Archive for November, 2010

November 29, 2010

Oregon Bomb-Plot Suspect Wanted ‘Spectacular Show’

A Somali-born teenager plotted “a spectacular show” of terrorism for months, saying he didn’t mind that children would die if he bombed a crowded Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, according to a law-enforcement official and court documents. Fortunately, he never got the chance. The case is the latest in a string of alleged terrorist planning by U.S. citizens or residents, including a Times Square plot in which a Pakistan-born man pleaded guilty earlier this year to trying to set off a car bomb at a busy street corner. In the Portland plot, Mohamud believed he was receiving help from a larger ring of jihadists as he communicated with undercover agents. The official said Mohamud planned the details, including where to park the van to hurt the most people. Mohamud graduated from high school in Beaverton. He was enrolled at Oregon State University over the past year before withdrawing Oct. 6, the school said. Mohamud was known at the Salman Al-Farisi Center in Corvallis, said Yosof Wanly, imam at the mosque.

  • · The ‘peaceful’ religion of Islam encourages Muslims to kill ‘infidels’ (non-believers). It is clearly Satan’s religion of choice.

Wikileaks Publishes Secret Diplomatic Papers

A quarter-million State Department documents — cables from around the world that were not meant to be made public — offer an unvarnished glimpse into diplomatic efforts to prevent terrorism, secure nuclear material, negotiate treaties and assess foreign leaders, according to the online whistle-blower WikiLeaks and news organizations that began to publish the material Sunday. The documents date from 1966 through February of this year. “This document release reveals the contradictions between the U.S.’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes,” WikiLeaks said. In recent weeks, the government pressured the organization not to publish the sensitive information, some of which officials argued could undermine U.S. security. The New York Times and the Britain’s Guardian said they had withheld information that could endanger individuals. On Sunday, the White House condemned the release in a statement: “President Obama supports responsible, accountable and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal.”

  • · I thought Obama wanted transparency?

Saudi King Urged Strike on Iran

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly exhorted the United States to “cut off the head of the snake” by launching military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables. A copy of the cable, dated April 20, 2008, was published in the New York Times website Sunday after the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks released it. The classified communication between the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and Washington showed that the Saudis feared Shi’ite Iran’s rising influence in the region, particularly in neighboring Iraq. The United States has stated repeatedly that the military option is on the table, but at the same time U.S. military chiefs have made it clear they view it as a last resort, fearing it could ignite wider conflict in the Middle East.

Europe Bans BPA

The European Commission voted Thursday to ban the estrogen-like chemical BPA, or bisphenol A, from plastic baby bottles by the middle of next year. European Union countries must stop manufacturing polycarbonate plastic baby bottles with BPA by March; they must stop selling or importing them by June. The vote comes a week after American opponents of BPA failed to include a ban on the chemical in a $1.4 billion food-safety bill. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who had championed a ban on BPA in baby bottles, blamed the chemical industry for defeating her proposal. Although consumer backlash has prompted major American baby bottle manufacturers to stop using BPA, the chemical is used in cheaper products sold in discount stores. The American Chemistry Council, which represents the plastics industry, maintains that BPA is safe.

Congress Heading for Standoff on Key Issues

Lawmakers return to the Capitol this week facing a deadline to avoid a federal government shutdown as Democrats show no signs of relenting on priority agenda items despite surging Republican opposition. Republicans said Democrats continue to pursue their agenda as if the midterm elections, in which the GOP gained control of the House and expanded its ranks in the Senate, did not happen. Republicans will not have their enhanced numbers until the new Congress convenes in January. The prospect is for a standoff on core issues in this lame-duck session, including extension of the tax cuts passed during the George W. Bush administration. Republicans want to extend the tax cuts permanently for all households, including those with incomes beyond $250,000. Democrats have held firm on extending cuts only to those with incomes below that amount. Attention will also focus this week on Obama’s deficit-reduction commission, which is due to release a report Wednesday aimed at reducing the deficit and coping with rising Social Security and Medicare costs.

Economic News

Shares in Ireland’s banks are rising as investors support the EU-IMF rescue loan for Ireland, particularly its immediate focus on injecting $13 billion into the cash-strapped banks. The lead IMF negotiator, Ajai Chopra, says he believes Ireland may not need to use the full loan facility and the plan’s requirement for Ireland to commit euro17.5 billion of its own cash and pension reserves is “a sign of strength.” Ireland‘s international bailout may have relieved investors Monday but it outraged many across the country who find that a requirement to raid state pension funds to protect foreign creditors unjustly burdens average taxpayers for the mistakes of a rich elite.

The escalating debt crisis on the eurozone periphery is starting to contaminate the creditworthiness of Germany and the core states of monetary union. Credit default swaps (CDS) measuring risk on German, French and Dutch bonds have surged over recent days, rising significantly above the levels of non-EMU states in Scandinavia. “Germany cannot keep paying for bail-outs without going bankrupt itself,” said Professor Wilhelm Hankel, of Frankfurt University.

Korea

The sound of new artillery fire from North Korea just hours after the U.S. and South Korea launched a round of war games in Korean waters sent residents and journalists on a front-line island scrambling for cover Sunday. None of the rounds landed on Yeonpyeong Island, military officials said, but South Korea’s Defense Ministry later warned journalists to leave the island. The incident showed how tense the situation remains along the Koreas’ disputed maritime border five days after a North Korean artillery attack decimated parts of the island and killed four South Koreans.

Iraq

Iraqi authorities have made their first arrests in one of the deadliest attacks recorded against Iraqi Christians. Christian Today reports that twelve members of the Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq, which has claimed responsibility for the Oct. 31 attack, were arrested last week. Militants had stormed the church during mass wearing suicide vests and taking about 120 churchgoers hostage. Nearly 60 people, mainly worshippers, were killed. More were wounded. Extremists have targeted Christians in multiple bombing attacks since then, killing several more Christians. Meanwhile, human rights watchdogs say extremists are focused on eliminating Christianity from Iraq. “I’m using the word religion-cide to explain to people what is really taking place in Iraq right now,” said Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA.

Haiti

Nearly all the major candidates in Haiti’s presidential election called for Sunday’s election to be voided amid allegations of fraud and reports that large numbers of voters were turned away from polling stations across the quake-stricken country. Twelve of the 19 candidates endorsed a joint statement denouncing the voting as fraudulent and calling on their supporters to show their anger with demonstrations against the government and the country’s Provisional Electoral Council, known as the CEP. The statement included all of the major contenders but one: Jude Celestin, who is backed by the Unity party of President Rene Preval. The CEP had earlier acknowledged problems with the voter lists but said immediately after the candidates’ news conference that the election would continue.

Egypt

Egypt‘s opposition said Monday that its candidates were heavily defeated in parliamentary elections a day earlier, accusing the ruling party of manipulating the vote to ensure a sweeping victory. Opposition complaints were backed up by a coalition of local and international rights groups that observed Sunday’s elections and said they lacked any transparency and were marred by widespread fraud. The coaltion of rights groups estimated that turnout for the elections was only 10 to 15%, substantially less than the 25% turnout in the 2005 and criticized the denial of access to representatives of the opposition parties and independents to the ballot boxes. In the absence of any kind of monitors, either from civil society or the opposition, the activists alleged supporters of the ruling party were able to stuff the ballot boxes — something they could not do in the past because of the presence of judges in the polling stations.

Spain

Voters in Spain‘s wealthy and influential northeastern Catalonia have ousted the Socialist party and given the conservative nationalist Convergence and Union party — CiU — a comfortable majority in regional elections. The results are a rebuke to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero‘s party, which suffered a backlash because of the country’s slumping economy. The setback could be mirrored nationwide in municipal elections and 13 regional government ballots in May. Zapatero must face national elections in 2012.

Brazil

Rio police backed by helicopters and armored vehicles invaded a shantytown complex long held by traffickers on Sunday, quickly taking over the key drug gang stronghold. Black-clad officers from elite police units entered the Alemao slum complex amid heavy fire, with TV images showing police and army helicopters flying low to support the men on the ground as hundreds of drug gang members tried to hold their position. But the officers encountered less resistance than expected and claimed victory, saying police were controlling the shantytown complex although many gang members still remained inside. At least five police helicopters were buzzing atop the Alemao, helping provide intelligence on where the gang members might be.

Weather

The ambitious climate bill that President Obama had backed, which sought to commit the U.S. to reduce industrial pollution 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 is now officially dead. Obama couldn’t get the bill passed this year when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, and he has said he’ll pursue smaller measures — what he calls “singles” instead of “home runs” — that could draw GOP support. He has cited efforts to promote electric vehicles, nuclear power, renewable energy and energy efficiency. He also has touted the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans, beginning next year, to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

For the first time in recorded history, 12 hurricanes formed this year in the Atlantic basin without a single one making landfall in the United States. The six-month hurricane season officially ends Tuesday. Half of them went to the “right,” curving out into the Atlantic Ocean, and half went to the “left,” into the Caribbean Sea. Tropical storms and hurricanes killed more than 250 people in the Caribbean and Central America this season.

November 27, 2010

Oregon Bomb Plot Thwarted

Undercover agents stopped a Somali-born teenager from blowing up a van full of explosives at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland on Friday, federal authorities said. The explosives were duds supplied by the agents as part of a sting operation and the public was never in danger. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested just after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would detonate the explosives but instead brought federal agents and Portland police swooping down on him. Yelling “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” — Mohamud tried to kick agents and police as they closed in. Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Corvallis, Oregon, was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Unprecedented Amount of Drug Seizures, Arrests on Border

Beefed-up enforcement along the southwestern border has resulted in “unprecedented” seizures of illegal drugs, currency and firearms, according to a report issued by the Obama administration. White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske’s update on counternarcotics efforts says smuggling arrests, narcotics seizures and cash confiscations all saw dramatic increases during 2009 and 2010 because of added manpower, fencing and technology on the border. Authorities seized in excess of 7 million pounds of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs, up 16.5 percent. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers intercepted $282 million in illegal currency, a 35 percent increase over the prior two years. Agents also confiscated 6,800 weapons heading for Mexico, a 22 percent increase over the previous two-year period.

U.S., Mexican Authorities Seize 20 Tons of Marijuana

A sophisticated cross-border tunnel equipped with a rail system, ventilation and fluorescent lighting has been shut down by U.S. and Mexican officials — the second discovery of a major underground drug passage in San Diego this month, authorities said Friday. The tunnel found Thursday is 2,200 feet long and runs from the kitchen of a home in Tijuana, Mexico, to two warehouses in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial district. In Mexico, the tunnel’s cinderblock-lined entry dropped 80 feet to 90 feet to a wood-lined floor, Unzueta said. From the U.S. side, there was a stairway leading to a room about 50 feet underground that was full of marijuana. The passage found Thursday is one of the most advanced to date, with a rail system for drugs to be carried on a small cart.

DEA Bans K2, Other ‘Fake Pot’ Products

The DEA used its emergency powers Wednesday to ban K2 and other “fake pot” products that mimic the effects of marijuana. The action by the Drug Enforcement Administration makes it illegal to possess or sell the five chemicals used to make the products for at least one year. The agency and the Department of Health and Human Services will determine whether the chemicals should be permanently added to the federal list of controlled substances considered unsafe, highly abused and without medical use. The herbal blends coated with synthetic chemicals are marketed under brands such as Spice, Red X Dawn and K2. They are usually sold as packets of incense or potpourri at convenience stores, herbal and spiritual shops and online. The packets can sell for as much as $35 an ounce and have become popular as a legal alternative to marijuana among teenagers and college students.

Secondhand Smoke Kills 600,000 a Year Worldwide

Secondhand smoke sickens millions and kills more than 600,000 people worldwide each year, including more than 165,000 children under 5, according to the first report to estimate the worldwide burden of disease and death from tobacco. The World Health Organization‘s report on 192 countries appeared in The Lancet on Thursday and found more than half of the deaths are from heart disease, followed by deaths from cancer, lung infections, asthma and other ailments. More than two-thirds of the children’s deaths are in Africa and Asia, where they have less access to important public health services. Tobacco kills a total of 5.7 million people worldwide each year, including 5.1 million people who die from their own smoking, the report says. Smoking is the world’s leading cause of preventable death, according to the WHO. Growing concern about secondhand smoke has led more than 40 countries to enact some kind of smoking ban, although many of these laws are limited. In the USA, 35 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Northern Mariana Islands have smoke-free laws, protecting 79% of the population.

Pope’s Remarks on Condoms Sow Widespread Confusion

Some Roman Catholics are confused. Some are angry. Others just don’t believe the pope meant what it seems he said. Days after the release of Pope Benedict XVI’s comments that condoms can be justified to prevent the spread of HIV, there is widespread confusion about exactly what he was trying to say. The remarks have put some of the strictest defenders of church teachings in the awkward position of potentially disagreeing with the pontiff. Many church officials worldwide have been conspicuously silent. Some bishops are even seeking clarification from the Vatican. On a practical level, most Catholic-affiliated charities that minister to people at high risk of contracting AIDS are unlikely to make changes anytime soon.

  • · That most of the world considers Catholicism to represent Christianity is a travesty and a major barrier to evangelism. Its archaic, unbiblical rituals and beliefs are an affront to all Christians and Christ Himself.

Illegal Immigrants with Fake Social Security Numbers Get Tax Refunds

An advocacy group partially funded by the U.S. government is helping illegal immigrants who work with fake Social Security numbers recover unclaimed income tax refunds. The New York nonprofit, Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, has so far helped a dozen illegal aliens get back thousands of dollars in state tax refunds, according to a local newspaper report. In some cases the undocumented aliens use bogus Social Security numbers, which is a serious federal offense. In most instances the illegal immigrants filed taxes using a special identification number that rarely receives scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and allows workers to get federal refunds.

$2B of BP Fund Will Go to Emergency Compensation

Calling the BP oil spill payout an unprecedented event in U.S. history, the administrator of the fund said Wednesday he expects to pay $2.3 billion in emergency compensation. The number of claims for emergency payments from the BP oil spill will probably total 450,000, said Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the $20 billion BP fund. About 175,000 of people making claims can expect to see a check, he said. The remaining applications have no paperwork, bad paperwork or are potentially fraudulent, he said. Claimants to the emergency fund have included everyone from out-of-work shrimpers and oystermen to hoteliers, barkeeps and strip club owners who claim the spill sank their businesses. Residents or businesses can receive a payout that will cover several years of future financial loss but must waive their right to sue BP or other companies involved in the spill.

Small Business Begins to Get Loans Again

Some small businesses say they’re finding it easier to get loans, a development that could help jump-start a tepid recovery and sluggish job market. A survey released this month by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) shows that the percentage saying loans were easier to get was the lowest since September 2008. And senior loan officers surveyed by the Federal Reserve said their standards for small-business loans eased for the second-straight quarter in the three months ending Sept. 30. Small firms with fewer than 100 workers employ half the labor force and typically account for two-thirds of jobs created in a recovery. So far, though, they’ve benefited far less from the upswing that began in mid-2009 than larger firms. That’s because they generally haven’t taken part in the export surge, and they rely on banks rather than corporate bond markets to borrow money.

Economic News

Home prices in Arizona slid another 2.5 percent in the last quarter, faster than the national average. New figures from the Federal Housing Finance Authority show that prices of homes sold in Arizona are down more than 9.3 percent from the same period a year earlier. That compares with a 3.2-percent drop nationwide. Only two states had a more rapid year-over-year declines: Idaho and Georgia. The inability to turn around home the trend means that a home which was valued five years ago at $200,000 is now worth close to 36 percent less, or $128,560. That compares with an 8.4 percent decline over the same period nationally.

Ireland has unveiled the harshest budget measures in its history, a four-year plan to claw back $20 billion using spending cuts and extra taxes. The plan hopes to cut 10 billion euros ($13.3 billion) from spending and raise 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in extra taxes to combat Europe‘s worst deficit. The government’s long-awaited austerity plan is a prerequisite for Ireland to get an EU-IMF loan estimated to total 85 billion euros ($115 billion).Ireland’s major banks were hit with credit downgrades Friday — one to junk bond status — as speculation mounted that the EU-IMF bailout of Ireland, to be revealed within days, would require investors to take losses, a possibility earlier denied by officials.

