Adult Stem Cell Research Far Ahead of Embryonic

For all the emotional debate that began about a decade ago on allowing the use of embryonic stem cells, it’s adult stem cells that are in human testing today. An extensive review of stem cell projects and interviews with two dozen experts reveal a wide range of potential treatments. Adult stem cells are being studied in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and diabetes. Some early results suggest stem cells can help some patients avoid leg amputation. Recently, researchers reported that they restored vision to patients whose eyes were damaged by chemicals. Apart from these efforts, transplants of adult stem cells have become a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases. Adult cells have been transplanted routinely for decades, first in bone marrow transplants and then in procedures that transfer just the cells. In the near term, embryonic stem cells are more likely to pay off as lab tools, for learning about the roots of disease and screening potential drugs.

  • The success in using adult stem cells and the lack of progress with embryonic stem cells indicates God’s inherent design to protect unborn children.

Panel Frees Way for Ground Zero Mosque

A New York City panel has denied landmark status to a building near ground zero, freeing organizers to build an Islamic center and mosque there. The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision allows organizers to transform the 152-year-old building into an Islamic community center blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks. National and New York politicians and the Anti-Defamation League have come out in recent weeks against plans for the mosque, saying it disrespects the memory of Sept. 11 victims. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has supported the mosque. The mosque would be part of an Islamic community center to be operated by a group called the Cordoba Initiative, which says the center will be a space for moderate Muslim voices. But opponents say building a mosque near ground zero would be an insult to the memory of those who died at the hands of Muslim extremists on Sept. 11, 2001.

BP Says Oil Well Plugged

In a significant step toward stopping the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP announced Wednesday that mud it had forced down a blown-out well was holding back the flow of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. Workers stopped pumping mud in after about eight hours of their “static kill” procedure and were monitoring the oil well to ensure it remained stable, BP said. “It’s a milestone,” BP PLC spokeswoman Sheila Williams said. “It’s a step toward the killing of the well.” The next step would be deciding whether to cement the well. An 18,000-foot relief well that BP has been drilling for the past three months will be used later this month to execute a “bottom kill,” in which mud and cement will be injected into the bedrock 2 ½ miles below the sea floor to finish the job.

The government announced on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm. A government report finds that about 26 percent of the oil released from BP’s runaway well is still in the water or onshore in a form that could, in principle, cause new problems. But most is light sheen at the ocean surface or in a dispersed form below the surface, and federal scientists believe that it is breaking down rapidly in both places.

Waning Support for Obama on Wars

Public support for President Obama’s Afghanistan war policy has plummeted amid a rising U.S. death toll and the unauthorized release of classified military documents, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows. Support for Obama’s management of the war fell to 36%, down from 48% in a February poll. Now, a record 43% also say it was a mistake to go to war there after the terrorist attacks in 2001. Even Obama’s handling of the war in Iraq received record-low approval, despite a drawdown of 90,000 troops and the planned, on-schedule end of U.S. combat operations there this month. The decline in support contributed to the lowest approval ratings of Obama’s presidency. Only 41% of those surveyed Tuesday through Sunday approved of the way Obama is handling his job, his lowest rating in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll since he took office in January 2009.

Americans Trust Drugs Made in USA, but Few Are

More than three out of four voters are confident that prescription drugs made in the USA are free from contamination, while fewer than one in 10 feel confident about medications made in India or China, according to a poll released today by the Pew Charitable Trust’s Prescription Project. Yet, unbeknownst to many Americans, an estimated 80% of the substances used to make or package drugs sold here are made in other countries, says Allan Coukell, a pharmacist who directs the medical safety portfolio for the Pew Health Group. And a growing proportion come from India or China. In 2007, 68% of ingredients of drugs sold worldwide came from India or China, vs. 49% in 2004. Not that consumers can tell where medications were made, Coukell says: “When you buy a shirt, it will say right on the label where it was made, but when you get a pharmaceutical, you don’t know.” In 2007 and 2008, more than 100 patients in the USA died after taking heparin made with a contaminated active ingredient from China. Drug recalls soared 400% from 2008 to 2009, which saw a record 1,742 recalls.

Report Lists Wasteful Stimulus Projects

The National Science Foundation gave a $712,883 grant to Northwestern University for a project called “Computational Creativity: Building a Model of Machine-Generated Humor.” Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., don’t think it’s funny, and they made it item No. 36 on their list of the 100 most wasteful federally funded stimulus projects. The list also hits arts programs, such as $25,000 to support the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio, $762,362 for interactive dance software in Charlotte, and $762,372 to a Georgia Tech professor to study improvisational music. The list, released Tuesday, takes particular aim at such academic work, such as $1.9 million to the California Academy of Sciences to identify ant species, $677,462 to Georgia State University to study primate responses to unfairness, and $294,958 to Wake Forest University for research on yoga and menopause.

