on the area, firing warning shots into the air to disperse the protesters. Sayedzada said the crowd burned two foreigners’ vehicles.

Iraq

Militants flew an al-Qaeda flag over a Baghdad neighborhood Thursday after killing 16 security officials and burning some of their bodies in a brazen afternoon attack that served as a grim reminder of continued insurgent strength in Iraq’s capital. It was the bloodiest attack in a day that included the deaths of 23 Iraqi soldiers, policemen and other security forces across the country who were targeted by shootings and roadside bombs. In addition, a roadside bomb killed four people, including three army soldiers, and wounded 11 people south of Baghdad on Saturday, The mayhem serves as a stark warning that insurgents are trying to make a comeback three months after their two top leaders were killed in an airstrike on their safehouse, and as the U.S. military presence decreases day by day.

India

Separatist rebels triggered a land mine Friday that killed at least five paramilitary soldiers and wounded 41 others in India’s remote northeastern state of Assam, where a deadly separatist insurgency has long raged. The soldiers were traveling in two buses when militants used a remote control device to trigger the explosion. The blast occurred on a road passing through a dense jungle near the town of Goalpara, about 125 miles west of the state capital, Gauhati. The wounded soldiers, at least 33 in critical condition, were taken to nearby hospitals. Initial investigations indicated the rebels belonged to the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, an insurgent group that has fought for independence from India since 1986.

Burma

ASSIST News Service reports that soldiers from the Burmese Army attacked another Karen minority village on July 23, burning 50 homes, a school and a church. More than 600 villagers fled as the army advanced. They joined 300 more from neighboring areas whose villages have not yet been attacked, but who have abandoned their homes in fear to seek refuge in the jungle. The Karen people, many of whom are Christian, are regularly targeted by the Burmese army. Most escaped with only what they could carry, and are enduring the rainy season without shelter. Hundreds of civilians have fled towards the Thai-Burma border, and some have already crossed the border to seek refuge in Thailand. Benedict Rogers, Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s East Asia Team Leader, said, “The regime’s record is one of widespread and systematic rape as a weapon of war, forced labor, attacks on civilians, murder, and destruction of over 3,500 villages in Eastern Burma alone since 1996.”

Wildfires

A huge wildfire in the high desert wilderness north of Los Angeles jumped an aqueduct on Friday, rushing toward hundreds of houses as firefighters also tried to keep flames from damaging power lines that bring electricity to Southern California. Some 2,000 structures were threatened and 300 homes were evacuated. Winds apparently carried embers across the wide concrete channel, with flames rapidly spreading to backyard fences at the edge of Palmdale. Plumes of smoke streamed across the city of 139,000.By early evening the winds picked up and pushed the flames north and east toward the suburbs of Los Angeles County’s inland desert. The fire has burned more than 20 square miles since erupting Thursday afternoon.

Further north in Kern County, good weather helped firefighters build containment lines around two wildfires that destroyed 49 homes in remote mountain communities earlier in the week. The fire that destroyed eight residences and a few outbuildings as it spread across about 26 square miles of the Sequoia National Forest in the Sierra Nevada was 55% contained. The fires have consumed a total of 42,000 acres, or about 75 square miles.

Weather

Flooding in Pakistan has killed more than 800 people this week, a government official said Saturday as rescuers struggled to reach marooned victims and some evacuees showed signs of fever, diarrhea and other waterborne diseases. The flooding caused by record-breaking rainfalls caused massive destruction, especially in the northwest province, where officials said it was the worst deluge since 1929. The U.N. estimated Saturday that some 1 million people nationwide were affected by the disaster. The highway connecting Peshawar to the federal capital, Islamabad, was shut down after the water washed away bridges and other links.

A giant chunk of hail that plunged into the prairie town of Vivian, S.D., last Friday was confirmed today as the heaviest hailstone ever recorded in the United States. The National Climate Extremes Committee, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, confirmed the weight of a record 1.94 pounds and also a record diameter (8 inches). The previous heaviest — a hailstone stone that fell in Coffeyville, Kan., on Sept. 3, 1970 — was 1.67 pounds.

  • And great hail from heaven fell upon men. (Rev. 16:21)

July 29, 2010

Core of Arizona Immigration Law Blocked

Hours before the law was to take effect, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, a Bill Clinton appointee, on Wednesday put on hold Arizona’s new immigration law’s most contentious element: a provision that requires police to check suspects’ immigration status during routine stops if there is reasonable suspicion they are in the country illegally. The decision, a temporary action until the full legal dispute is aired, also blocks parts of the law that ban illegal immigrants from seeking work and require documented immigrants to apply for or carry registration papers. Bolton noted the state’s concerns about illegal immigration but said enforcement of the provisions “would likely burden legal resident aliens and interfere with federal policy.” The much-anticipated ruling is a victory for immigration rights advocates and the Obama administration, yet it marks just the first skirmish in a swelling legal battle. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the legislation in April, promised an “expedited” appeal of the initial ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Most Arizona Employers Aren’t Using E-Verify

Despite a state law requiring businesses to verify that all new employees are legal workers, only about half of new hires in Arizona have been vetted by a federal system that checks their status. About a third of the state’s estimated 100,000 employers have signed up for the E-Verify program. The state’s employer-sanctions law, which took effect more than two years ago, requires employers to use the free online federal system to check the legal status of all new employees. Those who don’t risk losing their business licenses if they employ an illegal worker. But federal employment data and figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requested by The Arizona Republic suggest hundreds of thousands of workers have been hired without being checked against federal records. Any new hire made starting Jan. 1, 2008, that was not checked against E-Verify would be a violation of the law known as the Legal Arizona Workers Act. During E-Verify’s most recent full fiscal year, which ended in September 2009, Arizona employers made more than 1.3 million new hires but ran just 730,000 E-Verify checks.

Arizona Utilities Told to Help People Cut Energy Use

In an effort described as among the most aggressive in the nation, Arizona regulators have approved rules requiring utilities to promote energy efficiency and ultimately cut their projected power sales, a move that also will save customers money. The Arizona Corporation Commission voted 5-0 Tuesday to require regulated electric utilities to reduce the amount of power they sell by 22 percent by the year 2020 by helping homeowners and businesses conserve energy. The move parallels a national push by utility companies to increase energy-efficiency efforts as one way to cut back on building multimillion-dollar power plants and transmission lines – projects that ultimately are financed by customer rate hikes. The effort also helps curb the air pollution and excessive water use resulting from power plants burning coal or natural gas to supply customers’ electricity. Although Phoenix-based Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s largest utility, supports the standard; others, including Tucson Electric Power Co. oppose the goal, questioning how much energy conservation they will be able to coax from customers. A variety of environmental and consumer groups, as well as companies that work with utilities to encourage energy conservation, back the rules.

Missing Oil in Gulf Baffles Officials

For more than three months, Gulf Coast residents and federal officials have asked where the oil spill was headed and how much damage it would deliver. Now, a new, equally baffling question looms: Where has the oil gone? The amount of surface oil that has bubbled up from the leaking well at the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig sinking has rapidly shrunk in size since the well was capped 11 days ago, according to the Coast Guard. Recent flyovers of the spill area spotted only one sizeable oil deposit in the region, down considerably from the large pools of thick, reddish oil that washed into Louisiana‘s coastal marshes and beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. “What we’re trying to figure out is: Where is all the oil at?” said retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen, the oil response’s federal overseer. “There’s still a lot of oil that’s unaccounted for.”

Another Louisiana Oil Leak

Cleanup crews have their hands full with another oil leak in the ecologically sensitive Louisiana bayou after a barge hit an unlighted “orphaned” wellhead early today in an inland waterway. As one state official put it, “We cannot catch a break.” The broken natural-gas well is shooting a 100-foot-tall fountain of gas, oil and water, creating a mile-long slick in Mud Lake, north of Barataria Bay. The sensitive habitat has already been fouled by oil leaking from the BP disaster. The abandoned well, which the pilot of the tugboat pushing the barge said was not lighted as required, was owned by Houston-based Cedyco Corp., which is out of business.

Probe to Determine if Charges will be Filed over Leaked Documents

Attorney General Eric Holder says an investigation by the Pentagon and Justice Department will determine whether criminal charges will be filed in the leaking of Afghanistan war secrets. Holder, speaking to reporters during a visit to Egypt on Wednesday, says the investigation aims to determine the source of the leak. He says “whether there will be criminal charges brought will depend on how the investigation goes.” He says he “deplores” the leak, adding, “it is not really in the national interest of the United States.” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday that the Defense Department has launched a “very robust investigation” into the leak of secret documents on the war in Afghanistan published Sunday by WikiLeaks, an online site. The Pentagon is focusing on jailed Army Pfc. Bradley Manning as the main suspect in the leak of tens of thousands of secret U.S. military documents related to the war in Afghanistan, a senior Pentagon official told CNN.

  • If it wasn’t for the whistleblowers we wouldn’t have any idea what our government was really doing, since we can’t believe what they say

DOJ Accused of Stalling on MOVE Act for Voters in Military

The Department of Justice is ignoring a new law aimed at protecting the right of American soldiers to vote, according to two former DOJ attorneys who say states are being encouraged to use waivers to bypass the new federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The MOVE Act, enacted last October, ensures that servicemen and women serving overseas have ample time to get in their absentee ballots. The result of the DOJ’s alleged inaction in enforcing the act, say Eric Eversole and J. Christian Adams — both former litigation attorneys for the DOJ’s Voting Section — could be that thousands of soldiers’ ballots will arrive too late to be counted. “It is an absolute shame that the section appears to be spending more time finding ways to avoid the MOVE Act, rather than finding ways to ensure that military voters will have their votes counted,” said Eversole, director of the Military Voter Protection Project, a new organization devoted to ensuring military voting rights. “The Voting Section seems to have forgotten that it has an obligation to enforce federal law, not to find and raise arguments for states to avoid these laws.”

  • The current liberal administration prefers that the votes of the more conservative military be discounted or discarded

EU to Hold Atheist/Freemason Summit

Brussels is to hold an EU summit with atheists and freemasons in the autumn, inviting them to a political dialogue parallel to the annual summit the bloc holds with Europe’s religious leaders. While the EU is a secular body, the three European presidents, of the commission, parliament and EU Council, alongside two commissioners, on Monday met with 24 bishops, chief rabbis, and muftis as well as leaders from the Hindu and Sikh communities. The annual dialogue, which has taken place since 2005, is for the first time this year made legally obligatory under Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty. Under pressure from Belgium, which constitutionally protects and financially supports humanist organizations as well as churches, the EU has been forced to hold a mirror-image summit of atheists, scheduled for 15 October. The EU atheist summit will also welcome under the rubric of ‘non-religious groups’, the Freemasons, the secretive fraternal organization.

  • The New World Order is behind the push to make atheism and satanism mainstream alternatives to organized religion

Doomsday Shelters Making a Comeback

The first of a proposed nationwide group of 20 fortified, underground shelters is opening in Barstow, California. The Vivos shelter network of shelters are intended to protect those inside for up to a year from catastrophes such as a nuclear attack, killer asteroids or tsunamis, according to the project’s developers. There are signs that underground shelters, almost-forgotten relics of the Cold War era, are making a comeback. The Vivos network, which offers partial ownerships similar to a timeshare in underground shelter communities, is one of several ventures touting escape from a surface-level calamity. Radius Engineering in Terrell, Texas, has built underground shelters for more than three decades, and business has never been better, says Walton McCarthy, company president. The company sells fiberglass shelters that can accommodate 10 to 2,000 adults to live underground for one to five years with power, food, water and filtered air. The shelters range from $400,000 to a $41 million facility Radius built and installed underground that is suitable for 750 people, McCarthy says. He declined to disclose the client or location of the shelter. Other shelter manufacturers include Hardened Structures of Colorado and Utah Shelter Systems, which also report increased sales.

Smart Phone Apps Watching Users

Your smart phone applications are watching you — much more closely than you might like. Lookout Inc., a mobile-phone security firm, scanned nearly 300,000 free applications for Apple Inc.’s iPhone and phones built around Google Inc.’s Android software. It found that many of them secretly pull sensitive data off users’ phones and ship them off to third parties without notification. The data can include full details about users’ contacts, their pictures, text messages and Internet and search histories. The third parties can include advertisers and companies that analyze data on users. The information is used by companies to target ads and learn more about their users. The danger, though, is that the data become vulnerable to hacking and use in identity theft if the third party isn’t careful about securing the information. Lookout found that nearly a quarter of the iPhone apps and almost half the Android apps contained software code that contained those capabilities.

Localities, States Scramble to Spend Foreclosure Aid

Local governments are at risk of losing more than $1 billion in foreclosure relief funds they can’t spend quickly enough. With use-it-or-lose-it spending deadlines weeks away, cities and counties are scrambling to shore up neighborhoods by buying foreclosed and abandoned properties — but are often stymied by market forces, federal regulations and a lack of staffing. The $3.9 billion Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), passed in 2008, was intended to help areas hardest hit by the housing crisis buy foreclosed homes and residential properties. In 2009, Congress added $2 billion via the stimulus bill. Last week, President Obama signed into law another $1 billion for a third round of spending, for a total of $6.9 billion. The first $3.9 billion had to be used within 18 months of the states’ grant agreements, which were signed in March 2009. The deadlines have forced some communities to shift their focus away from single-family homes and toward multi-family or rental housing to spend the money quickly and meet low-income set-aside rules.

Bell, Calif., City Leaders’ Pay Sparks Outcry

California Attorney General Jerry Brown said he is seeking records to find out “how in the world” officials in Bell, a Los Angeles suburb, were paid more than the president. The chief administrator of Bell, a city of about 37,000 residents, earned $787,637 a year. President Obama earns $400,000. Bell’s former police chief earned $457,000 — $150,000 more than Los Angeles’ police chief. Both resigned last week after their salaries were revealed. Pressured by outraged residents, City Council members, including the mayor, voted Monday night to cut their pay 90%. The Los Angeles Times reported this month that four of five council members were paid $100,000 for their part-time positions.

Economic News

New jobless claims fell last week for the third time in four weeks in the U.S. but remain elevated. The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time claims for unemployment insurance dropped by 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 457,000. The four-week average of claims, which smooths fluctuations, dropped to 452,500, the lowest level since May. Economists say jobless claims need to fall to at least 400,000 to signal sustained job growth.

Cash is gushing into companies’ coffers as they report what’s shaping up to be the third-consecutive quarter of sharp earnings increases. But instead of spending on the typical things, such as expanding and hiring people, companies are mostly pocketing the money and stuffing it under their corporate mattresses. Non-financial companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 have a record $837 billion in cash, S&P says. That’s enough to pay 2.4 million people $70,000-a-year salaries for five years. Rather than investing in their future, companies are piling up cash and collecting practically zero interest on the money, hoping there will be a better time to invest later.

Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods fell broadly in June as the fragile recovery continued to slow. Demand for durable goods dropped 1% last month to a seasonally adjusted $190.5 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the second straight monthly decline and the largest drop since August 2009. Manufacturing helped drive growth during the early stages of the recovery. A slowdown in orders could be a sign that the recovery is losing strength.

Landlords are seeing a surge in apartment rentals as mounting foreclosures reduce homeownership and an improving job market for young adults encourages them to find their own places. The number of occupied apartments increased by 215,000 in the 64 largest U.S. markets in the first half of the year, according to MPF Research. The vacancy rate declined to 6.6% in June from 8.2% in December.

Applications for home loans fell last week despite the lowest mortgage rates in decades. The Mortgage Bankers Association says overall applications fell 4.4% from a week earlier.

France

France has declared war on al-Qaeda, and matched its fighting words with a first attack on a base camp of the terror network’s North African branch, after the terror network killed a French humanitarian worker it took hostage in April. The declaration and attack marked a shift in strategy for France, usually discrete about its behind-the-scenes battle against terrorism. The killers will “not go unpunished,” Sarkozy said in unusually strong language, given France’s habit of employing quiet cooperation with its regional allies —Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria— in which the al-Qaeda franchise was spawned amid an Islamist insurgency. The Salafist Group for Call and Combat formally merged with al-Qaeda in 2006 and spread through the Sahel region — parts of Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

Africa

African leaders are pledging thousands of new troops for Somalia to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants responsible for the twin World Cup bombings that killed 76 people, and the U.S. says it will help bankroll the military campaign. African leaders and U.S. officials called for stepped-up efforts in Somalia as an African Union summit here concluded Tuesday. The summit opened only days after the July 11 bombings in Kampala, an attack that prompted Uganda‘s president to call for Africa to band together against Somalia’s militants. But internal documents obtained by The Associated Press show that that African Union forces and Somali troops don’t trust one another, and that Somalia’s government “lacks consistency, coherence and coordination,” raising questions about whether more AU troops can solve the Somali impasse.

Afghanistan

A packed bus hit a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday killing 25 people aboard, as NATO announced another U.S. service member died in a rapidly rising monthly death toll. The passenger bus was traveling in Nimroz province on a main highway toward the capital, Kabul, when it struck the explosive. Another 20 people were wounded. July is already one of the deadliest months for U.S. troops in the nearly nine-year Afghan war, with 59 service members killed so far. That’s just shy of the 60 that died in June. Altogether, 80 NATO troops have died in July. In June, 103 NATO forces were killed.

The U.S. House has approved an additional $33 billion to fund combat operations in Afghanistan and sent the legislation to President Obama for his signature. The total price tag is $59 billion. The vote was 308-114.

Iraq

A sandstorm downed an Iraqi military helicopter Wednesday, killing its five-man crew, while midmorning Baghdad bombings claimed the lives of six people. The helicopter was flying to provide air protection to Shiite pilgrims traveling by road to the holy city of Karbala. Thousands of pilgrims are headed to Karbala, located 50 miles south of Baghdad, for an important religious holiday marking the birth of a Shiite saint known as the “Hidden Imam” who disappeared in the ninth century. Such mass displays of devotion by Shiites have often been targeted by Sunni extremists.

Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated a new policy on Tuesday to encourage population growth, dismissing Iran‘s decades of internationally-acclaimed family planning as ungodly and a Western import. The new government initiative will pay families for every new child and deposit money into the newborn’s bank account until they reach 18, effectively rolling back years of efforts to boost the economy by reducing the country’s once runaway population growth. “Those who raise idea of family planning, they are thinking in the realm of the secular world,” Ahmadinejad said during the inauguration ceremony. The plan is part of Ahmadinejad’s stated commitment to further increase Iran’s population, which is already estimated at 75 million. He has previously said the country could support up to 150 million.

Spain

Lawmakers in Catalonia outlawed bullfighting Wednesday, making this Spain‘s first major region to do so after an impassioned debate that pitted the rights of animals against preserving a pillar of traditional culture. The ban passed 68-to-55 with nine abstentions and will take effect in 2012 in the northeastern coastal region whose capital is Barcelona. Catalonia is a powerful, wealthy region with its own language and culture and a large degree of self-rule.

India

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) plans to provide unique ID numbers to all residents of India. The first set of 100 million UID numbers will be issued from August 2010 to March 2011. Another 600 million UID numbers will be issued over the following three years and subsequently to all residents of India. The UIDAI proposes to collect the demographic and biometric attributes of residents through various agencies of the central and the state governments and other agents who interact with residents. Apart from providing a form of identity to those who do not have any identity, the UIDAI project is expected to enable better delivery of services and effective governance.

  • Such harbingers of the universal ID system do indeed provide many benefits, but will eventually be used to enforce the Biblical “mark of the beast”

Wildfires

Hundreds of firefighters gained ground Wednesday against the most destructive of two big wildfires that have burned homes and forced 2,300 people to evacuate mountain communities on the edge of the Mojave Desert and in the southern Sierra Nevada. A 1,436-acre blaze that chased residents from the Old West Ranch community about 10 miles south of Tehachapi was 25% contained. The fire has destroyed 25 structures. Another 150 homes in the loosely connected community remained threatened. About 40 miles to the north, a fire that began Monday in Sequoia National Forest grew to 15,982 acres, or about 24 square miles, and was 12% surrounded after burning eight homes and six outbuildings in the area of Kernville, a launching point for mountain adventuring. About 1,200 homes and structures scattered in the fire area were considered threatened. Five other wildfires in California had consumed about 6,000 more acres.

Rivers burst their banks during monsoon rains, washing away streets, battering a dam and killing at least 60 people in most severe floods in decades in northwest Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands more were stranded as rescue workers struggled to reach far-flung villages. A newly constructed part of a dam in the Charsadda district collapsed. At least 10 people died near Peshawar when their homes collapsed. Dozens of people were reported missing.

July 27, 2010

Study: Few Americans Say Faith is Top Priority

A new study shows that the vast majority of Christians still identify with Christianity, but only a fraction say their faith is a “top priority” in their life. The Christian Post reports that almost 90 perfect of Americans identify as Christian, but just 12 percent call it their highest priority, compared with 45 percent who say their family is most important. “The gap is vast between self-described affiliation with Christianity and ascribing highest priority to that faith,” commented David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, in a statement. “When it comes to why so much of American religion seems merely skin-deep, this gap between what people call themselves and what they prioritize is perhaps most telling.” Other popular answers included health or a balanced lifestyle (20 percent) and financial or career success (17 percent).

  • Billy Graham once said that perhaps only 10% of those who call themselves Christian are truly born-again

Fate of New Immigration Laws still in Dispute

After months of protest marches, federal lawsuits, economic boycotts and support rallies, two controversial immigration laws in Arizona and Nebraska are scheduled to take effect on Thursday. Yet both laws could still be derailed before then, leaving government officials, lawyers and hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in limbo. If both laws survive these initial tests, they will unleash more copycat legislation. If they are struck down, it will take the wind out of the sails of a growing number of local government efforts to pass immigration laws. In Arizona, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton is considering some of the seven lawsuits filed to halt the state’s law. It would require police officers to question the immigration status of suspects stopped for another offense if there is a “reasonable suspicion” they are in the country illegally. She heard arguments last week in lawsuits filed by the Justice Department and a group of civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

Voters in Fremont, Neb., approved an ordinance last month that would require businesses in the city to verify the legal status of each employee. It also would require an immigration status check of anyone renting a home or apartment in the city after the law goes into effect. The City Council will meet Tuesday night to consider suspending the ordinance to give the council more time to decide how to pay for and prepare what could be an expensive legal defense. Two lawsuits have been filed to stop that ordinance from taking effect, and a federal judge is scheduled to hear those cases Wednesday.

Wikileaks Releases 90, Secret Military Documents about War in Afghanistan

The founder of WikiLeaks claimed thousands of U.S. attacks could be investigated for evidence of war crimes, and a leading human rights group alleged that NATO has an “incoherent process” for dealing with civilian casualties. Some of the more than 90,000 secret U.S. military documents on the Afghanistan war posted Sunday on the Web by WikiLeaks included unreported incidents of Afghan civilian killings. President Hamid Karzai‘s spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the Afghan government was “shocked” that such a large number of documents were leaked. He said Afghan officials studying the papers were particularly interested in ones describing incidents that resulted in civilian casualties. WikiLeaks emerged in 2007 as a self-described check on unjustified government secrecy and the abuses that can come with it, yet the organization itself is shrouded in no small amount of secrecy. WikiLeaks has no corporate headquarters or base of operations. Its founder, Julian Assange, demurred at a news conference in London on Monday when asked about the people he employs to review and authenticate the leaked documents it posts on the Internet. He concedes that the sources of those documents often are secret even to WikiLeaks.

Busted! Kagan Caught Fudging her Testimony

Dozens of pro-life organizations are asking Congress for a probe into testimony made by Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, suggesting that she may have lied to senators during her confirmation hearings. A letter created by Americans United for Life Action and signed by at least 30 state, national and legal organizations asks for “an investigation into discrepancies between Kagan’s testimony before Congress and written documentation of her undue influence on medical organizations while advising President William J. Clinton on partial-birth abortion legislation.” The letter cites memos authored by Kagan and released by the Clinton presidential library prior to the confirmation hearings. In advising President Clinton on his veto of a partial-birth abortion ban in 1997, Kagan issued a memo to Clinton citing a key American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists statement as “the most reliable opinion” on the medical necessity of partial-birth abortion. That same statement was relied upon by both the president and the Supreme Court in justifying opposition to the partial-birth abortion ban. When asked during her confirmation hearings about any possible, undue influence over the content of the ACOG statement, Kagan testified that “there was no way in which I would have or could have intervened with ACOG … to get it to change its medical views on the question.” Far from not “intervening,” however, the released memos and other evidence show Kagan directly rewrote a critical portion of the ACOG statement to contradict the organization’s expert panel and shape the ACOG findings – and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings – to match the president’s pro-abortion politics.

California Whooping Cough Outbreak Largest in Decades

In the midst of what could be the largest whooping cough outbreak in more than 50 years — and the death of six infants under 3 months of age — California health officials are recommending booster shots for nearly everyone in the state, especially health care workers, parents and anyone who may come in contact with babies. Nearly 1,500 Californians this year have been diagnosed with whooping cough — five times the normal level for this time of year, state health officials say. Doctors are investigating another 700 possible cases. Many more may have had the infection, which often goes undiagnosed or unreported. Gilberto Chavez, chief of the California Department of Public Health’s Center for Infectious Disease says it’s especially important to protect babies, who have no natural immunity to whooping cough, also known as pertussis, and who are the most likely to die from it. Although infants can get their first shots at 6 weeks, they aren’t fully protected until after their third shot, at 6 months. Nearly 70% of infants under age 1 with whooping cough are hospitalized. Whooping cough is incredibly contagious, sickening about 90% of people who are exposed to it.

Saudi: OK to Uncover Face in Anti-Burqa Countries

A popular Saudi cleric said Saturday it is permissible for Muslim women to reveal their faces in countries where the Islamic veil is banned to avoid harassment, while deploring the effort to outlaw the garment in France. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is one of the few Muslim countries where women are forced by custom to cover their hair with head scarves and their bodies with cloaks called abayas in most parts of the country. It is also common to see Saudi women wearing full-face veils. Sheik Aedh al-Garni’s religious advice generated some opposition from those less compromising. One cleric said it was better for Muslim women to avoid traveling to such countries unless absolutely necessary. France, Belgium and Spain are debating legislation that would ban the veil. Other nations in Europe too have struggled to balance national identities with growing Muslim populations with cultural practices that clash with their own. Some secularists as well as those who argue the veil is oppressive have applauded the movement for a ban. Others say it is a ploy to win over right-wing voters.

Moves Because of Evictions Increase

More Americans say they moved because they were evicted or wanted to spend less money and now live in a worse house with more people, new Census data show. The 2009 American Housing Survey shows the stark effect the recession and housing crisis have had on some people’s lifestyles in just two years. The Census survey is based on a sample of about 60,000 housing units, 45,000 of them occupied. It shows: the number of households that moved in the past year because they were evicted soared 127% to 191,000; 3.1 million households, or 18% of those who moved in the past year, said they’re in a worse home, up 10% from 2007; 2.3 million, or 13%, said they’re in a worse neighborhood, a 12% increase; large households with five or more people inched up to 11.3 million, or 10% of occupied houses, and homes shared by two families grew slightly to 2.6 million. The number of homes that are co-owned or co-rented went up 26% to 3.4 million; the number of households that had more people move in went up 10% to 6 million. In addition, more people worked from home, an 11% jump from 2007.

New CEO at BP

The man in line to run BP is an American with ties to the region the oil spill has devastated and experience navigating in rough waters. Robert Dudley, a BP managing director, was named CEO in place of Tony Hayward early Tuesday. He’ll be the first American to head the British energy giant that, before the spill, was the largest company in Britain, based on market value. Dudley’s ascension to the top slot signals the value BP places on getting the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster behind it and the importance of good relations with the U.S., where BP is the largest oil and gas producer, Wall Street analysts say. In contrast to gaffe-prone Hayward, Dudley is a steady-spoken Southerner who’s quietly become the BP face of the spill since he took over that role from Hayward in June.

BP took a pretax charge of $32.2 billion for the Gulf of Mexico spill and plans to sell assets for up to $30 billion over the next 18 months. BP said the $32.2 billion charge led it to record a loss of more than $17 billion for the second quarter, compared with a profit of $4.39 billion a year earlier. It is the first time in 18 years that the company has been in the red. The charge includes the $20 billion compensation fund the company set up following pressure from President Obama as well as costs to date of $2.9 billion. But the company also stressed its strong underlying financial position — revenue for the quarter was up 34% at $75.9 billion.

Economic News

Americans’ confidence in the economy eroded further in July amid worries about a job market that has proven stubbornly stagnant. The report raised concerns about the overall economy and the back-to-school season. The Conference Board, a private research group, said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index slipped to 50.4 in July, down from the revised 54.3 in June. The decline follows last month’s nearly 10-point drop, from 62.7 in May. The second straight month of declining confidence follows three months of increases. A continuing stream of sobering economic data — from disappointing job figures in May and June to weak housing numbers — is increasing worries that the economic recovery is stalling just as government stimulus programs are disappearing.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released Tuesday posted a 1.3% increase in May from April. Nineteen of 20 cities showed price gains month over month. Only Las Vegas recorded a price decline. The gains underscore the impact of the government’s homebuying tax credits. Buyers rushed to purchase before the credits expired at the end of April. Nationally, prices have risen 5.1% from their April 2009 bottom. But they remain 29% below their July 2006 peak.

New home buying swelled in June, but only to a level that was still the second lowest on record. Monday’s report from the Commerce Department was further evidence of the housing market’s weakness following the expiration of the federal home buyer tax credit in April. New home sales last month jumped almost 24% from May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 330,000. That compares with May’s estimated annual rate of 267,000, which was the slowest pace on records back to 1963. A new home is counted as sold when a deposit is made or a contract is signed. That’s why sales peaked in April, because buyers needed signed contracts by April 30 to claim the expiring tax credit.

Goldman Sachs sent $4.3 billion in federal tax money to 32 entities, including many overseas banks, hedge funds and pensions, according to information made public Friday night. Goldman Sachs disclosed the list of companies to the Senate Finance Committee after a threat of subpoena from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Ia. “We thought originally we were bailing out AIG. Then later on … we learned that the money flowed through AIG to a few big banks, and now we know that the money went from these few big banks to dozens of financial institutions all around the world.” Overall, Goldman Sachs received a $12.9 billion payout from the government’s bailout of AIG, which was at one time the world’s largest insurance company.

The Ford Motor Company – the only one of the Big Three automakers – continues to prove that government bailout money is not needed to succeed in these hard economic times. Last week, it reported second-quarter earnings of $2.6 billion dollars — its fifth straight quarterly profit, while General Motors and Chrysler still languish.

  • Getting in bed with a corrupt, inefficient and bloated government is a sure way to sink an already leaking ship

Greece

The International Monetary Fund began inspecting Greece‘s public finances on Monday to make sure the government is implementing promised austerity measures before it gains access to a second rescue loan installment in mid-September. The inspectors arrived as strikes continued against the painful spending cuts and an overhaul of labor rules. A walkout by fuel-tanker drivers caused supply shortages in Athens, while serious departure delays were reported at Athens International Airport as air traffic controllers continued a work-to-rule protest started last week. Debt-ridden Greece narrowly avoided bankruptcy in May and was pledged up to 110 billion euros in rescue loans from the IMF and the 15 other EU countries using the euro.

Yemen

Yemeni soldiers battled Shiite rebels a short distance from the capital on Monday in clashes that killed dozens. A cease-fire unraveled in June, re-igniting a six-year conflict that spilled across the border last year by drawing in the Saudi military. Fighting in Yemen’s northern provinces killed at least 53 people last week and rebels have seized several towns. The new fighting threatens to siphon Yemeni military resources away from a separate battle against the country’s al-Qaeda offshoot. The U.S. and other countries have pressured Yemen to resolve the rebellion so that it can concentrate on fighting the al-Qaeda franchise, which is suspected of masterminding the failed attempt to bomb an airliner in the U.S. on Christmas Day.

Iran

Cooperation among Iran, Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups is more extensive than previously known to the public, according to details buried in the tens of thousands of military intelligence documents released by an independent group Sunday. U.S. officials and Middle East analysts said some of the most explosive information contained in the WikiLeaks documents detail Iran’s alleged ties to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the facilitating role Tehran may have played in providing arms from sources as varied as North Korea and Algeria. The officials have for years received reports of Iran smuggling arms to the Taliban. The WikiLeaks documents, however, appear to give new evidence of direct contacts between Iranian officials and the Taliban’s and Al Qaeda’s senior leadership. It also outlines Iran’s alleged role in brokering arms deals between North Korea and Pakistan-based militants, particularly militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Al Qaeda. The apparent links are striking because Iran has historically been a foe of the Taliban, who generally view the followers of Shiite Islam — Iran’s predominant faith — as heretics.

Afghanistan

The Afghan government said Monday that 52 civilians, including women and children, died when a NATO rocket struck a village in southern Afghanistan last week — a report disputed by the international coalition. A statement by Karzai’s office said an investigation by Afghan intelligence determined that a NATO rocket slammed into the village of Rigi in the Sangin district of Helmand province, one of the most violent areas of the country. Karzai expressed his condolences in a telephone conversation with villagers and called on the U.S.-led alliance to make protection of civilians “their priority during their operations.” The U.S.-led command said a joint NATO-Afghan investigation into the alleged attack “has thus far revealed no evidence of civilians injured or killed.”

Iraq

Two car bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims during a religious festival in the holy city of Karbala killed 25 people on Monday, Iraqi police and hospital officials said. Sunni extremists are suspected. Militants detonated two parked cars filled with explosives about two miles apart as crowds of pilgrims passed by and 68 people were injured in the attacks. The pilgrims were on their way to Karbala to take part in an important religious holiday, known as Shabaniyah, that attracts devout Shiites from around the country. While violence has dropped dramatically in the past years in Iraq, suspected Sunni insurgents regularly target Shiite religious ceremonies and holy places in an attempt to re-ignite sectarian tensions that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2005 and 2007.

A suicide bomber driving a minibus blew himself up in front of the Baghdad office of a popular Arabic news station early Monday, killing six people, and burying a lawmaker alive under the rubble of his collapsed home. The attack at the offices of the pan-Arab newschannel Al-Arabiya reflects the still dangerous conditions under which many journalists, both Iraqi and foreign, are operating. The fact that the bomber was also able to make it through not one but two checkpoints before exploding, casts doubt on the abilities of Iraq‘s security forces as U.S. forces prepare to pull out by the end of August.

The U.S. Defense Department is unable to properly account for over 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraqi oil money tapped by the U.S. for rebuilding the war ravaged nation, according to an audit released Tuesday. The report by the U.S. Special Investigator for Iraq Reconstruction offers a compelling look at continued laxness in how such funds are being spent in a country where people complain basic services like electricity and clean water are sharply lacking seven years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Pakistan

A Taliban suicide bomber struck Monday near the home of a Pakistani provincial minister whose only son was recently killed by the militants, officials said. Seven people were killed and 25 wounded. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province and an outspoken critic of the Taliban, was the apparent target. He was receiving condolences from visitors elsewhere in Pabbi town at the time of the blast and was safe. Some of his relatives were also receiving mourners at a mosque near the house, and two were hurt. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying their goal was to kill Hussain because his political party is allied with the United States. The Awami National Party is a secular-leaning political group that has been outspoken against militant activity in Pakistan.

Venezuela

Drug smuggling through Venezuela has exploded since President Hugo Chavez severed contacts with U.S. law-enforcement agencies in 2005, U.S. and U.N. officials say in reports. Some experts worry the country is headed for an epidemic of organized crime like the one that has gripped Mexico. It’s unclear whether Chavez has had any direct role in encouraging the burgeoning drug-smuggling operations, but he at least appears to be turning a blind eye to the trade. “Parts of the Venezuelan military are probably trafficking with drugs and other stuff, and Chavez is not exactly motivated to crack down on them because he needs the military,” Vanda Felbab-Brown a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank said. “He is allowing them to dabble in the trade.”

