Archive for August, 2010

August 30, 2010

Thousands Rally in Washington

Tens of thousands of people, drawn to the nation’s capital by conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck, rallied Saturday at the Lincoln Memorial in a show of political force that had the feel of a religious revival. “Something beyond imagination is happening,” Beck told a crowd that stretched across the National Mall. “America begins today to turn back to God.” The event, called “Restoring Honor,” was billed as a non-political tribute to the nation’s troops, and the crowd was packed with people wearing American flag and military t-shirts. Busloads of Beck supporters from across the country were brought together by members of the Tea Party, anti-immigration groups and other organizations that generally support conservative political candidates and oppose President Obama‘s policies. The three-hour rally, held at the site of and on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King‘s “I Have a Dream” speech on racial equality, featured gospel singers, military heroes and a few politicians, including 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and potential 2012 presidential aspirant Sarah Palin.

Nonreligious Doctors More Likely to Hasten Death

Doctors who are atheist or agnostic are twice as likely to make decisions that could end the lives of their terminally ill patients, compared to doctors who are very religious, according to a new study in Britain. Dr. Clive Seale, a professor at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, conducted a random mail survey of more than 3,700 doctors across Britain, of whom 2,923 reported on how they took care of their last terminal patient. Doctors who described themselves as “extremely” or “very nonreligious” were nearly twice as likely to report having made decisions like providing continuous deep sedation, which could accelerate a patient’s death. To ensure doctors are acting in accordance with their patients’ wishes, Seale wrote that “nonreligious doctors should confess their predilections to their patients.” Seale also found that doctors who were religious were much less likely to have talked about end of life treatment decisions with their patients. “Whatever your personal beliefs may be …you must be respectful of the patient’s dignity and views,” the association says.

Feds Reluctantly Release Pro-Abstinence Study

In response to heavy criticism, the Department of Health and Human Services has reluctantly released the full results of a national study that favors abstinence education. The survey, which was initially released in summary form only, revealed that about 70 percent of parents and their teenagers believed teens should wait until marriage to have sex. But when a researcher requested the full report and was denied by HHS officials, that launched a grassroots effort by pro-family groups encouraging the public to file Freedom of Information Act requests. The full results show that a majority of those surveyed favor abstinence education. “We know that the current administration does not support abstinence education, which is hard to understand in and of itself because this is kind of a common-sense approach and a common-sense strategy,” notes Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.

School Exam Lauds Islam, Trashes Christianity

New York State education officials devised a high school exam containing passages extolling positive accomplishments of Islam while casting a negative light on aspects of Christian history.  The reading selections from the state-wide Regents exam on Global History and Geography contained a passage that said wherever Muslims went in the centuries following the birth of Islam, they “brought with them their love of art, beauty and learning. From about the eighth to the eleventh century, their culture was superior in many ways to that of western Christendom.” AIt also said that “Indians supplied construction labor without receiving payment.” n excerpt discussing Christianity’s introduction in Latin America stated that “idols, temples, and other material evidences of paganism [were] destroyed,” and “Christian buildings [were] often constructed on sites of destroyed native temples.” Mark MacWilliams, a religious studies professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., told the Post: “Why does the exam seem to have only documents that portray Islam as a religion of peace, civilization, and refinement, while it includes documents about Christianity that show it was anything but peaceful in the Spanish conquest of the Americas?”

  • Satan and the New World Order seek every opportunity to trash God’s true religion and raise up others instead

Feds to Drop Deportation of Thousands

The Obama administration is moving to throw out deportation cases against thousands of illegal immigrants if the immigrants have a potential path to legal residency. The move could affect as many as 17,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas, including some who are currently being detained and could be released from detention facilities as part of the move, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. It comes amid a push by ICE to focus on illegal immigrants who have committed crimes, rather than seek to deport all illegal immigrants. Officials say the shift is needed to reduce massive clogs in the nation’s Immigration Courts, where detainees can wait for months or years before their cases are decided, and to use deportation as a tool for public safety.

National Guard Soldiers Arrive at Arizona-Mexico Border

About 30 National Guard soldiers are expected to hit the Arizona-Mexico border Monday, a first wave of reinforcements sent by the Obama administration to bolster border security. Additional troops will be deployed each Monday until the full complement of 532 has joined the mission. The soldiers, all volunteers, received two to three weeks training that included surveillance techniques and a refresher course in first aid. They will be armed for self-defense, but will not have law-enforcement authority. Instead, their mission is to serve as “extra eyes and ears” for the U.S. Border Patrol. Some troops will be assigned to teams posted in concealed locations to watch for smugglers and illegal immigrants entering the United States. When the troops spot interlopers, they will call in agents to detain the suspects.

Kindergartens See More Hispanic, Asian Students

The kindergarten class of 2010-11 is less white, less black, more Asian and much more Hispanic than in 2000, reflecting the nation’s rapid racial and ethnic transformation. The profile of the 4 million children starting kindergarten reveals the startling changes the USA has undergone the past decade and offers a glimpse of its future. In this year’s class, for example, about one out of four 5-year-olds will be Hispanic, a big jump from 19% in 2000. The percentage of white 5-year-olds fell from 59% in 2000 to about 53% today and the share of blacks from 15% to 13%. The proportion of Asian children was up slightly from 4% to 5% with multicultural kindergarteners up from 2% to 3%.

Recession Pushes U.S. Birth Rate to New Low

The U.S. birth rate has dropped for the second year in a row, and experts think the wrenching recession led many people to put off having children. The 2009 birth rate also set a record: lowest in a century. Births fell 2.7% last year even as the population grew. The birth rate, which takes into account changes in the population, fell to 13.5 births for every 1,000 people last year. That’s down from 14.3 in 2007 and way down from 30 in 1909, when it was common for people to have big families. Another possible factor in the drop: a decline in immigration to the United States. The birth rate is still higher than the birth rate in many wealthy countries.

Congress Investigates Egg Recall Delay

A top food-safety watchdog in Congress has asked federal health agencies to explain their apparently slow and “disjointed” alerts to consumers about the massive egg recall and salmonella outbreak. USA TODAY reported that by the end of July health officials in California and Minnesota had identified Wright County Egg as a supplier to eight restaurants that had illness clusters. But a recall wasn’t announced until Aug. 13. The FDA said that although it was aware of the state’s findings in July, it needed to gather invoices and other paperwork to further confirm the data before contacting the company around Aug. 9.

In the wake of one of the largest egg recalls on record critics say the egg industry is resorting to the worst tactic of all — blaming the victim. More than 1,400 illnesses now appear to be tied to an outbreak of salmonella enteritidis definitively linked to eggs produced on two Iowa farms. “Consumers that were sickened reportedly all ate eggs that were not properly or thoroughly cooked. Eggs need to be cooked so that the whites and yolks are firm (not runny) which should kill any bacteria,” says Mitch Head, spokesperson for the United Egg Producers. This isn’t sitting well with food safety advocates. “Telling me that basically ‘You didn’t cook it right,’ it’s just offensive,” says Nancy Donley, board president of Safe Tables Our Priority, a food safety consumer group.

BP Probe Blames its Workers for Gulf Blowout

BP said Monday that it won’t comment on a report that the company’s own investigation has faulted employees for failing to spot danger signs before the disastrous blowout of a well in the Gulf of Mexico. Bloomberg News, citing an unidentified source, reported that BP’s investigation determined that some of its employees misread pressure data from the Macondo well hours before it blew out on April 20. The report is expected to be released in coming weeks. Bloomberg quoted its source as saying the report concluded that BP managers aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig concluded that the pressure test confirmed that the well was in good shape, when it was not.

Mortgage Brokers Becoming a Vanishing Breed

Most of the mortgage brokers that seemed to populate every office building and commercial street in cities nationwide just five years ago have vanished. Brokers and loan originators find lenders for people seeking a mortgage on a new home purchase and charge a fee for that service. Much of the decline has come from the implosion of the housing sector since 2007. Prices and sales plunged during the recession. Foreclosures hit record highs almost everywhere. As government rushed in to respond to the crisis, caused in part by overselling of risky mortgages by brokers who got rich on exorbitant fees, regulations on the industry multiplied. States in the past two years began requiring brokers to pass licensing exams and undergo background checks. A criminal record, even a past bankruptcy, can now prevent someone from writing a mortgage. If states don’t already do it, a federal law coming in January will require licensing exams and criminal background checks nationally. Many of the sometimes-exotic products that independent brokers used to push — jumbo loans, subprime mortgages — also have been restricted or banned. The new industry that’s emerging is much more conservative, regulated and, some would say, less consumer-friendly.

Military Economy Up, Civilian Down

The use of the military-industrial complex as a quick, if dubious, way of jump-starting the economy is nothing new, but what is amazing is the divergence between the military economy and the civilian economy, as reported by the New York Times. In the past nine years, non-industrial production in the US has declined by some 19 percent. It took about four years for manufacturing to return to levels seen before the 2001 recession — and all those gains were wiped out in the current recession. By contrast, military manufacturing is now 123 percent greater than it was in 2000 — it has more than doubled while the rest of the manufacturing sector has been shrinking… It’s important to note the trajectory — the military economy is nearly three times as large, proportionally to the rest of the economy, as it was at the beginning of the Bush administration. And it is the only manufacturing sector showing any growth.

Economic News

Consumer spending rose in July at the fastest pace in four months, helped by a jump in demand for automobiles. Consumer spending rose 0.4% in July after three lackluster months, the Commerce Department said Monday. Spending fell 0.1% in April, rose a tiny 0.1% in May and was flat in June. The July spending gain was the highest since a 0.5% rise in March. But the concern is that demand could taper off in the second half of this year if unemployment remains near double digits.

Government anti-poverty programs that have grown to meet the needs of recession victims now serve a record one in six Americans and are continuing to expand. More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor. That’s up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007. The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014. That has strained doctors. Private physicians are already indicating that they’re at their limit. More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn. Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance, nearly four times the number from 2007. Benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits.

Stocks posted big gains after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank was ready to step in if the U.S. economy showed further signs of weakening. The Dow Jones industrial average and other indexes all gained more than 1%. The upturn was a respite from a mainly dismal month on the stock market, which has been falling steadily since its recent high reached on Aug. 9 on a series of poor indicators on the economy. Bernanke said in a speech at the Fed’s annual conference that while the economic recovery remains tentative, the central bank remains ready to take extra steps to stimulate the economy if necessary, such as buying more debt securities in order to keep interest rates low. He said he still expects the economy to grow next year.

Japan‘s central bank further eased monetary policy Monday in response growing political pressure to take action on a faltering economic recovery. To boost liquidity, the central bank unveiled a new six-month low-interest loan program to financial institutions. Combined with an existing three-month funds-supplying operation worth 20 trillion yen ($236.4 billion), banks will now have access to a total of 30 trillion yen ($355 billion).

Chile

Just six months ago, one of the largest earthquakes in a century tore Chile apart, physically ripping the ground, triggering a deadly tsunami and leaving in the wreckage a divided society and government trying to decide whom to blame. Now, with Chile confronting a new disaster — 33 men trapped alive in a mine below the Atacama Desert since Aug. 5 — the nation is unified by the drama playing out in slow motion. This time, Chileans are less interested in the blame game and more concentrated on getting the men out of the ground alive. Many see the united effort and support for the miners as a way to move past the shameful episodes surrounding the quake and to demonstrate the better side of Chileans in the face of adversity. Chile’s navy and emergency management office were criticized for failing to issue an alert that might have saved hundreds from the tsunami that caused the quake’s largest death toll. Chileans were also angered by a massive wave of looting after the huge quake.

Iraq

Iraq‘s prime minister put his nation on its highest level of alert for terror attacks, warning of plots to sow fear and chaos as the U.S. combat mission in the country formally ends on Tuesday. The Iraqi security forces who will be left in charge have been hammered by bomb attacks, prompting fears of a new insurgent offensive and criticism of the government’s preparedness for the American troop drawdown. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Friday that Iraqi intelligence indicated an al-Qaeda front group and members of Saddam Hussein‘s outlawed Baath party are collaborating to launch attacks “to create fear and chaos and kill more innocents.” A senior Iraqi intelligence official said security forces believe suicide bombers have entered the country with plans to strike unspecified targets in Baghdad by month’s end.

A $40 million prison sits in the desert north of Baghdad, empty. A $165 million children’s hospital goes unused in the south. As the U.S. draws down in Iraq, it is leaving behind hundreds of abandoned or incomplete projects. More than $5 billion in American taxpayer funds has been wasted – more than 10 percent of the roughly $50 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction in Iraq – according to audits from a U.S. watchdog agency. That amount is likely an underestimate, based on an analysis of more than 300 reports by auditors with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. And it does not take into account security costs, which have run almost 17 percent for some projects. Nevertheless, There are success stories. Hundreds of police stations, border forts and government buildings have been built, Iraqi security forces have improved after years of training, and a deepwater port at the southern oil hub of Umm Qasr has been restored. However, even completed projects for the most part fell far short of original goals, according to an Associated Press review of hundreds of audits and investigations and visits to several sites. And it remains to be seen whether the program reached its goal of generating Iraqi goodwill toward the U.S. instead of the insurgents.

Afghanistan

Seven U.S. troops have died in weekend attacks in Afghanistan‘s embattled southern and eastern regions, while officials found the bodies Sunday of five kidnapped campaign aides working for a female candidate in the western province of Herat. The latest deaths bring to 42 the number of American forces who have died this month in Afghanistan after July’s high of 66. A total of 62 international forces have died in the country this month, including seven British troops. Fighting is intensifying with the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops to bring the total number of international forces in Afghanistan to 140,000 — 100,000 of them American. Most of those new troops have been assigned to the southern insurgent strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar provinces where major battles are fought almost daily as part of a gathering drive to push out the Taliban.

Pakistan

Americans are giving a paltry amount for relief efforts in flood-stricken Pakistan compared to other overseas disasters. They were more than 40 times more generous for the Haiti earthquake. Reasons include the slow-motion nature of the calamity, relatively scant TV coverage, and — unmistakably — the fact that the strategic Muslim ally is viewed warily by many Americans. No disasters are alike. Yet a month into Pakistan’s flood catastrophe, with 8 million people in dire need and a fifth of its territory affected, the donation comparisons are startling. InterAction, an umbrella group for U.S. relief agencies active abroad, says its affiliates have raised about $12 million thus far for Pakistan, compared to more than $500 million at the same stage of the Haiti earthquake relief effort earlier this year.

Ø      You don’t suppose that this Muslim nation that harbors Islamic militants is reaping what they’ve sown?

Russia

Scores of bare-chested skinheads attacked a crowd of about 3,000 people at a rock concert in central Russia on Sunday, beating them with clubs, media reports said. Dozens of people were left bloodied and dazed in the attack, television and news agencies reported, and state news channel Rossiya-24 said a 14-year-old girl was killed at the concert in Miass, 900 miles east of Moscow. Fourteen ambulances were called to the scene, the channel said, citing witness accounts. The motive for the attack was not known. Russia has an ingrained neo-Nazi skinhead movement. Attacks on dark-skinned foreigners in Moscow and St. Petersburg have been relatively common in recent years. Neo-Nazi and other ultranationalist groups mushroomed in Russia after the 1991 Soviet collapse. The influx of immigrant workers and two wars with Chechen separatists triggered xenophobia and a surge in hate crimes.

Mexico

About 3,200 Mexican federal police have been fired for failing to do their work or being linked to corruption, Federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas said Monday. Of those, 465 have been charged with crimes and 1,020 faced disciplinary proceedings. The fired officers account for about 9 percent of the federal police force, which has about 34,500 officers. None of the dismissed officers will be allowed to be rehired on police forces at the local, state or federal levels.

Volcanoes

An Indonesian volcano dormant for four centuries erupted for the second straight day Monday, shooting clouds of hot ash more than a mile into the air and forcing 30,000 people to flee. Some domestic airplanes had to be diverted because of poor visibility. Many villagers living along the slopes of Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra province wore masks as they packed their belongings and headed to emergency shelters, mosques and churches. Their abandoned homes and crops were blanketed in gray soot and the air was thick with the smell of sulfur. Sinabung last erupted in 1600, so observers don’t know its eruption pattern and admitted over the weekend they had not monitored it closely before it started rumbling days ago in the lead-up to Sunday’s first, less-powerful blast. Like other volcanoes along the Sumatra fault line — the meeting point of the Eurasian and Pacific tectonic plates that have pushed against each other for millions of years — it has the potential to be very destructive.

Wildfires

Wildfires drove early morning evacuations in western Montana and thunderstorms sparked dozens more blazes in Idaho and Nevada as crews battled dozens of blazes throughout the West. Cooler temperatures and calmer winds helped firefighters control wildfires that had flared up Thursday across eastern Washington in hot, gusty winds. But in Montana, a cold front brought lightning and sparked eight fires on forest service and private land. About 70 homes in the Blodgett and Canyon Creek areas have been evacuated and fire officials said residents of another 100 homes were warned they may have to leave. Temperatures in the high 90s and strong winds Thursday afternoon helped blow a prescribed burn out of control, forcing the evacuation of more than two dozen homes.

In Idaho, thunderstorms sparked dozens of new wildfires on state and federal lands, adding to several significant blazes that have forced evacuations and threatened homes. The 50 lightning-caused blazes that erupted Thursday afternoon in southern Idaho and the Boise, area come after an estimated 250 to 300 residents were evacuated from the Tamarack Resort area Thursday. The Hurd Fire there more than doubled in size from 550 acres late Thursday to nearly 1,300 acres, or two square miles, early Friday. In northeastern Washington, a fire near the town of Arden, Wash., grew to about 500 acres, the state fire marshal’s office said Friday. About 145 homes were threatened by the fire, and about 500 people have been evacuated from the area. A wildfire in rugged country near the Columbia River town of Lyle, Wash., grew to 1,200 acres by Friday morning. Residents of 40 homes faced mandatory evacuations, and people in another 50 homes were told to prepare to evacuate. Lightning also sparked two small wildfires Thursday in the Mount Charleston recreation area just outside Las Vegas.

Weather

Hurricane Earl lashed the northeastern Caribbean with heavy rain and strong winds Monday, causing flooding in parts of the low-lying Leeward Islands and emptying the streets and beaches as people waited out the storm. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Earl, which formed on Sunday, already had sustained winds of 120 mph and was likely to keep growing. The storm’s forecast track would carry its center north of the Caribbean, then forecasters say it is likely to bend to the north, moving roughly parallel to the U.S. East Coast. In Antigua, powerful wind and rain destroyed at least one home and at least eight people had to be evacuated, though there were no reports of critical injuries. Local weather authorities reported at least 5 inches of rain and 10-foot waves. In St. Maarten, the storm toppled trees and knocked out electricity to much of the island but there were no reports of serious damage. Heavy gusts of wind swirled debris across streets that were empty due to a government-imposed curfew.

