Explosive Packages Discovered on Cargo Planes

Authorities on three continents thwarted multiple terrorist attacks aimed at the United States from Yemen on Friday, seizing two explosive packages addressed to Chicago-area synagogues and packed aboard cargo jets. The plot triggered worldwide fears that al-Qaida is launching a major new terror campaign. U.S. officials said they are increasingly confident that al-Qaida’s Yemen branch, the group responsible for the failed Detroit airliner bombing last Christmas, was responsible. Parts of the plot may remain undetected, Obama’s counterterror chief warned. “The United States is not assuming that the attacks were disrupted and is remaining vigilant,” John Brennan said at the White House. One of the packages was found aboard a cargo plane in Dubai, the other in England. Preliminary tests indicated the packages contained the powerful industrial explosive PETN, the same chemical used in the Christmas attack, In the U.S., cargo planes were searched up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and an Emirates Airlines passenger jet was escorted down the coast to New York by American fighter jets.

Yemeni authorities are checking dozens more packages in a search for the terrorists who tried to mail bombs to Chicago-area synagogues. Officials temporarily banned all new cargo from Yemen. A Yemeni security official said investigators there were examining 24 other suspect packages. Authorities were questioning cargo workers at the airport as well as employees of the local shipping companies contracted to work with FedEx and UPS. The white powder explosives were discovered in the ink cartridge of a computer printer. The device was rigged to an electric circuit, and a mobile phone chip was hidden inside the printer. The preliminary U.K. investigation indicates that the target may have been an aircraft, May said, but authorities do not believe the perpetrators would have known the location of the device when they detonated it. A repentant al-Qaeda member provided the critical tip that led to the discovery of parcel bombs on two cargo planes, according to several British news organizations.

Their first suspect in custody Sunday, Yemeni police continued to search for the terrorists believed responsible for mailing a pair of powerful bombs to attack the United States. U.S. and Yemeni officials were increasingly seeing al-Qaeda’s hand in the failed plot. Yemeni police arrested a young woman who was a medical student on suspicion of mailing the pair of bombs powerful enough to take down airplanes. One of two powerful bombs mailed from Yemen to Chicago-area synagogues traveled on two passenger planes within the Middle East, a spokesman for Qatar Airways said Sunday. Despite federal law requiring all cargo on U.S.-bound passenger flights to be screened for bombs, authorities still aren’t close to meeting that requirement. The discovery of the explosives in cargo shipments at airports in northern England and Dubai reflected how the complexities in shipping cargo by air can leave passengers on commercial airliners vulnerable to such security breaches.

Arizona Tax-Credit Case a Test of Church vs. State

A case to be argued Wednesday before the U.S. Supreme Court could settle once and for all the legal bounds of Arizona’s private-school tuition tax-credit program. More than setting a school-choice precedent, however, the case could also shape the rights of taxpayers to sue the government over policies they dislike that involve separation of church and state. The case is a decade-old federal lawsuit challenging the Arizona tax credits, which encourage donations to non-profits that distribute private-school scholarships. The issue surrounding the program itself is whether it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Nearly all the scholarship dollars go to students at religious schools, and many of the non-profits, which select the students, have a religious mission. The right-to-sue issue is more likely to be the main focus of attention for the justices because the Supreme Court already has endorsed a private-school voucher program, in Cleveland, that allows parents to spend state money on private religious or secular schools. Michael W. McConnell, a retired federal appeals judge and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University, said it seems “overwhelmingly likely” that the pivotal issue will be whether taxpayers have the right, or the “standing,” to sue the government in cases involving church-state separation.

Colorado Prayer Proclamation OK’d by Judge, Constitution

A Denver judge has ruled that proclamations from Colorado’s governor, which recognize the National Day of Prayer, are constitutional. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit against the state after Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D) issued a proclamation deeming the annual prayer observance constitutional. The anti-religion group argued the National Day of Prayer violates separation of church and state, which is a doctrine not found in the Constitution. But District Judge R. Michael Mullins recently decided the governor was not in violation of the state’s religious freedom clause because his proclamations do not force the law; they simply recognize individuals’ rights to practice religion. “That is a great win for 90 percent of us in America who pray and who want to be able to engage and participate in the National Day of Prayer,” Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) attorney Kevin Theriot responds.

