Archive for December, 2010

December 31, 2010

New Military Policy Compromising Careers

An advocate for America’s fighting men and women says the repeal of the ban on homosexuals serving in the military will effectively create a new type of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military. In the months leading up to President Barack Obama signing the bill and fulfilling his campaign pledge to activist homosexual groups, many service members said they would not remain in uniform if that lifestyle was foisted upon the military. In fact, an Army National Guard lieutenant colonel recently told WorldNetDaily that he has already sent a letter asking to be relieved of his command so that he will not have to subject his troops to pro-homosexual indoctrination. He has also threatened to resign his commission, rather than undergo “behavior modification” training. “The lesbian, gay, bisexual [and] transgender access to the armed forces with zero tolerance of dissent will be a major reason why some decisions will be made, especially in the mid-career ranks, by families and by individuals to just not re-enlist,” warns Center for Military Readiness (CMR) president Elaine Donnelly.

Abortion Mindset Drives Affiliate Away

A Texas-based Planned Parenthood affiliate is leaving the national federation because it doesn’t want to perform abortions. After the Corpus Christi chapter was told that national Planned Parenthood officials were working to standardize their operations, which included a requirement for all affiliates to offer abortions, CEO Amanda Stukenberg told them her chapter focused solely on contraception and birth control, and she has notified the national office that it will change its name to Family Planning of the Coastal Bend. Dr. Joe Pojman of the Texas Alliance for Life is delighted with the news. He goes on to point out that this is not the first time evidence has surfaced to reveal that Planned Parenthood’s main focus is abortion, as it is the most lucrative part of the clinic’s operations.

Former ‘Car Czar’ Fined $10M for Influence Peddling

The investment banker who helped lead the Obama administration’s auto industry overhaul has agreed to pay $10 million to settle influence-peddling allegations in New York. Former “car czar” Steven Rattner admitted no wrongdoing as part of the deal, which was announced by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Thursday. Cuomo’s office had filed civil lawsuits against Rattner in November, accusing him of paying kickbacks to help his company land $150 million in state pension fund investments in 2004 and 2005. The settlement announced Thursday bars Rattner from doing further business with any public pension fund in the state for five years.

  • · Another example of the type of people Obama appointed as ‘Czars’ without Congressional vetting and oversight

Medicare to Swell with Baby Boomer Onslaught

Baby Boomers are about to create a record population explosion in the nation’s health care program for seniors. Starting on Saturday, Baby Boomers begin turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare — one every eight seconds. A record 2.8 million will qualify in 2011, rising to 4.2 million a year by 2030, projections show. In all, the government expects 76 million Boomers will age on to Medicare. Even factoring in deaths over that period, the program will grow from 47 million today to 80 million in 2030. At the same time, health care costs are projected to outpace inflation, and medical advances will extend lives, straining the program’s finances. It’s expected to cost $929 billion by 2020, an 80% increase over 10 years.

Economic News

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits last week fell to its lowest level since July 2008. New jobless claims dropped 34,000 to 388,000, the fewest since July 2008, the Labor Department said Thursday. The level of applications has either fallen or remained unchanged in five of the past six weeks. Unemployment applications below 425,000 signal modest job growth. But economists say applications need to fall consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant decline in unemployment. Applications for unemployment benefits peaked during the recession at 651,000 in March 2009.

It will be a happier New Year for nearly 650,000 workers earning minimum wage. They’re getting small raises in seven states that tie their salaries to the cost of living. The minimum wages in those states will go up 9 cents to 12 cents an hour Saturday because their consumer price indexes rose in 2010. Poverty advocates say the rising minimum wages shouldn’t be seen as raises, just adjustments to keep the working poor at the same level as prices of goods rise. The National Employment Law Project, a New York-based advocate for workers, estimates that about 647,000 people will see their paychecks go up in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

US Helps Ukraine Send Enriched Uranium to Russia

In a secret operation to secure nuclear material, the United States has helped Ukraine send to Russia enough uranium to build two atomic bombs. This week’s removal of more than 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of highly enriched uranium followed a pledge by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to get rid of all of his country’s highly enriched uranium by April 2012. The material will be blended down in Russia, rendering it useless for bomb making. Yanukovych agreed to give up the uranium in a deal announced at a nuclear security summit hosted by President Barack Obama in April. As an incentive, the United States is providing replacement low-enriched uranium that can be used for Ukraine’s research reactors. The summit deal also has the United States building a $25 million “neutron source facility” nuclear research project for Ukraine, the administration said. The facility will be able to produce 50 different types of medical isotopes, using only low-enriched uranium.

  • · Such cooperation with Russia and its former state of Ukraine used to be unthinkable – but Russia’s recent signals of a return to its former Communist ways remains disconcerting

Iraq

Some Christians in Iraq’s capital were considering leaving, following another wave of bombings targeting members of their religion that left two dead and 16 others wounded. The strikes appeared to be coordinated because they all took place within an hour, an Interior Ministry official said. Explosives were left outside and in the gardens of 14 homes in six neighborhoods across Iraq’s sprawling capital. Among the homes targeted by improvised explosive devices was one Muslim dwelling that was picked because it had a Christmas tree inside, the male head of the family, Ibrahim Sharba, told CNN. The assaults mirrored the early-morning bombings of Christian homes in Baghdad on November 10.

Pakistan

A U.S. missile strike killed eight alleged militants in northwest Pakistan on Friday on the final day of a year that has seen a major escalation in drone attacks targeting insurgents flowing into neighboring Afghanistan. Four missiles struck a convoy of militants traveling by car and on foot near the town of Ghulam Khan in the North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border. Ghulam Khan is known to be dominated by fighters from a militant group headed by Maulvi Gul Bahadur. It was the third day this week of missile attacks on the North Waziristan tribal region, part of a ramped-up U.S. campaign to take out al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters seeking sanctuary outside Afghanistan. More than 110 such missile strikes have been launched this year — more than double last year’s total.

Yemen

Yemen is releasing hundreds of jailed insurgents after the president’s directive to free 500 detainees, the country’s embassy in Washington announced Thursday. President Ali Abdul Allah Saleh’s move is a critical part of the February peace agreement between the government and the Houthi rebels in northern Yemen, who have fought for years. The nation of Qatar brokered the prisoner release, which has been called a “critical component” of the peace agreement. Qatar oversees the cease-fire. In return for the move, the Houthis will surrender weapons seized during fighting. The rebels are supporters of slain Shiite cleric Hussein al-Houthi, and they began a revolt in 2004.

  • · It is unlikely that Islamic militants will live up to the peace deal

Mexico

Gunmen believed to be linked to drug cartels killed four police officers and a doctor in apparently coordinated attacks in and around the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. Three other officers were wounded in Wednesday’s attacks. Monterrey, Mexico’s third-largest city, has been rocked by drug-cartel turf battles. Six people were found dead Thursday in the southern state of Guerrero, another disputed drug trafficking hot spot.

Greece

A bomb hidden on a parked motorcycle exploded outside two court buildings in central Athens on Thursday, damaging cars and shattering windows but leaving no one hurt. The powerful rush-hour blast occurred at 8:20 a.m. following a warning telephone call to a newspaper and private TV station, authorities said. Police had evacuated the targeted buildings, which are used for administrative purposes, as well as a nearby private hospital. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion fell on Greek militant groups, which have stepped up attacks in the past two years. A group of suspects is facing trial next month. Authorities in Europe and elsewhere say violent anarchist groups are showing greater international coordination. A small bomb exploded overnight outside the Greek embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, causing minimal damage and no injuries.

  • · At least terrorists have known objectives – anarchists seek only anarchy, prompted by the end-time spirit of lawlessness the Bible foretells

Earthquakes

A magnitude 3.8 earthquake that rattled north central Indiana early Thursday was unprecedented in its size and location, according to the state geologist. “This is highly irregular, extremely rare, unprecedented,” said John Steinmetz, director of the Indiana Geological Survey at Indiana University. While Indiana is familiar with small to moderate earthquakes, they almost always originate in the Wabash Valley Fault System near Evansville in southern Indiana. Geologists are studying whether the source of Thursday’s earthquake was a largely inactive fault line known as the Sharpsville Fault.

Weather

Military aircraft dropped supplies to towns cut off by floods in northeastern Australia as the prime minister promised new assistance Friday to the 200,000 people affected by waters covering an area larger than France and Germany combined. Residents were stocking up on food or evacuating their homes as rising rivers inundated or isolated 22 towns in the state of Queensland. Officials say half of Queensland’s 715,305 square miles is affected by the relentless flooding, which began last week after days of pounding rain caused swollen rivers to overflow.

A winter storm pummeled the western U.S. on Thursday with fierce wind gusts, heavy rain and more than 2 feet of snow, closing hundreds of miles of roads. Officials closed a road into Yosemite National Park in California after a rock the size of a dump truck tumbled onto the road, and strong winds created snow dunes on rooftops, front yards and streets across mountainous areas of Arizona. Snow and ice forced an hours-long closure of the two major thoroughfares in northern Arizona, stranding motorists south of Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. People in Phoenix were stunned at the sight of snow-type flurries that the National Weather Service said were a combination of hail and snow that melts before it hits the ground.

A strong storm system made driving dangerous in the Rockies and the upper Plains and contributed to a pileup involving about 100 vehicles Thursday near Fargo, North Dakota, officials said. “It is not fit for anyone to be out there,” North Dakota State Highway Patrol Capt. Eldon Mehrer told CNN radio. Snow, ice and rain plagued much of the West, and North Dakota officials closed Interstate I-94 between Jamestown and Fargo and the north-south Interstate 29 from the Canadian border to South Dakota. Across much of the state, rescuers gave up trying to get vehicles out of ditches and concentrated on picking up stranded motorists using snowmobiles and buses.

Emergency workers in Washington County, Arkansas have confirmed three people are dead after a possible tornado touchdown in the small town of Cincinnati in northwestern Arkansas. The emergency workers are working to free several people trapped in buildings hit by the storm. Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is closed now because of debris on the runway. A line of storms that passed through Oklahoma early Friday is rapidly moving into northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri and the weather service has issued a handful of tornado warnings in the area.

December 29, 2010

NC Council of Churches to be Led by Open Homosexual

The North Carolina Council of Churches has elected an openly homosexual man as its incoming president. The council selected 55-year-old Stan Kimer, a lay leader in the Metropolitan Community Churches — a denomination that ministers to homosexual men and women. The state branch of the Southern Baptist Convention does not belong to the North Carolina Council of churches, but North Carolina’s Roman Catholic dioceses are members. The council promotes left-leaning legislative goals on policies including immigration, guns, and the death penalty.

  • · Infiltration of Christian organizations by ungodly leaders is a key, satanic end-time goal

Gallup: Religious People Are Healthier

Americans who are “very religious” are more likely to practice healthy behaviors than those who are less religious, a Gallup survey shows. The new findings are based on a survey of more than 550,000 people who were asked about their decisions related to healthy eating, smoking and exercise. Religion News Service reports that, overall, very religious Americans scored 66.3 on a “healthy behavior index,” compared to 60.6 among the moderately religious and 58.3 among the nonreligious. The very religious were defined as those who consider religion to be an important part of their daily lives and say they attend worship services at least every week or almost every week. Gallup said a variety of factors could contribute to the link between religion and healthy living, including Americans following religious doctrine about shunning smoking, alcohol or gluttony.

More States to Follow Arizona’s Tough Immigration Laws

Arizona’s get-tough approach to illegal immigration has sparked court challenges likely to take years to resolve. Randy Terrill, a Republican state lawmaker from Oklahoma, won’t be waiting to see what judges decide. Terrill is among dozens of state legislators across the U.S. drafting measures that match or go further than the Arizona law, which requires police to check the immigration status of people stopped for questioning. He’s readying legislation to allow Oklahoma authorities to seize and keep the vehicle of anyone found to be harboring an illegal immigrant who is a passenger, regardless of whether smuggling is suspected. The measure would categorize undocumented immigrants as “human contraband.” Elsewhere, Missouri and Mississippi are among states where lawmakers intend to offer bills similar to Arizona’s “probable cause” law. And legislators in several states want to require employers to verify the immigration status of workers. The state-by-state efforts underscore the federal gridlock on immigration policy. “States are stepping in where the federal government can’t or won’t act,” said Terrill. In each of the last two years, About 1,500 immigration-related bills were introduced in statehouses.

Obamacare Program for Uninsured Failing in Many States

One of the main pillars of the Obama administration’s massive healthcare law – the special plans devoted to those unable to obtain insurance through normal means – is attracting only a small fraction of what was expected. The result is that the program may end up costing taxpayers far more than the $5 billion originally set aside, according to the Washington Post. One reason for the reluctance of consumers to sign up for the plans, collectively known as the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, is that they are far more expensive than alternatives the uninsured might find elsewhere, the Post is reporting. Since the plans opened in the late summer and early fall, the medical bills in some states are much higher than anticipated. The reason is that if fewer people sign up, the costs cannot be defrayed over a huge number of people paying into them. The plans, known as high-risk pools, will take time to adjust prices and benefits, federal officials tell the Post. But since last spring, when Medicare program’s chief actuary predicted that 375,000 people would sign up by the end of 2010, only 8,000 have enrolled, according to the Health and Human Services Department. Nationally, there are some 50 million uninsured.

Baby Boomers Turn 65 with Retirements in Jeopardy

Starting in January, more than 10,000 baby boomers a day will turn 65, a pattern that will continue for the next 19 years. Through a combination of procrastination and bad timing, many baby boomers are facing a personal finance disaster just as they’re hoping to retire. Many retirees banked on their homes as their retirement fund. But the crash in housing prices has slashed almost a third of a typical home’s value. Now 22% of homeowners, or nearly 11 million people, owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. Many are boomers. In addition, the traditional pension plan is disappearing. In 1980, some 39% of private-sector workers had a pension that guaranteed a steady payout during retirement. Today that number stands closer to 15%. Reliance on stocks in retirement plans is greater than ever; 42% of those workers now have 401(k)s. But the past decade has been a lost one for stocks, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 index posting total returns of just 4% since the beginning of 2000.

Homicides Down

Across the nation, homicide rates have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly a generation. And overall violent crime has sunk to its lowest level since 1973, Justice Department statistics show. The reductions have continued despite a grinding recession, a slow economic recovery and spikes in gang membership, according to recently released FBI figures for the first half of 2010. The long-term trend is particularly striking in the nation’s three largest cities —New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Homicides in New York have dropped 79% during the past two decades — from 2,245 in 1990 to 471 in 2009, the last full year measured. Chicago is down 46% during that period, from 850 to 458. Los Angeles is down 68%, from 983 to 312. Analysts say a range of factors have helped to tamp down violent crime. Among them: improved crime-mapping technology that has allowed police to deploy officers more efficiently at a time when many law enforcement resources are being directed toward anti-terror programs; crackdowns on gangs and community outreach programs that are being credited with thwarting serious crimes.

Police Killings Rise

The number of law officers killed in the line of duty across the United States jumped 37% this year, reversing two consecutive years of steep declines, according to a report released Monday by a national police advocacy group. The deaths of 160 officers in 2010 includes a 20% increase in fatal shootings which jumped from 49 in 2009, to 59 in 2010, marking the second straight year in which gunfire deaths increased by at least 20%. Meanwhile, traffic-related deaths — the leading cause of work-related death for police — increased from 51 in 2009, to 73 this year, according to the report. Craig Floyd, chairman of a memorial fund which closely tracks officer deaths, suggests the rise in fatalities represents “troubling signs” that officer layoffs and other public safety budget cutbacks due to the lagging economy are “putting officers at risk.”