August 27, 2010

Evangelists Say Muslims Coming to Christ at Historic Rate

Despite intense persecution for Muslim apostates, pastors say that Muslims in the Middle East are converting to Christianity at record rates and in supernatural ways. “Probably in the last 10 years, more Muslims have come to faith in Christ than in the last 15 centuries of Islam,” said Tom Doyle, Middle East-Central Asia director for e3 Partners, a Texas-based missions agency. According to Charisma Magazine, more than 200 former Muslims were baptized last month in Europe, led by Iran-born evangelist Lazarus Yeghnazar. Radio, television and Internet-based Christian programming to Muslim nations now reach millions. But Doyle says many Muslims come to faith after having dreams and visions of Jesus. “I can’t tell you how many Muslims I’ve met who say: ‘I was content. I was a Muslim, and all of a sudden I get this dream about Jesus and He loved me and said come follow Me,” Doyle said.

World Vision Wins Right to Hire, Fire Based on Religion

World Vision, the Christian humanitarian organization, can fire employees who disagree with its theological tenets, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday. In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that World Vision is a “religious corporation.” As such, the organization is exempt from a federal law that bars faith-based discrimination, Religion News Service reports. “I am satisfied that World Vision has met its burden of showing that the `general picture’ of the organization is ‘primarily religious,'” wrote Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain. “World Vision is a nonprofit organization whose humanitarian relief efforts flow from a profound sense of religious mission.”‘ Three employees, two of whom had worked at World Vision for 10 years, were fired in 2006 because they did not believe in the divinity of Jesus or the doctrine of the Trinity.

Huge Losses Put Federal Flood Insurance Plan in the Red

A growing number of repeatedly flooded properties – whose owners have collected billions of dollars from an insurance program regulated by Congress and run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.— have put the federal program in the red. FEMA‘s National Flood Insurance Program is the nation’s main flood insurer, created by law in 1968 as private companies stopped covering flood damage. The program insures 5.6 million properties nationwide and aims to be self-sustaining by paying claims from premiums it collects. Instead it’s running deeply in the red. A major reason, a USA TODAY review finds, is that the program has paid people to rebuild over and over in the nation’s worst flood zones while also discounting insurance rates by up to $1 billion a year for flood-prone properties. The generous benefits have forced the program to seek an unprecedented $19 billion taxpayer bailout.

  • Yet another federal government boondoggle.

Special Report: Katrina — Another Tale of FEMA Failure

While stories of the Federal Emergency Management Agency‘s contaminated trailers and the Army Corps of Engineers’ inability to shore up levees captured headlines in the aftermath of the deadly storms of 2005, the bungling of the SBA, lead federal agency helping people rebuild their homes and businesses, has largely been untold. The SBA failure represents an ominous harbinger of things to come as the agency prepares to play a similar role in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. The SBA failed in many ways, including applications for low-interest disaster loans that should have been approved but were not, of applications deleted from the SBA computer system for no valid reason, of impossible-to-meet deadlines manufactured to clear backlogs, and of a process so chaotic and painful that thousands simply gave up.

An Associated Press investigation based on more than 200 interviews, thousands of pages of public documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act and a first-ever detailed computer analysis of SBA data from hurricanes Katrina and Rita found that despite obvious need, 55% of homeowners and businesses that applied for help after the hurricanes were turned away. Only 60% of the loan money approved by SBA ultimately reached applicants. Of the money SBA did distribute, $357 million — nearly 6% — has never been repaid. More than a dozen people whose loans were charged off told the AP that the agency hasn’t contacted them about repayment. Homeowners and businesses in higher-income areas were more likely to get a loan than those in lower-income areas, according to AP’s analysis of SBA data by ZIP code. A disparity also existed along racial lines.

  • It’s not Obama, it’s not Bush, it’s bungling bureaucrats motivated by avarice and complacency and safe in their civil service jobs

School Districts Still Waiting for Federally Approved Funds

For months, pink-slipped teachers across the USA have waited for long-sought federal funding to save their jobs. And Congress finally appropriated $10 billion this month to bring back thousands of teachers, nurses, bus drivers and others. But as the school year begins, many educators are still waiting for the phone to ring. Many school districts might not get the money in time to bring back teachers. Others, fearing even worse economic times over the next two years, are simply planning to put a large share of their money in the bank to ward off further cuts next spring. The timing of the aid — states face a Sept. 9 deadline to apply for their share — makes it unclear whether they’ll get money in time to save many jobs this fall. And rehiring thousands of teachers may, in fact, produce its own set of problems, says Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy. “It’s a real dilemma, because if you bring somebody back, you may have to lay them off again next year.”

Stimulus Assessments Overly Optimistic

The Obama administration claimed this week that $100 billion invested in innovative technologies under the economic stimulus law is “transforming the American economy” by putting the nation on track for technological breakthroughs in health care, energy and transportation. But a Newsmax examination of details in the 50-page report unveiled Tuesday by Vice President Joe Biden reveals something a bit different: a collection of rosy projections that ignore many of the challenges, pitfalls and economic realities in all those areas. The claim: Thanks to the stimulus, the U.S. is on track to “doubling U.S. renewable energy generation capacity and U.S. renewable manufacturing capacity by 2012.” The facts: While the Recovery Act has helped increase renewable energy, the fact that it is a one-time jolt makes it difficult to project that the growth will continue for the next couple of years.

US, Mexico Fail to Stem Flow of Drug Money South

Mexican drug cartels are moving tens of billions of dollars in profits south across the border each year, according to a report in The Washington Post. U.S. and Mexican authorities are seizing just 1 percent of the illegal cash flow, according to a Post analysis. The Obama administration has proposed a $600 million ramp-up in spending and personnel, including additional scanners and dogs, to capture more of the cash going from U.S. drug users to Mexican mafias. Meanwhile, the drug traffickers and their suppliers smuggle $20-25 billion in U.S. bank notes across the southwest border annually as they seek to circumvent banking regulations and the flags sent up by large cash deposits.

Economic New

The economy grew at a much slower pace this spring than previously estimated, mostly because of the largest surge in imports in 26 years and a slower buildup in inventories. The nation’s gross domestic product — the broadest measure of the economy’s output — grew at a 1.6% annual rate in the April-to-June period, the Commerce Department said Friday. That’s down from an initial estimate of 2.4% last month and much slower than the first quarter’s 3.7% pace. The widening trade deficit subtracted nearly 3.4 percentage points from second -quarter growth, the largest hit from a trade imbalance since 1947.

In the latest reminder to investors that any money invested in stocks has been dead money for more than a decade, the Dow Jones industrial average, which first closed above 10,000 in 1999, finished Thursday back below the key milestone. The Dow and the broader U.S. stock market have been under heavy selling pressure since early August, when a steady stream of weaker-than-expected economic data on jobs, housing and manufacturing caused investors to question the sustainability of the economic recovery.

New requests for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, the first decline in a month. The drop comes after a steep rise the previous three weeks that sent claims to their highest level in nine months. Even with last week’s decline, the four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 486,750, the most since November 2009. Claims remain much higher than they would be in a healthy economy. Employers are reluctant to hire as economic growth appears to be slowing.

States across the USA are taking steps to deal with an armada of derelict boats abandoned by their owners in a tough economy. Fines for abandoning boats in state waters vary. In Massachusetts, it’s $10,000. In South Carolina: $475. States try to charge owners for removal costs, but one in five abandoned boats have all the identifying marks removed. Twelve states, including Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee, have passed laws on abandoned boats which streamline the process of taking title and disposing of boats when owners cannot be found.

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il granted former President Jimmy Carter’s request to “leniently forgive” Aijalon Gomes, the official Korean Central News Agency reported, and Carter and Gomes were due back in Boston later Friday for a reunion with his mother. Gomes was the fourth American in a year arrested for trespassing in North Korea, a communist nation that fought against the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War and does not have diplomatic relations with Washington. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested last March and released only after former President Bill Clinton made a similar trip to Pyongyang to plead for their freedom. Activist Robert Park deliberately crossed into the country from China in December but was expelled some 40 days later after issuing an apology carried by North Korean state media. Aijalon Gomes, who had been teaching English in South Korea, attended rallies in Seoul in January calling for Park’s release. He was arrested in North Korea just two weeks later.

Iraq

Democracy is alive in Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein, those who spoke out against the government may have been visited by the secret police for their remarks and then never seen again. Today, no one fears for their lives for simply speaking out. Yet many Iraqis are not pleased with life. Unemployment is 35%, according to Iraq’s development ministry. Electricity is spotty. Terrorist bombings are almost a daily event. Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds are still arguing over who should be prime minister nearly six months after parliamentary elections were held. Many are still mourning the thousands who died in the violence that followed the defeat of the Baathist regime; a number the Iraq health ministry estimates at 87,000. And although violence has declined from a peak in 2007, it is a constant threat. The seven years of fighting cost the lives of more than 4,400 Americans. The financial cost of the war for the United States has been more than $748 billion, making it the most expensive U.S. war apart from World War II in current dollars.In a USA TODAY Poll, 60% of Americans say “No,” when asked “Do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over?”

Insurgents killed six members of a government-allied Sunni militia in an ambush northeast of Baghdad on Thursday, police said, offering no respite to a nation still reeling from a spate of attacks on police and soldiers a day earlier that left at least 56 dead. Government-allied fighters, known as Sahwa or Awakening Councils, were driving near the town of Muqdadiyah around 1:30 a.m. when their car hit a roadside bomb. The Sahwa are a government-backed Sunni militia that joined forces with U.S. troops against al-Qaeda in 2006 and helped turn the tide of the war. Since then, the Sahwa fighters have become frequent targets of insurgent attacks. The early morning ambush comes on the heels of a string of attacks a day earlier that struck at least 13 Iraqi cities. The attacks made August the deadliest month for Iraqi security forces in two years.

Afghanistan

President Hamid Karzai on Thursday criticized the U.S. plan to begin withdrawing troops starting next July and said the war on terror cannot succeed as long as the Taliban and their allies maintain sanctuaries in Pakistan. Karzai’s statements were made during a meeting with visiting U.S. congressmen and come at a time when the Obama administration is ratcheting up pressure on the Afghan leader to do more to stamp out corruption. The Afghan government maintains that the U.S. should be doing more on other fronts, including pressuring Pakistan to shut down the insurgent sanctuaries. Karzai said President Barack Obama‘s announcement that he would begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in July 2011 has given “the enemy a morale boost” because they believe they can simply hold out until the Americans leave.

Insurgents killed eight Afghan policemen in a raid early Thursday on a checkpoint outside the northern city of Kunduz. Police suspected the raid was carried out by militants from Russia‘s restive Chechnya region who are active in the surrounding province. Kunduz has seen an increasing number of attacks on Afghan and foreign coalition forces who rely on a supply line running south through the province from neighboring Tajikistan. Foreign fighters from Chechnya, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf are smuggled into the area over the rugged mountainous border with Pakistan to the east.

Yemen

U.S. officials believe al Qaeda in Yemen is now collaborating more closely with allies in Pakistan and Somalia to plot attacks against the U.S., spurring the prospect that the administration will mount a more intense targeted killing program in Yemen. Such a move would give the Central Intelligence Agency a far larger role in what has until now been mainly a secret U.S. military campaign against militant targets in Yemen and across the Horn of Africa. It would likely be modeled after the CIA’s covert drone campaign in Pakistan. The U.S. military’s Special Operation Forces and the CIA have been positioning surveillance equipment, drones and personnel in Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia to step up targeting of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Haiti

Even as signs of commerce have reappeared in the six months since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake of Jan. 12, Port-au-Prince residents are forced to scrounge for life’s basic necessities. Baptist Press reports that seas of tents and blue tarps form makeshift cities covering open fields, barren lots and river beds as the nation grapples with providing housing for the estimated 1.5 million homeless. Those in the tent cities must cope with daily seasonal rains that soak their belongings and leave them susceptible to diseases and pneumonia. Yet a spiritual movement is gaining momentum as Haitians cry out to the Lord, said Phito François, the Confraternite Missionaire Baptise d’Haiti (CMBH). “There are no places to sit in the churches, more benches are needed to hold the people.”

Nigeria

All of Nigeria is at risk in a cholera epidemic that has killed 352 people in only three-months time, health officials warned Wednesday, as the country’s rainy season continues to spread the water-born infection. The nation’s Health Ministry issued a statement saying Nigeria has had more than 6,400 cases of the disease since June. Doctors now have detected it in 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states. Cholera is a fast-moving infection that causes diarrhea in victims, leading to severe dehydration and possible death. The infection is highly contagious yet easily preventable with clean water and sanitation.

Wildfires

Families looked for valuables, pets and mementoes Wednesday in the ashes of 11 homes destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire while a homeless man accused of starting the blaze sat in jail. Other people at a homeless camp along Interstate 5 just outside the city limits saw John Thiry running from the initial fire Tuesday afternoon. The fire immediately burned an abandoned barn where homeless people sleep, and the embers blew across the freeway, touching off the blaze that raced through a subdivision.

In southern Idaho, firefighters hoped calmer, cooler weather would help them gain ground on a wildfire that scorched more than 510 square miles. The lightning-sparked fire was fueled by strong winds Sunday and Monday, blackening more than 306,000 acres. So far, crews have contained 40% of the fire burning across a desolate, flat landscape of sagebrush and cheatgrass. Full containment was forecast for the weekend.

Meanwhile, firefighters planned an aerial attack on a 1,300-acre wildfire that temporarily forced the evacuation of 200 homes in Kern County, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Low temperatures and higher humidity allowed crews to close in on the two-square-mile fire overnight.

Weather

Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis were fleeing a southern district Friday after the bloated Indus River crushed a levee and flooded new areas, officials said. The U.N. said as many as 1 million more people have been displaced in the south since midweek. More than 8 million people are need in of emergency assistance across the country. U.N. aid agencies along with a host of other relief groups have been rushing people and supplies to affected regions as the flooding has lashed Pakistan over the past month. The latest evacuations came after the Taliban issued a veiled threat against foreign aid workers helping out after the floods, a development that stands to complicate one of the largest relief efforts the world as ever seen.

California sweltered through the third day of a heat wave on Wednesday with highs expected to reach triple digits again and set records in the valleys and deserts. The weather service issued excessive heat warnings for a dangerous afternoon combination of high temperatures and humidity in Central and Southern California mountains and Southern California valleys and deserts. A lesser heat advisory was in place for San Jose and interior valleys around San Francisco Bay. Several locations tied or broke record highs.

August 25, 2010

Court Blocks Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

A federal judge temporarily blocked the Obama administration Monday from using federal dollars to fund expanded human embryonic stem cell research, saying the research involves the destruction of embryos. The ruling comes after the National Institutes of Health last year issued new guidelines permitting federal funding for research on certain stem cell lines that had already been created. The court challenge was brought by adult stem cell researchers who argued the new rules not only would increase competition for limited funds, but violated federal law. A nonprofit group, Nightlight Christian Adoptions, also joined and argued that the government’s new guidelines would decrease the number of human embryos available for adoption. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that despite attempts to separate the derivation of human embryonic stem cells from the research process, “the two cannot be separated” because culling those stem cells destroys an embryo.

The head of the National Institutes of Health said Tuesday that some stem cell research would continue for a while, but new research would be stopped, in the wake of the federal judge’s ruling Monday. “I was stunned, as was virtually everyone here at NIH,” agency director Francis Collins said. The U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday that it would appeal Lamberth’s ruling.

Pro-life Takes the Lead

For the second year in a row, more Americans have disconnected themselves from the pro-choice movement — choosing instead to describe themselves as pro-life. A 2009 Gallup poll discovered that for the first time ever, more Americans claimed to be pro-life than pro-choice. That trend has continued into 2010, but now, more women added added themselves to the pro-life side. Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization that promotes pro-life women in government and the pro-life movement. She thinks she knows the reason for the change of heart. “A woman recoils from the idea of killing her own child. Even when it’s sort of intellectualized away because you can’t see it, it has become harder and harder for that lie to continue because of sonograms [and] because of women’s experience,” she suggests. “It is counter to her nature — and when that happens, it has ripple effects everywhere.”

National ‘Back To Church Sunday’ Campaign Surpasses 1.2 Million Invitations

Already more than one million people have been invited to attend church on Sunday, Sept. 12, as part of the national “Back To Church Sunday” campaign to reach unchurched people. Churches and church members involved in the campaign can send invitations to friends and family by using resources found on the “Back To Church” website (www.backtochurch.com). By mid-August, the total number of print and electronic invitations neared 1.2 million. “Each invitation is an opportunity for someone far from God to discover a relationship with him,” said Philip Nation, director of ministry development for LifeWay Research and national spokesperson for “Back to Church Sunday, “We will surely see a great response from these efforts on ‘Back To Church Sunday’ and beyond.”

Money Wins in GOP Florida, Arizona Primaries

Big campaign war chests helped veteran Sen. John McCain easily win his Republican primary in Arizona on Tuesday and newcomer Rick Scott upset a party stalwart in Florida‘s GOP gubernatorial contest, on a night that also set up key three-way battles for the fall. McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer won their primaries after backing the state law allowing police to demand identification of suspected illegal immigrants. McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, spent more than $20 million in Arizona to defeat former congressman J.D. Hayworth and win a chance for a fifth term. Scott used $39 million of his personal fortune to defeat state Attorney General Bill McCollum, backed by ex-governor Jeb Bush, for the GOP nomination for the state’s top job.

Money was not enough for businessman Jeff Greene, another millionaire newcomer who used his personal fortune trying to break into Florida politics. He lost the Democratic Senate primary to veteran congressman Kendrick Meek. Meek will now compete with Republican Marco Rubio, a “Tea Party” favorite, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who bolted the GOP to run as an independent. Tea Party and Palin-backed Joe Miller hanging on to slight lead over incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski as Alaska race goes down to the wire.

Cutbacks Force Police to Ignore Certain Crimes

Budget cuts are forcing police around the country to stop responding to fraud, burglary and theft calls as officers focus limited resources on violent crime. Cutbacks in such places as Oakland, Tulsa and Norton, Mass. have forced police to tell residents to file their own reports — online or in writing — for break-ins and other lesser crimes. “If you come home to find your house burglarized and you call, we’re not coming,” said Oakland Police spokeswoman Holly Joshi. The city laid off 80 officers from its force of 687 last month and the department can’t respond to burglary, vandalism, and identity theft. Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, said cutbacks are preventing many police agencies from responding to property crimes.

Grand Canyon‘s Future at ‘Grave Risk’

Haze blurs the skies over the Grand Canyon, tour planes break the backcountry silence, uranium mines are making a comeback near the canyon’s rim and the Colorado River has lost its muddy mojo. Add to those threats a perpetually underfunded budget and the picture that emerges is a national park where efforts to protect resources are increasingly compromised. In an 80-page “State of the Parks” report, the National Parks Conservation Association analyzed the most serious threats to the Grand Canyon. Most of the issues raised would require significant amounts of money to fix, changes in state and federal policies, concessions by private businesses, or all of those, but the association said if the problems are left unchecked, the very nature of the park could change forever. Future visitors could find the most majestic views obscured, and habitats for native species could vanish.