Europe struggled mightily Friday to keep the debt crisis from engulfing country after country. Portugal passed austerity measures to fend off the speculative trades pushing it toward a bailout and Ireland rushed to negotiate its own imminent rescue. Portugal and Spain insisted they will not seek outside help, but Europe braced for what seems inevitable — more expensive bailouts. The Portuguese Parliament approved an unpopular debt-reducing package, including tax hikes and cuts in pay and welfare benefits. But while that helped to avoid a sharper deterioration in bond markets, the sense among analysts was that the move had only bought a little time.

China and Russia have decided to renounce the US dollar and resort to using their own currencies for bilateral trade, Premier Wen Jiabao and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced last week. Chinese experts said the move reflected closer relations between Beijing and Moscow and is not aimed at challenging the dollar, but to protect their domestic economies. The two countries were accustomed to using other currencies, especially the dollar, for bilateral trade. Since the financial crisis, however, high-ranking officials on both sides began to explore other possibilities.

Korea

As they left behind gutted homes, scorched trees and rubble-strewn streets, residents of the tiny South Korean island shelled by North Korea told harrowing tales Wednesday of fiery destruction and narrow escapes. About 10 homes suffered direct hits and 30 were destroyed in the midafternoon barrage. Tuesday’s artillery barrage that killed four people — two of them civilians. About 1,700 civilians live on Yeonpyeong alongside South Korean troops stationed there. The island is just seven miles from the North Korean shore. South Korea‘s defense minister resigned Thursday amid intense criticism that officials were unprepared for Tuesday’s attack and that the military response to the North’s barrage was too slow. U.S.-South Korean war games begin Monday in the Yellow Sea that which has enraged the North and worried neighboring China. North Korea warned that the region is at the brink of war.

India

India successfully tested a short-range version of its most powerful nuclear-capable missile on Thursday during an army training exercise, the Defense Ministry said. Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan regularly test missiles. The 12-ton missile, developed in India, has an advanced navigation system and can carry payloads of up to 2,200 pounds with a range of up to 1,250 miles. New Delhi has said it developed its current crop of missiles — including the short-range Prithvi missile, the anti-tank Nag missile and the supersonic BrahMos cruise missile — as a deterrent against neighbors China and Pakistan.

Afghanistan

The Afghan attorney general’s office on Thursday announced four arrests in its investigation of fraud during the controversial September parliamentary election — a move some Western officials fear is part of efforts by the political elite to overturn the results of certain races. The arrests are the latest development in the Sept. 18 ballot that was plagued by irregularities and voter intimidation. Election officials discarded 1.3 million ballots — nearly a quarter of the total — for fraud and disqualified 19 winning candidates for cheating. The election flap, heating up just ahead of President Obama’s December Afghan review, comes at a time when NATO and its allies need President Hamid Karzai‘s government to be seen as a strong partner in the war. The international community views the election as a test of his government’s ability to hold fair elections and curb corruption that has weakened its credibility.

Two suicide bombers wearing police uniforms blew themselves up at an Afghan police headquarters Saturday, killing at least 12 officers in a deadly border region that has long been a refuge for Islamist extremists from around the world, officials said. Both men wore police uniforms and made it through three security gates before reaching the main building on the police compound. One attacker detonated his explosives inside the police headquarters building, while the other blew himself up near the entrance.

Pakistan

Police arrested two would-be suicide bombers planning to attack a mosque and a government building in Pakistan‘s capital Friday, as local officials said another suspected U.S. missile strike near the Afghan border killed three alleged insurgents. Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants seeking to topple Pakistan’s U.S.-allied government have carried out scores of attacks across the country, killing thousands. The military has responded by launching offensives in the remote northwest where the insurgents are based, and the U.S. has increased its barrage of missile attacks on those strongholds out of reach of the Pakistani army.

Shiite Muslim militias in Pakistan‘s tribal regions are helping some of NATOs fiercest enemies evade missile attacks from U.S. drones to cross safely into Afghanistan, a tribal activist told The Associated Press. Shiites, who control a key piece of tribal real estate, cut a deal with the deadly Haqqani network to give insurgents a safe, alternative route to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s Kurram tribal region. The deal underlines the problems of shutting down the Haqqani network’s access to its bases in Afghanistan from its refuges in Pakistan. The Haqqani network is blamed for many of the deadliest attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. Washington has been pressing Pakistan to launch a military operation against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan but so far the military has held back, saying its 140,000 soldiers deployed across the tribal belt are already stretched too thin.

Iraq

A second exodus has begun here, of Iraqis who returned after fleeing the carnage of the height of the war, but now find that violence and the nation’s severe lack of jobs are sending them away from home once again. Since the American invasion in 2003, refugees have been a measure of the country’s precarious condition, flooding outward during periods of violence and trickling back as Iraq seemed to stabilize. This new migration shows how far the nation remains from being stable and secure. Nearly 100,000 refugees have returned since 2008, out of more than two million who left since the invasion. But as they return, many are finding that their homeland is still not ready — their houses are gone or occupied, their neighborhoods unsafe, their opportunities minimal. In a recent survey by the United Nations refugee office, 61 percent of those who returned to Baghdad said they regretted coming back, most saying they did not feel safe. The majority, 87 percent, said they could not make enough money here to support their families.

November 24, 2010

More ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Outrage

The developer of the so called “Ground Zero Mosque” is applying for federal taxpayer money to help him build the controversial and contentious project. The funds are designated to help lower Manhattan recover from the 9-11 terrorist attacks, which took place just around the corner from the proposed mosque and cultural center location. “It’s absolutely disgraceful,” said an angry Congressman Peter King (R-NY) who is likely to be the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “It goes entirely against the spirit of the fund,” King told Fox News. “It’s an affront to the memory of all those who were murdered on 9-11. There are so many worthwhile projects in lower Manhattan.  This shows a gross insensitivity to the most fundamental feelings of New Yorkers and to those murdered on 9-11 it is a slap in the face that is a terrible insult.”

Study Shows ‘Major Breakthrough’ Against AIDS

Public health officials are declaring a major breakthrough in efforts to slow the global AIDS epidemic through the daily use of anti-retroviral drugs that significantly reduced the risk of contacting HIV, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The study, involving 2,499 gay and bisexual men in six countries, found that the pill Truvada, which has been used since 2002 to treat HIV infections, turns out to be a powerfully effective in helping healthy individuals from catching the virus, the Chronicle reports. The study found that daily use of Truvada lowered the risk of infection by 44% when given with condoms, counseling and other prevention services. Meanwhile, new statistics from the U.N. program on HIV/AIDS show that the epidemic worldwide is declining, the BBC reports. The statistics show that while 33 million people are living with HIV, there were 2.6 million new infections last year, a drop of almost 20% from the height of the epidemic in 1999.

Gonorrhea Rates Lowest Since 1941

One of the nation’s most common forms of sexually transmitted diseases has fallen to its lowest level ever recorded, but there’s still improvement needed, according to a government report out Monday. The report, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s annual report card on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), found that the gonorrhea rate in 2009 — the most recent year for which figures are available — was at its lowest level since 1941. Gonorrhea infections in 2009 dropped to about 111 cases per 100,000 population, down 10.5% from 2008.  The report also found that syphilis rates among women held steady after several years of increases. But the number of U.S. chlamydia cases was up 19% since 2006. The CDC said that while overall the findings are encouraging, “there are large disparities in STD rates by race and age. Some racial/ethnic minority groups have much higher STD rates than whites, and young African Americans are particularly hard-hit.” Syphilis rates among young black men were about double the rate they were in 2005.

Hate Crime Incidents, Victim Numbers Down

The number of hate crime incidents and victims declined in 2009 compared to the previous year, the FBI reported Monday. Of more than 6,000 hate crime offenders, over six in 10 were white while nearly two in 10 were black. Nearly half of the crime incidents in 2009 were motivated by racial bias and nearly one out of five by religious bias or sexual orientation bias. More than half the reported hate crimes against individual people were assaults, said the FBI. One out of a hundred hate crimes involved murder or rape. There were 6,604 hate crime incidents reported last year, down from 7,783 in 2008. There were 8,336 reported victims, down from 9,691 in 2008. The victim totals include not only individuals but also businesses, religious buildings and other institutions,

Lesbianism Linked to Upbringing

A recently released study shows a link between childhood family structure and the rate of female homosexuality — undermining the claim that sexual orientation is genetic or biological. Family Research Council (FRC) looked into the family lives and worship rates of 7,643 women between the ages of 14 and 44. Pat Fagan, senior fellow and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute at FRC, co-evaluated the data and tells OneNewsNow about the findings. “Once the girl grows up in a home in which her father is not present, it’s about three times” more likely she has had or will have homosexual partners than when she is raised by parents who are married and “always intact.” Statistics are also higher with step-families, the cohabiting step-family, and the single divorced parent, adds the FRC spokesman. He further notes that, according to the results of the study, women who claim to worship weekly or monthly have a lower rate of lesbianism, while those who rarely or never worship are at a higher rate.

Body Scanner Makers Doubled Lobbying Cash

The companies with multimillion-dollar contracts to supply American airports with body-scanning machines more than doubled their spending on lobbying in the past five years and hired several high-profile former government officials to advance their causes in Washington, government records show. L-3 Communications, which has sold $39.7 million worth of the machines to the federal government, spent $4.3 million trying to influence Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of this year, up from $2.1 million in 2005, lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show. Rapiscan Systems, meanwhile, has spent $271,500 on lobbying so far this year, compared with $80,000 five years earlier. It has faced criticism for hiring Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary, last year. Chertoff has been a prominent proponent of using scanners to foil terrorism. The government has spent $41.2 million with Rapiscan. The use of body-scanning machines has ignited controversy over privacy and health concerns.

Americans Salt Intake Remains Too High

Americans still consume more salt than they should, despite decades of warnings linking high-salt diets with an increase in blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. A new Harvard study finds salt intake is about the same today as it was nearly 50 years ago, an amount well above recommended guidelines. The researchers thought they would find that salt intake had increased over time because Americans eat more processed foods today than in 1957. But decade after decade, people consistently consumed about 3,700 milligrams of sodium a day, the data showed. Current sodium guidelines advise up to 2,300 milligrams (about one teaspoon) a day for adults, and 1,500 milligrams for those who have or are at risk for high blood pressure. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has recommended cutting back on salt in order to reduce blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk.

Economic News

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to the lowest level since July 2008, a hopeful sign that improvement in the job market is accelerating. The Labor Department says that weekly unemployment claims dropped 34,000 to a seasonally adjusted 407,000 in the week ending Nov. 20. Businesses and other employers added jobs in 41 states in October, the best showing in five months.

The government says consumers boosted their spending 0.4% in October. That was up from a 0.3% increase in September. People showed a slightly bigger appetite to spend because their incomes rose 0.5%, reflecting a slowly healing jobs market.

Sales of previously owned homes slipped slightly in October as the housing market continues to battle tough economic conditions including high unemployment and tight credit. The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that sales of previously owned homes dipped 2.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.43 million units. Sales in October were 38.9% below their peak of 7.25 million units set in September 2005 during the height of the housing boom. The median price for a home sold in October was $170,500, down 0.9% from a year ago, as prices continue to be depressed by weak sales conditions and a huge overhang of unsold homes.

The number of U.S. banks on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s “problem” list grew over the summer, even as the industry posted solid net income and fewer loans soured. The number of troubled banks rose to 860 in the July-September quarter from 829 in the previous quarter. That’s the most since 1993, during the savings and loan crisis. The FDIC also said banks earned $14.5 billion during the third quarter. That was a decrease from the previous quarter’s result of $21.4 billion, but well above the $2 billion banks earned a year earlier. The troubled banks were smaller, on average, holding $379.2 billion in assets. That’s down from $403.2 billion in the April-June quarter.

Recession-battered cities are moving beyond cutting or delaying major projects to close budget gaps and are slashing such quality-of-life functions as public safety services, library hours and after-school programs, a new survey of mayors shows. Things will get worse before they get better, the mayors say: Nearly 70% say they will reduce maintenance or cancel projects on roads, highways and bridges; 63% will cancel or delay planned building projects, and 41% will cut services or staff in police and fire departments.

N. Korea Fires Artillery onto S. Korean Island

North Korea bombarded a South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday, setting buildings ablaze and killing at least two marines after warning the South to halt military drills in the area, South Korean officials said. The North’s artillery struck the small South Korean-held island of Yeonpyeong, which houses military installations and a small civilian population and which has been the focus of two previous deadly battles between the Koreas. South Korea said it returned fire and scrambled fighter jets in response, and said the “inhumane” attack on civilian areas violated the 1953 armistice halting the Korean War. The two sides technically remain at war because a peace treaty was never negotiated. The skirmish came amid high tension over North Korea’s claim that it has a new uranium enrichment facility and just six weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il unveiled his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his heir apparent. South Korea responded by unleashing its own barrage from K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzers and scrambling fighter jets.

The United States, which has tens of thousands of troops stationed in South Korea, condemned the attack and called on North Korea to “halt its belligerent action.” Even as the world struggles to find workable ways to constrain North Korea’s expanding nuclear weapons program and unpredictable belligerence, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is planning how to channel new streams of aid and development money to the dangerous regime. Ban, the former foreign minister of South Korea, wants to engage more deeply in confidence-building measures to reassure a skeptical world of the positive impact of engaging North Korea peacefully.

  • · Rewarding North Korea for its belligerent actions only encourages it to lie and cheat even more.

Middle East

The Palestinian Authority reacted forcefully on Monday to an Israeli cabinet decision yesterday approving a $23 million five-year plan for developing the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem’s Old City. The plan is designed to preserve and improve accessibility to archaeological findings, upgrade physical and transportation infrastructures, and hold educational activities for students and soldiers. The plan is a direct continuation of an earlier five-year development agenda approved in 2004, which led to a major increase in the annual number of visitors to the Western Wall from two million people to eight million in 2009. The Western Wall is the most visited site in Israel, and “is the Jewish People’s most important heritage site,” according to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office. However, on Monday the PA Ministry of Information published a “study” claiming the Al-Buraq Wall, as it is known to Muslims, constitutes Waqf (Islamic trust) property owned by an Algerian-Moroccan Muslim family. “The Western Wall belongs to Muslims and is an integral part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Haram al-Sharif [the Noble Sanctuary],” according to the official PA document.

Iran

In a report obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms that Iran has temporarily halted its lower-level uranium enrichment activities at the Natanz plant, after Western diplomats said Tehran’s nuclear program was encountering serious technical glitches. Despite the temporary stoppage of the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, Iran’s total output of low-enriched uranium rose to 3.18 tons, the report said, suggesting Iran had maintained steady production in recent months. Experts say that amount could be enough for at least two bombs if refined to weapons-grade purity of 90%. Western diplomats earlier on Tuesday said it was unclear whether the Stuxnet computer virus may have been to blame for the technical problems Iran had been experiencing.

Iran‘s parliament revealed it planned to impeach President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but refrained under orders from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exposing a deepening division within the regime. Lawmakers also launched a new petition to bring a debate on the president’s impeachment, conservative newspapers reported Monday. In a report released Sunday and discussed in parliament Monday, four prominent lawmakers laid out the most extensive public criticism of Mr. Ahmadinejad to date. They accused him and his government of 14 counts of violating the law, often by acting without the approval of the legislature. Charges include illegally importing gasoline and oil, failing to provide budgetary transparency and withdrawing millions of dollars from Iran’s foreign reserve fund without getting parliament’s approval.

Ireland

The Irish government faced imminent collapse on Monday, only a day after it signed off on a $100 billion bailout, setting the stage for a new election early next year and injecting the threat of political instability into a European financial crisis that already has markets on edge. Confronted with high-level defections from his governing coalition, Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he would dissolve the government after passage of the country’s crucial 2011 budget early in December. His announcement capped a grim day for Ireland, as protesters tried to storm the Parliament building in Dublin. In agreeing to new elections, Mr. Cowen seemed sure to become the first political casualty of the debt crisis in the 16-member euro zone. The impending collapse of the Irish government after an expensive bailout seemed only to reconfirm fears that the financial crisis was far from contained.