U.S. Changes How it Measures Long-Term Unemployment

So many Americans have been jobless for so long that the government is changing how it records long-term unemployment. Citing what it calls “an unprecedented rise” in long-term unemployment, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless. The move could help economists better measure the severity of the nation’s prolonged economic downturn. The change is a sign that bureau officials are afraid that a cap of two years may be understating the true average duration.

Economic News

Corporate profits are up. Stock prices are up. So why isn’t anyone hiring? Actually, many American companies are — just maybe not in your town. They’re hiring overseas, where sales are surging and the pipeline of orders is fat. The trend helps explain why unemployment remains high in the United States, edging up to 9.8% last month, even though companies are performing well: All but 4% of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown. But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S.

Home prices are dropping in America’s largest cities and are expected to fall through next year, with the worst declines coming in areas with high numbers of foreclosures. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index fell 1.3% in October from September. All cities recorded monthly price declines. Atlanta recorded the largest decline. Prices there fell 2.9% from a month earlier.

Consumer confidence took an unexpected step backward in December, with Americans more concerned about the overall economy and the jobs forecast. The Conference Board index, which had improved in November, slipped to a reading of 52.5 in December from 54.3 the month before.

Beginning in January, all new stamps good for 1 ounce of domestic first-class mail will forgo a printed denomination and be acceptable for the typical letter regardless of the current postal rate. The Postal Service unveiled its first-class commemorative stamps for 2011 on Tuesday. All were marked with the word “forever” instead of the current rate of 44 cents.

Pakistan

Pakistani intelligence officials say a third suspected U.S. missile strike has hit a tribal area near the Afghan border, killing nine militants and bringing the total toll to 17 dead in the latest strikes. The two earlier strikes on Tuesday in North Waziristan tribal region killed eight people. The officials say at least two of the dead killed in the second strike were retrieving bodies from the site of the first hit. The officials say the third strike hit some vehicles carrying alleged militants who may belong to the Haqqani network, one of several militant groups in North Waziristan. The strikes come in the final days of a year that has seen an unprecedented number of such drone-fired attacks as part of a ramped-up U.S. campaign to take out al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters seeking sanctuary outside Afghanistan.

Afghanistan

Stepped up drone strikes in Pakistan and military raids in Afghanistan have weakened one of the three main insurgent groups battling U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. The so-called Haqqani network is “on its heels” in eastern Afghanistan, said Army Col. Viet Luong, who commands a brigade along the Pakistani border. “We have captured and killed many, many of their fighters and midlevel leaders,” Luong said at a Pentagon news briefing. Luong said the network’s ability to kill or wound security forces in Afghanistan has been cut in half in the past year. Despite being weakened by coalition attacks, the Haqqani network continues to launch attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan from havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, a poorly governed tribal area along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

This year is by far the deadliest for the coalition in the nearly decade-long war, as tens of thousands of additional international troops have poured into the country in an effort to suppress a virulent Taliban insurgency. The death toll for all foreign troops in the country has reached 700, according to an AP count. But while NATO and the United States note progress has been made in the militants’ traditional strongholds in the south, they acknowledge gains made remain precarious.

Iraq

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country’s security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq’s security, sovereignty and unity. Mr. Maliki spoke with The Wall Street Journal in a two-hour interview, his first since Iraq ended nine months of stalemate and seated a new government after an inconclusive election, allowing Mr. Maliki to begin a second term as premier. A majority of Iraqis—and some Iraqi and U.S. officials—have assumed the U.S. troop presence would eventually be extended, especially after the long government limbo. But Mr. Maliki was eager to draw a line in his most definitive remarks on the subject. “This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed,” Maliki declared.

Three suicide bombers attacked Iraq’s federal police headquarters in Mosul on Wednesday, leveling the building and killing the top police commander in the northern city, a prominent figure who had escaped several past assassination attempts. While violence has subsided significantly in Iraq in the past years, insurgents frequently target the country’s government institutions and security forces in an effort to destabilize the U.S.-backed Iraqi authorities as American troops prepare to leave by the end of next year.

Mexico

The last remaining police officer in the Mexican border town of Guadalupe has disappeared, and prosecutors in northern Chihuahua state said Tuesday they have started a search for her. Most police officers, outgunned by the drug cartels, have resigned and officials say few people are willing to take their place. The same day she disappeared, assailants also set fire to the home of a Guadalupe town councilwoman. The Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels have been battling for control of the Juarez Valley, leading many residents to flee across the border to Texas or to other Mexican cities. The burden of law enforcement has increasingly fallen on a few women.

Weather

The second day after a major snowstorm covered the New York region with up to 2½ feet of snow, frustration reigned because of still-snowed-in streets and slowly clearing skies. Airlines struggled to catch up from canceled flights that stranded thousands of travelers, and international passengers sat on chilly planes for hours, waiting for an open gate so they could disembark. Thousands of suitcases remained separated from their owners because airport employees could not get to work to sort them. Several planes sat for hours on New York airport tarmacs because no gates were available. A Cathay Pacific flight was stuck for more than 11 hours Tuesday at John F. Kennedy International Airport. In New York, the cleanup — or lack of it — reignited long-standing tensions between Manhattan, where the city’s wealthy are concentrated, and the city’s four other boroughs. While Manhattan streets seemed sloppy but passable, Brooklyn and Queens officials said many of their secondary roads were untouched 36 hours after the storm. At least 200 ambulances got stuck on unplowed streets or were blocked by abandoned cars.

A fourth day of weather chaos continues to bedevil Moscow’s two main airports, where stranded passengers attacked ground personnel and flight crews to try to board planes, according to reports out of Russia. A weekend ice storm crippled central Russia, cutting power, grounding flights and stranding about 20,000 travelers at the two airports. Aeroflot attendants and officials were attacked at Sheremetyevo International Airport. Some passengers at Sheremetyveo told RIA Novosti they had to bribe personnel to retrieve their checked baggage from canceled flights.

Teeth-chattering, bitterly cold winds have swept across the eastern half of the USA this month, sending December temperatures to near-record cold levels all the way from Minneapolis to Miami. Blame it mainly on the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and its close cousin, the Arctic Oscillation (AO). These large-scale climate patterns in the atmosphere over the Arctic and north Atlantic Ocean strongly affect winter weather. December’s NAO has been in what scientists call its “negative” or “cold” phase, causing Arctic air to surge farther south into the central and eastern USA. The cold air can also invade northern and western Europe, as it has this month, causing travel troubles in the U.K., Germany and France. Meanwhile, Greenland and much of eastern and northern Canada are experiencing a relatively mild month.

People aren’t the only ones in Florida who don’t like cold weather. Manatees — those giant aquatic mammals with the flat, paddle-shaped tails — are swimming out of the chilly Gulf of Mexico waters and into warmer springs and power plant discharge canals. On Tuesday, more than 300 manatees floated in the outflow of Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station. Cold weather can weaken manatees’ immune systems and eventually kill them. State officials said 2010 has been a deadly year for the beloved animals: between Jan. 1 and Dec. 17, 246 manatees died from so-called “cold stress.” During the same time period in 2009, only 55 manatees died from the cold. In 2008, only 22 manatees succumbed to chilly temperatures.

December 27, 2010

No Room for Jesus in U.S. Media this Christmas

Just as Bethlehem had no room for Jesus 2,000 years ago, one media expert says today’s U.S. media has no room for God this Christmas. A report from the Culture and Media Institute says 98.7 percent of the stories on major TV networks — such as ABC, CBS and NBC — that highlight Christmas do not mention Christ. Matt Philbin, managing editor for the Culture and Media Institute (CMI), laments that the media has helped eliminate Christ from the Christian holiday. “Basically, they would talk about anything but God,” he notes of the coverage. He says the three major networks reported mainly on issues surrounding Christmas, including weather, the economy, and travel.

  • · Secularized media is out to destroy and eliminate Christianity

Weather

Blizzard conditions dumping more than a foot of snow in parts of the U.S. Northeast stranded thousands of airline, bus and rail passengers, with lashing winds and low visibility also buffeting workers returning Monday to their post-Christmas routines. The winter storm wreaked havoc on travelers from the Carolinas to Maine, forced the suspension of operations at some of the nation’s busiest airports and marooned a passenger bus carrying about 50 people on a New Jersey highway. Airlines scrambled to rebook passengers on thousands of canceled flights — more than 1,400 out of the New York City area’s three major airports alone — but said they didn’t expect normal service to resume until Tuesday.

Amtrakcanceled train service from New York to Maine after doing the same earlier for several trains in Virginia. The nation’s largest commuter rail system, New York’s Long Island Rail Road, also suspended service. Bus companies canceled routes up and down the East Coast, and drivers faced hazardous travel conditions — sometimes with close to zero visibility. In Monmouth County, New Jersey, snow drifts of up to five feet contributed to stalling a passenger bus on the Garden State Parkway, where snow plows were having a difficult time clearing because there were so many stranded cars cluttering the ramps. Ambulances couldn’t reach the bus, and state troopers were carrying their own water and food to the bus to give to people who were feeling ill.

Travelers spent Christmas Eve camped in airports in Paris and Brussels instead of at feast-laden family tables, after new snowfall and shortages of deicing fluid trapped passengers and snarled travel across Europe. A scare about the security of a snow-laden terminal roof at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport made matters worse, with crowds asked to clear out of a section of Terminal 2E. While travel in Britain was improving after days of headaches, snowfall stranded travelers in Ireland and Denmark and shut Duesseldorf airport in Germany for hours. The exceptionally wintry weather in recent weeks has caused exceptionally sweeping shutdowns, delays and other problems.

  • · End-time weather will be increasingly turbulent, not just warmer

New Tax Law Packed with Obscure Business Tax Cuts

The massive new tax bill signed into law by President Barack Obama is filled with all kinds of holiday stocking stuffers for businesses: tax breaks for producing TV shows, grants for putting up windmills, and rum subsidies for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. There is even a tax break for people who buy race horses. Millions of homeowners, however, might feel like they got a lump of coal. Homeowners who don’t itemize their deductions will lose a tax break for paying local property taxes. It also provides a new payroll tax cut for wage earners and extends jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed.

  • · As usual, federal legislation comes packed with unannounced extras hidden in the fine print – and they wonder why we don’t trust the government

Medicare Regulation Revives End-of-Life Planning

A new health regulation issued this month offers elderly Medicare health insurance recipients voluntary end-of-life planning, which Democrats dropped from the monumental health care overhaul last year. The provision allows Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling to help beneficiaries deal with the complex and painful decisions families face when a loved one is approaching death. But the practice was heavily criticized by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and some other Republicans who have likened the counseling to “death panels.” The “voluntary advance care planning” is included in a Medicare regulation issued Dec. 3 that covers annual checkups, known as wellness visits. It goes into effect Jan. 1. Opponents said end-of-life planning should be left to families, while proponents said doctors’ advice was a basic element of health care.

Airport Body Scanners, Pat-Downs to Stay

The nation’s controversial airport pat-downs and full-body scanners are here to stay, at least for now. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the systems on CNN this morning, crediting them with preventing unknown numbers of potentially dangerous devices from making their way on to airplanes. “The new technology, the pat-downs, is just objectively safer for our traveling public,” Napolitano said. Despite concerns among civil libertarians and many travelers subjected to intimate pat-downs, Napolitano said safety is the No. 1 priority. “Everything is objectively better than it was a year ago, particularly in the aviation environment,” she said.

Millions Enter U.S. Without Proper I.D.

Despite reassurances of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano that the U.S. border with Mexico has never been more secure, millions are being allowed to enter the United States, largely through Mexico, without proper identification. The problem is that the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI, implemented after Sept. 11 requires all travelers, even from Canada and Mexico, to have a passport or other secure identification before entering the United States. Evidently, some 18 months after WHTI was put into effect, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, officers are simply not enforcing the law, allowing an estimated 2.3 million travelers who failed to provide proper paperwork at U.S. land ports of entry to come into the United States anyway. A report released in November by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security concluded that during eight month period spanning June 1, 2009, through Jan. 31, 2010, approximately 2.3 million travelers were allowed to enter the United States despite not having passports or other secure identification required by WHTI, amounting to a potential of 3.6 million noncompliant travelers annually.

  • · So, while U.S. citizens get violated at airports, undocumented aliens are allowed free, unintrusive entry into our country?

Can Trains, Subways be Protected from Terrorists?

The government’s top security officials say they are upgrading subway and rail defenses against terrorist attacks throughout the country, but a USA TODAY examination finds gaping holes, including many that may not be possible to plug. The holes in security leave travelers more vulnerable on the more than 4 billion trips they take by subway and rail each year than in the sky, where airlines carried fewer than 700 million passengers from U.S. airports last year. Six terrorist plots targeting U.S. subway and rail systems have been exposed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the systems remain a target, transit authorities, security experts and members of Congress agree. Yet, as the nation debates the federal Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) stricter screening methods at airport security checkpoints, about 15 million passengers board subway cars and trains unscreened each weekday. “Mass transit systems are much less secure than the aviation sector or certain key government buildings,” says Clark Kent Ervin, the Department of Homeland Security’s former inspector general. The nation’s vast network of more than 3,200 stations and more than 20,000 miles of track combined with the impracticality and cost of screening every passenger leave U.S. subways and rails exposed to the type of terrorist attacks 22 other nations have experienced the last five years.

Economic News

China has said it is willing to bail out debt-ridden countries in the euro zone using its $2.7trillion overseas investment fund. The country has already approached struggling European countries with financial aid, including offering to buy Greece’s debt in October and promising to buy $4billion of Portuguese government debt. In a fresh humiliation for Europe, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said it was one of the most important areas for China’s foreign exchange investments. China’s astonishing economic growth has put it on track to overtake America as the world’s economic powerhouse within two years, a recent report claimed.

After seven decades of mostly uninterrupted growth, U.S. gasoline demand has started a long-term decline. By 2030, Americans will burn at least 20% less gasoline than today, experts say, even as millions of more cars clog the roads. The country’s thirst for gasoline is shrinking as cars and trucks become more fuel-efficient, the government requires the use of more ethanol and people drive less. Drivers typically cut back during recessions, then hit the road again when the economy picks up. Indeed, the Great Recession was the chief reason demand fell sharply in 2008. But this time looks different. Government and industry officials say U.S. gasoline demand has peaked for good. It has declined four years in a row and will not reach the 2006 level again, even when the economy fully recovers. Americans are burning an average of 8.2 million barrels — 344 million gallons — of gasoline per day in 2010, a figure that excludes the ethanol blended into gasoline. That’s 8% less than at the 2006 peak, according to government data.

Middle East

Using weapons supplied by the radical mullahs of Teheran, Hamas terrorists have fired more than two dozen rockets and mortars at Jews living in the southern part of Israel. The increased level of violence comes as world leaders continue their assault against the safety of Israel. Bolivia just became the tenth nation in the past few days to announce recognition of Palestine as an independent country. This poses a huge economic threat to Israel in addition to the obvious security dangers it will create. Behind the scenes, the Obama Administration is hard at work pressuring Israel to surrender Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem to the very people behind the continuing terrorist attacks against them. There was no peace when Israel surrendered Gaza to the Palestinians; it just became the latest launch pad for attacks, and there will be no peace if Israel surrenders again. This is land that God promised to the Chosen People, and every nation that tries to take it away will come under His Divine curse, the Jerusalem Prayer Team reports.

Nigeria

Police in northern Nigeria say that Muslim radical sect members have attacked two churches in the restive region. Members of Boko Haram, a radical Muslim sect, attacked two churches in the city of Maiduguri on Christmas Eve. Danjuma Akawu, secretary of Victory Baptist Church said about 30 men attacked his church Friday evening, killing five people. Rev. Haskanda Jessu of Church of Christ in Nigeria said that three men attacked his church at the other end of the city, killing the security guard. Police accuse Boko Haram of a rash of targeted killings in recent months. In the central city of Jos, 11 people also died after multiple bomb blasts Friday afternoon.