India

Christian Today reports that thousands of India’s religious minority population rallied in Delhi. Christian Dalits still don’t have the same rights to education and employment as Hindu Dalits, Sikhs and Buddhists. Christians and Muslims are excluded from “Scheduled Caste status,” preventing them from equal access to jobs, schools and colleges. The Christians called for the immediate implementation of recent recommendations made by the Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCLRM). “This injustice against out Dalit brothers and sisters has been going on for six decades and more. Without justice, there is no peace. We are going to press on till we get peace and justice,” said the Archbishop of Delhi, Vincent Concessao. “We have been demanding this for the last 10 years in various forums, rallies and campaigns,” he said.

Weather

Thousands of people remain without power in the Washington region following Sunday’s violent storm. The storm brought cooler weather to the area after a heat wave, but also left widespread damage, including downed power lines and trees. Pepco had more than 133,000 customers who had no power early Tuesday in Washington and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Pepco says that’s down from the peak outage on Sunday of 301,000 customers. Meanwhile, Baltimore Gas & Electric reported power had been restored to more than 120,000 customers, but more than 3,000 residents remained without power early Tuesday.

A tornado swept through Montana‘s remote and sparsely populated northeastern corner on Monday, killing two people and injuring a third. Two people about 13 miles west of Reserve were killed when the tornado struck. There also was at least one tornado reported about 20 miles south of Flaxville in Daniels County.

Scorching heat Sunday challenged the Boy Scouts’ motto to “be prepared” as dozens collapsed during a parade to celebrate 100 years of Scouting, an event that took place during one of the hottest weeks in the nation’s capital. The eastern third of the nation has seen abnormal heat in two waves in June and July. New York City temperatures hit 97 Sunday, tying a 1999 record. And 105 degrees in Richmond, Va., on Saturday broke a record of 99 set in 1995.

Standing water on Chicago-area expressways turned what should have been an easy Saturday morning drive into a soggy, snarled mess after heavy rains across the Midwest closed roads, stranded residents and punched a hole through an Iowa dam. In Chicago, officials say more than 7 inches of rain fell early Saturday, inundating the sewer system and overwhelming waterways. Water covered portions of several Chicago interstates and the commuter train tracks that run along them, leading crews to divert traffic and call in bus shuttles. Portions of Interstate 290 west of downtown were closed for several hours.

In eastern Iowa, the Lake Delhi dam failed as rising floodwater from the Maquoketa River ate a 30-foot-wide hole in the earthen dam, causing water to drop 45 feet to the river below and threatening the small town of Hopkinton. Areas below and above the dam had been evacuated after heavy rain has pushed the river to 23.92 feet — more than 2 feet above its previous record of 21.66 feet in 2004.

July 23, 2010

Graduate Student Told to ‘Lose Christianity or Face Expulsion’

A lawsuit against Augusta State University in Georgia alleges school officials essentially gave a graduate student in counseling the choice of giving up her Christian beliefs or being expelled from the graduate program. School officials demanded student Jen Keeton, 24, go through a “remediation” program after she asserted homosexuality is a behavioral choice, not a “state of being” as a professor said, according to the complaint. The remediation program was to include “sensitivity training” on homosexual issues, additional outside study on literature promoting homosexuality and the plan that she attend a “gay pride parade” and report on it. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys working with the Alliance Defense Fund, asserted the school cannot violate the Constitution by demanding that a person’s beliefs be changed.

Pro-life Views Cost Bus Driver his Job

A former bus driver has sued his employer for allegedly discriminating against his religious beliefs and terminating his employment. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) represents Edwin Graning, a former driver for the Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS), which is a nine-county transit service that often provides transportation in rural areas surrounding Austin, Texas. Senior attorney Edward White tells OneNewsNow the driver was dispatched in January to transport two women to a Planned Parenthood clinic. “He called up his supervisor and said, ‘You know, I’m an ordained minister…and Planned Parenthood does abortions. And I don’t know if this lady’s going there for an abortion. However, if she is, I want nothing to do with that,'” White accounts. “And so in effect, he was asking for his supervisor to just get one of the other CARTS drivers to pick up this woman.” As the attorney explains, the bus company manager considered that response a resignation, so when Graning arrived back at headquarters, he was fired.

  • Persecution of all things Christian continues to ramp up in the age of “tolerance”

United Kingdom

A new report has found that Christians in Britain are disproportionately targeted by laws intended to prevent religious hate crimes. The Civitas report, “A New Inquisition: Religious Persecution in Britain Today,” criticizes the “oppressive oddity” of judicial attempts to regulate religious hatred, Christian Today reports. The report’s author, Jon Davies, says the vague nature of the laws has led judges to become “surrogate theologians,” essentially establishing a “theocracy by the backdoor.” he asks, “Is the Crown Prosecution Service so prudent in its understanding of ‘religious hatred’ that it should be free, with no penalty for error, to mobilize the power and resources of the state against ordinary citizens who make comments about religion?”

Insurers Kept Surplus while Hiking Premiums

Non-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans stockpiled billions of dollars during the past decade, yet continued to hit consumers with double-digit premium increases, Consumers Union found in an analysis of 10 of the plans’ finances. Insurers must keep surplus money to ensure they can pay policyholders’ medical bills if unexpected market conditions develop. Yet seven of the plans examined held more than three times the amount regulators consider the minimum needed to do that. The report calls on state insurance regulators to scrutinize surpluses when considering rate increases and set maximum limits for surpluses. In most states, it said, regulators focus only on ensuring companies have minimum surpluses to be financially sound. Consumers Union studied non-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans because they cover one in three Americans with private insurance.

Rules to Ease Consumer Appeals in Health Coverage

Consumers will get new and expanded rights to appeal denials of health insurance claims under federal regulations released Thursday. The rules, part of the nation’s new health care law, will make it easier for consumers to dispute an insurer’s decision within the plan and require coverage to continue during the appeal. Consumers will have the right to an independent, third-party review of insurers’ decisions. Although 44 states allow some form of external appeal, the level of consumer protection varies greatly, and in some states, the outside reviewer is hired by the insurer that denied the claim. Ron Pollack, executive director of the health care consumer group Families USA, said the rules will protect patients from being denied care or getting stuck with huge bills when an insurer wrongfully denies their claims.

Arizona Employees to See Large Health Insurance Costs

State and university employees with families can expect to see their monthly health-insurance costs rise as much as 37 percent next year, depending on the type of plan they choose. Figures provided by the Arizona Department of Administration show that health plans for families and single adults with children will shoulder the most-expensive monthly premium increases beginning Jan. 1, while individuals will pay modest increases. The Department of Administration cited federal health reform as the reason the state’s health plans will carry “greater expenses and higher premiums for members,” according to a June 30 letter sent to about 135,000 state and university employees and their dependents. The letter named two provisions that the state expects will drive health-insurance costs higher. One is a requirement that insurance plans provide coverage for dependent children up to age 26. The other is the federal legislation’s ban on lifetime limits, an insurance-industry practice that cuts coverage once an individual’s medical expenses exceed a set amount over their lifetime.

Judge Hears Arguments over Arizona Immigration Law

The Arizona immigration law came under new legal scrutiny in a packed courtroom Thursday as a federal judge considered whether the crackdown should take effect next week amid a flurry of legal challenges. Judge Susan Bolton did not issue a ruling after two court hearings stemming from lawsuits brought against the law, which has reignited the national immigration debate. Bolton has been asked to block the law from taking effect July 29th as she hears several lawsuits that question the constitutionality of the measure. Opponents say the law will lead to racial profiling and trample on the rights of the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Arizona. Supporters say the law is a necessary response to combat the litany of problems brought on by illegal immigration and the federal government’s inability to secure the border. Bolton did make one thing clear: She has no intention of invalidating the entire law but is considering halting the enactment of a handful of its 14 sections. Seven opponents of the law were arrested after they sat in the middle of a busy thoroughfare outside the courthouse and unfurled a massive banner that said “We will not comply.”

Tropical Storm Disrupts Oil Spill Efforts

Work to permanently choke off the oil well that had been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico was at a standstill Friday after ships around the site were ordered to evacuate ahead of the approaching Tropical Storm Bonnie. There had been worries that the cap that has mostly contained the oil would have to be reopened and left gushing if a major storm came through. But engineers were confident enough in the strength of the cap that they decided to leave it sealed while most of the ships on the surface were told to leave the area. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen ordered an evacuation Thursday night “due to the risk that Tropical Storm Bonnie poses to the safety of the nearly 2,000 people responding to the BP oil spill at the well site.” The storm, which blossomed over the Bahamas and was to enter the Gulf of Mexico by the weekend, could delay by another 12 days the push to plug the broken well for good.

Dispersants Don’t Seem to Disrupt Marine Life

Dispersants used to battle the Gulf oil spill don’t appear to interfere with reproduction, development and other biological processes in marine life, concludes a study by the Environmental Protection Agency reported Wednesday. The possibility of hormonal changes to marine life has been a major concern about the more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersants used in the Gulf oil cleanup effort. In the study, reported in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, none of the eight dispersants tested displayed “biologically significant endocrine activity.” The dispersant used in the Gulf, Corexit 9500, was found not to affect either the estrogen or androgen receptors used in the tests. The biggest concern has been about a class of chemicals used to break up blobs of oil into millions of smaller droplets. These chemicals, called nonylphenol ethoxylates, can break down into nonylphenol, which can disrupt normal hormonal activity. The tests looked at how toxic the dispersants are to cells. The study used the same tests the EPA employs as part of Tox21, a federal program to screen thousands of chemicals for many types of toxicity. Nothing in the dispersants triggered alarms.

  • Relying on short-term studies has proven to be the Achilles heal of the FDA which is why there have been so many recent drug recalls.

Dems Forced to Abandon Greenhouse-Gas Bill

Conceding they can’t find enough votes for the measure, Senate Democrats on Thursday abandoned efforts to put together a comprehensive energy bill that would seek to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, delivering a potentially fatal blow to a proposal Democrats have long touted and President Barack Obama campaigned on. Instead, Democrats will push for a more limited bill that would seek to increase liability costs that oil companies would pay following spills such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico, create additional incentives for the development of natural-gas vehicles and provide rebates to people who buy products that reduce home-energy use. They did not release details of the proposal, but Senate Democrats said they expect to find GOP support and pass it in the next two weeks.

Confidence in Obama Administration Fading

The latest Gallup Poll on U.S. institutions shows that President Obama retains the confidence of only 36% of Americans. He can take heart from the fact that the rating is still better than that of Congress; only 11% of Americans have a great deal or a lot of confidence in it, dead last among the 16 groups surveyed. Confidence in the presidency also ranks higher than newspapers (25%) and television news (22%). However, the presidential rating fell the furthest among the groups surveyed; last year, 51% had confidence in the presidency, but that rating has fallen 15 points. Topping the confidence list: The military, small business, and police.

Mental Illness Costing Military Soldiers

The number of soldiers forced to leave the Army solely because of a mental disorder has increased by 64% from 2005 to 2009 and accounts for one in nine medical discharges, according to Army statistics. Last year, 1,224 soldiers with a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, received a medical discharge. That was an increase from 745 soldiers in 2005. The trend matches other recent indicators that show a growing emotional toll on a military that has been fighting for seven years in Iraq and nine years in Afghanistan, the Army and veterans advocates say. Soldiers discharged for having both a mental and a physical disability increased 174% during the past five years from 1,397 in 2005 to 3,831 in 2009, according to the statistics.

Officials Rule out Foul Play in Arizona Dam Break

Officials in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe are ruling out foul play after a tear in a rubberized dam sent millions of gallons of water spilling from a man-made lake. Tempe City Manager Charlie Meyer said Wednesday that police determined there’s no criminal activity involved in the failure of the dam at Tempe Town Lake. A 16-foot-high section of dam broke Tuesday night, sending a wall of water gushing downstream into the normally dry Salt River. There were no immediate reports of injuries and authorities said no structures were in danger. The lake will likely be closed until the fall as the city makes repairs and replaces the dam while the lake is empty.

Mother-to-Infant HIV Spread could be Prevented

Approximately 400,000 infants still get HIV/AIDS from their mothers each year despite the availability of drugs that can block “nearly all” mother-to-child transmission, researchers reported Tuesday. Giving mothers and newborns potent anti-HIV drugs has all but eliminated mother-to-infant HIV transmission in the USA and developed countries. The World Health Organization also says that HIV-infected women can safely breastfeed without transmitting HIV to their newborns as long as they or their infants take antiviral medication. Virtual elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV by 2015 is possible,” Paul De Lay, deputy director of the United Nations Joint AIDS Programme, said in a statement at the 18 International AIDS Conference in Vienna. Worldwide, 355,000 children with HIV were able to obtain life-saving HIV drug treatment by the end of 2009, up from 276,000 in 2008, but many more lives could be saved if more infants started on medication earlier, the WHO says.

States Get Set to Resume Unemployment Benefits

State unemployment agencies are gearing up to resume sending unemployment payments to millions of people as Congress moves to ship President Obama a measure to restore lapsed benefits. After months of increasingly bitter stalemate, the Senate passed the measure Wednesday by a 59-39 vote. Obama is poised to sign the measure into law after a final House vote scheduled for Thursday. It’s a welcome relief to 2½ million people who have been out of work for six months or more and have seen their benefits lapse. They can expect retroactive payments as early as next week in some states. In other states, it will take longer, possibly as long as six weeks. Economists say the measure will likely have a modest beneficial effect on the economy. It represents less than one-quarter of 1% of the size of the $14.6 trillion economy and is far smaller than last year’s $862 billion stimulus legislation.

Bernanke Urges Congress to Renew Bush Tax Cuts

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dropped a major bombshell on Democrats seeking massive new revenues to narrow the deficit, announcing Thursday that he favors preserving the Bush administration tax cuts to help a faltering U.S. economy. “In the short term I would believe that we ought to maintain a reasonable degree of fiscal support, stimulus for the economy,” Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee. “There are many ways to do that. This is one way.” Bernanke’s statement put him directly at odds with White House officials and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who favor raising taxes on wealthy Americans by letting the tax cuts the Bush administration passed in 2001 and 2003 expire.

Economic News

The Treasury Department says it will sell 1.5 billion shares of Citigroup stock over the next two months, the latest effort to recoup money from the government’s $700 billion financial bailout. The government has already sold 2.6 billion shares for $10.5 billion. Citigroup received $45 billion in taxpayer support in one of the largest bank rescues by the government. Of the $45 billion, $25 billion was converted to a government-ownership stake. The government is now selling that off. The bank repaid the other $20 billion last December.

Increased housing commitments swelled U.S. taxpayers’ total support for the financial system by $700 billion in the past year to around $3.7 trillion, a government watchdog said on Wednesday. The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program said the increase was due largely to the government’s pledges to supply capital to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and to guarantee more mortgages to the support the housing market. the current outstanding balance of overall Federal support for the nation’s financial system … has actually increased more than 23% over the past year, from approximately $3.0 trillion to $3.7 trillion — the equivalent of a fully deployed TARP program — largely without congressional action. So far, TARP has cost $45,000 for every man, woman and child in America, according to the August Review.

New jobless claims in the U.S. jumped last week by the most since February, reversing a sharp fall two weeks ago. The rise is partly a result of seasonal factors but also reflects the job market’s weakness. The Labor Department says new claims for unemployment insurance jumped by 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 464,000. Requests for unemployment insurance have been stuck near 450,000 since the beginning of the year, after falling steadily from a peak of 651,000 in March 2009. In a healthy economy with rapid hiring, claims usually fall below 400,000.

Mortgage rates fell to a record low for the fourth time in five weeks. But low rates haven’t been enough to lift a struggling housing market. The average rate for 30-year fixed loans this week was 4.56%, down from 4.57% last week. That’s the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971. However, low rates have yet to spark home sales and refinancing activity remains moderate.

Iran

For months, top U.S. military leaders have accused Iran of supplying weapons and training to Taliban fighters battling American and Afghan troops. What should be done about it is in debate. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan, said shortly before he resigned last month that there is clear evidence that Iran is arming and training the Taliban. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in March that the Iranians were playing a “double game” inside Afghanistan by striving for good relations with Kabul while undermining the U.S. effort. Weeks later, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was evidence that Iran was smuggling weapons into Afghanistan. The U.S. military has not made public evidence supporting its suspicions, but some analysts say that if the allegations are true, that means Iran and the Taliban are willing to work with a traditional religious Muslim rival to get the Americans.

  • These disclosures further make the case to sanction and even participate in the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities

Afghanistan

An offensive on Kandahar City has been on hold as hundreds of servicemembers who are part of a U.S. surge ordered by President Obama arrive. Kandahar City is the birthplace of the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan in the 1990s. The clerics who headed the movement terrorized Afghans with harsh Islamic rule and gave safe haven to Osama bin Laden until they were ousted in the U.S.-led invasion of late 2001. The city of 400,000 people is second only to the capital, Kabul, in size. It is the hometown of the Taliban’s leader, Mohammed Omar, and a lair for Taliban forces fighting to return to power, the Pentagon says. On Wednesday, U.S. soldiers, along with troops from the Afghan national army and Afghan national police, set up a combat outpost in an orchard just outside the city. Troops encountered no resistance while heading in on MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Armstrong, commander of the 2-508’s Bravo Company, part of the 82nd Airborne, said village leaders had been told the U.S. forces would be coming but not when.

Iraq

Four al-Qaeda-linked detainees have escaped from a Baghdad area prison that was handed over by the U.S. to Iraqi authorities a week ago. The four, awaiting trial on terrorism charges, escaped from the prison formerly known as Camp Cropper. The escape is a major embarrassment for Iraq, which took over control of the prison from U.S. forces on July 15. The handover of the facility marked a milestone for Iraq’s push to regain full sovereignty as the U.S. pulls out the last of its combat forces by the end of next month.

A rocket attack on Baghdad‘s heavily fortified Green Zone has killed three foreign security contractors. Another 15 people, including two Americans, were wounded when a rocket struck the area, home to the offices of the Iraqi government and the large U.S. Embassy. Insurgent attacks have tapered off since 2008 amid improving security, but Thursday’s attack is evidence of the insurgents’ enduring capability to stage attacks.