New Microbe Chows Down on Spilled Oil

Researchers have discovered a previously unclassified species of microbe that appears to be happily gorging away on the long plume of oil left by the BP drilling rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s turning the toxic mixture into non-toxic microbes about twice as fast as had been expected, scientists reported Tuesday in the journal Science. This could mean that nature is able to clean up oil spills on its own more quickly than had been realized, at least in the Gulf. The microbes don’t appear to be using up all the oxygen in the water as they eat and grow. The fear had been that large microbe blooms would deplete oxygen levels, leading to dead zones that could harm ecosystems and fisheries.

Giant Egg Recall Likely to Raise Prices

Wholesale egg prices are up about 40% since the start of a major recall, and consumers will likely see increases at the store, too, industry analysts say. “We know the prices will go up. We don’t know how much,” Gene Gregory, CEO of the United Egg Producers, said Tuesday. The recalled product, about 550 million eggs, accounts for less than 1% of U.S. production, United Egg Producers says. But supply disruptions can have a big impact on prices if demand doesn’t drop as fast, because eggs can’t be frozen or stored for long. The Publix grocery chain, with 1,022 stores in the Southeast, has seen a drop in consumer demand. But at Organic Valley, an organic egg producer, post-recall orders are up an estimated 3% to 5%.

Economic News

The risks of a double-dip U.S. recession have risen in the last six months, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans said on Tuesday. While a new contraction in the economy is still not the most likely scenario, high unemployment and a fractured housing sector make this recovery a fragile one, he said.

Sales of previously owned homes fell to the lowest level in 15 years last month as the economy weakened. The National Association of Realtors says July’s sales fell more than 27% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.83 million. It was the largest monthly drop on records dating back to 1968. The median sale price was $182,600, up 0.7% from a year ago.

Sales of new homes also dropped sharply last month to the slowest pace on record. The Commerce Department says new home sales fell 12.4% in July from a month earlier, to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 276,600. The median sale price in July was $204,000. That was down 4.8% from a year earlier and down 6% from June.

Demand for durable goods rose 0.3% last month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The increase was driven by a 75.9% increase in orders for commercial aircraft. Without the volatile transportation sector, orders dropped 3.8% — steepest decline since January.

The amount consumers owed on their credit cards in this year’s second quarter dropped to the lowest level in more than eight years as cardholders continued to pay off balances in the uncertain economy, down more than 13% from a year ago. More borrowers also made payments on time.

In its single biggest repayment of bailout loans so far, American International Group said Monday it is paying back nearly $4 billion in taxpayer aid with proceeds from a recent debt sale, trimming the balance on its credit line with the Fed to about $15 billion. Adding interest, the total is about $21 billion. The emergency credit line was part of a $182 billion federal bailout package that New York-based AIG received during the financial crisis to avoid collapse.

China

China has just been declared the world’s second biggest economy, and now it has a monster traffic jam to match. Triggered by road construction, the snarl-up began 10 days ago and was 60 miles long at one point. Reaching almost to the outskirts of Beijing, traffic still creeps along in fits and starts, and the crisis could last for another three weeks, authorities say. In the worst-hit stretches of the road in northern China, drivers pass the time sitting in the shade of their immobilized trucks, playing cards, sleeping on the asphalt or bargaining with price-gouging food vendors. Many of the trucks that carry fruit and vegetables are unrefrigerated, and the cargoes are assumed to be rotting. On Sunday, the eighth day of the near-standstill, trucks moved just less than a mile on the worst section. No portable toilets were set up along the highway, leaving only two apparent options — hike to a service area or into the fields. But there were no reports of violent road rage, and the main complaint heard from drivers was about villagers on bicycles making a killing selling boxed lunches, bottled water to drink and heated water for noodles.

Lebanon

Lebanese Shiite and Sunni groups fought street battles using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades for more than four hours Tuesday, killing three people and wounding several others just blocks from a busy downtown packed with summer tourists. It was the worst clash in Beirut since May 2008, when Hezbollah gunmen swept through Sunni neighborhoods after the pro-Western government tried to dismantle the group’s telecommunications network. The 2008 fighting brought the country to the brink of a new civil war, but officials insisted Tuesday’s clash was not the same sectarian strife that has bedeviled Lebanon for decades. A joint statement issued later by the two groups said the incident resulted from an “personal dispute and has no political or sectarian background.”

Iraq

The American military says the number of American troops in Iraq has fallen below the 50,000 figure that was mandated by President Obama. This is the lowest troop level in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and comes ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline set by the president. American forces in Iraq will no longer conduct what are described as combat operations. They are instead to concentrate on training Iraqi forces and helping with counterterrorism operations — if asked for by the Iraqis. Bombers and gunmen launched an apparently coordinated string of attacks against Iraqi government forces on Wednesday, killing at least 46 people a day after the number of U.S. troops fell below 50,000. The violence highlighted persistent fears about the ability of Iraqi troops to protect their own country.

Pakistan

Three bomb attacks in northwest Pakistan— two in tribal regions near the Afghan border and a third near the region’s main city of Peshawar— killed at least 36 people Monday. The blast on the outskirts of Peshawar killed the leader of an anti-Taliban militia, Israr Khan, and two aides as he passed through a market in the village of Matni. The deadliest blast was a suicide attack at a mosque inside a religious school in South Waziristan that killed 26 people and injured 40 more. Meanwhile, three suspected U.S. missiles fired from unmanned aircraft struck a house near Miran Shah in North Waziristan, killing nine alleged militants.

Iran

Iran says it has successfully test-fired a new generation of a short-range surface-to-surface missile. Iranian state television says the third generation Fateh-110 missile was successfully tested Wednesday. The solid-fuel Fateh can strike targets up to 120 miles away.

Somalia

A suicide bomber and gunmen wearing military uniforms attacked a hotel near Somalia‘s presidential palace Monday, sparking a running gun battle with security forces. At least 32 people were killed, including six Somali parliamentarians. The multi-pronged assault came less than 24 hours after the country’s most dangerous militant group — al-Shabab — threatened a “massive” war against what it labeled as invaders, a reference to the 6,000 African Union troops in Mogadishu. The attack on the Muna Hotel raised the two-day toll to at least 70 people, a high number even by Mogadishu’s violent standards. Fighting that rocked Mogadishu on Monday killed 40 people.

Mexico

Mexican marines found the dumped bodies of 72 people at a rural location in northern Mexico following a shootout with suspected drug cartel gunmen that left one marine and three suspects dead, the Navy reported late Tuesday. The cadavers of 58 men and 14 women were found at a spot near the Gulf coast south of the border city of Matamoros. It appears to be the largest drug-cartel body dumping ground found in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug trafficking in late 2006. Mexican drug cartels often use vacant lots, ranches or mine shafts to dump the bodies of executed rivals or kidnap victims. The dismembered bodies of two men were hung from a bridge Tuesday on a highway leading to Acapulco, the second such discovery in three days in a region where two drug lords are fighting for control of their divided cartel.

India

Worthy News reports that two Christian pastors and some of their congregation were arrested last week for preaching the gospel in India. Pastors Sheathes Pas and Ravi Pas were arrested for conducting worship services in KR Nagar, Mandya, on Aug. 15. Members of the Hindu nationalist groups Rashtiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal, entered the house during worship service and proceeded to attack the congregation and the pastors. About 20 congregants, plus the pastors, were taken to the local police station after the attack. While the members of the congregation were later released, pastors Pas and Pas were still in jail. Christian advocacy group All India Christian Council is currently working for their release.

Weather

Floods have isolated about 800,000 people in Pakistan who are now only reachable by air and aid workers need at least 40 more helicopters to ferry lifesaving aid to the increasingly desperate people, the United Nations said. The appeal Tuesday was an indication of the massive problems facing the relief effort in Pakistan more than three weeks after the floods hit the country, affecting more than 17 million people and raising concerns about possible social unrest and political instability. Earlier, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said hundreds of health facilities had been damaged and tens of thousands of medical workers displaced and the country’s chief meteorologist warned that it would be two weeks until the Indus River— the focus of the flooding still sweeping through the country — returns to normal levels.

August 23, 2010

Chilean Miners Found Alive after 17 Days

For 33 men found alive after 17 days trapped deep in a copper and gold mine, the toughest challenge now may be preserving their sanity during the months it may take to carve a tunnel big enough for them to get out. Chileans were euphoric Sunday after a narrow drill broke through 2,257 feet of solid rock to reach an emergency refuge where the miners had gathered. The trapped men quickly tied two notes to the end of a probe that rescuers pulled to the surface, announcing in big red letters: “All 33 of us are fine in the shelter.” And where many were beginning to give up hope, the scene above ground became a celebration Sunday night,.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans Oppose War in Afghanistan

A majority of Americans see no end in sight in Afghanistan, and nearly six in 10 oppose the nine-year-old war as President Barack Obama sends tens of thousands more troops to the fight, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. With just over 10 weeks before nationwide elections that could define the remainder of Obama‘s first term, only 38% say they support his expanded war effort in Afghanistan — a drop from 46% in March. Just 19% expect the situation to improve during the next year, while 29% think it will get worse. Some 49% think it will remain the same. The numbers could be ominous for the president and his Democratic Party, already feeling the heat for high unemployment, a slow economic recovery and a $1.3 trillion federal deficit. Strong dissent — 58% oppose the war — could depress Democratic turnout when the party desperately needs to energize its supporters for midterm congressional elections.

Former Blackwater Security Firm to Pay $42 Million Fine

The troubled security firm formerly known as Blackwater will pay $42 million in fines to settle thousands of violations of U.S. export control regulations, according to The New York Times. The newspaper reported on its website Friday that the Moyock, North Carolina-based company now known as Xe (zee) Services reached a settlement agreement with the State Department. The alleged violations included providing sniper training for Taiwanese police officers, illegal weapons exports to Afghanistan and making unauthorized proposals to train troops in south Sudan, the newspaper said. The State Department requires government approval before the transfer of certain types of military technology or knowledge to other countries. The private company provided guards and services to the U.S. government in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It attracted sharp criticism over its role in those missions. It has been trying to rehabilitate its image since a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that killed 17 people and outraged the Iraqi government. A federal grand jury has indicted five Blackwater officials on conspiracy weapons and obstruction of justice charges. The company still has contracts to provide security for both the State Department and the CIA in Afghanistan.

Recalled Egg Total Passes Half a Billion

The nationwide effort to pull potentially salmonella-contaminated eggs off the market expanded significantly Friday when a second Iowa egg producer, Hillandale Farms, issued a recall of 170 million of its eggs, according to Associated Press reports. That brings the total amount recalled by two producers to more than half a billion eggs. The eggs recalled by Hillandale Farms of Pennsylvania were sold in 14 states under the brand names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, Sunny Meadow, Wholesome Farms and West Creek. They were were sold in Arkansas, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. The type of salmonella found in the Hillandale eggs, salmonella enteritidis, is the same as that contaminating the eggs involved in the first recall, produced by Wright County Egg, also of Iowa, It’s the most common form of salmonella in eggs, and although the genetic fingerprints of the salmonella in both recalls are similar, the Food and Drug Administration can’t say yet whether the strains of the bacteria are genetically identical. The FDA is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a more specific analysis. Both egg farms have ties to an Iowa business routinely cited for violating state and federal law.

Ground Zero Mosque Modeled after Notorious 9/11 Mosque

The New York imam behind the Ground Zero mosque has struck a partnership with the founder of the so-called 9/11 mosque in the Washington suburbs that gave aid and comfort to some of the 9/11 hijackers, WorldNetDaily has learned. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf counts the lead trustee of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center among partners in his Cordoba Initiative, which features a 13-story mosque and a “cultural center” for his project to bring shariah, or Islamic law, to America. Jamal Barzinji, one of the founders of the radical Muslim Brotherhood in America, also founded Dar al-Hijrah in Falls Church, Va., which is run by the pro-jihad Brotherhood. The mosque has been tied to numerous terrorism plots, including the 9/11 attacks. In December 2008, the Brotherhood’s U.S. think tank — the International Institute of Islamic Thought, or IIIT – hosted Rauf. During their meeting, IIIT’s leadership, including Barzinji, “pledged cooperation and support” for Rauf’s project.

27 Arrested in Arizona Biker Shootout

Arizona authorities say 27 people have been booked on charges ranging from attempted murder to participation in a criminal street gang after shootings involving members of rival motorcycle gangs, the Vagos and Hells Angels. Detectives estimate at least 50 rounds were fired Saturday during the shootings in the small community of Chino Valley, north of Prescott. At least five people were shot but none of the wounds was life-threatening. The shootings brought dozens of Arizona law enforcement officers to the scene. No civilians were injured in the gunfight.

Beware Yellowstone Bears This Fall

Yellowstone’s grizzlies are going to be particularly hungry this fall, and that means more dangerous meetings with humans in a year that is already the area’s deadliest on record. Scientists report that a favorite food of many bears, nuts from whitebark pine cones, is scarce. So as grizzlies look to put on some major pounds in preparation for the long winter ahead, scientists say, they will be looking for another source of protein — meat — and running into trouble along the way. Wildlife managers already report bears coming down off the mountains and into areas frequented by hunters, berry pickers and hikers. Two people have been fatally mauled by grizzlies so far this year in Wyoming and Montana. Experts said that’s the most in one year in at least a century for the Yellowstone region, which also includes parts of Idaho. In the latest attack, a Michigan man was killed and two others injured when an undernourished bear and her three cubs marauded through a crowded campground near Cooke City, Montana.

Economic News

Regulators on Friday shut down a big community bank based in Chicago that has been known for its social activism but racked by financial troubles in recent months. A consortium funded by several of the biggest U.S. financial firms is buying its assets and pledging to operate the new bank by the same principles. The FDIC also seized seven other banks Friday, bringing to 118 the number of U.S. bank failures this year amid the recession and mounting loan defaults.

Nearly half of homeowners who enrolled in the Obama administration’s program to get lower mortgage payments found themselves canceled out by July. Treasury says 434,716 homeowners made it through the trial periods through June and have been accepted into the permanent program that lowers mortgage payments for at least five years. A total of 616,839 homeowners who enrolled in HAMP for three-month trial periods were told that they did not qualify for longer-term modifications. Cancellations are growing because of insufficient documentation from borrowers, missed payments, or because borrowers are found to earn too much to qualify. The median saving for borrowers in permanent modifications is $513.09 per month, or 36% of the median payment before modification.

Arizona’s unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent doesn’t come close to showing the full picture of just how tough the state’s job market has become. The figure is much higher when discouraged workers are included in the count. That brings the broader unemployment rate to nearly 1 in 5, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Renewed economic uncertainty is testing Americans’ generation-long love affair with the stock market. Investors withdrew a staggering $33.12 billion from domestic stock market mutual funds in the first seven months of this year, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry trade group. Now many are choosing investments they deem safer, like bonds. If that pace continues, more money will be pulled out of these mutual funds in 2010 than in any year since the 1980s, with the exception of 2008, when the global financial crisis peaked.

Middle East

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed to new peace talks that will begin with meetings and a dinner involving President Obama on Sept. 1. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who announced the new initiative, said Obama will meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before the dinner. Formal negotiations between the two leaders would begin in a joint meeting with Clinton on Sept. 2. The new negotiations take place without preconditions, and have a one-year time frame, she said. President Obama’s decision to restart Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians next week creates a big opportunity for him, but also huge risk, experts on the region say. By setting a one-year timetable, Obama relieves any diplomatic pressure before November’s congressional elections while building in time to get involved before his re-election campaign in 2012. There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met, reports the New York Times.

Iran

Iranian and Russian engineers began loading nuclear fuel into Iran’s first atomic power plant Saturday amid international concern that the Islamic republic is seeking a nuclear weapon. State television showed what appeared to be fuel rods being loaded into the core of the reactor, which is on the shores of the Persian Gulf near Bushehr. The plant is one of the first tangible results of Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which has been the target of increasingly tough international sanctions. It took more than 35 years to build the plant, with construction disrupted by the 1979 revolution, the war with Iraq in the 1980s and a decision by the original German contractor, Siemens, to pull out of the project. Rosatom, a Russian state nuclear corporation, helped finish the plant, which has cost Iran nearly $1 billion. Russia has pledged to supply the fuel, low-enriched uranium, for 10 years. Although Iran says it has been open about its nuclear-enrichment program, the United States and its allies say the country has concealed parts of its nuclear-fuel program, possibly to build a nuclear weapon, something Iran denies.

Afghanistan

Combat has intensified around the country amid an increase in the number of foreign forces battling the stubborn Taliban insurgency to about 120,000, including more than 78,000 Americans. Foreign troops are increasingly skirmishing in the vast south and mountainous east, where insurgents have long held sway. Militants also are attacking coalition forces in parts of the north and west where they were not previously active. Amid the continuing violence, President Hamid Karzai defended his decision to disband private security firms operating in the country, saying they were undermining Afghanistan’s police and army and contributing to corruption.

North Korea

North Korea has executed three underground church leaders and jailed another 20 Christians, Christian Today reports. The country has kept the executions under wraps since mid-May, and AsiaNews only recently uncovered the killings. North Korean police reportedly raided a house in Kuwal-dong in Pyungsung county, Pyongan province, and arrested all 23 believers who were gathered there for religious activity. The leaders were sentenced to death and soon after executed. The other 20 were reportedly sent to the infamous prison labor camp No 15 in Yodok. The 23 Christians had come to faith after some of them travelled to China on business and met with church members there. An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Christians are currently in prison labor camps in North Korea because of their faith. Persecution watchdog Open Doors has ranked North Korea as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians for eight years in a row.

Mexico

The decapitated bodies of four men were hung from a bridge Sunday in the central Mexican city of Cuernavaca, which has been besieged by fighting between two drug lords. A gang led by kingpin Hector Beltran Leyva took responsibility for the killings in a message left with the bodies. The beheaded and mutilated bodies were hung by their feet early Sunday from the bridge. Cuernavaca has become a battleground for control of the Beltran Leyva cartel since its leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was killed there in a December shootout with marines. Mexican authorities say the cartel split between a faction led by Hector Beltran Leyva, brother of Arturo, and another led by Edgar Valdes Villarreal, a U.S.-born kingpin known as “the Barbie.”

Brazil

Heavily armed drug gang members engaged in an intense firefight with police, then fled into a luxury hotel popular with foreign tourists and held about 30 people hostage for three hours Saturday before surrendering. The upscale, beachside neighborhood of Sao Conrado where the Intercontinental Hotel sits was transformed into a war zone as upward of 50 gunmen with high-caliber rifles, pistols and even hand grenades faced off with police. A police spokeswoman said the gunbattle began when police spotted about 10 cars and vans leaving the Vidigal slum heading toward the nearby Rocinha slum, one of Latin America‘s largest. Both shantytowns are controlled by the Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends) drug gang. Most of the gunmen fled into Rocinha, but 10 ran into the Intercontinental where they quickly grabbed hostages and holed up in the hotel’s kitchen. One woman was killed, and four bystanders and three policeman were wounded. “It seemed as if I was in Iraq,” neighborhood resident Jose Oliveira e Silva told the Globo television network.

