Archive for September, 2010

September 29, 2010

Faith and Family Values the Solution to American Youth’s Woes

In a research presentation for the Family Research Council, Dr. William Jeynes, a Professor at California State University in Long Beach and a Non-resident Scholar at Baylor University, shared the long awaited results of his meta-analyses that summarizes the relationship between faith & family values and academic and behavioral outcomes for youth. There were several of Jeynes’ findings that were most salient. First, personal religious faith among youth had a dramatic relationship with children’s academic outcomes and what are commonly referred to as at-risk behaviors, including consuming various types of illegal drugs and unhealthy amounts of alcohol and becoming involved in a single parent teenage pregnancy. Jeynes noted that, “Faith has a particularly ameliorative impact on academic and behavioral outcomes for children of color and those from single parent family structures. That is, faith plays an important role in helping youth overcome other disadvantages. American society should therefore encourage and not discourage these children from drawing strength from their religious faith.”

Second, youth that come from family structures outside of the two biological parent intact family, on average, face academic, psychological, and behavioral disadvantages across virtually every measure. American society should therefore take more definitive actions to support the two biological parent intact family. Jeynes asserts that, “Faith and family are two of the foremost pillars sustaining the most healthy parts of society. Yet we live in a society that frequently disparages Christians, in particular, and the value and unique nature of the two-parent family. The question we need to ask is whether we are undermining the institutions that are largely responsible for the strength, health, and compassion that made this country great.”

Most Americans Believe in God but Don’t Know Scriptures

Americans are clear on God but foggy on facts about faiths. The new U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that although 86% believe in God or a higher power, they don’t know our own traditions. Among 3,412 adults surveyed, only 2% correctly answered at least 29 of 32 questions on the Bible, major religious figures, beliefs and practices. The average score was 16 correct (50%). Only 55% of Catholic respondents knew the core teaching that the bread and wine in the Mass become the body and blood of Christ, and are not merely symbols. Just 19% of Protestants knew the basic tenet that salvation is through faith alone, not actions as well. Only 55% of all respondents knew the Golden Rule isn’t one of the Ten Commandments; just 45% could name all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

Court: Stem-Cell Funds can Keep Flowing

An appeals court ruled Tuesday that government funding of embryonic stem cell research can continue for now. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington granted the Obama administration’s request to allow the funding from the National Institutes of Health while the government appeals a judge’s order that blocked the research. The administration had argued that stopping the research while the case proceeds would harm irreparably scientific progress toward potentially lifesaving medical treatment. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth had blocked President Obama’s research funding guidelines because he said it is likely they violate the law against federal funding of embryo destruction. A three-judge panel of the appeals court issued an unusually quick decision, a day after hearing arguments over whether the funding could continue while it considers the case. A 1996 law prohibits the use of federal dollars in work that would harm an embryo, so batches have been culled using private money. Those batches can reproduce in lab dishes indefinitely, and the Obama administration issued rules permitting government dollars to be used in work with the already created batches. The administration thus expanded the number of stem cell lines created with private money that federally funded scientists could research, up from the 21 that President George W. Bush had allowed to 75 so far.

Home Depot Promotes Homosexuality

The Home Depot’s own website shows it embraces the spread of homosexuality, including gay marriage. On its website, The Home Depot states it “is honored to say we support the following diversity-oriented organizations:” It goes on to list at least three groups which radically support the homosexual marriage agenda in America – The Human Rights Campaign, Out and Equal Workplace Advocates and Diversity Best Practices. That’s not all. The Home Depot sanctions its very own homosexual employee group, which receives financial backing by the company, The Home Depot Pride (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) employee group. The Home Depot marches in numerous gay pride parades and sets up Kids Workshops at gay pride festival events each year. The company offers full health insurance benefits to homosexual employees and “partners.” The Home Depot recognizes two homosexual men who sleep together as “married.” It also offers insurance for complete sex-change operations.

‘Mumbai-Style’ Terror Attack in Europe Foiled

A commando-style terror plot that allegedly called for simultaneous attacks in multiple European cities has been disrupted, a senior U.S. intelligence official told Fox News late Tuesday, after the CIA launched a barrage of drone strikes in Pakistan to help thwart the plot. The plan allegedly included attacks on hotels frequented by Western tourists in London, as well as cities in France and Germany, and was in an “advanced but not imminent stage,” Sky News reported. The plotters were purportedly of Pakistani or Algerian origin and have been trained in Pakistan’s tribal areas. While officials are still working to understand the plot, a leading concern is that the plotters were modeling their European assault on the 2008 attack in Mumbai, India, in which armed gunmen killed more than 200 people in coordinated attacks at hotels and other easily accessed venues, current and former officials said. Several U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal they haven’t seen a terror threat as serious as the European plot for many years. The CIA had stepped up drone strikes in Pakistan in an effort to help thwart the plot. The more than 20 strikes this month represent a monthly record, according to a tally by the New America Foundation.

Immigration Growing More Complex

Many people in Latin America have requested legal visas to come to the USA, but the wait can be decades, if approval is given at all. Diversity visa programs aimed at increasing the USA’s cultural mix are skewed against Latin America because there are so many of its people already here. All of which provides a powerful inducement to sneak in, critics of the U.S. immigration system say. U.S. visa laws have changed and become so much more complex since the days of Ellis Island that it is simply impossible for many hardworking people around the world to legally immigrate to the USA, they say. Immigration-control advocates say the system is doing its job and the true problem is that the USA cannot afford to take in more people.

Until the 1920s, immigrating to the USA was relatively easy. America needed people to populate its Western frontier and work in its factories. In 1921, Congress passed the first law setting numerical limits for visas based on countries of origin. As the USA moved toward a service-oriented economy in the 1960s, immigration officials became more selective about the kinds of workers the nation wanted. These days, U.S. immigrant visas are limited mostly to the educated, the affluent or people who have spouses or parents in the USA, said Gustavo Garcia, an immigration lawyer in Mexico City. If the ancestors of most Americans had tried to immigrate to the USA under today’s rules, their American Dream would have ended before it began, Garcia said

  • Just because someone wants to emigrate to the USA doesn’t mean they have a right to do so – and when they come illegally they are indeed felons.

States Send BP Their Oil-Spill Bills

Alabama Attorney General Troy King sued BP in federal court for the damage he says the Gulf oil spill inflicted on his state’s environment and economy. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is hoping to negotiate with BP to compensate his state for its lost tax revenue and damaged coastline. He hasn’t sued yet — but says he wouldn’t hesitate to do so if the oil company fails to pay up. While the strategies differ, every state bordering the Gulf of Mexico is calculating the damage caused by an estimated 5 million barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf and the chemicals used to clean it up, and preparing to present BP with a bill. All of the states say they can back up their claims with a lawsuit if BP won’t pay. The energy company, which owns the well and has assumed responsibility for the cleanup, has pledged $20 billion for oil spill victims, including governments.

Poverty at Historic Levels, Income Gap Widest Ever

The nation’s financial crisis is altering Americans’ way of life from the home and the workplace to the highway and the altar, according to 2009 Census data released Tuesday. Median household income — the level where half make more and half make less — fell 2.9% from $51,726 in 2008 to $50,221 last year, the second consecutive annual drop, according to the American Community Survey. The share of people who haven’t changed homes in the previous year climbed from 83.2% in 2006 to 84.6% in 2009. For the first time since the government began tracking the data, the share of women 18 and older who are married fell below 50%. The share of adults ages 25 to 34 who have never married has jumped from 34.5% in 2000 to 46.3% in 2009. the proportion of workers who worked from home jumped from 3.9% in 2006 to 4.3% last year while the percentage of homes with more than one car dropped.

The income of American households fell only slightly last year despite the severe recession because of income gains among the elderly, the Census Bureau reported Thursday. But the number of people in poverty reached its highest level in 51 years. The poverty rate rose to 14.3%, up from 13.2% in 2008. A total of 43.6 million people lived in poverty last year, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase. The federal stimulus law appears to have boosted income more than expected by, for example, providing extended unemployment benefits and a $250 bonus for Social Security recipients. Census Bureau division chief David Johnson says unemployment benefits kept 3.3 million people out of poverty in 2009. Social Security kept 14 million seniors above the poverty level, he says.

The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations. At the top, the wealthiest 5% of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, Census data show. The top-earning 20% of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49.4% of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4% earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released Census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.

Economic News

More renters found housing unaffordable last year as incomes fell while costs increased, a one-two punch that squeezed lower-income households in particular. The share of renters spending 30% or more of their household income on housing costs — the threshold set by the government to determine if housing is unaffordable — rose to 51.5% from about 50% in 2008, according to 2009 Census data released Tuesday.

Americans‘ view of the economy turned grimmer in September as job worries grew. The Consumer Confidence Index fell to the lowest point since February. The downbeat report, released Tuesday, raises more fears about the tenuous U.S. economic recovery. The Conference Board, based in New York, said its monthly Consumer Confidence Index stands at 48.5, down from the revised 53.2 in August. The consumer confidence reading marked the lowest point since February’s 46.4. It takes a reading of 90 to indicate a healthy economy.

In another report Tuesday, the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of big U.S. companies, said CEOs aren’t as optimistic about sales growth now as they were in June, suggesting some plans to hire may be on hold. The survey says two-thirds of chief executives surveyed in September expected sales to grow, vs. 79%in June. And only 31% of CEOs expect to boost payrolls the next six months, vs. 39% in June.

The government says it is starting to sell off $2.2 billion in trust preferred shares it holds in Citigroup, another move to recoup the costs incurred in the $700 billion financial bailout. The Treasury Department says it will start the sales Wednesday with the amount sold to be determined by market conditions. The $2.2 billion in trust preferred shares were received by the government as part of Treasury’s agreement in January 2009 to share potential losses on a pool of $301 billion of assets held by Citigroup.

Anti-Austerity Protests Sweep Across Europe

Anti-austerity protests erupted across Europe on Wednesday — Greek doctors and railway employees walked out, Spanish workers shut down trains and buses, and one man even blocked the Irish parliament with a cement truck to decry the country’s enormous bank bailouts. Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into Brussels, hoping to swell into a 100,000-strong march on European Union institutions later in the day and reinforce the impact of Spain‘s first nationwide strike in eight years. All the actions sought to protest the budget-slashing, tax-hiking, pension-cutting austerity plans of European governments seeking to control their debt. Unions fear that workers will become the biggest victims of an economic crisis set off by bankers and traders, many of whom were rescued by massive government intervention. In an ironic twist, the march in Brussels comes just as the EU Commission is proposing to punish member states that have run up deficits to fund social programs in a time of high unemployment across the continent.

China

China repeated promises of exchange rate flexibility Wednesday but offered no new measures that might avert a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on currency legislation. The statement in a central bank report on a quarterly economic meeting gave no details of possible changes in Chinese policy Democratic Party leaders say the House will take up a bill this week that would give the U.S. government power to impose sanctions on China or other countries found to be manipulating their currencies to gain trade advantages. Supporters say the bill would protect U.S. jobs against unfair trade competition at a time of high unemployment. Beijing promised a more flexible exchange rate in June when it broke a link between its yuan and the dollar. But the yuan has risen only about 2% since then, fueling demands by U.S. lawmakers for action.

Middle East

Washington’s special envoy to the Mideast is in Israel Wednesday to try and get the stalled peace process back on track and press for a halt to new settlement construction on land the Palestinians want for a future state. Israel’s own foreign minister highlighted the stiff opposition Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces within his own governing coalition to making concessions to the Palestinians. At the United Nations on Tuesday, Avigdor Lieberman spoke of a decades-long interim agreement with the Palestinians instead of the near-term statehood they demand. In a rare move, Netanyahu distanced himself from his own foreign minister’s comments. The flap complicated a diplomatic landscape already burdened by Israel’s refusal to renew a 10-month moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank, which expired Sunday.

Nigeria

Nigerian police say kidnappers have seized a school bus full of children in the country’s southeast. Abia state has seen a sharp increase in kidnappings for ransom over recent months. The state has been beset by lawlessness as kidnappers in the West African nation increasingly target the country’s burgeoning middle class in an oil-rich country of 150 million people where most live on less than $1 a day.

Weather

A hillside collapsed on hundreds of sleeping residents Tuesday in a rural Mexican community drenched for days by two major storms, killing at least seven and leaving at least 100 missing, disaster officials said. An eighth person was killed in another mudslide in the state of Oaxaca. While only 100 are confirmed missing, Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz told the Televisa television network 500 to 1,000 people could be buried. At least 100 homes were buried, and residents who made it out have had no success in digging out their neighbors.

A tropical depression that quickly developed in the Caribbean headed over Cuba early Wednesday threatened to strengthen into a tropical storm as it headed toward southeastern Florida. Maximum sustained winds were 35 mph, but the depression was forecast to strengthen some and become a tropical storm. It was expected to be near or over southeastern Florida by Wednesday evening. Heavy rain is expected.

Southern California’s famed moderate, Mediterranean-style climate felt more like the Sahara on Monday as temperatures hit 113 degrees downtown, breaking records and sending residents to the beaches. Los Angeles opened cooling centers, and the city’s Department of Water and Power advised customers to conserve electricity. While the heat was unusually severe, warm weather is common in the fall in Southern California. Wind patterns shift and bring dry desert air, known as Santa Ana winds, into coastal regions, not only making things uncomfortably warm but producing tinder-box conditions that make autumn the season for wildfires.

September 27, 2010

Disturbing Trends in America’s Youth

How do you assess the spiritual lives and Bible views of young adults when surveys find they: View Paris Hilton more favorably than Billy Graham? Think Wicca is patio furniture? Say the main reason they never watch evangelist Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power is because, they “don’t like violence”? Their spirituality is “extremely wide, often shallow and always compelling,” says David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., research group that presents itself as “the Gallup of the faith world.” Kinnaman, who has been studying the under-25 year olds for a decade, was the opening speaker at a day devoted to addresses on the challenges in translating, teaching and marketing Scripture in modern times and ever-changing technology at the Religion Newswriters Conference, now underway in Denver.

For this talk, he focused on the age group some call Millennials but he calls Mosaics, compared to Baby Busters ages 26 to 44, Boomers ages 45-63 and Elders ages 64+. Mosaics’ interest in cultural figures yields bizarre answers to open ended questions, including 12% of who think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Asked if the original Biblical manuscripts are “true and accurate,” 51% of Mosaics said yes, 54% of Busters, 61% of Boomers and 68% of Elders. But they are also more universalist with 56% of Mosaics saying the “Bible, Quran and Book of Mormon are the same expression of truth” compared to 43% of Busters, 45% of Boomers and just 33% of Elders. This is the experiential generation, he says, where Mosaics tell Barna surveys they don’t want to sit around hearing people talk about sin, they want to help people struggling with sin. They see the world “not as fundamentally broken but as fundamentally full of hope.”

Many Wish Health Law went Further

President Obama’s health care overhaul has divided the nation, and Republicans believe their call for repeal will help them win elections in November. But the picture’s not that clear cut. A new AP poll finds that Americans who think the law should have done more outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care by 2-to-1. More than 30 million people would gain coverage in 2019 when the law is fully phased in, but another 20 million or so would remain uninsured. Many were disappointed that it didn’t provide universal coverage.

  • This era’s pervasive sense of entitlement continues to want something for nothing – don’t increase taxes but give us more and more.

U.S. Wants Broader Internet Wiretap Authority

The Obama administration is developing plans that would require all Internet-based communication services — such as encrypted BlackBerry e-mail, Facebook, and Skype — to be capable of complying with federal wiretap orders, according to a report published Monday. National security officials and federal law enforcement argue their ability to eavesdrop on terror suspects is increasingly “going dark,” The New York Times reported, as more communication takes place via Internet services, rather than by traditional telephone. The bill, which the White House plans to deliver to Congress next year, would require communication service providers be technically capable of intercepting and decrypting messages, raising serious privacy concerns, the Times said. The proposal has “huge implications” and poses a test to the “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution,” vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, James Dempsey, told the Times.

  • Conflicts such as deterring terrorists versus personal privacy is an issue in the world of good and evil that won’t be resolved until Jesus returns to establish His millennial Kingdom,

BP Fund Czar Promises Bigger, Faster Claims

Victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill should start getting bigger payments faster, the administrator of the fund set up to help them said Saturday. Kenneth Feinberg said he was responding to criticism from residents and businesses. “I am implementing new procedures that will make this program more efficient, more accelerated and more generous,” Feinberg said in a press release. Claims from now on also will be sorted by industry to allow those reviewing the claims to apply a more specific, uniform set of standards when deciding how much a person or business will be paid, he said. In less than five weeks since the massive oil spill, the dedicated $20 billion fund that BP set up has paid out over $400 million to more than 30,000 claimants, the news release said.

No Payments Yet for Abu Ghraib Abuses

Fending off demands that he resign over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress he had found a legal way to compensate Iraqi detainees who suffered “grievous and brutal abuse and cruelty at the hands of a few members of the United States armed forces.” “It’s the right thing to do,” Rumsfeld declared in 2004. “And it is my intention to see that we do.” Six years later, the U.S. Army is unable to document a single payment for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Nor can the more than 250 Iraqis or their lawyers now seeking redress in U.S. courts. Their hopes for compensation may rest on a Supreme Court decision this week. The Army says about 30 former Abu Ghraib prisoners are seeking compensation from the U.S. Army Claims Service.

Ø      Typical of government promises

California Conflicted Over Pot

California has a long history of defying conventional wisdom on the issue of marijuana, including its embrace of the drug in the 1960s and its landmark medical pot law 14 years ago. So it may not be all that surprising that a November ballot measure to legalize the drug has created some odd alliances and scenarios. Pot growers have opposed it. Some police have favored it. Polls show the public is deeply divided. Only politicians have lined up as expected: Nearly all major party candidates oppose the measure. And hanging over the whole debate is the fact that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The measure gained ground in a Field Poll released Sunday, pulling ahead 49% to 42% among likely voters. The poll also found that Californians have become steadily more permissive toward the drug since pollsters began quizzing state residents about their attitudes 40 years ago. Proponents say the measure is a way for the struggling state and its cities to raise badly needed funds. A legal pot industry, they say, would create jobs while undercutting violent criminals who profit off the illegal trade in the drug. Opponents will have to convince voters that legalized marijuana will create a greater public safety threat than keeping it illegal..Marijuana has become so crucial to rural economies along the state’s North Coast that even some local government officials are working on plans for coping with a pot downturn.

Recession Not Over, Public Says

Economic experts may believe the recession is over, but try telling that to the public. Seventy-four percent of Americans believe the economy is still in a recession, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. One small cause for optimism: the percentage of Americans who say the country is in a recession has dropped 13 points since August. The National Bureau of Economic Research, an independent group of economists, released a September 20 statement indicating the recession technically ended in June 2009. The dip began in December 2007 — making it the longest and deepest downturn for the U.S. economy since the Great Depression.