Pakistan

ASSIST News Service reports that two Christian brothers who were gunned down outside district courts Faisalabad on Monday have been laid to rest. A large number of Christians paid tribute to Rashid Emmanuel, 30, and his brother Sajid, 27, at the memorial service on Tuesday, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, in Faisalabad, and later at their burial on Tuesday. The brothers had been accused of distributing pamphlet containing derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad, a charge they both denied. According to Babar Sahotra of Christian Strategic Institute (CSI) Pakistan, the situation remained tense late on Monday night as rioters from both sides maintained their presence on the roads. He said the Catholic Church seemed to be acting at the behest of government “who wanted to ensure burial of Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel as quickly as possible.”

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has broken diplomatic relations with neighboring Colombia, accusing the close U.S. ally of fabricating reports that Colombian rebels find safe haven inside Venezuela. Souring already poor relations even more, Chavez said Thursday that he was forced to sever ties because Colombian officials insist he has failed to move against leftist rebels who allegedly have taken shelter on Venezuelan territory. Neither Chavez nor his OAS ambassador directly responded to the Colombian challenge to let people visit the alleged camps.

Weather

A series of severe thunderstorms moved across Connecticut on Wednesday afternoon, knocking down trees and utility wires and blowing out windows There were no immediate reports of serious injuries. A tornado warning was issued for Litchfield, Hartford and New Haven counties during the afternoon and there were unconfirmed reports of a tornado in Litchfield County. A gas station collapsed on Route 6 in Bristol, and merchants in that town cleaning up glass from some blown out windows.

A search continues in eastern Kentucky where flash flooding swept away a mobile home with a woman inside. The woman wasn’t found in the wreckage of her home. Torrential rains set off flash flooding on Wednesday in central and eastern Kentucky. Officials rescued people from flooded vehicles in Lexington and the roof of an electronics supplier collapsed from heavy rain.

Two people were killed as Typhoon Chanthu made landfall in southern China’s Guangdong province, sending debris flying through the air and bringing rain that could aggravate the country’s worst floods in a decade. Winds, which reached 78 miles per hour at the storm’s center, knocked over a wall in Guangdong’s Wuchuan city, killing two people. By Friday morning, the storm had moved north to Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi region and been downgraded to a tropical storm. Chanthu comes as China grapples with severe flooding that has left more than 701 people dead and 347 missing so far this year,.

July 21, 2010

Pro-lifers Win a Round in Health Overhaul

Pro-lifers have scored a victory and traditional allies of the Obama administration are grumbling about a decision to ban most abortion coverage in insurance pools for those unable to purchase healthcare on their own. The issue flared after at least one state — New Mexico — initially decided to allow coverage of elective abortion in a newly launched, federally funded program to provide coverage for high-risk uninsured people turned away by private carriers. Trying to head off more problems, the Health and Human Services Department announced last week the program will not cover abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger — exceptions traditionally allowed under federal law. Planned Parenthood is up in arms that the Obama administration has effectively turned its back on the abortion-provider. “This is not what we worked for. This is not what we fought for,” says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in reaction to an announcement over the weekend from the Department of Health and Human Services. “The Obama administration has decided that no woman in the new high-risk insurance pools will be allowed to obtain abortion coverage beyond limited cases (rape, incest, endangering the life of the woman). We need to make sure the Obama administration knows this is unacceptable.”

  • Anytime Planned Parenthood is “up in arms” is a good day for the life of unborn children

Decaying Old Churches Lack Maintenance Funds

About halfway through Sunday service at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, as worshippers passed around the collection plate, a chorus of screams pierced the air. Chunks of the ceiling in the 52-year-old church near Hickory , North Carolina, came crashing down on the crowd of 200 or so, striking about 14, who were later treated and released from nearby hospitals. Caring for old church facilities is an increasingly acute problem, particularly for mainline Protestant denominations. As membership declines and budgets shrink, the beautiful edifices of American Christianity can feel like weights dragging down churches that are forced to spend money on maintenance and repairs instead of ministry, charity and other Gospel-derived imperatives. A reluctance to spend money on upkeep has caught the attention of churches’ insurers, who are making more maintenance recommendations since the start of the Great Recession, according to Rick Schaber, risk control manager for Church Mutual Insurance, a Wisconsin-based company that insures more than 100,000 religious institutions in the United States. “A lot of these churches have shrunk from 500 members to 100 members, or from 800 members to 200 members,” said Robert Jaeger, executive director of the Partnership for Sacred Places. Another factor is that roughly 80 percent of the people who use church facilities for things like after-school programs or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are not members of the individual congregations.

Senate Committee Approves Kagan for Supreme Court

President Obama’s choice of Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court moved closer to confirmation Tuesday as the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed her by a 13-6 vote, mostly along party lines. Kagan, who would be the fourth female justice in history, appears likely to be approved by the Democrat-dominated Senate by early August. No new criticism of Kagan emerged during the two-and-a-half hour discussion that preceded the committee vote. Kagan’s GOP opponents, including committee senior Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, deemed the nominee too liberal. He and others also objected to about actions Kagan took as Harvard law dean in the mid-2000s to restrict military recruiters because of the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” against openly gay troops.

Obama adviser: U.S. ‘ideal place for renewal of Islam’

A religion adviser to President Obama has close ties to the imam who wants to build a 13-story Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. The two have been documented together discussing America as “the ideal place for a renewal of Islam,” WorldNetDaily has learned. In February, Obama named a Chicago Muslim, Eboo Patel, to his Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Patel is the founder and executive director of Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, which says it promotes pluralism by teaming people of different faiths on service projects. mam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the controversial Muslim leader behind the plan to build the Islamic center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, wrote the afterword to Patel’s 2006 book, “Building the Interfaith Youth Movement: Beyond Dialogue to Action.” Patel boasts of a “critical mass” of Muslims in the U.S. “Islam is a religion that has always been revitalized by its migration,” he wrote. “America is a nation that has been constantly rejuvenated by immigrants. There is now a critical mass of Muslims in America.”

Gulf Oil Cap Appears Successful

Engineers battling the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are confident that the cap over the rogue well is strong enough that they may be able to plug it by pumping mud inside, bringing the three-month disaster closer to an end, BP and the Coast Guard said Monday. The cap is holding tight at pressures slightly below what engineers had expected. The capping strategy hit a snag over the weekend when oil was discovered seeping into the nearby sea bed. But that oil doesn’t appear to have come from the well, said retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen. The ultimate solution — drilling down to the base of the leaking well and plugging it with cement — is also nearing completion. Workers are finalizing preparations to drill the final section of a “relief well” to intersect the damaged well, which could happen by the end of next week. Allen said government and BP scientists believe that an oil seep on the seafloor 1.8 miles from the blowout was coming from another well. They have identified five small leaks of gas closer to the damaged well, but those are not considered “consequential,” Allen said.

More Unmarried Parents Wait to Wed

In the USA, the proportion of births outside of marriage has risen to almost 40%, according to the most recent federal data. And experts say much of the increase has been among high-school-educated, cohabiting couples in their 20s. Researchers who study family formation find that in the USA, the mother’s education level is still a critical factor for when she has that first child. According to a research brief published in 2007 by the non-profit Child Trends, only 7% of births to college educated women occur outside marriage. Still, childbearing outside marriage is climbing up the social-class ladder. Those with a high school or community college degree or who attended college are having kids and holding off on the wedding. “It used to be only the poor and near-poor who had children outside of marriage. Now, moderately educated Americans are doing it, too,” says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Marriage, I guess, is a piece of paper nowadays, and I don’t think you necessarily need it to be a good family.”

Ø      Another key end-time sign of the breakdown of marriage and family as the spirit of lawlessness expands its reach and the gross darkness spreads

Oakland Votes to Permit Large Marijuana Farms

Oakland has moved closer to becoming the first city in the United States to authorize wholesale pot cultivation. The Oakland City Council voted 5-2 with one abstention late Tuesday in favor of a plan to license four production plants where marijuana would be grown, packaged and processed. The vote came after more than two hours of public comment, with speakers divided between those who opposed the measure — largely on the grounds that it would put small medical marijuana growers out of business — and those who said it would generate millions of dollars for the California city in taxes and sales and create hundreds of jobs. The plants would not be limited in size — one potential applicant for a license wants to open a plant that would produce over 21,000 pounds of pot a year — but they would be heavily taxed and regulated. Proponents of the measure also touted the possibility of Oakland becoming the U.S. cannabis capital, especially if California voters approve the legalization of recreational marijuana in November.

Faith in Social Security System Tanking

Battered by high unemployment and record home foreclosures, most Americans seem to have lost faith in another fundamental part of their personal finances: Social Security. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that a majority of retirees say they expect their current benefits to be cut, a dramatic increase in the number who hold that view. And a record six of 10 non-retirees predict Social Security won’t be able to pay them benefits when they stop working. Skepticism is highest among the youngest workers: Three-fourths of those 18 to 34 don’t expect to get a Social Security check when they retire. The public’s views are more dire than the calculations of Social Security’s trustees. Last year, they projected the system would begin running in the red in 2016, as the Baby Boom generation retired, and the ‘trust fund’ would be exhausted in 2037. Even then, Social Security — which celebrates its 75th anniversary next month — could finance about three-fourths of current benefits through the payroll tax.

Ø      There is no so-called trust fund, just an accounting number the government tracks. Social Security taxes go right into the general fund. As government debt and interest payments mount, it won’t matter what the numbers say, there just won’t be enough money to go around.

Economic News

Home construction plunged last month to the lowest level since October as the economy remained weak and demand for housing plummeted. But building permit applications, a sign of future activity, rose 2.1% from June. The Commerce Department says construction of new homes and apartments in June fell 5% from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 549,000. Driving the June decline in housing starts was a more than 20% drop in the volatile condominium and apartment market. Construction of single-family homes, the biggest part of the market, dropped only 0.7%.

The federal estate tax is scheduled to return with a vengeance on Jan. 1, 2011, imposing a levy of up to 55% on estates valued at more than $1 million. And the same congressional paralysis that allowed the tax to expire in 2010 could thwart efforts to pare it back, estate planning attorneys say.

Hungary

Hungary‘s currency slid against the euro on Monday after the European Union and the International Monetary Fund broke off talks on the country’s financial bailout, demanding bigger spending cuts. Hungary must meet strict targets to reduce debt in return for a euro20 billion ($26 billion) loan from the European Union, the IMF and the World Bank that it received in 2008. The EU and the IMF said Saturday that Hungary isn’t doing enough to slash spending or make long-term reforms to its economy.

North Korea

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Wednesday that Washington will impose new sanctions on communist North Korea in a bid to stem the regime’s illicit atomic ambitions. Clinton, speaking at a joint news conference in Seoul after holding unprecedented security talks with U.S. and South Korean defense and military officials, said the sanctions are part of measures designed to rein in the regime’s nuclear activities by stamping out illegal moneymaking ventures used to fund the program. The U.S. will freeze assets as well as prevent some businesses and individuals from traveling abroad, and collaborate with banks to stop illegal financial transactions. The sanctions also will seek to stop the abuse of diplomatic privileges in order to carry out illegal activities, Clinton said.

Afghanistan

President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday reaffirmed his commitment for Afghan police and soldiers to take charge of security throughout the nation by 2014 and urged his international partners to spend their money on Afghan priorities not “quick-impact” projects. Karzai spoke at an international conference on the future of Afghanistan where representatives of 70 nations and organizations were endorsing a plan for how Afghan security forces would eventually take charge, but it’s still unclear when the transition would actually begin. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance will never allow the Taliban to topple the government of Afghanistan. But he said that transition to Afghan-led security would be based on “conditions, not calendars.” Karzai also asked his international partners not only to channel 50% of their foreign assistance through the government within two years, he urged them to align 80% of their projects with priorities that have been identified by Afghans.

The Afghanistan war is at a critical juncture. The surge of 30,000 troops ordered by President Obama will be complete soon. A new commander has arrived. A full offensive against the birthplace of the Taliban —Kandahar— has been delayed. Taliban attacks are rising as are U.S. operations against insurgent strongholds. Coalition deaths are at a high. And Afghans say they are losing faith in America’s ability to deliver on its promises.

Iraq

Police say a car bomb has killed four Iraqis and wounded 21 more Monday evening near a restaurant and coffee shop in Baqouba, a one-time insurgent stronghold northeast of Baghdad. Baqouba is 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. It was once controlled by al-Qaeda in Iraq before a series of U.S.-Iraqi offensives led to a drop in violence. Violence has dropped sharply since the height of Iraq’s insurgency in 2007, but insurgents still wage attacks aimed at destabilizing Iraq’s government.

Pakistan

International Christian Concern has learned that Islamists killed two Christians accused of blasphemy as they left court in Faisalabad, Pakistan Monday afternoon. Police were transporting the Christians from the court to jail when masked Islamists shot them to death. A policeman accompanying the Christians was also seriously wounded by the attackers, who escaped. Pastor Rashid Emmanuel and his brother Sajid Emmanuel were arrested on July 2 after Muslims accused them of writing a pamphlet with blasphemous remarks about the Prophet Muhammad. The charges were based on hand-written and photo-copied pamphlets with remarks Jonathan Racho, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, said, “It’s outrageous that the Islamists managed to kill the Christians while they were under police custody. This is another indication of the value and the status of Christians within Pakistan.”

Nigeria

The Christian Post reports that eight people are dead after attackers targeted a Christian village near Jos, Nigeria on July 18. Seven houses and a church burned to the ground in Maza, and the wife, two children and grandson of a pastor were killed in the violence. Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kingsley Umo told Agence France-Presse that the attackers shot sporadically in the air to lure sleeping residents outside their homes before they were killed. The attackers are believed to be Muslim Fulani herdsmen. Violent disputes between Nigeria’s traditionally Christian south and traditionally Muslim north have flared since the start of this year. Local rights groups say that 1,500 people have been killed in the violence.

Venezuela

Drug smuggling through Venezuela has exploded since President Hugo Chávez severed contacts with U.S. law enforcement agencies in 2005, U.S. and United Nations officials say in reports. The extent of Chávez’s involvement in the drug trade is in question. He has been seizing businesses and prodding Latin nations to turn to socialism as his regime grapples with a significant loss of revenue tied to the drop in the price of Venezuela’s main legal export: oil. Venezuela now accounts for 41% of all cocaine shipments to Europe, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in a June 23 report. In the Caribbean, the United States has reported a rise in flights leaving Venezuela and suspected of dropping U.S.-bound drug shipments in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Honduras.

Wildfires

More crews and aircraft are expected to help with a 385-acre wildfire burning near the center of Yellowstone National Park. The blaze was about a half acre when it was first spotted Sunday, but gusty winds drove it to about 385 acres by Monday afternoon. Park officials say all roads and trails remain open. Officials don’t know yet how the fire started. It’s the fourth fire this year in Yellowstone.

Firefighters succeeded in containing 15% of the 6,200-acre blaze and protecting most homes near the Cowiche Mill Fire near Yakima, Washington. The Yakima fire is one of a number of wildfires burning, but the 2010 fire season so far is “well-below average,” says Jennifer Smith, spokeswoman for the National Fire Information Center in Boise. So far, 34,458 fires have burned 1,891,533 acres in 2010, according to the center, compared with an average of 46,000 fires and 3 million acres by this date in the past 10 years. In 2009, there had been 52,678 fires and 2,707,653 acres burned. Lots of rain in the spring dampened the frequency of wildfires.

Weather

Strong thunderstorms brought heavy rain and flash flooding to parts of Missouri, Illinois and Iowa on Tuesday, shutting down at least three major highways and forcing evacuations and water rescues. The storms dumped up to 10 inches of rain, causing many streams and creeks to flow out of their banks. Dozens of roads were closed for part of the day. The worst of the damage appeared to be in Hannibal, Mark Twain‘s hometown. Swollen creeks and overburdened drainage systems caused flooding at the General Mills plant, forcing it to close.

More than 1,000 people have died or disappeared in severe flooding in China so far this year, and the heaviest rains are still to come, a senior official warned Wednesday. This year’s floods, which have caused tens of billions of dollars in damage already, have exacted the highest death toll since 1998, when the highest water levels in five decades claimed 4,150 lives. With the typhoon season rolling in, authorities are ramping up preparations to combat potential disasters.

A cold front across much of South America is being linked to dozens of deaths, mounting losses for cattle ranchers and other hardships. At least 26 people have died in Argentina from exposure, carbon monoxide inhalation from heaters and other weather-related causes. Subfreezing temperatures have been reported in the country’s normally temperate northern region. Chile, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay also are experiencing unusually cold weather. July is the dead of winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

July 19, 2010

Churches Making Mainstream Films to Attract & Save Souls

Praise the Lord and pass the popcorn. Moviemaking churches are venturing into the cineplex to attract souls who might never set foot in a megachurch. Like Hollywood films, they take on real-life issues in dramatic packages: A resentful white cop and his black partner struggle with race and fatherhood before taking a lesson in reconciliation from Oscar winner Lou Gossett Jr. in a cameo role. That’s The Grace Card, underwritten by an optometrist for his small church in Tennessee. An aimless 20-year-old, adventuring with his buddies in India, discovers the global horror of sex slavery and makes it his life-changing cause. That’s Not Today, backed by a California Quaker church. Cops facing rough times on the streets realize their real failures are at home — as fathers who don’t know, or don’t care, how to truly love their kids. That’s Courageous, the fourth film from Sherwood Baptist Church, which is so successful in its moviemaking ministry that it now coaches others. “Movies are the stained-glass windows of the 21st century, the place to tell the Gospel story to people who may not read a Bible,” says Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood in Albany, Ga. “We have people who are still in our church because they saw a movie through us that hit home.”

