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.

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