  • As the Bible foretold, the spirit of lawlessness is growing during these end-times

Wildfires

A 215,000 acre wildfire in Idaho has destroyed ten structures and is only 10% contained as of Monday morning. An additional 8 large (over 100 acres) wildfires are also burning in Idaho, having consumed another 107,000 acres. In the bone-dry northwest, 11 other large wildfires are active across Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, burning almost 68,000 acres.

Weather

Flooding has forced the evacuation of more than a quarter-million people in northern China along its border with North Korea, state media said Monday. Heavy rains over the last several days caused the Yalu river, which marks the border, to breach its banks. Four people died, including a couple in their 70s and a mother and son, after their homes in Dandong were swept away by flash floods and 253,500 residents have been evacuated after the Yalu rose to its highest level in a decade. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said torrential rain and water from the overflowing Yalu swamped houses, public buildings and farmland in more than five villages near Sinuiju, the city opposite Dandong. It said at least 5,150 people had been evacuated and residents were clambering on rooftops or taking shelter on hilltops.

August 20, 2010

American Bar Association Calls for Homosexual Marriage Nationwide

The American Bar Association (ABA) adopted a resolution this week calling for same-sex marriage nationwide, and urging government at every level to “eliminate” any restrictions on homosexual unions. The ABA’s policy-making House of Delegates adopted Resolution 111, which states: “RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges state, territorial, and tribal governments to eliminate all of their legal barriers to civil marriage between two persons of the same sex who are otherwise eligible to marry.” Douglas Napier, senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund said that the ABA had gone “far afield” of its founding mission to address issues affecting the legal community. Napier likened the ABA’s stance on homosexual marriage to its controversial stance in the 1990’s in support of abortion rights, saying that now, as then, the association seemed intent on advancing a political, social agenda rather than focusing on legal issues.

Appeals Court Favors Atheists over Highway Memorials

The Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against religious expression in a case concerning memorials for slain Utah state troopers. The American Atheist Association filed suit in 2005 against the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Transportation Department because the memorials contain a cross to represent the troopers’ faith. The athiest group claimed the monuments were a state establishment of religion, even though the memorials are fully funded and maintained by the Utah Highway Patrol Association — a private organization. The appeals court struck down the memorials as unconstitutional.

Agency Probing BP Accident Overwhelmed

A federal agency charged with investigating the explosion that led to the BP oil spill says it is so overburdened and understaffed it will have to close some investigations early and delay others to shift its staff to BP. The House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) to examine the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. The chemical safety board agreed to investigate the rig explosion but said in a letter to committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and member Bart Stupak, D-Mich., that it would “have to make some difficult choices” to manage its record-high caseload. They already have a higher number of open investigations than we have actual investigators on staff. The CSB board says it will prematurely close some investigations, including into major explosions at the Kleen Energy power plant that killed six people in Middletown, Conn., in February, and the ConAgra Slim Jim facility that killed four people and injured 67 others in Garner, N.C., in June 2009.

Gulf Oil Spill Site Plagued by Invisible Plume

A 22-mile-long invisible mist of oil is meandering far below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, where it will probably loiter for months or more, scientists reported Thursday in the first conclusive evidence of an underwater plume from the BP spill. The most worrisome part is the slow pace at which the oil is breaking down in the 40-degree water, making it a long-lasting but unseen threat to vulnerable marine life, experts said. Earlier this month, top federal officials declared that the oil in the spill was mostly “gone” – and it is gone in the sense you can’t see it. But the chemical ingredients of the oil persist more than a half-mile beneath the surface, researchers found. The oil is degrading at one-tenth the pace at which it breaks down at the surface. The plume started 3 miles from the well and extended more than 20 miles to the southwest. The oil is at depths of 3,000 to 4,000 feet, far below the environment of the most popular Gulf fish like red snapper, tuna and mackerel. But it is not harmless. These depths are where small fish and crustaceans live.

Stealthy Ocean Grab

With the stroke of a pen – no vote, no legislation – Barack Obama and his neon green radicals have seized unprecedented control of the deep blue seas. The president’s grabby-handed bureaucrats have been empowered through executive order to seize unprecedented control from states and localities over “conservation, economic activity, user conflict and sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes.” In late July, President Obama established a behemoth 27-member “National Ocean Council” with the stroke of a pen. Democrats have tried and failed to pass “comprehensive” federal oceans management legislation five years in a row. The so-called “Oceans 21” bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Sam Farr of California, went nowhere fast. Farr gloated: “We already have a Clean Air Act and a Clean Water Act. With today’s executive order, President Obama in effect creates a Clean Ocean Act.” And not a single hearing needed to be held.

A Dangerous and Deceptive New Drug

The Family Research Council reports that Last Friday afternoon, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly announced approval of a new prescription abortion drug called “ella” — allowing the manufacturer HRA Pharma to market this drug in the U.S. as an emergency contraceptive (EC). Proponents of ella claim that it is more effective than the so-called “morning-after pill,” Plan B, because it can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex, vs. the 3-day approved time frame for Plan B. FRC opposes Plan B because in addition to preventing ovulation and fertilization, it can also work as an abortifacient by preventing the implantation of a conceived embryo, thereby causing the embryo’s death. But ella can also destroy an implanted embryo. Ella is similar in its chemical make-up to the one FDA approved abortion drug, RU-486. Until now the FDA has drawn the line between EC and abortion based on whether a drug prevents or ends an established pregnancy. Therefore, approving ella as an EC even under their own definition of an abortifacient is doubly misleading.

Ground Zero Mosque Group Balks at Governor’s Offer

The developer of the controversial ground zero mosque in New York City reportedly has rejected Gov. David Paterson’s offer to help them find a different site. Paterson offered to negotiate a new location for the mosque last week. However project developer Sharif El-Gamal appeared to foreclose any debate on the subject — pointing to the distance between his project and 9/11’s ground zero site. “Park51 is a community center. It is two blocks north of the World Trade Center site,” El-Gamal argued. “In New York City, two blocks is a great distance. There are some buildings in New York that have their own zip codes. There is such a scarcity of space in New York, especially in Lower Manhattan. Keep in mind this is a small island, so we are nowhere near the World Trade Center site.”

Obama’s Approval Rating Sinks to New Low

The Gallup Poll isn’t getting any better for President Obama, whose approval rating has now dropped to a low of 41%. His disapproval rating, meanwhile, has hit a high of 52%. These are daily tracking numbers, the average for three days rolling. Meanwhile, nearly one in five Americans say President Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% last year, according to a Pew Research Center poll. In all, 43% say they do not know what religion Obama practices.

  • Obama’s endorsement of a ‘ground-zero’ mosque did not sit well with most Americans, adding further confusion over his religious beliefs

Hundreds Believed Sickened by Tainted Eggs

About 1,300 Americans have likely become ill from tainted eggs, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 380 million eggs have been recalled since last week because of concerns they may be tainted with the potentially deadly salmonella bacteria, the Egg Safety Center said. Salmonella, which is generally contracted from contaminated poultry, meat, eggs, or water, impacts the intestinal track. The elderly, infants, and people with impaired immune systems are at heightened risk for developing a more serious illness because of salmonella, the CDC said. Wright County Egg in Galt, part of the DeCoster family agribusiness operations, that’s being blamed for a multistate salmonella outbreak linked to its eggs has a long history of environmental, immigration and labor violations.

Economic News

The U.S. economy faces even more difficult times ahead with chronic unemployment and slow manufacturing hurting the recovery, the head of Congress’ budget agency said on Thursday. The budget and economic outlook are designed to give lawmakers the most up-to-date nonpartisan assessment of U.S. economic health. The CBO projected a 9.5 percent jobless rate for this year, falling only slightly to 9 percent in 2011.

New applications for unemployment insurance benefits reached the half-million mark last week for the first time since November, a sign employers are cutting jobs again as the recovery slows. The Labor Department says initial claims for jobless benefits rose 12,000 last week to 500,000, the fourth increase in the past five weeks. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 8,000 to 482,500, highest since December. Jobless claims declined steadily last year from a peak of 651,000 in March 2009.

Large employers expect their health care benefit costs to rise 8.9% next year, and more will ask their employees to make a bigger contribution, according to a survey from the National Business Group on Health.

Mortgage applications rose 13% last week as consumers refinanced at the lowest rates in decades. The increase was driven by a 17% surge in applications to refinance home loans. Home refinancing hit the highest level since May 2009, but was still lower than the last big boom during the first three months of that year. The average rate for a 30-year fixed loan rose slightly to 4.6% from 4.57% last week.

A record number of workers made hardship withdrawals from their retirement accounts in the second quarter, Fidelity Investments said Friday. And the number of workers taking loans from their accounts reached a 10-year high. The average age of the workers taking hardship withdrawals is between 35 and 55, their peak earning years. The withdrawal and loan trends reflect the financial stress many workers find themselves in as the economy’s struggles continue.

Iran

U.S. officials have convinced Israel that Iran needs at least a year to develop a nuclear weapon, dimming prospects of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The New York Times reports. Israeli officials had thought Iran could develop nuclear weapons within months. The assessment is based on U.S. intelligence and international inspectors’ reports. Israeli officials have indicated that if they thought Iran was developing a nuclear weapon, they would probably take military action. Israeli officials remain suspicious that Iran has a secret enrichment site.

Iraq

Seven years and five months after the U.S.-led invasion, the last American combat brigade was leaving Iraq, well ahead of President Obama’s Aug. 31 deadline for ending U.S. combat operations there. Scatterings of combat troops still await departure, and some 50,000 will stay another year in what is designated as a noncombat role. They will carry weapons to defend themselves and accompany Iraqi troops on missions (but only if asked). Special forces will continue to help Iraqis hunt for terrorists. So the U.S. death toll — at least 4,415 by Pentagon count as of Wednesday — may not yet be final.

However, as the last brigade of U.S. combat troops began to leave Iraq Thursday, the Obama administration reportedly planned to double the number of private security guards it has in the country to fill the void. Contractors employed by the State Department will train the Iraqi police and U.S. diplomats in two new $100 million outposts to help defuse sectarian tensions in northern Iraq. The security contractors, defending five fortified compounds around the country, will operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and staff quick reaction forces to help civilians in distress.

  • Smoke and mirrors again. Less troops, but more contractors and reduced accountability

Afghanistan

Makeshift-bomb attacks in July wounded a record number of U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, and experts say even more would have died without widespread use of armored vehicles. The IEDs (improvised explosive devices) wounded 399 service members — a 68% increase — and killed 53.More than 1,300 IEDs were detonated or defused in July — a new record,. That’s a 42% increase over July 2009. More troops are surviving blasts in part because of the substantial increase in the number of armored trucks. In July, there were about 9,400 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. There were fewer than 3,000 a year ago.

A deputy commander in an al-Qaeda linked insurgent group was apprehended in an overnight operation in eastern Afghanistan. NATO said the deputy commander, who was captured by a joint Afghan and coalition force in Khost province, ran weapons for the Haqqani network and reported directly to the group’s senior leaders across the border in Pakistan. U.S. officials have described the Haqqani network as the most potent threat to American forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan

The world ramped up assistance to flood-ravaged Pakistan on Thursday. The U.S., Germany and Saudi Arabia all announced new pledges of aid, while Japan said it would send helicopters to help distribute food, water and medicine. The Asian Development Bank said it would redirect $2 billion of existing and planned loans for reconstruction. The floods have affected 20 million people and about one-fifth of Pakistan’s territory, straining its civilian government as it also struggles against al-Qaeda and Taliban violence. Aid groups and the United Nations had complained foreign donors have not been quick or generous enough given the scale of the disaster.

China

Rescuers dug through the debris of China’s latest landslide Thursday in a search for at least 90 people thought buried when a wall of mud crashed into their mountain town in southwestern China. Wednesday’s landslide in Puladi township in Yunnan province killed 1 person, covered homes and cut off roads in the area. More than 1,000 rescuers were working to find the missing, though fresh rains expected over the next two days could hamper their efforts. The slide tore away a bridge on the Nujiang river, which saw its water level surge by 19 feet (6 meters). The worst recent landslides have been in Zhouqu in Gansu, where at least 1,287 people were killed as a mudslide crashed through the city on Aug. 8. The government says another 457 people are missing from that disaster.

A suspected bomb attack killed seven people and wounded 14 Thursday in China’s far west Xinjiang, a region beset by ethnic conflict and separatist violence. The explosion occurred on a three-wheeled vehicle Thursday morning at a bridge in Aksu city in southwestern Xinjiang. Xinjiang has been the site of ethnic conflict in recent years, including riots last summer when long-standing tensions between the Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group, and the majority Han Chinese flared into open violence in Urumqi. The government said 197 people were killed. Hundreds of people were arrested, about two dozen were sentenced to death and many Uighurs remain unaccounted for and are believed to be in custody.

India

A mudslide triggered by heavy rains demolished a school building in northern India on Wednesday, killing at least 18 children Eight children have been rescued from the single-story school in Sumgarh, a village in Uttrakhand state. Rescuers are still looking for another 10 children and two teachers believed to be buried in the debris of the building. Heavy rains have caused mudslides at several place in Uttrakhand state this week. Earlier this month, flash floods triggered by a cloudburst killed at least 175 people in the remote and mountainous Ladakh region of the Indian portion of Kashmir.

Wildfires

Heavy rain has drenched the Russian capital, helping firefighters battle the remaining wildfires on the city’s outskirts. Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry on Friday reported new success in the battle against the country’s forest and peatbog fires. They now cover some 22,000 acres, or less than a 20th of the territory they swept earlier this month. A cold front that hit western Russia has ended a two-month heat wave and cleared skies over Moscow from suffocating smog. Temperatures in Moscow fell from nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit to 48 degrees Fahrenheit in just two days.

Weather

China struggled to cope with widespread storms that left dozens missing and presumed dead Thursday. Rescue workers found four bodies in Puladi township. Rains expected over the next few days would likely hamper efforts to find 88 people still listed as missing. Floods and landslides across China in recent months that have left hundreds dead and washed away entire towns in some parts of the country. The storms have caused tens of billions of dollars in damage.

Flash floods struck Tennessee as heavy rainfall soaked some of the same parts of Middle Tennessee that were inundated with severe flooding in May, and forecasters are warning that more rain is expected. A train washed off its tracks and rescuers plucked people from flooded vehicles and rescued residents in an apartment complex about 80 miles northeast of Nashville as continued downpours were predicted to add to the flooding problems through Wednesday evening. In Putnam County, a home floated off its foundation. The heavy rains closed the Wilson County Fair, 30 miles east of Nashville, for the first time in its 157-year history. It’s the largest fair in Tennessee. Nashville filled sandbags and watched as the Cumberland River was forecast to approach flood stage Friday morning.

Coral that survived the 2004 tsunami is now dying at one of the fastest rates ever recorded because of a dramatic rise in water temperatures off northwestern Indonesia. Surface waters in the Andaman Sea peaked at 93 degrees F— a 7-degree rise over long-term averages. Research teams in May discovered massive bleaching, which occurs when algae living inside coral tissues are expelled. Subsequent surveys showed 80% of those corals have since died.

August 18, 2010

California Same-Sex Marriages on Hold Pending Appeal

A federal appeals court put same-sex weddings in California on hold indefinitely Monday while it considers the constitutionality of the state’s ban on gay marriages. The decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, trumps a lower-court judge’s order that would have allowed county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday. Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, defendants in the case, praised the panel’s decision. “California voters spoke clearly on Prop. 8, and we’re glad to see their votes will remain valid while the legal challenges work their way up through the courts,” Pugno said. “Invalidating the people’s vote based on just one judge’s opinion … would have shaken the people’s confidence in our elections.” Proposition 8 passed with 52% of the vote. A different three-judge panel than the one that issued Monday’s decision will decide the constitutional question.

Border Patrol Sees Spike in Suicides

Suicides have set off alarm bells throughout the agency responsible for policing the nation’s borders. After nearly four years without a single suicide in their ranks, border agents are killing themselves in greater numbers. Records obtained by The Associated Press show that at least 15 agents have taken their own lives since February 2008. It’s unclear exactly why the men ended their lives. Few of them left notes. And the Border Patrol seems somewhat at odds with itself over the issue. Federal officials insist the deaths have nothing to do with the agency, which has doubled in size since 2004, or the increasingly volatile U.S.-Mexico border. But administrators have quietly undertaken urgent suicide-prevention initiatives, including special training for supervisors, videos about warning signs and educational programs for 22,000 agents nationwide. The agency declined to provide details of the suicides and would only confirm the number of deaths since 2008. But the AP uncovered the names, locations and dates of the suicides by reviewing public records, including those obtained from medical examiners through the Freedom of Information Act.

U.S. Trust of Media Dwindling

No more than one-quarter of Americans trusts the news media, but the greatest confidence in the struggling newspaper industry ironically comes from young people. The Gallup poll found that 25 percent of Americans felt a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers and 22 percent in television news, in line with a steady slide over the past two decades. However, 49 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds said they placed confidence in newspapers. Confidence falls sharply once Americans get older, with only 19 percent of 30-to-49-year-olds trusting newspapers. Explaining the results, Gallup said young people tended to place more trust in institutions in general. Liberals were the most trustful of newspapers, at 35 percent, compared with 18 percent of conservatives.

NY Voters Opposed to Mosque Near Ground Zero

A majority of New Yorkers remain opposed to a mosque proposed as part of a planned Islamic cultural center near ground zero and the issue will be a factor for many voters this fall, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday. The Siena College poll showed 63 percent of New York voters surveyed oppose the project, with 27 percent supporting it. Among those who oppose building the mosque, about half agree that developers have the constitutional right to build it. Twenty-eight percent of mosque opponents say they do not have that right. Democrats nationwide, including President Barack Obama, have defended the proposal as protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. Many Republicans have called it an affront to the memory of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. New York Gov. David Paterson is set to meet with the developers this week to offer them state land to construct the controversial mosque at another location.

New Arizona Law Ends Local Rules on Where Churches, Mosques Can Go

In the raging debate over a planned mosque near Ground Zero, President Barack Obama has said a religious institution should be free to choose where to locate. Based on a law they recently passed, Arizona’s most conservative leaders seem to agree. State lawmakers strengthened churches’ rights this year, passing a law that prohibits cities and towns from using zoning codes or land-use rules to restrict where religious facilities such as churches, mosques or synagogues can locate. Any mosque planned for Arizona could build where it pleased, as long as it complied with any local zoning and building requirements that would apply to other development. The law, considered the first of its kind, was backed by most of the Legislature’s Republicans and opposed by most Democrats, who argued that it gives religious institutions preferential treatment over the concerns of cities or residents.