Prayer Sushed on Supreme Court Seps

After a group of students praying on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building was confronted by police and told what they were doing was illegal, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) recently sent a letter to officials of the high court. Wickenburg Christian Academy teacher Maureen Rigo of Arizona had taken a group of students to tour the complex, and ADF attorney Nate Kellum tells OneNewsNow they had just completed a visit to the Supreme Court and were on the steps outside. According to an ADF press release, the prayer was stopped base on a statute that bars parades and processions on Supreme Court grounds — even though Rigo was speaking in a conversational tone as she prayed and did not draw a crowd. ADF attorney Nate Kellum contends the officer’s actions were patently unconstitutional and argues that “Christians should not be silenced for exercising their beliefs through quiet prayer on public property.” “The last place you’d expect this kind of obvious disregard for the First Amendment would be on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court itself, but that’s exactly what happened,” the ADF attorney adds.

Immigrant Deaths in Arizona Desert Soar in July

The number of deaths among illegal immigrants crossing the Arizona desert from Mexico is soaring so high this month that the medical examiner’s office that handles the bodies is using a refrigerated truck to store some of them, the chief examiner said Friday. The bodies of 40 illegal immigrants have been brought to the office of Pima County Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Parks since July 1. At that rate, Parks said the deaths could top the single-month record of 68 in July 2005 since his office began tracking them in 2000. Parks said his office, which handles immigrant bodies from three counties, is currently storing roughly 250 bodies and had to start using a refrigerated truck because of the increase in immigrant deaths this month. He said many of the bodies seem to be coming from the desert southwest of Tucson, where it tends to be hotter than eastern parts of the border or the Tucson metro area. Authorities believe the high number of deaths are likely due to above-average and unrelenting heat in southern Arizona this month and ongoing tighter border security that pushes immigrants to more remote, rugged and dangerous terrain.

Hidden Cameras Reveal Huge Gaps in Border Security

Hidden cameras have captured a startling stream of illegal immigrants and drug runners traveling freely from Mexico into the United States through federal forest and game preserves in southern Arizona. The stealth footage is featured in a new video, titled “Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border 2: Drugs, Guns, and 850 Illegal Aliens,” that the Center for Immigration Studies released Thursday. Southern Arizona “has become almost a playground for smugglers,” said Janice Kephart, the center’s national security policy director. “Federal lands should be the starting point — not the last point — for border security.” The video features dramatic footage of lines of individuals moving resolutely northward in such areas as the Coronado National Forest and the Casa Grande Sector, just miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border. Collected from hidden cameras in February and March, the footage documents at least 850 illegal immigrants and nine drug couriers. It also reveals ongoing damage to the protected wilderness areas through trash and other destruction.

Federal Prosecution of Immigrants Soared in Spring

Federal prosecutions of immigrants soared to new levels this spring, as the Obama administration continued an aggressive enforcement strategy began under President George W. Bush, according to a new study released Thursday. The 4,145 cases referred to federal prosecutors in March and April was the largest number for any two-month stretch since the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was created five years ago. The government’s heavy focus on immigration investigations already is creating a heavy burden for the swamped courts along the U.S.-Mexico border, whose judges handle hundreds more cases than most of their counterparts in the rest of the country. Federal authorities claim that workload would grow if Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, which would allow every illegal immigrant to be caught and deported, were implemented. Department of Homeland Security figures show that the number of illegal immigrants in the country has fallen in recent years. As of January 2009, an estimated 10.8 million people were in the country illegally, 1 million less than the 2007 peak. At the same time, deportations have been increasing, climbing from 185,944 in 2007 to 387,790 last year.

The National Guard troops assigned to the Arizona border will begin to arrive Aug. 1, and the federal government is sending other reinforcements to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and narcotics entering the state, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. She said Immigration and Customs Enforcement will open a new office in Ajo. And the Department of Homeland Security is sending a new team to Douglas. “We are also reassigning major technology assets, including mobile surveillance systems, thermal-imaging binocular units, and trucks equipped with detection scopes, as well as observation and utility aircraft,” Napolitano says in a guest column in Monday’s Arizona Republic.

Oil Spill Cap Holds

The federal government’s point man for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill says he’s authorized BP to keep the cap on its busted well for another 24 hours after the company pledged to closely monitor the seafloor for signs of a new leak. Allen had written BP the day before to say a seep had been detected a distance from the well and demanded BP step up monitoring of the seabed. With the cap in place, attention is turning to the oil that already has seeped into the sea, estimated by federal scientists at more than 90 million gallons. The bulk of the job falls to skimmers, vessels equipped to collect oil out of the sea. A total of 704 skimmers are fighting the spill, up from 100 in early June. Coast Guard officials hope to have 1,000 skimmers working by the end of July. To date, skimmers have siphoned 34 million gallons of oil-water mixture, he says. About 15% of that — or 5 million gallons — was actually oil, Allen says. An additional 11 million gallons of the crude was burned off.

Report: U.S. Intelligence Community Inefficient, Unmanageable

The September 11, 2001, attacks have led to an intelligence community so large and unwieldy that it’s unmanageable and inefficient — and no one knows how much it costs, according to a two-year investigation by the Washington Post. The Post article that appeared in Monday’s edition says its investigation uncovered “a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.” The Post investigation found that “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001,” or the equivalent of nearly three Pentagons. “Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States,” according to the Post.

  • The feds always feel that more is better, whereas history tells us otherwise

Doctors Arrested in $251M Medicare Scams

Federal authorities said Friday they are conducting the largest Medicare fraud bust ever in five different states and arrested dozens of suspects accused in scams totaling $251 million. Several doctors and nurses were among those arrested in Miami, New York City, Detroit, Houston and Baton Rouge, La., accused of billing Medicare for unnecessary equipment, physical therapy and HIV treatments that patients typically never received. Ninety-four suspects were indicted, and authorities said 36 people had been arrested as of Friday morning. More than 360 agents participated in Friday’s raids announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a health care fraud prevention summit in Miami. Officials said they chose Miami because it is ground zero for Medicare fraud.

Surge in Prescription Drug Abuse

A new government study finds a 400% increase in the number of people admitted to treatment for abusing prescription pain medication. The increase in substance abuse among people ages 12 and older was recorded during the 10-year-period from 1998 to 2008. It spans every gender, race, ethnicity, education and employment level, and all regions of the country. Prescription drug abuse is now the second-most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the country, and the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.

New Law Will Lead to Greener but Higher-Priced Furniture

A new law signed this month by President Obama limiting the amount of formaldehyde in wood is expected to lead to higher furniture and cabinet prices, but healthier — and greener — homes. It’s also likely to increase consumer awareness of a little known chemical and its effects. Formaldehyde, which is used in many building materials, is linked to cancer and has long been known to cause respiratory problems. The government-provided trailers for victims of Hurricane Katrina were banned because of breathing problems caused by formaldehyde in the walls, ceilings and cabinets. The trailers reignited controversy this month when it was revealed some were being used to house BP oil spill cleanup workers. Particle board, which is created using sawdust, wax and formaldehyde-based glue, is often used in inexpensive furniture and cabinets and can contain high formaldehyde levels. It will be virtually impossible for manufacturers and retailers of these low-priced products to avoid raising prices, experts say, because their products use so much particle board. But it could be at least three years before all furniture sold must meet the new limits.

Banks Eye Higher Fees to Boost Declining Revenue

Big banks facing big drops in revenue are looking to Main Street to make up the difference. Checking accounts, bank statements, even popping into your local bank branch could carry a hefty cost as the nation’s mega-banks scramble to offset expected damage from the sweeping financial overhaul. The uncertain future has overshadowed otherwise strong second-quarter earnings at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. All three companies beat expectations this week with profitable results. Yet their stocks tumbled, helping send the wider market sharply lower Friday. The reason: Investors are worried about banks’ future earning power after Thursday’s passage of the most dramatic rewriting of banking rules since the Great Depression. All told, the bill’s passage will reduce the value of Bank of America’s lucrative credit card business by a staggering $7 billion to $10 billion. Banks are already moving to recoup any losses. One approach: making traditionally free services premium offerings. A Bank of America pilot program in Georgia, for instance, charges customers $8.95 a month to get paper statements or use bank tellers.

Economic News

A survey by the National Association for Business Economics released Monday found that 31% of businesses added workers between April and June, the highest level in three years, according to the National Association for Business Economics. 39% of those surveyed say they expect to hire more workers over the next six months — the most since January 2008.

Regulators on Friday shut down three banks in Florida, two in South Carolina and one in Michigan, bringing to 96 the number of U.S. banks to succumb this year to the recession and mounting loan defaults. By this time last year, regulators had closed 57 banks. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008, the year the financial crisis struck with force, and only three succumbed in 2007. As losses have mounted on loans made for commercial property and development, the growing bank failures have sapped billions of dollars out of the deposit insurance fund. It fell into the red last year, and its deficit stood at $20.7 billion as of March 31. Stocks slumped Friday after banks’ second-quarter earnings fell short of expectations and a new survey found that consumers are becoming more pessimistic.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 261 points, and all the major market indexes dropped more than 2.5%. Stocks fell after a twice-monthly survey from the University of Michigan and Reuters found that consumers’ gloom is increasing. An index of consumer sentiment compiled from the survey fell to 66.5 in early July from 76. The unexpectedly low reading on consumer confidence reinforces fears that the economy is slowing too much too fast.

American International Group (AIG) and some of its directors and officers have agreed to a $725 million settlement to resolve allegations of wide-ranging fraud laid out in a class action suit led by three Ohio pension funds. Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said Friday the latest figure will combine with previous AIG settlements reached with secondary defendants to pay about $1 billion to shareholders, including pensions representing firefighters, police, teachers, librarians and others. He characterized it as the 10th largest securities litigation settlement in U.S. history. The lawsuit alleged anti-competitive market division, accounting violations, and stock price manipulation by AIG between October 1999 and April 2005.

A California judge has temporarily blocked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to pay 200,000 state workers the federal minimum wage until a budget is approved. Further court hearings are scheduled for later this month and August.

Army Reports Record Number of Suicides for June

Soldiers killed themselves at the rate of one per day in June making it the worst month on record for Army suicides. There were 32 confirmed or suspected suicides among soldiers in June, including 21 among active-duty troops and 11 among National Guard or Reserve forces, according to Army statistics. Seven soldiers killed themselves while in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan in June, according to the statistics. Of the total suicides, 22 soldiers had been in combat, including 10 who had deployed two to four times. Last year was the Army’s worst for suicides with 244 confirmed or suspected cases. “The hypothesis is the same that many have heard me say before: continued stress on the force, said Army Col. Christopher Philbrick, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. He pointed out that the Army has been fighting for nine years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan

A suicide bombing near a market in the Afghan capital of Kabul killed three civilians and wounded dozens Sunday, two days before an international conference hosting representatives from about 60 nations. Eleven other people were killed in insurgent attacks elsewhere across the nation, according to reports Sunday, as the Taliban meet the arrival of thousands more American troops this year with a rising tide of violence. “The insurgents have chosen to use violence to gain media attention, once again at the expense of innocent Afghan civilians,” said Col. William Maxwell, director of the Combined Joint Operations Center for the NATO-led force. Five NATO troops died in roadside bombs in Afghanistan, the alliance said Saturday.

Vice President Biden said Sunday that progress in Afghanistan has been “a tough slog,” but he said U.S. troops will begin leaving in July 2011. “It could be as few as a couple thousand troops. It could be more. But there will be a transition,” Biden said in an interview broadcast Sunday. Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Biden said U.S. and NATO forces will be able to turn over some of the 34 military districts in Afghanistan to locally trained forces as planned, but he acknowledged the training of Afghan troops hasn’t gone smoothly.

Pakistan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton started a South Asia tour on Sunday aimed at refining the goals of the nearly 9-year-old war in Afghanistan and pushing neighboring nations to work together in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists. Clinton landed in Islamabad where she will underscore the need for Afghan-Pakistani cooperation in winning the war but also announce plans to beef up U.S. development assistance to Pakistan, which is rife with anti-American sentiment. In talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Sunday and military and civilian officials on Monday, Clinton is seeking to convince Pakistanis the U.S. is committed to the country’s long-term development needs and not just short-term security gains. This, officials hope, will lead to greater Pakistani cooperation on key U.S. policy goals, particularly combating Pakistan-based militants accused of conspiring to attack the United States, including the failed Times Square bombing, and stepping up action against extremists along the Afghan border.

Militants armed with assault rifles ambushed a convoy of civilian vehicles killing 16 people Saturday in northwestern Pakistan, the scene of extensive military operations targeting Islamist insurgents. Several people were also wounded in Saturday’s attack in Char Khel village in the troubled tribal region of Kurram. The travelers were heading to the main northwestern city of Peshawar in vehicles when they were ambushed. Kurram has witnessed scores of such attacks, robberies and kidnappings for ransom in the past three years. The army has moved primarily against the Pakistani Taliban network, which is distinct from the Afghan Taliban factions, though it shares many of the same Islamist and anti-Western goals.

Iraq

Twin suicide bombings killed 48 people on Sunday, including dozens from a government-backed, anti-al-Qaeda militia who were lined up to get their paychecks near a military base southwest of Baghdad. The bombings were the deadliest in a series of attacks across Iraq Sunday that were aimed at the Sons of Iraq, a Sunni group also known as Sahwa that works with government forces to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. The attacks highlighted the stiff challenges the country faces as the U.S. scales back its forces in Iraq, leaving their Iraqi counterparts in charge of security.

Mexico

For the first time, Mexican drug gangs have used a car bomb to attack police and civilians, the Army says. Yesterday in downtown Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, a car packed with 22 pounds of C4 explosives and detonated by mobile phone killed two police officers and a paramedic, and wounded at least 16 other civilians or officers. Police called the attack retaliation for the arrest of Jesus Acosta Guerrero, a leader of the La Linea drug gang, which is affiliated with the Juarez cartel. Mayor Jose Reyes told the Associated Press the attackers set a trap for federal police before detonating the explosive inside a parked car after police and paramedics responded to a report of an injured officer. Meanwhile, gunmen stormed a party in northern Mexico on Sunday and massacred 17 people in another suspected drug-related incident.

China

An oil pipeline at a busy Chinese port exploded, causing a massive fire that burned for 15 hours before being put out Saturday. Officials said no one was killed. State-run media said the pipeline blew up Friday evening, and more than 2,000 firefighters worked overnight to control 100-foot high flames and further blasts on a second pipeline. A vast stretch of polluted sea remains the next challenge. About 20 boats were trying to clean up a dark brown slick of oil and pollution at least 50 square kilometers (19 square miles) in size off Dalian’s Xingang Harbor, Xinhua said Saturday night.

Earthquakes

Two strong earthquakes struck off the South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea late Sunday, a U.S. monitor said. There were no immediate reports of casualty or damage. The first quake, a magnitude 6.9, struck around 11 p.m. local time 325 miles northeast of the capital, Port Morseby. It struck 35 miles beneath the ocean floor. The second, a magnitude 7.3, struck a half-hour later in the same area, at a depth of 31 miles. Indonesia issued a tsunami warning but lifted it soon after.

A powerful earthquake shook a remote Aleutian Island region of Alaska late Saturday, but there were no reports of damage or injury and no threat of a tsunami, officials said. The 6.7-magnitude temblor struck at 9:56 p.m. and was centered in the Bering Sea about 155 miles southwest of Dutch Harbor, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake hit about 21 miles beneath the seabed. The quake was felt in both Dutch Harbor and nearby Unalaska, the nearest communities of any size to the epicenter.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports a light, magnitude-4.3 earthquake struck northwest Haiti. The tremor shook the sea-floor 15 miles west of the coastal city of Gonaives around 2:01 a.m. Saturday. No damage or injuries have been reported.

Wildfires

Winds eased around midnight, bulldozers about 2 a.m. Monday were able to push a line in front of a wildfire that has burned about 15 square miles or 10,000 acres near Yakima, in central Washington. The fire is not secure and still burning in pockets, including some stacks of apple bins at orchards. About 100 firefighters from across the state are on their way to help about 200 mostly volunteer and local firefighters who responded after the fire started Sunday in grass and brush about 10 miles west of Yakima. The fast-moving fire destroyed an engine. Three firefighters had minor injures. Three homes and a number of sheds and other outbuildings have burned. Meanwhile, another wildfire in Washington, about six miles north of Wenatchee, has burned almost 20,000 acres in a remote area of the state.

Weather

A powerful band of storms blew over a shelter at Iowa State University, fatally injuring one horse and leaving several others hurt. The storm also toppled a 45-foot tree nearby. School officials say a mare injured by the shelter had to be put down. But Iowa State faculty members pulled a trapped yearling out of the fallen shelter. Several other horses also required attention, mostly for minor cuts and scrapes.

A waterspout slammed into a stadium in Puerto Rico where thousands of people were expected to gather for the inauguration of the Central American and Caribbean Games on Saturday, injuring at least five people and forcing officials to delay the opening ceremony. The storm ripped down scaffolding workers were using to add final touches to the Jose Figueroa Olympic Stadium, toppling the metal onto cars below. Injuries were not serious, but officials evacuated people who had already arrived at the stadium. Felipe Perez, president of the games organizing committee, said, “The wind was like something out of a movie.”

Mission News Network reports that Haiti’s rainy season hit earthquake-stricken areas with a vengence last week. The American Refugee Committee reports that flash floods and rain knocked over almost 100 tents in one camp. Ron Sparks with Baptist Haiti Mission says, “The tent cities in the Port-au-Prince area received a lot of damage by wind, and so when the rain comes, obviously they’re not prepared to withstand the wetness.” Six months after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the capital of Port-au-Prince, many dwelling still lie in ruins. Sparks explains that “we’ve built over a dozen permanent homes for individual families, and we’ve helped to build or repair well over an additional 50 homes. All the schools are back up and running, and the churches are meeting regularly,” which is key to their outreach.

July 16, 2010

Oil Spill Capped, Contained

Engineers with oil giant BP closed valves on their new 150,000-pound cap atop the ruptured well Thursday afternoon, and at 3:25 p.m. ET, for the first time in three months, oil stopped pouring from the broken well. BP engineers now will watch pressure readings to look for signs that any new leaks may develop. “Depending on what the test shows us, we may need to open this well back up,” BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said. Engineers will monitor the pressure readings over 48 hours. Looming even larger is the work on a nearby relief well that BP continues to bill as the permanent solution to stopping the spill that has triggered a $3.5 billion response. If the oil pressure rises quickly, that suggests the metal casing is intact and holding, Wells says. However, if pressure drops or doesn’t build, that would be a sign of cracks in the casing.

