Obama Backs Gay Group at U.N.

A homosexual activist group has side-stepped normal procedures to gain a non-government organization status at the United Nations. It took the help of the United States, but the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has gained official status at the U.N., which is an “important step forward for human rights,” according to President Obama. “This once again just highlights the fact that President Obama is fully in the tank of the radical homosexual activist lobby,” notes Matt Barber, attorney and head of cultural affairs at Liberty Counsel. “In keeping with his commitment to ram through his radical agenda, the president has once again circumvented the proper protocol and procedure in order to push a very unpopular policy.” He points out that the organization the administration is supporting is so radical that they have publicly supported criminal sanctions for those who oppose the homosexual agenda. Barber concludes that Obama’s action represents a serious blow to religious liberties at an international level.

Excessive Dispersants Dispensed in Gulf?

As BP inched closer to permanently sealing the blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, congressional investigators railed against the company and Coast Guard for part of the cleanup effort, saying too much toxic chemical dispersant was used. The investigators said the U.S. Coast Guard routinely approved BP requests to use thousands of gallons of the chemical per day to break up the oil in the Gulf, despite a federal directive to use the dispersant rarely. The Coast Guard approved 74 waivers over a 48-day period after the Environmental Protection Agency order, according to documents reviewed by the investigators. Only in a few cases did the government scale back BP’s request. The chemical dispersant was effective at breaking up the oil into small droplets to more easily be consumed by bacteria, but the long-term effects to aquatic life are unknown.

As surface oil plumes fade from view in the Gulf of Mexico, it would be wrong to think that the oil still isn’t there, forensic toxicologists warn. Under the water is where the oil is, say environmental chemists such as Jeffrey Short of the conservation group Oceana — not just in deep sea clouds of oil reported by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists. “Oil tends to congeal, and where you saw a broad slick, you now have a lot of droplets and tar balls,” he says. Whether floating as tar balls, buried under Mississippi River mud or carried off in currents to the Atlantic, much of the spilled oil remains in the water, Short says. Complicating the search for the chemicals is the amount of dispersant, about 1.84 million gallons, applied to oil from the leak. The dispersants have done their job, acting like dish soap on bacon grease, congealing the oil into tiny droplets that microbes can begin eating. How that affects the food chain remains to be seen.

Michigan Oil Pipeline Rupture

The Obama administration said Saturday it repeatedly warned Enbridge Energy Partners about safety issues along its Lakehead oil pipeline system that runs through Michigan, even calling company officials to Washington earlier this year for a meeting on what it deemed “a series of major failures.” Some of those concerns specifically involved Line 6B running from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario, a section of which apparently ruptured last week, sending hundreds of 820,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. A senior Transportation Department official said the administration “repeatedly warned Enbridge in no uncertain terms that it needed to get its act together with regard to the safety of its Lakehead pipeline system.” The official said PHMSA officials met with Enbridge’s a senior leadership in February to tell them to “overhaul their entire approach to safety.” The company, while taking full responsibility for the spill at Marshall, Mich., has said it spends millions on protecting and maintaining the 1,900-mile Lakehead system. Internal corrosion is considered perhaps the most insidious threat to pipelines, many of which are aging across the country. It will take months to clean up the mess, and damage to wetlands and wildlife may last considerably longer.

Portions of Arizona’s Immigration Law Take Effect

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued a temporary injunction that blocked key parts of the law, but she let others stand. One of the provisions that took effect Thursday makes it a state crime to transport or harbor illegal immigrants. Supporters of the law say the transporting provision is aimed at smugglers who transport loads of illegal immigrants through Arizona into the United States or harbor them in drop houses. Besides the transporting part, Bolton also allowed the portion that makes it a crime to pick up a day laborer – or be picked up – in a roadway if it impedes the flow of traffic. Sgt. Tommy Thompson, a Phoenix Police Department spokesman, said the department was still sorting out the new law and he was not certain how it would be applied.

Surge in Homeless Students

Nearly 1 million homeless students attended public schools in 2008-09, a 41% increase over the previous two years and another sign of how broadly the economic recession has struck America. The numbers, based on federal data, were released Tuesday by groups advocating for more federal aid for struggling families. The number of homeless students climbed to almost 957,000 due to increasing bankruptcies, home foreclosures and unemployment. Forty-three states saw their rolls increase, including five states with more than double the national growth rate: Texas (139%), Iowa (136%), New Mexico (91%), Kansas (88%), and New Jersey (84%). More funding could be a long shot with lawmakers increasingly looking for way to cut federal spending and corral the federal debt.