Drilling Permits for Deep Waters Face Tougher Review

The Obama administration said Monday that it would require significantly more environmental review before approving new offshore drilling permits, ending a practice in which government regulators essentially rubber-stamped potentially hazardous deepwater projects like BP’s out-of-control well. The administration has come under sharp criticism for granting BP an exemption from environmental oversight for the Macondo well, which blew out on April 20, killing 11 workers and spewing nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The more stringent environmental reviews are part of a wave of new regulation and legislation that promises to fundamentally remake an industry that has operated hand-in-glove with its government overseers for decades, reports the New York Times. Many oil industry officials worry that the new environmental, safety, technical and financial requirements will drive some companies out of business, discourage future exploration and worsen the nation’s dependence on imported oil. The highly competitive oil industry has always operated under tremendous cost and time pressures; the new rules will most likely slow the development of new wells while raising costs.

Louisiana Shrimpers Start Season with Oil, Price Worries

Shrimpers returned to Louisiana waters Monday for the first commercial season since the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, uncertain what crude may still be in the water and what price they’ll get for the catch if consumers worry about possible lingering effects from the massive BP spill. The spill has put a crimp in the fishing industry in a state that ranks first in the nation in producing shrimp, blue crab, crawfish and oysters, a $318-million-a year business in Louisiana. Perhaps the biggest fear is that some shrimper might try to sell oil-contaminated shrimp and scare consumers away again after prices crashed once already this summer. Despite state and federal assurances that seafood reaching the market was safe, demand dropped and prices crashed a month ago. Seafood testing begins when there’s no longer visible oil in a particular area. First, inspectors smell samples for oil. Then comes testing at federal or state laboratories. To reopen seafood harvesting, the samples must test below Food and Drug Administration-set levels of concern for 12 different potential cancer-causing substances. BP also used chemical dispersants to break up the crude, but the government has not yet developed a test for the materials in seafood.

Ongoing Salmonella Outbreak Prompts Egg Recall

A national outbreak of salmonella in eggs has sickened hundreds of people since May and appears to be ongoing, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say. The outbreak has been tracked to in-shell eggs from Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa, which has launched a recall. The Associated Press estimates the total number of eggs recalled at 228 million. Eggs from the company were sold under multiple brand names: Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps. They were distributed nationwide. The recall covers eggs in their shells packed between May 16 and Aug. 13. They come in cartons ranging from six to 18 eggs and are marked with plant numbers P-1026, P-1413 and P-1946. The eggs should be returned for a refund and not consumed.

Cancer is World’s Costliest Disease

Cancer is the world’s top “economic killer” as well as its likely leading cause of death, the American Cancer Society contends in a new report it will present at a global cancer conference in China this week. Cancer costs more in productivity and lost life than AIDS, malaria, the flu and other diseases that spread person-to-person, the report concludes. Chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes account for more than 60% of deaths worldwide but less than 3% of public and private funding for global health,. Money shouldn’t be taken away from fighting diseases that spread person-to-person, but the amount devoted to cancer is way out of whack with the impact it has, said Otis Brawley, the cancer society’s chief medical officer. Cancer’s economic toll was $895 billion in 2008 — equivalent to 1.5% of the world’s gross domestic product, the report says. That’s in terms of disability and years of life lost — not the cost of treating the disease, which wasn’t addressed in the report. The World Health Organization has long predicted that cancer would overtake heart disease this year as the leading cause of death. About 7.6 million people died of cancer in 2008, and about 12.4 million new cases are diagnosed each year.

End to COBRA Subsidy Means Higher Health Insurance Premiums

Deficit-conscious lawmakers have not renewed a subsidy that helped many jobless Americans afford health benefits. A longstanding federal law called COBRA requires employers to continue insurance for former employees, typically for 18 more months, if they pay the entire premium plus a 2% administrative fee. Last year, Congress approved a 65% COBRA premium subsidy, but it ended May 31. People who started on COBRA before May 31 can still get the aid. But those who had exhausted the 15-month subsidy, and the newly unemployed, aren’t eligible. There’s little chance that the subsidy will be renewed this election year, because Congress is in recess and little time remains in the session. But with the economy still struggling and layoffs continuing, hundreds of thousands of Americans may face a tough decision: Pay high COBRA premiums or drop coverage if they can’t get cheaper individual policies.

Economic News

Three reports delieverd a mixed picture of the economy Tuesday as industrial production and housing starts rose, and wholesale prices ticked up. The Federal Reserve said output at factories, mines and utilities increased 1.0% last month. The last time factory output increased so steeply was August 2009, when the government’s Cash for Clunkers program drove a 1.3% gain. U.S. factories were operating at 74.8% of capacity, a slight increase from June but still well below the historical average of 80.6%. Construction of new homes edged up slightly in July, although applications for building permits tumbled to the lowest point in 14 months, a sign of continued stress in housing. The Labor Department’s wholesale price index rose 0.2% in July for the first time since March on higher costs for food and passenger cars and trucks.

Homebuilder confidence dropped for a third month in August as the struggling U.S. economy and a flood of cheap foreclosed properties kept people from buying new homes. The National Association of Home Builders said Monday that its monthly index of builder sentiment about the housing market fell to 13, lowest since March 2009. Readings below 50 indicate negative sentiment about the market. The last time the index was above 50 was in April 2006. The industry had received a boost from federal tax credits of up to $8,000. But those expired in April.

The biggest bank killer around isn’t some exotic derivative investment concocted by Wall Street‘s financial alchemists. It’s the plain old construction loan, Main Street banks’ bread and butter for decades. The Congressional Oversight Panel, a financial watchdog, has warned that construction loans have deteriorated faster and inflicted bigger losses on banks than any other real estate loans. And the worst may be yet to come. Banks, adopting a desperation strategy known as “extend and pretend” or “delay and pray,” have been reluctant to admit defeat, repossess half-completed housing developments and strip malls — and dump them on a depressed market at a big loss.

Israel/Iran

Israel has until the weekend to launch a military strike on Iran’s first nuclear plant before the humanitarian risk of an attack becomes too great, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Tuesday.  Russian company is expected to help Iran start loading nuclear fuel into its plant on Saturday, after which an attack on the Bushehr reactor could trigger harmful radiation, which Israel wants to avoid, Bolton said. So unless the Israelis act immediately to shut down the facility, it will be too late. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told Fox News that the nation is hopeful sanctions — passed by the United Nations, European Union and United States — will “modify” Iran’s behavior. Oren said Israel is “committed” to the sanctions program and will assess its impact at a later date. Iran has announced that is it to build ten new uranium enrichment plants within protected mountain strongholds as part of its nuclear programme and will start work on the first site in March.

Mexico

Attackers shot eight men to death and piled their bodies in a pickup in the southern state of Oaxaca, and gunmen kidnapped the mayor of a city on the outskirts of the northern industrial hub of Monterrey, Mexican authorities said Monday. It was unclear whether Mexico‘s drug gangs were responsible for the Oaxaca killings or the kidnapping of Mayor Edelmiro Cavazos of the city of Santiago, in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon. But Nuevo Leon state prosecutor Alejandro Garza described the abducted mayor as “leading the front and showing his face in the fight against organized crime.” Garza said the mayor was taken from his home around midnight by men wearing uniforms from a police agency that was dissolved years ago. The area around Monterrey has been wracked by bloody drug gang turf battles, and attacks on political figures by drug gangs — once extremely rare — have become more commonplace.

China

Fresh landslides rocked another area of China on Wednesday, sweeping through a mountain town in the southwest of the country after days of heavy rains and leaving at least 67 people missing and cutting off access to the area. Roads, power and telecommunications were severed when the mud tore through Puladi township in Yunnan province. At least 10 trucks and 21 houses were buried. Another 36 people died Tuesday and 23 others are missing in fresh flooding from torrential rains in China’s Gansu province, the latest in a string of natural disasters to strike China. The deaths came Monday from flooding in Longnan city near Zhouqu. Zhouqu is where at least 1,254 people were killed as a mudslide triggered by heavy rain crashed through the city on Aug. 8. The government says another 490 people are still missing from that disaster. The latest flooding left 295 people injured and more than 6,000 homes collapsed. Flooding has cut off electricity and damaged roads.

Iraq

A suicide bomber blew himself up Tuesday among hundreds of army recruits who had gathered near a military headquarters in an attack officials said killed 61 and wounded 125, one of the bloodiest bombings in months in the Iraqi capital. The massive strike just outside a major division headquarters and recruitment center is an embarrassment to Iraqi security forces and casts doubts on their ability to protect themselves and the nation just two weeks before all but 50,000 U.S. troops head home. Insurgents have threatened to step up attacks ahead of the U.S. troop departure and violence has increased in recent weeks. Iraqi army, police and other security forces have been targeted, but civilians also have been killed by the hundreds. Iraqi officials say two security guards have been killed and three civilians were wounded by a bomb that exploded Wednesday morning near a court building in Saddam Hussein‘s hometown of Tikrit. Eight people have been killed and 44 wounded Tuesday after a bomb attached to a fuel truck blew up in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan‘s President Hamid Karzai issued a decree Tuesday formalizing a four-month deadline for private security companies to disband. With complaints that they are poorly regulated, reckless and effectively operate outside local law, such operators have become a point of contention between the Afghan government and U.S. and NATO coalition forces and the international community. Private security contractors working in Afghanistan will have to either join the Afghan police force or cease operations by the deadline, according to the decree. The decree does provide an exception for private security firms working inside of compounds used by international groups, including embassies, businesses and non-governmental organizations. All security outside of these compounds will have to be provided by Afghan security forces, along with all security for supply convoys for international troops, the decree says.

Meanwhile, bomb attacks killed three U.S. service members and two Afghan civilians in Afghanistan on Tuesday The deaths — in eastern and western Afghanistan — were a reminder that the Afghan war continues to be violent far from the southern Taliban strongholds currently targeted by a surge of U.S. troops. Recent months have been particularly deadly for both NATO forces and Afghan civilians countrywide.

Pakistan

Islamist militants attacked police posts in Pakistan‘s northwest and killed two civilians active in an anti-Taliban militia, challenging a security establishment straining under a national flooding disaster, police said Wednesday. Dozens of militants from the Khyber tribal region, which lies near Peshawar and along the Afghan border, attacked police posts in the Sarband area of Peshawar. The clashes suggest Islamist insurgents are not abandoning their campaign against the state despite the flooding that began three weeks ago. In fact, they may be taking advantage of the government’s weak and distracted status.

The World Bank said Tuesday it will redirect $900 million of its existing loans to Pakistan to help in flood recovery, as the U.N. warned that many of the 20 million people affected by the disaster have yet to receive any emergency aid. Pakistan’s shaky government has been sorely tested by the disaster, which has affected about a fifth of the area of the vast country of 170 million people. It comes atop a pile of other challenges including a weak economy and a violent Islamist insurgency. Local charities and international agencies have rushed food, water, shelter and medical treatment to the worst-hit areas in the northwest and Punjab and Sindh provinces. But aid agencies and the British government have complained that the international response to the disaster has not been generous enough. The U.N. appealed last week for $459 million for immediate relief efforts. It has received 40% — about $184 million — of that so far.

Wildfires

Smoke from wildfires around Moscow has returned to some parts of the Russian capital even though firefighters have scored successes in containing the blazes, officials said Tuesday. Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry says its teams have cut the area covered by fires around Moscow by more than a quarter over the past 24 hours, but 14 forest and peatbog fires are still burning east and southeast of the city. Early Tuesday, large sections of the capital were again cloaked by smog, although the concentration of pollutants remained far below their peak levels earlier this month when smog hung over the city for a week.

August 16, 2010

Obama Endorses Muslim Mosque Near Ground Zero

President Obama tonight endorsed building an Islamic community center and mosque a few blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, saying that “Muslims have the right to practice their religion” just like anyone else. “That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” Obama said at an Iftar dinner at the White House honoring the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. “This is America.” Obama said he understands the emotions aroused by the issue, including the objections of 9/11 victims’ families who want the Islamic center to be built elsewhere in the city. But he said that the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center do not represent Islam, but are killers distorting a great religion. Obama’s statements echoed those of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others who have described the proposed Islamic center as a test of religious tolerance. Others said that Ground Zero is hallowed ground, and that mosque organizers should also practice tolerance and move further away. “Barack Obama has abandoned America at the place where America’s heart was broken nine years ago, and where her true values were on display for all to see,” said Debra Burlingame, a spokeswoman for some Sept. 11 victims’ families and the sister of one of the pilots killed in the attacks.

  • The new definition of “tolerance” is accepting and promoting all things non-Christian while discounting and discriminating against all things Christian

Ethics Inquiries in Congress Increasing

The number of ethics cases launched in Congress has jumped dramatically in the past year, putting a focus on allegations of misconduct by lawmakers heading into November’s elections. In the first six months of this year, an independent congressional watchdog began 44 ethics investigations, up from 24 during the same period in 2009. The Office of Congressional Ethics has recommended that the House ethics committee take action against 13 lawmakers. The congressional ethics office can investigate lawmakers, but the power to take disciplinary action rests with the House ethics committee. Despite the specter of public ethics trials for veteran Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California, lawmakers have escaped serious punishment.

Many Socialists Sit in Congress

The Democratic Socialists of America boasted in a newsletter to insiders that 70 of its members currently serve in Congress, but an independent survey by WND suggests the number of actual avowed or semi-secret socialists in the House and Senate is considerably higher – at least 82. The DSA is a political action committee and bills itself as the heir to the defunct Socialist Party of America. It’s chief organizing objective is to work within the Democratic Party as the primary, but not sole, method of achieving public ownership of private property and the means of production. “Stress our Democratic Party strategy and electoral work,” explains an internal organizing document obtained by WND. “The Democratic Party is something the public understands, and association with it takes the edge off. Stressing our Democratic Party work will establish some distance from the radical subculture and help integrate you to the milieu of the young liberals.”

  • Unfortunately, their strategy is working as the Democratic party has turned far to the left in recent years

Illegal Immigrants Flocking to 3 States to Obtain Identification

Three states – Washington, New Mexico and Utah – allow illegal immigrants to get licenses because their laws do not require proof of citizenship or legal residency. An Associated Press analysis found that those states have seen a surge in immigrants seeking IDs in recent months, a trend experts attribute to crackdowns on illegal immigration in Arizona and elsewhere. An American driver’s license is a requirement for many jobs. The immigration debate has thrown a spotlight on the license programs, which supporters say make financial sense because unlicensed drivers typically do not carry car insurance. Opponents insist the laws attract illegal immigrants and criminals. The AP analysis of data in the three states revealed some striking numbers: The rate of licenses issued to immigrants during the 10 weeks that followed approval of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 reflected a 60 percent increase over the annual average for last year.

More Medicaid Patients Going to ER

Increasing numbers of Americans, especially adults on Medicaid, are using hospital emergency rooms for their health care. Using data from 1997 through 2007, the researchers found that ERs are increasingly serving as “safety nets” in American health care, because by law they must treat all patients regardless of insurance or their ability to pay, the researchers say. “In 1999 adults with Medicaid visited the emergency department at a rate 3.5 times higher than the rate of adults with private insurance, and in 2007 adults with Medicaid visited the emergency department at a rate five times that of adults with private insurance,” lead researcher Dr. Ning Tang said. visits among people receiving Medicaid went from about 694 visits per 1,000 people to about 947 visits per 1,000 people, while visits by adults with private insurance, no insurance or Medicare remained stable Many of these visits by Medicaid patients were for conditions that could have been managed in a primary care clinic, Tang noted. There could soon be a problem with demand and supply: At the same time that ER visits mushroomed, the number of emergency departments fell by 5%, the researchers noted. Because of increased volume, median wait time for treatment increased from 22 to 33 minutes during the study period.

  • This trend will only get worse with the addition of Obamacare to the equation. We’re already seeing primary care physicians refuse Medicare patients due to cuts in their allowed fees.

Primary Care Doctors in Short Supply

A primary-care physician shortage in the United States is fundamentally changing the way many of us get much of our health care. Nurses with advanced degrees, physician assistants and clinics are taking a more prominent role in primary care, seeing many cases once handled by the family doctor. As 32 million more Americans gain health insurance by 2014 under federal health-care reform, these non-physician health providers will play an ever expanding role, experts say. Economics are driving the trend. Doctors are paid more for specialty procedures than routine care, prompting many new doctors to pursue specialties such as orthopedics or dermatology that promise better hours and higher pay. The gap is being filled by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who complete fewer years of education and receive lower pay than doctors do. In Arizona, recent action by the Legislature may compound the family-doctor shortage. Lawmakers slashed funding to train student doctors at hospitals, prompting many of them to serve their residencies – and establish roots – elsewhere. A St. Luke’s Health Initiatives’ report in December 2009 found that Arizona had 88 primary-care doctors for every 100,000 residents, far below the national average of 105.

Hundreds of Soldiers with PTSD Incorrectly Dismissed

At the height of the Iraq war, the Army routinely fired hundreds of soldiers for having a personality disorder when they were more likely suffering from the traumatic stresses of war, discharge data suggest. Under pressure from Congress and the public, the Army later acknowledged the problem and drastically cut the number of soldiers given the designation. But advocates for veterans say an unknown number of troops still unfairly bear the stigma of a personality disorder, making them ineligible for military health care and other benefits. Unlike PTSD, which the Army regards as a treatable mental disability caused by the acute stresses of war, the military designation of a personality disorder can have devastating consequences for soldiers. Defined as a “deeply ingrained maladaptive pattern of behavior,” a personality disorder is considered a “pre-existing condition” that relieves the military of its duty to pay for the person’s health care or combat-related disability pay. According to figures provided by the Army, the service discharged about a 1,000 soldiers a year from 2005 to 2007 for having a personality disorder.

Economic News

Stocks extended their losing streak to four days Friday after a mixed batch of readings on consumers further muddled investors’ sense of the economy. The Dow Jones industrial average now lost almost 400 (about 4%) over four days.

State Controller John Chiang said Tuesday that without a state budget, California‘s government would be unable to pay its bills in late August (or maybe early September). That means issuing IOUs to some people and businesses again. Possible dates for IOUs could be either Aug. 27 or Aug. 31, when big payments to schools are due, according to a schedule posted on the controller’s website.

China is on track to become the world’s second-largest economy behind the USA this year, cementing its status as one of the world’s superpowers and ending Japan’s 40-year reign in the No. 2 spot. In 2009, Japan’s economic output totaled $5.09 trillion on a nominal basis, before inflation adjustments, compared with China’s $4.91 trillion and the USA’s $14.26 trillion. Given Japan’s slow economic growth compared with China’s double-digit gains, it’s inevitable that when the final numbers come out, China is going to overtake Japan this year.

Israel

Jewish leaders are warning that the discovery of large natural gas reserves off the coast of Israel could trigger another war with terrorist-run Lebanon, which covets the energy source from Israel. The terrorist group Hezbollah has already blared warnings that it will launch rocket attacks against the Jewish state if Israel moves forward with plans to develop the huge natural gas resource. The Israelis have already begun work on two fields discovered last year that are due to start producing in 2012. The area of exploration does not extend into Lebanese waters. A U.S. energy company that is helping develop the fields predicts Israel will not only have enough natural gas to supply its own needs for the next two decades, but it will also have enough gas to supply Europe and Asia from a third field known as “Leviathan.”