Argentina Legalizes Gay Marriage in Historic Vote

Argentina has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, becoming the first country in Latin America to give gays and lesbians all the legal rights that marriage brings to heterosexual couples. The vote came down to 33 in favor, 27 against and 3 abstentions in Argentina’s Senate early Thursday morning. Since the lower house already approved it, and President Cristina Fernandez is a strong supporter, it now becomes law. The vote came after a marathon debate and marches by supporters and opponents that drew thousands of people. It also comes despite a strong campaign against it by the Roman Catholic Church.

ACLU Continues Attacks on Prayer

In its words, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims to support free speech. In deeds, the nation’s number one censor of religious freedom files outrageous lawsuits to prevent public governing boards from opening meetings with prayer. A board in North Carolina that traditionally allowed local clergy to open their meetings with voluntary prayer is one of many government groups facing such a lawsuit. The ACLU won a lower-court victory, and their attorney said “prayers specifically mentioning Jesus Christ” are “the very type of evil” the First Amendment is designed to protect against. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is appealing on behalf of the governing board.

City in Uproar Over Kindergarten Sex Ed

The Helena Public Schools Board of trustees faced a large and emotionally charged crowd at its meeting Tuesday night as it considers whether to begin its sexual education curriculum in kindergarten. Once they are promoted to first grade, children will learn that sexual relations could happen between two men or two women.  By the time students are 10 years old, instruction will include the various ways people can have intercourse according to the proposal. When the plan was announced in June it hit like a shock wave to this city of 29,000 people. The Montana Family Foundation is fighting the proposed changes, telling Fox News its biggest concern is teaching graphic sexual detail to kids who are not emotionally able to process or comprehend it.

New Health Care Law Raises Abortion Issues

Abortion opponents are warning that abortions will be covered in some new government health care programs for people who have been denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions, despite an order signed by President Obama forbidding the use of federal money for the procedure. The order, signed by Obama in March in an effort to win enough votes to pass sweeping health care legislation, is “a sham,” says House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. The National Right to Life Committee is citing language on government websites in two states — Pennsylvania and New Mexico— suggesting that new federally funded high-risk insurance pools for patients with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes will cover “elective” abortions for residents of those states. In keeping with Obama’s executive order, abortions will only be covered in cases of rape, incest and if the woman’s life is endangered, says Health and Human Service Department spokeswoman Jenny Backus.

  • If there is even the slightest loophole, abortionists will seize the opportunity even as Obama claims to be blameless

Vatican Child Rights Report 13 Years Overdue

The Vatican has failed to send the United Nations a report on child rights that is now almost 13 years overdue. Like all countries that have signed the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Vatican is required to submit regular reports on its efforts to safeguard child rights. But the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, despite sending repeated reminders, has received no explanation from the Holy See for why it missed a 1997 deadline, according to the committee’s chairwoman Yanghee Lee. In the years since, the Vatican has come under intense scrutiny over its handling of child sex abuse allegations around the world and recently admitted that up to one in 20 priests may be implicated.

The Vatican issued a revised set of in-house rules Thursday to respond to clerical sex abuse, targeting priests who molest the mentally disabled as well as children and priests who use child pornography, but making few substantive changes to existing practice. The new rules make no mention of the need for bishops to report clerical sex abuse to police, provide no canonical sanctions for bishops who cover up for abusers and do not include any “one-strike and you’re out” policy for pedophile priests as demanded by some victims. As a result, they failed to satisfy victims’ advocates, who said the revised rules amounted to little more than “administrative housekeeping” of existing practice when what was needed were bold new rules threatening bishops who fail to report molester priests.

No Ruling Yet in Hearing on Ariz. Immigration Law

Arizona’s impending immigration law went before a federal judge for the first time Thursday, and attorneys for both sides sparred over who had the right to enforce immigration law: local officials or the federal government. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton didn’t rule on whether to block the law from taking effect July 29 or whether to dismiss the lawsuit, one of seven. Hearings in two other lawsuits — including one filed by the federal government — also began Thursday. At stake is more than just who can detain illegal immigrants within U.S. borders. If Bolton rules in Arizona’s favor, it opens the door to states taking on issues that have long been the responsibility of the federal government. John Bouma, an attorney representing the state, argued that Arizona shouldn’t have to suffer from the country’s broken immigration system. Allowing Arizona to carry out its own immigration law violates all court decisions that hold that only the federal government can handle immigration, countered Stephen Montoya, an attorney for Phoenix police officer David Salgado, who filed the lawsuit along with the statewide non-profit group Chicanos Por La Causa.

This week, nine state attorneys general — including three Republicans running for governor — filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing Arizona in its fight with the federal government. Latino groups, meanwhile, unveiled polling data showing the Arizona law has infuriated the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc. No matter what its fate in the federal courts, the proposed Arizona law already is having a major impact on the midterm elections that will determine which party controls Congress and 37 governor’s offices. A wide majority of Americans consistently say they favor the Arizona law, according to various polls. Hispanics are equally unanimous — on the other side. A survey released this week by a coalition of Hispanic groups found that eight in 10 Hispanic voters oppose the Arizona law.

Record Amounts of Jobless Benefits

More than 3 million Americans could lose unemployment benefits by the end of July even as the government spends record amounts to compensate the jobless, a USA TODAY analysis shows. The growing number of unemployed workers without benefits comes as Congress argues whether to again extend jobless benefits. The number of people collecting benefits will fall from 10.5 million to 7 million at the end of July if Congress doesn’t extend the payments. About 400,000 Americans are exhausting their benefits every week, saving the government $2 billion since June and an estimated $34 billion through November. Unemployment insurance has helped as many as 11 million people at one time — a record — while driving the program’s cost to an annual rate of $145 billion in the first quarter. That’s more than double what was spent in any previous recession, after adjusting for inflation. Congress has extended unemployment benefits in every recession since the 1950s. The current extension — up to 99 weeks — far exceeds the previous longest extension of 65 weeks in 1975.

Small Banks Worry About Impact of New Financial Rules

The massive overhaul of financial regulations is largely aimed at the nation’s “too big to fail” banks, but small institutions say they’ll be affected as well — in some cases more profoundly than their larger rivals. Backed by less revenue and fewer resources, some community banks say the historic revamp will burden them with new rules and compliance costs, constrain their ability to lend and eat into their revenue. But consumer advocates say small banks are overstating the case, noting they have been exempted from some of the legislation’s most onerous mandates and providing additional exceptions would have opened the door to abuses. Some parts of the overhaul actually help small banks, a point the ICBA itself made Thursday in a statement after the Senate passed the Dodd-Frank Act. While the ICBA disagrees with some provisions, the bill does differentiate between Wall Street megabanks and Main Street community banks.

  • More rules, more bureaucracy, more costs – a formula that never fails.

Economic News

New applications for unemployment benefits fell sharply in the U.S. last week while manufacturing activity cooled in June and wholesale prices dipped, offering mixed signals on the economic recovery. The Labor Department said Thursday that new claims dropped by 29,000 to 429,000, the lowest level since August 2008. It was the second straight week that initial claims dropped sharply.

The consumer price index fell for the third straight month in June, dropping 0.1%, the Labor Department said Friday. Less expensive energy bills were a big factor behind the drop. Prices for some food items and airlines fares also fell. But excluding those two volatile commodities, inflation was relatively flat. Some economists are now warning of a possible deflationary cycle.

The Federal Reserve said industrial production rose 0.1% in June, the fourth straight monthly gain. But manufacturing activity — the largest component of production — fell 0.4% after rising for three months.

More than 1 million U.S. households could lose their homes to foreclosure this year, as lenders work their way through a huge backlog of borrowers who have fallen behind on their loans, according to RealtyTrac, a foreclosure tracking service. Nearly 528,000 homes were taken over by lenders in the first six months of the year, a rate that is on track to eclipse the more than 900,000 homes repossessed in 2009. Historically, lenders have taken over about 100,000 homes a year.

Federal Reserve officials now fear that the U.S. economy will take at least five or six years to fully recover from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Fed officials also trimmed their forecasts for growth this year.

Afghanistan

American forces suffered a deadly 24 hours in Afghanistan, with eight troops killed in attacks including an audacious Taliban raid on a police compound in the key southern city of Kandahar Wednesday. The U.S. and its coalition allies have warned that violence and troop casualties are likely to mount this summer as thousands of new forces fan out across southern insurgent strongholds in a bid to turn around the nearly 9-year-long war. So far in July, 45 coalition troops have died in Afghanistan, 33 of them Americans, continuing the upward trend of the previous month, which was war’s deadliest for the NATO-led force, with 103 international soldiers killed. Gunmen kidnapped five Health Ministry employees in volatile Kandahar province Friday.

Pakistan

Intelligence officials say suspected U.S. missiles have killed at least two people in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region. The three missiles struck the Mada Khel area of the northwest region filled with militants determined to oust Western troops from across the border in Afghanistan. The U.S. has launched numerous missile strikes aimed at wiping out Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Pakistan officially condemns the attacks but is believed to secretly assist the program.

An explosion near a bus terminal in Pakistan’s Swat Valley killed two people and wounded at least 35 people Thursday, officials said, a sign that Islamist militants remain active in the northwest region despite a massive army operation against them. The explosion went off around noon in Mingora, the main town in the one-time tourist haven that was overrun by the Taliban back in 2007.

Iran

A Sunni insurgent group said it carried out a double suicide bombing against a Shiite mosque in southeast Iran to avenge the execution of its leader, as Iranian authorities Friday said the death toll rose to 27 people, including members of the elite Revolutionary Guard. The blast was the latest by the group Jundallah, which has repeatedly succeeded in carrying out deadly strikes on the Guard, the country’s most powerful military force. Shiite worshippers were attending ceremonies marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein, when the first blast went off outside the mosque in the provincial capital Zahedan.

Iraq

Tuesday’s planned session of the Iraqi Parliament has been “postponed” indefinitely, according to officials, as the ongoing coalition talks between various top officials has broken down. Iraq’s parliament last met on June 14, an 18 minute session that lasted just long enough to swear in the new members of parliament. Under the Iraqi Constitution the parliament can only recess for 30 days without appointing a new president, which is why tomorrow’s session was originally scheduled (the last possible day). The delay will be just the latest of the constitutional requirements ignored in Iraq’s political gridlock. With the mandated date skipped, it will remain to be seen just how long parliament can remain in recess, and how long Iraq can remain with a lame duck prime minister with no decision making powers.

Yemen

Masked gunmen riding motorcycles and armed with mortars and rocket propelled grenades attacked two intelligence buildings in southern Yemen Wednesday in the second such assault on a Yemeni security offices in less than a month. The attack in the southern Abyan province left one security officer and one militant dead, and apparently only failed to cause more casualties because it took place early in the morning and the buildings were still empty. It comes less than a month after an attack on the intelligence headquarters in Yemen’s second largest city, Aden, killed 11 security officers and freed an undetermined number of prisoners, and could mark a new push by suspected al-Qaeda militants to target high-profile Yemeni government buildings. The attacks have further fueled concerns that Yemen’s weak central government is struggling to tame an increasingly aggressive threat from al-Qaeda militants that are setting up operations in the impoverished country.

Earthquakes

A minor earthquake shook residents awake in the Washington, D.C., area early Friday, rattling windows but apparently causing no serious damage. And while residents of more quake-prone areas might scoff at the 3.6 magnitude temblor, Susan Potter, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said it was the strongest to hit within 30 miles of the U.S. capital city since they began keeping records. The quake hit at 5:04 a.m. ET and was centered in the Rockville, Maryland, area. Police in Washington and in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Weather

March, April, May and June set records, making 2010 the warmest year worldwide since record-keeping began in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says. There were exceptions: June was cooler than average across Scandinavia, southeastern China, and the northwestern USA. Marc Morano, a global-warming skeptic who edits the Climate Depot website, says the government “is playing the climate fear card by hyping predictions and cherry-picking data.” Joe D’Aleo, a meteorologist who co-founded The Weather Channel, disagrees, too. He says oceans are entering a cooling cycle that will lower temperatures. He says too many of the weather stations NOAA uses are in warmer urban areas.

Severe storms pounded eastern North Dakota, leaving thousands of residents without power and causing a fire that forced the evacuation of a nursing home. Strong winds caused tree, power line and property damage in the Fargo metro area. Winds downed trees and power lines, making many streets impassable. Lightning was believed responsible for power outages and an attic fire in Jamestown, and for a propane tank fire in Lisbon that prompted the evacuation of a nursing home.

Workers raced to build waterways to drain overflowing reservoirs in southeastern China and thousands were evacuated following torrential rains that triggered flash floods on Wednesday. Heavy rains overwhelmed three reservoirs in Poyang county in northern Jiangxi province, forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. Several torrential storms have pelted the Yangtze River basin this week.

July 14, 2010

Gay-Marriage Lawsuits Escalate

Lawsuits over gay marriage have escalated on the nation’s two coasts, energizing advocates on both sides and bringing the legal battle over same-sex marriage closer to the U.S. Supreme Court. Final arguments in a constitutional test of California’s ban on such unions were held a month ago this week. A verdict in the case heard by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco could come any day. Last Thursday, a federal judge in Boston raised the stakes in this fractious area when he declared part of a U.S. law that refuses to recognize state gay marriages is unconstitutional. Unlike state legal battles in recent decades that have left a patchwork of state laws on same-sex marriage and civil unions, the cases in San Francisco and Boston test the U.S. Constitution and could lead to a national standard. Yet the Supreme Court will likely move incrementally rather than sweepingly when cases arrive.

  • Incrementally is how the socialists (so-called “cultural Marxists”) are undermining our country. They hatched the cultural battle in the early 1900s with that expressed strategy, taking an extreme long-term view which is now coming to fruition.

Court Rules FCC Indecency Policy “Unconstitutionally Vague”

A federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency policy Tuesday, calling it “unconstitutionally vague” and a violation of the First Amendment. The ruling is a big victory for broadcast networks, which challenged the policy in 2006 after the FCC said unscripted expletives said on live broadcasts violated indecency rules and were subject to fines. “By prohibiting all ‘patently offensive’ references to sex, sexual organs, and excretion without giving adequate guidance as to what ‘patently offensive’ means, the FCC effectively chills speech, because broadcasters have no way of knowing what the FCC will find offensive,” the court wrote. “To place any discussion of these vast topics at the broadcaster’s peril has the effect of promoting wide self-censorship of valuable material which should be completely protected under the First Amendment.” The court added that the FCC might be able to create a new, constitutional policy.

  • Another example of incremental decline in cultural values

Mormon Church Reaffirms Stance Against Gay Marriage

Mormon church leaders have restated the faith’s unequivocal position against gay marriage in a letter to members in Argentina, where the government is debating whether to legalize gay unions. “The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is absolutely clear: Marriage is between one man and woman and is ordained of God,” said the July 6 letter from church President Thomas S. Monson. The faith has more than 371,000 members, according to a 2010 church almanac. The country’s population is more than 41 million.

  • While Mormonism is not a true Christian religion, we appreciate their support of important Biblical principles

Church of England Affirms Women Bishops

The Church of England national assembly decided Monday that women should be allowed to become bishops, making only minor concessions to theological conservatives who have threatened to break away over the issue. Dioceses will now consider the draft law, which would leave it up to individual bishops to allow alternative oversight for traditionalists who object to serving under women bishops. The dioceses must report back by 2012 and a final vote by the ruling body, the General Synod, will still be needed, but supporters say a milestone has been passed.

NAACP Passes Resolution Blasting Tea Party ‘Racism’

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has passed a resolution that condemns what it feels is rampant racism in the Tea Party movement.  Members passed the measure on Tuesday at the NAACP’s 101st annual convention being held in Kansas City, Missouri. Tea Party activists have swiftly denounced the action as unfounded and unfair. “We take no issue with the Tea Party.  We believe in freedom of assembly and people raising their voices in a democracy,” NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous said in a statement. “We take issue with the Tea Party’s continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements.  The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no space for racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in their movement,” Jealous added. Former Alaska Gov.  Sarah Palin, a Tea Party favorite,  said the charge from the NAACP is “false, appalling, and is a regressive and diversionary tactic to change the subject at hand.”

  • Protest groups always attract fringe elements that do not define the true nature of the organization. The same can be said about the NAACP.

New BP Cap Testing Delayed

Workers successfully bolted a 150,000-pound “capping stack” on top of the surging well, and engineers planned tests Tuesday to check whether the cap can withstand the enormous pressure from the oil flow. But BP is delaying critical tests on a new, tightly sealed cap designed to halt the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after government officials said more analysis was needed on the plan. When the tests begin, and if successful, the new device could halt the flow of oil for the first time in 85 days. Even if the new cap eventually works, it won’t mean the end. Engineers must finish drilling a relief well to intercept the runaway well and seal it with mud and cement. The relief line is 5 feet away, and the well likely won’t be sealed until mid-August.

Feds Issue Revised Deep-Water Drilling Ban

The federal government on Monday issued a revised moratorium on deep-sea offshore drilling, imposed on the heels of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike the previous moratorium, which was struck down in federal court, the new one isn’t based on water depth and applies to any deep-water floating facility with drilling activities. It will last through Nov. 30. The government’s moratorium has been criticized by Louisiana‘s political and industry leaders, who say it is piling on economic hardship to an area already suffering from the oil spill. So far, the moratorium has caused more than 12,000 job losses and more than $172 million in lost revenue, according to a study by Greater New Orleans, a regional economic development agency.