Economic News

Airline fees are steadily increasing — some by more than 50% since a year ago, a USA TODAY analysis shows. The analysis, which compared 13 U.S. airlines’ fees today with those in effect in June 2009, also reveals that passengers are also Six big U.S. carriers now have priority boarding fees, and Spirit Airlines has begun charging for carry-on bags.encountering new types of fees. The numerous fees are a sore subject for many fliers, but their dissatisfaction hasn’t deterred airlines from bringing in record revenue from additional fees. U.S. airlines brought in $2.1 billion in ancillary revenue during this year’s second quarter, including nearly $893 million from checked-bag fees and about $600 million from reservations changes, government statistics released Sept. 20 show.

The worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression hurt more than half of Americans, especially younger people, minorities and those with a high school education or less, a Pew Research Center survey found. “For a narrow majority of Americans, 55%, the Great Recession brought a mix of hardships, usually in combination: a spell of unemployment, missed mortgage or rent payments, shrinking paychecks and shattered household budgets,” according to the survey released Friday. “But for the other 45% of the country, the recession was largely free of such difficulties.”

Fewer companies are defaulting on their debt, a seemingly positive sign about the economy. Investors are reluctant to celebrate yet, though. Just 4.3% of U.S. companies with the lowest credit ratings defaulted on their debt in August, Standard & Poor’s says. That’s a dramatic improvement from the depths of the credit crisis in November 2009, when 11.4% of companies were defaulting. It’s also the ninth-consecutive month of improvement. Just 90 U.S. companies are classified as “weakest links,” because they have S&P’s absolutely lowest credit ratings, and are more likely to default. That’s down from 151 at the end of 2009.

Federal regulators took over three key lenders to U.S. credit unions, after losses on mortgage investments threatened to topple them. The move was a reminder that parts of the financial system are still burdened by the toxic assets two years after the financial crisis peaked. Corporate credit unions provide wholesale financing and investment services for the more than 7,000 U.S. credit unions. They do not offer retail services to consumers.

Middle East

The expiration of an Israeli moratorium on new construction in West Bank settlements threw fledgling Middle East peace talks into turmoil on Monday as Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. scrambled to find a compromise that would keep the negotiations alive. Curbs on new construction in settlements that had been in place for the past 10 months expired at midnight and Israel showed no sign of a new willingness to compromise on the issue. Palestinians regard settlement as a major obstacle to peace and have repeatedly said they will quit peace talks if Israel did not extend its restrictions. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has deferred a decision on whether to quit the talks until at least next Monday, when he will confer with the 22 member states of the Arab League at a special meeting on the issue. In Paris on Sunday, Abbas said there was only one choice for Israel: “Either peace or settlements.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the Palestinian leader to keep negotiating while appealing to settlers to show restraint. Under heavy U.S. pressure, Netanyahu persuaded his hardline Cabinet to agree to the slowdown last November in a bid to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Iran

An Iranian newspaper reported that a delegation from nearby Oman will visit Iran Sunday to pursue the release of two American men imprisoned for more than a year. The Gulf sultanate of Oman played a key role in securing the Sept. 14 release of a third American, Sarah Shourd, who was arrested with the two men still held — Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. The hard-line daily Jomhuri-e-Eslami, which is not state-run but close to the ruling establishment, reported that if the Americans are released, they will be able to leave with the visiting delegation for the Omani capital Muscat.

A complex computer worm capable of seizing control of industrial plants has affected the personal computers of staff working at Iran’s first nuclear power station weeks before the facility is to go online, the official news agency reported Sunday. The project manager at the Bushehr nuclear plant, Mahmoud Jafari, said a team is trying to remove the malware from several affected computers, though it “has not caused any damage to major systems of the plant,” the IRNA news agency reported. It was the first sign that the malicious computer code, dubbed Stuxnet, which has spread to many industries in Iran, has also affected equipment linked to the country’s nuclear program, which is at the core of the dispute between Tehran and Western powers like the United States. Experts in Germany discovered the worm in July, and it has since shown up in a number of attacks — primarily in Iran, Indonesia, India and the U.S.

Afghanistan

Evidence is mounting that fraud in last weekend’s parliamentary election was so widespread that it could affect the results in a third of provinces, calling into question the credibility of a vote that was an important test of the American and Afghan effort to build a stable and legitimate government. The complaints to provincial election commissions have so far included video clips showing ballot stuffing; the strong-arming of election officials by candidates’ agents; and even the handcuffing and detention of election workers. In some places, election officials themselves are alleged to have carried out the fraud; in others, government employees did, witnesses said. One video showed election officials and a candidate’s representatives haggling over the price of votes.

International forces pressed forward with a key combat phase in their drive to rout Taliban fighters around the southern city of Kandahar, an operation that is key to U.S. military strategy to turn around the 9-year war and prevent the Taliban from undermining the Afghan government. International and Afghan forces were moving into two or three areas around Kandahar at once to pressure the Taliban “so they don’t get the chance to run away,” Shah Mohammad Ahmadi, chief of Arghandab district northwest of the city, said Monday. A top NATO officer said Sunday that the alliance a few days ago had launched a “kinetic,” or combat, phase of “Operation Dragon Strike,” a joint military push with Afghan forces around Kandahar intended to rid the area of insurgents and interrupt their ability to move freely and stage attacks.

Pakistan

NATO helicopters in eastern Afghanistan launched rare airstrikes into Pakistan, reportedly killing more than 50 militants after an outpost near the border came under attack from insurgents, officials said Monday. NATO justified the strikes based on “the right of self-defense,” a spokesman said. Pakistan is sensitive about attacks on its territory, but U.S. officials have said they have an agreement that allows aircraft to cross a few miles (kilometers) into Pakistani airspace if they are in hot pursuit of a target. A suspected U.S. drone fired missiles at a house in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing four people in the 20th such attack this month — nearly double the previous monthly record. Almost all of the attacks this month have occurred in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region that is largely out of the state’s control and is dominated by militants who regularly stage attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Venezuela

President Hugo Chavez‘s opponents blocked him from capturing an overwhelming majority in Venezuela‘s congressional election, making gains that could challenge the firebrand leader’s tight grip on power. With the vast majority of votes from Sunday’s election counted, Chavez’s socialist party won at least 96 of the 165 seats in the National Assembly, while the opposition coalition won at least 61 seats. Chavez hailed it as a “solid victory” in an online posting on Twitter, but he fell short of his goal of keeping the two-thirds majority that has allowed his allies to push through controversial changes unopposed. Until now, pro-Chavez lawmakers have been able to rewrite laws unopposed and unilaterally appoint officials, including Supreme Court justices and members of the electoral council.

China

China will continue to limit most families to just one child in the coming decades, state media said Monday, despite concerns about the policy’s problematic side effects, such as too few girls and a rapidly aging population. China has the world’s largest population and credits its 30-year-old family planning limits with preventing 400 million additional births and helping break a traditional preference for large families that had left many trapped in cycles of poverty. There has been growing speculation among Chinese media, experts and ordinary people about whether the government would relax the policy soon, allowing more people to have two children. But the China Daily newspaper on Monday quoted Li Bin, head of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, as saying there were no plans to change the policy anytime soon.

Weather

A sudden, powerful storm that ripped through Haiti’s battered capital destroyed thousands of tents in the homeless camps where more than 1.3 million people live eight months after the earthquake destroyed their homes, shelter officials said Saturday. The death toll from Friday afternoon’s storm stood at six people, with nearly 8,000 tents damaged or destroyed. Hundreds of people were reported with varying degrees of injury. The storm’s effect was exacerbated by the flimsiness of tarps and tents that have been baking, soaking and flapping in the Caribbean elements since the Jan. 12 earthquake killed at least 230,000 people and left millions homeless. Hundreds of thousands of families continue living on the streets of the capital waiting for temporary housing or money to find new apartments.

Some residents in the central Wisconsin town of Portage fled their homes after a levee started to fail, sending water from the rain-swollen Wisconsin River onto a major roadway in one neighborhood and threatening to leave some people stranded in their houses. It wasn’t clear how many of the roughly 300 residents remained in the Blackhawk Park area after the only road into and out of the neighborhood was closed. Officials said part of the levee south of Highway 33 had eroded Sunday and water was leaking out, although the levee had not completely collapsed. The Wisconsin River is swollen from thunderstorms last week that dumped several inches of rain in southern Minnesota and central Wisconsin.

September 25, 2010

Defense Bill Reflected Dems’ Radical Abortion/Gay/Amnesty Agenda

Conservatives are celebrating following Tuesday’s failure by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to pass, at least for now, the Defense Authorization bill that contained three highly controversial amendments: a DREAM Act for illegal aliens, a repeal of the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, and a statute that would permit abortions on U.S. bases. The idea of turning military hospitals into abortion mills is particularly reprehensible. And yet the White House seems to have no problem with it. They will try to enact their agenda by any means, even if that means holding the military defense budget hostage. “Making the military a lab for social innovation and experiment in a time of two wars is foolhardy and dangerous.” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, “This is a victory for the men and women who serve our nation in uniform. At least for now they will not be used to advance a radical social agenda.”

CAP, ADF File Brief Supporting Marital Benefits

The Arizona Legislature acted “reasonably and constitutionally” when it decided last year to pass a law that once again distributes taxpayer-funded benefits for state employees on the basis of marital status. That’s the conclusion of a friend-of-the-court brief submitted to a federal court Monday by Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) attorneys on behalf of Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). Former Gov. Janet Napolitano improperly bypassed the Legislature when she issued an administrative rule in 2008 that extended state employee benefits reserved for married couples to unmarried persons. The brief argues that the Legislature is simply returning to its previous practice of extending benefits to state employees and their spouses and disputes the conclusion of a federal judge that providing benefits on that basis violates the U.S. Constitution. The friend-of-the-court brief, submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Collins v. Brewer, explains that “the State has taken the unexceptional step of restoring its distribution of employment benefits on the basis of marital status, which is precisely what most governmental bodies in this country have typically done and continue to do. In taking this step, the Legislature acted neither irrationally nor with animus toward any class of State employees.”

Congress Sends Small-Business Bill to Obama

Small-business legislation that President Barack Obama plans to sign into law Monday may be the final pre-election measure enacted by Congress to show its commitment to reviving the economy. The legislation passed the House 237-187 on a mostly party-line vote Thursday after clearing the Senate last week. It provides new tax breaks to small businesses, increases Small Business Administration lending limits, waives SBA loans fees and provides banks with $30 billion in new capital to increase lending to small businesses. Republicans criticized that lending fund as “TARP Jr.,” a reference to the Troubled Asset Relief Program initiated by the Bush administration in 2008 to help failing financial institutions and keep credit markets from drying up. However, President Obama’s $30 billion small community business lending program faces one more challenge: Some of the community banks and businesses it’s supposed to help don’t want it. Some say the federal money isn’t worth it because they fear it will come with too much regulatory oversight. Sales of existing homes improved slightly in August after a record drop in July, possibly the first step on a long road back to health.

Democrats Postpone Tax Vote till After Elections

Senate Democrats huddled behind closed doors for one hour on Thursday trying to figure out what to do about the expiring Bush tax cuts. With no consensus emerging, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decided to postpone a vote until after the election. Several Democrats advocated for a delay, saying it is the one way to ensure politics does not enter into the equation.  Republicans want to extend all of the tax cuts and are poised to pounce on any bill that falls short, as well as any member who does not support their position. Democrats are divided about keeping some of the tax cuts for the middle class while scuttling the cuts for the rich, versus allowing all the tax cuts to expire. They were unable to muster enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Obama/Ahmadinejad Duel at U.N.

President Obama called on fellow world leaders Thursday to back up his efforts to help forge peace in the Middle East, and he challenged Iran to meet its international obligations to negotiate the terms of its nuclear program. So far, efforts to engage Iran have failed, leading to the toughest set of sanctions ever against the country. “Iran must be held accountable,” Obama said. In his own speech before the assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to the podium to propagandize about capitalism and the 9/11 attacks. A host of diplomats walked out of the room when he said the United States either orchestrated the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 in order to boost the economy or at least supported the attacks as a way to strengthen Israel. Outside the U.N. complex, Iranian-American protesters carried signs denouncing Ahmadinejad, the adultery stonings imposed in Iran and the exile of those who support democracy.

Obama Advisors Continue Mass Exodus

Key Obama insider David Axelrod confirmed Thursday he will be leaving the administration next year, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is now expected to leave his post as early as next month. These latest defections add to the perception that administration officials are rushing for the White House exits before voters deliver their midterm evaluation of President Obama’s “hope and change” agenda. Axelrod and Emanuel are the two advisers Obama probably relies on the most. On Tuesday, senior presidential adviser Larry Summers announced he would be leave the administration and return to Harvard University. Other recent departures include economics adviser Christina Romer, who had issued the ill-fated prediction that the stimulus would hold unemployment below 8 percent; and Peter Orszag, the White House budget director who recently broke with the administration and called for extension of all Bush-era tax cuts. Also, the assistant Treasury secretary for financial stability who helped oversee the TARP program, Herbert Allison, announced Wednesday that he is returning to Connecticut for family reasons. Despite the apparent high-level shake up, the White House is working overtime to assure the media that the defections are completely routine and have nothing to do with the flagging economy, or the president’s plummeting poll numbers.

U.S. Judge Orders Air Force to Reinstate Lesbian Officer

In a big legal blow to the government’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a federal judge in Tacoma, Wash., has ruled that the Air Force must reinstate a lesbian officer whose discharge was unconstitutional. It’s the first time a federal judge has ordered the military to allow an openly gay member to serve. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton reversed his 2006 ruling that the discharge of former major Margaret Witt from the Reserve was not illegal under the policy that bars gays from serving openly in the military. An appeals court overruled him in 2008 and ordered a retrial, which ended this week. He said the appeals court essentially tied his hands. Witt, from Spokane, joined the Air Force in 1987. She was a flight nurse with an aeromedical evacuation squadron responsible for transporting and caring for injured soldiers. She was suspended in 2004, a year short of retirement, after her commanders learned of her relationship with a civilian woman.

4th Man Sues Georgia Megachurch Pastor for Sex Abuse

A fourth young male member of Bishop Eddie Long‘s megachurch is suing the prominent pastor, claiming Long coerced him into a sexual relationship. The Associated Press does not typically identify alleged victims of impropriety, but attorney B.J. Bernstein has said all four of the men who filed lawsuits consented to being identified publicly. The fourth lawsuit said Long told Spencer LeGrande “I will be your dad” and invited the 17-year-old to journey to Kenya with him in July 2005. LeGrande said that Long gave him a sleeping pill on that trip and that the two engaged in sexual acts. LeGrande, now 22, said the two continued their relationship on a February 2006 trip to South Africa and after he moved to Atlanta at Long’s encouragement. He said that Long also instructed him not to have girlfriends, but that he pulled away in the spring of 2009 after he became “disillusioned.” Three other men filed lawsuits on Tuesday and Wednesday saying they were 17- and 18-year-old members of the church when they say Long abused his spiritual authority to seduce them with cars, money, clothes, jewelry, international trips and access to celebrities.

  • Another black eye for Christianity whether the allegations are true or not

Some Grandfathered Health Plans Not Affected by New Healthcare Law

Some provisions of the nation’s new health law that began taking effect this week come with a catch: They don’t apply to plans existing before March 23 and remaining substantially unchanged. As more consumers focus on the details of the law’s new benefits, such as free preventive care, some may question why their health plan doesn’t have to comply immediately. The law contains provisions that allow some existing plans — those that don’t significantly raise prices or reduce benefits — to maintain a “grandfathered” status. The goal was to help smooth the transition to major changes mandated by the law in 2014. Grandfathered plans were the law’s answer to addressing the desire by individuals and employers who like their current coverage to keep that coverage. Among benefits beginning this week that don’t apply to certain grandfathered plans: free preventive care; increased annual coverage limits; and coverage for sick children with pre-existing medical conditions.

U.S. hospitals’ Quality of Care Improves

A report says treatment has improved substantially at U.S. hospitals for several ailments including heart attacks, pneumonia and children’s asthma. The report released Wednesday is based on more than 3,000 accredited hospitals. On average, hospitals in the report gave recommended heart attack treatment almost 98% of the time in 2009, versus 89% in 2002. That includes aspirin upon arriving and aspirin and beta blockers upon leaving. For pneumonia, recommended treatment was given almost 93% of the time in 2009. That compares with 72% in 2002. And for asthma care in children, it was 88% versus 71% in 2007, the first year the commission included that in its annual report. Substantial improvement was also seen in surgical care, including appropriate use of antibiotics; the score rose to 96% from 77% in 2004. However, performance remained low on two measures added to the list in 2005. Overall, clot-busting drugs were given to heart attack patients within 30 minutes of arrival only 55% of the time, versus 39% in 2005; and pneumonia patients in intensive care received timely antibiotics 68% of the time, versus 50% in 2005.

Concern over This Year’s Flu Shots

In the wake of last year’s swine flu pandemic, this year’s standard flu shot includes the H1N1 vaccine. That has caused concern for at least some people getting the shots, pharmacists here say. Manufacturers this year are including the H1N1 antibodies along with those of two other strains in the standard vaccine. There are normally a mixture of strains in the shots and H1N1 is one of three strains in this year’s shot. The strains are those thought to be most prevalent for the upcoming flu season. Pharmacists said supplies of vaccine were much better this year compared with last year when manufacturers split their vaccine production between the swine flu and regular flu vaccination. Another less well known addition for this year’s vaccinations is a high dose option specifically for people age 65 or over. The high-dose contains roughly four times the amount of antibodies as a regular dose and may have a higher risk of negative reaction. But, pharmacists said, this risk is more than balanced by its benefits, as immune systems tend to weaken with age.

USA is Fattest of 33 Countries

The United States is the fattest nation among 33 countries with advanced economies, according to a report out Thursday from an international think tank. Two-thirds of people in this country are overweight or obese; about a third of adults — more than 72 million — are obese, which is roughly 30 pounds over a healthy weight. Obesity rates have skyrocketed since the 1980s in almost all the countries where long-term data is available. Countries with the fastest obesity growth rates: the United States, Australia and England. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, several types of cancer and other diseases. Obesity cost the U.S. an estimated $147 billion in weight-related medical bills in 2008, according to a study by government scientists.

Poor Science Education Impairs U.S. Economy

Stagnant scientific education imperils U.S. economic leadership, says a report by leading business and science figures. Released Thursday at a congressional briefing attended by senators and Congress members of both parties, the report updates a 2005 science education report that led to moves to double federal research funding. The updated report finds little improvement in U.S. elementary and secondary technical education since then. U.S. K-12 education in mathematics and science ranks 48th worldwide and 49% of U.S. adults don’t know how long it takes for the Earth to circle the sun. Although U.S. school achievement scores have stagnated, harming the economy as employers look elsewhere for competent workers, the report says that other nations have made gains. China has replaced the United States as the world’s top high-technology exporter.

Cohabitation Numbers Jump 13%

Cohabitation in the USA is at an all-time high, with the number of opposite-sex couples living together rising 13% in a year’s time, from 6.7 million in 2009 to 7.5 million this year. It’s likely because of the recession, according to a U.S. Census study out Thursday. It found a direct connection between living together and the cohabiting partners’ employment status. The percentage of couples in which both partners were employed dropped significantly. That suggests maybe they moved in together related to lack of employment for one of the partners. “Pooling resources by moving in together may be one method of coping with extended unemployment of one of the partners,” the study says.