Europe

While so-called equality legislation is on the rise in Europe, Christians are increasingly dealing with “side-effect discrimination,” according to a new report. According to Christian Today, the report is released every five years by the Vienna-based Observatory of Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe. The group’s findings allege that discriminatory laws were preventing the equal exercise of freedom in the areas of speech, conscience and religion. “Hate speech legislation has a tendency to indirectly discriminate against Christians, criminalizing core elements of Christian teaching,” the report said. The report cites specific incidents of discrimination, including the 18-year suspension of a judge in Spain in 2008 for conscientiously objecting to the adoption of a girl by her mother’s lesbian partner, and the UK Supreme Court’s refusal to grant an appeal to a Christian registrar who was disciplined because she refused to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Philippines

A military spokesman says a priest and five other churchgoers were slightly injured in a bomb blast at a police chapel in the volatile southern Philippines. Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang says the improvised explosive went off during Christmas Mass early Saturday in the ceiling of the chapel, which is located inside a police camp in Jolo town on Jolo Island. He says those wounded were taken to a hospital, but that their injuries were not life-threatening. It wasn’t immediately clear who was responsible, but the majority Muslim island province is a stronghold of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

Iran

Despite sanctions and trade embargoes, over the past decade the United States government has allowed American companies to do billions of dollars in business with Iran and other countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism, an examination by The New York Times has found. At the behest of a host of companies — from Kraft Food and Pepsi to some of the nation’s largest banks — a little-known office of the Treasury Department has granted nearly 10,000 licenses for deals involving countries that have been cast into economic purgatory, beyond the reach of American business. Most of the licenses were approved under a decade-old law mandating that agricultural and medical humanitarian aid be exempted from sanctions. But the law, pushed by the farm lobby and other industry groups, was written so broadly that allowable humanitarian aid has included cigarettes, Wrigley’s gum, Louisiana hot sauce, weight-loss remedies, body-building supplements and sports rehabilitation equipment sold to the institute that trains Iran’s Olympic athletes.

Pakistan

A female suicide bomber detonated her explosives-laden vest killing at least 43 people at an aid distribution center in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, while army helicopter gunships and artillery killed a similar number of Islamic militants in neighboring tribal regions near the Afghan border. The bombing appeared to be the first suicide attack staged by a woman in Pakistan, and it underscored the resilience of militant groups in the country’s tibal belt despite ongoing military operations against them. The bomber struck in the main city in Bajur, a region near the Afghan border where the military has twice declared victory over Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents.

Iraq

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up on Monday and killed nine people at the government compound in the provincial capital of Ramadi. Another 43 people were injured by the blasts. The first blast occurred when a suicide bomber drove a minibus packed with explosives into the entrance of the main government compound of the city. As people gathered to observe the destruction, another man detonated his explosive vest in their midst. Insurgents frequently go after government targets in effort to destabilize the U.S.-backed authorities, especially now as American troops prepare to leave by the end of next year.

Italy

A package bomb was found at the Greek Embassy in Rome on Monday, four days after similar mail bombs exploded at two other embassies injuring two people. The device was defused and no one was injured. Carabinieri Col. Maurizio Mezzavilla said the bomb was similar to the ones that exploded Thursday at the Chilean and Swiss embassies. An anarchist group with reported ties to Greek anarchists claimed responsibility for those blasts. A group called Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire claimed responsibility for the Greek blasts. It called on militants in Greece and other countries to step up their action, and Greek police noted last week that in the past acts of “solidarity” have been carried out between Greek and Italian militant groups.

Earthquakes

A 5.4-magnitude earthquake struck the U.S. Caribbean territory on Christmas Eve, rattling windows and doors across the island but causing no major damage. The quake occurred at a depth of 63 miles south-southwest of the capital of San Juan, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Six ceiling panels fell at the American Airlines terminal, but that no one was injured. Emergency officials and police told local media that no damage or injuries have been reported.

December 24, 2010

Christmas Cheer Abounds in Sunny Bethlehem

A festive mood gripped a sunny Bethlehem on Friday as tourists flocked in record numbers to celebrate Christmas in the town where Jesus Christ was born. “It’s amazing. To be in the birthplace of Christ on Christmas, you can’t get better than that,” said Brady MacCarl, 22. MacCarl was among thousands of people packed into Manger Square in unseasonably warm weather under clear blue skies. At least 90,000 people were expected to flood the town over the Christmas period. Crowds lined the square, most of them Palestinian Christians, but Muslim women sporting headscarves were also visible in the crowd. Palestinian security forces channeled visitors behind security barriers as troupes of scouts from Christian towns and villages across the West Bank marched through the city. Manger Square is home to both the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born, and St Catherine’s Church, where the Christmas Eve midnight mass was to be celebrated.

More than 500 members of the Gaza Strip’s tiny Christian community left the blockaded territory on Thursday to participate in Christmas celebrations in Jesus’ traditional birthplace of Bethlehem. The Israeli military coordinated the rare passage to the West Bank ahead of the holiday, saying it was part of its goal to ensure freedom of worship for all religions. About 3,500 Christians live in Gaza among 1.5 million Muslims. Relations have traditionally been good, though there has been sporadic violence against Christians since the Islamic Hamas movement wrestled control of the strip three years ago. Christians currently comprise less than 2% of the population in the West Bank and Gaza, compared to about 15% in 1950. Like many other Christian communities across the Middle East, many have moved abroad to flee political tensions or in search of economic opportunities.

Christmas, Afghan-Style for U.S. Troops

There will be no Christmas turkey and trimmings for US marines at Patrol Base Talibjan this year — a chemically heated meal of preserved meat is all the infantry men expect. The troops — living in unheated tents in the Taliban heartland of Musa Qala district, in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province — will climb out of their sleeping bags as usual, plan patrols and hope the day ends without casualties. Small glimpses of Christmas decorate the humble surroundings. A plastic tree is decorated with baubles and fairy lights, large stockings hang empty on a wire wall and a Christmas star made from snack food tubes tops the tree. Christmas mail was slow to arrive at this outpost on a remote, frozen plateau, but modern technology allows the marines to contact home briefly via the Internet and satellite phone.

Navy chaplain Father William Kennedy, who stays on a larger base in southern Helmand, says the lack of presents and austere environment can be a humble reminder of the Christian holiday’s true meaning. At the marines’ main military base in Helmand — Camp Leatherneck — the seasonal celebrations take on a more celebratory tone as more than 100 troops gather in a plywood chapel for a Christmas concert. A military brass band strikes up “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the congregation, all in desert camouflage uniforms and some equipped with assault rifles, belt out the carol, reading the words off a projector screen.

Today’s Shepherds Alone on the Range in U.S.

This Christmas they are out there still, watching their flocks at all hours, in snow, rain and fog, so we can eat our lamb and wear our wool. They are from places you might expect — the Peruvian and Chilean highlands, mostly — working in a place you might not, here in the USA. About 1,500 shepherds will spend Christmas in the deserts and valleys of the Mountain West, working and living in conditions not that different from those of first-century Judea. They will be on foot and in the open, alone except for a few dogs and lots of sheep. They will sleep in cramped, battered trailers lit by kerosene lantern or candle, without electricity, running water or toilets. It has been a half-century since Americans were willing to trail sheep on the open range, a job the writer Robert Laxalt has called “the region’s most denigrated occupation.” So ranchers import men on guest visas to work three-year contracts and then leave the USA when their contract is up. Some shepherds return after signing up for another three years.

  • · There were shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them ...Luke 2:8-9

Pricey Twelve-Day Gifts

The price of the whimsical gifts in the classic, “Twelve Days of Christmas” surged 9.2 percent this year, according to the 2010 PNC Christmas Price Index. This marks the largest percentage increase since 2003. Pull out your wallets, and maybe a loan application, because the annual survey compiled by PNC Wealth Management, estimates the cost of the gifts to top $23,439 in 2010. That’s a $1,974 increase from last year’s Christmas Price Index. The price of a pear tree, four calling birds, and six geese-a-laying remained unchanged from last year. Given this is first time in three years the federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised, the eight-maids-a-milking hourly rate remains unchanged at $7.25 an hour. Five Gold Rings went up by 30 percent. The fine feathered friends featured in the song saw some of the biggest increases. The two turtle doves were up 78.6 percent and the three French hens increased a whopping 233 percent since last year. The lords-a-leaping jumped eight percent due to rising entertainment costs. The nine ladies dancing, well perhaps your true love won’t notice they’re missing, since they were the most expensive gift clocking in at $6,294.03.

Lame Duck Congress Adjourns after Busy Session

Despite partisan rancor and a recent election that shifted power to the Republicans, lawmakers left Capitol Hill on Wednesday for Christmas after giving President Obama almost everything on his wish list. In a final flurry of legislative dealmaking that capped one of the busiest sessions of Congress in years, the Senate passed a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and both chambers cleared a bill to help survivors of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Not only did Congress pass a series of controversial measures Obama had requested, it did so with some Republican support.

  • · The recent election shifting power to the right seemed only to energize the liberal majority to enact their agenda before the new Congress is seated. Republican complicity was shameful.

Wilderness Rules Restored for Public Lands

The Obama administration plans to reverse a Bush-era policy and make millions of undeveloped acres of land once again eligible for federal wilderness protection, Interior Secretary Ken Salaar said Thursday. Salazar said his agency will repeal 2003’s so-called “No More Wilderness” policy adopted under former Interior Secretary Gale Norton. That policy stated that new areas could not be recommended for wilderness protection by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It opened millions of acres in the Rocky Mountain region to potential commercial development. Environmental activists have been calling on the Obama administration to restore protections for potential wilderness areas. Salazar announced Thursday that the agency will resume evaluating lands that could be designated as wilderness areas.

Men Less Healthy than Women

As a general rule, men take lousy care of their health. They shrug off injuries. They hate going to the doctor for anything. They pay little heed to warning signs for major health issues. And the results of all that manliness are evident in the statistics. According to the U.S.
Dept. of Health and Human Services: One in five American men has heart disease. One in three adult men in the United States has high blood pressure. Three in four American men are overweight. Men overall are less healthy and have a shorter life span than women, according to the Men’s Health Network, a national nonprofit group that promotes healthy living for men. And more than half of all premature deaths among men are preventable. Men lead women in nine out of the top 10 causes of death. “If you look at the data, women are 100% more likely than men to seek preventative care. It’s really scary,” said Scott Williams, vice president of the Men’s Health Network, a national nonprofit group that promotes healthy living for men.

Sudden Infant Deaths Most Common on New Year’s Day

A new study finds that more babies die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the United States on New Year’s Day than any other day of the year. Researchers suspect it has something to do with parents who drink heavily the night before and put their children in jeopardy. “Alcohol-influenced adults are less able to protect children in their care. We’re saying the same thing is happening with SIDS. They’re also less likely to protect the baby from it,” said study author David Phillips, a sociologist. SIDS kills an estimated 2,500 babies in the United States each year. Some researchers think genetic problems contribute to most cases with the risk boosted when babies sleep on their stomachs.

Stroke Deaths Higher from Fried Fish

The steep rate of death from stroke in a swath of southern states often referred to as America’s “stroke belt” may be linked to a higher consumption of fried fish in that region, new research suggests. A study published in today’s Neurology shows people living in the stroke belt — which comprises North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana — eat more fried fish and less non-fried fish than people living in the rest of the country. Stroke belt residents were 32% more likely to eat two or more servings of fried fish each week than those in the rest of the country. “Differences in dietary fish consumption, specifically in cooking methods, may be contributing to higher rates of stroke in the stroke belt and also among African Americans,” says study author Fadi Nahab, medical director for the Stroke Program at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Arizona‘s Unmarried Partners to Lose Health-Care Benefits, but Not Gays

On Jan. 1, Arizona will cut off health-care benefits to about 600 heterosexual, unmarried domestic partners of state employees. Gov. Jan Brewer and the Legislature made the benefit change as part of budget cuts in 2009. They intended to eliminate benefits for a much broader group, including adult children and gay partners of state employees. However, the new federal health-care law and a court ruling have forced the state to continue covering those groups, leaving opposite-sex partners the only class impacted by the cuts. The state is appealing the court ruling, and if it succeeds, the 408 same-sex partners of state employees also will lose benefits.

  • · Such unintended consequences often evolve from the tangled webs woven by intrusive government

Economic News

Economic reports Thursday were mostly positive: Slightly fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, Americans spent at a moderate pace in November and orders for long-lasting manufactured goods outside of the volatile transportation category rose by the largest amount in eight months. The recent decline in the number of people seeking benefits has encouraged economists. Applications have fallen more than 20,000 the past month. Unemployment benefits rolls dropped 103,000 to little more than 4 million in the week ended Dec. 11th That doesn’t include millions of laid-off workers who are receiving emergency aid under extended unemployment benefits programs. About 4.7 million people are receiving extended benefits for up to 99 weeks. All told, about 8.9 million people got unemployment benefits the week of Dec. 4, latest data available. That was about 150,000 fewer people than the previous week.

The usual end-of-the-year skid in gas prices isn’t happening in 2010. As a result, it is likely that Phoenix will see an average price of at least $3.30 a gallon by summer, analysts say. Several stations in the Phoenix area already are selling regular fuel for $3 a gallon, prices not seen since October 2008. The average price of regular gasoline in Phoenix was $2.91 Wednesday, according to AAA Arizona, about 34 cents higher than a year earlier.

Sales of new homes rose 5.5% last month from October to an annual rate of 290,000 units, while existing home sales in November rose 5.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.68 million. Demand has steadily improved since bottoming in July following the end of the buyers’ tax credit. Despite signs of improvement, economists and home builders say next year will remain tough. Home prices, down almost 30% from their 2006 peak, will fall 5% to 7% more before potentially rebounding later in the year, experts estimate. Banks will repossess 1 million U.S. homes next year, on top of 1 million this year, says market researcher RealtyTrac.

More troubled homeowners are dropping out of the Obama administration’s main foreclosure-relief program, which has been widely criticized for failing to help more people keep their homes. But the program reached more homeowners in November than in October. The number of new trial modifications increased to about 30,000, from about 24,000 in October. And the number of trial modifications that turned permanent rose to about 31,000, from about 26,000 the previous month. The Treasury department said Wednesday that about 774,000 homeowners have dropped out of the program as of last month. That’s about 54% of the more than 1.4 million people who applied. Some 505,000 homeowners have secured lower payments permanently. That’s about 35% of the number who enrolled on a trial basis.

Russia

Russia‘s lower house of parliament on Friday gave preliminary approval to a U.S.-Russian arms treaty, but decided to delay further moves until next month. The Kremlin-controlled State Duma voted 350-58 to approve the New START treaty in the first of three required readings. The legislators said they would proceed further after returning from the New Year’s vacation that lasts until Jan. 11. The New START treaty, which was ratified Wednesday by the U.S. Senate, would limit each country’s strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would re-establish a system for monitoring and verification, which ended last year with the expiration of a previous arms control deal.

Iraq

Iraq’s Christian leaders called off Christmas celebrations amid new al-Qaeda threats on the tiny community still terrified from a bloody siege on a Baghdad church. Christians across Iraq have been living in fear since the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church as its Catholic congregation was celebrating Sunday Mass. Sixty-eight people were killed. Days later Islamic insurgents bombed Christian homes and neighborhoods across the capital. On Tuesday, al-Qaeda insurgents threatened more attacks on Iraq’s beleaguered Christians, many of whom have fled their homes or the country since the church attack. A council representing Christian denominations across Iraq advised its followers to cancel public celebrations of Christmas out of concern for their lives and as a show of mourning for the victims.

