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.

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