Economic News

Stocks rose sharply on Friday, giving the market its fourth straight week of gains, after a big increase in orders for manufactured goods allowed investors to shake off several days of doldrums. Gold prices climbed to another record, briefly touching $1,300 an ounce.

U.S. companies invested last month in computers, communications equipment and machinery, boosting capital goods orders for the third time in four months. The 4.1% increase to capital goods in August showed a rebound in business spending. Orders fell 5.3% in July.

Sales of new homes had their second-worst month on record in August. Sales at an annual sales pace of 288,000 were down by 29% from the same month a year earlier. The only time sales were slower was in May, when the sales pace was 282,000, the worst on records dating back to 1963. The median sales price in August was $204,700. That was down 1.2% from a year earlier and the lowest since December 2003.

Sales of existing homes improved slightly in August after a record drop in July, possibly the first step on a long road back to health. Although sales remain very weak, especially considering mortgage rates are near historic lows, some economists say August’s increase may point to slow improvement over the next two years.

The collapse in housing prices and a strong Canadian dollar are luring north-of-the-border buyers to Arizona and other states where the weather is warm and the housing cheap. Canadians surpass Californians this year as top out-of-state buyers of Phoenix-area real estate. The Canadian dollar is gaining, up from an average of 80 cents on the U.S. dollar in 2005 to 97 cents last week. At the same time, home prices in the Phoenix area have dropped about 50% from their peak in early 2007. Florida, California and Texas remain the top destinations for international homebuyers, but Arizona is gaining.

Europeans Push for Global Tax

A group of 60 nations will meet next week at the United Nations to push for a tax on foreign currency transactions as a way to generate revenue to meet global poverty-reduction goals, including “climate change” mitigation. Spearheaded by European Union countries, the so-called “innovative financing” proposal envisages a tax of 0.005 percent (five cents per $1,000), which experts estimate could produce more than $30 billion a year worldwide for priority causes. World leaders are scheduled to hold a Sept. 21-23 summit at U.N. headquarters to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight specific targets to cut poverty and disease by 2015, in line with a pledge taken by U.N. member states in 2000. The Leading Group on Innovative Financing for Development, comprising 60 countries – the United States is not a member – as well as 15 international institutions and several dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs), sees the event as a crucial opportunity to promote the tax proposal, and it will meet on the summit sidelines next Tuesday. Several countries have expressed support for the initiative of the General Assembly President Joseph Deiss to make global governance a central theme of the current session of the United Nations body.

  • Another step toward the prophesied one-world government (Rev. 13)

Middle East

With a critical deadline looming, Israelis and Palestinians were searching Friday for a compromise that would rescue newly resumed peace talks from foundering over an old Mideast grievance: Israeli settlement construction. Israel’s 10-month slowdown on settlement building expires Sunday, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed Palestinian and U.S. calls for an extension. With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas having threatened to walk out of talks if construction resumes at full force, the U.S. is trying to wrest concessions from both sides to keep negotiations from breaking down just three weeks after they began. Netanyahu has signaled a willingness to seek a way out of the impasse, saying earlier this month that the current restrictions on settlements will not remain in place, though there will still be some limits on construction.

  • Peace for Israel is an illusion that will not be fulfilled until Jesus returns

Pakistan

Concerned that U.S. help to Pakistan is not getting enough recognition, Washington is making a new push to get international aid groups it funds to advertise the fact. But it is meeting resistance from partners worried U.S. branding could prompt Taliban attacks. The conflict highlights a major challenge for the U.S. as it tries to win hearts and minds in Pakistan, a key ally in the war in neighboring Afghanistan and a deep well of anti-American sentiment. The U.S. has earmarked $7.5 billion in aid over the next five years, but it will do little to sway public opinion if Pakistanis don’t know where the money is coming from. The issue has taken on new urgency in recent weeks as the U.S. has donated nearly $350 million to help Pakistan cope with this summer’s devastating floods. Many groups that turn U.S. dollars into the food, water and shelter Pakistanis desperately need are reluctant to use American logos on items they distribute because they fear they may be targeted by Islamist militant groups.

Afghanistan

Three NATO service members were killed in two bomb blasts and more than 30 insurgents died in a clash with coalition troops in eastern Afghanistan, the military alliance said Saturday. NATO also said it captured an insurgent commander linked to attacks on Afghan officials and violence during last weekend’s parliamentary elections, and killed another. This year is already the deadliest of the war, with 531 international forces killed as of Saturday. Also in the east, more than 30 insurgents were killed during an operation involving a combined force of about 250 Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and coalition soldiers.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has long appealed to foreign companies as a gateway to the booming China market. But business leaders are warning that severe air pollution is hurting the city’s competitiveness and its desirability as a place to live. The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce — which has 4,000 multinational as well as local members — recently urged the government to take “decisive” action to tackle air pollution that regularly covers this city in a gray blanket. While the city’s pollution often reaches levels deemed harmful by the World Health Organization, record highs this year have sparked an unprecedented outcry. On bad days, “When you go on the street, you can practically chew the air,” says Mike Kilburn, environmental program manager for Civic Exchange, a think tank. Residents also complain that air pollution triggers what they call the “Hong Kong cough,” a condition that persists for weeks. While Hong Kong remains one of the top business destinations in Asia, a growing number of multinational companies are struggling to recruit employees to the city. About 1,400 U.S. companies have offices and more than 60,000 Americans live in Hong Kong, the U.S. State Department says.

France

Tens of thousands of French workers took to the streets Thursday for the second day of nationwide strikes this month to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s plan to raise the retirement age to 62. Union walkouts crippled planes, trains and schools across the country. The strikes are seen as a test for the conservative Sarkozy and are being watched elsewhere in Europe, as governments struggle to rein in costs with unpopular austerity measures after the Greek debt crisis sapped confidence in the entire 16-nation euro currency. Sarkozy has indicated he is willing to make marginal concessions but remains firm on the central pillar: increasing the retirement age from 60 to 62 and pushing back the age from 65 to 67 for those who want full retirement benefits.

Somalia

Heavy fighting between Islamist militants and pro-government troops raged in several parts of Somalia‘s capital Thursday, killing at least 21 people and wounding nearly 78, an official reported. Mortar shells pounded northern and southern neighborhoods in Mogadishu as militants launched attacks with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. In Mogadishu’s south, government soldiers and African Union peacekeepers tried to push insurgents back from a strategic road often used by government officials. Somalia’s most dangerous militant group, al-Shabab, has launched a series of attacks over the last month after declaring a “new” war against the Somali government. There are 7,100 African Union peacekeepers stationed in Mogadishu that protect the small enclave where the weak, U.N.-backed Somali government operates. The country hasn’t had a functioning government since 1991, and the militants hope to overthrow the transitional government and install a harsh brand of Islam across the country.

Weather

Ten states in the South and East had their warmest summer on record, according to the climate center. Intense heat and lack of widespread rainfall this month have baked soil, withered crops and killed trees from New England to Louisiana, the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday. According to the Drought Monitor, “arid, desert-like conditions” were reported this week in South Carolina by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Several southeast Alabama counties have not seen rain in at least six weeks, ravaging pastures that livestock rely on and possibly wiping out the peanut crop. This week, Memphis recorded record-high temperatures on five straight days, including a scorching 100 degrees Monday, the National Weather Service reported.

A powerful storm drenched parts of the upper Midwest on Thursday, flooding creeks and rivers and forcing up to 1,500 residents of one Wisconsin city to evacuate their homes for higher ground. Police officers in Arcadia, a town of 2,500 residents 100 miles southeast of Minneapolis, began going door-to-door in the rain early Thursday to urge residents to flee rising floodwater, Downtown Arcadia, which sits along the swollen Trempealeau River, has been swamped with up to 3 feet of water and two highways into town have been closed.

The center of Tropical Storm Matthew hit land over northeastern Nicaragua and is heading northwest along the Central American coast and inland toward Guatemala with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph). Nicaragua began evacuating about 10,000 people from the path of Tropical Storm Matthew as the storm drenched the Caribbean coast and threatened much of a Central American region prone to disastrous flooding. The hurricane center said it could bring 6 to 10 inches of rain to Nicaragua and Honduras, with the possibility of flash floods and mudslides. Some parts of Nicaragua already were coping with flooding due to earlier rain.

September 23, 2010

Obama Changes Declaration of Independence to Omit “Creator”

On September 17, President Barack Obama spoke to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 33rd Annual Award Gala. During his speech – reading from a teleprompter – he quoted from the Declaration of Independence. Here is what he said: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, endowed with certain unalienable rights, life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Obama omitted the words “by their Creator” from his speech. Why? Given the fact that he was using a teleprompter, we can only conclude that this was intentional, concludes the American Family Association. Either he, or his speechwriter, did not want to give credit to Almighty God. This kind of action would be in step with modern secular liberalism which is hostile to the Christian faith and hates the historical fact that America’s founders revered and acknowledged God in so many ways that are indisputable, such as these words in the Declaration of Independence: “endowed by their Creator.”

More Americans Believe Religion Is Losing Influence

Sixty-seven percent of Americans believe that religion is losing its influence on American life, according to Pew Research Center. That’s eight percent higher than in 2006. About a quarter believe religious influence is actually increasing. Majorities of Protestants (70 percent), Catholics (71 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (62 percent) all agree that religion is losing influence on American life, with white evangelical Protestants (79 percent) the most likely to agree with the statement. Most of those who see religious influence as decreasing also said this is a bad trend (53 percent), but 10 percent said this is actually a positive step for America.

  • The secularists are winning, just as the Bible foretells (Rev. 13)

Fight for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal Not Over

Gay-rights activists are vowing to redouble their efforts after falling short Tuesday in a Senate vote that could have set the stage for a repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military. Republican opponents led by Arizona Sen. John McCain used the Senate filibuster rules to block debate on a defense bill that included a provision allowing for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a 17-year-old policy that permits gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they keep their sexual orientation secret. The Senate fell four votes short of the 60 needed to bring the bill to the floor. The repeal provision would authorize President Obama to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military. Supporters of the repeal say they’ll try again in a lame-duck session of Congress after the Nov. 2 elections. McCain and fellow Republicans accused Democrats of holding the defense bill, a massive blueprint for Pentagon spending over the next fiscal year, hostage to politics.

Governors Opt for Abstinence Education

A new report shows that more governors are applying for abstinence education funding for their states. According to a report released by the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), 30 governors applied for the Title V funding by the August 30 deadline. Executive director Valerie Huber tells OneNewsNow that both Republicans and Democrats accepted the funds and jointly contributed to the highest number of requests in years. “They hold one thing in common — and that is that they care about their young people in their state enough to put the political battles aside and institute a sex education that is going to result in the best possible health advantage to those young people in their state, and we applaud them for that,” she comments.

Health Consumers to Start Feeling Effects of Obamacare

Several key consumer protections under the nation’s new health law begin taking effect Thursday — six months after its enactment. Insurers can no longer set a dollar limit on the amount of care they’ll provide over a person’s lifetime or deny coverage to sick children. Young adults can stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26. And consumers get greater rights to appeal insurers’ decisions. “It’s really putting in place long overdue consumer protections,” Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in an interview with USA TODAY. “It’s getting rid of some of the worst rules of the industry that prevented people from getting covered at all or, at a time they needed coverage the most, limited the coverage they had.” Many people, however, will have to wait until Jan. 1 for the changes to help them. That’s because most of the new provisions apply to insurance policies that begin on or after Thursday. Many plans operate on a calendar year, and this fall will begin enrollment for next year.

Blue Dog Democrats Continue Fight Against Obamacare

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi let 30 Blue Dog Democrats break ranks to vote against the controversial health care overhaul in March, she probably didn’t expect them to go the extra mile and campaign against it in the fall.  But for several of these fiscal conservatives, the bills they didn’t vote for have become far more important to their campaign message than the legislation they supported. Members of the so-called Blue Dog Coalition are railing against the health care bill, and other Democrat-sponsored spending packages, in a bid to highlight their independence from the Washington establishment. These lawmakers surely have seen the polls that show voters persistently skeptical about the health care law benefits. Though the policy’s biggest provisions won’t take effect until 2014, studies that show health care spending will not decline as a result of the overhaul have fueled criticism.

Republicans Release ‘Pledge to America’ Agenda

Sixteen years after an elaborate ceremony to sign the “Contract with America” in the Capitol’s shadow helped propel House Republicans to majority status, GOP leaders are hoping to repeat the performance. This year, however, they’re heading to a suburban Virginia hardware store to ink the deal. The humbler Venue, is meant to signal the party’s focus on pocketbook issues. The Pledge to America is the blueprint on which the party’s House candidates will run this fall. The Republicans’ plan for improving the economy calls for: Repealing the health care law signed by Obama; Extending tax cuts enacted under then-president George W. Bush that are due to expire in December; Freezing hires in all government agencies except the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security; and opposing taxes on carbon fuels. The president has proposed a tax to discourage the use of fuels that produce greenhouse gases. The GOP pledge reiterates the party’s opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, and promises to keep trials of suspected terrorists off U.S. soil and in military, rather than civilian, courts. Republican leaders are also vowing to boost funding for a missile defense shield and allow state and local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws.

Migrants Experience Deadly Year Crossing Arizona Border

The Human Rights Coalition, which gathers data on border-crossing fatalities in Arizona, says the body count for fiscal 2010, which ends Sept. 30, is second-highest on record. Fiscal 2005 set the record, with 282 bodies recovered. The advocacy group gets data from medical examiners in Pima, Pinal, Cochise and Yuma counties, as well as other sources. Other immigrant-advocacy groups say fatalities appear to be increasing even as the number of illegal border crossers arrested has plummeted over the past five years. Using a formula based on the number of fatalities and arrests, No More Deaths, a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian aid to border crossers, describes the past year as the “most lethal” ever, up 30-fold since 1999. The U.S. Border Patrol and activists offer multiple explanations for the grim statistics, including: tighter enforcement that has pushed smugglers and undocumented immigrants to make longer treks deeper in the forbidding desert and this year’s especially brutal summer temperatures.

Police Seize $30M from Vatican Bank

Just when the Catholic Church didn’t need another scandal, Italian authorities have seized 23 million euros ($30.2 million) from a Vatican bank account and begun investigating top officials of the Vatican bank in connection with a money laundering probe. The Vatican said Tuesday it is “perplexed and surprised” by the investigation. Italian financial police seized the money as a precaution Tuesday and prosecutors placed the Vatican bank’s director general and its chairman — a man who speaks frequently about morality in financing — under investigation for alleged mistakes linked to violations of Italy’s anti-laundering laws. The is probe not the first time the bank — formally known as the Institute for Religious Works— has faced trouble. In the 1980s, it was involved in a major scandal that resulted in a banker being found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London. The Vatican said it had been working for some time to make its finances more transparent to comply with anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering regulations.

California City’s mayor, Officials Arrested

The mayor, former city manager and six other current and former officials of the suburban city of Bell were arrested Tuesday on charges of looting public money in what a prosecutor called a “feeding frenzy of corruption.” They were charged with multiple counts of misappropriating more than $5.5 million, including making illegal personal loans with city money and taking pay for attending phantom committee meetings. “Corruption on steroids” is how Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley described the case after an early morning sweep by police took all eight into custody.

Obama’s Aunt: USA Obligated to Make Her a Citizen

President Barack Obama‘s aunt, who lived for years illegally in Boston before being granted asylum in May, said the United States has an “obligation” to grant her citizenship. “If I come as an immigrant, you have the obligation to make me a citizen,” Zeituni Onyango told WBZ-TV in an interview that first aired Monday. Onyango came to the U.S. from Kenya in 2000 and was denied asylum by an immigration judge in 2004. She was granted asylum earlier this year by the same judge who said she could be in danger if she returned to her homeland. She said she had intended to return to Kenya but fell critically ill and was hospitalized. When she was discharged, she was penniless and lived in a homeless shelter for two years. “To me, America’s dream became America’s worst nightmare,” she told the TV station in her first interview since being granted asylum. Onyango, the half sister of Obama’s late father, lives in public housing and collects $700 monthly disability. She said she feels as if she’s been treated as “public enemy No. 1” since her residency status went public.

  • The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Shortage of Foster Parents in USA

States are facing shortages of foster parents, despite a nationwide decline in the number of children in need of foster care. Officials in states including California, Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Florida report having fewer foster homes available than needed. A study released this month by the Department of Health and Human Services shows that the number of children in foster care has dropped from 460,416 in September of 2008 to 423,773 in 2009 — and is down from about 523,000 in 2002. Irene Clements, president of the National Foster Parent Association, says the foster parent shortage has grown recently and called it “a nationwide trend.” Low monetary reimbursement, emotional stress and increased regulation of the children’s living environments are big factors scaring away potential foster parents.

A Quarter of Major Urban Roads in Poor Shape

Nearly one-quarter of the USA’s major urban roads are in substandard or poor condition, costing the average motorist an extra $402 a year in vehicle operating costs, a transportation research group reported Wednesday. Washington, D.C.-based TRIP, a non-profit supported by insurance companies and road builders among others, based its report on 2008 data from the Federal Highway Administration, the most recent available. It does not reflect road projects in the $814 billion federal stimulus program begun last year. As of June, the states and Washington, D.C., had used stimulus funding to improve 27,810 miles of pavement and build 397 miles of new roads in urban and rural areas, according to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. That’s out of a system that containes 2.7 million miles of roads. TRIP found that 24% of major urban roads have substandard or poor pavements, a slight improvement over the 26% in its 2007 assessment.

Americans Want Deficit Cut Even in Tough Economy

A majority of Americans prefer cutting the deficit to increasing government spending as a way to improve the tough economy and believe a more balanced budget would help create jobs, a Reuters Ipsos poll showed Tuesday. The poll results could bolster Republican calls for spending cuts and put pressure on President Barack Obama and Democrats to work with Republicans to reduce the $1.47 trillion deficit after the Nov. 2 congressional elections. With economic worries dominating the run-up to the elections, 57 percent of Americans want the U.S. government to cut the deficit in hard economic times while 39 percent support deficit spending to stimulate the economy. Three quarters of Americans believe persistently high unemployment is a sign that something in the economy is broken, the poll found, and only 22 percent thought it was part of the natural economic cycle. The number of people who believe the country is on the wrong track stands at 61 percent.

Obama’s Economic Team Mostly Gone

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is the last one standing, the last member of President Obama’s original economic team. Geithner’s status was sealed with Tuesday’s announcement that White House economic adviser Larry Summers is leaving at the end of the year. Budget director Peter Orszag has already left. So has Christina Romer, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers. Herb Allison, the head of the government’s $700 billion financial bailout program, is also resigning. So while we don’t know if Obama will change economic policies, we do know he will have a new economic team. Summers’ imminent departure as head of the president’s National Economic Council has also set off the latest personnel guessing game in Washington.