Economic News

Regulators on Friday shut banks in Florida, Georgia, Oregon and Washington, lifting to 108 the number of U.S. banks to fail this year as the industry has struggled to cope with mounting loan defaults and recession. With 108 closures nationwide so far this year, the pace of bank failures far outstrips that of 2009, which was already a brisk year for shutdowns. By this time last year, regulators had closed 69 banks. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008, the year the financial crisis struck with force; only three succumbed in 2007.

The Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) is technically speaking, broke. The FDIC, which insures bank deposits, is in deep trouble going forward and the taxpayer is on the hook for the bill, as usual. The U.S. Treasury extended a lifeline of $500 billion to the FDIC “in case” they need the money. They have added additional cash reserves by front-loading premiums on surviving banks but this can only stunt the financial bleeding for so long. The problems in the banking system run deep and many of the smaller regional banks are failing because of commercial real estate loans going bad.

Millions of houses on the verge of foreclosure threaten to send homeownership to its lowest level in 50 years, according to new industry estimates. Fresh projections say the rate could plummet to about 62% as early as 2012 and almost certainly by the end of the decade. Homeownership rates haven’t been that low since they hit 61.9% in 1960. The share of households that own their homes has been sliding since the housing bubble burst in 2006. The rate fell again in the second quarter of this year to 66.9% — the lowest since 1999 — from a peak of 69.4% in 2004, the Census Bureau says.

The 50 states have racked up a record $2.4 trillion in bond debt during the economic downturn — the highest level of state and local indebtedness in history, economic analysts warn. State and local debt has skyrocketed from 12 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 1980, to 15 percent of GDP in 2000, to an estimated 22 percent in 2010. That’s the highest it has ever been, and those figures do not include the estimated $3 trillion in state and local pension obligations. On Thursday, the CBO warned that the federal debt as a percentage of GDP has jumped 36 percent in just three years.

  • Thus, total government indebtedness has reach 58% of GDP, an unprecedented and, perhaps, unsustainable albatross.

Recent data have shown that, after growing moderately for most of the past year, the U.S. economy appears to be slowing. Most mainstream economists agree the recovery road will be long and bumpy, but probably without leading into double-dip territory. But there are plenty of other voices warning of grimmer times ahead. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman of Princeton University argues in his New York Times columns that the U.S. already may have fallen into the early stages of a long, deep depression such as Japan‘s “lost decade.” Yale University economist Robert Shiller, a leading expert on the housing market and author of “Irrational Exuberance,” a 2000 book that foretold the coming crash of the tech stock bubble, sees more than a 50-50 chance of a “double dip recession” – i.e. back-to-back recessions..

Israel

Israel‘s prime minister issued a stern warning Sunday to Gaza‘s Hamas rulers after a weekend of rocket attacks from the Palestinian territory on Israeli communities. Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that Israel holds the Islamic militant group responsible for the rare flare-up in violence and would retaliate for any attack against its people. The attacks, including a rocket fired Friday at an Israeli city six miles (10 kilometers) from Gaza, caused damage but no injuries. Israel responded with a series of airstrikes on militant targets in Gaza, including one that killed a senior commander of the Hamas military wing. Early Monday, a huge blast leveled the house of a Hamas commander in the Deir el-Balah refugee camp in southern Gaza, wounding at least 32 people, according to Palestinian security officials.

Afghanistan

A minibus full of civilians struck a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan early Sunday, and Afghan officials said six of those on board were killed. A former militia commander who supported the Afghan government has been killed along with two others in a suicide bombing Saturday. A suicide car bomber blew himself up next to a police truck bringing a southern Afghan official to work early Monday, killing six children nearby. Militants attacked a second government official in the east the same day. The convoy of a presidential adviser was hit by a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a rickshaw as it was driving through Jalalabad city,.

The surge of 30,000 service members ordered by President Obama in December is almost in place. The troops’ arrival has allowed NATO to step up armed convoys and foot patrols to assert control over areas where insurgents have had free rein. Khalid Pashtoon, a member of the Afghan parliament from Kandahar, said the Taliban has suffered significant setbacks in his province. “We are all kind of surprised — the insurgents are much weaker than in previous years,” he said. “They can no longer fight in rural areas and concentrate on urban areas.”

The Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, drawing the curtain Sunday on a four-year operation that was deeply unpopular at home and even brought down a Dutch government. The departure of the small force of nearly 1,900 Dutch troops is not expected to affect conditions on the ground. But it is politically significant because it comes at a time of rising casualties and growing doubts about the war in NATO capitals, even as allied troops are beginning what could be the decisive campaign of the war. The Dutch troops will be replaced by American, Australian, Slovak and Singaporean forces.