Technology Disasters Share Trail of Hubris

It’s all so familiar. A technological disaster, then a presidential commission examining what went wrong. And ultimately a discovery that while technology marches on, concern for safety lags. Space shuttles shatter. Bridges buckle. Hotel walkways collapse. Levees fail. An offshore oil rig explodes, creating the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Technology turns out not to be as foolproof as it first seemed. The common thread all too often is technological arrogance and hubris. It’s the belief by those in charge that they’re the experts, that they know what they’re doing is safe. Add to that the human weaknesses of avoidance, greed and sloppiness, say academics who study disasters. Even before the oil spill commission holds its first meeting Monday in New Orleans, panel co-chairman William Reilly couldn’t help but point out something he’s already noticed. The technology to clean up after an oil spill “is primitive,” Reilly said. “It’s wholly disproportionate to the tremendous technological advances that have allowed deepwater drilling to go forward. It just hasn’t kept pace.”

Energy Bill Scaled Down

President Obama‘s attempt to use the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to help propel comprehensive energy legislation has failed, but the Senate plans to unveil a scaled-back measure as early as next week. A month ago, Obama used his first Oval Office address to the nation to press for congressional action on energy and climate change legislation — the only major piece of his domestic agenda that has languished in Congress. Yet on Tuesday, the topic didn’t even come up when the president met with the Senate’s Democratic leaders at the White House to discuss upcoming legislation. Instead, the meeting focused on financial regulation, aid for the unemployed and increasing loans to small businesses. The energy bill likely to emerge in the Senate won’t look like the one Obama has sought since taking office. He wants to charge utilities and other companies for a portion of their greenhouse gas emissions as a way to reduce pollution and pay for clean energy alternatives. Instead, the Senate bill is likely to include renewable energy standards and tax credits, tougher fuel-efficiency requirements, incentives for electric vehicles and new oil drilling regulations.

Financial Regulation Bill Faces Final Vote this Week

President Barack Obama on Tuesday secured the 60 votes he needs in the Senate to pass a sweeping overhaul of financial regulations, all but ensuring that he soon will sign into law one of the top initiatives of his presidency. With the votes in hand to overcome Republican delaying tactics, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he hoped for final passage on Thursday. The House already has passed the bill. Passage would represent a signature achievement for the president just four months after he signed massive health care legislation into law. The 2,300-page bill aims to address regulatory weaknesses blamed for the 2008 financial crisis that fueled the worst recession since the 1930s. It gives regulators broad authority to rein in banks, limit risk-taking by financial firms and supervise previously unregulated trading. It also makes it easier to liquidate large, financially interconnected institutions, and it creates a new consumer protection bureau to guard against lending abuses.

Senate Republicans Press for Deep Cuts in Obama Budget

Senate Republicans are backing a plan to shave $26 billion from President Barack Obama’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. GOP members requested a spending cap at fiscal year 2011 projected levels — $26 billion less than President Obama’s submitted budget. “Over the last two years discretionary spending has increased by 17%, not including stimulus spending. With stimulus spending included the increase soars to 84%,” they warn. “The American people are saying to us: You’re spending too much, you’re running up too many debts, and we expect you to do something about it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Ø      Someone has to something about runaway spending and spiraling deficits or an even worse recession/depression looms

Economic News

The federal deficit has topped $1 trillion with three months still to go in the current budget year, showing the continued impact of a deep recession and emergency spending on the government’s finances. In its monthly budget report, the Treasury Department said Tuesday that through the first nine months of this budget year, the deficit totals $1 trillion, down 7.6% from the $1.09 trillion in red ink run up during the same period a year ago.

The U.S. trade deficit widened in May to the highest level in 18 months as a rebounding economy pushed up demand for imports of foreign-made cars, computers and clothing. The trade deficit increased 4.8% to $42.3 billion. American exports of goods and services rose 2.4% but this increase was outpaced by a 2.9% rise in imports.

Small banks that took federal bailout money are struggling to repay the government, and “a growing number could default on their obligations to taxpayers” or go out of business. The Congressional Oversight Panel reports today that fewer than 10% of small banks that participated in the bailout have repaid Uncle Sam and that one in seven have missed making dividend payments. Many smaller banks are floundering, the panel says.

Retail sales fell in June for the second straight month. Retail spending dropped 0.5% in June, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. That followed a 1.1% fall in May. Much of the weakness last month came from a drop in auto sales and a decline in gasoline prices. Excluding autos and gasoline, sales would have risen 0.1%.

Greece on Tuesday raised euro1.625 billion ($2.04 billion) in a debt auction, its first since getting bailed out in May The sale was seen as an important test of Greece’s financial recovery effort amid continued Europe-wide concern over sovereign debt.

Middle East

Israeli military officials say a Libyan ship carrying supplies and pro-Palestinian activists is heading for Egypt instead of Gaza, averting a confrontation at sea. Israel has insisted that it would not allow the Libyan ship to reach Gaza, breaking a naval blockade. The officials said Israeli naval vessels would continue to accompany the Libyan ship, because a last-minute course change could point the ship toward Gaza. Israel came under harsh international criticism after nine activists were killed in a raid on a Turkish flotilla on May 31.

Afghanistan

Warplanes in Afghanistan are dropping bombs and missiles on insurgents at about 25% of the rate they did three years ago despite more widespread combat, reflecting commanders’ emphasis on reducing civilian deaths. So far this year, jets have dropped bombs on only 10% of their combat support missions, compared with almost 40% in 2007. The decline coincides with the arrival of most of the additional 30,000 U.S. troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama. Attacks on U.S. and allied troops — as well as deaths — are at all-time highs. Some military analysts say the new rules have increased risk to ground forces fighting the Taliban.

A car bomb and gunfight at the entrance of a police headquarters killed three U.S. troops and five civilians in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. An Afghan police officer also died in the attack on the compound of the elite Afghan National Civili Order Police late Tuesday night. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. A suicide attacker slammed a car bomb into the entrance of the compound, then insurgents opened fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Ireland

Northern Ireland leaders condemned Irish nationalist rioters Tuesday who wounded 82 police officers during two nights of street clashes sparked by the province’s annual parades by the British Protestant majority. While most of the injured officers suffered only cuts and bruises, others suffered burns and broken hands. Two remained hospitalized: a policeman wounded in the chest and arms by a shotgun blast, and a policewoman who had a paving stone dropped on her head from a shop’s rooftop. The violence in working-class Catholic parts of Belfast and other towns came both before and after tens of thousands of Protestants of the Orange Order brotherhood marched at 18 locations across Northern Ireland in an annual show of communal strength.

France

France’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on wearing burqa-style Islamic veils Tuesday, part of a determined effort to define and protect French values that has disconcerted many in the country’s large Muslim community. Proponents of the law say face-covering veils don’t square with the French ideal of women’s equality or its secular tradition. The bill is controversial abroad but popular in France, where its relatively few outspoken critics. The ban on burqas and niqabs will go in September to the Senate, where it also is likely to pass. Some legal scholars say there is a chance it could be deemed unconstitutional.

Italy

Italian police on Tuesday carried out one of the biggest operations ever against the powerful ‘ndrangheta crime organization, arresting 300 people including top bosses, and seizing million of dollars in property. The man believed to be the ‘ndrangheta’s top boss was picked up earlier in the day in a small town in Calabria, the southern region where the organization is based. Also arrested was the man in charge of the gang’s businesses in Milan, where the ‘ndrangheta has been making major inroads. The pre-dawn raids Tuesday involved some 3,000 police across the country. Charges include murder, extortion, arms and drug trafficking and criminal association.

Wildfires

Voluntary evacuations have been urged for residents of about 50 homes in the Southern California city of Camarillo, where a wildfire has burned about 50 acres. About 250 firefighters were working Tuesday to put out the blaze, along with four helicopters and four air tankers. The fire is burning uphill and away from homes through steep canyons. The blaze sent up huge plumes of smoke that could be seen for miles. The fire had burned right up to backyards, but most residents had cleared space around their property.

Weather

A combination of better warning systems and fewer strong tornadoes have brought a sharp drop in deaths during tornadoes so far this year, weather experts said. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Storm Prediction Center said 29 people died in tornadoes across the country through the end of June — about half the average number in the past 30 years. Twenty-one people died in tornadoes last year, but 2008 had 126 deaths from tornadoes.

Landslides slammed into three mountain hamlets in western China early Tuesday, killing 17 people and leaving 44 missing, while crews drained a fast-rising reservoir in another part of the country following heavy rains. The landslides swept through three different areas before dawn. The waters in a reservoir near the far western city of Golmud began to subside Tuesday after hundreds of workers and soldiers finished digging a diversion channel. Over the weekend, about 10,000 residents were evacuated as soldiers transported sandbags, rocks and dirt and used bulldozers to dig the emergency waterway.

Eighteen people were killed and 57 others are missing as Tropical Storm Conson moved over the Philippines, the country’s National Disaster Coordinating Council reported Wednesday. Four people died when a warehouse under construction collapsed, the council said. Several people were hit by fallen debris and several others drowned. Twelve people were injured by debris. The missing included 25 fishermen. Nearly 500 houses were reported damaged. Many were still without power. The storm became the first typhoon of 2010 on Monday before losing some steam.

Seven-square miles of a Greenland glacier broke up on July 6 and 7, moving the edge of the glacier a mile inland in one day, the furthest inland it has ever been observed. The Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier is located on the west coast of Greenland. It has retreated more than 27 miles since 1850, six of them in the last decade. Jakobshavn is also believed to be the single largest contributor to sea level rise in the northern hemisphere.

July 12, 2010

Lawsuit over Arizona’s Immigration Law might Stall Reform

The Justice Department’s decision to try to block the controversial Arizona state immigration law could make any type of comprehensive immigration solution even more elusive. The hot-button issue has stymied Congress for years – Sen. John McCain’s support for reform nearly cost him the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 – and the divide has only gotten deeper. Reform opponents say the lawsuit is nothing more than election-year pandering by President Barack Obama, who is trying to shore up the Hispanic vote in advance of what is shaping up to be a crucial congressional midterm-campaign season. And some Latinos, who were assured by candidate Obama that he would push for reform early in his first term, if elected, believe that despite a major, pro-reform speech this month, the president isn’t doing enough to help millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country get right with the law. Even the administration’s decision to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops to help with the border-security mission has done little to change the political dynamics. Republican border hawks immediately dismissed the action as insufficient while pro-reform advocates don’t appreciate the emphasis on border enforcement.

Democratic governors expressed “grave” concerns to White House officials this weekend about the Obama administration’s suit against Arizona’s new immigration law, warning it could cost the party in crucial elections this fall, The New York Times reported late Sunday. “Universally the governors are saying, ‘We’ve got to talk about jobs, and all of a sudden we have immigration going on,'” Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, was quoted as saying. Rallying around Gov. Brewer at the Boston meeting, Republican Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska told the Times: “I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that almost every state in America next January is going to see a bill similar to Arizona’s.” Meanwhile, residents from all over the country donated nearly $500,000 to help Arizona defend its immigration enforcement law through Arizona’s defense fund’s website.

Federal Immigration Raids Lead to Firings, Not Deportation

The Obama administration’s new approach to dealing with companies that hire illegal immigrants results in firings, not deportations, the New York Times reported Friday. Instead of immigration sweeps at factories and farms which used to lead to illegal workers being shipped out of the country, the administration’s new policy—government conducted audits labeled “silent raids” by employers—usually only result in the workers losing their jobs. In these audits, federal agents examine company records to find illegal workers on the payroll, forcing “businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant… not just those who happened to be on duty at the time of a raid,” the Times said. This makes it more difficult for companies to hire undocumented workers to fill these positions in the future. This year alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement have facilitated the firing of thousands of immigrants and “levied a record $3 million in civil fines,” the Times reported.

Gulf Oil Leak could be Contained Monday

Oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at an accelerated pace as BP rushes to install a more secure capping system that the oil company hopes will contain all of the leaking crude from the ruptured well. The difficult maneuver will take five more days to complete, during which the Coast Guard warns that oil will flow almost unabated into the Gulf. Between 1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons per day are leaking into the Gulf from the well, according to government estimates. Between 88 million and 174 million gallons have already spilled into the Gulf so far in the worst oil spill in U.S. history. BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said the company is “pleased” with the progress of the capping operation but also sounded a note of caution. Known as “top hat,” the new cap weighs 150,000 pounds and is designed to seal the leak and provide connections for vessels on the surface to collect oil. The cap has valves that can restrict the oil and even contain it, if the cap can withstand the enormous pressure of the flow.

Obama Eases Benefits Process for Vets with PTSD

President Obama said Saturday that veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder will now have easier access to benefits. Previously, veterans “have been required to produce evidence proving that a specific event caused their PTSD,” Obama said during his Saturday radio address. “And that practice has kept the vast majority of those with PTSD who served in non-combat roles, but who still waged war, from getting the care they need.” The Department of Veterans Affairs will begin streamlining the benefits process this week.

Debt Commission Paints Gloomy Picture

The heads of President Barack Obama’s national debt commission painted a gloomy picture Sunday as the United States struggles to get its spending under control. The nation’s total federal debt next year is expected to exceed $14 trillion — about $47,000 for every U.S. resident. “This debt is like a cancer,” Democrat Erskine Bowles said in a sober presentation. “It is truly going to destroy the country from within.” Republican Alan Simpson said the entirety of the nation’s current discretionary spending is consumed by the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs. “The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans, the whole rest of the discretionary budget, is being financed by China and other countries,” said Simpson. China alone currently holds $920 billion in U.S. IOUs. Bowles said if the U.S. makes no changes it will be spending $2 trillion by 2020 just for interest on the national debt.

States/Cities Look to Privatize Gov’t Services

New Jersey could save $210 million a year by privatizing several state services, including preschools, state parks, mental hospitals, toll booths, vehicle inspections and smog tests, according to a commission report obtained by the Newark Star-Ledger. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, commissioned the report in March. It’s not yet clear how many recommendations he might adopt. The state would then sell the land where its facilities now operate. The paper writes that the car inspection proposal “is sure to stir up controversy in a state with a tortured history of privatizing emissions testing.”

Phoenix council members and top officials are assessing whether to privatize more services such as park landscaping, street cleaning and facility operations at Maryvale Baseball Park in an effort to save money. The city already privatizes about $432 million in services in about 350 service areas ranging from public transit to janitorial work. Proponents of more outsourcing, or hiring private firms to provide services, say it could potentially save taxpayers millions of dollars every year because they don’t have to pay the costs associated with employees, such as health benefits or workers’-compensation insurance. They say competition from the private sector will encourage more efficient delivery of services. Hundreds of employees have marched to City Council meetings twice in the past month, asking elected officials to protect jobs and cooperate with labor unions before moving forward with more outsourcing.

Economic News

Regulators on Friday shut down banks in Maryland, Oklahoma and New York, lifting to 90 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. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008, the year the financial crisis struck with force, and only three succumbed in 2007.

The stock market ended its best week in a year with another gain Friday as investors bet that companies will report strong second-quarter earnings. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 59 points, or 0.6%. That gave the Dow its biggest weekly advance in a year, 5.3%. Broader indexes posted bigger gains.

Inventories held by U.S. wholesalers rose for a fifth consecutive month in May, but sales fell for the first time in more than a year. Wholesale inventories increased 0.5% while sales dropped 0.3%. The May sales decline is the latest sign that the economic recovery could be losing momentum.

The credit scores of millions more Americans are sinking to new lows. Figures show that 25.5% of consumers — nearly 43.4 million people — now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders. It’s unlikely they will be able to get credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards banks now use.

While sales of cars and trucks in the U.S. continue to be more sluggish than expected, automakers — especially the Detroit Three — are enjoying the largest increase in average transaction prices in more than five years. Consumers spent an average of $29,217 for their new cars or trucks from January through May — an increase of $1,057, or 3.7%, compared with last year.

Uganda

Explosions tore through crowds watching the World Cup final at a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant, killing at least 74 people. Police feared an al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group was behind the attacks, as Uganda‘s president declared Monday “we shall get them wherever they are.” The blasts came two days after a commander with the Somali group, al-Shabab, called for militants to attack sites in Uganda and Burundi, two nations that contribute troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia. Ugandan government spokesman Fred Opolot said Monday there were indications that two suicide bombers took part in the late Sunday attacks, which left nearly 60 others wounded.

Haiti

Six months since a magnitude-7.0 earthquake leveled 60% of the city’s buildings and killed 230,000 people, there are few visible signs of improvement. Buildings destroyed by the earthquake lie where they collapsed. The presidential palace, which became a worldwide symbol of the devastation, remains a gleaming heap of concrete. One of the biggest challenges is helping the estimated 1.5 million people who were left homeless. More than 1,300 makeshift camps which sprang up after the earthquake are still occupied. Frustration is high among Haitians and aid groups who say they see halting and haphazard progress toward recovery. The Haitian government — responsible for the cleanup but still reeling after the loss of most of its buildings and many of its workers — and the aid groups blame each other for the lack of progress. Minister Felix Longchamp, secretary-general to the president, says that despite the millions of dollars pledged to help Haiti, the funds are going through international aid organizations, which are not coordinating efforts.

Iran

The controversial death sentence by stoning for an Iranian woman convicted of adultery will not be implemented for now, said a judicial official on Sunday. The world outcry over the death sentence has become the latest issue in Iran‘s fraught relationship with the international community. The United States, Britain and international human rights groups have all urged Tehran not to carry out the sentence. Human Rights Watch, one of several groups publicizing Ashtiani’s case, said she was first convicted in May 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men following the death of her husband — for which a court in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran, sentenced her to 99 lashes. But later that year she was also convicted of adultery. Stoning was widely imposed in the years following the 1979 Islamic revolution, and even though Iran’s judiciary still regularly hands down such sentences, they are often converted to other punishments.

Afghanistan

Militant attacks in once-calm northern Afghanistan killed at least 11 police officers and a government official whose car was hit by a remote-controlled bomb, officials said Sunday. In the south, NATO said a U.S. service member died Sunday following an insurgent attack and a combined coaliton and Afghan patrol killed a senior Taliban commander and a dozen other insurgents who were discovered planting a homemade bomb on a road. Insurgents as well as coalition forces have escalated attacks across the country in recent months, as the NATO-led force pours in 30,000 more U.S. troops in a new push to break the Taliban’s hold in their strongholds and establish stable Afghan governance. International and Afghan commandos have been conducting near-nightly raids to capture or kill insurgents, while the Taliban have launched attacks on army bases and local officials and planted thousands of roadside bombs.