  • If I were part of the original economic team, I’d get out of Dodge quickly too before the fallout begins in earnest

USA Debt Greater than Reported

How bad is the nation’s debt problem? While the official number — $13.4 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office — is frightening enough, some analysts say the actual figure is much, much higher. Like a shopaholic who hides their credit card bills, the government pretends certain obligations and expenditures don’t exist. Uncle Sam really owes closer to $60 trillion, or more. “The government is lying about the amount of debt,” says Laurence Kotlikoff, an economist at Boston University. “It is engaging in Enron accounting.”  The reported debt numbers do not count off-budget obligations such as required spending for Social Security and Medicare. Those programs represent a balloon payment for the government as more Americans retire and collect benefits. Include those obligations and other off-budget items and the debt increases, but by how much is debated. Kotlikoff contends that every tax will have to be doubled to pay for entitlements. The problem, he says, is that the federal government’s accounting practices are corrupt. And he contends that federal officials who tried to point out the severity of the problem have been ignored or removed.

Economic News

The tally of newly laid-off workers requesting unemployment benefits rose last week for the first time in five weeks as the job market remains sluggish. Initial claims for jobless aid rose 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 465,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Many economists had expected a flat reading or small drop. Claims typically fall below 400,000 when hiring is robust and the economy is growing.

Gold shot up $17.80 Wednesday, to an all-time high of $1,290.50 an ounce for October delivery, driven by weakness in the value of the U.S. dollar. Investors often rush to precious metals when they’re worried about the value of paper money. Normally, that means inflation fears. But inflation is dead. The consumer price index, the government’s main gauge of inflation, has risen just 1.1% since August 2009. The Federal Reserve has signaled that its main worry is deflation, a period of falling prices. And that’s what’s worrying currency investors and propping up gold prices.

The Obama administration’s flagship mortgage-relief effort is failing to ease the foreclosure crisis as more than half of those who have enrolled have fallen out of the program. As of August, approximately 680,000 homeowners who applied to get their mortgage payments lowered, or about 51%, have been disqualified. The report gives ammunition to critics who say the program has failed to slow the tide of foreclosures.

Troubled video-rental chain Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday, and said it plans to keep stores and kiosks open as it reorganizes. The filing comes about a month before the 25th anniversary of the opening of Blockbuster’s first store in Dallas. The move, long expected and pre-arranged with bondholders, ends an era that Blockbuster dominated — of Americans visiting video stores for movie rentals. Increasingly, Americans are watching movies via video subscription services such as Netflix, vending machine services such as Redbox and services that offer movies on demand via cable, satellite and the Internet.

Israel

A report by three U.N.-appointed human rights experts Wednesday said that Israeli forces violated international law when they raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killing nine activists earlier this year. The U.N. Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission concluded that Israel‘s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory was unlawful because of the humanitarian crisis there, and described the military raid on the flotilla as brutal and disproportionate. The Israeli Foreign Ministry responded late Wednesday by saying the Human Rights Council had a “biased, politicized and extremist approach.” The Palestinian group Hamas, meanwhile, praised the report and called for those involved in the raid to be punished. The 56-page document lists a series of alleged crimes committed by Israeli forces during and after the raid, including willful killing and torture. It also alleges that Israel violated the right to life, liberty, freedom of expression and the right of captured crew and passengers to be treated with humanity.

  • If the U.N. helped protect Israel from the weapons and rockets smuggled into Palestine, such actions would be unnecessary. It is Hamas that is the guilty party, but the end-time animas against Israel is now entrenched in the coming one-world government.

President Obama Revises U.S. Foreign Aid Policy

President Barack Obama unveiled to world leaders on Wednesday a new plan for distributing U.S. aid to struggling nations, promising to “change the way we do business” by putting a new focus on self-reliance and market forces to create a path out of poverty. The United States’ aim is not to simply dole out aid but to create “the conditions where assistance is no longer needed,” Obama said in comments at the United Nations. The program will reward countries willing to cooperate in their own improvement, he said. At the same time, Obama insisted that the United States will not abandon the helpless and would remain a leading world donor. Countries such as Haiti and Afghanistan will continue to receive special assistance, even if their governments’ records of reform are open to question, aides said. “We will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people,” Obama said. “We will seek development that is sustainable. . . . The days when your development was dictated in foreign capitals must come to an end.” Obama spoke during a week in which world leaders have been focused on the U.N.’s chief anti-poverty program, the Millennium Development Goals, a 15-year plan launched in 2000. With five years left to meet targets of poverty reduction and health-care improvements, and amid a world economic crisis, doubts have spread about its ultimate success.

Afghanistan

Afghan officials plan to release the first partial results Thursday from last week’s parliamentary election amid mounting allegations of fraud in a poll seen as a test of the Afghan government’s commitment to rooting out corruption. Full preliminary results are expected in early October, but final tallies won’t be announced until the end of October at the earliest, because of the time needed to investigate fraud charges. Saturday’s vote was the first since a presidential election last year that was nearly derailed by widespread ballot-box stuffing and tally manipulation. That poll led many Western powers to question whether they should be supporting the administration of President Hamid Karzai with military forces and funds.

Insurgents are creating more destructive roadside bombs this year by packing them with nails, screws, bolts, metal coils, ball bearings and other materials, according to doctors treating wounded U.S. and coalition troops here. The number of casualties suffering multiple wounds from these objects has increased from about a dozen in March to around 100 each month this summer. The casualties include not only U.S. soldiers and Marines, but also coalition and Afghan troops and Afghan civilians hurt by roadside bombs. The wounds complicate treatment and can cause excessive bleeding and infection.

Yemen

The fighting between Al Qaeda militants and the Yemeni military appears to be intensifying after the Yemeni army destroyed five homes suspected of hiding Al Qaeda militants in the southwest of the country Tuesday. The director of security for Shabwa province in Yemen told Fox News that 28 militants had been captured Wednesday by authorities, as a siege of the southern village entered its third day. Medical sources there also said four Yemeni soldiers have been killed. However, officials denied earlier reports that U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was among those surrounded, but he is believed to be hiding out in a town 60 miles from the fighting. Government forces moved into the village of Hawta with tanks and armored vehicles and thousands of people have fled the area to escape the fighting, which officials say is targeting a 120-man militant cell.

Iran

A bomb exploded at a military parade in northwestern Iran on Wednesday, killing 10 spectators in an attack that one official blamed on Kurdish separatists who have fought Iranian forces for decades. The blast in the city of Mahabad, close to the borders with Iraq and Turkey, also injured 57 people. Most of the victims were women and children. Iranian forces in the border zone have for years clashed with Kurdish rebels from the Iranian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which also has fighters based in Turkey and Iraq. The group in Iran has generally not targeted civilians in its campaign for greater rights for the Kurdish minority, raising the prospect that the bomb might have gone off prematurely.

Nigeria

al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch has claimed responsibility for kidnapping five French nationals near a uranium mine deep in the desert of the African nation of Niger. In the recording broadcast by the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera, a voice claiming to represent al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said the group would issue its demands to the French government shortly. The claim came hours after Niger’s government spokesman, Mahamane Laouali Dan Dah, said the hostages — also including a citizen of Togo and another from Madagascar— were still alive. All seven, who worked at a huge uranium mine in northern Niger run by French state-owned nuclear power giant Areva.

Wildfires

Fire managers say crews are making progress shoring up containment lines on the north side of a blaze in Yellowstone National Park. A section of the Grand Loop Road remains closed because of its proximity to the fire and poor visibility resulting from smoke. All other park roads, entrances, campgrounds, lodging and other amenities are open. Lightning ignited the fire on Sept. 14. It has burned more than 2,500 acres, or just under four square miles. Containment is at 20%. Officials say the fire is being allowed to burn on the south and east, where it has ecological benefits. Meanwhile, a wildfire in Twitchell Canyon, just outside Manderfield, Utah, has consumed 38,644 acres, or about 60 square miles. Numerous structures are threatened.

Weather

Hurricane Igor pelted Canada’s Atlantic coast province of Newfoundland with heavy rain Tuesday, flooding communities, washing out roads and stranding some residents in their homes. Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams said Igor caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, adding that it’s the hardest they’ve been hit in recent memory. He said 14 communities have declared a state of emergency and said 27 communities are isolated as a result of washouts and road damage. He said the damage is significant. “There are a lot of homes that are nearly completely submerged. Barns and structures have been washed away, completely out to sea,” Williams said.

Heavy rains from the strongest storm to hit China this year continued to threaten the south Wednesday after causing flooding and landslides that have killed 54 people so far and left dozens missing. Typhoon Fanapi swamped Guangdong province after making a direct hit on the island of Taiwan on Sunday, with the rain expected to ease up Thursday evening. Residents waded through ankle-deep mud to clean up their homes Tuesday, after massive flooding spawned by a powerful typhoon killed two people in southern Taiwan, and caused tens of millions of dollars of damage. Typhoon Fanapi made a direct hit on the island Sunday, dumping more than 40 inches of rain in some places. After crossing Taiwan, it slammed into southern China. Overall damage to Taiwan’s farms and fisheries was estimated at $62.5 million.

Severe thunderstorms in Michigan downed trees and power lines, leaving more than 100,000 electric customers without electricity Wednesday morning. The storms packed winds of up to 72 mph in the Grand Rapids area on Tuesday night. A downed power line was blamed for a house fire in Kent County’s Ada Township.

September 21, 2010

Due to a death in the family and a trip back east, the Signs of the Times has been offline for a week, but we are back online now. As always, if you do not wish to keep receiving these reports, just reply “cancel.”

Democrats Tie 2 Issues to Funds for War

Congressional Democrats plan to push key policy objectives, including a repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military and an immigration measure, by linking them to a must-pass defense bill coming before lawmakers this week. The Senate is planning to vote Tuesday on whether to end debate on a $725.7 billion annual defense-policy bill, a measure that includes a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law. The annual defense-authorization bill provides a 1.4 percent pay raise for troops and includes $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate vote is expected to be close but is almost certain to pass if Democrats can break a Republican-led filibuster. President Barack Obama voiced support for repealing “don’t ask” during his 2008 campaign and has since said he would sign the defense bill after certifying an ongoing Pentagon study of how a repeal might affect troop readiness and morale. Democrats, led by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., have also attached an immigration measure to the bill called the Dream Act, which would provide a route to citizenship for youths who were brought into the country by illegal-immigrant parents. Republicans have blasted Reid’s plans to link the Dream Act to the defense bill. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., among others, has said the move is a desperate effort by Reid to shore up Latino support as he faces a tough re-election fight. Both political parties have used the authorization bill in years past to advance other legislative goals, and it would be unusual for the military-spending plan to fail.

  • This commonly used legislative trick ought to be banned so that votes are for one subject at a time.

USA‘s Violent Crime Fell Again Last Year

The FBI said Monday that violent crime reported to police in 2009 declined in the U.S. for the third straight year. The 5.3% drop in violent crime was accompanied by a 4.6% drop in property crime, marking the seventh consecutive year that nonviolent crime has dropped. Each of the violent crime categories decreased from 2008, as did each of the property crime categories. Murder fell by 7.3%, robbery by 8%, aggravated assault by 4.2% and rape by 2.6%.Motor vehicle theft was down by 17.1%, larceny by 4% and burglary by 1.3%.Data for the FBI’s annual crime report comes from 17,985 governmental units and universities and colleges representing over 96% of the nation’s population.

New Drug-Resistant Superbugs Spreading

An infectious-disease nightmare is unfolding: A new gene that can turn many types of bacteria into superbugs resistant to nearly all antibiotics has sickened people in three states and is popping up all over the world, health officials reported Monday. The U.S. cases and two others in Canada all involve people who had recently received medical care in India, where the problem is widespread. A British medical journal revealed the risk last month in an article describing dozens of cases in Britain in people who had gone to India for medical procedures. Scientists have long feared this — a very adaptable gene that hitches onto many types of common germs and confers broad drug resistance. The U.S. cases occurred this year in people from California, Massachusetts and Illinois, said Brandi Limbago, a lab chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three types of bacteria were involved, and three different mechanisms let the gene become part of them. The gene can spread hand-to-mouth, which makes good hygiene very important.

Most Doctorates Now Awarded to Women

With female enrollments growing at all levels of higher education, doctoral degrees have been one area where men have continued to dominate. No more. New data released Tuesday show that in 2008-09, for the first time, women earned a majority of the doctoral degrees awarded in the USA. The data are part of an analysis of graduate enrollments and degrees from the Council of Graduate Schools. The majority for women in doctoral degrees is slight, 50.4%. But the shift has been steady and significant. As recently as 2000, women were earning only 44% of doctoral degrees. In master’s degrees, where women have already accounted for a majority of degrees, their share now stands at 60%. The only reason that women did not become a majority of doctoral recipients earlier is that a greater share of doctoral degrees are awarded in fields like engineering remain disproportionately male than is the case at the undergraduate level.

Gender Pay Gap is Smallest on Record

The earnings gap between men and women has shrunk to a record low, partly because many women are prospering in the new economy and partly because men have been hit hard by the recession. Women earned 82.8% of the median weekly wage of men in the second quarter of 2010, up from 76.1% for the same period a decade ago and the highest ever recorded, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. The good news is the wage gap is closing. The bad news is the reason. Men have been losing jobs at a faster rate than women in the recession because of troubles in manufacturing, construction and other industries. By contrast, job loss has been slow in government and health care, which tend to employ more women. Women, now make up 49.7% of the overall workforce.

Number of Uninsured Americans Rises to 50.7 Million

More than 50 million people were uninsured last year, almost one in six U.S. residents, the Census Bureau reported Thursday. The percentage with private insurance was the lowest since the government began keeping data in 1987. The reasons for the rise to 50.7 million, or 16.7% of all Americans, from 46.3 million uninsured were many: workers losing their jobs in the recession, companies dropping employee health insurance benefits, families going without coverage to cut costs. Driving much of the increase, however, was the rising cost of medical care; a Kaiser Family Foundation report shows workers now pay 47% more than they did in 2005 for family health coverage, while employers pay 20% more. Although the health care law signed by President Obama in March is designed to insure an additional 32 million people in public and private programs, it doesn’t fully kick in until 2014. For the next few years, experts say, the problem could get worse. The average cost to insure a family of four is already about $14,000.

Feds Gain Power over Billions in Medicare Fraud

Proposed regulations unveiled Monday seek to crack down on Medicare and Medicaid fraud by subjecting operators of certain medical firms to fingerprinting and stopping payments when credible fraud allegations are made, documents show. The rules would give federal health officials key powers to identify fraud early and reduce the estimated $55 billion in improper payments made each year in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The initiative will allow the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to go beyond what was called ‘pay and chase’ and to actually have the tools and mechanisms to prevent much of the fraud seen in recent years. The proposed rules are part of the nation’s new health law, which plans to expand coverage to millions of Americans in part by saving money on waste and fraud in the public and private health care systems. It’s not known how much money these proposed rules would save.

  • Government plans to save money generally don’t work out. Let’s hope this is an exception.

Energy States Leading Comeback from Recession

Texas, North Carolina, Idaho and a handful of other states are leading the nation’s crawl out of the worst recession since the 1930s, a USA TODAY analysis finds. Since the recession officially ended in June 2009, a group of about 10 states that have outperformed the nation almost continuously for 25 or more years again is generating new income at a faster pace than the rest of the nation. Meanwhile, two of the recession’s biggest victims —Nevada and Florida — show virtually no signs that income has begun to pick up. The Bureau of Economic Analysis on Monday released personal income numbers for all 50 states through the second quarter of 2010 — the same day the National Bureau of Economic Research declared that the recession that began in December 2007 ended in June 2009. Energy-generating states such as Texas and Alaska did the best during the recession — and continue to do well now. Even coal states such as Kentucky have enjoyed strong income gains. Alabama, Mississippi ,Georgia and Arizona have done poorly. California ranked 22nd in income growth since the recession, up from a dismal 46th in the downturn.

Economic News

Home construction increased last month and applications for building permits also grew. But the gains were driven mainly by apartment and condominium construction, not the much larger single-family homes sector. Construction of new homes and apartments rose 10.5% in August from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 598,000, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That’s the highest level since April. Pulling the figures up was a 32% monthly increase in the condominium and apartment market, a small portion of the market. Single-family homes, which represented about 73% of the market in August, grew more than 4%.Housing starts are up 25% from their bottom in April 2009. But they remain 74% below their peak in January 2006.

Homebuilders’ confidence in the housing market stayed this month at the lowest level in 18 months, and more worry that the traffic of potential buyers is falling. The National Association of Home Builders said Monday that its monthly index of builders’ sentiment was unchanged in September at 13. Readings below 50 indicate negative sentiment about the market. The last time the index was above 50 was in April 2006.

Retail sales rose in August by the largest amount in five months, adding to evidence that a late spring economic swoon was temporary and not the start of another recession. Retail sales rose 0.4% last month, the best advance since March, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Excluding a big decline in autos, retail sales increased 0.6%. That’s double the amount economists had expected. The strength came in a number of areas from department stores to clothing stores and sporting goods outlets. The advance was the latest indication that the economy is regaining its footing after a dismal spring.

Ireland sold euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) in government bonds Tuesday in a closely watched test of whether international investors would keep buying Irish treasuries despite the country’s deficit, the biggest in debt-burdened Europe. But Ireland had to pay higher-than-expected interest rates compared with previous bond auctions, reflecting investors’ fear of an Irish default. And the higher rates could be an additional financial burden in coming years. Analysts, however, called the auction a success, noting it attracted bids 5.1 times the amount of bonds on offer. Together with solid bond auctions in Spain and Greece, the sale offered markets some reassurance for the moment that Ireland and other indebted countries were getting some relief from short-term market pressures.

Middle East

A spokesman says U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates shares Israel’s concerns that Russia plans to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria. Gates told Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a private meeting on Monday that he worried the sale could further “destabilize” the region. Israeli leaders have said the sale poses a major threat to Israel because Syria backs the Lebanese Hezbollah, which has used Russian-made weapons against Israel in the past.

Afghanistan

A NATO helicopter crashed Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, killing nine international troops in a region where forces are ramping up pressure on Taliban insurgents. It was the deadliest chopper crash for the coalition in four years. A “large number” of Americans were among those who died in the crash, according to a senior military official in Washington. The cause was not immediately clear. The Taliban claimed to have shot down the helicopter, but NATO said there were no reports of hostile fire. So far this year, 525 U.S. and NATO forces have been killed in Afghanistan, surpassing the 504 killed last year. This year has been the deadliest for international forces since the war began in 2001.

The Army on Monday pledged a thorough investigation into allegations of a rogue group of soldiers accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport and trying to cover up the crimes. Soldiers within the unit have also been charged with drug use and beating a suspected informant. The soldiers were part of a unit which returned to I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state after a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, according to charging documents. Five soldiers from the platoon have been charged in connection with the killings of three Afghan civilians. Two of the five were charged in connection with all three killings. Three soldiers were charged in connection with separate killings.