Iraqi officials say a Shiite militia leader, his wife and three children have been killed in a bombing targeting their home south of Baghdad. The Mahdi militia forces are loyal to radical cleric Mugtada al-Sadr. They often terrorized Sunni neighborhoods during the height of  Iraq’s sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, and the militia’s fighters have been targets of retribution.

Pakistan

Some 150 militants attacked five security posts in Pakistan’s tribal area near the Afghan border overnight, sparking a clash that killed 11 soldiers and 24 insurgents, officials said Friday. The fighting in the Mohmand tribal area shows that insurgents in the region retain significant ability to coordinate and mount complex assaults, despite multiple military offensives against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Pakistan’s northwest.  Mohmand has been a trouble spot for years and the focus of multiple army operations. Its border location makes it a valuable transit point for insurgents seeking to travel to Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces are fighting.

Iran

Iran is operating a worldwide recruitment network for nuclear scientists to lure them to the country to work on its nuclear weapons program, officials have told the Daily Telegraph. They claim that the country is particularly reliant on North Korean scientists but also recruits people with expertise from African countries to work on developing missiles and nuclear production activities. North Korea relies on an lucrative financing agreement with Iran to fund its expanding nuclear activities. In return for Iranian money and testing facilities, North Korea sends technology and scientists. Mohamed Reza Heydari, a former Iranian consul in Oslo, told The Daily Telegraph, that he had personally helped scores of North Koreans enter the country while working for the foreign ministry’s office in Tehran’s Imam Khomenei airport.  “The North Koreans were all technicians and military experts involved in two aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. One to enable Iran to achieve nuclear bomb capability, and the other to help increase the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles.”

Haiti

Since the massive earthquake, the situation for women has gotten even worse, rights groups say. Rapes have gone up threefold in Port-au-Prince, according to Refugee International, a Washington-based group. A report issued by the group this fall, “Haiti: Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase,” detailed that the camps had become dangerous places for women. It alleged that the camps are guarded poorly if at all. Rape was already a serious problem in Haiti even before the earthquake. The United Nations reported in 2008 that almost half of the girls and young women living in slums like Cité Soleil and Martissant had been raped. “Living in squalid, overcrowded camps for a prolonged period has led to aggravated levels of violence and appalling standards of living,” the report states.

Italy

Package bombs exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome on Thursday, injuring the two people who opened them. The interior minister said anarchists were believed responsible and linked the attacks to similar bombings at embassies in Greece last month. All embassies in the Italian capital city were informed of the blasts and Italian diplomats abroad were urged to take precautions. No one immediately claimed responsibility, but investigators were following the “anarchist-insurrectionalist path” given that a similar letter bomb campaign in Athens last month was claimed by Greek radical anarchists.

India

Police searched India’s financial capital on Friday for four men who authorities believe entered Mumbai to carry out a terrorist attack, a top police official said. Authorities issued a terror alert for the city, where a three-day terrorist seige in 2008 killed 166 people. Since then, police tend to take even minor threats seriously and have periodically raised the alarm, but there have been no subsequent attacks in the city. Police have received credible information that at least four men belonging to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group have entered the city and were planning to strike during the holiday season.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 6.3 earthquake rattled Japan’s southern Bonin Islands on Thursday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, a day after a stronger quake jolted the region and sent residents scrambling to community centers. No tsunami alert was issued Thursday, unlike the aftermath of the magnitude 7.4 quake a day earlier that triggered a brief alert. There were no immediate reports of damage. Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries.

Weather

California residents who endured flooding, mudslides and evacuations during a week-long onslaught of rain now have another problem: contaminated water and fouled beaches. The rain washed trash, pesticides and bacteria into waterways, prompting health warnings. Many beaches were closed because of sewer overflows. More than 200 homes were ordered evacuated for more than 24 hours in suburbs of Los Angeles below steep hillsides that burned in 2009 and where mudslides inundated homes and backyards in February. Sixty people were rescued and more than 30 homes evacuated Wednesday when water surged through Dove Canyon, a gated Orange County community. In Highland, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles, two creeks overflowed, swamping as many as 20 homes in up to 3 feet of mud. Up to 40 homes and around 100 residents were evacuated. In northwestern Arizona, homes along a flooded wash teetered on the edge as residents scurried to gather belongings. Five vacant homes were lost in the rural area and nearly two dozen homes were damaged.

Part of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was evacuated Friday due to the accumulation of snow on the roof, and hundreds of flights were canceled because of a shortage of de-icing fluid, authorities said. Part of the roof of that terminal collapsed in 2004, shortly after the state-of-the-art building was inaugurated. Four people were killed, media reports at the time said. About a foot of snow had fallen on the roof Friday by the time authorities decided to close the terminal. French authorities earlier Friday asked airlines to cancel half their morning flights to and from the airport because de-icing fluid is running low, they said. Then, early in the afternoon, they asked airlines to scrap a third of their flights for the rest of the day.

December 22, 2010

Jesus Calling® Has Hit Platinum Status

Over 1 million people have been drawn closer to Christ through a simple daily devotional, Jesus Calling ® (Thomas Nelson, 978-1-5914-5188-4, $14.99). Now this inspiring devotional has hit platinum sales status and is at the top of 3 bestseller lists. Written by missionary Sarah Young, these daily affirmations of God’s presence and love have brought peace and a deeper walk with the Lord for so many. Recently, Thomas Nelson introduced the Jesus Calling®: 365 Devotions For Kids (Thomas Nelson, 978-1-4003-1634-2, $14.99, October 2010). Written from Jesus’ point of view, each day’s devotion is penned as if Jesus were speaking directly to each person. Prior to the publication of Jesus Calling, I had begun “listening” to Jesus first thing in the morning; writing down what I heard in my mind. I began to compile the best of these writings into daily readings. After it was made available to the public, I was astonished to hear people say time after time each day’s reading seems to be written just for me,” recalls author Sarah Young.

Poll: 4 in 10 Americans Believe in Creationism

A new Gallup poll reveals that 40 per cent of Americans believe in creationism – that is, that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. The Christian Post reports that this is a slight decline from 2008, when 44 percent agreed with this point of view. Meanwhile, almost the same number believe in “theistic evolution,” or the viewpoint that God guided the evolutionary process to create life. Those statistics vary by church attendance, as 60 percent of weekly churchgoers agreed with a creationist viewpoint, and 47 percent of people who attend church at least every month also stood by creationism. Americans who seldom or never attend church are more likely to say God guided the process of evolution (39 percent).

Religious Americans the Most Generous

A new book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” shows that the most religious Americans give more to a variety of charitable causes than their secular counterparts. In fact, the difference is so great that religious citizens even give more to secular causes. On average, those in the most religious donate $3,000 to charity annually compared to the most secular donations of just $1,000 per year.  When household income is taken into account, religious Americans are four times as generous as their secular neighbors.

Ariz. Hospital Loses Catholic Status Over Abortion Case

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a major hospital of its affiliation with the church Tuesday because of a surgery that ended a woman’s pregnancy to save her life. Bishop Thomas Olmsted called the 2009 procedure an abortion and said St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center — recognized internationally for its neurology and neurosurgery practices — violated ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops. “In the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld,” Olmsted said at a news conference announcing the decision. “The mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed.” “If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case,” Hunt said. “Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

Generals, Diplomats Warn of New START

More than 30 former defense or foreign policy government officials and related experts issued an open letter to the Senate Monday expressing their “professional judgment” that President Barack Obama’s proposed nuclear weapons reduction treaty with the Russians, called New START, “is not consistent with the national security interests of the United States,” and “should be rejected by the U.S. Senate,” which is considering it now. They argue that Russia easily could cheat secretly to our detriment, that it would restrict deployment of new U.S. anti-missile defenses, that it would reduce the survivability and flexibility of our our strategic forces and could be militarily destabilizing, that it permits a continued large Russian superiority in overall nuclear weapons, and that resulting insecurity among our allies about continued extended deterrence could lead to intensified production and proliferation of nuclear weapons—all unintended, harmful consequences, the opposite of the Obama Administration’s announced goals for the agreement.

However, the nuclear arms control treaty with Russia that is President Obama’s top foreign policy priority in the year-end session of Congress is poised for bipartisan approval in the Senate today after it won support from a swath of Republicans. In a vote Tuesday to end debate on the treaty, 11 Republicans joined 56 Democrats to back the measure — exceeding the two-thirds vote that will be needed to ratify the measure. A majority of Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, voted against ending debate. McCain and others have expressed concerns about the treaty’s impact on U.S. efforts to build a missile-defense system. McCain is negotiating an amendment to reinforce the commitment to that system.

House Sends Food Safety Bill to President Obama

The House has passed a sweeping bill aimed at making food safer following recent contaminations in peanuts, eggs and produce, sending it to President Obama for his signature. The legislation passed Tuesday would give the government broad new powers to inspect processing plants, order recalls and impose stricter standards for imported foods. The $1.4 billion bill would also require larger farms and food manufacturers to prepare detailed food safety plans and tell the Food and Drug Administration how they are working to keep their food safe at different stages of production. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the bill will give her agency new tools to make substantial improvements in food safety. Still, the bill came under fire from advocates of buying locally produced food and operators of small farms, who said it could bankrupt some small businesses.

Congress Passes Stopgap Federal Spending Bill

Congress cleared a stopgap funding bill Tuesday to keep the federal government open into March, a temporary truce until Republicans and President Barack Obama rejoin the battle over the budget next year. The bill was passed by the House in the evening just hours after speeding through the Senate. President Obama will sign it Wednesday within a “24-hour grace period.” The measure would freeze agency budgets at current levels. That’s still too high for Republicans set to take over the House, who vow to cut many programs to levels in place when Obama took office. The measure is needed because the Democratic-controlled Congress — in an unprecedented failure to complete its most basic job on passing a budget — has failed to enact a single one of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of every federal agency.

FCC Set to Pass ‘Net Neutrality’

The Federal Communications Commission didn’t seem to make many people happy Tuesday when it voted 3-to-2 to restrict cable and phone companies from favoring some Web services over others. Several activists who support rules for an open Internet — also known as net neutrality — said that the FCC left loopholes that would enable Web providers to ensure that some video or communications transmissions will be favored over others. The FCC voted to limit such practices, but stopped short of banning them. That means innovators “face the prospect of being blocked, bilked or intimidated by the carriers who control the pipes,” says Andrew Jay Schwartzman, policy director of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm. Vision to America observes that “nothing is broken and needs fixing. The Internet has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was spun off from a government research project in the early 1990s. Its nature as a diffuse and dynamic global network of networks defies top-down authority. Ample laws to protect consumers already exist.”

  • · The FCC says it aims to shape the way the Web evolves – and therein lies the problem. Government control over free enterprise is always a bad solution and leaves the door open to discriminatory practices, a key New World Order goal

Colorado River Water Deal Aids U.S. and Mexico

Mexico will leave part of its Colorado River allocation in Lake Mead for the next three years, slowing the decline of the drought-stricken reservoir and possibly delaying the onset of water rationing in Arizona and Nevada. The arrangement, announced Monday by U.S. and Mexican officials, was devised to give farmers in the Mexicali region of northern Mexico time to repair damage from an April earthquake that disrupted water-delivery systems. Mexico lacks the means to store unused water in its own country. But the more immediate benefits may be accrued north of the border, where water in Lake Mead is nearing a level that would trigger drought restrictions. Some projections suggest the reservoir could sink to that level by 2013 unless winter runoff increases or less water is released downstream. The two-nation agreement also opens the door to discussions about how the countries can more efficiently manage the river. The Colorado is divided among seven states and Mexico, but water demand has exceeded the water in the river in recent years, depleting reservoirs.

Automakers Sue EPA

Automakers and engine manufacturers are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over a plan to allow the sale of gasoline containing 15% ethanol. The Obama administration ruled in October that gas stations could start selling the corn-based ethanol blend for vehicles built since the 2007 model year. It’s an increase from the current blend of 10% ethanol. Automakers say they are worried the EPA decision would eventually lead to motorists unknowingly filling up their older cars and trucks with E15 and hurting their engines. The problem could be exacerbated if E15 fuels are cheaper than more conventional blends, prompting owners of older vehicles to use the fuel despite the potential engine problems. The EPA has said a congressional mandate for increased ethanol use can’t be achieved without allowing higher blends. Congress has required refiners to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels, mostly ethanol, into auto fuel by 2022.

Recession Trims Final Census Count

The U.S. population totals 308.7 million, up 9.7% since 2000, the Census Bureau announced Tuesday. It is the slowest growth rate since the Great Depression. The growth of Sun Belt states that had soared in the early part of the decade slowed when the recession began in December 2007, a development that in an odd way helped struggling states in the Northeast and Midwest. Their losses might have been much greater had the migration to the Sun Belt continued at the same furious pace. “This is the very first decade that the West region is more populous than the Midwest,” Census Director Robert Groves at a briefing Tuesday. “In 1910, four of the five most-populous states were in the Northeast and Midwest.” Nevada’s growth slowed from a dizzying 66% in the 1990s to a still-impressive 35% since 2000 — the largest gainer this decade.

About 60% of the nation’s growth resulted from natural increase (more births than deaths) and the rest from immigration. Overall, immigration accounted for three-quarters of population growth during the decade. Census Bureau data found 13.1 million new immigrants (legal and illegal) who arrived in the last 10 years; there were also about 8.2 million births to immigrant women during the decade.

In a 10-year constitutional process called reapportionment, the Census Bureau said Tuesday that 12 congressional seats would move from one state to another. Most dramatically, Ohio and New York will each lose two seats. Texas will gain four, and Florida will gain two. Arizona and Nevada will each gain one seat. Arizona’s population is now at 6.4 million.

Congressional Payrolls Continue to Grow

Congressional payroll expenses have climbed much faster than the civilian federal work force costs that lawmakers are now clamoring to freeze. Many of the most vocal critics have overseen growth that rivals or outstrips the executive branch’s, according to data from Legistorm, a website that tracks congressional salaries. The lawmakers offered various explanations for their rising costs, with many saying they were simply going along with the budget allowances Congress sets each year for members. Some said they were working to hire the best staffs they could to serve their districts or had new demands such as the need to hire a social media coordinator. The issue of federal salaries came to a head last month when President Barack Obama took a page from the Republican playbook and proposed freezing civilian federal wages for two years. Republicans had offered similar plans earlier in the year that were widely panned by Democrats.

Phoenix Heading for Double-Dip Decline in Home Prices

Metro Phoenix home prices are headed for a new low. Median prices for the sale of existing homes have been falling since June, when a federal homebuyer tax credit expired and an increase in foreclosures helped drive down prices that had been steady for nearly a year. A new low would create a double dip in a market that has already been on a harrowing ride. Prices rose to about $250,000 during the boom of 2004-06 and then collapsed amid a mortgage crisis and an economic recession. They bottomed out at $119,900 in April 2009. Home prices ticked up after that, and the median hovered around $130,000 until last summer. Then, they fell again. At the end of November, Phoenix’s median resale-home price hit $121,500, the lowest it has been since April 2009.