Pakistan

A senior Pakistani intelligence official said Saturday the U.S. is seeking to expand the areas where American missiles can target Taliban and al-Qaida operatives but that Pakistan has refused the request because of domestic opposition to the strikes. The U.S. is increasingly relying on the missile strikes by remote-controlled drones flying over Pakistani territory to find and kill Islamist extremists that have free rein in the lawless areas along the border, where they plan attacks against American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Cambodia

Rescuers on Tuesday trawled a muddy river for more bodies and Cambodia prepared for a day of mourning in wake of a stampede by thousands of festival goers which left at least 378 dead and hundreds of injured. The prime minister called it the country’s biggest tragedy since the murderous 1970s reign of the Khmer Rouge. A panic-stricken crowd — celebrating the end of the rainy season on an island in a river — tried to flee over a narrow bridge in the capital Phnom Penh late Monday. Many people were crushed underfoot or fell over its sides into the water. Disoriented victims struggled to find an escape hatch through the human mass, pushing their way in every direction. After the stampede, bodies were stacked upon bodies on the bridge as rescuers swarmed the area. It remained unclear what sparked the stampede. Police and witnesses pointed to the narrow bridge as providing inadequate access to and from the island. Two Singaporean businessmen who organized a sound-and-light show for the festival, said authorities had closed another bridge earlier in the day, forcing tens of thousands of people to use a single span.

Weather

A vicious storm struck the Pacific Northwest and other western states at the start of the holiday travel season, dumping heavy snow on roads, knocking out power to tens of thousands of people and causing a cargo plane to overshoot its runway in Seattle. At least three deaths have been blamed on the storm. Blowing snow, slick roads and temperatures in the mid-20s turned the Monday evening commute in the Puget Sound region into an hours-long slog — for those who made it home. Some commuters gave up after more than four hours and returned to their Seattle offices; others reported they were still stuck in traffic more than five hours after leaving work. The storm that hammered the Northwest and Rockies with blizzard conditions Tuesday will move into the central USA Wednesday.

Cleanup from a rare November tornado began Tuesday in southeastern Wisconsin. A confirmed tornado touched down in Walworth County, where four homes and four farm buildings were damaged. An apparent twister also moved through Union Grove in Racine County, where semis were blown over and debris was spread over parts of Interstate 94. Two people were injured in storm-related traffic accidents and were in stable condition. In Loves Park, Ill., authorities say a driver and several schoolchildren suffered minor injuries when a Rockford School District bus rolled onto its side near the site of a tornado touchdown.

November 22, 2010

Democrats in Disarray over Expiring Tax Cuts

President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats in the U.S. Congress, many upset with him for election losses, are in disarray over what to do about tax cuts for millions of Americans that are set to expire on Dec. 31. With time running out and high political and economic stakes, Obama is pushing Democratic leaders to determine if they can win an acceptable extension of the cuts, which he could sign into law. Resurgent Republicans are demanding that all the tax cuts be renewed, including those for wealthier Americans — individuals making more than $200,000 and families above $250,000. Obama favors renewing the tax cuts only for those at or below those level, saying the nation cannot afford to renew them for wealthier Americans. Despite a number of options — including renewing all tax cuts or only those for the middle class or tying any extension to a renewal of jobless benefits — there is no indication a consensus is near.

Obama Foreign Policy Agenda Fraying at Home and Abroad

President Barack Obama hoped to use the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, to breathe new life into a foreign policy agenda that has sustained a substantial battering in a series of recent setbacks. “I think a foreign policy in chaos, is how you would describe it,” Helle Dale, a Heritage Foundation senior foreign policy analyst, tells Newsmax. “There were many people who bought into the Obama charisma that the mere presence of Barack Obama in the White House would change the world. And it hasn’t. That was already apparent in Lisbon on Saturday, where even allies couldn’t agree on what exactly was agreed to on Afghanistan. The view that Obama’s foreign policy is faltering appears to be the consensus among foreign policy experts in the nation’s Capital. The START arms-reduction treaty that Obama signed with the Russians is on life support because of Republican opposition in the lame-duck Congress. The signature triumph expected from Obama’s trip to the G-20, a trade agreement with South Korea, fell through. European leaders and the Chinese have openly castigated the Obama administration for its loose fiscal and monetary policies. The Middle East peace process has stalled

Security Protests Could Disrupt Thanksgiving Travel

As if air travel over the Thanksgiving holiday isn’t tough enough, it could be even worse this year: Airports could see even more disruptions because of a loosely organized Internet boycott of full-body scans and pat-downs. Even if only a small percentage of passengers participate, experts say it could mean longer lines, bigger delays and hotter tempers. The protest, National Opt-Out Day, is scheduled for Wednesday to coincide with the busiest travel day of the year. Body scans take as little as 10 seconds, but people who decline the process must submit to a full pat-down, which takes much longer. That could cause a cascade of delays at dozens of major airports.

Mystery Contrail From Chinese Missile?

Although the U.S. Defense Department and North American Aerospace Defense Command have speculated publicly that the unidentified contrail of a projectile soaring into the skies off the California coast – and recorded by a KCBS television crew – came from a jet and posed no security threat to the U.S., several experts are raising provocative and disturbing questions about the government’s official response, reports Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin. Two governmental military experts with extensive experience working with missiles and computer security systems have examined the television video and conclude the mysterious contrail originating some 30 miles off the coast near Los Angeles did not come from a jet – but rather, they say the exhaust and the billowing plume emanated from a single source nozzle of a missile, probably made in China. They further suggest the missile was fired from a submerged Chinese nuclear submarine off America’s coast, and point out that the timing of the alleged Chinese missile shot coincided with an increasing confrontation between the U.S. and China, and was likely meant to send a message to Washington. The Federal Aviation Administration documents that there were no aircraft flying in the area at that time, the night of Nov. 8th.

9/11 Workers Settle Suits over WTC Dust

More than 10,000 workers exposed to the tons of toxic dust that blanketed ground zero after the World Trade Center fell have ended their bruising legal fight with New York City and joined a settlement worth at least $625 million, officials said Friday. The deal will resolve an overwhelming majority of the lawsuits over the city’s failure to provide protective equipment to the army of construction workers, police officers and firefighters who spent months clearing and sifting rubble after Sept. 11. Among the thousands who sued, claiming that soot at the site got into their lungs and made them sick, more than 95% eligible for the settlement agreed to take the offer. Only 520 said no or failed to respond. The settlement will provide at least $625 million to the workers. A majority of the money will come from a special $1 billion fund set up by Congress and paid-for by the American people.

Senate Settles Claims of Black Farmers, American Indians

After months of partisan wrangling, the Senate has approved $1.15 billion to settle discrimination claims brought by black farmers against the Agriculture Department and $3.4 billion for American Indians who said the Interior Department had swindled them out of royalties since the 19th century. The legislation, approved by unanimous consent, also includes a one-year extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and several American Indian water rights settlements sought by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the Associated Press says. To pay for the entire measure, money would be diverted from a surplus in nutrition programs for women and children and by extending customs user fees.

For the black farmers, it is the second round of funding from a class-action lawsuit originally settled in 1999 over allegations of widespread discrimination by local Agriculture Department offices in awarding loans and other aid. The new money is intended for people — some estimates say 70,000 or 80,000 — who were denied earlier payments because they missed deadlines for filing. At least 300,000 Americans Indians said that since 1887 the Interior Department had mismanaged royalties for oil, gas, grazing and timber. The bill now goes to the House, which is expected to approve it after Congress returns from its Thanksgiving-week recess.

Coffee, Tea Lower Brain Cancer Risk

Researchers have discovered that coffee and tea might do more than boost your energy levels: Regular consumption of the world’s two most popular beverages may also shield you against a form of brain cancer. In fact, the latest research suggests that those who drink as little as a half cup or so of coffee per day may lower brain cancer risk by as much as 34%.The notion that coffee and tea might accrue an anti-cancer health benefit to regular drinkers builds on previous research that has indicated that the beverages may also lower the risk for both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Economic News

Some states have more dire concerns as their pension trusts teeter on the brink of insolvency. Three states have taken the unusual step of stopping cost-of-living raises for public employees already in retirement, while a few others have required employees to work longer to claim their benefits. The Pew Center on the States, a Washington, D.C., non-profit organization that focuses on public policy, released a study earlier this year saying there was a $1 trillion gap between what states have been setting aside to pay for employees’ retirement benefits and how much will actually be needed to pay for those benefits in their entirety in the future. The shortfall amounts to more than $8,800 for every U.S. household.

As workers scan brochures and charts outlining health-insurance options for 2011, most will find that their plans cost more, cover less – or both. Employers, also facing rising costs, are sharing the pain with their employees. They are seeking to halt rising costs by promoting good health with wellness programs, health coaches and financial incentives for workers who adopt healthy lifestyles. These sweeping changes come as employers adjust to the first wave of requirements in the nation’s new heath-reform law. Requirements in future years are expected to even more significantly affect how employers provide health insurance and share health costs with their workers.

Nation States are Dead Says EU Chief

The age of the nation state is over and the idea that countries can stand alone is an ‘illusion’ and a ‘lie’, the EU president believes. In one of the most open proclamations of the goal of a European superstate, Herman Van Rompuy went on to denounce Eurosceptism as the greatest threat to peace. Mr Van Rompuy’s speech in the German capital told his audience that “the time of the homogenous nation state is over. In every member state, there are people who believe their country can survive alone in the globalised world. It is more than an illusion – it is a lie.” The Belgian equated Euroscepticism with fear, which eventually leads to war – echoing former French president Francois Mitterrand’s famous phrase that ‘nationalism is war’.

  • · The New World Order folks are becoming much bolder about their push for the one-world government prophesied in Rev. 13

Middle East

In his first extensive comments regarding US-Israeli bargaining over a renewed settlement freeze, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas suggested on Friday that the US was using the effort to get direct peace talks back on track as a “pretext to provide Israel with more weapons.” The PA was reportedly taken by surprised when the Obama administration last week offered to provide a package of incentives to Israel in exchange for a new 90-day ban on settlement building – reportedly including a gift of 20 advanced F-35 fighter jets. In comments published today in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-awsat, Abbas was critical of the proposed deal, meant to sway the Palestinians to rejoin the talks. “America is Israel’s ally and we cannot prevent that. But attempts to renew negotiations should not be used as a pretext to provide Israel with more weapons,” the PA leader insisted.

Ireland

As EU experts dig through the books of Ireland‘s debt-crippled banks, the question has moved from whether Ireland will take an international bailout to under what conditions. On the firing line was Ireland’s prized low business tax, which the government says has lured 1,000 multinationals to Ireland over the past decade — but which it may have to give up to satisfy conditions of being rescued. Officials on all sides cautioned that the Dublin talks could stretch into early December, after Ireland gives more clarity on its plans by publishing a four-year outline for slashing 15 billion euros ($20.5 billion) from its deficit — forecast this year to reach a stupendous 32% of economic output. Ireland‘s banks will be pruned, merged or sold as part of a massive EU-IMF bailout taking shape, the government said Monday as a shellshocked nation came to grips with its failure to protect and revive its banks The Irish rescue is the latest act in Europe‘s year-long drama to prevent mounting debts and deficits from overwhelming the weakest members of the 16-nation eurozone. Greece was saved from bankruptcy in May, and analysts say Portugal could be next in line after Ireland for an EU-IMF lifeboat.

Haiti

The mounting circumstantial evidence that U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal brought cholera to Haiti was largely dismissed by U.N. officials. Haitians who asked about it were called political or paranoid. Foreigners were accused of playing “the blame game.” The World Health Organization said the question was simply “not a priority.” But this week, after anti-U.N. riots and inquiries from health experts, the top U.N. representative in Haiti said he is taking the allegations very seriously. The answer would have implications for U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world. If its peacekeepers misled, it could lose credibility for tasks such as helping oversee next week’s election.

Afghanistan

NATO and the Afghan government on Saturday forged a “long-term” partnership declaration — an agreement that will leave international forces in the war-torn country for many years after a planned military transition in 2014. “We will stay as long as it takes to finish our job,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general. He and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the pact before reporters at the NATO summit in Lisbon, along with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “Today marks the beginning of a new phase in our mission in Afghanistan. We will launch the process by which the Afghan government will take leadership for security throughout the country, district by district, province by province. The direction, starting today, is clear: towards Afghan leadership and Afghan ownership,” Rasmussen said.

North Korea

In secret and with remarkable speed, North Korea has built a new, highly sophisticated facility to enrich uranium, according to an American nuclear scientist, raising fears that the North is ramping up its atomic program despite international pressure. The scientist, Siegfried Hecker, said in a report posted Saturday that he was taken during a recent trip to the North’s main Yongbyon atomic complex to a small industrial-scale uranium enrichment facility. It had 2,000 recently completed centrifuges, he said, and the North told him it was producing low-enriched uranium meant for a new reactor. Hecker, a former director of the U.S. Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory who is regularly given rare glimpses of the North’s secretive nuclear program, acknowledged that it was not clear what North Korea stood to gain by showing him the formerly secret area. The revelation could be designed to strengthen the North Korean government as it looks to transfer power from leader Kim Jong Il to a young, unproven son. As Washington and others tighten sanctions, unveiling the centrifuges could also be an attempt by Pyongyang to force a resumption of stalled international nuclear disarmament-for-aid talks.

Mexico

Two men were slain and hung from a bridge, another was decapitated and a fourth was shot to death over 24 hours in Tijuana, the latest gruesome killings in a Mexican border city where hopes had risen that cartel violence was decreasing. Two bodies of two men were found hanging from the Los Alamos bridge early Friday, A day earlier, a human head was found underneath another bridge in Tijuana, which sits across from San Diego, California. Also Thursday, a man was shot to death while leaving his house in the exclusive Tijuana neighborhood of Chapultepec, and two other people were wounded in a shootout on one of the city’s main avenues. Beheadings, massacres and body hangings had initially declined in Tijuana since the January arrest of Teodoro “El Teo” Garcia Simental, one of two crime bosses who had been waging a bloody turf war in the city. President Felipe Calderon even visited Tijuana last month and touted it as a success story in his nearly four-year-old drug war.

China

Pollution in Beijing was so bad Friday the U.S. Embassy, which has been independently monitoring air quality, ran out of conventional adjectives to describe it, at one point saying it was “crazy bad.” The hazardous haze has forced schools to stop outdoor exercises, and health experts asked residents, especially those with respiratory problems, the elderly and children, to stay indoors. Experts say Beijing’s frequently bad air has been even dirtier recently because a growing number of factories and villages on the outskirts of the city are burning coal for the winter, and more than 1,200 new cars hit the roads each day.

Even as developed countries close or limit the construction of coal-fired power plants out of concern over pollution and climate-warming emissions, coal has found a rapidly expanding market elsewhere: Asia, particularly China. At ports in Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa, ships are lining up to load coal for furnaces in China, which has evolved virtually overnight from a coal exporter to one of the world’s leading purchasers. International coal exports have been surging because of China’s galloping economy, which now burns half of the six billion tons of coal used globally each year. As a result, not only are the pollutants that developed countries have tried to reduce finding their way into the atmosphere anyway, but ships chugging halfway around the globe are spewing still more.

November 19, 2010

Gitmo Detainee Acquitted of All but 1 Charge

The first Guantanamo detainee to face a civilian trial was acquitted Wednesday of most charges that he helped unleash death and destruction on two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 — an opening salvo in al-Qaeda’s campaign to kill Americans. A federal jury convicted Ahmed Ghailani of one count of conspiracy and acquitted him of all other counts, including murder and murder conspiracy, in the embassy bombings. The anonymous federal jury deliberated over seven days, with a juror writing a note to the judge saying she felt threatened by other jurors. Prosecutors had branded Ghailani a cold-blooded terrorist. The defense portrayed him as a clueless errand boy, exploited by senior al-Qaeda operatives and framed by evidence from contaminated crime scenes.

The trial at a lower Manhattan courthouse had been viewed as a possible test case for President Obama administration’s aim of putting other terror detainees — including self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba— on trial on U.S. soil. Ghailani’s prosecution also demonstrated some of the constitutional challenges the government would face if that happens. On the eve of his trial last month, the judge barred the government from calling a key witness because the witness had been identified while Ghailani was being held at a secret CIA camp where harsh interrogation techniques were used. The acquittal of the first Guantanamo detainee on all but one of more than 280 terrorism-related charges has escalated political tensions in the nation’s capital — but the Obama administration still aims to close the island prison and bring alleged 9/11 conspirators held there to trial in civilian courts.

Nearly 40% Say Marriage Becoming Obsolete

Marriage is increasingly optional and could be on its way to obsolescence,according to a survey of more than 2,600 Americans that examines changing attitudes about relationships today. Among the 2,691 adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center last month, 39% say marriage is becoming obsolete, up from 28% who responded to the same question posed by Time magazine in 1978. Census data reflect a declining percentage of married adults: 54% in 2010, down from 57% in 2000 and 72% in 1960. At the same time, the median age at first marriage increased in 2010 to its highest ever — 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women, according to Census. That’s up from 26.8 and 25.1 in 2000. Among those ages 25-34, the percentage of those who are married fell below unmarrieds for the first time in more than a century. Marriage is still the norm for college grads (64%) but less so for those with no college (48%). Blacks are much less likely to be married (32%) than whites (56%), the report finds. Cohabitation has nearly doubled since 1990. Pew found 44% of adults (and more than 50% for ages 30-49) have cohabited. Among these, 64% say they considered it a step toward marriage.