Afghanistan

Gen. David Petraeus will not say whether U.S. troops will begin to pull out of Afghanistan next summer as President Obama pledged last year, saying any drawdown will be conditions based.  Speaking during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Petraeus said Obama asked him for his “best military advice,” and his job is not to be political about war. Petraeus’ comments come as U.S. support for the 9-year war is slipping and the death toll is climbing. July was the deadliest month for U.S. forces, when 66 troops were killed. Petraeus and other military officials have warned of more combat casualties as additional U.S. troops are sent to the fight. Last fall, Obama authorized 100,000 troops in Afghanistan — triple the level from 2008. Obama’s Democratic supporters have reluctantly swung behind the plan, but lawmakers are beginning to question whether Afghanistan can be won. Petraeus conceded the U.S. mission in the war-weary South Asian nation is tough, and will remain so.

Pakistan

Suspected U.S. missiles killed 12 people Saturday in a Pakistani tribal region filled with Islamist insurgents bent on pushing Western troops out of neighboring Afghanistan. The airstrike in Issori village of North Waziristan was the first such attack since intense floods hit Pakistan in late July. The U.S. has tried to improve its public image in Pakistan by sending flood aid, but the missile strike showed Washington was not willing to stop using a tactic that has fed its unpopularity here. At least two of those killed in the house hit by missiles were suspected militants As Pakistan struggles to recover from the worst flooding in its history, the U.S. has donated more than $70 million in aid and sent helicopters and Marines to help in the relief work. The scale of the disaster has raised concerns it could destabilize the country, which is pivotal to U.S. hopes of defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Elsewhere in the country, gunmen targeted non-ethnic Baluchis traveling on a bus and painting a house in two attacks in southwestern Baluchistan province Saturday, killing 16 people and wounding eight. The Baluchistan attacks are sure to add to ethnic tensions there, where a nationalist movement led by armed ethnic Baluch groups has long sought greater provincial autonomy from the central government. They may have been inspired by Pakistan’s marking Saturday of its creation and independence from Britain in 1947.

Iraq

Gunmen robbed four commercial ships anchored near the southern oil hub of Basra in a rare attack off the Iraqi coast, the U.S. Navy said Sunday, taking computers, cellphones and money from crewmembers before fleeing the vessels. The seaborne robbery occurred about 20 miles off the port of Umm Qasr in an area that is patrolled jointly by the U.S. Navy and Iraqi sailors. The attack at sea reflects concerns about an increase in crime in Iraq even as political violence ebbs,. Violence has dropped sharply in Iraq, but Iraqi security forces and civilians continue to face daily attacks. Iraqi police reported at least 12 people killed and 30 wounded in violence on Sunday. Gunmen killed three leaders of a government-backed Sunni militia that fights al-Qaeda in Iraq and wounded a fourth in a drive-by shooting as the men were leaving a mosque in the town of Jurf al-Sakhr south of Baghdad after their morning prayers. Bombs killed two other members of the so-called Awakening Councils in separate attacks in the capital and to the west. Three more Iraqis were killed and 13 wounded in attacks also targeting police and soldiers elsewhere in the country

Wildfires

Russian firefighters have succeeded in pushing back wildfires while an advancing cold front is expected to finally put an end to a two-month heat wave, officials said Monday. There were 500 blazes still burning, but the amount of land on fire was down 15% in the last 24 hours. The area covered by fires around Moscow has nearly halved in size over the past two days, The heat wave — unprecedented in 130 years of record keeping — has sparked thousands of fires, most of them in western Russia. More than 2,000 homes have been destroyed.

Weather

Angry flood survivors in Pakistan blocked a highway to protest slow delivery of aid and heavy rain lashed makeshift housing Monday as a forecast of more flooding increased the urgency of the massive international relief effort. Pakistan’s worst floods in recorded history began more than two weeks ago in the mountainous northwest and have spread throughout the country. Some 20 million people and 62,000 square miles of land — about one-fifth of the country — have been affected. More than 895,200 houses have been damaged. The global aid response to the Pakistan floods has so far been much less generous than to other recent natural disasters — despite the soaring numbers of people affected and the prospect of more economic ruin in a country key to the fight against Islamist extremists. Reasons include the relatively low death toll of 1,500, the slow onset of the flooding compared with more immediate and dramatic earthquakes or tsunamis, and a global “donor fatigue” — or at least a Pakistan fatigue.

August 13, 2010

California Gay-Marriage Ban Ends Wednesday

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said Thursday that California officials could begin issuing licenses to gay men and lesbians beginning Wednesday, in an order flowing from his decision last week striking down a state ban on same-sex marriages. Walker’s order gives opponents of gay marriage six days to appeal and win further postponement of his decision that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed. Referring to the 2008 state measure that banned gay marriage, Walker wrote, “Proposition 8 inflicts harm on gays and lesbians in California.” He said any significant delay in his Aug. 4 ruling taking effect would “serve only to delay (same-sex couples) access to the remedy to which they have shown they are entitled.” Supporters of Proposition 8 who had defended the measure said the ban should remain during appeals on the case. They contend Walker erred by voiding the measure, which passed with 52% of the vote.

Judicial activism has again trumped voters’ rights. That’s the assessment of attorneys reacting to Thursday’s turn of events in the seemingly never-ending legal battle over California’s Proposition 8. “This is just another example of judicial activism and why the American people need to be very sensitive when making decisions about who will be in positions to appoint new judges in the future,” said Brad Dacus of Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute. Alliance Defense Fund has already launched the process to send the appeal to the Ninth Circuit. ADF attorney Sara Tappen tells OneNewsNow that Walker’s ruling is remarkable in light of the magnitude of the issue. Tappen argues that the case is not about the homosexual agenda, but whether California voters have the right to amend their constitution. If the Ninth Circuit does not issue a stay, homosexual marriage licenses will start to be issued in The Golden State — again — late next week.

Home Depot Fires Patriotic Christian, Approves Homosexuals

The Home Depot fired an employee for refusing to remove a “One nation under God” patriotic button from his work apron. Trevor Keezor, a Christian, said he wore the button to support his country and his 27-year-old brother, who serves in the military in Iraq. In contrast, dozens of homosexual employees participated in Home Depot-sponsored gay pride parades and festivals. Many employees wore numerous buttons on their aprons promoting homosexuality. The Home Depot defended them by saying homosexual employees will not be prohibited “in any way” when it comes to what they do and wear. So, if you wear a “One Nation Under God” button, you will be fired. If you wear a “gay” button, you get company praise.

Ground-Zero Mosque Imam Funded by U.S. State Dept.

Our tax dollars are being used to send Imam Rauf – the founder of the Ground Zero mosque – on a global goodwill trip. The Imam behind the controversial mosque is gearing up for a global ”goodwill” journey – funded by the U.S. State Department! This is the same Imam who reportedly was one of the key financiers of the Gaza-bound flotilla that recently carried terrorists determined to attack Israel. Imam Rauf has refused to declare that Hamas is a terrorist organization and has called the United States ”an accessory” to the crimes of 9/11. Now, despite overwhelming public opposition, he has even been given the green light to build a $100 million, 13-story mosque on the site where thousands of Americans were murdered by Islamic terrorists. Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, says: “It’s deeply disturbing to think U.S. taxpayers would foot the bill so that a controversial Imam could travel the Middle East on a global ”goodwill” mission … as an official U.S.-sponsored representative.”

U.S. Sees Rise in Children Born to Illegal Immigrants

The total number of children in the USA born to illegal immigrants on U.S. soil jumped to 4 million in 2009, up from 2.7 million in 2003, a report released Wednesday estimates. Those children — who are automatically granted U.S. citizenship — represent 5.4% of all children under the age of 18 in the U.S. That compares to 3.7% six years earlier, according to data from the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center. The study comes as some legislators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are calling for a revision of the 14th Amendment that grants citizenship to anyone born in the United States. The percentage of native-born people in the U.S. has fallen for four straight decades, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2008, 12.5% of the population was born outside the U.S., nearing the all-time highs of nearly 15% in the late 1800s.

  • Children born to illegal immigrants should not automatically become U.S. citizens – that’s rewarding illicit behavior

Senate Passes $600M Border Security Bill

The U.S. Senate convened a special session Thursday and passed a $600 million bill to put more agents and equipment along the Mexican border, signaling a determination to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. The voice vote in the nearly empty Senate chamber sends the legislation to President Barack Obama, who has urged Congress to channel more money toward border security amid complaints from border states besieged by undocumented immigrants and illegal drug trafficking. House Democrats had also called a special session, summoning lawmakers back from their summer break Tuesday to pass the border security bill. The border security measure would fund the hiring of 1,000 new Border Patrol agents to be deployed at critical areas along the border, 250 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and 250 more Customs and Border Protection officers. It provides for new communications equipment and greater use of unmanned surveillance drones. The bill is paid for by raising fees on foreign-based personnel companies that use U.S. visa programs to bring skilled workers to the United States.

BP Fined a Record $50.6M for Hazards at Texas Refinery

Citing BP’s “disregard for workplace safety,” the Labor Department has fined the oil giant a record $50.6 million for not fixing hundreds of hazards at a Texas refinery after a 2005 explosion killed 15 workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is still trying to collect an additional $30 million from BP Products North America for other penalties the company is contesting. BP will invest $500 million between now and 2016 to improve safety at the Texas City refinery. OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab said the agreement gives the agency “an unprecedented level of oversight” in making sure BP fully complies.

  • BP has exhibited blatant disregard for safety in order to boost profits at the expense of lives and environmental disasters

Dangerous Staph Infection MRSA Drops in U.S. Hospitals

Aggressive, drug-resistant staph infections caught in hospitals or from medical treatment are becoming scarcer, another sign of progress in a prevention effort that has become a national public health priority. The decline was seen in a federal study of methicillin-resistant staph, or MRSA. Researchers in the study focused on invasive cases that can become deadly, invading the bloodstream, flesh, lungs and bones.They found that in nine metro areas, cases of MRSA (MUR’-suh) fell about 16% between 2005 and 2008. That translates to a drop from about 32 cases per 100,000 to 26 cases per 100,000 people. The results suggest aggressive efforts to stop the germ from spreading are working, researchers said. Such efforts include better hand-washing by doctors and nurses, and testing for MRSA when patients are admitted to the hospital.

CT Scans Dangerous?

Compared to regular medical X-rays, CT scans yield much higher-resolution images. Unfortunately, CT scans also expose patients to hundreds and sometimes thousands of time more radiation than X-rays, contends the Life Extension Institute. A study led by the National Cancer Institute showed that CT scans administered in the year 2007 alone may contribute to 29,000 new cancer cases and nearly 15,000 cancer deaths. Over ten years, possibly 150,000 Americans are facing horrific deaths from CT scan-induced cancers. The routine use of CT scans and other dangerous imaging procedures has skyrocketed over the past three decades. In 1980, there were 3 million CT scans. But the year 2007, the number increased to 70 million.

Poultry No. 1 Food Poisoning Culprit

Poultry is the leading culprit in food poisoning outbreaks, health officials said Thursday. Chicken, turkey and other poultry accounted for 17% of the food-borne illness outbreaks reported to the government. Beef and leafy vegetables were close behind, at 16% and 14%. Salmonella and other kinds of bacteria caused about half of the outbreaks, the CDC said. Viruses — like norovirus— caused about 40%, mushroom toxin or other chemical agents were blamed for 7%. Parasites accounted for 1%. The CDC counted more than 21,000 illnesses in about 1,100 outbreaks in 48 states and Puerto Rico. There were 18 deaths from food poisoning.

Fruit Smoothies Linked to Outbreak of Typhoid Fever in U.S.

A rare U.S. outbreak of typhoid fever has been linked to a frozen tropical fruit product used to make smoothies, health officials reported Thursday. Seven cases have been confirmed — three in California and four in Nevada. Two more California cases are being investigated. Five people were hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The CDC said five of the victims drank milkshakes or smoothies made with frozen mamey fruit pulp. Four of them used pulp sold by Goya Foods Inc. of Secaucus, N.J. Mamey is a sweet, reddish tropical fruit grown mainly in Central and South America. It is also known as zapote or sapote. It is peeled and mashed to make pulp. The company has recalled packages of the pulp, sold in mostly western states. A sample from one package found in Las Vegas tested positive for the bacteria that causes typhoid, the Food and Drug Administration reported.

Economic News

Retail sales managed a modest increase in July after two declines, but the strength was concentrated in higher sales of autos and gasoline. Most other retailers saw sales fall. Sales rose 0.4% last month and sales excluding autos climbed 0.2%. The July increase in retail sales followed declines of 0.3% in June and 1% in May. The Labor Department also said Friday that the consumer price index, the government’s most closely watched inflation measure, increased by 0.3% in July, after three months of declines. Over the past year, consumer prices rose by 1.2%, the department said. That’s up slightly from last month’s 1.1% pace but still a mild increase.

The employment picture is looking bleaker as applications for jobless benefits rose last week to the highest level in almost six months. It’s a sign that hiring is weak and employers are still cutting their staffs. First-time claims for jobless benefits edged up by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 484,000. That’s the highest total since February. Initial claims have now risen in three of the last four weeks and four-week average, which smooths volatility, soared by 14,250 to 473,500, also the highest since late February.

The number of U.S. homes lost to foreclosure surged in July, another sign that lenders are moving quicker to take back properties from homeowners behind in payments. Lenders repossessed 92,858 properties last month, up 9% from June and an increase of 6% from July 2009. Banks have stepped up repossessions this year to clear out the backlog of bad loans. July makes the eighth month in a row that the pace of homes lost to foreclosure has increased on an annual basis. Meanwhile, homeowners who are falling behind on their payments are being allowed to stay in their homes longer because lenders are reluctant to add to the glut of foreclosed homes on the market.

With two months to go in the budget year, the federal deficit is running slightly below the all-time record set a year ago. The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the deficit for July totaled $165 billion, pushing the imbalance for the year ended Sept. 30 to $1.17 trillion. That is down 7.7% from the same time last year, reflecting lower spending on emergency programs to combat the recession and stabilize the financial system. Still, deficits in the $1 trillion range far exceed what the country has experienced in the past and have set off alarm bells among voters. Republicans say that the billions spent by the Obama administration on economic stimulus and the stabilization of the banking system have had little impact on getting the unemployment rate down.

U.S. corn and soybean farmers are on track to produce the largest crops in history, a 2% increase over 2009 crop figures, the current highest annual production on record, according to a government report released Thursday. Heavy rains across the South Plains region — the world’s largest contiguous growing patch — in early July came on the heels of ideal planting conditions. After the deluges passed, temperatures heated up.

People around the world are snapping up mobile gadgets at a good clip — sales shot up 13.8 percent worldwide in the second quarter compared to a year ago, according to a new report from researcher Gartner. Smartphones made up 19 percent of the sales, up 50.5 percent.

General Motors said Thursday that it made a profit of $1.3 billion the second quarter, bringing its half-year earnings to $2.2 billion. Second-quarter revenue was $33.2 billion, up from $31.5 billion the first quarter. GM, the world’s second-biggest car company, behind Toyota Motor, disclosed for the first time that it lost $12.9 billion in the second quarter last year and lost $18.9 billion in the first half of last year. GM is still 60.8% owned by the U.S. government, which invested billions in taxpayer dollars to keep the car company afloat. The automaker is expected to announce an initial public stock offering (IPO), as soon as today. That would let the government sell its GM stock and recover at least some of the $40.7 billion it put into the company.

Eurozone

The economy of the 16 countries that use the euro grew by a better-than-expected 1% during the second quarter as growth engine Germany expanded at its fastest pace since reunification two decades ago. Thursday’s quarter-on-quarter figures show the eurozone grew at its fastest rate in nearly four years — and faster than 0.6% in the U.S. during the same quarter. That defied expectations from just a couple of months ago, when Europe was threatened by a severe government debt crisis. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, led the way as its economy grew by a very strong 2.2% in the second quarter compared to the quarter before as exporters reaped the benefits of a recovery in global demand. Still, many economists think the second quarter will be as good as it gets for the eurozone this year. Governments across the region — particularly Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal— are slashing spending programs and raising taxes to cut their ballooning debt levels, depriving the economy of stimulus from government spending. Additionally, the U.S., a major trading partner, is losing momentum.

Greece

Greece‘s recession deepened in the second quarter, according to official estimates released Thursday, as the country felt the painful consequences of the government’s drive to reduce its debt load with aggressive austerity cuts. Gross domestic product declined by 1.5% from the previous quarter as the government reduced spending. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose to 12%. The jump in the unemployment rate from 8.5% a year earlier shows the extent to which the global recession and the severe debt crisis has hurt Greece. Young people were the most affected, with nearly one in three, or 32.5%, between the ages of 15 and 24 out of work. The federal budget gap currently stands at 13.6% of GDP, and the government has pledged to slash it to 8.1% this year. Weighed down by its deficit and high public debt, Greece narrowly avoided bankruptcy in May. In return for a three-year $144.5 billion package of vital loans from other European Union countries using the euro currency and the International Monetary Fund, the center-left government implemented painful austerity measures, cutting salaries and pensions and hiking consumer taxes.

Iran

Russia‘s nuclear agency said Friday that it will load fuel into Iran‘s first nuclear power plant next week, defying U.S. calls to hold off the start of the launch. Uranium fuel shipped by Russia will be loaded into the Bushehr reactor on Aug. 21, beginning the start-up process. The United States has called for Russia to delay the start-up until Iran proves that it’s not developing nuclear weapons. Russia signed a $1 billion contract in 1995 for building the Bushehr plant, but it has dragged its feet on completing the project for years. Moscow has cited technical reasons for the delays, but analysts say Moscow has used the project to press Iran to ease its defiance over its nuclear program.

Afghanistan

A crowd of about 300 villagers yelled “death to the United States” and blocked a main road in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday as they swore that U.S. forces had killed three innocent villagers NATO forces rejected the claim — saying they killed several suspected insurgents and detained a local Taliban commander in the overnight raid. The gulf between the two accounts is a reminder of how sensitive every NATO operation in Afghanistan has become. In Taliban-heavy areas it is hard to distinguish villagers from insurgents and sometimes public opinion turns against coalition forces even when they say they are certain they targeted the correct people. And while NATO has drastically reduced the civilian deaths it causes, the military coalition still makes mistakes. In the first six months of this year, 386 civilian were killed by NATO or Afghan government forces.

Wildfires

Heavy downpours have cooled the Russian capital after weeks of unprecedented heat and dry weather, but dozens of wildfires are still raging around Moscow. The city on Friday remains largely free of clouds of suffocating smog after they were blown away by favorable winds earlier this week. People walked through the streets without the masks that have become ubiquitous. Weather experts warned that the smog could return over the weekend after winds change again, and the unprecedented heat wave that has tormented Russia for most of the summer would end next week. The Emergency Situations Ministry said Thursday that the area engulfed by fires around the capital has shrunk by more than quarter over the past 24 hours. It said firefighters have also managed to significantly reduce the size of fires in other parts of Russia, but 562 fires covering nearly 200,000 acres were still burning Thursday.

