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.

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