Iraq

While concern is rising in the U.S. about the war in Afghanistan, the Americans are anxious to show evidence of progress in their other conflict —Iraq. New Iraqi government figures tell a different story, however, showing civilian casualties hitting their highest level in more than two years — figures the U.S. rushed on Sunday to dispute. The rejection of the figures, compiled by the Iraqi ministries of defense, interior and health, comes at a delicate time. The American military has pronounced Iraq’s security as stabilizing and is going ahead with plans to send home all but 50,000 troops by the end of the month, leaving Iraq’s nascent security forces in control. The last American soldier is due to leave by the end of 2011. In Iraq, the July death toll — 535 — was the highest since May 2008 when 563 died, heightening concerns over the country’s precarious security even as a political deadlock persists nearly five months after a parliamentary election produced no clear winner. The new figures suggested that a resilient insurgency is successfully taking advantage of the political deadlock and shows the difficulties of achieving a political solution in a polarized society like Iraq’s, where ethnic and religious groups compete for power regardless of where national interests lie.

From the beginning of the war more than seven years ago, the state of electricity has been one of the most closely watched benchmarks of Iraq’s progress, and of the American effort to transform a dictatorship into a democracy. And yet, as the American combat mission officially ends this month, Iraq’s government still struggles to provide one of the most basic services. Iraq now has elections, a functioning, if imperfect, army and an oil industry on the cusp of a potential boom. Yet Baghdad, the capital, had just five hours of electricity a day in July. The chronic power shortages are the result of myriad factors, including war, drought and corruption, but ultimately they reflect a dysfunctional government.

France

French opposition lawmakers and media attacked a host of new government proposals targeting Gypsies and immigrants suspected of crimes, charging Sunday that President Nicolas Sarkozy was pandering to the far-right in a bid to boost his popularity. Sarkozy said Friday that he wants to revoke the French citizenship of immigrants who endanger the life of police officers. Earlier in the week, Sarkozy pushed for a change in France’s immigration law to make it easier to expel Gypsies, or Roma, in the country illegally and pledged to evacuate their camps, which he called a source of trafficking, prostitution and child exploitation. Unspoken was the concern over large pockets of Muslim immigrants who are demanding Sharia law. France earlier floated the idea of banning women’s burqas.

Somalia

Somali pirates hijacked a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship with 23 crew onboard during an early morning raid Monday, the European Union Naval Force said. The crew onboard the 17,300-ton MV Suez are from Egypt, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India,. The ship, which is carrying bags of cement, was traveling in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor, a stretch of water patrolled by a naval coalition. Navies say the ocean is too big for them to stop all pirate attacks. Pirate attacks have gone down recently because of monsoon weather off the Somali coast. At least 17 ships and hundreds of crewmembers are still being held, including a British couple who were seized from their yacht last October.

Wildfires

Hundreds of new fires broke out Sunday in Russian forests and fields that have been dried to a crisp by drought and record heat. Firefighters brought some of the wildfires raging around cities under control. The wildfires that began threatening much of western Russia last week have killed 28 people and destroyed or damaged 77 towns or villages, the Emergencies Ministry said. Half of the 300 homes in the village of Maslovka were reduced to cinders. Thousands of people have been evacuated from areas in the path of flames. Army troops and volunteers have joined more than 22,000 firefighters in combating the fires, which blazed just outside Moscow and in several provinces east and south of the capital.

Firefighters say higher humidity and lower temperatures have helped them nearly contain a wildfire smoldering in the high desert north of Los Angeles. The fire has charred nearly 22 square miles of brush in the Antelope Valley. It was 87% contained Sunday and crews hope to have it fully surrounded by Monday evening. Four homes and five outbuildings were destroyed.

Weather

The death toll from massive floods in northwestern Pakistan rose to 1,100 Sunday as rescue workers struggled to save more than 27,000 people still trapped by the raging water. The rescue effort was aided by a slackening of the monsoon rains that have caused the worst flooding in decades in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province. But as flood waters started to recede, authorities began to understand the full scale of the disaster. The flooding, which the U.N. estimates has affected 1 million people nationwide, comes at a time when the Pakistani government is already grappling with a faltering economy and a war against the Taliban. The United States announced Sunday that it would provide Pakistan with $10 million in humanitarian assistance, a high-profile gesture at a time when the Obama administration is trying to dampen anti-American sentiment in the country.

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