79% of Americans Say Things Going Badly

The number of Americans who say things are going badly in the country, at 75 percent, is higher than it has been on the eve of any midterm election since the question was first asked in the mid-1970s, according to a new national poll. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday also indicates that the economy remains, by far, the top issue on the minds of Americans. Fifty-two percent of people questioned say the economy’s the most important issue facing the country. The top concern remains unemployment, with 58 percent saying it’s the most important economic issue, followed by the deficit at 20 percent, and taxes and mortgages tied at 8 percent each. Despite the current gloom, 55 percent say that things will be going well in the country a year from now, and 78 percent believe that things are going well in their own personal lives.

‘Sanity’ Rally Draws Tens of Thousands

Tens of thousands of people turned out on the sun-splashed National Mall on Saturday to hear comedian Jon Stewart proclaim “reasonableness” as the norm in American life and to jab the cable news media for being purveyors of fear and division. The three-hour “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” mixed comedy and music with a message that was non-partisan, yet deeply political. The rally started out as a response to the “Restoring Honor” rally by conservative commentator Glenn Beck at the Lincoln Memorial this summer. Stewart, using the Capitol behind him as a physical and rhetorical backdrop, hammered home a simple message — that most people go about their lives trying to solve their day-to-day problems, even in the worst of conditions. “The truth is, we work together to get things done every damn day,” he said. “The only place we don’t is here, or on cable TV — but Americans don’t live here or on cable TV.”

Ø When the liberal left has to rely on a comedian to rally their constituents, it underscores how comically sad the current administration’s policies are

Immigrants Unemployment Down, U.S.-Born Workers Up

Immigrants are returning to work quicker than their U.S.-born counterparts, but are earning significantly less than before the economic downturn, a Pew Hispanic Center study reported Friday. Immigrants in the U.S. have gained 656,000 jobs since the Great Recession ended in June 2009. By comparison, U.S.-born workers lost 1.2 million jobs. The unemployment rate for immigrants fell over the same period to 8.7% from 9.3%. For American-born workers, the jobless rate rose to 9.7% from 9.2%.Immigrants make up 15.7% of the labor forceThe center said the reasons immigrant unemployment is decreasing are unclear. But foreign-born workers are more mobile, they exit and enter the labor market more frequently, and are less likely to get unemployment benefits — so they may have to find jobs sooner, even if the jobs they are taking are worse. The study said immigrant wages fell sharply in the last year, and that Latinos experienced the largest wage drop of any group. From 2009 to 2010, the median weekly earnings of foreign-born workers fell 4.5% compared to a loss of less than 1% for U.S.-born workers.

Economic News

While consumer and construction spending remain weak, manufacturing activity expanded last month at the fastest pace since May due to a surge in orders. The Institute for Supply Management says its manufacturing index read 56.9 in October, up from 54.4 in September. It was the 15th straight month of growth. A reading above 50 indicates growth. Manufacturing has helped drive the economy out of recession last year, but growth had slowed in recent months.

Personal spending rose at an annual rate of 0.2% in September. That’s below the 0.5% gains recorded in July and August. Incomes fell 0.1% in September, following a 0.4% rise in August that had been pushed higher by the return of extended unemployment benefits.

Construction spending, after having fallen to the lowest level in a decade, edged up slightly in September as a gain in residential activity and government projects helped offset weakness in commercial projects. The Commerce Department says spending on building projects rose 0.5% in September after falling 0.2% in August. Even with the small September gain, construction activity remains 34% below the peak hit in 2006 when builders were enjoying a boom in residential housing.

AIG said Monday that it has raised nearly $37 billion from the sale of two foreign insurance units and will use that money to repay a taxpayer bailout. The insurance giant closed its previously announced sale of American Life Insurance Co. on Monday. It sold ALICO to MetLife for $16.2 billion. The closing of the ALICO deal comes just days after AIG completed an initial public offering in Hong Kong for another foreign insurance unit, AIA Group Ltd. The AIA sale raised $20.51 billion in cash. AIG (AIG) will use the cash from the two deals to repay one line of aid it received from the government during the financial crisis.

Pontiac, whose muscle cars drag-raced down boulevards, parked at drive-ins and roared across movie screens, is out of business. The 84-year-old brand, moribund since General Motors decided to kill it last year as it collapsed into bankruptcy, had been in decline for years. It was undone by a combination of poor corporate strategy and changing driver tastes. On Oct. 31, GM‘s agreements with Pontiac dealers expired.