  • · Satan is succeeding in his goal of destroying the family and God’s ordained order, a true end-times sign.

Boycotts Over Immigration Law Reputedly Cost Arizona Millions

Economic boycotts against Arizona after the state passed a tough immigration enforcement law in April have resulted in more than $250 million in losses to the state’s conference and convention industry, according to a study commissioned by a research group critical of the legislation. Canceled conferences have led to losses including the elimination of more than 2,700 jobs, about $86.5 million in wages for Arizona workers, nearly $10 million in tax revenue for the state and $141 million in spending by conference attendees, according to the study conducted by the consulting firm Elliott D. Pollack & Co. for the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank. The study predicts the total damage to the conference industry could reach $388 million in coming years given the current rate of cancellations.

  • · Such numbers need to regarded cautiously given the source, nor does this study examine the benefits attained by fewer illegal immigrants accessing health and welfare services.

Pat-Downs at Airports Prompt Complaints

In the three weeks since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began using full-body scanners and more aggressive pat-downs of passengers at airport security checkpoints, traveler complaints have poured in. Some offer graphic accounts of genital contact, others tell of agents gawking or making inappropriate comments, and many express a general sense of powerlessness and humiliation. In general passengers are saying they are surprised by the intimacy of a physical search usually reserved for police encounters. It remains to be seen whether travelers will approve of the scanners the pat-downs, especially as millions more people experience them for the first time during the holiday travel season. The TSA agency has so far responded to the complaints by calling for cooperation and patience from passengers, citing polls showing broad support for the full-body scanning machines.

More than a half-million individual letters of protest of the new system of institutionalized airport abuse and humiliation are on their way to members of Congress, Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, thanks to WorldNetDaily’s C.E.A.S.E. program – Cease Enhanced Airport Security Excesses. The program allows the public to send 537 protest letters to each member of the House and Senate, Obama and Napolitano, with guaranteed Fed Ex delivery, for only $29.95. It is modeled after the historic “pink slips” campaign of last year that sent 9 million letters that drained the nation’s supplies of pink paper and put members of Congress on notice of what to expect in the Nov. 2 election this year.

Komen Gave Planned Parenthood Abortion Businesses Over $700K

A new report from a Planned Parenthood watchdog finds chapters of the Komen Race for the Cure breast cancer group gave affiliates of the national abortion business over $700,000 last fiscal year. The enormous amount should be a red flag to pro-life advocates, one leading activist says. Jim Sedlak, a representative of the watchdog group Stop Planned Parenthood says the numbers are concerning given than millions of pro-life Americans will participate in Komen events. He pointed to studies showing abortion increases a woman’s chances of contracting breast cancer and said that makes the donations extremely questionable.

New NIV Bible Drops Neutered Language of ’02 Version

The world’s best-selling Bible is getting an upgrade. At stake are millions of dollars in publishing revenue and the trust of millions of churchgoers. Since its debut in 1978, the New International Version — known as the NIV — has been the Bible of choice for evangelicals, selling more copies than any other version. But a 2002 gender-inclusive edition bombed after being condemned as too liberal. Translators hope their latest edition, which debuted online this month, will avoid a similar fate. They’ve retained some of the language of the 2002 edition. But they also made changes — like going back to using words like “mankind” and “man” instead of “human beings” and “people” — in order to appease critics. It’s available for preview at BibleGateway.com, with print versions expected in March.

  • · The original Hebrew has six different words that used to be translated “man.” Many of them do indeed mean mankind rather than the male of the species.

Online Doctors Revving Up

Internet entrepreneurs have brought new meaning to the phrase “house calls.” Online companies with names such as “MDLiveCare” and “RingADoc” are diagnosing and treating common conditions such as allergies and the flu over the Internet or on the phone, forcing state regulators to revisit decade-old rules about what constitutes a doctor/patient relationship. They cater to time-pressed consumers, who, for an out-of-pocket payment ranging from $25 to $40, can talk on the phone or chat online with a doctor or a nurse practitioner. “We definitely are not trying to replace that primary care physician,” says Jordan Michaels, a founder of RingADoc, which launched in mid-October and, for now, serves only California residents. Michaels and his competitors say they aim to replace the hassle and expense of visiting a doctor’s office or emergency room for a minor problem.

  • · Convenient, sure, but reliable?

Budget Cuts stop Phoenix Man from Getting New Liver

A liver-disease patient missed his opportunity for an organ transplant Tuesday, becoming the most dire example yet of an Arizonan denied life-saving medical care because of budget cuts to the state’s health-care system for the poor. Francisco Felix, 32, of Laveen, Ariz., was in the hospital ready to receive a liver that was donated to him late Monday night. But the liver went to another recipient Tuesday morning because he couldn’t find $200,000 overnight to pay for the liver transplant, one of seven kinds of transplant surgery the state stopped covering Oct. 1. Of about 100 Arizonans enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System who are awaiting transplants no longer covered, 60 of them are candidates like Felix with liver disease related to hepatitis C. Transplant is their only cure. Last month, Goodyear, Ariz., leukemia patient Mark Price became a poster child for the impact of the budget cuts after his doctor found donors who matched his bone marrow a day after Price lost coverage. Price’s story gained attention nationally and an anonymous donor later covered all costs for his surgery.

Some Retired Teachers Rehired While Drawing Pensions

Retired teachers are returning to classrooms across Maricopa County, some making $100,000 a year by collecting a pension and a paycheck at the same time, while retired administrators are doing the same thing and making more than $200,000. Welcome to what is commonly known as double-dipping, education style. Nearly every public-school district in Maricopa County is using a legal loophole to allow senior educators to simultaneously retire and remain on the job without interruption, records obtained by The Arizona Republic show. That means they can begin collecting their publicly funded pensions without ever missing a regular paycheck. There are more than 900 educators benefiting from the practice, and by law they stop contributing to the retirement-system trust the minute they retire. The financial impact is a blow the underfunded Arizona State Retirement System can ill afford.

  • · Such double-dipping is also increasing in other public-employee areas such as police and fire departments. With pension already a looming disaster, this practice must be eliminated.

GAO Says Raising Retirement Age Hurts Poor

Raising the retirement age for Social Security would disproportionately hurt low-income workers and minorities, and increase disability claims by older people unable to work could harm Social Security’s finances because disability benefits typically are higher than early retirement payments, government auditors told Congress. The report released Friday, provides fodder for those opposed to raising the eligibility age for benefits, as proposed by the leaders of President Barack Obama‘s deficit commission. The report shows an unequal effect on certain groups of people, and many of them “would have little choice but to turn to the broken disability program.” Under current law, people can start drawing reduced, early retirement benefits from Social Security at age 62. Full benefits are available at 66, a threshold gradually increasing to 67 for people who were born in 1960 or later. The deficit commission’s leaders, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, last week proposed a gradual increase in the full retirement age, to 69 in about 2075. The early retirement age would go to 64 the same year.

  • · Social Security didn’t even exist for thousands of years of mankind’s existence until the 1930s. So too with health, welfare and pension benefits. Now they’ve become entitlement rights and sources of income for the government. In order to solve the debt crisis, something has to give somewhere. Since the government is unlikely to relent, it is we the taxpayers who will pay the consequences.

Gov’t Investigates Officials at Failed Banks

The federal government has opened criminal investigations into approximately 50 executives and directors of U.S. banks that have collapsed during the financial crisis. Deputy Inspector General Fred Gibson says the inspector general’s office at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has been probing the role of the executives in bank failures around the country. The criminal investigations are separate from civil lawsuits against some 80 bank executives, employees and directors. The lawsuits are seeking to recover about $2 billion and were authorized by the FDIC‘s board. The FDIC has shut down or seized 311 banks since January 2008 at a cost of around $77 billion.

Republicans Plan $100 Billion Budget Rollback

Incoming House Speaker John Boehner and his new tea-party fueled colleagues are laying the groundwork for what would be, in absolute terms, the largest reduction ever in federal discretionary spending. Republican leaders have pledged to reduce non-entitlement spending by a whopping $100 billion. Doing so would effectively roll back the federal government’s non-entitlement spending to 2008 levels. Democratic leaders, keenly aware that budget cutting will draw bitter opposition from special-interest groups, seem almost amused by the “rollback to 2008” mantra that Boehner and the freshman GOP members of Congress have enthusiastically embraced. Experts on the federal budgeting process tell Newsmax there is little doubt that Republicans will move quickly to trim federal spending. In fact, some Republicans want much deeper cuts Republican Sen. George LeMieux tells Newsmax that he will introduce legislation in the lame-duck session to roll back all federal spending, including entitlements, to 2007 levels. Doing so, he says, would balance the budget by 2013.

  • · Right idea, but can they actually get it done? Time will tell – but we don’t have much time to spare before the debt crisis turns into a disaster.

Economic News

Republicans in the House on Thursday blocked a bill that would have extended jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed beyond the holiday season. An extension of jobless benefits enacted this summer expires Dec. 1, and unless they are renewed, two million people will lose benefits averaging $310 a week nationwide by the end of December. The failed measure would have extended jobless benefits through the end of February at a cost of adding $12.5 billion to the nation’s debt. Republicans opposing the legislation said the measure should be paid for by cutting unspent money from last year’s economic stimulus bill.

Slightly more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, but first-time claims remain near their lowest level in two years. The Labor Department says initial claims for unemployment benefits rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000. The level will need to fall below 400,000 before the economy can pick up steam.

Applications for mortgages to buy homes and to refinance dropped last week as mortgage rates pulled off historic lows. The Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday that overall applications fell 14.4% from a week earlier. The average rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 4.46% from 4.28%. It was the highest since early September.

The number of Americans at risk of foreclosure improved slightly over the summer but not nearly enough to suggest the crisis in the housing market is ending. The Mortgage Bankers Association says about 9.1% of homeowners missed at least one mortgage payment in the July-September quarter. That figure, which is adjusted for seasonal factors, fell from 9.9% in the April-June quarter and from a record high of more than 10% in the January-March quarter. The percentage of homes in the foreclosure process fell slightly to 4.4% from 4.6%.

Haiti

Aid workers in Haiti say the government has done little to improve water and sanitation since a Jan. 12 earthquake, making it likely that the cholera epidemic there will continue to spread. The outbreak that has killed more than 1,100 people. Haiti’s leaders must expand the country’s treated water and sewer systems to prevent future outbreaks of waterborne diseases. Many people purchase their water from privately owned kiosks and water trucks, paying by the bucket. Many of those informal water supplies are not chlorinated. Installing permanent systems is less costly than delivering emergency water. A $5 million water system that Oxfam built recently in Cap-Haitien serves 100,000 people and will last decades. In contrast, Oxfam has spent $30 million in nine months providing emergency water from tanker trucks and water bladders to 316,000 people.

Afghanistan

Coalition forces have increased the pace of military operations in Afghanistan to record levels, achieving battlefield successes against the Taliban as NATO prepares to discuss the future of the war at a summit this weekend in Portugal. Warplanes dropped a record 1,000 bombs and other munitions in October, up from 660 in October 2009, according to coalition statistics. The number of Special Forces-led raids against insurgent leaders has increased sixfold over last year. The operations come at a time when coalition forces are at a peak of around 150,000, which includes 100,000 American troops. The White House has said it will begin withdrawing forces in July and the upcoming winter months are historically periods when little combat takes place.

Iran

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, reiterating his long-standing opposition to a military attack on Iran, said Tuesday that new sanctions led by the Obama administration are causing divisions within the Iranian leadership. Sanctions ‘have really bitten much harder than [Iranian leaders] anticipated,’ Gates told the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, citing indications that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in trouble with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. ‘We even have some evidence that Khamenei now is beginning to wonder if Ahmadinejad is lying to him about the impact of the sanctions on the economy and whether he’s getting the straight scoop in terms of how much trouble the economy really is in,’ Gates said. Gates, who has repeatedly warned against military strikes on Tehran’s nuclear facilities, said, ‘I personally believe they are intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, but also the information that we have is that they’ve been surprised by the impact of the sanctions.'”

China

Workers’ growing awareness and their willingness to take action are slowly pushing up wages and improving conditions in the manufacturing industry. The Chinese government already moved to increase salaries and labor standards a few years ago. Now it is trying to maintain a delicate balance of improving income levels for workers while not scaring away foreign corporations with higher labor costs. This year, strikes at Honda factories and a spate of suicides at Foxconn — a maker of electronics for U.S. companies such as Apple and Dell — raised alarm among corporations and the government that the era of the docile worker had ended. Strikes still happen each week in China, labor rights groups say, but the government doesn’t allow them to be reported. The labor unrest is even inspiring strikes in Cambodia and Vietnam, whose workers say they’re emboldened by their Chinese colleagues’ examples.

Sweden

The elusive Australian behind the biggest leak of U.S. war documents in history is wanted by Sweden in a drawn-out rape probe, and could soon face an international arrest warrant curtailing his ability to jump from one country to another. A Swedish court on Thursday approved a motion to bring Julian Assange, the 39-year-old founder of WikiLeaks, into custody for questioning. The decision paves the way for prosecutors to seek his arrest abroad through Interpol. Assange, whose whereabouts are unknown, is suspected of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. He has denied the allegations, which stem from his encounters with two women during a visit to Sweden in August.

  • · Or, is this merely a means to silencing the whistle-blower?

North Korea

The Obama administration is slapping new sanctions on a North Korean government agency accused of illicitly financing slush funds for the communist country’s reclusive leadership. The Treasury on Thursday added the Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation to its financial blacklist. The move freezes any assets the companies may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bans Americans from doing business with them. Treasury said both are key components of “Office 39,” a secretive bureau that raises money for senior North Korean leaders by producing, smuggling and distributing narcotics, and laundering money.

Thailand

More than 2,000 illegally aborted fetuses have been recovered at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Thai police said Friday. The fetuses were initially discovered earlier in the week, given away by the smell of decay at the Phai-nguern Chotinaram temple in central Bangkok. Temples in Thailand typically have morticians who prepare bodies for cremation. Two morticians had been charged with hiding bodies and faced about a year in jail if convicted. They are being charged with performing illegal abortions and opening an unlicensed clinic.

Bhutan

ASSIST News Service reports that a Bhutanese Christian is serving three years in prison after showing a film about Jesus. Police in Bhutan will likely arrest two more Christians for their involvement in the showing. Prem Singh Gurung has already been sentenced, and officials have defended the harsh sentence by saying that “no person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.” They have not, however, demonstrated any evidence that Gurung was trying to force conversions. Human rights group International Christian Concern has submitted a letter to the United Nations protesting Gurung’s sentence as a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Weather

The National Weather Service says it was a tornado that damaged homes, buildings and cars in Baltimore and Baltimore County. The weather service says the tornado was on the ground for less than a minute early Wednesday morning, causing damage in two stretches. The first was a tenth of a mile long and 175 yards wide and included the Dutch Village apartment complex where three units had their roofs blown off. The second began a half mile north and was a third of a mile long and 250 yards wide centered on the Perring Parkway Shopping Center in Parkville. The storm damaged more than 350 apartments and townhouses, and 16 buildings and 54 residential units were condemned.

November 17, 2010

Court Vindicates ‘Under God’ in Pledge

It’s a “victory for plain old common sense,” says a legal group in describing a court decision to keep the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. The case before the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would have stopped recitation of the Pledge in New Hampshire’s schools. But Eric Rassbach with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty tells OneNewsNow the court gave a solid ruling late last week. “They rejected what is the latest in a series of attacks on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance — and specifically [targeting] the words ‘under God,'” the attorney explains. The group Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with infamous atheist activist Michael Newdow, had argued that the words “under God” endorsed religion — but the court rejected that argument. According to Rassbach, the court’s favorable ruling mirrors the decision in March by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the constitutionality of the Pledge. “All the courts who have dealt with the topic are now unanimous that the Pledge is constitutional with the words ‘under God’ in it — and that essentially ‘God’ is not a dirty word,” he states.

Jesus Worth Less than Video Game?