Yemen

Yemeni police say thousands of people have fled a southern village where security forces are laying siege to al-Qaeda militants who took over houses there. The police chief for the surrounding district, Abdullah Baouda, says government forces have moved into the village of Hawta with tanks and armored vehicles and 90% of its residents have fled. One fleeing family said Monday that forces have shelled the village indiscriminately for the past two days. The village is in Yemen‘s mountainous Shabwa province, one the areas where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken root over the past year and a half. Yemen’s al-Qaeda offshoot has been linked to the failed attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

France

The European Union‘s executive body labeled France’s expulsions of Gypsies “a disgrace” last week and said the deportations probably breach European Union law. France’s deportation of more than 1,000 Gypsies, also known as Roma, mainly to Romania, has drawn international condemnation in recent weeks. Officials in France have dismantled over 100 illegal camps. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Redingharshly criticized French authorities for telling the EU commission it was not discriminating against Gypsies — a claim apparently contradicted by news reports of a government letter ordering regional officials to speed up a crackdown on illegal camps of Gypsies.

Cuba

Cuba announced last week that it will allow half a million Cubans to work for themselves rather than the state. As a socialist country, the state officially employs 95% of the country’s workforce. That means mechanics, barbers, store clerks, waiters and others who work in retail and service industries are paid salaries by the state. Unemployment hasn’t risen above 3% in eight years, according to the regime, but that ignores thousands of Cubans who aren’t looking for jobs that pay salaries worth $20 a month on average. On Monday, the Cuban Workers Confederation, a union controlled by the Communist Party, announced that layoffs will start immediately and continue through the first half of next year. The confederation said Cuba will increase private-sector job opportunities, including allowing more Cubans to become self-employed, forming cooperatives run by employees rather than government administrators and increasing private control of state land, businesses and infrastructure through long-term leases. The confederation said that the state would continue to employ people only in “indispensable” areas such as farming, construction, industry, law enforcement and education. “It’s not a market economy. It’s a survival economy,” President Raul Castro said of a system that has helped make Cuba one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere for decades.

Somalia

Somalia‘s prime minister resigned Tuesday to prevent what he called political turmoil amid an impasse with the country’s president. Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke told reporters he was resigning while standing alongside President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who thanked the prime minister for what he called a “courageous decision.” The resignation comes amid a rift between Sharmarke and Ahmed over a new draft constitution. The two have not gotten along for months, and a vote of confidence on the prime minister had been scheduled over the weekend. Ahmed called Sharmarke’s decision “historic” because the impasse was settled among Somalis instead of seeking outside intervention. The resignation won’t have much practical effect on Somalia’s weak government, which controls only a few blocks of Mogadishu. Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years.

Indonesia

Dozens of Christians near Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta defied a police perimeter on Sunday and met to pray in their shuttered church. “We just want to carry out our obligations as Christians, but authorities are treating us like terrorists,” said Advent Tambunan, a member of Batak Christian Protestant Church in the industrial city of Bekasi. “There’s no justice for us in this country,” he told The Associated Press. The church was surrounded by hundreds of police and unarmed security guards following last week’s attack on the church that wounded two church members. Islamic hard-liners have harrassed the church for months. On Sunday, local officials had seven empty buses on standby outside the Batak Christian’s shuttered church Sunday, ready to transport them to an alternate site of worship provided by the government to avoid community backlash.

Wildfires

A wind-stoked wildfire sparked at a firing range during a National Guard training session blazed across thousands of acres Monday as crews rushed to keep it from burning more than the three homes that authorities said were destroyed overnight. Three homes were destroyed and several sheds, recreational vehicles and at least one water pump house had been damaged or destroyed in the fire area. Overnight conditions helped firefighters get a handle on the blaze by Monday morning and keep it from spreading, but authorities were trying to keep the evacuated area clear of people as a precaution. Residents and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon were questioning the National Guard’s decision to fire weapons in dry and windy conditions Sunday, but Lt. Col. Hank McIntire said wind wasn’t a factor until after the fire took hold. It wasn’t the first time that live-fire exercises had sparked a fire at Camp Williams, a sprawling compound 30 miles south of Salt Lake City. Seven miles east of Manderfield, Utah, another active fire has consumed over 33,000 acres (about 50 square miles). The fire is threatening a major power corridor and a portion of Interstate 70 has been closed.

Weather

Hurricane Igor kicked up dangerous surf along the East Coast Monday after brushing past Bermuda and knocking out power to half the population. The storm, already blamed for sweeping three people to their deaths, clung to hurricane status with winds of 75 mph as it sped away from the USA on a path projected to take it close by Newfoundland, Canada, on Tuesday. In the tiny British Atlantic territory of Bermuda, the storm toppled trees and utility poles as its center passed 40 miles to the west overnight. Several boats ran aground, including a ferry, The Bermudian, that is used to bring cruise ship passengers to shore. No major damage or injuries were reported.

With summer officially ending Tuesday, Arizona had record-breaking heat over the past few days. Sunday climbed to 111 degrees Fahrenheit in Phoenix, setting a new record for the latest date to reach 110 or more. Finally, Tuesday, a change. A little cooler and then maybe some rain. Things will be back to toasty by the weekend, with a high on Saturday expected to reach 103 in Phoenix, according to the National Weather Service. The normal high for the weekend would be 96.

September 13, 2010

Rallies over Mosque Follow Memorial for 9/11 Victims

After a morning hiatus, the political battle over Ground Zero was rejoined Saturday, with proponents and opponents of a proposed Islamic center taking center stage on a day normally reserved for solemn remembrance. In the morning, relatives, friends, colleagues of those who died on 9/11 lovingly recited their names at Ground Zero. Many added personal messages. The friends and relatives were joined in reading the 2,752 names by workers building the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on the site. Their presence — and their evident progress, including the fast-rising One World Trade Center skyscraper and the memorial’s twin pools — lent a new perspective to an event that usually looks backwards. At the Pentagon, where 184 people died when hijackers crashed a jetliner into it, President Obama participated in a wreath-laying ceremony. Obama called the al-Qaeda attackers of 9/11 as “a sorry band of men” who perverted religion.

Afterward, about 1,500 people attended an anti-Islamic center rally. Some chanted “USA!” and “No mosque here!” Another rally, in support of the Islamic center, was attended by about 2,000 people. “We need to stand up for what’s right today, of all days,” said Alvin Perkins of Brooklyn, who described himself as “a Christian with Muslim friends.” “The people who want this project aren’t terrorists. They want to fight the terrorists.” Faisal Abdul Rauf, the controversial imam behind the ground zero mosque – the Islamic center being planned just two blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center attacks by radical Islamists, said he never would have picked that location if he knew what he does now. But he fears now that moving it could produce a backlash in the Islamic world.

Pastor Doesn’t Burn Qurans

Pastor Terry Jones, head of the Dove World Outreach Center church here, canceled his plan to burn copies of the Muslim holy book. Last week, Jones said that in exchange for canceling the burning he had negotiated a meeting with the man behind a planned community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. Jones flew to New York over the weekend but did not meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Afghans Injured, Indians Killed in Quran-Burning Protests

Thousands of Afghans are protesting a small American church’s plan to burn the Muslim holy book. At least 11 people have been injured. Several hundred demonstrators ran toward a NATO compound where four attackers and five police were injured in clashes. Protesters also burned an American flag at a mosque after Friday prayers. In western Farah province, police said two people were injured in another protest. Four people were killed in Indian Kashmir on Monday when police fired on Muslim protesters who set fire to a Christian missionary school to denounce reports that copies of the Koran had been damaged in the United States

Church Abuse Led to at Least 13 Suicides

A Belgian commission looking into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy says it has received testimony from hundreds of victims and that witnesses say widespread abuse over decades led to at least 13 suicides. Commission chairman Peter Adriaenssens said Friday that 488 witnesses came forward, most of them after the April resignation of a bishop for sexual abuse set off a deep crisis within the Belgian church.

Military’s Ban on Gays Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge said she will issue an order to halt the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, after she declared the ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled Thursday that the prohibition on openly gay military service members was unconstitutional because it violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of gays and lesbians. The policy doesn’t help military readiness and instead has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services by hurting recruitment efforts during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members who have critical skills and training, she said. The Log Cabin Republicans sued the federal government in 2004 to stop the policy. Phillips will draft the injunction with input from the group within a week, and the federal government will have a week to respond. Government lawyers said the judge lacked the authority to issue a nationwide injunction.

FEMA: Hundreds of Levees No Longer Reliable

The government has determined that hundreds of levees nationwide no longer meet its standards that ensure protection during major floods, a decision that forces thousands of property owners to buy federal flood insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has revoked its accreditation of the levees as part of an effort to update the government’s flood hazard maps, which guide state, local and federal decisions on development in flood-prone areas. Properties protected by the levees now are in flood hazard zones, which means owners who have federally backed mortgages are required by banking laws to carry flood insurance. Flood insurance, based on property value and risk, ranges from less than $200 to more than $1,000 a year. National average: $500. FEMA has not accredited 300 levees, mostly in California and Arizona, on the maps it has updated so far. Those maps, most of which have taken effect since 2008, cover 65% of the U.S. population. Maps for the rest of the country are due to be finished over the next three years.

California Gas Line Explodes

Federal authorities are probing a natural gas pipeline and how it was maintained as they investigate the thunderous line explosion and raging inferno that devastated San Bruno, a suburban San Francisco neighborhood. Officials were trying to determine what led up to the conflagration that killed at least four people, injured dozens of others and raised questions about the safety of similar lines that crisscross towns across America. At least 50 people were hurt, with seven sustaining critical injuries in the explosion Thursday evening that left a giant crater and laid waste to dozens of 1960s-era homes in the hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. The utility that operates the 30-inch (75-centimeter) diameter line said it was trying to find out what caused the steel gas pipe to rupture and ignite. Federal pipeline safety inspectors were also on the scene Friday afternoon.

Poor Justice on Arizona Reservations

In the face of traumatic poverty, substance abuse, unemployment, disease and extreme suicide rates on Native American reservations, federal laws and policies can work against efforts to improve public safety. Convoluted jurisdictional boundaries, insufficient funds for training, and distrust and limited communication between federal and tribal investigators have so hindered the execution of justice on reservations that crime can run rampant. Native American women suffer from violent crime at a rate 2 1/2 times the national average. More than one-third are raped during their lifetimes, according to the Department of Justice, compared with a national figure of one in five. Every few years, a new congressional report documents systemic breakdowns in Indian justice that begin with three agencies responsible for controlling reservation crime: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the FBI and tribal police. And still nothing changes. There is no single justice system for Indian country, instead a patchwork of agencies and jurisdictions. Major felonies are automatically federal matters, as are all crimes where the victim or suspect is non-Indian. Some tribes operate their own police departments under compacts with the BIA. Others rely on federal agents or state peace officers. For years, Native American leaders have criticized the federal justice system on tribal lands, complaining that investigations of major crimes against Indians are often cursory.

Growing Problem of Fake Drugs

Counterfeit drugs made in Asia and other emerging markets are a growing problem that’s endangering consumers’ health and chipping away at drug companies’ profits. Last year, nearly 1,700 incidents of counterfeit drugs were reported worldwide, triple the number in 2004, says the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), a group funded by drug makers. Estimates for the size of the counterfeit drug market range from $75 billion to $200 billion a year. The market is likely much bigger because many cases are hard to detect. And the problem is only expected to get worse. Fake drugs are a “money machine” whose sales are growing at twice the rate of legitimate pharmaceuticals, says Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. A weak economy along with rising drug prices are likely leading consumers to seek out cheaper products online or from unauthorized providers, stoking demand for counterfeit drugs. Counterfeit medicine may include too much, too little, or none of the ingredients found in the real product, causing injury and in extreme cases, death.

Credit Card Use Keeps Falling

Americans have sharply reduced their use of credit cards, and some analysts believe the trend will continue even after the economy has fully recovered. The Federal Reserve Board reported this week that credit card borrowing fell at a 6.3% annual rate in July. The last time borrowing with credit cards increased was in August 2008. Separately, a survey by Javelin Strategy & Research found that 56% of consumers used credit cards in 2009, down from 87% in 2007. Some cash-strapped businesses, unwilling to pay transaction fees associated with credit cards, are giving consumers incentives to pay with a debit card or cash. In 2009, payment volume for debit cards exceeded credit cards for the first time, a trend that’s expected to continue in 2010. Many banks are responding to the trend by adding rewards programs and other features to their debit cards.

Record Increase in Poverty under Obama

The number of people in the U.S. who are in poverty is on track for a record increase on President Barack Obama’s watch, with the ranks of working-age poor approaching 1960s levels that led to the national war on poverty. Census figures for 2009 — the recession-ravaged first year of the Democrat’s presidency — are to be released in the coming week, and demographers expect grim findings. It’s bad timing for Obama and his party just seven weeks before important elections when control of Congress is at stake. The anticipated poverty rate increase — from 13.2 percent to about 15 percent — would be another blow to Democrats struggling to persuade voters to keep them in power. Interviews with six demographers who closely track poverty trends found wide consensus that 2009 figures are likely to show a significant rate increase to the range of 14.7 percent to 15 percent. Should those estimates hold true, some 45 million people in this country, or more than 1 in 7, were poor last year. It would be the highest single-year increase since the government began calculating poverty figures in 1959.

  • So much for the stimulus. Unemployment still high, poverty growing even as we wrack up record debt. Obama is an unprecedented disaster.

Economic News

Stocks edged higher Friday, extending a rally that began nearly two weeks ago, as investors hold on to their newfound optimism about the economy. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 47 points in very light trading. It was the seventh day of gains out of the past eight for the index. The energy sector got a lift from a jump in oil prices. Oil climbed about 2% after a pipeline that delivers oil to Midwest refineries was shut down. Many of the recent improvements in economic indicators have been incremental, but given the deep pessimism about the economy that had set in during August even faint glimmers of hope on the job market and other parts of the economy like trade have been enough to please investors.

Inventories held by wholesalers surged in July by the largest amount in two years, while sales by wholesalers rebounded after two straight declines. The Commerce Department said Friday that wholesale inventories rose 1.3% in July, best performance since July 2008. Businesses restocking depleted store shelves has been a major driver of the economy since late last year, and the strong gain in July eases fears that the country could slip back into another recession.

Total student loan debt now exceeds total credit card debt in this country, with $850 billion outstanding. Consumers owe about $828 billion in revolving credit, including credit card debt. A college diploma and a good job are supposed to be the payoff for years of hard work in school. But for thousands of today’s students, there’s going to be a payback, too — as those loans come due after graduation. Some college students are failing financially long before they get a diploma — or a grown-up paycheck. With tuition far outpacing inflation for the past 20 years, student borrowing has continued to grow — a whopping 25% last year. Dramatic drops in home values also have made it far tougher for some parents to cover college costs by simply taking out a home equity loan. Oddly, some students don’t even know how much they owe — or to whom.

Top central bankers and bank regulators agreed Sunday in Basel, Switzerland, on far-reaching new rules for the global banking industry that are designed to avert future financial disasters, but could also dampen bank profits and strain weaker institutions. If ratified by the G-20 nations later this year, the rules will require banks to bolster the amount of low-risk assets they hold in reserve as a cushion against market shocks.

Haiti

By some estimates, the Haiti earthquake left about 33 million cubic yards of debris in Port-au-Prince— more than seven times the amount of concrete used to build the Hoover Dam. So far, only about 2% has been cleared, which means the city looks pretty much as it did a month after the Jan. 12 quake. Rubble is everywhere in this capital city: cracked slabs, busted-up cinder blocks, half-destroyed buildings that still spill bricks and pulverized concrete onto the sidewalks. Some places look as though they have been flipped upside down, or are sinking to the ground, or listing precariously to one side. Government officials and outside aid groups say rubble removal is the priority before Haiti can rebuild. But the reasons why so little has been cleared are complex. And frustrating. Heavy equipment has to be shipped in by sea. Dump trucks have difficulty navigating narrow and mountainous dirt roads. An abysmal records system makes it hard for the government to determine who owns a dilapidated property. And there are few sites on which to dump the rubble, which often contains human remains. Also, no single person in the Haitian government has been declared in charge of the rubble, prompting foreign nongovernmental organizations to take on the task themselves. The groups are often forced to fight for a small pool of available money and contracts — which in turn means the work is done piecemeal, with little coordination.

Afghanistan

From 3- and 4-year-olds used as human shields or to gather spent cartridges, to teenagers offered motorcycles for planting roadside bombs, children are being used more and more to fight Americans here, U.S. Marines say.  “I’ve never seen a culture that cares so little for human life. They (the Taliban) truly don’t care unless it impacts their own personal family,” says Lt. Col. Michael Manning, who has lost 13 Marines and seen 127 wounded since March. The use of children on the battlefield has been spreading across Helmand, where Marines began an offensive to drive out the Taliban early this year, says Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of all Marine ground combat forces here. Marines have witnessed youngsters dragging away wounded Taliban, planting roadside bombs and collecting dropped weapons. At a remote firebase east of here, a squad leader, Sgt. John Ellis, says he found children selling heroin it the village streets.

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups. Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence — even in areas where there are few Pashtuns, who previously were the Taliban’s only supporters. As NATO forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in their stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of their own, greatly increasing their activities in the north and parts of the east. Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country’s 368 districts, according to published United Nations estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces. An attack on a Western medical team in northern Afghanistan in early August, which killed 10 people, was the largest massacre in years of aid workers in Afghanistan.

Iraq

Tens of thousands of people are being held without charge in Iraq, sometimes suffering severe beatings in secret prisons, Amnesty International warned in a new report Monday. Amnesty estimates there are 30,000 Iraqis being held without trial. The human rights group issued its report on the heels of the transfer of up to 10,000 detainees from American custody to Iraqi control, following the official end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. But the U.S. military in Iraq said detainees in the Iraqi judicial system are not “likely to face torture and ill-treatment.” Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki disputed reports alleging that Iraq is torturing and abusing people in a secret prison.

Iran

The lawyer of an American woman cleared for release from an Iranian prison says he is still waiting for word that the $500,000 bail has been paid. A senior Iranian prosecutor said Sunday that authorities will release Shourd on $500,000 bail because of health problems, another sudden about-face by Iran in a case that has added to tension with the United States. The news came during a weekend of start-and-stop announcements about the release of Shourd, who was detained with two friends, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, along the Iran-Iraq border on July 31, 2009, and accused of spying.

Turkey

Turks approved sweeping changes to their military-era constitution Sunday — a referendum hailed by the government as a leap toward full democracy in line with its troubled bid to join the European Union. The amendments make the military more accountable to civilian courts and allow civil servants to go on strike. The opposition, however, believes a provision that would give parliament more say in appointing judges masks an attempt to control the courts. The referendum on 26 amendments to a constitution crafted after a 1980 military coup had become a battleground between the Islamic-oriented government and traditional power elites — including many in the armed forces — who fear Turkey’s secular principles are under threat.

Mexico

As Mexico limps into the bicentennial of its 1810 independence uprising, it is battered and full of self-questioning, but with more openness and debate than perhaps at any other time in its history. The bicentennial marks the 1810 revolution led by Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo, who gathered a band of Indians and farmers under the banner of the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe. He was caught and executed soon afterward, but by 1821 the movement he started ousted the Spanish, a feat Mexicans celebrate Sept. 15-16. Mexico’s cherished role as defender of Latin America’s right to self-determination has largely been taken over by Brazil and Venezuela. And Mexico’s view of itself as the protector of refugees was badly shaken when drug cartel gunmen massacred 72 mainly Central American migrants in the north in August.

