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.

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