Christians in the U.S. have not managed to raise the $200 million more a year needed to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the globe. Meanwhile, in 24 hours beginning November 9, 2010, gamers in North America and the United Kingdom spent a record $360 million on the new ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’ video game. “The comparison suggests that gamers value a new video game more than Christians value Jesus Christ and his priorities,” observed Dr. John Ronsvalle. He is coauthor, with his wife Sylvia, of the new study, ‘The State of Church Giving.’ The Ronsvalles calculated that it would cost church members in the U.S. about $1 a year to raise the estimated $200 million more a year needed to engage all unreached people groups. ‘Engaging’ means providing a basic point of access to the Gospel. The new study, released in October 2010 by empty tomb, inc., cites the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee as the source of the $200 million figure.

Obama and Republicans have Different Approaches to Earmarks

Both President Obama and newly empowered Republicans are criticizing earmarks — pet projects inserted into bills by lawmakers — but they have different approaches on how to deal with them. House and Senate Republicans are calling for an outright ban on earmarks, while Obama wants to restrict them because some of the projects involved are worthwhile. Obama was praising the decision of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who reversed course Monday and endorsed a ban on earmarks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he would join his fellow Republicans in opposing earmarks, bowing to pressure from tea party activists who see the special project funding as a prime example of out-of-control government spending. Senate Republicans, by a near-unanimous voice vote, approved a resolution to banish the practice of earmarks Tuesday evening — and challenged Democrats to match them.

Obama’s Prospects for Russia Arms Pact Fade

An agreement between the United States and Russia to slash their nuclear arsenals was in danger of collapse after an influential Republican senator said Tuesday it should not be voted on this year. With a terse statement, Sen. Jon Kyl dealt a major setback to President Barack Obama’s efforts to improve ties with Russia and to his broader strategy for reducing nuclear arms worldwide. The treaty, known as New START, had been seen as one of Obama’s top foreign policy accomplishments. Without the support of Kyl, the leading Republican voice on the treaty, Democrats have little hope of securing at least eight Republican votes — the minimum they would need for ratification in the current Senate.

Napolitano ‘Open’ to Fliers’ Gripes Over Screening

A lawsuit was filed today against Janet Napolitano and the Transportation Security Administration alleging that the invasive airport “security” procedures instituted at President Obama’s instructions are “profane, degrading, intrusive and indecent” and are both “unreasonable and violative of the Fourth Amendment.” The case was filed in federal court for the District of Columbia by John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute. The issue of the invasion of privacy demanded by the TSA at airport security checkpoints – passengers are given the option of an X-ray that reveals a virtually nude image for government agents to see or a hands-on-all-body-parts pat-down – has exploded in recent days.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday that the agency has an “open ear” to any “adjustments” to security measures in place at the nation’s airports, as some groups and individuals continued to call for a boycott of full-body scanning machines that they complain are invasive. But, she said, “if there are adjustments we need to make to these procedures as we move forward, we have an open ear. We will listen.” Napolitano reiterated that the imaging technology does not violate fliers’ privacy. She added that “if people want to travel by some other means,” they have that right.

  • · Napolitano’s arrogant gall is astounding. She and Obama are narcissistic soul-mates. Does not violate fliers’ privacy?? Go travel by other means??? Some right. This administration has violated and eliminated more personal rights and freedoms than any other.

Arizona Starts Medical Marijuana Implementation

Now that it’s clear that Arizona voters have approved medical marijuana, the Department of Health Services is scrambling to meet the four-month requirement to implement the law. Medical users could be legally smoking marijuana by next summer, Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) Director Will Humbles said in a press conference Monday. “I see this as a threat to the quality of life in Arizona,” Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said of the new law. Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh’s comments were even stronger. “The voting public was misguided by the proponents of medical marijuana and they will realize their mistake when they see bodies lying in the highway,” Waugh said.

Hospital Care Fatal for Many Medicare Patients

An estimated 15,000 Medicare patients die each month in part because of care they receive in the hospital, says a government study released today. The study is the first of its kind aimed at understanding “adverse events” in hospitals — essentially, any medical care that causes harm to a patient,. Patients in the study, a nationally representative sample of 780 Medicare patients discharged from hospitals in October 2008, suffered such problems as bed sores, infections and excessive bleeding from blood-thinning drugs, the report found. The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality called the results “alarming.” Of the 780 cases, 12 patients died as a result of hospital care. Five were related to blood-thinning medication. Two other medication-related deaths involved inadequate insulin management resulting in hypoglycemic coma and respiratory failure resulting from oversedation. About one in seven Medicare hospital patients — or about 134,000 of the estimated 1 million discharged in October 2008 — were harmed from medical care. Another one in seven experienced temporary harm because the problem was caught in time and reversed. About 47 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare, a government health insurance program for people 65 and older and those of any age with kidney failure.

Foreclosure Mess May Threaten Banks

The disarray stemming from flawed foreclosure documents could threaten major banks with billions of dollars in losses, deepen the disruption in the housing market and hurt the government’s effort to keep people in their homes, according to a new report from a congressional watchdog. Revelations that several big mortgage issuers sped through thousands of home foreclosures without properly checking paperwork already has raised alarm in Washington. Federal and state regulators, including the Federal Reserve and attorneys general in all 50 states, are investigating whether mortgage companies cut corners on their own procedures when they moved to foreclose on people’s homes. If the irregularities are widespread, the consequences could be severe, the Congressional Oversight Panel said in a report issued Tuesday. “Clear and uncontested property rights are the foundation of the housing market,” the report says. “If these rights fall into question, that foundation could collapse.”

Economic News

The consumer price index rose moderately in October but there was little sign of inflation as the cost of autos, clothing and hotels fell. The Labor Department said Wednesday that the consumer price index rose 0.2% last month, a slight increase from September’s 0.1% rise. Gasoline prices accounted for most of the increase, rising 4.6% in October, biggest gain since July. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, the core consumer index was unchanged for the third straight month. In the past 12 months, the core index has risen only 0.6%, smallest increase since the index began in 1957. The weak economy is keeping a lid on prices.

The Commerce Department says construction of new homes and apartments sank 11.7% last month, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 519,000 units. The decline was the worst showing since April 2009, when construction dropped to a rate of 477,000 units — lowest level on records dating back to 1959. Construction of new homes and apartments is 77% below its peak during the housing boom of 2.27 million units in January 2006.

European officials scrambled Tuesday to stop Ireland‘s debt crisis from turning into another Greek-style meltdown and dragging down the euro currency, holding talks over solutions including possible help for Ireland’s troubled banking system. Only months after saving Greece, the 16-country eurozone has been shaken anew by concerns that Ireland will be unable to pay the cost of rescuing its banks, which ran into trouble when the country’s real estate boom collapsed and risky loans stopped being repaid.

Debt-ridden Greece raised its projected budget deficit figure for 2010 after the European Union‘s statistics agency said Monday that the country’s deficit and debt levels last year were much higher than previously estimated. But the country, which has been struggling with a severe financial crisis the past year and is receiving euro110 billion ($150 billion) in rescue loans to keep it from defaulting on its debts, insisted it is still on track for an “unprecedented” 6% deficit reduction.

China, the biggest buyer of U.S. Treasury securities, has boosted its holdings for a third straight month. China’s holdings of Treasury debt rose to $883.5 billion in September, the Treasury Department says. That’s a 1.7% increase from August. For much of this year, China has been increasing its holdings of Treasury debt. Overall, foreign governments increased purchases of Treasury securities by $39.5 billion in September, a record. A sustained drop in foreign demand for Treasury debt could lead to higher U.S. interest rates, slowing the economy.

  • · While increased foreign Treasury debt holdings might help our economy, we are selling our independence down the drain to hostile nations (including many Muslim countries) who have vastly boosted their ownership position over the past few years

Middle East

Israel and the United States were in a standoff Wednesday over the terms of a Washington-proposed settlement construction moratorium meant to revive Mideast peace talks. Israeli officials had said several days ago that the U.S. had agreed that the 90-day moratorium would be the last time Israel would be asked to renew building limitations that expired in late September, after 10 months. They also said the renewal — like the earlier moratorium — would not apply to disputed east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital. But now it appears that these issues are still under negotiation. The proposed U.S. package would include 20 F-35 joint strike fighter aircrafts for Israel, valued at $3 billion; U.S. commitment to veto at the UN Security Council any resolutions that would unilaterally declare a Palestinian state over the next year; and a U.S.-Israel long-term security agreement.

Iran

The Stuxnet computer worm that infiltrated industrial systems in Iran this fall may have been designed specifically to attack the country’s nuclear program, potentially crippling centrifuges used to enrich uranium gas, according to new research. In a blog post late last week, a Stuxnet researcher at Symantec wrote that the software firm had concluded that the worm targeted industrial systems with high frequency ‘converter drives’ from two specific vendors, including the one in Iran. Independently, Langner Communications of Germany, a systems security firm, also announced over the weekend that another part of the worm’s attack code was configured in a way to target a control system for steam turbines used in power plants, such as those installed at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. Langner also confirmed that the worm appeared to attack key components of centrifuges.

Korea

More than 10,000 North Koreans have escaped into South Korea in the past three years, according to a report released Monday by the South Korean Unification Ministry. About as many North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of 2007 as the number who have fled over the entire previous period since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, the ministry said. The total now stands at 23,050. The rise in defections comes as the North continues to grapple with years of famine and the issue of who will succeed dictator Kim Jong Il, 68, who has been ill for years. Amnesty International says tens of thousands more defectors may be hiding in China, trying to get to the South. The United Nations estimates that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have died from starvation over the past decade, during which time the Stalinist regime has tried numerous failed schemes to grow grain without resorting to a free-market agricultural system. Heavy floods have damaged coal production and ruined crops, and much of the country is still without electricity.

Afghanistan

Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, was frustrated by the Afghan president’s blunt call for a reduced military footprint in the country — a remark that threatened to undermine efforts to maintain international support for the war at this week’s NATO summit. NATO had received assurances that Karzai was on-board with the coalition’s strategy and that international forces were working hard to address some of his concerns. Support for the war is waning in the capitals of troop-contributing nations and NATO officials hope to use the Lisbon summit to convince heads of state that progress is being made, and that the effort warrants continued support.

Pakistan

Suspected American missiles slammed into a home and a speeding vehicle near the Afghan border Tuesday, killing 20 alleged militants as the U.S. ramps up unmanned drone strikes in northwestern Islamist strongholds. The eighth missile attack this month in Pakistan killed targets in North Waziristan, a mountainous tribal region that is a base for Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked fighters responsible for many of the attacks on U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. The U.S. has launched 100 such strikes in Pakistan so far this year, a major surge over previous years for the drone program that is rarely officially acknowledged by Washington. Nearly all have hit in North Waziristan, where Muslim extremists run a virtual mini-state outside the Pakistani government’s control.

Yemen

The United States is sharply increasing the amount of development and other civilian aid it is sending to Yemen and has changed the way it is administered, a move that some experts say may still not be enough to counter al-Qaeda’s growing presence there. “We’ve reoriented our aid program towards quick impact projects, things that get on the ground in Yemen as quickly as possible,” said Janet Sanderson, a deputy assistant secretary of State. This year, the government budgeted $67.5 million in State Department aid for Yemen, up from $40 million in 2009, according to department statistics. The White House requested $106 million for 2011. The money includes aid for development and police and other security training.

  • · This is but a piddling amount which won’t have hardly any affect on al-Qaeda.

Egypt

Muslims set fire overnight to at least 10 houses belonging to Coptic Christians in a village in southern Egypt over rumors that a Christian resident had an affair with a Muslim girl, security officials said Tuesday. The officials said security forces have sealed off the village of al-Nawahid, in Qena province some 290 miles south of Cairo, to prevent the violence from spreading to neighboring towns. They said several people were arrested. Clashes between Christians and Muslims occasionally occur in southern Egypt, mostly over land or disputes over church construction. But sectarian tensions have also been on the rise recently in the capital. Human rights groups say attacks on Copts are on the rise, underscoring the government’s failure to address chronic sectarian strains in a society where religious radicalism is gaining ground.

Haiti

The United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti condemned the violent clashes that broke out Monday in two cities in the northern part of the country, charging that the riots may be politically motivated. “The way in which the events unfolded leads to the belief that the incidents had a political motivation, aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of the elections,” the U.N. mission said in a statement Tuesday. The mission said the protesters were armed and fired on the peacekeepers, who shot back in self-defense. In Cap Haitien, schools and banks were closed, residents set fire to tires at entrances to the town and gunfire ricocheted through the streets “We are facing the consequences of a cholera epidemic and in two weeks the elections, so the population is scared,” spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese said. “It’s a volatile situation.” The cholera outbreak in earthquake-ravaged Haiti that has killed more than 900 people will continue for at least six months, possibly years, experts say. So far, 16,800 people have been hospitalized.

Italy

Italian police have seized 2,200 pounds of pure cocaine worth as much as $340 million from a shipping container carrying farm equipment from Brazil. Police in the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro discovered the haul acting on a tip from British officials dealing with organized crime. Calabria is home to the ‘ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, which has been expanding its grip on drug trafficking in Europe. Such huge shipments of drugs destined for the European market usually arrive in the Netherlands. A statement from Rome’s carabinieri said it was the largest such seizure in Italy in 15 years.

Weather

Snow and fog caused a 34-car pileup outside Denver Monday. Troopers say 12 people were injured on Interstate 25. The Colorado State Patrol says 30 passenger vehicles and four semi-trucks, were involved in three separate crashes because of snow, fog and ice. People from two cars required extrications. All of the injuries were considered non-life-threatening.

A tractor-trailer overturned Tuesday, forcing authorities to close a portion of Interstate 15 outside Helena, as much of Montana was hit with its first major snowstorm of the season. A number of accidents with injuries were reported as blowing snow and icy roads made for treacherous driving conditions. Strong wind apparently blew over the tractor-trailer on I-15.

November 15, 2010

Record Numbers of Women Inmates Turn to Faith in Christ

For more than 30 years, Mel Goebel has been going into prisons to share the gospel. Throughout the years, he has seen men and women transformed through the gospel message. But what he sees now is just plain amazing. For the first time, Mel and his wife, Annie, who head Daughters of Destiny prison ministry, are witnessing women inmates come to Christ in record numbers. In the past year, more than 20,000 inmates have attended Daughters of Destiny evangelism events, and nearly 7,500 have made decisions for Christ. “In the past, 7%–10% of the inmates at a facility might attend our meetings. Now we’re seeing 30%–90%!” The mission of Daughters of Destiny is to equip volunteers to reach incarcerated women for Christ and disciple them while in prison and after their release. “We are experiencing revival in women’s prisons throughout the U.S,” said Mel. “We see a movement of repentance, and as a result the women inside are passionate to share their faith with others in prison.”

Supreme Court Allows Gay Military Ban for Now

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Friday to allow the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military to remain in place while a federal appeals court considers the issue. Last month, a federal judge in California ruled that the policy violates the civil rights of gay Americans, and she issued an injunction that barred the Pentagon from applying it. The San Francisco-based appeals court said the policy could remain in effect while it considers the administration’s appeal. President Obama has pledged to push the Senate to repeal the policy in the lame-duck session before a new Congress is sworn in. Administration lawyers have in the meantime defended “don’t ask, don’t tell” in court. The policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, was lifted for eight days in October after U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that it violates the U.S. Constitution. The Obama administration asked the appeals court to reinstate the ban until the court could hear arguments on the broader constitutional issues next year.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Face Own Crisis

According to the American Center for Law & Justice, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Pro-Choice America, and pro-abortion legislators throughout the country are pulling out all the stops to shut down pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. These anti-life groups are pressuring local politicians in New York City to create new rules and expenses in order to make it difficult for pro-life pregnancy centers there to exist – forcing them to shut their doors to women in need of help. The move is not only deeply offensive, but unconstitutional as well. What happens in New York City will have serious implications for every city in America.

Catholic Bishops Face Shortage of Exorcists

Citing a shortage of priests who can perform the rite, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are holding a conference on how to conduct exorcisms. More than 50 bishops and 60 priests signed up to attend, according to Catholic News Service, which first reported the event. The conference was scheduled for just ahead of the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which starts Monday in Baltimore. The two-day training, which ends Saturday in Baltimore, is to outline the scriptural basis of evil, instruct clergy on evaluating whether a person is truly possessed, and review the prayers and rituals that comprise an exorcism. Among the speakers will be Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and a priest-assistant to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Despite strong interest in the training, skepticism about the rite persists within the American church. Organizers of the event are keenly aware of the ridicule that can accompany discussion of the subject. Exorcists in U.S. dioceses keep a very low profile.