Gunmen killed 25 people in a series of drug-gang attacks in Ciudad Juarez, marking the deadliest day in more than two years for the Mexican border city. The toll included 15 people killed when attackers stormed four homes in three hours. It was the highest single-day murder toll in the city across from El Paso, Texas, since March 2008. Ciudad Juarez, with a population of 1.3 million, has become one of the world’s most dangerous cities amid a turf war between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.

Wildfires

A new wildfire has blazed through Colorado, forcing hundreds of residents to flee just as residents 35 miles away returned to their scorched homes after one of the most worst fires in the state’s history. The wildfire near the city of Loveland quickly grew from just a few acres Sunday morning to more than 600 acres — or about a square mile — by evening and it was pulling some of the resources from a fire in the foothills of the city of Boulder that burned 10 square miles and destroyed 166 homes. The Loveland fire has destroyed at least one home, four outbuildings and a caravan, but no injuries have been reported. Meanwhile, hundreds of Boulder residents evacuated due to a week-long wildfire returned to their scorched homes Sunday. They were surrounded by burnt trees, melted mailboxes and patches of blackened ground.

September 9, 2010

Vatican Denounces Quran Burning

The Vatican today denounced as “outrageous and grave” plans by a Florida church to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said such violence “cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community,” the Associated Press reports. Pastor Terry Jones of the small, evangelical Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., has said he plans to go ahead with the Quran-burning, despite strong objections from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, who says it could endanger U.S. troops. Afghan police went on alert on Wednesday to guard against demonstrations triggered by a U.S. church’s plan to burn a copy of the Quran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which has drawn global condemnation. Despite provoking worldwide outrage with his plans to lead a burning of the Quran, Islam’s holiest book, on 9/11, the pastor of the small church in central Florida said he won’t back down.

A pro-family organization says it’s hypocritical for high-ranking officials in the Pentagon to condemn a Florida church’s plans to burn Qurans when U.S. military personnel burned Bibles last year in Afghanistan. Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis at the American Family Association (AFA), thinks it is the height of hypocrisy for the U.S. government to condemn the church, considering the fact that the U.S. military incinerated Bibles that were sent to Afghanistan in May 2009. “There’s really a staggering level of hypocrisy and double standard here for the military to burn the Holy Bible and then complain when a pastor’s going to do the same thing to the Quran,” Fischer contends. “You know, if the military was going to be fair here and even-handed, they would count up the number of Holy Bibles that they incinerated in Afghanistan, and then they would allow Reverend Jones to burn the same number of Qurans.”

  • The Bible says not to repay evil for evil (Rom. 12:17, 1Thess. 5:15, 1Pet. 3:9)

Ground Zero Mosque Backers Appear Divided

The group of Muslims planning to build a 13-story Islamic center and mosque near ground zero appears plagued by divisions that raise questions about the future of the project, with one major investor saying he is prepared to sell some or all of the site if the price is right. Hisham Elzanaty, an Egyptian-born businessman who says he provided a majority of the financing to gain control over the two buildings where the center would be built, told The Associated Press that he would like to see the other building turned into a mosque, but if his community doesn’t come forward with enough cash for him to break even, he will turn it over to someone else. “I’m a businessman. This was a mere business transaction for me,” said Elzanaty, a U.S. citizen who has lived on Long Island for decades, owns medical clinics in New York City and invests in real estate on the side. Representatives of some of the project’s backers said they have just started trying to raise the estimated $100 million needed to build the center and the millions more required to run it. Elzanaty said his real estate partnership, which paid $4.8 million for half the site last year, has already received offers three times that much to sell that parcel.

National ‘Back To Church Sunday’ Set for Sept. 12

“Back To Church Sunday,” a national movement to reverse declining church attendance and encourage former church-goers to rediscover church, will be celebrated Sept. 12 across the country. More than 1.4 million invitations from over 3,700 churches have been extended to unchurched people to attend the special service. At the current rate, participation in the 2010 “Back To Church Sunday” (http://backtochurch.com) will more than double last year’s 700,000 invitations. “As church-goers show concern for family and friends, the impact of this campaign will last well beyond this coming weekend,” said Philip Nation, director of ministry development for LifeWay Research, whose surveys of unchurched people have shown they are receptive to invitations from people close to them. “Our hope is that God will touch many lives through the simple act of an invitation.” Although 83 percent of American adults identify themselves as Christians, only about 20 percent attend church on any given Sunday. Yet, a study by LifeWay Research and the North American Mission Board of over 15,000 Americans found that 67 percent say a personal invitation from a family member would be effective in getting them to visit a church. Fifty-six percent say an invitation from a friend or neighbor would likely move them to respond.

Spending to Rise Under Obama’s Health Care Overhaul

The nation’s health care tab will go up — not down — as a result of President Barack Obama’s sweeping overhaul. That’s the conclusion of a government forecast released Thursday, which says the increase will be modest. The average annual growth in health care spending will be two-tenths of 1 percentage point higher through 2019 with Obama’s remake. The new bottom line is guaranteed to provide ammunition for both sides of a health care debate that refuses to move offstage. For critics, the numbers show that the law didn’t solve the cost problem. For advocates of the law, the numbers show that expanding coverage to 93 percent of eligible Americans comes at a relative bargain price.

Traffic Deaths Lowest in 60 Years

Traffic deaths in the USA are at a 60-year low despite a slight uptick in miles driven, and the chances of dying on the road are the lowest ever, the Department of Transportation says. The number of people who died on the nation’s roads fell 3,615, or 9.7%, from 2008 to 33,808 last year, the latest available data from the department. That was the lowest total since 33,186 people were killed in 1950, when there were one-fifth the number of vehicles on the road than today. The motor vehicle fatality rate — the number of deaths per 100 million miles traveled — is the lowest ever: 1.13 deaths in 2009, down from 1.26 in 2008. “This is unprecedented, historic progress,” says Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. Harsha attributes the decline in deaths to a number of safety-related factors, including increased seat belt use, stronger enforcement of drunken-driving laws, improved roads, safer vehicles and better coordination in the states.

Mandatory Flu Shots

The American Academy of Pediatrics plans to call for all health workers to get flu vaccinations, saying unvaccinated doctors, nurses and other medical staffers pose a threat to patients. The academy, which represents 60,000 pediatricians, is the latest of several organizations that now back mandatory flu shots for health workers. The new push to make flu shots compulsory for health workers was prompted by low vaccination rates during last year’s swine flu pandemic. More than 23,600 people die of flu each year and roughly 200,000 are hospitalized, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Flu typically takes its greatest toll among children younger than 2 and people 65 and older. Pregnant women and patients with chronic diseases are especially vulnerable, doctors say.

  • First health care workers, next infants and elderly? A slippery slope of government intrusion.

Multiple Parties Blamed for Oil Spill

Oil giant BP PLC says in an internal report that multiple companies and work teams contributed to the massive Gulf of Mexico spill that fouled waters and shorelines for months. In its 193-page report posted on its website Wednesday, the British company describes the incident as an accident that arose from a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces. BP’s report is far from the final word on possible causes of the explosion, as several divisions of the U.S. government, including the Justice Department, Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, are also investigating.

Economic News

The number of people signing up for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in two months. The Labor Department reported Thursday that new claims for unemployment aid fell last week by a seasonally adjusted 27,000 to 451,000. New applications for jobless benefits shot past the half-million mark in mid-August, the highest level since November. Since that spike, they have drifted lower. New filings for jobless benefits are now at their lowest level since July 10. Even with latest decline, new filing for jobless benefits are still much higher than they would be in a healthy economy.

The number of jobs advertised rose 6.2% in July to 3.04 million, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That’s the highest total since April, when temporary Census hiring inflated that month’s figure. Even with the increase, total openings remain far below the 4.4 million that existed in December 2007, when the recession began.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that the trade deficit fell significantly in July as exports climbed to the highest level in nearly two years, reflecting big gains in sales of U.S.-made airplanes and other manufactured goods while imports declined. Exports rose 1.8% to $153.3 billion, the best showing since August 2008, as sales of jetliners, industrial machinery, computers and telecommunications equipment all posted large gains. Imports, which had been surging, dropped 2.1% to $196.1 billion. The July deficit fell 14% to $42.8 billion. The lower trade deficit should give a boost to overall economic growth.

Mexico

Mexican marines have arrested seven gunmen suspected of killing 72 Central and South American migrants in the worst drug cartel massacre to date, the government announced Wednesday. Four of the suspects were arrested after a Sept. 3 gun battle with marines, and the other three were captured days later. The seven belong to the Zetas drug gang. Investigators believe the migrants were kidnapped by the Zetas and killed after refusing to work for the cartel. The arrests “will help determine exactly what happened in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, and it’s a significant step toward ending the impunity surrounding assaults on migrants by organized crime,” spokesman Alejandro Poire said.

Russia

A suicide car bomber hit the central market of a major city in Russia‘s North Caucasus on Thursday, killing at least 17 and wounding more than 130 people in one of the worst attacks in the volatile region in years. The attacker detonated his explosives as he drove by the main entrance to the Vladikavkaz market. No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. Vladikavkaz is the capital of the Russian republic of North Ossetia. Although it is less plagued by violence than some other republics in the region such as Chechnya and Dagestan, North Ossetia has experienced ethnic tensions and frequent attacks. North Ossetia has been destabilized by long-simmering tensions between ethnic Ossetians and ethnic Ingush that exploded into an open fighting in 1992.

Iraq

A gunman wearing an Iraqi army uniform killed two American soldiers Tuesday in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said. They were the first American soldiers killed since the U.S. officially ended combat operations in the country last week. The Americans were among a group of U.S. soldiers meeting with Iraqi security forces at an Iraqi army compound near the city of Tuz Khormato, about 130 miles north of Baghdad. The gunman was shot and killed. The attack demonstrated the danger U.S. troops continue to face even after President Obama officially declared an end to U.S. combat on Aug. 31 as part of his plan for withdrawing all American forces by the end of 2011. Despite the declaration, U.S. forces continue to be drawn into the fighting in Iraq.

Pakistan

A suspected American missile strike killed five alleged militants in northwestern Pakistan early Thursday, an intelligence official said, the fourth attack in 24 hours as the U.S. steps up the tactic to keep al-Qaeda and its allies under pressure. Two suspected U.S. missile strikes hit militant targets in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, bringing to ten the number of such attacks in the region in less than a week. At least 10 suspected members of a group attacking NATO forces in Afghanistan were killed. The strikes happened within hours of each other in North Waziristan, a lawless region home to militants battling foreign troops just across the border in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda leaders plot their attacks against the West and insurgents carry out bombings in Pakistan. The militants have stepped up their own attacks in Pakistan in recent days, just as the army focuses on helping millions of victims from the worst floods in the country’s history. Four big insurgent bombs have killed at least 135 people in less than a week.

Concerns about discrimination against Christians and other minority groups affected by the floods in Pakistan are growing Nazir S. Bhatti, chairman of the Pakistan Christian Congress, said anti-Christian hatred was preventing aid from reaching many areas and called on the government for funds to be allocated to specific religious minorities. National Pakistan newspaper Dawn made the issue the subject of an editorial last week following a protest rally in Hyderabad against the maltreatment of minority community flood victims. It said there had been numerous reports of people being refused shelter and discriminated against in the distribution of aid because of their ethnicity, caste or religion. The Vatican’s news agency, Fides, said Christians and Hindus faced “systematic discrimination” in the distribution of aid, which was “being managed either by government officials sympathetic to Islamic fundamentalism or by Muslim relief organizations.

Somalia

The U.S. Navy says Marine commandos have reclaimed control of a pirate-held vessel off the Somalia coast and taken nine prisoners. The U.S. Fifth Fleet says the raid took place just before dawn Thursday. The German-owned Megellan Star was commandeered by pirates a day earlier. The Navy statement says nine suspected pirates were taken into custody. No injuries were reported among the vessel’s crew or the Marine team. U.S. warships are part of a 25-nation task force protecting merchant vessels from pirate attacks off the coast of lawless Somalia and in nearby shipping lanes.

Nigeria

A police commissioner says about 800 inmates escaped a prison holding Muslim extremists in northern Nigeria during an assault by gunmen. Bauchi state police commissioner Danlami Yar’Adua says four people died during the sunset attack Tuesday by gunmen suspected to be a part of the radical Boko Haram sect. Six others remain in critical condition at local hospitals. Investigators believe the escapees are hiding in the mountains surrounding the rural pasturelands of the region. The state capital Bauchi remained calm Wednesday. Paramilitary police stood guard at the prison that was holding suspected members of Boko Haram, a Muslim sect that launched a wave of attacks in July 2009.

Congo

The United Nations reported Tuesday that more than 500 systematic rapes were committed by armed combatants in eastern Congo since late July — more than double the number previously reported — and accepted partial responsibility for not protecting citizens. The rapes were reported in and around Luvungi, a village of about 2,200 people located a half-hour drive from a U.N. peacekeepers’ camp. “While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force,” said Khare, “clearly, we have also failed. Our actions were not adequate, resulting in acceptable brutalization of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better.” At least 27 rebels armed with automatic rifles have surrendered and at least four more have been arrested.

Wildfires

Thousands of people are waiting to learn if their homes survived a raging Colorado wildfire. About 3,500 people were evacuated from about 1,000 homes. At least 135 of those homes have been destroyed, making the blaze one of the most destructive in Colorado’s history. Firefighters were able to contain about 10% of the blaze that has scorched about 6,200 acres, or roughly 10 square miles. The Boulder fire’s toll is likely to rise as firefighters get a clearer picture of the damage. Four people remained unaccounted for, but no deaths or injuries have been reported.

Weather

The remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine trekked northward after forcing more than 100 high-water rescues in Texas, swamping streets, producing several tornadoes and killing at least two people. As the front edge of the storm moved into Oklahoma on Wednesday, a tornado toppled power lines, damaged a couple of homes and blew over a tractor-trailer rig on U.S. 69 near Colbert, sending the driver to the hospital. The National Weather Service said two other tornadoes were reported in the area. A series of tornadoes touched down outside of downtown Dallas, damaging warehouses in an area near Dallas Love Field. Another tornado that tore through Colbert, near the Texas border and some 75 miles north of Dallas. There was widespread flooding in eastern Oklahoma, where some areas experienced more than 10 inches of rain.

Extreme warmth dominated much of the East and Southeast, where 10 states experienced record-warm summers: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The relentless heat was caused by a strong area of high pressure that persisted all summer long over the eastern and southern USA, bringing sunny skies and temperatures well above average. Nationally, the summer was the fourth-warmest on record.

Although 83 percent of American adults identify themselves as Christians, only about 20 percent attend church on any given Sunday. Yet, a study by LifeWay Research and the North American Mission Board of over 15,000 Americans found that 67 percent say a personal invitation from a family member would be effective in getting them to visit a church. Fifty-six percent say an invitation from a friend or neighbor would likely move them to respond.

September 7, 2010

March on D.C. Plans to Rock Washington

Hundreds of thousands of Americans already have marched on Washington, D.C., and millions have been energized by the nationwide tea-party movement, but from Sept. 9-12, the patriotic protesters will gather again in the nation’s capital to pick up the tools they say are needed to “take back America.” More than just another rally, the 2010 March on D.C. is a four-day long series of events, combining the efforts of more than 50 grassroots organizations and targeted at training and equipping tea partiers to make a difference in the 2010 elections and beyond. “This will be probably be the most important election in any of our lives,” declares Stephani Scruggs, national co-chair of The 9.12 Project and president of Unite In Action, which have spearheaded organization of the event. “But November doesn’t fix everything. We need to teach people how to protect their local areas, states and regions from sharia law, government land grabs, rogue school boards and any attempts to erode American freedom. Best of all, the Liberty XPO (Xhibit of Patriot Organizations) and Syposium, which includes the training seminars and presentations, will be free.

Washington Passes Secret Energy Tax

Socialism Alerts reports that the climate bill debate has already been decided by Washington and voters didn’t even have a chance to say “NO!” A staggering $65 billion dollars has been transferred from the private sector to fund the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI.) RGGI is government created entity that is choking companies in the northeast with huge tax increases in the name of the environment. Our tax dollars are funding this secret climate initiative. Soon RGGI will expand to every state and stick you with astronomical energy prices. RGGI is the nation’s first mandatory greenhouse gas cap and trade regulating entity. This waste of tax dollars is responsible for “making an impact on climate change” in 10 Northeast states. The only impact RGGI has made so far is they have raised energy prices and created a slush fund for each member state. What exactly that money is being used for is unclear. Each state is capped on their carbon emissions and taxed if they use them up. RGGI added a 0.9% increase in energy prices in New England.

Petraeus: Church’s Plan to Burn Quran Risks Troops’ Lives

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warned Tuesday an American church’s threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide. The comments from Gen. David Petraeus followed a protest Monday by hundreds of Afghans over the plans by Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center — a small, evangelical Christian church that espouses anti-Islam philosophy — to burn copies of the Quran on church grounds to mark the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that provoked the Afghan war. “Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence,” Petraeus said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is deeply offensive.

  • While correct in its assessment of the Quran and Islam, this type of provocative action serves more to put Christianity in a negative light than to change anyone’s opinion about Islam.

New Armored Trucks cut IED Deaths

The U.S. military’s new armored trucks in Afghanistan are significantly reducing troop deaths in roadside attacks at a time when insurgent bombings are at record levels, according to statistics provided to USA TODAY. Deaths of U.S. and allied troops fell from 76 in July 2009 to 57 in July of this year, according to the military command in Afghanistan. Nearly 80% of roadside bomb attacks on Humvees from January 2009 through the end of July 2010 killed occupants. That figure dropped to 15% for attacks on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, and an all-terrain MRAP model tailor-made for Afghanistan’s rugged terrain. The military estimates that MRAPs have reduced deaths and injuries by 30% over that time. That amounts to dozens of lives saved each month. More than $40 billion will have been spent by the end of September to build, ship and maintain MRAPs.

Al-Qaeda Relying on Bank Heists for Funding

Al-Qaeda militants in Iraq are turning to bank robberies and other thefts to make up for a drop in cash from outsiders who have bankrolled the insurgent attacks for years, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. The decrease in outside money is part of a general weakening of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, the U.S. military said. “They turned to criminal activity within Iraq for funding,” said Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi raids targeting al-Qaeda leaders have damaged the terrorist group’s hierarchy. Increased border security has made it hard for foreign fighters to enter Iraq, making it hard for militants to raise funds from traditional sources. In the past, al-Qaeda, which seeks to establish Islamist theocracies worldwide, quickly replaced leaders taken out by Iraqi and U.S. forces, but have been unable to do so quickly this time. Some suggest that al-Qaeda in Iraq is transforming from a jihadist movement into a crime syndicate. “Ideology is going down, and criminal intent is going up,” said Army Maj. Gen. Tony Cucola, who commands U.S. forces in northern Iraq.