  • Hard to see the impact on unemployment with these types of projects

States with Highest Joblessness Get Least Stimulus

States with the highest jobless rates are getting less money per person under the federal stimulus program than states with below-average unemployment, a USA TODAY analysis finds. Hard-hit Florida ranks last in stimulus benefits per resident despite having the nation’s fifth-highest unemployment rate. Nevada has the nation’s worst unemployment — 14.2% — but ranks 46th in stimulus benefits. By contrast, North Dakota has the nation’s lowest jobless rate — 3.6% — but ranks fourth in stimulus benefits. Alaska ranks No. 1 in stimulus aid — $3,505 per person — and has a jobless rate below the 9.5% national rate. Stimulus benefits skew to better-off states because of longtime federal spending formulas that consider many things — income, population density, highway fatalities — but usually not unemployment. Result: States that do well under federal formulas prospered again in the $862 billion stimulus law, regardless of their jobless rate.

  • Government bureaucracy trumps logic once again

Dependency on U.S. Government Skyrockets

A Heritage Foundation study reveals that 18 months into the Obama administration, Americans are more dependent on the federal government than ever before. The Foundation’s annual Index of Dependence jumped nearly 14% in the past year. The usual increase is between 3-5%. The index is based on the level of federal government expenditures on a roster of services, including housing, health and welfare, education, food stamps, etc. Last year’s dependency level was 14 times the level of dependency recorded in 1962, and has jumped 49% since 2001. With nearly 50% of American wage earners paying no federal taxes, and a rapidly expanding culture of dependence, Study director William Beach is concerned that the nation may be approaching a tipping point after which it will be politically impossible to restore the U.S. economy.

Economic News

The Treasury Department has further trimmed its estimates of the amount of borrowing it will need to do this year as the slowly improving economy has boosted tax revenues and cut spending needs more than previously expected. Treasury said Monday that it now expects to borrow $1.438 trillion this year, still the second-highest amount in history. But that is down by 19.5% from last year’s all-time record in borrowing of $1.786 trillion.

The pace of consumer spending stalled in June and personal incomes failed to increase, further evidence that the economy slowed significantly. Personal spending was unchanged in June, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. It was the third straight month of lackluster consumer demand. Incomes were also flat, weakest showing in nine months. Many analysts believe growth will slow further in the second half of the year as high unemployment, shaky consumer confidence and renewed troubles in housing weigh on the year-old economic recovery.

Automakers saw sales creep up a modest 5.2% in July from the same month last year thanks to easier credit and more lavish sales-incentive spending. Toyota and Honda sales declined. Industry observers said the results were a little underwhelming considering that dealers should be awash in customers as summer hits its peak.

Toll roads are increasingly emerging as the go-to strategy for states and metro areas eager to build and maintain expressways amid a recession that has battered government budgets. A traditional main source of road funding — gasoline taxes — has eroded as motorists drive fewer miles and more fuel efficient vehicles. The Obama administration opposes increasing the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal share of the gas tax. “Public officials are coming to the realization that building the interstates was the easy part,” says Patrick Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. “It’s going to cost way more to repair and rehabilitate it, and the funds are simply not available.” New toll projects usually generate fierce opposition and protests.

In 2007, Nevada had a flourishing economy and a jobless rate of about 5%. It was the USA’s fastest-growing state. Now its unemployment rate is 14.2%, and the Census Bureau says more people are leaving than moving to the state. Nevada has replaced Michigan, home of the ailing auto industry, as the state with the worst unemployment rate — the highest since the government began tracking it in 1976.

Recession-battered golf courses aren’t just coping with lighter crowds. Some are edging perilously close to bankruptcy. Courses from Florida to Arizona, where golfing was once a daily exercise, face major cutbacks or foreclosure. Eight golf courses in the Phoenix area have gone through foreclosure or bankruptcy since commercial properties started facing serious financial problems in 2008. Many more are reducing their hours this summer. Businesses are cutting back on golf-related expenses for executives. Travelers who once plunked down gobs of cash to golf in exotic locales are passing up golf vacations.

Israel

Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire on the border Tuesday in the most serious clashes since a fierce war four years ago, killing four people including two Lebanese soldiers and an Israeli army officer. The U.N. urged “maximum restraint” and said it was working with both sides to restore calm. After an initial clash of about five minutes, intermittent shelling and gunfire went on for several hours until the fighting stopped by mid-afternoon.