Senator Issues 2010 Wastebook Detailing Wasteful Government Spending

Ever wonder where your tax dollars are going? How about upkeep for a pink, octagonal monkey house in Dayton, Ohio, that hasn’t been occupied for years? The Department of Veterans Affairs is spending $175 million each year to maintain buildings it does not use, according to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Or $41,000 for a toilet? Uncle Sam paid $1.49 million to replace 36 malodorous chemical toilets with a “sweet smelling toilet facility” in Denali National Park in Alaska. Coburn’s Wastebook identifies 100 examples of pointless waste, theft, mismanagement and abuse in federal spending. The total cost to taxpayers? $11.5 billion, and Coburn acknowledges that’s only the tip of the iceberg. “Examples like these are too numerous to count,” writes Coburn. “Worse yet, they are costing us billions even as we borrow huge sums just to keep the government operating at a basic level.” According to Coburn, the U.S. government is “borrowing over $44,000 for every person in the country.”

Economic News

The U.S. government fell deeper into the red in fiscal 2010 with net liabilities swelling more than $2 trillion as commitments on government debt and federal benefits rose, a U.S. Treasury report showed on Tuesday. The Financial Report of the United States, which applies corporate-style accrual accounting methods to Washington, showed the government’s liabilities exceeded assets by $13.473 trillion. That compared with a $11.456 trillion gap a year earlier. Unlike the normal measurement of government intake of receipts against cash outlays, accrual accounting measures costs such as interest on the debt and federal benefit obligations. The government’s net operating cost, or deficit, in the report grew to $2.080 trillion for the year ended September 30 from $1.253 trillion the prior year as spending and liabilities increased for social programs. The cash budget deficit narrowed in fiscal 2010 to $1.294 trillion from $1.417 trillion in 2009. But the $858 billion tax cut extension package enacted last week is expected to keep the budget deficit well above the $1 trillion mark for another year.

More than 100 American cities could go bust next year as the debt crisis that has taken down banks and countries threatens next to spark a municipal meltdown, a leading analyst has warned. Meredith Whitney, the US research analyst who correctly predicted the global credit crunch, described local and state debt as the biggest problem facing the US economy, and one that could derail its recovery. Whitney told the CBS 60 Minutes program on Sunday night. “There’s not a doubt on my mind that you will see a spate of municipal bond defaults. You can see fifty to a hundred sizeable defaults – more. This will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of defaults.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported Tuesday that trips to food banks are up 24% this year in all 27 cities it surveyed. Food stamp use is at record levels. And the number of working Americans barely getting by has jumped. Among those seeking assistance, 56% were in families, 30% were employed and 19% were seniors, according to the mayors’ survey. Participation in the federal food stamps program reached a record 42.9 million in September.

Financial companies led the stock market higher Tuesday after another big banking deal raised hopes that more acquisitions could be on the way. The Dow Jones industrial average closed at a two-year high. Corporate mergers have picked up strongly this year. That, along with signs of an improving economy and a tax cut package passed last week, have helped drive stocks up. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has jumped 6.2% this month and is up 12.3% this year.

Middle East

The Jerusalem Prayer Team states that President Obama is putting more pressure on the state of Israel than any previous US President. He is demanding that Israel give up Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem by the end of next year. His plan is to keep up the pressure until it happens. Israel is handcuffed because of the threat posed by nuclear Iran. Without US supplies and fly-over permission (the United States controls the skies over the Middle East), it is nearly impossible for Israel to take effective military action. The President is blackmailing Israel to deliver a Palestinian state in exchange for support against Iran. The United Nations, the European Union, the Russians, Chinese and the “Elders” (Jimmy Carter’s anti-Israel group) have come up with a plan. They are encouraging the Palestinian Authority to declare statehood now. In the last few days, 10 nations have recognized Palestine as an independent nation. The plan is to do this without Israel’s involvement so that Israel cannot have any say in the borders. Once this plan takes place, Israel will be isolated and suffocated economically. If this tragic plan to curse Israel succeeds, every nation that supports the plan will be cursed by Almighty God.

  • · The New World Order is determined to limit and eventually eliminate Israel and establish Satan’s throne in God’s capital on earth

Iraq

Iraq seated a freely elected government Tuesday after nine months of haggling, bringing together the main ethnic and religious groups in a fragile balance that could make it difficult to rebuild a nation devastated by war as American troops prepare for their final withdrawal. The new government led by Shiite incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki got off to a shaky start as disagreements among coalition partners prevented al-Maliki from naming 13 of his 42 Cabinet ministers. And this fragile coalition must address enormous and pressing challenges such as the heavy cost of rebuilding from the devastation seven years of war has wrought and lingering sectarian tensions that periodically explode into violence. Another urgent priority will be leading the country through the withdrawal of American troops, scheduled for the end of next year. More than 4,400 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis died in a war that has yet to bring stability and prosperity to this oil-rich Middle Eastern nation.

Iran

Gasoline prices nearly quadrupled on Sunday and the riot police guarded filling stations around the capital as deep cuts in subsidies on fuel and other essential goods took effect. After midnight on Sunday, the price of subsidized gasoline jumped to about $1.44 a gallon from about 38 cents a gallon. Similar increases went into effect for compressed natural gas and diesel fuel, with subsidy reductions for other commodities expected to be phased in gradually. Security forces with riot shields took positions at gas stations in Tehran, bracing for a possible repeat of the unrest that followed the introduction of gasoline rationing in 2007, but there were no reports of violence. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the long-anticipated subsidy reductions in a live television interview on Saturday night, calling the reform ‘a great victory for Iran.’ Policy makers have described the program as a ‘rationalization’ or ‘targetization’ of Iran’s vast and inefficient subsidies system, but some analysts fear it could increase living costs for millions of middle- and low-income households. Mr. Ahmadinejad said that the government was spending $114 billion a year on energy subsidies. ‘If we can save one-quarter of that, it will amount to a vast economic transformation,’ he said. He said that the prices of water, electricity and natural gas would increase ‘gradually,’ and that the subsidy for bread would also be gradually eliminated.

Great Britain

A large-scale terror attack was aimed at British landmarks and public spaces, security officials said Tuesday as more details emerged and police searched the homes of 12 British suspects being held for questioning. The men — whose ages range from 17 to 28 — were arrested Monday in the largest counterterrorism raid in nearly two years. At least five were of Bangladeshi origin. Lord Carlile, the government’s independent watchdog for terror legislation, said Tuesday the alleged plot appeared significant and involved several British cities, but he did not identify the targets. Targets that were scouted include the Houses of Parliament in London and shopping areas around the U.K.

Korea

South Korea vowed Wednesday to “punish the enemy” if the North attacks it again as hundreds of southern troops, fighter jets, tanks and attack helicopters prepared for massive military exercises scheduled because of the high tensions. The firing drills Thursday near the Koreas’ land border will be the biggest-ever wintertime joint firing exercise that South Korea’s army and air force have staged. South Korean forces are on high alert even though the North backed down from its threat to again retaliate over separate firing drills the South held Monday on a front-line island in disputed western waters where a North Korea shelling last month killed four people.

Ivory Coast

France urged its citizens to leave Ivory Coast on Wednesday after the U.N. chief warned the former French colony in West Africa faces “a real risk” of return to civil war following the disputed presidential election. The United Nations and other world leaders recognize Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the Nov. 28 runoff vote. Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent who refuses to concede defeat and leave the presidency, said late Tuesday that “the international community has declared war on Ivory Coast.” Gbagbo said in a televised speech that he doesn’t want “any blood to be spilled,” but maintained he was president of the country. Over the weekend, he ordered all U.N. peacekeepers out of the country immediately in an escalation of tensions.

Spain

Spain‘s smoke-filled bars, corner cafes and restaurants are on the verge of extinction after lawmakers on Tuesday approved a tough new anti-smoking law that will rid the country of its reputation as one of Western Europe’s easiest places to light up. The bill passed in a 189-154 vote that also rejected a Senate amendment to allow casinos to have smoking areas. Starting Jan. 2, the interiors of all bars and restaurants will be transformed into no-smoking zones, bringing Spain in line with the European Union’s strictest anti-smoking nations and many U.S. states that ban smoking in enclosed public places.

2010 Deadliest Year in Generations

This was the year the earth struck back. Earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed over one-quarter million people in 2010, the deadliest year in more than a generation. More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined

  • · This trend will continue as the end-times roll on, as prophesied in the Book of Revelation

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.4 has struck in the Pacific off southern Japan. Japan’s Meteorological Agency has issued a tsunami warning from the quake, which occurred about 80 miles off the Chichi Island in the Pacific Ocean. The offshore quake struck at around 2:20 a.m.at the depth of 6.2 miles. The agency issued a warning for a mild tsunami for nearby islands. There was no immediate report of any damage or injuries.

Weather

Storm-battered California braced for more intense rain and snow Wednesday after a wet week that has triggered flash flooding, knocked out power in some areas and buried ski resorts under several feet of snow. Pacific storms have dumped more than 12 inches of rain in the Santa Monica Mountains and nearly 6 inches in downtown Los Angeles since Friday, more than a third of the city’s normal annual rainfall. The soaking rain was generally welcomed in a region that has been plagued by years of drought that have prompted mandatory water conservation measures. But it created plenty of inconveniences. A stretch of the scenic Pacific Coast Highway north of the city remained closed after saturated hillsides sent rocks tumbling onto it late Sunday. At Mammoth Mountain ski resort, 13 feet of snow kept holiday skiers busy, but it clogged and closed mountain roads.

Major delays and cancellations persisted Tuesday at European airports including London’s Heathrow, and on the Eurostar train link, leaving thousands stranded across Europe as Christmas approached. The Christmas travel season turned angry and chaotic Monday as British officials struggled to clear snow and ice that paralyzed rail and air links and spawned cancellations and delays stranding thousands around the world. More than 48 hours after Britain’s last snowfall, some furious passengers with boarding passes for Monday flights were not even allowed into London’s Heathrow Airport. Inside, piles of garbage grew and some people slept on terminal floors. Other travelers waited in the cold for up to six hours to get inside London’s St. Pancras train station, where they had to wait still longer for Eurostar trains to mainland Europe. Chagrined British officials promised an inquiry into the failure to clear the remnants of a storm that dumped five inches over parts of England Saturday morning. Other European airports rebounded from weekend snowfall and resumed close to normal flight schedules by Monday.

December 20, 2010

For Most Americans, Jesus is No Longer the Reason for the Season

Christmas 2010 is a whole lotta jingle and not so much Jesus. Two new surveys find more than nine in 10 Americans celebrate the holiday — even if they’re atheists, agnostics or believers in non-Christian faiths such as Judaism and Islam. A closer look at Christmas activities reveals what may be the first measurement of an “alarming” gap between belief and behavior, says Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based Christian research organization. The surveys — by LifeWay and USA TODAY/Gallup — indicate that while most call this a holy day that is primarily religious, their actions say otherwise. Many skip church, omit Jesus and zero in on the egg nog. Most surveyed said they will give gifts (89%), dine with family or friends (86%), put up a Christmas tree (80%) and play holiday music (79%).The percentages plummet when it comes to religious activities: 58% say they “encourage belief in Jesus Christ as savior.” 47% attend church Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. 28% read or tell the Christmas story from the Bible.

  • · The secularization of Christmas is almost complete. Santa Claus has replaced Jesus Christ and materialism has replaced reverence.

Govt Creating Vast Domestic Snooping Machine

The U.S. government is creating a vast domestic spying network to collect information about Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and subsequent terror plots, The Washington Post reported Monday. The government is using for this purpose the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices, and military criminal investigators. The system collects, stores, and analyzes information about thousands of citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing. The government’s goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, noted the paper, which has conducted its own investigation of the matter. According to the report, the network includes 4,058 federal, state, and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. The FBI is building a database with the names and personal information of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents. The database is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators.

  • · Under the guise of homeland security, Big Brother will also use this centralized database to exercise greater control over its citizens (watch out Tea-Party activists)

Big Brother to Tighten Regulation of Internet

The United Nations is now joining the Obama administration and Democratic commissioners on the FCC in an attempt to regulate the Internet, Jerome Corsi’s Red Alert reports. “The U.N. is reacting to concerns of member governments, including the United States, that the Internet has made companies like WikiLeaks possible, while the FCC is more concerned about conservative news outlets on the Internet that are increasingly undermining government attempts to control the news through sympathetic mainstream media outlets,” WorldNetDaily’s senior staff writer reported. “What is at stake is the future of electronic free-speech rights, as governments around the world realize how much less control government authorities have with a robust and critical press able to operate freely on the Internet.” Australia’s ItNews.com reported that the U.N. is considering whether to set up an inter-governmental working group to “harmonize” global efforts by policymakers to regulate the Internet. The U.N. claims authority to regulate the Internet under a U.N. Economic and Social Council resolution passed in July that invited the U.N. secretary-general to begin discussions on coordinating government efforts to regulate the Internet on a global basis.

North American Union Coverup

Operating much like a “memory hole” in George Orwell’s classic novel “1984,” the Obama administration has replaced the content of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SSP) of North America website, providing additional evidence the White House intends to implement the SPP agenda by executive action, below the radar of public opinion and outside the framework of congressional approval. The SPP website, under the title “Commerce Connect,” now reflects totally different content, announcing its purpose as “a one-stop shop for information, counseling and government services that can help U.S. businesses around the country transform themselves into globally competitive enterprises.” The White House’s handling of the SPP agenda sharply contrasts with Canada, where their SPP website retains its original character, openly proclaiming North American community objectives, much like the U.S. website spp.gov once did. The Canadian government website today continues to archive the security agenda, the prosperity agenda, trilateral meeting summaries going back to 2007 and key SPP reports and documents – all content that has been scrubbed from current U.S. government websites. The current Obama administration strategy appears to be to keep the trilateral working groups meeting privately, with a determination to put in place key policy objectives of the SPP working groups without openly acknowledging the intention to do so.

Senate Votes to Lift Military Gay Ban

In a landmark victory for gay rights, the U.S. Senate on Saturday voted to let gays serve openly in the military, giving President Obama the chance to fulfill a campaign promise and repeal the 17-year policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Obama was expected to sign it this week, although the change wouldn’t take immediate effect. The legislation says the president and his top military advisers must certify that lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ fighting ability. After that, there’s a 60-day waiting period for the military. The Senate vote was 65-31. The House had passed an identical version of the bill, 250-175, on Wednesday. Repeal would mean that, for the first time in American history, gays would be openly accepted by the military and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.

  • · A further step down the slippery slope of lawlessness and immorality which will reap unexpected repercussions

DREAM Act Goes Down in Flames in Senate

An immigration bill that would blaze a trail to legal status for hundreds of thousands of undocumented students went down in flames in the Senate on Saturday, delivering a critical blow to Democrats and Hispanic activists. Even though the House approved the DREAM Act last week, the Senate fell five votes short of the 60 needed Saturday to advance the bill past Republican opposition. The DREAM Act, which opponents have decried as a “nightmare,” is now likely to languish for years with Republicans taking back control of the House and picking up an additional handful of seats in the Senate next month.

Senate Grappling with Nuclear Deal

The Senate moved closer to a final vote on a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia even as the chamber’s top Republican announced Sunday that he’ll vote against the pact. The treaty, which calls for a 30% reduction in nuclear stockpiles in the United States and Russia, is among the last major priorities for President Obama in the post-election, “lame duck” session of Congress. Senators continued to debate the proposal during a rare weekend session as they pushed to finish work before Christmas. Republicans, including McConnell, have raised concerns about whether the treaty would undermine U.S. efforts to build a missile-defense system. Over the weekend, Obama tried to allay those concerns in a letter to lawmakers that said the proposal “places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile-defense programs.”

Economic News

Bonus season is fast approaching on Wall Street, but this year the talk does not center just on multimillion-dollar paydays. It’s about a new club that no one wants to join: the Zeros. Drawn from a broad swath of back-office employees and middle-level traders, bankers and brokers, the Zeros, as they have come to be called, are facing a once-unthinkable prospect: an annual bonus of … nothing. The psychological blow of not getting a bonus is substantial, especially in a Wall Street culture that has long equated success and prestige with bonus size.