  • · Exorcism, or what some call ‘deliverance,’ is either ridiculed or overdone. The truth is (based on personal experience) that it is sometimes necessary but the person’s inner ‘house’ needs to swept clean and filled with the Holy Spirit or else the infestation returns worse than beforehand. Most often, a good house cleaning (closing the ‘doors’) resolves the problem without an exorcism.

Arizona Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Measure

Arizona voters have approved a measure that will legalize medical marijuana use in the state for people with chronic or debilitating diseases. Final vote tallies showed Saturday that Proposition 203 won by a tiny margin of just 4,341 votes out of more than 1.67 million votes counted. Arizona is the 15th state to approve a medical marijuana law. California was the first in 1996, and 13 other states and Washington, D.C., have since followed suit. The Arizona measure will allow patients with diseases including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and any other “chronic or debilitating” disease that meets guidelines to buy 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks or grow plants. The patients must get a recommendation from their doctor and register with the Arizona Department of Health Services. The law allows for no more than 124 marijuana dispensaries in the state. After ballots are canvassed Nov. 29, the state has 120 days before the law goes into effect.

Look Out, Your Medicine is Watching You

Novartis AG is planning to seek regulatory approval within 18 months for a pioneering tablet containing an embedded microchip. The initial program will use one of the Swiss firm’s established drugs taken by transplant patients. The ingestible chips are activated by stomach acid and send information to a small patch worn on the patient’s skin, which can transmit data to a smartphone or send it over the Internet to a doctor. The initial project is focused on ensuring that patients take drugs at the right time and the right dose, but the longer term hopes are to expand the “smart pill” concept to other types of medicine and use the biometric information the chip can collect, from heart rate and temperature to body movement, to check that drugs are working properly.

  • · In a totally benevolent society this might be a good idea. But we live in a fallen world and such embedded information will wind up being used for evil purposes.

Downsizing the American Dream

Home ownership has long been a symbol of the American Dream and for a while there, we supersized it. But since the recession, we’ve been downsizing it. The median home size in America was near 2,300 square feet at the peak of the market in 2007, with many McMansions topping 10,000. Today, the median home size has dropped to about 2,100 square feet and more than one-third of Americans say their ideal home size is actually under 2,000 square feet, according to a survey by real-estate site Trulia. Builders are responding by chopping out rooms that people just don’t use anymore, particularly formal living rooms and sitting rooms.

Deals/Coupons Transform Consumer Culture

The worst recession in generations has transformed McCormick, Purtee and millions of others into deal-obsessed consumers who scour ads, clip coupons, surf the Internet, patronize thrift stores and rarely, if ever, pay full retail. Shoppers who once felt embarrassed about using coupons and asking for discounts on services now demand them – and then boast about their bargains to friends over social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. The new deal culture has forced battered merchants, restaurants and other service providers to cut prices, stock lower-priced goods and offer deals online and in stores year-round. The phenomenon also has spawned Internet sites that offer deeply discounted daily deals and other sites that gather up deals presented by other deal sites. Discounted dental exams and spa treatments, half-price restaurant meals, buy-one-get-one-free promotions and other pitches are ubiquitous.

Arizona Pensions Becoming a Soaring Burden

Even as local governments and the state are slashing budgets, Arizonans are propping up public-pension systems that allow civil servants to retire in their 50s, receive annuities that can exceed $100,000 a year, and collect pensions while staying on the same job, The Arizona Republic has found. Over the past decade, government agencies have been forced to pour billions of dollars into the state’s six pension systems to keep pace with continual benefit enhancements. The added cost of these enhancements has been largely borne by taxpayers as pension investments eroded amid stock-market declines. Since 2000, the amount of public funding needed to maintain the elected officials’ retirement system has increased by 325 percent, from $4.1 million to $17.5 million a year, according to records obtained by The Arizona Republic.

Even some of the pension funds’ managers agree that these enhancements over the past decade have grown so expensive they are unsustainable without sharp increases in public funding and cuts to critical public services. Legislators and other policy makers, meanwhile, have done little to overhaul the systems. In fact, pension reform is rarely, if ever, mentioned by Gov. Jan Brewer or the Legislature as they grapple with ways to bridge a two-year budget deficit estimated at $2.25 billion. “It’s a ticking time bomb,” Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams said of the state’s pension systems. “A lot of people for too long have tried to ignore it and set it aside.”

California Financial Earthquake on Horizon

California‘s Legislative Analyst’s Office, California’s nonpartisan fiscal and policy advisor, is out with their latest financial projections. For the fiscal year 2010-11 (ended June 30), the office projects a deficit of $6.1 billion followed by a $19.3 billion deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The Office projects annual budget problems of about $20 billion each year through 2015–16. California is attempting to raise almost $14 billion in new debt over the next two weeks. It is questionable whether the sale of Revenue Anticipation Notes will attract buyers at reasonable interest rates.

  • · Like the USA in general, but even more so, California’s further expansion of debt to resolve its financial crisis is only postponing the inevitable financial earthqake

Economic News

Retail sales, helped by strong demand for autos, increased in October by the largest amount in seven months. The Commerce Department reported Monday that retail sales rose 1.2% last month. Sales at auto dealerships increased 5%. Excluding autos, sales rose a more modest 0.4%. October represented the fourth straight increase in retail sales.

The U.S. Post Service said Friday it lost $8.5 billion last year despite deep budget cuts and the elimination of 100,000 jobs. A sharp decline in mail was cited as the primary reason due to increased use of email and the recession. However, the largest portion of this loss was due to the requirement to make a $5.5 billion payment to fund future retiree health benefits.

The stock market recorded its biggest weekly drop in three months as a feeling of malaise took over after the U.S. failed to rally world leaders to come up with plans to strengthen global growth. On Friday, stocks and commodities took another nosedive on worries that China might put the brakes on its surging economy. Any cooling of China’s economy would slow down demand for raw materials, and that sent prices of oil, metals and grains tumbling. For the week, the Dow was off 2.2%, its seventh-largest weekly drop this year and its biggest weekly fall since the week ending Aug. 13.

Asia-Pacific leaders endorsed a blueprint for future growth Sunday that calls for pushing ahead with free trade agreements and rolling back protectionist measures put in place during the financial crisis. Wrapping up the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the leaders of 21 economies put aside differences over currency policies to voice a strong commitment to increasing the trade and investment crucial to the region’s growth and resilience. Leaders representing the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and other regional economies also agreed on the need to reduce trade imbalances and government debt and avoid sharp, potentially disruptive fluctuations in exchange rates. While many participants remained at odds over currency policies and other issues, they appeared to agree on the vital role freer trade can play in sparking growth.

  • · The appearances of agreement is only on the surface. Trade/currency wars will continue unabated.

Israel

The U.S. has offered Israel an incentive package to reinstate a moratorium on West Bank settlement building in an effort to revive stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, diplomatic sources said late Saturday. The sources said the deal stipulates that Israel would stop settlement construction for 90 days in the West Bank. The moratorium would not apply to east Jerusalem. The U.S. will not ask Israel to extend the new moratorium when it expires. The Palestinians say they will not resume peace talks until Israel stops building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territory they claim as parts of their future state. Israel’s prime minister pressed his Cabinet Sunday to accept a package of security and diplomatic incentives The proposal was worked out during a marathon meeting last week in New York between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

  • · Once again, the Obama administration comes out in support of the Palestinian position. Those who curse Israel bring a heap of curses upon themselves and their own country.

Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the United States must reduce the visibility and intensity of its military operations, especially night raids that fuel anti-American sentiment and could embolden Taliban insurgents. Karzai‘s remarks in an interview Saturday with The Washington Post come as the international military coalition has stepped up pressure on insurgents at the same time that the president has set up a peace council in hopes of reconciling with the top echelon of the Taliban. He said the Taliban share his feeling that the nine-year-old war has taken too high a toll on the people of Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, claims the 30,000 U.S. reinforcements and thousands of troops dispatched to the war this past year have made substantial progress in beating back the insurgency, although the coalition is not claiming victory.

Insurgents wearing suicide vests Saturday stormed a major NATO base in eastern Afghanistan, with six of them dying in a hail of gunfire before they could penetrate the defenses. In another attack, an insurgent rocket sparked a huge blaze inside an American base. Ten people including three children died in a separate bombing in the north. The attacks — in Jalalabad in the east and Kunduz province in the north — show the insurgents’ fighting spirit has not been broken despite a surge of U.S. troops and firepower. They also demonstrate the guerrillas are capable of striking outside their traditional southern strongholds of Kandahar and Helmand provinces that are the focus of the U.S. surge.

Pakistan

Pakistanis felt a surge of optimism last year when the military declared the Swat Valley cleared of Taliban insurgents, who had bullied their way to power by publicly whipping and beheading opponents. But more than a year after millions of residents returned home, the absence of virtually any government follow-through has turned that hope into despair. Throughout the valley, tens of thousands of students are sheltered by broken-down walls and flimsy tents supplied mostly by international aid groups. The government has yet to rebuild even one of the more than 150 schools leveled by the Taliban in their methodical campaign to prevent girls’ education. Running water, electricity and school supplies are widely absent. The lack of any visible progress has fed the frustrations of local people and international donors over the government’s incompetence and corruption, raising fears that it has squandered a chance to win over a pivotal population in its war against militancy.

Burma

Burma‘s military government freed its archrival, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, on Saturday after her latest term of detention expired. The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose latest period of detention spanned 7 1/2 years, has come to symbolize the struggle for democracy in the Southeast Asian nation ruled by the military since 1962. The release from house arrest of one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners came a week after an election that was swept by the military’s proxy political party and decried by Western nations as a sham designed to perpetuate authoritarian control.

Weather

Parts of the Upper Midwest dug out from a heavy snowfall Saturday that caused more than 400 traffic accidents in Minnesota, and wintry conditions also were being blamed for a collision in northern Wisconsin that killed two people. Nearly a foot of snow had fallen in parts of the Twin Cities area by Saturday evening, downing trees and causing sporadic power outages.

Beijing will collect and melt snow this winter to address its long-standing water shortage. Two vehicles with high-powered heaters capable of handling 3,500 cubic feet of snow and ice an hour will be sent to locations around Tiananmen Square and other areas throughout the city, the story says, according to a report Friday in China’s state newspaper Global Times. For years, northern China has battled a water shortage that experts attribute to global warming, drought and rising demand from the tens of millions of people who live in and near Beijing. This past summer was particularly dry, prompting Chinese officials to also consider extracting more underground water.

November 12, 2010

U.S. Stymied on Trade Goals at G-20

Currencies, cars and cows all blocked U.S. administration goals in bilateral meetings ahead of the Group of 20 summit of the world’s top economies that kicked off Thursday night in the South Korean capital. Leaders of 20 major economies on Friday refused to back a U.S. push to make China boost its currency’s value, keeping alive a dispute that raises fears of a global trade war amid criticism that cheap Chinese exports are costing American jobs. President Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao spent most of their 80-minute huddle discussing the often contentious issue of the Chinese yuan,. But no breakthrough emerged on faster appreciation of a currency Washington says is deliberately undervalued to aid Chinese exporters.

Despite extensive, last-minute negotiations, Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak announced that a long-awaited free-trade agreement still needs work. The sticking points: greater market access for U.S. automobile and beef exports to Korea. The delay is a setback for Mr. Obama, who is on a 10-day, four-nation swing through Asia that he has promoted as a mission to boost the American economy and create jobs. He has made trade — and in particular, the doubling of American exports over the next five years — a centerpiece of his agenda, and it had been widely expected that he would leave here with a deal with the South Koreans in hand.

EPA Issues Guidelines for Cutting Greenhouse Gases

Increasing energy efficiency is the focus of the first-ever federal guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources issued Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Among the suggestions: replacing dirty fuels used to power oil refineries with cleaner sources and requiring more efficient electricity and energy use with existing power plants to reduce emissions — while not requiring expensive technology upgrades. EPA’s new guidance is meant to help states understand how to implement new greenhouse gas reduction requirements while mitigating costs for industry in a bad economy. Most states will use EPA’s new guidelines when processing new air pollution permits for power plants, cement factories and other big pollution sources under the federal Clean Air Act. They require more stringent emissions standards when air quality regulators issue the permits to industry, which has complained the new rules will stop new construction and chill economic growth by creating uncertainty among businesses over how the new regulations would affect their new permits. The new guidelines are not regulations but merely information meant to help states figure out cost-effective ways to reduce the pollutants.

Authorities Bust Major Human-Smuggling Ring

The largest human-smuggling operation ever uncovered by Arizona task-force investigators has been closed down in a joint effort by local and federal authorities because of a routine police check in Goodyear. The smuggling ring, operating out of four sites in the West Valley as well as locations in southern Arizona and on the Mexican side of the border, transported thousands of undocumented immigrants into the country over the past two years. The huge operation, which brought immigrants into Arizona from Central and South America as well as Mexico, was dismantled Wednesday when investigators arrested and charged six men. They also seized 62 vehicles in the Valley, most of which were used to move illegal border-crossers around the state. The investigation began more than a year ago when Goodyear police Officer Sean Clarke, conducting a routine patrol check of a U-Haul rental-storage facility, noticed a number of trucks and vans with tinted windows that appeared to have reinforced shock absorbers. As Goodyear police began checking the vehicles, they were struck by something odd about the license plates: None was reported stolen. Investigators discovered that the plates were registered to fictitious owners at false addresses. Suspecting they had stumbled onto a smuggling ring, Goodyear police shared the information with IIMPACT, the state’s anti-smuggling task force. Some of the vans advertised locksmiths, flower shops and carpet-cleaning companies in an attempt to keep authorities from recognizing their real purpose: transporting illegal immigrants.

100,000 Hispanics Left Arizona After SB1070

A new study suggests there may be 100,000 fewer Hispanics in Arizona than there were before the debate over the state’s tough new immigration law earlier this year. BBVA Bancomer Research, which did the study, worked with figures from the U.S. Current Population Survey. The study says the decline could be due to the law known as SB1070, which partly entered into effect in July, or to Arizona’s difficult economic situation. The study released Wednesday also cites Mexican government figures as saying that 23,380 Mexicans returned from Arizona to Mexico between June and September. U.S. census figures from 2008 say about 30 percent of people living in Arizona are Hispanic, or about 1.9 million. The state is appealing a ruling that put on hold parts of the law.

Number of Uninsured U.S. Adults Hits Record High

Nearly 50 million Americans have gone without health insurance for at least part of the past year — up from 46 million people in 2008, federal health officials reported Tuesday. Those people included not only those Americans living in poverty, but an increasing number of middle-income people, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What’s more, the number of people without insurance for a year or more increased from 27.5 million in 2008 to 30.4 million in the first quarter of 2010,. During the past 10 years, the number of U.S. adults without insurance for at least part of the year has risen an average of 1.1 million people a year, and about half are middle-income adults, according to the report. People without health insurance are more likely to skip medical care because of cost. This can lead to poorer health, higher long-term health care costs and early death, the report said.

  • · The recession is largely to blame for the rise in uninsured, but the administration seeks to use these numbers to justify Obamacare’s mandatory insurance in furtherance of its socialistic agenda

Debt Task Force Recommendations Meet Resistance

The leaders of a bipartisan panel charged with finding ways to cut the $13.7 trillion national debt Wednesday recommended more than $3.8 trillion in savings over the next decade, but they met quick resistance from both Democrats and Republicans. By putting deep spending cuts and substantial tax increases on the table, President Obama’s bipartisan debt-reduction commission has exposed fissures in both parties, underscoring the volatile nature and long odds of any attempt to address the nation’s long-term budget problems. The proposal includes sweeping changes to Social Security, the elimination of popular tax breaks and nearly $1.5 trillion in suggested cuts from defense and domestic spending programs. Democrats decried future changes to Social Security, including lower benefits for upper-income recipients and reduced cost-of-living increases. At the same time, Republicans face intense pressure from their conservative base and the Tea Party movement to reject any deal that includes tax increases, leaving their leaders with little room to maneuver in any negotiation and at risk of being blamed by voters for not doing their part.

  • · Cut spending? Reduce social programs? Raise taxes? Anathema to politicians of all stripes. Ergo potential paralysis.

Congressional Leadership Pushing D.R.E.A.M Act Amnesty

Current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is joining forces with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to push the D.R.E.A.M. Act amnesty through Congress during the lame duck session. With the loss of many pro-amnesty Representatives in the mid-term election, the current leadership recognizes that this may be their best chance to advance a policy that has failed numerous times in Congress. NumbersUSA says, “The decision by Pelosi and Reid to continue to shove an unpopular policy on the American public, shows how uncommitted they are to the millions of unemployed Americans struggling to find work.”