Israel agreed Monday to participate in a U.N. investigation of its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last spring, a surprising departure from its traditional distrust of the world body. Israel expressed confidence the inquiry would find its actions justified. However, its decision to cooperate reflects the hit Israel’s world standing has taken in the wake of the assault and the spotlight it turned on its three-year blockade of already impoverished Gaza. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope the panel would meet the Security Council’s call for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation” of the May 31 confrontation in which nine Turkish activists, including one with U.S. citizenship, died after being shot by Israeli commandos boarding their ship. The four-member U.N. panel will be chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and co-chaired by outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and include a Turkish and an Israeli representative, Ban said. It will start work Aug. 10 and submit its first progress report by mid-September.

Iraq

Bombings and drive-by shootings killed at least 15 people Monday, a reminder of Iraq’s ongoing instability as President Obama cited progress amid the looming end of U.S. military operations in the country. The latest violence and government figures showing that July was the deadliest month for Iraqis in more than two years revived persistent questions about the readiness by Iraqi security forces to take over from the Americans as the U.S. military draws down its forces and ends all combat operations at the end of the month. They also confirm the widely spread belief that insurgents are taking advantage of a political impasse over forming a new government after a March 7 parliamentary election failed to produce a clear winner. “But make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing, from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats,” Obama said his Monday speech to disabled veterans in Atlanta.

Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed 5 Iraqi soldiers in a brazen dawn attack Tuesday at a western Baghdad checkpoint and planted the terror group’s black banner before fleeing the scene. The attackers arrived in three cars and used pistols fitted with silencers in the assault in the mainly Sunni Mansour district. Violence levels have significantly dropped in Iraq since 2008 but attacks still occur daily, particularly in Baghdad, where al-Qaeda appears determined to show it is far from being a spent force despite the killing and capture of hundreds of its members and leaders by Iraqi and U.S. forces.

Pakistan

Gunmen killed at least 45 people in Pakistan‘s largest city after the assassination of a prominent lawmaker set off a cycle of revenge attacks, officials said Tuesday. Dozens of vehicles and shops were set ablaze as security forces struggled to regain control of Karachi. Schools were closed and most business ground to a halt Tuesday in the southern city of more than 16 million, Pakistan’s main commercial hub. While a thriving trading center, Karachi has a history of political, ethnic and religious violence and has long been a hide-out for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Afghanistan

Six Afghan private security guards were beheaded during a bank robbery in northern Afghanistan, police said Tuesday. It appeared that the security guards were poisoned before they were beheaded. An unknown number of robbers beheaded the guards and took about $269,000 in U.S. and Afghan currency. Also Tuesday, insurgents launched a ground attack on NATO’s largest base in the south, but did not breach its defenses.

Egypt

Christians in Egypt are enduring one of the most brutal persecution campaigns in decades as Western nations look the other way. “The United States and other countries in the West have turned a blind eye to Egyptian’s oppression of the Christian Coptic community,” says Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association. Copts trace their origins to the Apostle mark who traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, after the ascension of Christ. Their presence predates the 7th-century Muslim conquest of the region. About 8 million Christians live in Egypt. Activists report that violence is rising sharply. Muslim mob assaults are forcing thousands of Christian citizens to flee their homes. Frequently Christian businesses are ransacked. Neither police nor government officials do much to discourage the attacks.

  • Obama’s appeasement of Muslim nations has emboldened Islamic militants

Wildfires

The death toll from wildfires in Russia rose to 34 people Monday and Moscow was shrouded in a new blanket of pungent haze from nearby peat bog fires. Still, firefighters reported making some headway against the blazes that have destroyed hundreds of homes, burned through vast sections of tinder-dry land and forced thousands to evacuate. About 500 new wildfires were sparked nationwide in the past 24 hours but most of them were immediately doused. Russians remained wary, as the most intense heat wave since the country began keeping records 130 years ago continued. Meteorologist predicted another week of temperatures hitting 100 degrees. Some of the devastating wildfires sweeping western Russia are out of control, Russia’s emergency chief said Tuesday, as fears grew there were not enough firefighters to battle them.

Weather

Floodwaters ravaged hundreds of villages in Pakistan‘s main province of Punjab Wednesday, destroying homes, soaking crops, and threatening more lives. Aid workers warned that bloated rivers would soon surge into the country’s south, prompting more evacuations. This year’s monsoon season has prompted the worst flooding in Pakistan in living memory and already killed more than 1,500 people. The U.N. scrambled to provide food and other assistance to some 3.2 million affected people in a nation already struggling with an Islamist militancy and a poor economy.

Intense summer heat continued unabated Tuesday across Tennessee and forecasters warned about dangerously hot conditions through Thursday. An excessive heat warning was posted for all of West Tennessee and National Weather Service forecasters said heat indexes could reach 120 degrees. That’s the combined effect of heat and humidity.

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