So far this holiday season, consumers have spent $27.5 billion online, a 12% increase over last year, compared with overall retail growth, which increased just 3 to 4%.Long gone are the days when consumers merely crawled through newspaper ads and trekked out to brick and mortar stores. Through the power of the web, the smartphone and the tablet, they have more options than ever. For the first time, in late November, free shipping became the dominant choice for online purchases — 55% of all transactions during that week were shipped gratis. Even more important than free shipping are those oftentimes hard-to-beat prices online. Comparing prices has never been easier, a boon for customers and a major headache for retailers. Most recently, Amazon released Price Check, a free iPhone app that lets users price check CDs, DVDs, books, and video games on the fly by scanning products wherever they are, snapping a photo, saying the product name or typing in the name, brand, or model numbers. Find it cheaper via Amazon? Price Check makes it easy for users to order the item via the app instead.

Mexico

A massive oil pipeline explosion laid waste to parts of a central Mexican city Sunday, incinerating people, cars, houses and trees as gushing crude turned streets into flaming rivers. At least 28 people were killed, 13 of them children, in a disaster authorities blamed on oil thieves. The blast in San Martin Texmelucan, initally estimated to have affected 5,000 residents in a three-mile radius, scorched homes and cars and left metal and pavement twisted and in some cases burned to ash in the intense heat. In addition to the 28 deaths, at least 52 people were hurt and 84 remained in a shelter late Sunday after fleeing San Martin,about 55 miles east of Mexico City. More than 115 homes were scorched, 32 of them destroyed. The explosion was apparently caused by thieves trying to steal crude oil. Investigators found a hole in the pipeline and equipment for extracting crude.

Over 100 inmates escaped Friday from a state prison in the northern Mexico border city of Nuevo Laredo, just across from Laredo, Texas. Authorities said the breakout was probably helped by prison employees. The public safety department of  Tamaulipas state, where the prison is located near the border with Laredo, Texas, said 141 inmates got out through a service entrance used by vehicles, “presumably with the assistance of the prison staff.” Eighty-three of the prisoners were being held for trial or had been convicted of crimes like theft, assault and other state offenses, while 58 were being held on federal charges, which include weapons possession and drug trafficking. Tamaulipas has been plagued by a steady wave of violence tied to turf battles between the Gulf and Zetas drug gangs, but it was unclear whether members of those groups were among the escaped inmates.

Middle East

An Israeli airstrike has killed five Gaza militants in the deadliest attack against the coastal strip in months. The Israeli military says the men were about to launch a rocket attack against southern Israeli communities when they were struck. Palestinian officials confirmed the five dead were militants. Israel has for years routinely targeted rocket launchers from Gaza. Such incidents, however, have been scaled back dramatically in the two years since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza concluded. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, while the rival Palestinian
Authority governs the West Bank.

Israeli high-tech workers have accomplished a feat that still eludes their political leaders: They have created a partnership with the Palestinians. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may be stalled, but that hasn’t stopped a small but steady trickle of Israeli technology companies from seeking to work with people on the other side of the decades-old conflict. Israeli CEOs say it’s their way of bringing a little bit of peace to their troubled corner of the world. But the real reason they’re hiring Palestinians, they acknowledge, is because it simply makes good business sense. Israel’s high-tech industry is among the country’s crowning achievements. Israel has the most start-ups per capita in the world and has helped produce such game-changing innovations as instant messaging and Internet telephony. Many Israeli tech firms send work offshore to eastern Europe, India or China. In the past three years, however, some have turned to Palestinian engineers and programmers. They are cheaper, ambitious, and work in the same time zone.

Afghanistan

Taliban militants struck at Afghan security forces Sunday, storming an army recruiting center in the north and ambushing a bus carrying army officers in the capital — the first major attack in Kabul in months. At least 10 Afghan security forces were killed in the two attacks, while the storming of the recruiting center in the northern province of Kunduz led to a fierce firefight lasting hours, officials said. In Kabul, two insurgents strapped with explosives ambushed a bus carrying Afghan army officers to work during the morning rush hour on the outskirts of the capital, killing five and wounding nine. The Afghan capital has been relatively peaceful for several months, aside from some scattered attacks with few casualties. Most of the fighting in Afghanistan has been concentrated in the south.

Korea

South Korea’s military staged live-fire drills from an island just miles from rival North Korea’s shores Monday, despite Pyongyang’s threats of catastrophic retaliation for the maneuvers. Seoul launched fighter jets, evacuated hundreds of people away from its tense land border with the North and sent residents of front-line islands into underground bunkers in case of attack, but the North finally said it would hold its own fire, calling Monday’s drills a “reckless military provocation” but said after they ended that it was holding its fire because Seoul had changed its firing zones.

Great Britain

Police arrested 12 men in early morning raids on three cities Monday aimed at thwarting a major new terrorism plot against British targets. Police confirmed that the men were detained by unarmed officers — indicating that any attack was unlikely to have been imminent. The arrests follow several weeks of surveillance and are not believed to be linked to the suicide bombing in Sweden on Dec. 11, or to recent concerns aired by European and U.S officials over purported plots to carry out Mumbai-style commando attacks on European cities. Officers said the suspects range in age from 17 to 28 and will be questioned on suspicion of commissioning, preparing or instigating acts of terrorism.

France

About 150 people protested Saturday outside the site of a conference in Paris organized to criticize the “Islamization” of Europe. Socialist Paris Mayor Bertand Delanoe had asked police to ban the conference, but police allowed it to go forward under surveillance. Protesters held banners reading “United Against Islamophobia” and “Fascists, get out of our neighborhoods.” The conference was organized by several French groups, including nationalist political group Bloc Identitaire, that frequently complain about what they see as Islam’s growing influence over traditional French values. France has Western Europe’s largest Muslim population.

Weather

A powerful storm that battered Southern California over the weekend is forecast to bring more rain, wind and snow to the West leading up to Christmas. Rainfall that began Saturday morning continued relentlessly throughout the day Sunday. It wasn’t expected to let up until sometime Monday, then resume again Tuesday and Wednesday. By the time the worst of the storm ends at midweek, rainfall in some parts of Southern California could exceed 20 inches. A flash-flood watch was in effect late Sunday for parts of Southern California, particularly in areas burned in recent years by brush fires. Snowfall totals of 5 to 10 feet above 7,000 feet are likely, the weather service said

Heavy snow on Sunday shut down European airport runways, forced fast trains to slow down and left cars skidding through icy, slushy streets on a weekend where many people were trying to head home for the holidays. London’s Heathrow Airport stopped accepting arrivals. Frankfort airport canceled around 40% of flights. Paris’ Charles DeGaulle airport cut air traffic by a quarter as heavy snow blanketed the French capital — a rarity that has occurred several times in recent days during an unusually cold winter. Many passengers slept overnight in makeshift dormitories there, at Amsterdam’s airport and at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest hub for air passengers. There was chaos in the tunnels leading from the underground station to Heathrow terminals, with hundreds of travelers told by airport staff to go back and call their airlines for updates.

December 18, 2010

Death Panels Begin: FDA Rations Cancer Drug

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announced yesterday that it would ration the late-stage cancer drug Avastin for breast cancer patients. The reaction to the FDA’s decision has been fierce: Rep. Kay Granger:  “For the 17,500 women across the country who rely on Avastin to survive, I am extremely disappointed the FDA has chosen to take away one of the very few options for the treatment of late-stage breast cancer…” Rep. Rodney Alexander:  “As expected, the Obama administration has begun its process of rationing health care with its announcement to remove Avastin from the market for women suffering from metastatic breast cancer. Today’s decision to limit women’s access to a lifesaving treatment is amiss, and indicative of the frightful direction our health care system is headed.

 For the government to deny access to such a viable treatment is a severe intrusion into personal health care decisions that should be left between the patient and the doctor.”

Six ‘Megathemes’ Emerge from Barna Research in 2010

The Barna Group’s research in 2010 pointed to several major trends in American faith, none of them particularly encouraging. Overall, the survey and research found that Christians in America are increasingly looking like the culture at large. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are going into all the world and making disciples. The six “megathemes” are as follows:

  1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
  2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
  3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
  4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
  5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
  6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.

Feds Order Christian Signs and Symbols Removed from Bank

The Federal Reserve has ordered a small-town bank in Oklahoma to remove religious signs and symbols on display. Federal Reserve examiners come every four years to make sure banks are complying with a long list of regulations. The examiners came to Payne County Bank in Oklahoma last week. And the team from Kansas City deemed a Bible verse of the day, crosses on the teller’s counter and buttons that say “Merry Christmas, God With Us” were inappropriate. The Bible verse of the day on the bank’s Internet site also had to be taken down, along with Thomas Kinkade paintings hanging in the bank’s lobby. The bank is quietly fighting for a clearer interpretation of the clause. Officials have contacted their two U.S. legislators, Rep. Frank Lucas and Sen. Jim Inhofe, and the Oklahoma Bankers Association to help.

  • · That’s a mighty big stick wielded against a small bank, but that’s the cowardly progression of the New World Order, pick on the little guy first. However, it does reveal the ultimate goal and that’s the elimination of all things Christian.

Pope: Christians Are Most Persecuted Religious Group

The Associated Press reports that Pope Benedict XVI yesterday called Christians “the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of [their] faith.” In a letter released ahead of World Peace Day on Jan. 1, the pontiff pointed to multiple attacks on Christians in the Middle East. He commented specifically on the “reprehensible attack” on a Baghdad church on Oct. 31 that left almost 60 people dead, and lack of religious tolerance in Asia and Africa. “This situation is intolerable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity” as well as “a threat to security and peace,” Benedict wrote in one of the 17-page-long message’s strongest passages. He appealed to authorities to “act promptly to end every injustice” against Christians.

  • · Christians are the most persecuted and Muslim extremists perpetrate the most terrorism. Seems clear which is of God and which is of Satan

Pastors Flocking to Facebook, Twitter

Religious social media use is flourishing, as much in smaller, more conservative worship centers as in the megachurches, says Sarah Pulliam Bailey, online editor of Christianity Today. Concern that social media media will detract from people gathering for worship together is vanishing, she says. Social media use hasn’t won universal blessings from religious leaders. Last month  however, a New Jersey minister called Facebook a marriage killer. A group of New York rabbis blogged about whether people should “fast from Facebook” during Passover. And last year, Pope Benedict XVI warned Roman Catholics not to allow virtual connections to overshadow real ones. Religious leaders throughout history have seized on new technology, from the printing press to TV and radio, says Professor Dell deChant, senior instructor and associate chairman of religious studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

  • · Social networks are neither inherently good or evil, it’s what’s just another tool that can be used either way like TV. It is, however, the best way to reach our youth

House Passes Tax Deal

A sweeping plan to extend expiring tax cuts and jobless benefits for millions of Americans was signed by President Obama after the House of Representatives voted late Thursday night to pass the bill despite opposition from liberal Democrats. House Democrats, navigating an attempted revolt within their own party that threatened to derail the measure, joined Republicans in turning back proposed last-minute changes to the estate tax that would have sent the bill back to the Senate for more work. The legislation passed 277-148 just before midnight. Obama is expected to sign the measure. The proposal, which the Congressional Budget Office says will cost $858 billion over 10 years, extends income tax cuts for two years at all income levels, creates a 2-percentage-point cut in payroll taxes for one year and continues benefits for the long-term unemployed for 13 months.

  • · Is the increased federal debt worth more economic stimulation? Time will tell, but the risks are troublesome.

Senate Abandons $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill

Democrats controlling the Senate abandoned on Thursday a huge catchall spending measure combining nearly $1.3 trillion worth of unfinished budget work, including $158 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 1,924-page bill collapsed of its own weight after an outcry from conservatives who complained it was stuffed with more than $8 billion in homestate pet projects known as earmarks. Facing a midnight Saturday deadline when a stopgap funding measure expires, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would work with Republican leader Mitch McConnell to produce a bill to keep the federal government running into early next year.

Calif. Regulators OK Greenhouse Gas Rules

California regulators on Thursday approved the first system in the nation to give polluting companies such as utilities and refineries financial incentives to emit fewer greenhouse gases. The Air Resources Board voted 9-1 to pass the ‘cap and trade’ bill with the hope that other states will follow the lead of the world’s eighth largest economy. State officials also are discussing plans to link the new system with similar ones underway or being planned in Canada, Europe and Asia. A company that produces pollution, such as a utility or a refinery, buys a permit from the state that allows it to send a specified amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air each year. Those permits could then be bought and sold by the polluters in a marketplace. Polluters can even make a profit, if the marketplace sets a price above the initial cost of the permit. Some businesses that would fall under the new rules say the system could dampen California’s already flagging economy, complicate lawmakers’ efforts to close a $28.1 billion revenue shortfall and lead to an increase in the price of electricity. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger argued that many of the new jobs being created under the system are in the clean technology industry.

  • · Cap and Trade is an artificial, bureaucratic system that will cause more problems than it solves

Death Rate from Heart Disease, Stroke Drops

The death rate from cardiovascular disease in the United States has declined 28% since the late 1990s, but heart disease and stroke still account for one-third of all deaths, a new study finds. And the cost of preventing and treating heart disease is higher than for cancer or any other diagnostic group, an estimated $286 billion in 2007, according to the annual update from the American Heart Association. Comparing data from 1997 to 2007, the researchers found the number of inpatient cardiovascular operations and procedures grew by almost 30%.These procedures helped to extend the average age of death from cardiovascular disease to 75 years, but that is still well before the average life expectancy of 77.9 years in the United States.

More States Let Students Opt Out of P.E. Classes

Despite growing concerns about obesity among young people, the number of states that allow students to waive or substitute physical education classes has grown from 27 to 32 since 2006, according to Paula Kun, a spokeswoman for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). According to an association report in June, students in those states can skip physical education if they enroll in interscholastic sports, marching band, cheerleading or other activities. The number of states that allow waivers for health issues, disabilities or religious reasons has risen from 18 to 30 since 2006, according to the report. NASPE opposes waivers or exemptions from physical education classes, Kun says. The increase in waivers stems from a push for students to take more courses and efforts within school districts to save money.

  • · In the sedentary digital age, lack of physical exercise is a major factor in the astronomical rise of obesity among our youth

Arizona Medical Marijuana Rules Released

The state health department released its first draft of medical-marijuana rules late Thursday, providing a glimpse at how the program may work in Arizona. The rules spell out who may qualify for medical marijuana, establish operating criteria for dispensaries and provide strict guidelines for doctors who may recommend marijuana. The release kicks off a three-week public-comment period, but the Arizona Department of Health Services will have final say on how to implement a medical-marijuana program in the state. In November, voters passed Proposition 203, which will allow qualifying patients with certain debilitating medical conditions to receive up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from dispensaries or cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants if they live 25 miles or farther from a dispensary. The state health department must finish drafting the rules by April 13. The agency will then review applications from people who want to use medical marijuana or operate a dispensary. The program should be fully functioning by summer 2011, when dispensaries have had time to grow the plants.

Economic News

A private research group said its gauge of future economic activity rose in November at the fastest rate since March, suggesting the U.S. economy will strengthen early next year. The Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators rose 1.1% last month. The leading indicators rose 0.4% in October. The index had stalled this summer as U.S. economic growth slowed.

Unemployment rates rose in 21 states in November, the most to report an increase since August. The report is a reminder of the job market’s struggle to rebound even as the economy is improving. The Labor Department says unemployment rates fell in 15 states last month and remained the same in 14 states.