Spending, Taxes Top Agenda of ‘Lame Duck’ Congress

Two weeks after Republicans made big gains in the midterm elections by vowing to reduce government spending, lawmakers return to Capitol Hill and face a bevy of pressing legislation that, if approved, would add more than $250 billion to the deficit in 2011. From expiring income tax cuts that affect three-quarters of American households to billions of dollars in unemployment benefits that will run out unless Congress acts, the proposals on the agenda for the “lame duck” session that begins Monday underscore why cutting spending will be a long, hard process. Spending and taxes will dominate the session as lawmakers decide what to do about income tax cuts set to expire in December.

Republicans, such as Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, in line to become House speaker next year, want a permanent extension. President Obama favors a fix only for families earning less than $250,000. An extension would cost $168 billion in 2011 alone, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Up to 2 million Americans will lose long-term unemployment benefits if Congress does not act by the end of December. The last extension became controversial, as Republicans resisted because the measure was not paid for. The Economic Policy Institute, a labor-backed economic think tank, estimates it would cost $65 billion to extend the benefits through 2011.

Economic News

The number of U.S. homes repossessed by lenders last month fell by the sharpest margin this year, as several major lenders temporarily halted most or all of their foreclosures to deal with allegations thousands of foreclosures were handled improperly. Home repossessions dropped 9% from September to October. The decline represents the first significant hitch in a foreclosure steamroller that’s had lenders on pace to seize more than 1 million homes this year.

As President Obama meets with global colleagues at the G-20 summit in Seoul, South Korea, he is taking heat for the Fed’s decision to pump $600 billion into the American economy. Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega likened the Fed policy to “throwing money out of a helicopter.” And German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble said the policy is no better than Chinese efforts to keep its currency artificially low: “What the U.S. accuses China of doing, the USA is doing by different means.”

Chinese shares led world markets lower Friday on mounting concerns Beijing will raise interest rates to cool its overheating economy. Investors also found scant cheer from the meeting of global leaders in South Korea that did little to defuse currency and trade tensions and from a report that European economic growth slowed in the third quarter.

Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to lock up a second term of office Wednesday after a lengthy closed-door meeting of Iraq’s political elite in which foes buckled to his demands for ending a dangerous eight-month impasse and forming a new government. It was a stunning victory for the Shiite Islamist, who was plucked from obscurity four years ago to be prime minister during the worst of Iraq’s sectarian violence, and a success for Iran. However, it was a strategic defeat for Washington, which had pressed for a prominent role for a rival of the prime minister and appeared to be caught flatfooted by the rapid developments. Maliki has mastered Iraq’s levers of power to become a figure admired and feared by supporters and opponents alike, and he held fast during months of uncertainty. Iraq has been without a new government since March elections in which Maliki’s slate of candidates came in second to that of secular Shiite candidate Ayad Allawi.

However, a dramatic walkout from parliament by his Sunni rivals on Friday cast doubt on a power-sharing deal reached by the two sides less than a day earlier. The walkout underlined the Sunni minority’s reluctance over the prospective new unity government outlined in the deal, which ensures continued Shiite domination while giving Sunnis a role far short of the greater political power they seek.

Afghanistan

At least 15 insurgents were killed by in a fierce round of fighting in Helmand province and 15 other militants were detained during three overnight operations targeting Taliban leaders across Afghanistan, NATO said Friday. The heavy fighting erupted Thursday in Sangin district after a member of a joint Afghan and coalition patrol was struck by a homemade bomb, the coalition said. Insurgents continued to attack as a coalition helicopter evacuated casualties. The coalition force called in air support and the insurgents were killed by missiles, a 30mm cannon and artillery fire. Also in Helmand, a joint force captured several suspected insurgents in Musa Qala district Thursday while going after a senior Taliban leader known for trafficking in weapons and explosives.

Pakistan

Militants attacked a police compound in the heart of Karachi, Pakistan‘s largest city, on Thursday with hail of gunfire and massive car bomb, leveling the building and killing at least 15 people. The gang of around six gunmen managed to penetrate a high-security area that is home to the U.S Consulate, two luxury hotels and the offices of regional leaders. While no stranger to extremist violence, Karachi has not witnessed this kind of organized assault in recent years. It was the first major attack against a government target outside the northwestern tribal regions for several months, showing the reach of Islamist militants seeking to overthrow the U.S.-allied government despite efforts to crack down on them over the last three years.

Christian Today reports that the mother of two has become the first Christian woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Asia Bibi was sentenced on Sunday evening for events that happened in June 2009, when she debated several Muslim women who pressured her to renounce her faith. Bibi reportedly spoke of how Jesus had died on the cross for the sins of mankind and asked the Muslim women what Muhammad had done for them. “Pakistan has crossed a line in passing the death sentence on a woman for blasphemy,” said Andy Dipper, Release International’s chief executive. “Although Asia has great courage, her dreams of release have vanished now. Please pray for her encouragement, strength and protection.”

Iran

The United States orchestrated the defeat of Iran’s push to gain a seat Wednesday on the board of the new United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality around the world, in keeping with the broader American strategy to isolate Iran. The United States organized a global diplomatic effort to block Iran from the board, with its ambassadors approaching dozens of foreign ministries to argue that the Islamic republic’s human rights record would send the wrong message about the new body. The American ambassador, Susan E. Rice, said, “We’ve made no secret of our concern that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious start to that board, ‘They lost, and they lost handily,’ she added.

  • · How does a Muslim regime that regularly oppresses women believe they have a place on a commission devoted to gender equality? It just shows their intent to impose their Sharia ways onto all aspects of the Western world.

Volcanoes

Hot ash poured more slowly from an Indonesian volcano Friday, but experts warned Mount Merapi could still erupt again as villagers reported that even rare leopards living near the crater have begun to evacuate. The death toll from a series of eruptions was raised to 206 on Friday. That figure continues to edge upward as officials count those who have died from respiratory problems, heart attacks and other illnesses related to the blasts.

November 10, 2010

Oklahoma‘s Ban on Shariah Law Blocked

A popular new law that bars Oklahoma courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, when deciding cases was put on hold Monday after a prominent Muslim in the state won a temporary restraining order in federal court. Two state legislators were quick to blast the judge’s ruling and the Oklahoma attorney general, who they said did not stand up to support the new law. U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LeGrange ruled that the measure, which passed by a large margin in last Tuesday’s elections, would be suspended until a hearing on Nov. 22, when she will listen to arguments on whether the court’s temporary injunction should become permanent. Shariah is found in the Koran and is the basis of law in most Islamic countries, though its implementation varies widely. It has been used in Iran and Somalia, among other places, to condone harsh punishments like amputations and stoning. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Oklahoma, filed the suit last Thursday, claiming the law violated Muslims’ constitutional rights.

Atheists Up the Ante with TV and Print Ad Campaign

A new national advertising campaign that is critical of religious fundamentalism will utilize a major television network for the first time this November. Additional ads will appear on cable networks, magazines, newspapers, buses, billboards and metro trains in several cities and nationwide. The American Humanist Association is the same organization that displayed ads featuring the slogans “Why Believe in a God? Just be Good for Goodness’ Sake” and “No God? No Problem!” on buses in Washington, D.C. other major U.S. cities. Both campaigns made headlines around the globe, but the latest campaign will be dramatically greater than former ones, and the text considerably more controversial.

  • · Secular humanists are encouraged and funded by the New World Order cabal to primarily undermine Christianity

Tea Party Leaders Flex Newfound Muscle

The tea party rebels preparing to storm across the Potomac and into the marbled halls of Congress are already flexing their muscles, circulating petitions, and shooting off letters advising members of Congress how to vote in an early test of their newfound Beltway influence following Tuesday’s historic elections. Much of the activism centers around grass-roots support for Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is challenging Texas GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling for the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference, the No. 4 position in the House leadership. Major tea party organizations such as Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express say they are staying out of the power struggle between the two grass-roots conservative leaders. But many say privately that their loyalty lies with Bachmann. On Thursday, for example, the FreedomWorks organization that nurtured the Tea Party movement through its early growing pains circulated a seven-page letter addressed to “Members-Elect of the Next Congress” which offered the elected officials of the 112th Congress what it called “unsolicited advice.”

Arizona Drophouse Busts Declining

Arizona‘s illegal-immigration task force has uncovered about half as many drophouses this year as were found in each of the past two years, mirroring the decline in apprehensions of undocumented immigrants across much of the Southwest’s border. Law-enforcement officials attribute the decline in drophouses to the area’s reputation for aggressive enforcement and harsh jail sentences for smugglers. Instead, smugglers are bringing smaller loads of human cargo into the state, and they are taking more circuitous routes. The changing tactics are not unique to Arizona. In San Diego, the Border Patrol has seen a 42 percent drop in apprehensions from last year. Among those apprehensions, the number of smugglers using small fishing boats to transport their human cargo along the coastline has doubled in the past year alone.

99 Pimps Rounded Up in FBI Bust

The FBI stated that 69 prostitutes, all children were caught in a crackdown. The sting operation took place all over the US and concentrated on the sexual exploitation of children. Forty cites in several states were under observation and eventual arrest of the sex offenders. In all, 884 people were arrested, of which 99 were suspected pimps. The children were found during Operation Cross Country V. The three day sting targeted traffickers, pimps, rounded up the young prostitutes and sought out users of such exploitive services. The children are being evaluated; physically, emotionally and mentally by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Their task is to see if the children can return to their homes and families or if other fostering situations need to be considered.

Supreme Court Rejects Review of Obamacare

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a request from a conservative legal group for an early review of the Obama administration’s healthcare overhaul bill. The California-based Pacific Justice Institute challenged the bill’s mandate that all individuals purchase health insurance, but the court declined to hear the appeal on Monday on the grounds that it is premature. The court’s action was unusual because the justices almost never deal with cases before they have been full litigated in the lower courts, and in this case a U.S. appeals court has not yet ruled on the case. A federal court in San Diego had previously dismissed the challenge. Other lawsuits against the healthcare reform bill are proceeding in lower courts.

Health Insurance Costs for Employees Going Up

For millions of Americans who get their health insurance through their job, autumn brings not only falling leaves and cooler breezes, but also difficult choices. That’s because it’s the time when many employers present workers with their insurance options for the coming year. According to experts and industry insiders, recent trends suggest rates will continue to rise and employers will continue to shift more of the cost of health insurance onto workers – asking them to shoulder a larger share of premiums, for instance, or increasing out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles and co-pays. This past year, overall premiums for employer-sponsored coverage, meaning the amounts paid by employer and employee combined, rose a relatively modest average of 3 percent for family coverage. But the amount paid by workers rose an average of 13.7 percent.

Currency Disputes Hang Over G-20 Summit

Intensifying friction over currencies and trade loomed Wednesday as leaders of major economies converged on Asia for back-to-back summits aimed at safeguarding the still fragile global recovery. President Barack Obama and other top leaders were arriving in Seoul, South Korea, for a two-day Group of 20 summit with the ambitious agenda of remaking the world economy to nurture stable growth and prevent a repeat of the financial meltdown in 2008. But that gathering, and a weekend summit of Pacific Rim leaders in the Japanese port city of Yokohama, are taking place as those nations struggle to reconcile conflicting strategies for achieving those aims. G-20 officials — whose countries comprise 85 percent of all economic activity — have pledged not to use their currencies as trade weapons. But tensions reignited last week when the U.S. Federal Reserve announced a $600 billion bond buying plan that angered many trading partners. Germany, China, Russia and Brazil are attacking the Fed’s move. Other countries complain excess cash may flood into their markets seeking higher returns, pushing their currency values higher, squeezing their exporters and inflating bubbles in stocks or other assets that could destabilize their financial systems.

Economic News

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the third drop in four weeks. The Labor Department said Wednesday that initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 435,000. Weekly first-time claims are now at their lowest level since early July.

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed slightly in September but was still running well above last year’s gap, adding urgency to Obama administration calls for other countries to do more to rebalance global growth. The Commerce Department says the deficit fell to $44 billion in September, as imports retreated slightly while exports edged higher, helped by rising sales of U.S. aircraft, computers and telecommunications equipment. But even with the slight improvement in September, the U.S. deficit through the first nine months of this year is 40% higher than a year ago.

Inventories held at the wholesale level rose for a ninth consecutive month in September while sales rose for a third month, encouraging signs that the economic expansion will continue. Wholesale inventories rose 1.5% in September after a 1.2% increase in August, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. Sales at the wholesale level were up 0.4% in September after a 0.5% rise in August.

Metals — precious and otherwise — soared Monday, propelled by fears of European debt defaults and inflation. Gold closed at an all-time high of $1,403.20 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Its gains powered other metals, too. Silver set a 30-year high as it rose 68 cents to $27.43 an ounce. Platinum gained $2.20, to $1,771.10. Gold and other precious metals rise when investors lose faith in paper currency. Much of gold’s Monday gains stemmed from unease about government debt in Europe, particularly Ireland. Stocks and government bonds fell Tuesday as metals rallied to two-year highs.

General Electric (GE) plans to sink more than $2 billion into China through 2012 as the conglomerate looks to build partnerships there. GE said Tuesday that it will likely spend $500 million on research and development and new customer innovation centers, adding more than 1,000 jobs. More than $1.5 billion is expected to be put toward new joint ventures with Chinese state-owned enterprises in high-technology sectors.

  • · Why not invest that money in the U.S. which needs it instead of China which doesn’t? Greed

Strong profits on new cars and trucks helped General Motors earn $2 billion in the third quarter, enhancing the company’s appeal as it nears next week’s initial public stock offering. It was the third-straight profitable quarter for GM, which needed $50 billion in U.S. government aid to make it through bankruptcy protection last year. The company has repaid taxpayers $9.5 billion, and the government hopes to get back the remaining $40 billion with the Nov. 18 common stock offering and several follow-up sales.

Former BP PLC chief Tony Hayward says the company was unprepared for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, forcing it to improvise solutions, and that evaporating credit took it close to financial disaster. He said BP had found itself unable to borrow on capital markets during the spill crisis, threatening its finances. Hayward says the contingency plans were inadequate and “we were making it up day to day.”

The recession and housing bust have accomplished what no other economic slump has managed to in the past century: end Nevada’s population-growth streak. The USA’s fastest-growing state for 19 consecutive years will see its population drop an estimated 70,000 or 2.6% this year to 2.64 million. The last time Nevada suffered a decline was in 1920, when its population totaled 77,407.

  • · The good news is that Las Vegas is in even steeper decline

France

Retiring at 62 became law in France on Wednesday, a victory for President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s conservative government and a defeat for the unions that waged massive strikes and street protests to try to stop the austerity measure. The success gives Sarkozy a boost on the international scene as France prepares to take over the leadership of the Group of 20 major economic powers starting Friday. French union workers and others angry over having to work an extra two years had disrupted train and air travel, caused gasoline shortages and allowed garbage to pile up in the southern city of Marseille. More than a million people had repeatedly taken to the streets in protest.

  • · The entitlement attitude is what will ultimately sink Western economies

Middle East

Israeli soldiers arrested a prominent Hamas lawmaker from the West Bank in a pre-dawn raid on Wednesday. The military said in a statement that Mahmoud Ramahi had been involved in recent Hamas activity. Israel considers Hamas, an Iranian-backed militant group that has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, a terrorist organization. Ramahi was among dozens of Hamas lawmakers and Cabinet ministers arrested in 2006 after Hamas-linked Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip captured an Israeli soldier. Ramahi was released in 2009. Hamas’ Ahmed Bahar, deputy parliament speaker in Gaza, called the arrest “part of the comprehensive, systematic war against our homeland.” Hamas has ruled Gaza since ousting forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

Iraq

Baghdad‘s Christians came under attack again Wednesday when a coordinated series of roadside bombs blew up in predominantly Christian neighborhoods, killing five people. The blasts came less than two weeks after insurgents besieged a church and killed 56 Christians in an assault that drew international condemnation. Police said at least 11 roadside bombs went off within an hour in three Christian areas of central Baghdad. Four of the blasts hit houses belonging to Christians. It was the third attack targeting Christians since the church siege on Oct. 31.