Weather

New landslides killed 24 people and left 24 missing in China‘s remote northwest as downpours threatened more devastation and made rescue work nearly impossible Friday in a region where more than 1,100 people have died. More rain was forecast for flood-ravaged Gansu province in the coming days — up to 3.5 inches was expected Friday — and the National Weather Center said the threat of more landslides along the Bailong River was “relatively large.” Hundreds of homes were completely buried, and the death toll in the northwest flooding was 1,144 as of Friday. The report said 10,556 people had been evacuated from Longnan but more than 3,000 were still stuck in the flood-hit area. At least 600 people remain missing in Zhouqu. In another part of Gansu, 250,000 residents of Chengxian county faced the threat of flooding as waters rose in the Donghe River.

Pakistani flood survivors already short on food and water began the fasting month of Ramadan on Thursday, a normally festive, social time marked this year by misery and fears of an uncertain future. Fever, stomach problems and skin diseases are spreading among Pakistani flood victims, officials said Friday. A U.S. Navy ship carrying helicopters and 1,000 Marines reached Pakistan‘s southern coast to boost relief efforts, as the United Nations warned the disaster was far from over, saying dams in Sindh province could still burst in the coming days. U.N. officials estimated that up to one-fourth of the country is or had been affected by the worst floods in a generation, though that did not necessarily mean it was under water. About 1,500 people have died, and the U.N. estimates up to 7 million people need emergency assistance.

Three nights of heavy rainfall caused Iowa creeks and rivers to swell, forcing hundreds of residents from their homes and killing a 16-year-old girl when three cars were swept away by a torrent of water on a rural road. In Ames, flooding contributed to a water main break that forced the city to shut off water to its roughly 55,000 residents and left Iowa State University’s basketball arena under 4 to 5 feet of water. The flooding in central and eastern Iowa on Wednesday followed three straight nights of strong thunderstorms. After a brief respite for much of the state, more thunderstorms were possible Friday and Saturday. A snowy winter and wet spring and summer “set the stage” for the flooding.

Drought-stricken Lake Mead has dropped an additional 10 feet since last summer, and now, Arizona and other Colorado River users are scrambling to keep the reservoir full enough to avoid water rationing. Before year’s end, the lake will likely sink to within 9 feet of the level that would trigger the first round of restrictions – and the first such restrictions ever on the river. They begin with a reduction in water deliveries to Nevada and Arizona, where farmers would be affected first. To slow the lake’s years-long decline, river users have built a reservoir west of Yuma to catch unused runoff, paid farmers to leave fields unplanted and are negotiating with Mexico to leave some of its allocation in Lake Mead while its farmers recover from an earthquake. None of the steps will yield significant amounts of water, but together, they could keep Lake Mead from sinking below the drought triggers, buying time until a wet winter can replenish some of the water lost to drought. For Arizona, the stakes are high. Arizona absorbs 96 percent of any water rationing on the river under a decades-old agreement that ensured construction of the 336-mile CAP Canal. Nevada absorbs the other 4 percent under a separate deal with Arizona. Although rationing would affect some users on the river in western Arizona, most of the cuts would come from the canal, whose annual flow of 1.5 million acre-feet would be reduced in stages.

  • While much of Arizona has experienced a productive monsoon season, the watershed for the Colorado River has not

August 11, 2010

Victory!  New York Judge OK’s “Jesus Prayers”

In breaking news this week, The Pray In Jesus Name Project announced another victory for the right to pray in Jesus’ name, as Federal Judge Charles Siragusa ruled it’s OK for city councils to allow pastors to pray “in Jesus’ name” to open public meetings in New York State. The Alliance Defense Fund defended the town of Greece, NY, when they were sued by atheist complainers at Americans United to stop pastors from praying “in Jesus name.”  “We now add New York to the growing list of states we’ve scored victories for the right to pray in Jesus’ name, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Oregon, Oklahoma, California, Virginia, and the U.S. Congress,” proclaims the Jesus Name Project.

U.N. Moves into U.S. Schools

The agenda of the United-Nations-funded and -run International Baccalaureate Curriculum is making massive inroads into America’s public schools, with operations already established in more than 1,000 locations. Worldview Weekend President and Founder Brannon Howse says the program is trying to train American students to embrace an anti-Christian worldview. “This U.N. curriculum is extremely hostile to Christians. It’s hostile to American values and ideas and very big on humanism, redistribution of wealth, and very big on pluralism and that all religions are equal,” Howse told WorldNetDaily. According to a report at EdNews.org, the program could overrule any “parochial” values or beliefs, with a heavy focus on a social agenda throughout classes. The organization “not only teaches its own worldview, it simultaneously undermines the beliefs and values of the United States (also called the ‘American creed’” Who is behind the advocacy of the International Baccalaureate program? Recent evidence of federal involvement is seen in a 2008 position paper issued by the Obama-Biden campaign that openly promoted the International Baccalaureate program. While not specifically mentioning the International Baccalaureate program by name, the president’s website continues to echo the “global” theme.

  • The global agenda of increased socialism and decreased Christianity is advancing rapidly in America with Obama’s complicity and encouragement

8 Million Americans Leave Church Annually

The church in the United States is in a general state of decline, with fewer than one in five Americans attending on a regular basis and almost 8 million—150,000 per week—leaving churches each year. To help invite them back, Outreach Inc. is offering “reDiscover Church,” a 37-page booklet that can help church members reach out to family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. The “reDiscover Church” booklet, customizable for individual churches, discusses 10 reasons why people leave church, and why they come back. The booklet also helps equip members for national “Back to Church Sunday” (www.backtochurch.com) Sept. 12, a movement that seeks to reach people who once attended church and invites them to a special Sunday service.

Teen Church Group Participation Down over Past Decade

Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in. “Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook,” says Barna president David Kinnaman. “A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, ‘We don’t see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.’ ”

All Mexican States Must Recognize Gay Marriages

Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that all 31 states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in the capital, though its decision does not force those states to begin marrying gay couples in their territory. In a 9-2 decision, the tribunal cited an article of the constitution requiring states to recognize legal contracts drawn up elsewhere. It did not specify what degree of recognition must be granted to same-sex couples. Mexico City’s same-sex marriage law, enacted in March, extends to wedded gay couples the right to adopt children, to jointly apply for bank loans, to inherit wealth and to be covered by their spouses’ insurance policies. Some of those may end up applying only in the capital. The Supreme Court ruled last week that same-sex weddings are constitutional — though it is holding separate discussions this week on the adoption clause.

House Approves More Agents, Drones on Mexican Border

In a rare moment of bipartisanship Tuesday, the House approved $600 million to pay for more unmanned surveillance drones and about 1,500 more agents along the troubled Mexican border. The House passed the bill by an unrecorded voice vote after brief debate. The Senate passed an identical bill last week by unanimous consent. But senators must act again, for technical reasons, before sending the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature. The bill would offset its costs by raising fees on foreign-based personnel companies that use U.S. visa programs to bring skilled workers to the United States. Getting tougher on border security is one of the few issues that both parties agree on in this highly charged election season. But lawmakers remain deeply divided over a more comprehensive approach to the illegal immigration problem, and it’s unclear if Congress will go beyond border-tightening efforts.

ICE Agents Vote ‘No Confidence’ in Leaders

The union that represents rank-and-file field agents at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has unanimously passed a “vote of no confidence” for the agency’s leadership, saying ICE has “abandoned” its core mission of protecting the public to support a political agenda favoring amnesty. The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 7,000 ICE agents and employees, voted 259-0 for a resolution saying there was “growing dissatisfaction and concern” over the leadership of Assistant Secretary John Morton, who heads ICE, and Phyllis Coven, assistant director for the agency’s office of detention policy and planning. The resolution said ICE leadership had “abandoned the agency’s core mission of enforcing U.S. immigration laws,” instead directing its attention “to campaigning for programs and policies related to amnesty and the creation of a special detention system for foreign nationals that exceeds the care and services provided to most U.S. citizens similarly incarcerated.”

Storms Delay Relief Well Drilling

Storms forced crews to suspend drilling the final stretch of a relief well designed to permanently plug BP’s oil well, but with no more oil spewing, federal authorities announced that a portion of the waters off the Florida Panhandle is open for commercial and recreational fishing, a big business for the region. Federal officials Tuesday opened more than 5,000 square miles of Gulf of Mexico waters closed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that no oil has been seen in the area in the past 30 days. She said, however, that testing of fish caught in the area will continue. Nearly a quarter of U.S. waters in the Gulf remain closed to fishing. Retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen, the national incident commander of the spill, said the storm could mean a delay of two or three days in completing the relief well, one of the last steps toward ending any threat from the well that spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil over three months before a temporary cap sealed it in mid-July.

Protests Increase Over Montana-Gulf Pipeline Plan

Environmental groups and landowners, upset by last month’s oil spill in Michigan, are urging the Obama administration to deny a proposal for an oil pipeline that would go from the Montana-Canada border to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Alberta-based TransCanada’s proposed 1,661-mile Keystone XL pipeline would link up with its existing 2,151-mile Keystone pipeline, which began operations in June, and go through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Opponents say last month’s spill underscored the dangers of the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels. A pipeline ruptured on July 25 and spilled nearly a million gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in southwestern Michigan, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council opposed the Keystone XL project even before the Michigan spill, but the incident has increased scrutiny and elevated concerns.

H1N1 Pandemic is Officially Over but Not Completely Gone

The World Health Organization on Tuesday declared the H1N1 flu pandemic over, a little more than a year after a spring flood of cases prompted a global effort to curb its wildfire transmission. That doesn’t mean that the so-called swine flu is gone. New Zealand is now grappling with local outbreaks. “Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behavior of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come,” Director-General Margaret Chan said in a statement. It is no longer the dominant virus but is spreading along with others.

Ramadan Holy Month Observance goes High Tech

The most ancient traditions of Islam are going high-tech, with a slew of modern offerings for those observing the holy month of Ramadan, which begins today. Cellphone applications such as “iPray” or “iQuran” offer a beeping reminder of requisite prayer times, while the “Find Mecca” and “mosque finder” programs help the Muslim traveler in an unfamiliar city find the nearest place to pray. The applications aren’t just for Ramadan; there are Islamic-themed programs that help users find the nearest Costco offering foods prepared according to Islamic dietary rules, learn the correct Arabic pronunciations in a daily prayer, or count how many pages of the Quran they’ve read that day — all on a mobile phone.

Many Christian groups are calling for Christians to remember to pray for Muslims during this holiest month on the Islamic calendar. PersecutionBlog.com, run by Voice of the Martyrs, encourages Christians to “please begin to pray for the Muslim world as they begin their fasting and pray that the Lord Jesus would continue to draw Muslims to Himself, as He has been doing in these last days.” Violent demonstrations against Christians commonly increase during Ramadan.  “During this time of spiritual severity, however, many have miraculous visions of Jesus and put their trust in Him,” says Carl Moeller the President of Open Doors USA. “This is why it is so urgent for Christians to be united in prayer throughout Ramadan.” To equip Christians to pray for Muslims, Open Doors USA is offering the Ramadan Prayer Calendar. The calendar has multiple prayers points so Christians can pray for Muslims around the world during the 30 days.

Census Costs More but $1.6 Billion Less than Budgeted

The 2010 Census will cost $1.6 billion less than had been budgeted, partly because no natural or manmade disaster disrupted the population count, the government is expected to announce this morning. The agency did not have to tap emergency reserves set aside for major disasters — such as hurricanes and earthquakes — and operational problems. That shaved about $800 million off the $14.7 billion the 2010 Census was expected to cost. Another $800 million was saved because the 72% mail-back response of U.S. residents returning their Census forms beat expectations and the agency was able to tap a large pool of unemployed to fill temporary jobs with experienced and educated workers. The 565,000 Census workers hired for the operation worked faster and more efficiently than in previous years, according to the Census Bureau. Locke and Census Director Robert Groves also credit tight management controls and an effective advertising campaign. Despite the savings, the cost of the Census is mounting — $13.1 billion vs. $8.2 billion (in today’s dollars) in 2000.

  • In a typical government smokescreen, they tout savings vs. budget while trying to hide the 63% increase in the budget vs. the previous census in 2000 (with inflationary effects removed from the comparison)

Defense Secretary Gates Targets Jobs

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans Monday to slash the Pentagon’s reliance on contractors and eliminate a major command in order to save money to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to modernize the military. Prime targets for saving, Gates said, are bureaucracies and headquarters that have “swelled to cumbersome and top-heavy proportions.” Their growth was fueled by doubling the defense budget since 2001 on top of additional spending on the two wars, Gates said. The time of fat defense and war budgets — the Pentagon spends about $700 billion a year — will soon end, he said, and the military must eliminate unnecessary spending. “There are no sacred cows,” Gates said.

  • Hooray for Gates, a holdover Bush appointee. Now if Obama could only do the save for the bloated government bureaucracy

Groups Blast Cuts to Food Stamps to Fund $26B Aid Bill

Some Democrats are upset and advocacy groups are outraged over the raiding of the food-stamp cupboard to fund a state-aid bailout that some call a gift to teachers and government union workers. Republicans, meanwhile, vocally opposed the state aid bill. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Fox News it rewarded “irresponsible states” and their unions.   House members convened Tuesday and passed the multibillion-dollar bailout bill for cash-strapped states that provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or ensure that more teachers won’t be let go before the new school year begins, keeping more than 160,000 teachers on the job, the Obama administration says. But the bill also requires that $12 billion be stripped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to help fund the new bill, prompting some Democrats to cringe at the notion of cutting back on one necessity to pay for another. The federal assistance program currently helps 41 million Americans. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the number of people on the food stamp rolls has been growing to record levels for 18 straight months.

Economic News

The dollar has fallen to a 15-year low against the yen after the U.S. Federal Reserve announced new measures to shore up the ailing American economy. Late Wednesday in Tokyo a dollar bought only 84.71 yen, lowest since 1995. Investors stepped up selling of dollars after the Federal Reserve announced Tuesday only small steps aimed at shoring up the flagging U.S. economy. The central bank also downgraded its assessment of the economy’s prospects. The dollar’s recent weakness against the yen has punished shares of Japanese exporters like Sony as it makes their products less competitive in overseas markets. Stocks and interest rates are tumbling today with investors worldwide growing concerned about the health of the U.S. economy after the Federal Reserve said the recovery was slowing down.

The Federal Reserve, offering its most dour economic outlook in months, said Tuesday it will take a modest step to keep borrowing costs low by preventing its bloated balance sheet from shrinking. The Fed said it will reinvest proceeds from maturing mortgage bonds in new Treasuries instead of allowing its portfolio to shrink. Its aim: to keep long-term interest rates from rising. While economists say the impact of the move will be meager, it’s largely intended to reassure investors that the Fed is prepared to take more dramatic steps, such as buying more mortgage bonds, if the recovery continues to lose steam.

The U.S. trade deficit surged in June to the highest level in 20 months as imports of foreign consumer goods hit an all-time high and U.S. exports faltered. The Commerce Department says the deficit jumped 18.8% in June from May, widening to $49.9 billion. U.S. exports slipped 1.3% to $150.5 billion. Imports rose 3% to $200.3 billion. China‘s monthly trade surplus widened to more than $28 billion in July, its highest level in nearly 18 months. The jump was the third-consecutive monthly increase.

Corporate profits have been on the rebound, but most big businesses say it will be some time before they can give as much cash to charities as they did before the recession, according to a survey of the nation’s largest companies by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and USA TODAY. A majority of companies said they expect their charitable donations in 2010 to be about the same as in 2009 — a year in which cash giving fell by 7.5%. Companies decreased their cash giving in 2009 to $3.9 billion, the first time since 2003 that cash contributions from businesses in The Chronicle’s survey have dropped. Fifty-four percent of businesses gave less cash, 30% gave more, and 16% gave roughly the same.

Afghanistan

NATO has reached its goal of expanding the size of Afghanistan’s army and police to 240,000 three months ahead of schedule, achieving a key measurement that will be used to gauge progress in the war. The size and quality of Afghan security forces will be a central part of a review that the White House will be conducting in December to measure the effectiveness of its strategy of emphasizing protecting civilians in Afghanistan. Increased recruitment and retention follow a pay raise and improvements in a payroll system. NATO has also increased the number of trainers dedicated to working with Afghan soldiers. “Before we were training them very quickly and throwing them into the fight,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Armed Services Committee. “It didn’t work too well.”

The number of civilians killed in the Afghan conflict rose 25% in the first six months of the year, with insurgents responsible for the spike, the United Nations said in a report Tuesday. The report comes after a strong push by NATO forces to reduce civilian casualties and shows success in doing so on the part of the government-allied forces, but also serves as a reminder that the war is getting ever-more violent despite these efforts. According to the U.N. report, 1,271 Afghans died and 1,997 were injured — mostly from bombings — in the first six months of the year.

Religion News Service reports the International Assistance Mission has rejected Taliban claims that 10 staffers from the Christian aid agency who were killed in Afghanistan had been trying to convert Muslims. “Our faith motivates and inspires us, but we do not proselytize. We abide by the laws of Afghanistan,” Dirk R. Frans, IAM’s executive secretary, said in a statement at a Monday (Aug. 9) press conference in Kabul. The 10 workers — six Americans, a Briton, a German and two local Afghan staff — were killed on Aug. 5 as they returned from a trek through the Hindu Kush mountains, where they had been providing eye care to poor and remote communities, Frans said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the workers had been spying and trying to convert Muslims. Frans, however, said his group had been present in Afghanistan since 1966 and abided by the laws of the country, and had pledged that its aid would never be used to advance a particular political or religious standpoint. “IAM would not be invited back to villages if we were using aid as a cover for preaching,” said Frans.

Iraq

The United States handed over control of all combat duties to Iraqi security forces on Saturday in a further sign its withdrawal is on track despite a political impasse in Iraq and a recent rise in violence. U.S. President Barack Obama said last Monday he would stick to his promise to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq by Aug. 31, with security being left in the hands of Iraq’s own U.S.-trained army and police.

Gunmen burst into a house north of Baghdad early Wednesday, killing three people and sending the surviving children to an Iraqi army checkpoint to lure soldiers to the residence. As the troops arrived at the booby-trapped house, it blew up, leaving eight soldiers dead. The pre-dawn incident in the volatile Diyala province underlines the unrelenting dangers that members of Iraq’s security forces still face as American forces prepare to reduce their numbers by the end of the month and end all combat operations. It also highlights the constantly evolving and sophisticated tactics of insurgents that American and Iraqi officials say had been seriously debilitated since the deaths of their top leaders last spring.

Korea

South Korea denounced a barrage of artillery fired by North Korea into the sea as a grave provocation Tuesday and warned that it would deal sternly with any further such acts. North Korea fired about 110 rounds Monday near its disputed western sea border with South Korea, shortly after Seoul ended five-day naval drills staged in response to the March sinking of its Cheonan warship. North Korea has been blamed for the vessel’s destruction, which killed 46 sailors. The North denies it torpedoed the Cheonan and has warned any punishment would trigger war.