Pakistan

The death toll from twin suicide bombings in Pakistan jumped to 102 with 115 people wounded on Saturday, making it the deadliest attack this year in the country. Authorities continued to remove debris from the site of the attack in the village of Yakaghund in a northwest tribal region, after two bombers struck seconds apart Friday near a government office.

Japan

Battered by voter backlash over the prospect of higher sales taxes, Japan‘s ruling Democratic Party suffered a heavy defeat in a parliamentary election Sunday, dealing a blow that could hinder the young government’s ability to control soaring debt. The projected losses were worse than expected and will make it difficult for Prime Minister Naoto Kan‘s government to effectively tackle serious problems confronting the world’s second-largest economy, from reining in its bulging deficit, reviving its stagnant economy and support a rapidly aging population. The projected results indicate that the ruling coalition lost its 122-seat majority in parliament’s upper house. The election won’t directly affect the Democrats’ grip on power because they control the more powerful lower house of parliament. But it does raise the serious prospect of gridlock.

Weather

Record heat that has been baking much of the nation for weeks is likely to have lasting effects on farm crops and consumers in the Northeast. “It’s been devastating,” says Carl Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “The lack of rain combined with close to 100-degree temperatures just takes a toll on crops.” Colleagues from Maryland, Delaware, New York and New England report similar problems. Dairy farmers are hurting too, he says because their cows eat less and produce less milk when they’re hot, and farmers may need to buy feed to replace damaged feed crops of corn and soybeans. July’s recent heat spike followed a June that also set records. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that record-warm June temperatures occurred in Delaware, New Jersey and North Carolina; which had average temperatures 5 to 6 degrees above average.

July 9, 2010

Judge Rules Federal Defense of Marriage Act is Unconstitutional

The federal law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define the institution and therefore denies married gay couples some federal benefits, a federal judge ruled Thursday in Boston. U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in favor of gay couples’ rights in two separate challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, a 1996 law that the Obama administration has argued for repealing. The rulings apply to Massachusetts but could have broader implications if they’re upheld on appeal. The state had argued the law denied benefits such as Medicaid to gay married couples in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004. Tauro agreed and said the act forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens in order to be eligible for federal funding in federal-state partnerships. In a ruling in a separate case filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Tauro ruled the act violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Presbyterian Church Committee: Allow Same-Sex Marriage

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) would become the largest denomination in the nation to allow same-sex marriage if it follows a recommendation made Tuesday by a church legislative committee. And another church committee, gathering for the Louisville-based church’s week-long legislative General Assembly in Minneapolis, recommended the church begin ordaining non-celibate gays and lesbians. The assembly’s committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues voted 34-18 to change the definition of marriage in the church constitution to describe marriage as a covenant between “two people” rather than between “a man and a woman.” This “would recognize committed, lifelong relationships that are already being lived out by our members,” said a committee statement. Both measures would require passage by the full General Assembly later this week, but their passage by strong majorities in committee shows they have strong prospects.

  • Satan’s plan to undermine God’s natural order is gaining traction as the end-times continue to unleash the spirit of lawlessness (Matt. 24:12, 2Thess.2:7)

Three Arrested in al-Qaeda Bomb Plot

Three suspected al-Qaeda members are under arrest in what Norwegian and U.S. officials say was a bombing plot linked to similar plans in New York and England. U.S. and Norway had been watching the three men for more than a year and say they planned a bombing similar to the one thwarted in the New York subway system last year. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has called that one of the most serious terrorist plots since 9/11. On Wednesday, U.S. prosecutors revealed the existence of a related plot in England.

Three Convicted over Airliner Bomb Plot

A jury on Thursday convicted three British Muslims of conspiring to murder hundreds of people as part of a plot to blow up passenger planes over the Atlantic. The three men were found guilty at London’s Woolwich Crown Court after a three-month trial. They will be sentenced Monday and face life imprisonment. Prosecutors say the men were part of a group that planned to detonate liquid explosive bombs hidden in soft drink bottles on aircraft bound for the United States and Canada in 2006, an attack that could have killed people on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks. The plot was broken up when suspects were scooped up in raids in London and the surrounding area in August 2006.

NSA Creating Spy System to Monitor Domestic Infrastructure

The National Security Agency has begun work on an “expansive” spy system that will monitor critical infrastructure inside the United States for cyber-attacks, in a move that detractors say could end up violating privacy rights and expanding the NSA’s domestic spying abilities. The Wall Street Journal cites unnamed sources as saying that the NSA has issued a $100-million contract to defense contractor Raytheon to build a system dubbed “Perfect Citizen,” which will involve placing “sensors” at critical points in the computer networks of private and public organizations that run infrastructure, organizations such as nuclear power plants and electric grid operators. In an email obtained by the Journal, an unnamed Raytheon employee describes the system as “Big Brother.” Some officials familiar with Perfect Citizen see it “as an intrusion by the NSA into domestic affairs, while others say it is an important program to combat an emerging security threat that only the NSA is equipped to provide,” the Journal states.

Number of Afghans Gone AWOL in U.S. Reaches 46

A be-on-the-lookout alert issued last month for 17 Afghan military men who walked away from an Air Force base in Texas has turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. No fewer than 46 members of the Afghan military have gone absent without leave from the Defense Language Institute’s English Language Center at Lackland Air Force Base in recent years, FoxNews.com has learned. Five of these Afghan deserters remain at large; eight are in custody; at least 18 are in Canada and one has been granted conditional U.S. residency.  The most recent to disappear fled the Texas base just last Thursday, hours after his graduation ceremony. Some of the men disappeared before completing the Defense Language Institute (DLI) program. Others graduated from DLI but vanished before their scheduled flights back to Afghanistan. Many never showed up at the U.S. military base where they were scheduled to attend specialized formal training.

U.S. & Russia Swap Spies

U.S. and Russian flights involved in a 14-person spy swap landed briefly in Vienna, apparently exchanged agents, then took off again in the largest such diplomatic dance since the Cold War. In a carefully scripted exchange, the two planes arrived within minutes of each other Friday, parked nose-to-tail at a remote section on the tarmac, then spent about an hour and a half there before departing just as quickly. The swap apparently completed, a Russian Emergencies Ministry Yakovlvev Yak-42 plane left Vienna reportedly carrying 10 agents deported from the U.S. Minutes later, a maroon-and-white Boeing 767-200 that brought those agents in from New York took off, apparently with four Russians who had confessed to spying for the West. U.S. officials said some of those freed by Russia were ailing, and cited humanitarian concerns in part for arranging the swap in such a hurry. The 10 Russian agents arrested in the U.S. had tried to blend into American suburbia but been under watch for up to a decade by the FBI. Their access to top U.S. national security secrets appeared spotty at best, although the extent of what they knew and passed on is not publicly known.

Arizona Immigration Law a Model for Other States

Arizona’s immigration law, considered controversial by some and under legal assault by the Obama administration, is fast emerging as a popular model in other states where illegal immigration is a hot-button issue. And while protests against the law have drawn thousands to marches across the country, polls have consistently showed a majority of Americans favor the get-tough approach against illegal immigration. At least three other states could pass similar legislation next year, and in many others, like Florida, GOP candidates are filming campaign ads and pushing debates favoring the law. Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah have each taken steps against illegal immigration, and politicians in the three states are advocating further measures when their legislatures reconvene early next year, according to The Washington Post. Meanwhile, lawmakers in at least 14 other states drew up bills that permit police officers to question anyone they suspect of being in the county illegally – the core issue of the Arizona law. Immigration law experts tell Newsmax that the administration has little chance of prevailing against the Arizona statute.

Poll: Illegals Are Major Strain on Budget

As the country wrestles with a future of historic-level deficits, 67% of U.S. voters say that illegal immigrants are a significant strain on the U.S. budget. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 23% disagree and do not believe illegal immigration is a strain on the budget. Two-out-of-three (66%) voters say the availability of government money and services draw illegal immigrants to the United States. These findings help to explain why 68% say gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers already living in the United States. Twenty-six percent (26%) think legalizing illegal immigrants is more important. The majority support for controlling the borders has been consistent through several years of surveying.

BP Compensation Falls Short

BP is wading into the murky, massive effort of compensating Gulf Coast fishermen, workers and businesses affected by the spill — one of the biggest payout efforts in U.S. history. As of Thursday, BP has paid more than $158 million to 51,000 claimants; payouts range from $1,000 to $450,000, according to BP statistics. Another 48,500 claims remain unpaid. More than 900 adjusters each day — seven days a week, in 35 claims offices throughout the Gulf Coast region — sift through the tax records, bank statements, check stubs and fishing tickets of the tens of thousands of out-of-work fishermen, oyster shuckers, dock owners and litany of others who claim to be financially harmed. The adjusters decide who should get a check and who shouldn’t. More than 2,000 new claims are added to the system each day.

Under pressure from the White House, BP also has agreed to set up a $20 billion fund independently administered by Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer best known for managing the $7 billion payout to the families of 9/11 victims. Another $100 million has been set aside to compensate workers left idled by the federal government’s six-month moratorium on deep-sea drilling. The moratorium remains in effect pending appeals of a federal judge’s recent ruling to overturn the moratorium and allow the drilling to continue. Claimants receiving the payouts will give up their rights to sue BP or seek further compensation. Many claim the payments are only a fraction of their total loss.

Gulf of Mexico‘s Vietnamese Fishing Community Hit Hard

The gushing oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig has upturned countless lives across the Gulf Coast. The Vietnamese community in and around Biloxi, Mississippi, has been particularly devastated. Consisting mostly of shrimp and crab fishermen, the Vietnamese community here centers around the Gulf — from fishermen to tackle shop owners to restaurateurs serving Gulf seafood. Around 2,000 of the area’s 7,500 Vietnamese have been directly impacted by the oil spill. As BP began compensating those affected, language barriers quickly became a problem. Claim forms and posters were initially English-only and translators were scarce. Those issues have been corrected by BP, but the Vietnamese still struggle to navigate through the system and get fully compensated.

Gulf’s Endangered Sea Turtles’ Eggs Relocated

Friday an army of wildlife experts, volunteers and FedEx will kick off an unprecedented plan to relocate more than 50,000 sea turtle eggs from the northwest coast of Florida and Alabamato the east coast of Florida, allowing the turtles a safer swim in the Atlantic Ocean. Without the help, it’s “highly unlikely” this generation would survive in the Gulf’s oil-tainted waters, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Chuck Underwood. The hatchlings normally feed on the seaweed at the edge of the current where oil is located. The sea turtle eggs will be moved within a week of hatching from about 600 to 800 nests buried across the Florida Panhandle and Alabama beaches. Once the turtles emerge from their shells, they’ll be released at night when predators are less likely to find them. The process will continue until October. The eggs take about 60 days to mature.

Gun Control Group Support Kagan

The gun control group at The Brady Center issued a statement urging senators to confirm anti-gun Kagan to the Supreme Court. Anti-gun extremists at the Brady Center said the group was “encouraged” by Kagan’s work on gun control issues in the Clinton White House, as well as her comments on 2nd amendment decisions during her confirmation hearings. Obama’s judicial nominations reflect a pattern of loading courts with anti-gun judges and goes against his 2008 presidential campaign promise about guns that despite his anti-gun past he assured voters that he had always supported the Second Amendment as an individual right.

U.S. Cancer Death Rate Continues to Drop

The number of deaths due to cancer continues to decline in the United States, according to new statistics from the American Cancer Society. The downward trend, which began in the early 1990s, means about 767,000 fewer deaths from cancer over the past two decades, according to the group’s estimates. The report finds that the death rate from cancer overall in the United States in 2007 was 178.4 per 100,000 people — a drop of 1.3% from the previous year. This decline continues a trend that started in 1991 for men and in 1992 for women. Since that time, death rates have fallen 21% among men and 12% among women, the report says. “Cancer death rates continue to decrease because of prevention, early detection and improved treatment,” said lead researcher Dr. Ahmedin Jemal.

Economic News

New claims for unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week, but they have yet to reach levels that most economists say would signal strong job creation. The Labor Department said Thursday that new requests for jobless aid dropped 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 454,000. The decline takes claims to their lowest level since early May, erasing the increases of the last two months.

The number of unemployed Americans receiving unemployment benefits is also dropping sharply because their aid is ending. About 350,000 people saw their benefits cut off in the week of June 19 after Congress left for a week-long recess without extending federal jobless aid. That brings the total to about 1.6 million people who have had their benefits end since May. Those numbers could reach 3.3 million by the end of the month if Congress doesn’t pass an extension when it returns from recess.

Early reports from U.S. retailers show sluggish June sales and shoppers buying mostly deeply discounted clothing amid escalating job worries. June’s lackluster revenue performance is raising concerns about back-to-school shopping and the health of the economic recovery.

Consumer borrowing fell again in May, more evidence that Americans remain jittery over their finances and the durability of the economic recovery. The Federal Reserve said Thursday that borrowing dropped by $9.1 billion in May. It also said borrowing declined by $14.9 billion in April. Consumer borrowing has fallen in 15 of the past 16 months. Credit card borrowing has fallen for 20 straight months.

Wells Fargo says it’s laying off 3,800 employees over the next year as part of a restructuring of its consumer finance unit. The San Francisco-based bank is consolidating Wells Fargo Wells Fargo Financial into its community banking network. The company says 638 independent consumer finance offices will be closed as a result. The layoffs represent about 27% of Wells Fargo Financial’s 14,000 employees.

Iraq

Militants struck across the Iraqi capital Wednesday, killing more than 50 people, including 32 in a suicide bombing that targeted pilgrims commemorating a revered Shiite saint,. The attacks — the deadliest of which occurred in northern Baghdad‘s predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah— offered a clear indication of the push by insurgents to exploit Iraq‘s political vacuum and destabilize the country as U.S. troops head home. Police said the bloody suicide bombing that killed 32 and wounded more than 90 people, occurred Wednesday evening air as Shiite pilgrims were about to cross a bridge leading to the a shrine in the Shiite Kazimiyah neighborhood where a revered imam is buried.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle struck outside a government office Friday in a tribal region where Pakistan‘s army has fought the Taliban, killing at least 48 people and wounding around 80 The attack indicated that militants remain a potent force in Pakistan’s tribal belt, which borders Afghanistan, despite army offensives. The bomber detonated his explosives near the Yakaghund village office of a top administrator of the Mohmand tribal region. Mohmand is one of several areas in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt where Taliban and al-Qaeda are believed to be hiding. The Pakistani army has carried out operations in Mohmand, but it has been unable to extirpate the militants.

India

ASSIST News Service reports that around 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution in India. According to the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) “human trafficking is a major problem” and they believe that 90 percent of human trafficking in India is “intra-country.” Ashwani Kumar, head of the Central Bureau of Investigation, said that India has occupied a “unique position” as what he called a source, transit nation and destination of this trade. India’s home secretary Madhukar Gupta remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India. Concrete numbers are difficult to determine, but “studies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimate that there are about three million prostitutes in the country, of which an estimated 40 percent are children,” a CBI statement said.

ASSIST News Service also reports that Hindu extremists continue to victimize pastors in India, using anti-conversion laws as an excuse to attack Christians and limit church activities. According to U.K.-based Release International, two pastors were seriously injured on June 23 when they were attacked by men wielding iron bars in Chandapura, Karnataka state. The men accused them of converting people to Christianity by force. Before that attack some extremists reported to be from the Bajrang Dal organization burnt at least seven vehicles belonging to the Jesus With Us Pentecostal Church. The attack followed efforts by Hindu extremists to prevent the church from holding a four-day convention. The gathering went ahead in a different location under police protection.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s religious communities continue to strike each other with sporadic violence, Worthy News reports. Christians in two states of Nigeria are mourning the killings of at least eight Christian believers. “On the night of July 3, several Muslims attacked Kizachi village in Kaduna State and killed five Christians, including a primary school teacher and mother of six children. The Muslims also burned down five Christian homes,” said International Christian Concern (ICC). According to ICC, police stopped protecting the village on July 2 as the government failed to pay their salaries. There was no immediate comment from Nigerian police. The second attack on July 4 happened near the violence-riddled city of Jos, when 200 Muslims armed with guns and machetes stormed Ganawuri community, allegedly killing three Christians.

Earthquakes

An earthquake was felt in the Los Angeles area Wednesday morning. The magnitude-5.9 quake was centered 28 miles south of Palm Springs, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It struck at 4:53 p.m. local time. A Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokeswoman said there have been no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Weather

Across the East Coast and beyond Wednesday, people felt the effects of one of the worst heat waves in memory. A fourth day of record-breaking temperatures blanketing the East Coast overtaxed power grids, sent Naval Academy plebes to the hospital and just made folks miserable from New York City to Raleigh, N.C. The triple-digit heat shattered records for the date in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Raleigh and Hartford, Conn., the National Weather Service said. The temperature in Richmond, Va., hit 103. In New York City, where the temperature hit 100, residents maxed out the power grid. Power company Con Edison

broke its 2010 record for peak electricity use at 5 p.m. Tuesday, delivering 12,963 megawatts of power to sweltering New Yorkers. The intense heat and high power demand caused an electrical fire in Washington, destroying several hundred feet of cable that delivers power to parts of the city.

A rain-packed tropical depression collided with the Texas-Mexico border region on Thursday, posing a new threat to cities already struggling with floods along the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Police in Laredo, Texas, were evacuating people in low-lying areas as the rain-swollen Rio Grande rose to more than 30 feet above flood stage and forced closure of at least two bridges linking Mexico and the U.S. Tens of thousands of people already had been forced from their homes in Mexican towns as officials dumped torrents of water into flood-swollen rivers to avoid the risk of dams overflowing out of control due to last week’s Hurricane Alex and its aftermath. Humberto Moreira, the governor of the border state of Coahuila, said that more than 20,000 homes had been flooded in his state alone, and about 80,000 people had “lost all of their furniture.”