Afghanistan

An overwhelming majority of Afghans support the government’s efforts to negotiate peace with Taliban insurgents, according to a poll released Tuesday that ranks insecurity as the top concern among citizens, followed by unemployment and corruption. Some 83% of Afghan adults back efforts to secure the country through negotiations with armed, anti-government groups, the survey conducted by the Asia Foundation said. That’s up from 71% last year. Moreover, 81% — 10% more than last year — support programs to lure Taliban foot soldiers off the battlefield by providing assistance, jobs and housing to those who lay down their arms and reintegrate into society. President Hamid Karzai has made reconciliation a top priority and recently formed a 70-member High Peace Council to find a political solution to the war, now in its 10th year. Officials in both the government and the NATO military coalition in Afghanistan have confirmed that contacts are being made with top insurgent leaders, but say no formal peace talks are yet underway. The Taliban has denied that any of their top leaders are talking with the government.

Seizures of a key ingredient for homemade bombs in Afghanistan have risen sharply in recent months, a trend that top officers hope can stem the tide of improvised explosive devices, the top killer of U.S. troops there. Last month, U.S. and Afghan security forces in southern Afghanistan seized more than 18,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, more than twice the monthly rate seized in 2009, according to military figures. Virtually all of the ammonium nitrate in southern Afghanistan comes from Pakistan, said Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, who leads the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization. Afghanistan banned the fertilizer in February.

The New York Times reports that many Afghan women set themselves on fire to escape from abuse and despondency. Through early October, 75 women arrived with burns this year at the hospital in Heart. The choices for Afghan women are extraordinarily restricted: Their family is their fate. There is little chance for education, little choice about whom a woman marries, no choice at all about her role in her own house. Her primary job is to serve her husband’s family. Outside that world, she is an outcast. Returned runaways are often shot or stabbed in honor killings because the families fear they have spent time unchaperoned with a man. Women and girls are still stoned to death.

Iran

An Iranian semi-official news agency says the foreign minister has set Nov. 15 as the likely date for the start of a new round of nuclear talks with world powers. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki suggested Turkey as the venue of the talks. The talks would be between Iran and U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. The six nations suspect that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program under the cover of a civil energy program. Negotiations foundered a year ago. Sanctions aimed at stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons are having an impact on that country, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday. “We know that they are concerned about the impact of the sanctions. The sanctions are biting more deeply than they anticipated, and we are working very hard at this,” he said.

Haiti

The cholera epidemic has spread into Haiti‘s capital, imperiling nearly 3 million people living in Port-au-Prince, nearly half of them in unsanitary tent camps for the homeless from the Jan. 12 earthquake. More than 100 suspected cholera cases among city residents were being tested. The outbreak has already killed at least 544 people. Due to Hurricane Tomas, raging, flooded rivers are now bringing cholera to the capital city of Port-au-Prince. One report even says that “it is already in the water system in the capital!” An estimated 20,000 Haitians now have cholera.

India

President Obama wrapped up his visit here Monday by endorsing India’s long-held demand for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council — a pronouncement that won applause but also skepticism from Indians that the change could happen soon. The five permanent members of the Security Council are the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom and Russia. Japan is the only other country the United States has endorsed for permanent membership. Indians were more interested in Obama’s vow to work together to improve harvests using new technologies and farming techniques, and a U.S.-Indian partnership to help promote open government in India.

Indonesia

U.S. President Barack Obama shortened his visit to Indonesia because of fears that volcanic ash spewing from Mount Merapi could have grounded Air Force One. He was there long enough to launch a “Comprehensive Partnership” pact with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The agreement calls for closer collaboration on multiple fronts to help this nation, which has frequent natural disasters across its 17,000 islands.

Weather

A powerful coastal storm packing rain, snow and sleet and wind gusts topping 60 mph knocked power out to tens of thousands of homes and businesses, shut down schools and slowed the morning commute Monday across New England. More than 60,000 homes and businesses were in the dark Monday morning in Maine alone, and there were sporadic power outages elsewhere across the region. Dozens of schools were closed in Maine because there was no electricity. Numerous trees and branches fell onto power lines, and more than 40 utility poles had been toppled.

November 8, 2010

Tea Party Is Evidence ‘Democracy Works,’ President Bush Says

The rise of the Tea Party movement shows “democracy works,” former President George W. Bush says in an interview to air Tuesday night on Fox News’ “Hannity.” “Here’s what I see. I see democracy working. People are expressing a level of frustration or concern and they’re getting involved in the process,” Bush said in advance of the release Tuesday of his memoir, “Decision Points.” The conservative Tea Party movement is credited with shaking up this year’s midterm elections and helping Republicans win control of the House and cut into the Democrats’ majority in the Senate, though some critics have argued that Republicans lost some races because Tea Party candidates weren’t viable.

Demoralized Democrats Brace for a Rocky, Divided Future

Demoralized Democrats face an uncertain future after their bruising election losses, and the soul-searching and finger-pointing already have begun. A debate raged about whether the party, which suffered its biggest losses in Congress since 1938, needed a dramatic shift in course ahead of President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Liberal Democrats demanded more confrontation and less compromise with Republicans, while party pragmatists called for bipartisanship and a move to the center after the election rout Tuesday in which Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and picked up seats in the Senate. But many Democrats cautioned the election did not mark a fundamental shift toward Republicans, and warned against over-reacting to a result driven by voter unhappiness about the ailing economy and Obama’s inability to turn it around. “We were so busy and so focused on getting a bunch of stuff done that we stopped paying attention to the fact that leadership isn’t just legislation,” Obama said in an excerpt from a CBS “60 Minutes” interview broadcast Sunday.

  • They just don’t get it. Instead of looking at their disastrous results from a political perspective, they need to see that their flawed socialistic policies have failed.

Republicans Draw Line on Tax Cut

Republican leaders in the House and the Senate said Sunday that there would be no compromise with Democrats on whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers. President Barack Obama has said he wants to extend the tax cuts for taxpayers with a combined annual income of less than $250,000, but that the cuts should be eliminated for people making more than that. He has suggested there might be room for compromise in discussions with Republicans on other tax issues. But Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., who is expected to become majority leader in the House when the new Congress is sworn in next year, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Sunday news programs that they would insist on extending tax cuts for the wealthy. McConnell said higher taxes on upper-income earners would harm small businesses. Cantor said Republicans plan to make spending cuts a priority when they take control of the House in January.

Giant Jesus Statue Completed in Polish Town

A gigantic statue of Jesus that Poles claim is the world’s largest rose majestically above a small town of Swiebodzin, as the grandiose dream of a local priest finally came to pass. The white statue with outstretched arms and golden crown rising above the western Polish plains in Swiebodzin provides competition to Rio de Janieros iconic Christ the Redeemer. Rev. Sylwester Zawadzki, the 78-year-old priest who created the statue said it rises 108 feet, or 33 meters — one meter for every year that Jesus lived. By comparison, the statue in Brazil’s Rio is 125 feet tall. While it wasn’t possible to verify the exact height of the new statue, there was no doubt that “Christ the King,” as the golden-crowned Polish statue is called, cut an imposing sight as it was finally completed. It has divided Poles and underlined the deep cultural divide between a deeply Catholic population and an increasingly confident secular society — with many mocking the statue project as tacky. But many residents in Swiebodzin welcome it. They believe it will put their town of 22,000 on the map for tourists and Roman Catholic pilgrims and bring in needed money to renovate the historic buildings in the tiny town center.

  • · Sad that supporters use tourism as justification instead of calling people to repentance and salvation. Still, the Jesus statue calls attention to Him and we can pray that the Holy Spirit does the rest.

Saudis Warned U.S. of Package Bombs Weeks Ago

Western officials are crediting a Saudi intelligence tip they received in early October, nearly three weeks before terrorists in Yemen managed to smuggle mail bombs onto airplanes, with heading off what could have been a series of catastrophic explosions on jets. The Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility Friday for sending the two bombs addressed to synagogues in the U.S. and intercepted in Dubai and Britain. The group also said it was responsible for the crash of a UPS cargo plane in Dubai in September and threatened even more attacks on passenger and cargo aircraft. Investigators say they believe the UPS crash was an accident, not a terror attack, but they’re not discounting the al-Qaeda claim.

Scientists Find Damage to Coral Near BP Well

For the first time, federal scientists have found damage to deep sea coral and other marine life on the ocean floor several miles from the blown-out BP well — a strong indication that damage from the spill could be significantly greater than officials had previously acknowledged. Tests are needed to verify that the coral died from oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, but the chief scientist who led the government-funded expedition said he was convinced it was related. For the government, the findings were a departure from earlier statements. Until now, federal teams have painted relatively rosy pictures about the spill’s effect on the sea and its ecosystem, saying they had not found any damage on the ocean floor.

  • · Rosy pictures are the government’s specialty, despite the facts.

Feds Shell Out $1 Billion to Dead People

The federal government has paid out well over $1 billion to 250,000 deceased individuals over the past decade — and can’t figure out how to fix the problem, according to a new report from Sen. Tom Coburn. “Washington paid for dead people’s prescriptions and wheelchairs, subsidized their farms, helped pay their rent, and even chipped in for their heating and air conditioning bills,” the Oklahoma Republican’s report says. The Social Security Administration sent $18 million in stimulus funds to 71,688 dead people, and $40.3 million in questionable benefit payments to 1,760 deceased individuals. The Department of Agriculture sent $1.1 billion in farming subsidies to dead farmers. The Department of Health and Human Services sent $3.9 million to 11,000 dead people to help pay heating and cooling costs. Medicare paid up to $92 million in claims for medical supplies prescribed by dead doctors and $8.2 million for medical supplies prescribed for dead patients.

  • · If dead people can vote, then they should also be able to collect benefits

Ongoing Problems at Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac

Government-controlled mortgage buyer Fannie Mae is asking for $2.5 billion in additional federal aid after posting a narrower loss in the third quarter. Fannie Mae also said it was likely that the market disarray and suspension of foreclosures due to big lenders’ problems with flawed documents will have a negative impact on the delinquency rates of its loans, its expenses and foreclosure timelines. Fannie Mae said it lost $3.46 billion, or 61 cents a share, in the July-September quarter. That takes into account $2.1 billion in dividend payments to the Treasury Department. It compares with a loss of $19.8 billion, or $3.47 a share, in the third quarter of 2009.

Taxpayer-funded Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have spent more than $2 billion this year on foreclosed property expenses after acquiring tens of thousands of homes through foreclosures. The mortgage giants owned more than 240,000 foreclosed homes on Sept. 30, they reported last week. That’s about 25% of all lender-owned homes in the U.S. Fannie and Freddie, which buy mortgages from lenders and package them into securities to sell to investors, own or guarantee half of all U.S. mortgages. Together, they have more than twice as many foreclosed homes now as they did this time last year, with a combined value of $24 billion. The longer foreclosed homes stay on their books, the larger taxpayers’ expenses will be.

  • · The government never should have been in the mortgage business to begin with. Too much government involvement is the problem, not the solution.

Economic News

The number of people who signed contracts to buy homes fell in September after two months of gains. The National Association of Realtors said Friday that its index of sales agreements for previously occupied homes dropped 1.8% in September. The setback highlighted the continued problems facing the housing industry as it struggles to mount a sustained recovery from a deep recession.

A heartening jobs report last week masked an ominous statistic: Discouraged workers hit a record 1.2 million. Discouraged workers are those who want a job but aren’t counted in the labor force because they’ve stopped looking for work. When the job market improves, many Americans on the sidelines will return to the labor force, holding up the unemployment rate even if job growth surges.

Consumer borrowing increased in September for the first time since January even though the category that includes credit cards shrank for a record 25th straight month. The Federal Reserve said that consumer credit increased at an annual rate of $2.1 billion in September after falling at a $4.9 billion rate in August. It was only the second increase in the past 20 months. Americans have been reducing their borrowing for nearly two years as they try to repair their balance sheets in the wake of a steep recession and high unemployment.

Afghanistan

Afghan and NATO forces targeted suspected insurgent strongholds in a joint operation in southern Kandahar province, killing 15 and capturing 13, an Afghan official said Monday. NATO and Afghan forces have been trying to seize control of the Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan since July. They have established some pockets of security but the ultimate success of the operation will depend on the Afghan government’s ability to secure the area with its own forces and provide services to the population. U.S. officials have said that the war against the insurgency is slowly beginning to turn around and that some of the 100,000 American troops will begin withdrawing by next summer. They have not said how many troops will remain but are confident that Afghanistan should be ready to handle its own security by the year 2014. Canada’s defense minister said Sunday that Canada is considering a U.S. request to keep troops in Afghanistan past 2011, but switch them from a combat to a training role.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber killed 67 people Friday at a mosque frequented by tribal elders opposed to the Pakistani Taliban. Hours later, three people died in a grenade attack on another mosque associated with anti-Taliban militia. The strikes in northwest Pakistan were a reminder of the potency of the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies along the Afghan border despite U.S.-backed army offensives. The Obama administration believes success against insurgents there is key to its hopes of winning the war in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army has supported the creation of militias to fight the Taliban, who are unpopular in many parts of the northwest. The groups know the region and its inhabitants and are seen as useful in securing cleared areas or stopping militants from moving into their districts. The insurgents regularly target these groups with suicide attacks and warn residents not to join up with them. On two occasions this year suicide attackers have killed about 100 people attending militia events, while dozens of others have been killed in smaller strikes. A pair of American drone strikes killed 14 suspected militants in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday in the latest attacks against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants seeking sanctuary in that region.

Yemen

The threat from al-Qaeda terrorists in Yemen is growing, but the U.S. military has few quick options to respond to the increasing danger, analysts say. Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is reluctant to be viewed as being dependent on the United States, fearful that it will strengthen his critics. Yemen’s weak central government is struggling with revolts as it tries to control a country of rebellious tribes spread over a rugged landscape of remote villages, desert and mountains. The United States says al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen is behind two shipments of explosives that originated in Yemen and were addressed to Chicago. The United States must strike a balance between helping the Yemeni government fight al-Qaeda without appearing to give it too much support

A U.S.-born radical Yemeni cleric involved in previous attacks on the U.S. called for Muslims around world to kill Americans in a new video message posted on radical websites Monday. Anwar al-Awlaki said since all Americans are the enemy, clerics don’t need to issue any special fatwas or religious rulings allowing them to be killed. Born in New Mexico, al-Awlaki has used his website and English-language sermons to encourage Muslims around the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq and has been tied by U.S. intelligence to the 9/11 hijackers, underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, as well as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in November at Fort Hood, Texas. A Yemeni judge ordered police Saturday to find the radical U.S.-born cleric “dead or alive” after the Al Qaeda-linked preacher failed to appear at his trial for his role in the killing of foreigners.

Burma

Voters in Burma, also known as Myanmar, cast their ballots Sunday in the first elections in 20 years amid a barrage of criticism that the balloting was rigged in favor of the ruling military, as well as hope that some change toward democratic reform might nonetheless follow. t was almost certain, however, that through pre-election engineering the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party would emerge victorious despite widespread popular opposition to 48 years of military rule. The streets of Yangon, Burma’s largest city, were unusually quiet and voter turnout appeared light at many polling stations. Some residents said they were staying home as rumors circulated that bombs would explode.

Mexico

At least 20 people were killed in drug-gang violence over the weekend in this northern Mexican border city, including seven found dead outside one house. There have been several such massacres in Ciudad Juarez, a city held hostage by a nearly three-year turf battle between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels. Few residents now venture out to bars and restaurants. And like those attacked on Saturday, others have discovered that they aren’t even safe in their own homes: Last month, gunmen stormed two neighboring houses and massacred more than a dozen young people attending a party for a 15-year-old boy.

Weather

Hurricane Tomas pushed northward from Haiti on Saturday, leaving villagers to mop up, evacuees to return to their tents and most everyone relieved that the country did not suffer what could have been its first big disaster since the January earthquake. The storm’s western track caused widespread floods, wind damage along the far edge of Haiti’s coast and is blamed for the deaths of at least eight people. It was a serious blow, but far better than had been feared in a nation where storms have been known to kill thousands, and more than 1 million quake survivors were living under tarps and tents. Floodwaters covered streets in Leogane, the town closest to the epicenter of the Jan. 12 quake, and about a foot of water stood on a thoroughfare of the flood-prone northwestern city of Gonaives. Mountain towns were cut off by flooded roads and landslides, including one reported by U.N. peacekeepers in the mountains near the southern port of Jacmel. However, earthquake camps were not torn apart by wind, storm surge did not drown the oceanside slums, the La Quinte River — which has twice drowned Gonaives above the first stories of its buildings since 2004 — stayed in its bed.