India

According to Religion New Service, tensions between Christians and Muslims in India’s Kerala state have reached the boiling point over allegations of widespread coerced conversions to Islam. Kerala’s communist Chief Minister, V.S. Achuthanandan, accused an Islamist opposition party of conspiring to turn Kerala into a Muslim-dominated state. “Youngsters are being given money and are being lured to convert to Islam,” he told reporters at a news conference. Opposition parties accused the government of playing the “Hindu card” ahead of local elections. Muslims and Christian minorities in India generally enjoy good relations and see each other as fellow victims of alleged persecution by right-wing Hindu groups. Kerala’s population of 31.8 million is 56 percent Hindu, 24 percent Muslim and 19 percent Christian. The chief minister’s statement came after alleged members of the Islamist party Popular Front of India (PFI) cut off a Christian professor’s hand on July 4 in the central district of Kottayam. India’s National Investigation Agency is investigating the role of PFI in terrorism.

Wildfires

Russian emergency workers have increased forest patrols in a western region previously contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, trying to prevent wildfires from spreading harmful radiation, officials said Wednesday. At least six wildfires were spotted in the Bryansk region this week, the part of Russia that suffered the most from the Chernobyl catastrophe in what was then Soviet Ukraine. Large forested areas in Bryansk were contaminated when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant’s Reactor No. 4 exploded during a pre-dawn test on April 26, 1986, spewing radioactive clouds over much of the western Soviet Union and northern Europe. Radioactive particles settled into the soil, and environmentalists have warned that they could be thrown up into the air once again by wildfires and blown into other areas by the wind. Hundreds of wildfires sparked by the hottest summer ever recorded in Russia have engulfed large areas around Moscow and other parts of western Russia. About 165,000 workers and 39 firefighting aircraft were battling more than 600 blazes nationwide Wednesday over 220,000 acres.

Weather

The death toll from landslides in northwestern China more than doubled to 702 Tuesday, as rescue crews in three Asian countries struggled to reach survivors from flooding that has imperiled millions. The Chinese government said 1,042 were missing and about 45,000 were evacuated. Flooding in China has killed about 1,800 people this year and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage across 28 provinces and regions. And rescuers in the desert mountainsides in Indian-controlled Kashmir recovered more bodies, with the death toll rising to 165 from flash floods. Pakistan estimates that 13.8 million of its people are affected by the floods and will need short-term aid or long-term assistance to recover.

That massive ice island that broke off a Greenland glacier last week could potentially threaten North Atlantic shipping lanes and oil platforms off Canada, scientists say. “It’s so big that you can’t prevent it from drifting. You can’t stop it,” Jon-Ove Methlie Hagen, a glaciologist at the University of Oslo, told the AP. The island, estimated to be about 100 square miles, or about four times bigger than Manhattan, broke off the Petermann Glacier and is drifting toward the Nares Strait, separating Greenland from Ellsemere Island in Canada. Though the behemoth would be expected to break apart after fender-benders with icebergs and islands, giant fragments might survive in the same waters where the Titanic sank in 1912.

This summer’s stifling, deadly heat along the Eastern Seaboard and Deep South could be a preview of summers to come over the next few decades, according to a report about global warming to be published Wednesday by the National Wildlife Federation and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. In fact, according to NWF climate scientist Amanda Staudt, the summer of 2010 might actually be considered mild compared with the typical summers in the future. The East just sweltered through one of its hottest Julys on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday. Every state from Maine to Florida endured one its top-10 warmest Julys since records began in 1880. Two states, Delaware and Rhode Island, had their hottest July ever.

  • Although not primarily human-caused, end-time weather will indeed be getting more and more extreme

August 9, 2010

Schwarzenegger: Same-Sex Weddings Should Resume

Lawyers for gay couples, California Gov. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown filed legal motions Friday telling a federal judge that allowing same-sex marriages to resume immediately in the state was the right thing to do. The motions came two days after U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker struck down California’s voter-approved gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. Opponents of same-sex marriage said they want Proposition 8 to stay in effect until their appeal of Walker’s ruling is decided by higher courts. They argued in court papers filed earlier this week that resuming gay marriage now would cause legal chaos if the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or U.S. Supreme Court eventually reverse Walker’s ruling.

Government Funds Gay Sex Education

The Department of Health and Human Services has released two sex-education funding grants under the new healthcare law, one of which calls to indoctrinate school children in the homosexual lifestyle. The measure will allocate $55 million to fund the Personal Responsibility Education Program to provide comprehensive sex education, which is to include curriculum based on “the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth on how their programs will be inclusive of and non-stigmatizing toward such participants.” “Once again we see the Obama administration placing politics before what is in the best interest of our nation’s youth,” laments Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs at Liberty Counsel. “This is a purely political maneuver, and it really amounts to malpractice on the part of the Department of Health and Human Services….” He goes on to argue that health officials are doing a disservice in convincing youth that a practice should be tolerated when that behavior is a proven risk for STDs and HIV/AIDS.

New al-Qaeda Leader Lived in U.S. for Years

A suspected al-Qaeda operative who lived for more than 15 years in the U.S. has become chief of the terror network’s global operations, the FBI says, marking the first time a leader so intimately familiar with American society has been placed in charge of planning attacks. Adnan Shukrijumah, 35, has taken over a position once held by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was captured in 2003/ That puts him in regular contact with al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, including Osama bin Laden. Shukrijumah (SHOOK’-ree joohm-HAH’) and two other leaders were part of an “external operations council” that designed and approved terrorism plots and recruits, but his two counterparts were killed in U.S. drone attacks, leaving Shukrijumah as the de facto chief and successor to Mohammed — his former boss. The FBI has been searching for Shukrijumah since 2003. He is thought to be the only al-Qaeda leader to have once held permanent U.S. resident status, or a green card.

Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition

While a high-profile battle rages over a mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, heated confrontations have also broken out in communities across the country where mosques are proposed for far less hallowed locations. In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Republican candidates have denounced plans for a large Muslim center proposed near a subdivision, and hundreds of protesters have turned out for a march and a county meeting. In late June, in Temecula, Calif., members of a local Tea Party group protested at a mosque that is seeking to build a new worship center on a vacant lot nearby. In Sheboygan, Wis., a few Christian ministers led a noisy fight against a Muslim group that sought permission to open a mosque in a former health food store bought by a Muslim doctor. At one time, neighbors who did not want mosques in their backyards said their concerns were over traffic, parking and noise — the same reasons they might object to a church or a synagogue. But now the gloves are off. In all of the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself. They quote passages from the Koran and argue that even the most Americanized Muslim secretly wants to replace the Constitution with Islamic Shariah law and that the mosques mosques are going to be nurturing terrorist bombers.

Probe of Oil Spill Spurs a Deep-Sea Forensics Investigation

Now that BP appears to have vanquished its ruptured well, authorities are turning their attention to gathering evidence from what could amount to a crime scene at the bottom of the sea. The wreckage – including the failed blowout preventer and the blackened, twisted remnants of the drilling platform – may be Exhibit A in the effort to establish who is responsible for the biggest peacetime oil spill in history. And the very companies under investigation will be in charge of recovering the evidence. Hundreds of investigators can’t wait to get their hands on evidence. The FBI is conducting a criminal investigation, the Coast Guard is seeking the cause of the blast, and lawyers are pursuing millions of dollars in damages for the families of the 11 workers killed, the dozens injured and the thousands whose livelihoods have been damaged. BP will surely want a look at the items, particularly if it tries to shift responsibility for the disaster onto other companies, such as Transocean, which owned the oil platform; Halliburton, which supplied the crew that was cementing the well; and Cameron International, maker of the blowout preventer.

WikiLeaks Defies US, Vows to Publish New Documents

The online whistle-blower WikiLeaks said it will continue to publish more secret files from governments around the world despite U.S. demands to cancel plans to release classified military documents. “I can assure you that we will keep publishing documents — that’s what we do,” a WikiLeaks spokesman, who says he goes by the name Daniel Schmitt in order to protect his identity, told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday. Schmitt said he could not comment on any specific documents but asserted that the publication of classified documents about the Afghanistan war directly contributed to the public’s understanding of the conflict. He rejected allegations that the group’s publication of leaked U.S. government documents was a threat to America’s national security or put lives at risk. Swedish legal experts reveal that website WikiLeaks, may not be covered by Swedish whistleblower protection laws blocking individuals and government agencies from attempting to uncover journalists’ sources, after it was uncovered that a Swedish company is secretly hosting WikiLeaks.

Lack of Resources Curtails ICE Tracking of Illegals

New guidance telling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to focus on apprehending terrorists and criminals has many of ICE’s rank-and-file agents wondering who then is responsible for tracking down and detaining the millions of other illegal border-crossers and fugitive aliens now in the country. The new guidelines regarding the apprehension, detention and removal of illegal immigrants, noting that the agency “only has resources to remove approximately 400,000 aliens per year, less than 4 percent of the estimated illegal-alien population in the United States.” Assistant Secretary John Morton, who heads the agency, said ICE needed to focus the limited resources Congress had provided and would “prioritize the apprehension and removal of aliens who only pose a threat to national security and/or public safety, such as criminals and terrorists.” Described in the guidelines as lesser priorities are foreign nationals caught crossing the border illegally or using phony immigration documents to gain entry, and those identified as fugitives after failing to show up for immigration or deportation hearings.

  • Another ruse by the Obama administration to enact a covert amnesty program, since immigrants are more likely to vote Democratic

Alcohol, Drug Use Lower among Hispanic-Americans

Hispanic-American adults have lower rates of alcohol and illicit drug use than the national averages, a federal government study has found. The research revealed that 46.1% of Hispanic-American adults drink alcohol and 6.6% use illicit drugs, compared with national average rates of 55.2% and 7.9%, respectively. Substance use rates are much higher among U.S.-born Hispanic Americans than those who were born outside the United States. For example, past-month binge drinking was reported by 57.7% of U.S.-born Hispanic Americans and 37.2% of those born outside the United States, while the rate of past-month illicit drug use was 11.3% for those who were U.S.-born and only 3% for those who were foreign-born, according to the findings.

Foreign-Trained Doctors as Good as those Trained in USA

Foreign-born doctors practicing in the United States who earned their medical degrees abroad performed as well or better than their U.S.-born counterparts, a new study finds. Researchers analyzed records on nearly 250,000 patients hospitalized for a heart attack or congestive heart failure in Pennsylvania in 2003-2006. The study included more than 6,100 doctors, including about 4,600 U.S. medical school graduates and 1,500 international medical school graduates. Patients of foreign-born doctors trained in overseas medical schools had a 9% lower death rate than the patients of U.S. citizens trained at U.S. schools. The comparison was more marked with U.S.-born doctors who trained overseas; their patients had a higher risk of dying than patients in either of the other two groups, the study found. Compared to U.S. citizens who sought their medical degrees in international schools, patients of foreign-born, foreign-trained doctors had a 15% lower risk of dying.

It’s Official! Social Security Now Bankrupt

Social Security is in the red for the first time since the program was overhauled in 1983, and one year earlier than originally projected. After returning to black for a few years, the Social Security cash flow will go into the red permanently, starting this year, CNN reported. CNN further reported that with unemployment remaining at 9.5 percent, nearly 50 percent of baby boomers are taking a percentage of their Social Security benefits as early as age 62, largely because they are short of cash and cannot find jobs. This year, Social Security is estimated to pay out some $29 billion more than is taken in. Social Security has become nothing more than a federal government-run Ponzi scheme in which the payroll taxes of those currently working is applied immediately to pay the retirement benefits of those already receiving Social Security.

Medicare Savings Projections in Dispute

Savings projected under the landmark health care law signed by President Obama this year have improved Medicare’s financial projections, but Republican critics and even the program’s chief actuary say the new prognosis is too rosy. More than $500 billion in Medicare savings projected under the law — the result of cuts to some providers and the popular, all-inclusive Medicare Advantage program — should help extend the program’s solvency by 12 years, to 2029, its trustees said Thursday. Not so fast, Republicans responded, noting that the same savings are being used to help extend health insurance to 32 million more Americans. “If you steal over a half-trillion dollars from Medicare to fund another unsustainable entitlement, Medicare won’t be better off,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

  • Obama’s smoke-and-mirror campaign to extol his health plan requires constant scrutiny to sort out fact from fiction, truth from lie

Economic News

Consumer borrowing fell in June for a fifth straight month as households keep cutting back on credit card use. Borrowing dropped at an annual rate of $1.3 billion in June, the Federal Reserve reported Friday. That marked the 16th drop in overall credit in the past 17 months. Americans backed away from swiping their credit cards for the 21st straight month. That offset a rise in the number of auto loans. Households are borrowing less and saving more. Government officials say that has dragged on the overall economy by lowering consumer spending.

  • The American public is smarter than government officials who want more spending to support their debt-laden profligate ways

Government-controlled mortgage buyer Freddie Mac is asking for $1.8 billion in additional federal aid after posting a larger loss in the second quarter. Freddie Mac says it lost $6 billion in the April-to-June period. That takes into account $1.3 billion in dividends paid to the Treasury Department. It compares with a loss of $840 million in the second quarter a year ago. The government rescued Freddie Mac and sibling company Fannie Mae from the brink of failure nearly two years ago. The new request means they have needed $148.2 billion to stay afloat, about $63.1 billion of which is being used by Freddie Mac.

The insurance giant AIG on Friday reported a $538 million loss in the second quarter due to charges related to selling assets to repay the federal government bailout it received during the financial meltdown. Its CEO also said discussions are underway regarding a government exit from its huge stake in the company.

Signs are growing that the administration’s inner circle of economic advisers — once hailed as the “dream team” — appears to be cracking under the pressure of yet another dismal jobs report and reports of dissention within the White House ranks over what to do about the stagnant economy. The news that Christina Romer, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is resigning because of “family commitments” came on the same day the Labor Department announced that the economy had shed another 131,000 jobs in July.

Afghanistan

Ten members of a medical team, including six Americans, were shot and killed by militants as they were returning from providing eye treatment and other health care in remote villages of northern Afghanistan. Dirk Frans, director of the International Assistance Mission, said one German, one Briton and two Afghans also were a part of the team that made the two-week trip to Nuristan province. They drove to the province, left their vehicles and hiked for hours over mountainous terrain to reach the Parun valley in the province’s northwest. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in Pakistan that they killed the foreigners because they were “spying for the Americans” and “preaching Christianity.” Frans said the International Assistance Mission is registered as a nonprofit Christian organization but it does not proselytize.

Iraq

The death toll from explosions at a market in Iraq’s second-largest city has risen to 43, Iraqi officials said Sunday, adding that as many as 185 people were also wounded in the blasts. A roadside bomb and a car packed with explosives were the source of the blasts. The violent day that also saw the slaying of seven policemen around the country. It was the latest spate of attacks to come as all but 50,000 U.S. military troops head home by the end of the month.

Five months after parliamentary elections that failed to produce a clear winner, Iraq’s leaders have yet to form a new government — sparking angst and anger across the country. In Basra, where power outages have stymied air conditioning units in the searing summer temperatures, citizens have held demonstrations to blame politicians for the lack of public services.

Germany

A Hamburg mosque once frequented by some of the Sept. 11 attackers was shut down Monday because German authorities believe the prayer house was again being used as a meeting point for Islamic radicals. The Taiba mosque was closed and the cultural association that runs it was banned, Hamburg officials said in a statement. Authorities have said the prayer house, formerly known as the al-Quds mosque, was a meeting and recruiting point years ago for some of the Sept. 11 attackers before they moved to the United States. The mosque had been under observation by local intelligence officers for “quite a long time.

Wildfires

Daily deaths in Moscow have doubled amid a sweltering heat wave and poisonous smog from wildfires, a top Russian health official said Monday. About 550 separate blazes were burning nationwide Monday, mainly across western Russia, including about 40 around Moscow. “As many as 276 wildfires have been extinguished,” the ministry told RIA-Novosti. “Currently, 554 wildfires are raging on an area of over 190,000 hectares.” The setback comes as Moscow chokes in intense smog, with toxic substances at levels several times greater than the norm. Hundreds of passengers have been stranded due to delayed flights at the Domodedovo international airport in Moscow. Poor visibility caused by the wildfire smog has prevented airplanes from taking off. High temperatures in the past several weeks have caused a destructive drought.

Weather

Floods and landslides across Asia plunged millions into misery Sunday as rubble-strewn waters killed at least 127 in northwestern China and 4 million Pakistanis faced food shortages amid their country’s worst-ever flooding. In Indian-controlled Kashmir, rescuers raced to find 500 people still missing in flash floods that have already killed 132, while North Korea’s state media said high waters had destroyed thousands of homes and damaged crops. Terrified residents fled to high ground or upper stories of apartment buildings in China’s Gansu province after a debris-blocked river overflowed during the night, smashing buildings and overturning cars. An estimated 2,000 more people were missing in the latest deluge in a summer that has seen China’s worst seasonal flooding in a decade.

In Pakistan, more than 1,500 people have been killed and millions more left begging for help following the worst floods in the country’s history. Prices of fruit and vegetable skyrocketed Sunday, with more than 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of crops destroyed and at least 4 million people in need of food assistance in the coming months. The latest deaths included at least 53 people killed on Saturday when landslides buried two villages in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan.

The death toll in flooding in central Europe rose to 11 as Poland’s interior minister said Sunday that two more people had died in the southwestern region of the country. The flooding has struck an area near the borders of Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. Several roads and villages there were flooded by the swelling Neisse river and hundreds of people were evacuated with rubber boats by rescue workers from their homes in the city of Goerlitz. The worst-hit town in Poland was Bogatynia, where a bridge was destroyed and many were left without electricity and running water. In the Czech Republic, at least a thousand people had to be evacuated Saturday, some from areas below two dams threatened by rising waters. People in the towns of Chrastava and Frydlant were rescued by police and military helicopters from the roofs of their homes.

The National Weather Service says as many as seven tornadoes may have touched down in southeast North Dakota and western Minnesota. a twister near Tyler, N.D., was on the ground for about five miles and had wind speeds greater than an EF3, which range from 136 to 165 mph. It destroyed seven farms buildings, tossed a pickup and uprooted a beet crop. No injuries were reported in any of the tornadoes. Thunderstorms hit Iowa overnight with torrential rain, causing flash flooding that swamped roads and led to a campground being evacuated. U.S. Highway 69 east of Ames was closed because of water over the road. Strong winds damaged buildings and destroyed a grain bin in Fonda in northwest Iowa.

An ice “island” four times larger than Manhattan and up to 600 feet tall has broken off the world’s northernmost glacier, a University of Delaware researcher reports. The chunk of Arctic ice that calved off Greenland’s Petermann Glacier is the biggest in almost 50 years. The icy isle, which broke off early Friday, is at least 100 square miles and as a thick as “up to half the height of the Empire State Building,” according to a university news release. Altogether, 500 billion metric tons of ice crumbled from the glacier. A National Ice Center scientist writes in The Washington Post that while iceberg creation is a regular occurrence, the newest is unusual for its size, which is more typical of Antarctic icebergs.

  • As we’ve noted before, end-time weather is going to become more and more extreme