Teens’ ‘Unhealthy’ Sex Exposure Blamed on TV, Music, Web

The nation’s leading group of pediatricians has issued a strong policy statement directed toward doctors, parents and the media on the danger of messages American teens and children are getting about sex from television, the Internet and other media outlets. The statement, “Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media,” was published in the September print issue of the journal Pediatrics. Seventy percent of teen shows contain sexual content, Strasburger added, “and less than 10% of that content involves what anyone would classify as being responsible content. There’s no mention of contracting an STD (sexually transmitted disease) or the need to wait to have sex until later.” The United States leads the western world in teen pregnancy rates and American teens have an alarmingly high rate of STDs — one in four children. Meanwhile, U.S. children spend seven hours and more a day with various types of often-sexually explicit media, including music, movies, television shows, magazines and the Internet. “The research shows us that the portrayal of sex in the media is really unrealistic. It’s unhealthy. It doesn’t consider the consequences of sexual behavior,” said Alan Delamater, professor and director of child psychology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

  • The media has long been under the control of the liberal left whose very goal was to undermine Christian morals and the sanctity of marriage. They have succeeded.

Prescription Drug Spending Doubles

Spending on prescription drugs in the United States totaled more than $234.1 billion in 2008, more than double the amount spent in 1999. Over the last 10 years, the percentage of Americans who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44% to 48%, says a federal government study. Use of two or more drugs increased from 25% to 31%, and the use of five or more drugs increased from 6% to 11%, according to the analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The study also found that 20% of children and 90% of adults aged 60 and older reported using at least one prescription drug in the past month. People with a regular place for health care were 2.7 times more likely to have used prescription drugs in the past month than those without a consistent place for health care, and people with health insurance were nearly twice as likely to have used at least one prescription drug than those without insurance. The most commonly used types of drugs include: cholesterol-lowering drugs, or statins, for older people; asthma medicines for children; antidepressants for middle-aged adults; and central nervous stimulants for adolescents.

Obama Proposes $50B for Roads, Rails, Runways

President Obama proposed a $50 billion plan Monday to fix roads, rail lines and airport runways, part of an effort to deal with high unemployment less than two months before pivotal congressional elections. The announcement came less than a week after the U.S. Labor Department reported a slight uptick in the unemployment rate, now at 9.6% “This will not only create jobs immediately, it’s also going to make our economy hum over the long haul,” Obama said in outlining the plan to union members at a Labor Day rally in Milwaukee. The White House is planning several jobs initiatives leading into the Nov. 2 elections. On Wednesday in Cleveland, Obama is scheduled to propose a $100 billion extension of tax credits for business owners who invest in research and development.

Economic News

European Union nations agreed to create new financial oversight institutions Tuesday, hoping to prevent a repeat of the government debt crisis that nearly left Greece bankrupt and brought the European banking system to its knees. The union’s 27 finance ministers failed to find common ground, however, on the introduction of a levy on banks or on a new tax on financial trading. The ministers — called Ecofin — decided to establish a new supervisory board over the financial industry and demand a more transparent sharing of government budgetary information — a move prompted by Greece’s dubious accounting practices.

Strikes hobbled public transit across France and in London on Tuesday, with tourists and commuters bearing the brunt of a wave of discontent over government austerity measures. French unions challenged unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy with a major nationwide strike over plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, cutting service on trains, planes, buses and subways. Post offices and schools also shut down. Across the English Channel, millions struggled to get to work and tourists hurriedly revamped their travel plans as a strike by London Underground workers closed much of the city’s subway system. It was the first of several such 24-hour strikes planned for this fall.

The worst summer on record for young people who wanted a job staggered to an end Labor Day weekend. Only 47.6% of people ages 16 to 24 had jobs in August, the lowest level since the government began keeping track in 1948. By comparison, 62.8% of that age group was employed in August 2000. The unemployment rate averaged a record 18.3% during June, July and August for those under 25. That’s more than twice the jobless rate for people 25 and older.

In the first month of Arizona’s penny-per-dollar sales-tax hike, consumers did not significantly alter their spending overall, indicating the increase likely did not dampen a crucial piece of the economy. Voters on May 18 approved the three-year increase in the state sales tax to avert sharp cuts in education and other services. The new tax rate, from 5.6 percent to 6.6 percent, was expected to bring in about $918 million in the first year. The data, which measure taxable retail sales in the state, do indicate that Arizonans likely shopped for cars before the tax hike kicked in and then backed off in June. But spending in most other areas largely was unchanged in June.

Within the next few weeks, property owners in Yavapai County, AZ will be receiving their 2010 property tax bills. And, for the first time in years, if ever, many will see a reduction in their assessed valuation — a reflection of the state’s declining real estate market. According to the Yavapai County Assessor’s Office, assessed valuations on real property fell an average of 11 percent across the county between 2009 and 2010. On average home values will drop another 18 percent in 2011.

Middle East

Just days after Middle East peace talks began in Washington, the first major crisis already is looming: Israel hinted Sunday it will ease restrictions on building in West Bank settlements, while the Palestinian president warned again that he’ll quit the talks if Israel resumes construction. Israel’s 10-month-old slowdown on new building in settlements expires Sept. 26, leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a tough choice. If he extends the freeze, he risks breaking up his hard-line coalition. If he lifts the restrictions, he risks getting blamed for derailing negotiations and disrupting President Barack Obama’s fledgling Mideast peace efforts. Under intense U.S. pressure, Israel imposed restrictions on most West Bank settlement construction last November in a bid to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiations. Palestinians view a continued curb on settlement construction – even if it falls short of a complete freeze – as the true test of Netanyahu’s intentions.

Mexico

The U.S. government punished Mexico on Friday for human rights abuses in its war against drug cartels, cutting $26 million from an upcoming $175 million aid payment and demanding that Mexican soldiers be tried in civilian courts. The decision comes amid a growing record of killings and torture by Mexico’s military, which has taken a leading role in Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s efforts against drug cartels. At least 21,000 people have died in drug-related violence since the crackdown began in December 2006. Complaints of abuse by Mexican soldiers are soaring as the fighting continues, from 206 in 2006 to 1,833 in 2009. The number of “grave violations” by soldiers confirmed by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission – usually involving death, torture or rape – went from zero in 2006 to 30 in 2009. The Obama administration wants Mexico to try soldiers accused of abuses in civilian courts, strengthen its laws against human rights violations and establish ways to give citizens’ groups a greater say in the anti-drug strategies.

Iran

At least five Iranian companies in Afghanistan’s capital are using their offices covertly to finance Taliban militants in provinces near Kabul, according to a Sunday Times investigation. Afghan intelligence and Taliban sources have told the newspaper that the firms, set up in the past six months, provide cash for a network of district Taliban treasurers to pay battlefield expenses and bonuses for killing the enemy and destroying their vehicles. The Iranian companies win contracts to supply materials and logistics to Afghans involved in reconstruction. Profits are transferred through poorly regulated Afghan banks — including Kabul Bank, which is partly owned by President Hamid Karzai’s brother Mahmood — to Tehran and Dubai. The money flows to Afghanistan through the informal Islamic banking system known as hawala to be dispersed to the Taliban.

Afghanistan

Nervous Afghans pulled more deposits out of the nation’s largest bank on Saturday, despite assurances from government leaders that their money was safe. Crowds gathered at Kabul Bank branches around the capital to withdraw dollar and Afghan currency savings, with customers saying they had lost faith in the bank’s solvency following a change in leadership and reports that tens of millions of dollars had been lent to political elites for risky real estate investments. The bank run that began earlier in the week undermines efforts by the central government to build an efficient political and financial system to drag Afghanistan out of its dire poverty. Problems at the bank could also have wide-ranging political repercussions since it handles the pay for Afghan public servants, soldiers and police in the unstable nation beset by a Taliban insurgency, widespread drug trafficking and the plundering of aid money.

Pakistan

A Taliban suicide bomber detonated a car in an alley behind a police station in a strategically important town in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 17 police and civilians in an explosion that shattered the station and neighboring homes. About 40 people were wounded in the attack. A Pakistani army offensive pushed many militants out of South Waziristan in October. The militants still control much of North Waziristan, where U.S. drone aircraft have been conducting a campaign of targeted killings. Police official Liaquat Ali said 45 police were in the building when the bomber struck. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they targeted the police for encouraging residents to set up militias to fight the militants — known locally as lashkars. The group pledged to carry out additional attacks unless the militias disbanded.

Iraq

Suicide bombers struck a Baghdad military headquarters on Sunday and killed 12 people, two weeks after an attack at the same site pointed to the failure of Iraqi forces to plug even the most obvious holes in their security. U.S. troops at the military compound to train Iraqi forces helped repel the attack, marking the first time American forces have been involved in an exchange of gunfire in Baghdad since the U.S. officially ended combat operations in Iraq less than a week ago. In the brazen midday assault, suicide bombers set off a car bomb and managed to fight their way inside the building before being killed. On Aug. 17, an al-Qaeda-linked suicide bomber blew himself up at the same east Baghdad military headquarters and killed 61 army recruits in the deadliest act of violence in Baghdad in months.

Volcanoes

An Indonesian volcano shot a towering cloud of black ash high into the air Tuesday, dusting villages 15 miles away in its most powerful eruption since awakening last week from four centuries of dormancy. Some witnesses at the foot of Mount Sinabung reported seeing an orange glow — presumably magma — in cracks along the volcano’s slopes for the first time. Vast swaths of trees and plants were caked with a thick layer of ash. The eruption of Mount Sinabung— which caught many scientists off guard — forced more than 30,000 people living along its fertile slopes to evacuate to cramped emergency shelters in nearby towns. Wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from the smoky air, many have complained about the steadily deteriorating conditions, from poor sanitation and short food supplies to having to sleep on hard, cold floors. Thousands of people started returning to the mountainside earlier this week so they could clean up their soot-covered homes and salvage what they could from their vegetable farms and rice paddies, but then were chased away again Friday.

Favorable weather conditions across the USA this year have produced the least active wildfire season in a decade, particularly in the fire-prone West, data from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise show. Abundant spring rains in the Northwest continued throughout the summer, along with cooler temperatures and moist conditions on the West Coast and very wet weather in the South. The total acreage burned across the USA — 2.6 million acres in 2010 — has been less than half the annual average of 5.8 million acres.

Earthquakes

The powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake that smashed buildings, cracked roads and twisted rail lines around the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Saturday also ripped a new 11-foot wide fault line in the earth’s surface, officials said Sunday. At least 500 buildings, including 90 downtown properties, have been designated as destroyed in the quake that struck at 4:35 a.m. near the South Island city of 400,000 people. But most other buildings sustained only minor damage. Power was cut across the region, roads were blocked by debris, and gas and water supplies were disrupted. Only two serious injuries were reported from the quake as chimneys and walls of older buildings were reduced to rubble and crumbled to the ground. The prime minister said it was a miracle no one was killed.

For the second time in less than a week, six small earthquakes have been recorded in a single day in central Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Geological Survey said the six earthquakes on Saturday ranged from preliminary magnitudes of 1.5 to 3.3. Last Wednesday in the same area about 30 miles from Oklahoma City, geologists also recorded six earthquakes that ranged from a preliminary 1.8 magnitude to 3.1. Another quake with a preliminary magnitude of 2.7 was recorded Friday about 10 miles east of the Saturday temblors. No injuries or damage was reported from any of the earthquakes.

Wildfires

A wind-whipped wildfire sent flames roaring through a rugged canyon in the Colorado foothills, forcing hundreds of people to flee and destroying dozens of homes — some that belonged to the firefighters themselves, authorities said early Tuesday. The blaze broke out Monday morning in Four Mile Canyon northwest of Boulder and rapidly spread across 5 1/2 square miles or 3,500 acres. Erratic 45-mph gusts sometimes sent the fire in two directions at once. Crews managed to save the historic town of Gold Hill, including an old West grocery store and structures once used for stagecoach stops. But firefighters in the area had to relocate their engines and equipment several times to avoid the flames. Despite the fire’s destructive advance, no injuries have been reported, although some residents told of narrow escapes.

Weather

Tropical Storm Hermine rolled into south Texas early Tuesday, bringing heavy rains and strong winds to an area battered by Hurricane Alex earlier this summer. Hermine made landfall in northeastern Mexico late Monday and crossed into Texas within hours, with swirling winds up to 65 mph. It threatened to dump up to 12 inches of rain in some areas and cause flash flooding. Mexican emergency officials in Tamaulipas worked to evacuate 3,500 people around Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, and schools on both sides of the border canceled classes Tuesday. Neighborhoods lost power while Hermine’s center moved over Brownsville, said Joseph Tomaselli, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Parts of the Rio Grande Valley still drying out from Hurricane Alex braced for as much as eight inches of more rain.

Torrential rains from a tropical depression saturated the ground in parts of Guatemala and unleashed more than a dozen landslides over the weekend, killing at least 45 people and leaving many more unaccounted for. Firefighters confirmed at least 20 dead in the village of Nahuala, where twin slides hit a section of the Inter-American highway. About 50 more were believed buried under tons of rubble. Continuing bad weather forced authorities to suspend rescue efforts Sunday afternoon for fear of a third deadly landslide.

Following record flooding in Pakistan weeks ago, more than 3 million people have yet to receive desperately needed food aid, according to the U.N., and the Pakistani government says nearly 1 million people have received no help of any sort. The lack of aid has led to anger against an already-fragile government that is seen as a key U.S. ally in the battle against Islamic extremists along the frontier with Afghanistan. The anger itself is hampering relief efforts, with the Red Cross twice halting distributions after being confronted by mobs of people upset they were not getting enough aid,. Part of the problem is simply the scale of the crisis. The floods that began their slow wave of destruction across Pakistan at the end of July swamped as much as one-fifth of the country, leaving 8 million people dependent on aid, according to the U.N. And that number keeps growing as more areas are affected. The floodwaters that already devastated one season of crops in the fields are threatening the next season’s crop as well, an aftershock aid workers fear could add to Pakistan‘s misery and prolong the crisis.

September 3, 2010

Small Gains in Mideast Peace Talks

They met. They shook hands. And they agreed to meet again. Israelis and Palestinians have embarked on another round of peace talks after two days of stroking and cajoling by the Obama administration — an outcome that experts said is about as good as it gets for now. Before leaving here Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned this week’s violence against Israelis on the West Bank, set Sept. 14-15 for their next talks and agreed to seek a “framework agreement.” None of the major issues that divide them were solved: the borders of a future state of Palestine, a way to guarantee Israel‘s security, the status of Palestinian refugees and the dual claims on Jerusalem. But the two men and their mediators nevertheless said they got off to a solid start. They resolved to nail down a framework for overcoming deep disputes and achieving lasting peace within a year.

  • Middle East peace is a dangerous illusion. Isaac and Ishmael, Jesus and Muhammad, Christianity and Islam, God and Allah will never be reconciled until Jesus returns again, according to the Bible.

Another Gulf Platform Explodes

An offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that exploded Thursday did not leak a significant amount of oil into the water, the Coast Guard said. All 13 rig workers donned bright orange survival gear — known as “Gumby suits” — and scrambled into the Gulf after the explosion. They were rescued by a supply ship, Coast Guard Capt. Peter Troedsson said. None were seriously injured. The outcome of the explosion was very different from the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig 200 miles to the east. That well, owned by oil company BP, spewed crude oil and natural gas for nearly three months in the worst offshore environmental disaster in U.S. history. The Vermilion Oil Rig 380 that exploded Thursday sat in 340 feet of water and was approved to collect oil and gas from existing wells. It was undergoing maintenance and was not producing at the time of the accident.

Fewer Illegal Immigrants Entering USA

The number of immigrants coming to the USA illegally since 2007 has plummeted — the first significant decline in two decades, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report. The total number of illegal immigrants in the country is down from a peak of 12 million in 2007 to 11.1 million in 2009, the report says. The annual inflow of about 300,000 illegal immigrants from 2007 to 2009 was almost two-thirds smaller than it had been from 2000 to 2005, when it reached an average 850,000 a year. The recession and housing collapse have dried up job opportunities. At the same time, border enforcement is stiffer and more states and local governments are approving measures to crack down on illegal immigrants. The drop in illegal immigrants is most dramatic along the Southeast coast and the Mountain West. It fell in Florida, Nevada and Virginia. The combined total of illegal immigrants in Arizona, Colorado and Utah also tumbled. Arizona’s undocumented population was estimated at 375,000 in March 2009, down 100,000, or 21 percent, in one year.

Health Spending Slows

Health care spending this year has grown at its slowest rate in a half-century, a sign that people are forgoing medical care during the recession, a USA TODAY analysis of government data finds. Spending on doctors, hospitals, drugs and other medical care climbed at a 2.7% annual rate per person in the first half of 2010, the smallest increase since the Bureau of Economic Analysis began tracking medical care in 1959. When inflation is taken into account, spending per person actually fell 0.2% in the first six months of the year. That’s the first decline since the government began adjusting for inflation in 1995. The figures cover the $2 trillion spent delivering health care to Americans— $6,565 per person — and paid for by employers, insurers, the government and individuals. The drop was not predicted in government forecasts and appears to be the result of a bad economy and high unemployment, health care experts say. People who’ve lost insurance, and even some with coverage, appear to be cutting back on medical spending. The drop in health care spending is a sharp contrast to the last recession in 2001, when health care costs accelerated during the downturn.

State Highways in Good Shape

A new report on the condition of the USA’s state highways finds that they are in the best shape they have been in nearly 20 years. The annual study by the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based, libertarian, non-profit think tank, credits road improvement progress man by states and decreased wear and tear as commuters and commercial truckers drove less during the recession. The study says states did a better job of maintaining and repairing roads and bridges in 2008, the most recent year for which complete data are available. The report measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state roads in 11 categories, including deficient bridges, urban traffic congestion, fatality rates and pavement condition. National performance in all of those areas improved in 2008. For instance, pavement on urban interstates and rural primary roads is the smoothest since 1993.

Wedlock Increasingly Irrelevant to Teens

There appears to be a growing acceptance of children being conceived out of wedlock among the nation’s youth. In 2002, 25 percent of teenage males admitted to never having sex, the main reason for abstaining being the possibility of pregnancy. However, the latest figures show that number has dropped to 12 percent. Moreover, more male teenagers agree that it is okay for an unmarried female to have a child. That number has risen from 50 percent to 64 percent. Jimmy Hester, co-founder of the True Love Waits program, speculates one of the reasons for this growing acceptance. “A lot of celebrities…are modeling that kind of behavior, and our teenagers and young adults pay a lot of attention to those people; they are role models,” he notes. “And so they’re seeing that kind of behavior going on, and I think it’s just becoming more acceptable for out-of-wedlock pregnancies to take place.”

  • Satan’s influence over the media exalts sexual freedom at the expense of the family and God’s natural order

Religion More Important in Poor Countries

Recently released data by Gallup reveals that religion plays a greater role in the daily lives of people in poor countries than those living in wealthy countries. Christian Today reports that 84 percent of adults in 114 countries say religion is an important part of their daily lives. In countries where per-capita income hovers under $2,000, that figure jumps to 95 percent of people. The percentage plummets in more wealthy nations. In countries where average per-capita income is above $25,000, just 47 percent of people say religion is important to their daily lives. In the United States, 65 percent of people said religion is important to their daily lives. Gallup said the survey results could indicate that religions plays a “more functional role” in poor countries by “helping many residents cope with a daily struggle to provide for themselves and their families.”