Great Britain

Northern Ireland police seized a dissident IRA bomb packed into a beer keg Saturday and were inspecting a potential car bomb parked outside Belfast International Airport, the latest efforts to undermine peace in the British territory. Police said British Army experts who dismantled the beer-keg bomb found 90 pounds of explosive inside. A pedestrian spotted the keg bomb underneath a rail bridge in the town of Lurgan, where Irish Republican Army dissidents have a base of operations. Authorities received no telephone warnings about the Lurgan bomb. Later Saturday, police said they were examining a suspicious car abandoned in the long-term parking lot at Belfast International Airport. They didn’t confirm whether the car contained a bomb. IRA splinter groups opposed to Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord — which forged a joint Catholic-Protestant government that includes former IRA figures — have detonated half a dozen car bombs in Northern Ireland this year, injuring nobody seriously.

Middle East

In its largest rally in years, the Islamic Jihad terror militia managed to draw an estimated 100,000 supporters into the streets of Gaza on Friday, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Young men and boys wearing white T-shirts with a slogan in the shape of a rifle carried portraits of militants killed in combat, under the black flags of Islamic Jihad. Ramadan Shallah, the group’s exiled chief, currently residing in Damascus, sent a recorded message marking the anniversary of the assassination of the group’s leader Fathi Shikaki in Malta in 1995, by presumed Israeli secret agents. “Israel will not bring peace to the region, it will only bring war and destruction and therefore, the slogan of all should be that Israel must be wiped out of existence,” said Shallah, a wanted terrorist. Senior leaders of the ruling Islamist militia Hamas also joined the open-air gathering, held in a square normally used by the rival group. Islamic Jihad is an Iranian-created Palestinian militia with little political agenda other than destroying Israel. Its militants in Gaza continue to fire rockets and mortars into southern Israel. Islamic Jihad officials said Friday’s turnout was a “referendum by the Palestinian people rejecting peace-making with Israel.”

Iraq

Iraqi security forces stormed a Baghdad church where militants had taken an entire congregation hostage for four hours, leaving at least 52 people dead, including a priest, and wounding 67 others. The incident began when militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades attacked the Iraqi stock exchange at dusk Sunday before turning their attention to the nearby Our Lady of Deliverance church — one of Baghdad’s main Catholic places of worship — taking about 120 Christians hostage. There were conflicting accounts about the number of attackers involved in the assault, with Baghdad military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi saying Sunday night that security forces killed eight, while the U.S. military said between five and seven died. A cryptically worded statement posted late Sunday on a militant website allegedly by the Islamic State of Iraq appeared to claim responsibility for the attack. The group, which is linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, said it would “exterminate Iraqi Christians” if Muslim women in Egypt were not freed.

Afghanistan

Eighty people were killed in clashes with NATO and Afghan forces in Paktika province, a spokesman for the province’s governor said Saturday. All the people killed were insurgents, according to Farid Mukhlis, the governor’s spokesman. Authorities said no NATO or Afghan troops, or civilians were killed in the clashes, which began at midnight Friday and continued into Saturday morning. Five coalition troops were wounded during the battle. The attack took place at a military base in Barmal district. “Insurgents attacked from all directions with rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and mortar fire,” the statement said, and a coalition air weapons team responded to the attack.

The Taliban briefly overran a district seat in eastern Afghanistan, torching government buildings and capturing police officers after an intense gunfight, officials said Monday. The government was back in control of Ghazni province‘s Khogyani district headquarters a few hours later,. All the police guarding the district headquarters were either killed or taken prisoner and their weapons and vehicles were confiscated. In recent months, Ghazni has become one of the most unstable provinces in Afghanistan.

Turkey

A suspected suicide bomber detonated a device in Istanbul‘s main square on Sunday, wounding 15 people, Istanbul’s police chief said. Turkish reports said the explosion occurred close to a spot in Taksim square where riot police were stationed in case of demonstrations. Police chief Huseyin Capkin said nine police officers and six passersby were injured in the attack. Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast, have carried out suicide bombings in the past. The attack comes as a unilateral cease-fire announced by the rebels is coming to an end. Islamic militants are also active in the city have launched attacks here in past years.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia‘s top government-sanctioned board of senior Islamic clerics has endorsed a fatwa that calls for a ban on female vendors because it violates the kingdom’s strict segregation of the sexes. The powerful committee said in its ruling Sunday that the mixing of sexes is forbidden and women should not seek jobs where they could encounter men. Saudi King Abdullah has been trying to clamp down on ultraconservative ideology as part of his bid to modernize the kingdom. But his efforts appear to be challenged by the influential religious scholars, who play a key role in the monarch’s legitimacy.