Attorneys general in Arizona and Nevada filed civil lawsuits Friday against Bank of America, alleging that the lender is misleading and deceiving homeowners who have tried to modify mortgages in two of the nation’s most foreclosure-damaged states. Hundreds of homeowners kept making their mortgage payments because Bank of America repeatedly assured them that their loans were being modified,  Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said. Instead, many lost their homes anyway.

Korea

South Korean troops geared up Saturday for artillery drills on a border island shelled by North Korea last month despite Pyongyang’s threat to retaliate again, as Russia and China expressed concerns over rising tensions on the divided peninsula. The North warned Friday that it would strike even harder than before if the South went ahead with its planned drills. Four people died last month in the North’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island near the tense sea border.

Iran

Iran has begun secret negotiations on proposals to surrender a substantial part of its uranium stockpile and suspend enriching nuclear fuel in return for an end to sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy. The Turkish-led deal calls on Iran to ship about 1,000 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium, as well as its entire 30 kilogram stockpile of 20-per cent enriched uranium, to a safe location. In return, France and Russia will supply ready-made fuel rods for the medical isotope reactor for which Iran says it has been enriching uranium to 20 per cent – a level which halves the time needed to manufacture weapons-grade material. ‘We think the deal is doable,’ an official involved in the negotiations said, ‘but there’s still a lot of detail to be worked through.’ Turkish and Iranian negotiators, diplomatic sources say, have met several times to discuss the contours of the deal, which they hope to bring to the table next month at a meeting with an international consortium called the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany.

Iraq

The centuries-old Christian community in Iraq is on the verge of extinction. Since 2003, the estimated number of Christians in Iraq has been halved to around 350,000 today. Thousands have fled the country while others have taken refuge in northern Iraq. In the last two months, a total of 70 to 80 Christians have been targeted and killed by Muslim extremists, including the massacre of 58 at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad on Oct. 31. “The ‘religicide’ of Christians holds disturbing parallels to a previous effort to eliminate Iraqi Jews in 1941,” says Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller. “Many Jews fled and today virtually nothing remains of the once-vibrant community. People of all faiths must unite to prevent this from happening again. We must fight for freedom of religion for all imperiled faith groups in Iraq.”

Pakistan

The CIA ordered its station chief out of Pakistan because his life was threatened after a Pakistani lawsuit revealed his name. His recall comes at a delicate time, as the White House presses Islamabad to rid its lawless tribal regions of safe havens for militants fighting in Afghanistan, where the U.S. is grappling with an exit strategy. The station chief’s name was revealed by a Pakistani man threatening to sue the CIA over the deaths of his son and brother in a 2009 U.S. missile strike. The attorney involved with the legal complaint said he learned the name from Pakistani journalists. Pakistan’s spy agencies have kept ties to a number of Pakistani journalists as a way to influence coverage. Pakistan’s top spy agency denied speculation Saturday that it helped unmask the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, dismissing speculation it was retaliating for a U.S. lawsuit linking Pakistan’s intelligence chief to the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, India.

Ivory Coast

Forces loyal to the two men claiming Ivory Coast’s presidency clashed in the streets of the commercial capital Thursday, killing at least 20 people and bolstering fears that the world’s top cocoa producer is on the verge of another civil war. Explosions and gunfire were heard throughout Abidjan— once known as the “Paris of Africa” for its cosmopolitan nightlife and chic boutiques. An errant rocket-propelled grenade struck an outer perimeter wall of the U.S. Embassy, but no injuries were reported and the damage was minor. Ivory Coast has been operating with two presidents and two governments since a disputed Nov. 28 runoff election. Alassan Ouattara was declared the winner by the country’s electoral commission and was recognized by the U.N., U.S., France and the African Union as having beaten incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. The next day, however, the constitutional council overturned the results after invalidating a half-million votes from Ouattara strongholds.

United Arab Emirates

Residents of the United Arab Emirates are being urged to register for the new national identity cards as soon as possible, because it will become increasingly important for accessing essential government and commercial services. The Emirates Identity Authority (Eida) reports that the number of card registrations has gone up to about 8,000 a day. Eida says it is essential that all residents of the UAE register for the new cards as soon as possible. That this process is now well under way has been confirmed by a report from the Emirates Identity Authority (Eida), that the number of card registrations in October and November increased by more than 100 per cent compared to the same period last year.

  • · More and more countries are gearing up for national ID cards. When it goes global, the threat increases that these will become the prophesied ‘mark of the beast’

Weather

Heavy overnight snowfall disrupted air travel across western Europe Friday, forcing more than 800 flight cancellations and leading to major delays in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Germany appeared the hardest hit by the snow, with more than 600 flights canceled, schools forced to close and highways clogged with traffic after scores of accidents that killed at least three people and injured dozens. Dutch weather agency KNMI issued a “weather alarm” warning of heavy snowfall and lethal driving conditions in large parts of the western Netherlands as traffic jams grew around major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.

Even in a place known for its hefty snowfall totals, December is already a record-breaker in Syracuse with two weeks still left in the month. Syracuse has received 70.8 inches of snow — almost six feet — this month as of early Friday afternoon, breaking the old record for December, 70.3, set in 2000. More snow is expected over the next few days, putting the city’s all-time snowfall record for any month — 78.1 inches set in January 2004 — within reach.

Snow, sleet and freezing rain wreaked havoc across the South on Thursday, causing hundreds of accidents, three fatal, and forcing schools to start late, close early, or cancel classes altogether. Three people died in separate weather-related crashes in North Carolina. Thousands of people there and in Virginia lost power. In metro Atlanta and north Georgia, icy conditions Thursday morning prompted road closures a day after slick surfaces caused hundreds of accidents. Ice also covered roads early Thursday in Louisville, and parts of Tennessee. Those who ventured out had to allow time to clear ice that coated nearly everything, from cars to walkways to the sides of buildings.

December 16, 2010

Insurgents Reveal U.S., Europe Christmas Bomb Attack Plans

Iraqi authorities have obtained confessions from captured insurgents who claim al-Qaeda is planning suicide attacks in the United States and Europe during the Christmas season, two senior officials said Wednesday. A senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed the threat as credible. The botched bombing in central Stockholm last weekend was among the alleged plots the insurgents revealed. There was no way to verify the insurgents’ claims. But Western counterterrorism officials generally are on high alert during the holiday season, especially since last year’s failed attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. The confessions were the result of recent operations by Iraqi security forces that have netted at least 73 suspected operatives in the last two weeks.

Key Portion of Obamacare Overturned by Court

A U.S. district judge’s ruling Monday that overthrows a key portion of President Obama’s health care law conflicts with other lower-court rulings and centers on a thorny area of the law at the Supreme Court. At issue in the latest ruling on the health care initiative is a provision that requires most Americans to buy health insurance. The legal question is whether a person’s decision not to buy coverage is economic activity that affects interstate commerce and can be regulated by Congress. U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson ruled Monday that the decision to forgo insurance does not affect interstate commerce. Hudson said the law would penalize a person for not acting, rather than for voluntarily taking part in some economic activity. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon, also in Virginia, ruled the opposite, saying a decision to opt out is an “economic” one that ends up affecting the whole system. The issue will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, putting Obamacare in “legal limbo” for now with a good chance it may never be implemented.

House OKs Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The House added momentum to efforts in the Senate to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” by voting Wednesday 250-175 to repeal the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military. “Congress must act quickly,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “It is my hope that we will encourage the Senate to take long overdue action.” Republican opponents countered that a repeal would harm the military’s fighting ability and urged the Senate to block it. It remains uncertain whether a Senate burdened with other major last-minute issues will vote on ending the ban before a Christmas recess. The House was responding to the Senate’s failure last week — by a 57-40 vote — to muster 60 votes necessary to move ahead with a defense spending bill that included a provision to lift the ban on openly gay troops serving in the military.

Tax Bill Passes in Senate

A controversial compromise to extend Bush-era income tax cuts for millions of taxpayers won overwhelming approval in the Senate on Wednesday, deflating chances for a revolt by House Democrats who say it is too generous to the wealthy. Wavering House Democrats, angry that President Obama agreed to Republican demands on the legislation, said there had been little movement toward making significant changes to the bill. The measure is scheduled for a vote in the House Thursday. Just over a week after Obama unveiled the tax compromise, the Senate voted 81-19 to approve the measure. The Senate bill, which would cost $858 billion over 10 years, would extend income tax cuts for two years, create a one-year, 2-percentage-point cut in payroll taxes and continue jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for 13 more months.

Justice Sues BP, 8 Others over Gulf Oil Spill

Oil giant BP and eight other companies were targeted by the Justice Department on Wednesday in a civil lawsuit that probably will seek billions of dollars in damages related to this year’s massive Gulf oil spill, the largest offshore spill in U.S. history. The government’s lawsuit — its first major legal action related to the disaster — seeks unspecified penalties under the Clean Water Act and asks that eight of the defendants be held liable “without limitation” under the Oil Pollution Act for all oil removal costs and damages to the region. Under the Clean Water Act alone, the government could be allowed to collect penalties up to $4,300 per barrel spilled if it proves gross negligence or willful misconduct. Teams of scientists supervised by the U.S. government have estimated that 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf after the explosion April 20 of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Gas Drilling Method Enriches Some, Poisons Others

Residents here rejoiced two years ago when gas companies poked into a mammoth natural gas deposit 2 miles under their homes, sparking a modern-day gold rush. The companies offered residents tens of thousands of dollars an acre to drill on their land, enriching some folks overnight in a rural corner of northwestern Louisiana. Then cows started to die. Methane seeped into the drinking water. Homes were evacuated when natural gas escaped uncontrollably from a wellhead. Today, many residents and local officials still praise the bounty reaped from the Haynesville Shale, one of the world’s largest natural gas deposits, spread under Louisiana, Arkansas and eastern Texas. An estimated 250 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is trapped there — enough to power the United States for more than a decade. Others question whether the money landowners get for leasing their property is worth the risk they say the drilling poses.

The debate centers on the controversial technique known as “hydraulic fracturing,” or “fracking,” in which companies drill down, then horizontally to reach natural gas deposits trapped in a shale formation. A mixture of water, chemicals and sand then is pumped into the shale with great force, breaking up the rock and releasing the gas. The technology allows drillers to extract previously inaccessible natural gas deposits and has opened huge swaths of the USA to drilling. Nearly 500,000 natural gas wells are producing in 32 states, up from 393,000 in 2003. The percentage of natural gas drilled from shale formations using hydraulic fracturing is expected to climb from 14% last year to 23% in 2020. Environmentalists warn that chemicals blasted into the ground during fracking could harm water supplies and release toxic air and water, threatening rivers, air quality and human health.

  • · Once again, greed triumphs over risk

Registered Sex Offenders Finding Jobs in Schools

Registered sex offenders are getting jobs in schools as teachers, administrators, volunteers and contractors, despite state laws that prohibit them from contact with children, a government watchdog report says. The report, obtained by USA TODAY, is based on a review of 15 cases in 11 states over the last decade involving people with histories of sexual misconduct working in public or private schools. Of those, 11 offenders had previously targeted children, and six abused more children in their new positions. “These children were put in this unsafe position because adults in charge of their well-being failed to do their job,” says Rep George Miller, D-Calif., who requested the investigation as outgoing chair of the House education committee. An Education Department study estimates that millions of kids in kindergarten through 12th grade are victims of sexual misconduct by a school employee at some point. The GAO report also notes most sexual abuse of children goes unreported. In one study it cites, 232 child molesters admitted to molesting a total of 17,000 victims, often without ever being caught.

‘Synthetic Biology’ Holds Promise, But Vigilance Needed

Far more promise than peril lurks in “synthetic biology,” the emerging technology of man-made life, a presidential panel reports today. Aimed at providing humanity with cheaper drugs, fuel and food, the technology also carries with it fears of bioengineered super-plagues should one of these new life forms escape from the lab. In May, President Obama called for the panel report after researchers reported in the journal Science that they had inserted a man-made genetic blueprint into a bacteria, which then reproduced with the new genes. Major players in the field such as human genome pioneer Craig Venter, who headed the team behind the May study, have suggested that man-made microbes might someday produce synthetic gasoline. On the other hand, a report last year from the Woodrow Wilson International School for Scholars suggested a “synthetically engineered smallpox virus” as a potential threat raised by synthetic biology. The report makes 18 recommendations, a dozen calling for White House coordination of “vigilant” monitoring and oversight of the field in various ways, starting with a funding review by 2012.

  • · Unfortunately, government vigilance has not proven to be particularly successful (e.g. FDA) as lobbyists armed with cash can usually get what they want

Protestant Churches Feel Economic Pain

The recession is dipping into church collection plates. A growing number of Protestant congregations have seen their Sunday collections drop this year, according to a survey by LifeWay Research on the economic health of churches. Pastors blame high unemployment and a drop-off in giving by members. To make ends meet, churches have laid off staff and frozen salaries, put off major capital projects and cut back on programs. At the same time, more of their congregation members and neighbors are asking for help with basic needs like paying the rent and buying groceries, the study found. More than a third of churches surveyed said donations dropped in 2010, and overall donations were down 3%. That’s a turnaround from the previous two years, when churches had been mostly recession-proof.

Federal Spending Bill Filled With Earmarks

A showdown is coming to D.C. and the pressure is on Democrats to hold together despite mounting criticism of wasteful spending, while Republicans look to grab some crossover votes. The fate of the government, literally hangs in the balance. Without Congressional action on a budget, the federal government shuts down for lack of money. The latest showdown comes largely as a result of earmarks. Both sides know they have to pay roughly a trillion dollars to just to keep the government running, but it’s those pet projects seen as wasteful, irresponsible and unnecessary that have voters upset and many in Congress afraid. All but eight Senate Republicans had agreed to a two year ban on earmarks. A majority Democrats did not, voting down a proposed ban just two weeks ago. The $1.1 trillion Senate omnibus bill contains 6,714 earmarks worth $8.3 billion.

Economic News

Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, the third drop in the past four weeks and a sign the job market is slowly improving. Weekly claims dipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 420,000 the week ended Dec. 11th. The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure, fell for a sixth week, to 422,750. That’s the lowest since August 2008.

Factory output grew for a fifth month in November, adding to evidence that manufacturing remains an engine of economic growth. Factories produced 0.3% more goods for consumers and businesses, after boosting output the same amount a month earlier.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that its consumer price index ticked up 0.1% in November as a sluggish economy kept lid on costs. In the past year, the index has moved up just 1.1%.

Mortgage rates surged for a fifth week, reflecting higher yields on long-term Treasury securities. Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage rose to 4.83% from 4.61% the previous week. Just last month, the rate hit a 40-year low 4.17%.

Retail sales rose for a fifth straight month in November, as the biggest jump in department store sales in two years gave the holiday shopping season a strong start. The Commerce Department says retail sales increased 0.8% last month. That came after a 1.7% gain in October, which was propelled by a huge increase in auto sales. Auto sales retreated a bit in November. But excluding autos, sales rose 1.2% — best showing since last March. Department store sales jumped 2.8%, strongest advance in two years.

The number of U.S. homeowners who owe more on their homes than the homes are worth dipped slightly in the last quarter to 10.8 million. But the drop was driven mostly by homes slipping into foreclosure rather than any good economic news, such as increases in home prices. 22.5% of mortgaged homes were underwater as of Sept. 30, down from 23%, or 11 million, in the second quarter.

Capitalizing on a $135 billion government bailout and cheap money from the Federal Reserve, Wall Street’s five biggest banks are wrapping up their most profitable two years of investment banking and trading stocks and bonds. The Big Five’s results for this year are on course to be the second-highest on record. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley “will likely have a better fourth quarter than the previous two periods, driven by equity underwriting and higher volume in stock and bond trading,” according to data Bloomberg gathered.