  • From Old Testament times to now, people are prone to becoming independent and self-reliant when prosperity reigns, flocking to the god of materialism and forsaking the God from whom all blessings flow.

Corporate Alliances Help Keep State Parks Afloat

From California to New York, states are turning to corporations for financial backing as recession and budget woes prompt cuts in public dollars to maintain parks. California parks have received nearly $6 million from corporate sponsorship programs over the past three years, she says. That’s small compared with a $300 million operating budget, but in a system where hours of operation have been cut and park workers put on three unpaid furlough days a month, every dollar is important. Most states are still in the early stages, testing public reaction to the idea and seeking potential sponsors, says Philip McKnelly, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors. He says “extremely harsh budget times” have made parks and recreation programs among the first to fall under the budget ax and left officials with few options to avoid closing parks. The largest corporate sponsorship program in California parks is revealed here by a small set of corporate logos on an informational sign at this vast preserve in the Laguna Mountains 50 miles east of San Diego.

  • Ball parks, school buses, now state parks. Advertising continues to encroach into all aspects of life as worship of the god of materialism grows by leaps and bounds.

Workers Bear Larger Share of Health Care Premiums

Workers are paying a larger portion of their health insurance costs as businesses shift more of the burden to their employees to help ride out the economic downturn, an annual study shows. The average employee contribution toward premiums for family coverage climbed 14% this year to nearly $4,000, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust released Thursday. Companies that offer benefits still pay at least 70% of the total premium, on average, for their workers. But this year, companies passed most of the premium increases on to employees instead of absorbing them as they usually do. Some companies also are trying to steer employees toward preventive care, in an effort to cut long-term costs. They’re reducing or eliminating the price workers pay for things like primary care visits, diabetes treatments or blood pressure testing that can ward off more expensive care down the road.

Economic News

The unemployment rate rose in August for the first time in four months as more people entered the job market looking for work. The jobless rate rose to 9.6% from 9.5% in July. Companies added 67,000 jobs last month, but the economy lost 54,000 jobs as 114,000 temporary census jobs came to an end. For the first time this year, the manufacturing sector lost jobs — down 27,000 for the month.

The number of people requesting unemployment benefits declined last week for the second straight week. The Labor Department said Thursday that new claims for unemployment aid fell last week by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000. Even with the declines, claims are still at much higher levels than they would be in a healthy economy. When economic output is growing rapidly and employers are hiring, claims generally drop below 400,000.

Productivity in the spring fell by the largest amount in nearly four years while labor costs rose. Productivity dropped at an annual rate of 1.8% in the April-to-June quarter, double the 0.9% decline originally reported a month ago. Unit labor costs rose 1.1%, the biggest rise in labor costs since late 2008. While lower productivity and higher labor costs could spell trouble for corporate profits, they could also signal that companies may have reached the limits of squeezing more work out of fewer workers and this could translate into more hiring and larger incomes for U.S. workers.

Mortgage applications rose 2.7% last week as more borrowers took advantage of the lowest rates in decades to reduce their monthly loan payments. The Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday the increase was led by a 2.8% rise in refinance applications. The number of loans taken out to purchase a home rose 1.8%.The average rate for a 30-year fixed loan fell to 4.43% from 4.55% a week earlier.

The number of banks at risk of failing rose by 53 to 829, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said in its quarterly survey of the nation’s banking system. That increase marks the smallest rise since the first quarter of 2009, but a troubling number nonetheless.

Single, childless women in their twenties are finding success in the city: They’re out-earning their male counterparts in the USA’s biggest metropolitan areas. Women ages 22 to 30 with no husband and no kids earn a median $27,000 a year, 8% more than comparable men in the top 366 metropolitan areas, according to 2008 U.S. Census Bureau data. The disparity is greatest in Atlanta, where young, childless single women earn 21% more than male counterparts.

Mexico

Soldiers killed 25 suspected cartel members Thursday in a raid and gunbattle in a Mexican state near the U.S. border that has seen a surge in drug gang violence. A reconnaissance flight over Ciudad Mier in Tamaulipas state spotted several gunmen. When troops on the ground moved in, gunmen opened fire, starting a vicious gun battle. Only two soldiers were injured but none were killed. Authorities also rescued three people believed to be kidnap victims in the raid. Violence has surged in northeastern Mexico this year since the Zetas broke ranks with their former employer, the Gulf cartel, making Tamaulipas one of the country’s most dangerous battlegrounds.

Afghanistan

A Marine two-star general says the Taliban is experiencing a serious cash flow problem after losing an estimated half of its annual revenue from the drug trade in southern Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Richard Mills says intelligence reports suggest that last year’s poppy blight and government eradication efforts are keeping the Taliban from buying weapons and other supplies. The assessment is a bright spot in an otherwise difficult war. Mills says U.S. troops are still embroiled in a tough fight in Marjah, a farming town considered the heart of Afghanistan’s drug trade.

Two American troops died in fighting in Afghanistan on Thursday, while NATO and local officials said coalition and Afghan forces killed dozens of insurgents in a series of ground and air engagements. However, the office of President Karzai, who has repeatedly warned that civilian casualties undermine anti-insurgency efforts, issued a statement condemning the attack, saying 10 campaign workers for a candidate in this month’s parliamentary elections had instead been killed and two wounded. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, meanwhile, arrived in the Afghan capital for meetings with President Hamid Karzai and NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus. The Pentagon chief also plans to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan

The triple bombing of a religious procession in Pakistan adds to the strains on a government already struggling with devastating floods and shows that Islamist militants are back in business despite the natural disaster. The death toll in the blasts rose to 35 on Thursday, with about 250 injured,. The bombs late Wednesday ripped through a Shiite Muslim street procession in the sprawling city of Lahore, which has been frequently targeted by Sunni extremists over the last two years, often in coordinated attacks on religious minorities. Sunni extremists have launched dozens of attacks against Shiites and other Islamic sects and religions in Pakistan in recent years. Further suicide bombings Friday killed another 43 people in continued sectarian assaults that left another 78 wounded.

Not everyone is convinced that the $150 million in U.S. aid to Pakistan’s flood victims so far — a figure that dwarfs the contributions of all other countries, including Pakistan’s giant neighbor China and several oil-rich Muslim nations — compensates for the ill feelings fueled by U.S. support for the military campaign against Muslim extremists in Pakistan. “America is our genuine enemy,” says Asmad Ali, 35, the owner of a washing machine shop who blames the U.S. for the rise of the Taliban. He says he resents U.S. drone missile strikes that target terrorist leaders in Pakistani homes. Even though the U.S. is giving aid to Pakistanis, he says, the efforts “cannot change our minds.”

  • When will we learn that Muslims will never love America no matter how many nice or helpful things we do? They are opposed to all things non-Islamic, especially Christianity.

Weather

Hurricane Earl churned past the North Carolina Outer Banks and its powerful gusts and driving rains were starting to be felt in southeastern Virginia early Friday, the beginning of at least 24 hours of stormy, windy weather along the East Coast. Residents and officials of North Carolina’s barrier islands were waiting for daybreak to see how much damage the storm’s winds and waves had left behind. Earl had produced less than expected storm surge and only minor flooding in some coastal counties. Earl had weakened all day Thursday, winding down from a Category 4 storm with winds of 140 mph to a Category 2 storm with winds of 105 mph. While more than 30,000 residents and visitors were ordered to leave the Outer Banks, more hardy residents gassed up their generators and hunkered at home behind their boarded-up windows, even though officials warned them that it could be three days before they could expect any help.

September 1, 2010

Obama ‘Blackmailing’ Israel?

If Israel and the Palestinian Authority fail to reach an agreement within the next year, the Obama administration may support a United Nations resolution that would unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, senior PA officials told WorldNetDaily. The officials were speaking ahead of a major summit that starts today in Washington to launch direct talks between Israel and the PA. The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan will also take part in the summit. The PA officials said the U.S. has been negotiating the borders of a future Palestinian state that would see Israel eventually withdraw from most of the West Bank and some areas of eastern Jerusalem with the exception of the three main settlement blocs. While the PA does not believe it will see an actual Palestinian state within a year, it expects in that time it will take over many more neighborhoods in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem that are normally controlled on the ground by Israel.

  • Obama can barely conceal his anti-Israel leanings as he continues to promote Muslim interests both here and abroad

NYC Mayor Bloomberg Champions Ground Zero Mosque

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero, recently has been expanding his business dealings in the Arab and Muslim world, including opening a new “Islamic finance portal.” Some critics are questioning whether Bloomberg’s unpopular decision to back the controversial mosque project may be colored by his billion-dollar financial software, news and data company’s decision to build a hub in the United Arab Emirates and North Africa. The mayor’s privately held company, Bloomberg L.P., has been increasing its revenue in the Middle East while its U.S.-based division has taken hits due to the country’s economic woes. In 2008, Bloomberg announced it was expanding its Dubai office into a regional hub, a move that sought to quadruple its local staff. The new hub will covers Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.

  • Greed all too often triumphs over values

Gov. Crist Adviser Raised Funds for Hamas

A newly posted video shows a Muslim adviser to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist hosting a fundraiser in Orlando for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Imam Muhammad Musri – who serves on Crist’s Faith-Based and Community Advisory Council and was appointed by the governor to his 2010 Sunshine Census Committee – was raising money in June 2009 at his Al-Rahman mosque. The cash went to Hamas leadership through Viva Palestina, an organization led by controversial former British parliamentarian George Galloway, reports Patrick S. Poole at BigPeace.com. Crist is now an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate. According to press accounts, the cash was part of more than $1 million in aid sent to Hamas in July 2009. Along with Musri’s Orlando event, funds also were raised in Kansas, New York and Illinois. Poole noted Galloway’s material support for Hamas is well known. In March 2009, Galloway was videotaped by Al-Jazeera giving a duffel bag full of cash to Hamas social minister Ahmad Kurd.

RNC Chairman Subverted Marriage Amendment

The former Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Ken Mehlman was able to “beat back” Republican efforts against homosexual marriage while hiding his own homosexual lifestyle. Even though it was suspected that the former manager of George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election bid was homosexual, it was not until recently that Mehlman “outed” himself in an interview with The Atlantic, saying it took him 43 years to get comfortable with that part of his life. “The most troubling thing about Mehlman is that he reveals in his interview with The Atlantic magazine that he was subverting the fight to preserve marriage as the head of the RNC,” notes Peter LaBarbera, founder and president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH). “He admits that he was working in private conversations with senior GOP leaders against the federal marriage amendment.”

  • It’s no coincidence that Mehlman didn’t “out” himself until after he’d left his position as RNC chairman. The gay “agenda” has placed many closet subversives in positions of influence, especially on the judicial bench – a long-term strategy that goes back decades.

Arizona‘s DUI Fatality Rate Cut in Half

Since 1995 Arizona has cut the fatality rate from drunken driving in half and closed in on the national rate, which itself tumbled nearly 30 percent. Arizona prides itself on being the toughest state in the country on DUI offenders, and with some cause. This year, a new law took effect penalizing so-called superextreme DUI offenders, those with blood-alcohol levels of 0.20 percent or higher. First offenders of the new law face a minimum 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Since Arizona joined the nation in passing 0.08 percent DUI laws in 2001, the state has steadily stiffened penalties and lowered blood-alcohol thresholds. For instance, extreme DUI used to be measured at 0.18 percent but is now 0.15 percent blood-alcohol content. Yet in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, 324 people were killed by drivers who were known to have too much to drink, according to figures compiled by the Arizona Department of Transportation. Beverly Mason-Biggers is senior office administrator for the southern Arizona affiliate of the non-profit Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She said that the campaign to eliminate impaired driving is working and that attitudes are changing, “but we have a long way to go.” She thinks Arizona should do more to combat repeat offenders, including impounding cars and installing devices that stop cars from running.

Mexican Cartels Control Parts of Arizona

The federal government has posted signs along a major interstate highway in Arizona, more than 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, warning travelers the area is unsafe because of drug and alien smugglers, and a local sheriff says Mexican drug cartels now control some parts of the state. The signs were posted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) along a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 8 between Casa Grande and Gila Bend, a major east-west corridor linking Tucson and Phoenix with San Diego. They warn travelers that they are entering an “active drug and human smuggling area” and they may encounter “armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed.” Beginning less than 50 miles south of Phoenix, the signs encourage travelers to call 911 if they “see suspicious activity. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose county lies at the center of major drug and alien smuggling routes to Phoenix and cities east and west, attests to the violence. He said his deputies are outmanned and outgunned by drug traffickers in the rough-hewn desert stretches of his own county. “Mexican drug cartels literally do control parts of Arizona,” he said. “They literally have scouts on the high points in the mountains and in the hills and they literally control movement. They have radios, they have optics, they have night-vision goggles as good as anything law enforcement has.” He said he asked the Obama administration for 3,000 National Guard soldiers to patrol the border, but what he got were 15 signs.

Donations to Defend Ariz. Immigration Law Top $2M

Gov. Jan Brewer’s office says Arizona has received more than $2 million in donations to help pay for the legal defense of the state’s controversial law targeting illegal immigration. Seven lawsuits were filed to challenge the law. Two have been dismissed, but a judge ruled on a suit filed by the U.S. Justice Department by blocking key provisions of the law from taking effect July 29. Brewer is appealing that ruling.

Obamacare Getting Less Popular

President Obama’s health care overhaul is getting less popular as time goes on. The law’s favorable rating sank to 43% in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll this month, while 45% said they opposed it. Just last month, 50% of Americans favored the law in the same poll. Only 39% of those polled said the law would make the country better off, down from 43% in July. The reason for the decreased popularity? Republicans. Some 77% of them now oppose the law, up from 69% the past two months. Among Democrats, 68% favor the law, down from 73% in July.

Economic News

A private research group’s survey of Americans shows that consumer confidence improved slightly in August, but the mood is still gloomy as jobs remain hard to find. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index improved slightly to 53.5, up from a revised 51.0 in July. It takes a reading of 90 to indicate a healthy economy.

The stock market ended its worst August since 2001 with meager gains Tuesday after minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting showed officials’ increasing concern about the economy.

Nervous about jobs and an unraveling economy, shoppers spent — at best — only slightly more this August than last, according to data released Wednesday by MasterCard‘s SpendingPulse. The figures confirm a flurry of anecdotal evidence that retailers will be disappointed by this year’s back-to-school season — a time they see as second only to the winter holidays..

Chinese manufacturing growth improved and auto sales rebounded in August, suggesting the world’s second-biggest economy may not be slowing as quickly as feared. China’s economic growth slowed to 10.3% over a year earlier in the second quarter, down from its blistering 11.9% first quarter pace. Many worry that the slowdown could weaken the global recovery if it cuts Chinese demand for imported iron ore, industrial machinery and other foreign goods.

The rich in Congress got even richer in 2009. That’s the news from an analysis out today by The Hill, which found that the 50 wealthiest members of Congress saw their collective fortunes rise to $1.4 billion in 2009 — an $85.1 million jump from 2008 — even as the U.S. economy struggled to recover from a recession.

Middle East

A Palestinian gunman opened fire Tuesday on an Israeli vehicle in the West Bank and killed four passengers on the eve of a new round of Mideast peace talks in Washington. The Islamic militant group Hamas praised the shooting. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But in the past, militant groups have staged attacks in an effort to sabotage peace efforts. Some 500 ultranationalist Jewish settlers live in heavily fortified enclaves in Hebron The attack occurred as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was en route to Washington for a White House summit launching peace talks on Wednesday. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was already in the U.S. capital meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. amid more than 100,000 Palestinians.

Iraq

Iraq is preparing to buy as much as $13 billion in American arms and military equipment, a huge order of tanks, ships and hardware that U.S. officials say shows Iraqi-U.S. military ties will be tight for years to come. With combat operations officially ended, Vice President Biden and Iraqi officials will gather today at a ceremony at the main U.S. base near Baghdad Airport to mark U.S. troops’ transition to an advisory role that focuses on assisting Iraqi security forces. The number of U.S. service members has dropped below 50,000. All U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of next year. Military sales, which often include lengthy maintenance and training contracts, are part of U.S. efforts to maintain a relationship with Iraq. About half the $13 billion in sales are finalized contracts, and the rest are still in negotiations.

The United States has changed commanders in Iraq as the final phase of the American military involvement in the country begins. With the passing of a flag, newly promoted Army Gen. Lloyd Austin took over in a change of command ceremony Wednesday. The military handover marks the start of the so-called “Operation New Dawn” and the last phase in the Iraq war that began with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The focus of the remaining 50,000 American troops now is to prepare Iraqi security forces to protect the country on their own. President Obama announced the end of combat operations by U.S. forces with a restrained 19-minute address that didn’t claim the war had been “won” and offered only measured predictions of what lies ahead in Iraq.

Afghanistan

Aid group Oxfam, meanwhile, said it was suspending operations in the northeastern province of Badakhshan following the deaths of two employees and a local volunteer in a roadside bomb attack. Five U.S. troops were killed by roadside bombs and insurgent fire in southern and eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the latest casualties in a particularly bloody spell that has left 19 service members dead since Saturday. In Tuesday’s attacks, NATO said four troops were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan, while a fifth died in a battle with insurgents in the country’s south. The deaths bring this month’s total to 55. That is still fewer than the 66 killed in July, the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.

Pakistan

Pakistan army jets and helicopters targeted militant hide-outs near the Afghan border Tuesday and Wednesday, killing 60 people identified as insurgents or their family members, including children, security. The deadliest strikes hit an area where army fire had killed 60 civilians earlier this year. Accounts of civilian casualties in army airstrikes make it harder for the military to win the support of local tribesman in the border region, something crucial to flushing out al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who have found sanctuary there.

Mexico

Federal police on Monday captured a long-sought, alleged Texas-born gang kingpin who faces drug trafficking charges in the U.S. and has been blamed for a vicious turf war that has included bodies hung from bridges and shootouts in central Mexico. The arrest of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias “the Barbie,” was the culmination of a year-long intelligence operation. Valdez — the third major drug lord brought down by Mexico’s security forces in less than a year — was charged in May in U.S. District Court in Atlanta with distributing thousands of pounds of cocaine from Mexico to the eastern U.S. from 2004 to 2006. U.S. authorities had offered a reward of up to $2 million for information leading to his capture, and the Mexican government offered a similar amount. There was no word from Mexican authorities on any extradition plans.

Weather

Tourists on a North Carolina vacation island were preparing to board ferries to mainland early Wednesday, and more evacuations could be on the way as powerful Hurricane Earl threatened to sideswipe the U.S., threatening East Coast residents and Labor Day weekend travelers. The storm’s uncertain track and high speed as it moves up the coast may force emergency management planners to issue evacuation orders even if they’re not sure the storm will move on shore, said Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “We do not have a forecasted landfall, but this is a very large storm, and we do expect impacts along the coast,” Fugate said. “Evacuations may be required if the storm does not move to the north or to the east.”