Honduras

A carful of attackers armed with assault rifles drove up to a football field in a poor Honduran neighborhood Saturday and opened fire, killing at least 14 people. Ten were killed at the scene and four died as they were being taken to the hospital. More were wounded — some gravely. The massacre took place in Colonia Felipe Zelaya, a crowded, violent neighborhood in the northern city of San Pedro Sula that is home to hundreds of gang members. Mass shootings are not uncommon in Honduras. “Maras” — street gangs that grew out of Los Angeles and spread to Central America — are blamed for rampant violent crime, extortion and more recently acting as enforcers for drug cartels. In September, gunmen mowed down 18 shoe factory employees in San Pedro Sula in a shooting blamed on gang rivalries. Six youths were slain in a home last month, also in San Pedro Sula. Authorities linked that massacre to the drug trade.

Volcanoes

Indonesia‘s military forced villagers off the slopes of the country’s most volatile volcano Saturday, carrying some away screaming as the mountain sent clouds of gray ash cascading down its slopes in its most powerful explosion yet. The notoriously unpredictable Mount Merapi forced the temporarily closure of an airport and claimed another life, bringing the death toll this week to 36. Mount Merapi, which sprang back to life early this week, unleashed a terrifying 21-minute eruption early Saturday, followed by more than 350 volcanic tremors and 33 ash bursts. Thousands of villagers returned to their homes along the slopes of Indonesia‘s most volatile volcano Sunday, taking advantage of an eerie lull following its most powerful eruption to check on crops and livestock. But the deadly volcano unleashed another powerful eruption Monday, spewing searing clouds of gas and ash thousands of feet into the air to the sound of a booming explosion. There were no immediate reports of new casualties.

Wildfires

Two wildfires in Boulder County threatened the homes of at least 1,700 people Friday, prompting evacuations in the city of Boulder and the neighboring foothills. Three subdivisions in the foothills were evacuated Friday morning shortly after the wildfires were first reported. Two medical buildings and the municipal courthouse were also evacuated. The people evacuated because of the wildfire west of Boulder were allowed to return to their homes Sunday after firefighters worked through the night to stop the fire from spreading. Calm winds and higher humidity helped keep the 144-acre fire from spreading overnight Saturday. It is now 70% contained. No buildings have burned. The blaze is near an area where a wildfire burned almost 10 square miles and 169 homes last month.

Weather

Hurricane Tomas headed deeper into the Caribbean early Sunday after storming over a cluster of islands at the sea’s eastern entrance, tearing off roofs, damaging houses and downing power lines. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the Category 2 hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph winds early Sunday. The storm was moving over open water on a path that could take it near Jamaica later in the week. Authorities in St. Vincent said they had unconfirmed reports that three people died during the storm Saturday, including two men who might have been blown off a roof. Fierce winds tore roofs from nearly 100 homes and more than 400 people sought emergency shelter as the island plunged into darkness. On St. Lucia, high winds tore off the roofs of a hospital, a school and a stadium and toppled a large concrete cross from the roof of a century-old church. Heavy rains caused a landslide that blocked a main highway linking the capital to the island’s southern region. At least 20,000 people were without power on Martinique, and streets flooded and tree branches were down. A cruise ship carrying nearly 2,000 tourists docked instead in Dominica. No longer a hurricane. Tropical Storm Tomas swirled over warm Caribbean waters early Monday and forecasters warned it is likely to regain power and pose a threat to the crowded quake refugee camps in Haiti.

The drought on the Colorado River has reshaped the huge Lake Mead reservoir so dramatically in the past 11 years that it bears little resemblance to the lake captured in snapshots just a few years ago. Water levels have dropped 133 feet. Islands have emerged and grown. Rocky outcroppings push through the surface, creating watery obstacle courses whose paths shift almost daily. Five boat-launching sites and three marinas have closed since 2001 as the water recedes. Chasing the water, which is at its lowest level since the lake was first being filled 73 years ago, has cost the Park Service and the operators millions of dollars to rebuild or add infrastructure to compensate for the changing shoreline. Lake Mead was full in late 1998, when it sat at elevation 1,215.95 feet above sea level. About a year later, drought struck. Inflow from the Colorado River began to fall, and the lake began to shrink. The reservoir now sits at 1,082.56 feet above sea level, less than 8 feet from triggering water-delivery rationing.

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