  • · Didn’t Obama promise that wealth would be transferred from Wall Street to Main Street? Seems like the reverse is happening.

Ireland

Ireland‘s constitutional ban on abortion violates the rights of pregnant women to receive proper medical care in life-threatening cases, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday in a judgment that harshly criticized Ireland’s long inaction on the issue. The judgment from the Strasbourg, France-based court will put Ireland under pressure to draft a law extending limited abortion rights to women whose pregnancies represent a potentially fatal threat to their own health. Ireland has resisted taking that step despite a 1992 judgment from the Irish Supreme Court declaring that abortions should be considered legal in Ireland in all cases where the woman’s life would be endangered by continued pregnancy — including through threats to commit suicide.

  • · International courts are superseding national rights as the New World Order gathers steam

Afghanistan

Six young Afghan women who survived the Taliban are freely studying at private U.S. colleges and schools in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania andVermont. They are the beneficiaries of a grass-roots effort by a small American group — the New Jersey-based Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund — that has raised $250,000 in donations and $1 million of in-kind scholarships the past two years. The fund seeks to jump-start the education of Afghan women whose studies stalled under the Taliban regime, which banned girls from attending school, says Leo Motiuk, one of the founders. The goal is for the women to obtain a college education to prepare them to return home and assist in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Continuing tensions in the country make it necessary to protect the identities of the women because of fears for their safety.

A review of  President Obama’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan concludes that American forces can begin withdrawing on schedule in July, despite finding uneven signs of progress in the year since the president announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops, according to a summary made public Thursday. President Obama’s review of the Afghanistan concluded that progress from the troop surge means U.S. forces will begin withdrawing as planned in July and security will shift to the Afghans by the end of 2014. More than 680 foreign troops, including more than 470 Americans, have been killed in 2010, making it the deadliest year of the 9-year-old war. Hundreds of Afghan civilians also have been killed, most in Taliban attacks.

A roadside bomb destroyed a crowded minibus Thursday in western Afghanistan, killing 14 passengers who were all members of an extended family, a provincial official said. Four others were wounded in the powerful blast. Two additional bombs found nearby on the same road were defused by Afghan policemen. Also Thursday, NATO said a coalition airstrike the previous day killed four Afghan soldiers after they were mistaken for militants.

Iraq

The U.N. Security Council gave a unanimous vote of confidence Wednesday to the significant strides Iraq has taken by lifting 19-year-old sanctions on weapons and civilian nuclear power. The council also decided to return control of Iraq’s oil and natural gas revenue to the government next summer and to settle all remaining claims over the controversial oil-for-food program, which helped ordinary Iraqis cope with sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein’s  army invaded Kuwait two decades ago. Although some sanctions will remain in place until Iraq and Kuwait settle outstanding issues from that war, Wednesday’s vote was a major step to restore Iraq’s international standing a year before the U.S. is to pull its last troops out of the country. It came a day after a power-sharing agreement ended a lengthy deadlock on forming a new Iraqi government.

Iran

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up near a mosque in southeastern Iran on Wednesday, killing at least 39 people, including a newborn baby, at a Shiite mourning ceremony, state media reported. The attack, which also wounded 90 people, took place outside the Hussein Mosque in the port city of Chahbahar, near the border with Pakistan. The bombers targeted a group of worshippers at a mourning ceremony a day before Ashoura, which commemorates the seventh century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, one of Shiite Islam’s most beloved saints. An armed Sunni militant group called Jundallah, or Soldiers of God, claimed responsibility in a statement posted on its website. The group has carried out sporadic attacks in Iran’s southeast to fight alleged discrimination against the area’s Sunni minority in overwhelmingly Shiite Iran.

Sweden

At his local mosque in England, Taimour Abdulwahab alarmed elders with his extreme views on Islam. On the Internet, he posted videos of Chechen fighters and abused Iraqi prisoners. On Saturday, officials say, he died in a botched suicide bombing in Stockholm. Authorities are now trying to learn when he was radicalized, whether he had accomplices — and how a man whose radical views were displayed both online and in person escaped official notice. Swedish prosecutor Tomas Lindstrand said Monday that authorities are certain the suicide bomber who terrified pre-Christmas shoppers was Abdulwahab, an Iraqi-born Swede who spent much of the past decade in Britain. He said Abdulwahab was completely unknown to Swedish security police before the blasts, which killed the bomber and injured two others.

Italy

Angry protesters threw rocks and bottles and police lobbed tear gas canisters Tuesday in Rome’s streets after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly survived lawmakers’ confidence votes. A crowd of several hundred protesters smashed motorcycles and police vehicles as they erupted in violence and clashed with authorities following the votes. Small fires were burning in various spots, and loud explosions could be heard from firecrackers or flash-bang devices. Berlusconi retained his position Tuesday after the nation’s upper and lower houses of parliament voted in his favor. With so many lawmakers aligned against Berlusconi, however, it may be difficult for him to carry on with his legislative program. Berlusconi faces a difficult economic picture as he looks ahead to the rest of his term, which expires in 2013. Italian unemployment is running at 8.5 percent, the highest level since 2003, according to the Italian statistical office, and public debt is 120 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Australia

Rescuers returned to treacherous seas Thursday to hunt for possible survivors after a wooden boat smuggling up to 100 asylum seekers smashed against the cliffs of an Australian island, tossing people overboard and killing at least 28. The passengers included people of Iraqi, Iranian and Kurdish origin. The deaths at remote Christmas Island underscored dangers faced by hundreds of refugees who have tried to sail from Indonesia to Australia in recent years — often in cramped, barely seaworthy boats — to start new lives after escaping from poor, war-ravaged countries.

Weather

Wintry weather took aim at Florida as the Midwest struggles to recover from a weekend storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas, then sent temperatures below zero. A sprawling winter storm system spread an ugly mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain from the Deep South to the upper Plains states Thursday, snarling traffic in the air and on the ground.  The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings and advisories for more than a dozen states. The brunt of the system is poised to hit Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, but several inches of snow are forecast for portions of Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina, as well as Minnesota and North and South Dakota.

The cold roared into South Florida. The National Weather Service issued wind chill warnings and advisories as far south as Miami, where wind chills dropped to the low 20s Tuesday morning. Five people have died in accidents on icy roads as a winter storm sweeps through part of the Southeast. Dozens of north Alabama schools called off classes or dismissed students around lunchtime. Near Birmingham, drivers stood in the cold waiting for police to arrive after a series of wrecks on icy Interstate 20.

Farmers across the South are contending with abnormally dry weather and a drought that began this spring. Crops in dry fields then baked during stretches of record-setting summer heat that scorched peanut fields, stressed cotton plants and stunted citrus fruit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared disasters in parts of 16 states, with some of the driest spots in Texas, Lousiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Record high temperatures were set all over Arizona this week with Cottonwood reaching 76 degrees.

December 13, 2010

Pro-Life Message Spreads in China

Baptist Press reports that opponents of abortion in China are using various forms of media to communicate the pro-life message in the face of the country’s coercive abortion regime, and their message is spreading widely. Even as they utilize Internet sites, DVDs and booklets, Chinese pro-lifers recognize, however, their mission is daunting on a variety of levels. While pro-lifers in China work against the power of the world’s strongest Communist system, Christians in unregistered churches reportedly are the targets of a new crackdown by the government. During the three-decade one-child program, the state actions against women have included forced abortions, even on women in the eighth and ninth months of pregnancy, and compulsory sterilizations. Infanticide, especially of female babies, also has been reported. Penalties for violations of the policy also have included fines, arrests and the destruction of homes. At least 13 million abortions are performed in China each year, according to an estimate by the country’s National Population and Family Planning Commission.

Clinton Supports Tax Deal

Former President Bill Clinton came before surprised reporters to let it be known that he endorsed the tax deal that Obama cut with the Republican Party, even though many Democrats were raising a fuss about it. There was to be no press coverage allowed of Obama’s meeting with Clinton. No photos, no questions, not even a written statement about what happened. That changed when Obama and Clinton wrapped up their private meeting in the Oval Office. Clinton wanted to publicly endorse the tax package. Obama is welcoming all the help he can get. Clinton comfortably outlined how the pending package of tax cuts, business incentives and unemployment benefits would boost the economy — even though it included tax help for the wealthy that Obama had to swallow. As votes in the Senate are scheduled to begin Monday on President Obama’s controversial tax-cut deal with Republicans, some Democratic opposition appears to be easing and the White House is predicting passage by year’s end.

President Obama’s plan to cut payroll taxes for a year would provide big savings for many workers, but makes Social Security advocates nervous that it could jeopardize the retirement program’s finances. The plan is part of a package of tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits that Obama negotiated with Senate Republican leaders. It would cut workers’ share of Social Security taxes by nearly one-third for 2011. Workers making $50,000 in wages would get a $1,000 tax cut; those making $100,000 would get a $2,000 tax cut. The government would borrow about $112 billion to make Social Security whole.

The tax-cut deal may help the economy and create jobs, but it’s almost sure to guarantee him another $1 trillion-plus deficit in 2011. That would give the first-term president a hat trick on trillion-dollar deficits — three more than any previous president had. The 2009 deficit was $1.4 trillion, and the 2010 deficit was $1.3 trillion. In just two months of the 2011 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, the deficit was about $290 billion. That’s equal to the entire 1992 deficit, which set a record and helped doom President George H.W. Bush’s re-election.

  • · Our economy is in a catch-22 situation due to decades of profligate spending. We need more jobs but increased debt may push us over the tipping point. It may be too late to maintain the current delicate balance.

UN Climate Meeting OKs Green Fund

A U.N. conference on Saturday adopted a modest climate deal creating a fund to help the developing world go green, though it deferred for another year the tough work of carving out deeper reductions in carbon emissions causing Earth to steadily warm. Though the accords were limited, it was the first time in three years the 193-nation conference adopted any climate action, somewhat restoring faith in the unwieldy U.N. process after the letdown a year ago at a much-anticipated summit in Copenhagen. After debating into the early hours, the conference overrode a lone objection by Bolivia, which argued the plan did not do enough to do enough combat climate change. The Cancun Agreements created institutions for delivering technology and funding to poorer countries, though they did not say where the funding would come from.

Border Security, Immigration Reform Continue to Vex U.S.

When it comes to grappling with immigration, the United States is hardly alone. But it is in a league of its own. With 42 million foreign-born residents, the United States has, by a large margin, more immigrants than any nation on Earth, where more than 200 million people live outside their home country. It also has the world’s largest population of illegal immigrants, more than half of them from Mexico. Congress has tried multiple times in the past decade to enact comprehensive immigration reform, legislation that would balance border security, a guest-worker program and legalization for illegal immigrants. The most recent attempt died in the Senate in 2007 amid a national outcry over what critics call “amnesty.” Despite continuing talk, politicians have been reluctant to revisit the issue, instead focusing on border security and enforcement. With a lack of meaningful action by the federal government, which has been decried by immigration advocates and opponents alike, states have begun trying to fill the void. Arizona, with a large illegal-immigrant population and ground zero for illegal border crossing, has led the way.

Judge Dismisses Part of Challenge to Arizona Law

A federal judge has dismissed parts of the U.S. Department of Justice’s challenge to Arizona’s new immigration law. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton’s ruling last Friday struck down the federal government’s challenge to the portion of the law that prohibits the transport of illegal immigrants. But Bolton’s ruling didn’t have any effect on the portions of the law that she previously prevented from taking effect, including a requirement that immigrants get or carry immigration registration papers. Bolton on Friday denied Gov. Jan Brewer’s request to dismiss challenges to the law’s most controversial sections.

DREAM Act Originator Now Opposes It

The DREAM Act (the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act) was originally proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch [R-UT] and Sen. Dick Durbin [D-IL] in 2001. Every Congress since 2001 has attempted to enact it either as a stand alone bill or as a rider on every immigration bill proffered by either the House or the Senate. While the legislation initially had bipartisan support since the path to citizenship for illegals came through military service to our nation, that changed. When the far left took control of both Houses of Congress in 2007, the Dream Act changed with the political philosophy of those in power. In 2009, the Dream Act was introduced for the fifth time. This time, it was no longer a bipartisan bill. The 2009 version was proffered by Durbin and Congressman Howard Berman [D-CA]. But now, Senator Hatch has reconsidered his position and has officially stated he is opposed to the Dream Act.

Pat Downs of Children an Opening for Pedophiles

It was a suggestion from a Transportation Security Administration official from several years back that airport security personnel should treat as a “game” their pat-downs of little children, but it’s raising alarms among those who advocate for children. The issue is that experts confirm that making a “game” of touching often is how pedophiles will approach and then groom small children they intend for their victims. “Of course this opens the door to future pedophiles, teachers, little friends and others ‘playing’ the ‘pat down game’ with children, and taking it further as the traumatized child tries to understand what is happening,” Dr. Judith Reisman told WorldNetDaily. “The pedophile ‘grooming’ process has been made into international training. With congressmen lusting over Playboy on the airplane, hundreds of Pentagon officials downloading child pornography, an university officials ‘objectively’ wanting child pornography made legal, who is going to be left in our society to understand what normal, moral sexual conduct is all about?”

Assange ‘Rape’ Accuser Linked to CIA

One of the women accusing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of sex crimes appears to have worked with a group that has connections to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). James D. Catlin, a lawyer who recently represented Assange, said the sex assault investigation into the WikiLeaks founder is based on claims he didn’t use condoms during sex with two Swedish women. Swedish prosecutors told AOL News last week that Assange was not wanted for rape as has been reported, but for something called “sex by surprise” or “unexpected sex.” One accuser, Anna Ardin, may have “ties to the US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups.” While in Cuba, Ardin worked with the Las damas de blanco (the Ladies in White), a feminist anti-Castro group. Professor Michael Seltzer pointed out that the group is led by Carlos Alberto Montaner who is reportedly connected to the CIA.

  • · A blatant frame-up to preserve government secrets and keep the ‘masses’ enslaved in darkness

Libraries Welcome Homeless to ‘Community Living Rooms’

Public libraries are becoming more hospitable to the homeless by hosting social-service agencies, organizing events such as book clubs and movie matinees and redesigning their facilities. Instead of trying to deter the homeless from congregating, libraries welcome them and rely on codes of conduct that address issues such as hygiene and behavior to prevent their presence from intimidating other patrons, says Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association. The homeless “go to libraries because they don’t have anywhere else to go, and that’s a shame,” she says. A federal court ruled in 1992 that the First Amendment gives everyone the right of access to information, but libraries can enforce reasonable rules, says Mary Minow, a library law consultant. “Libraries are becoming our community living rooms,” San Francisco  Librarian Luis Herrera says.

‘Do Not Track’ Could Revolutionize Online Ad Pndustry

If you’re like most Web users, you probably don’t realize how intensively your visits to many of the most popular pages on the Internet are scrutinized. In fact, the art of anonymous, Internetwide monitoring of who visits what webpage has been advancing dramatically, driven by advertisers’ desire to tailor their messages to specific groups of customers. This month, however, the Federal Trade Commission — responding to complaints that “tracking” software can violate the privacy of those using the Web — moved to put the brakes on such monitoring. The FTC called for a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would enable consumers to opt out of being tailed around the Web. Privacy advocates praised the move, saying that tracking has gotten out of hand. Opponents counter that the Do Not Track plan would disrupt the burgeoning online advertising industry, putting at risk the estimated $300 billion of U.S. economic activity it helps to foster.

  • · As usual, greed is championed over individual rights

Economic News

Last month’s federal budget deficit set an all-time high for November, hitting $150.4 billion, 25% more than a year ago, the Treasury Department reports. That’s the 26th-straight month of shortfalls, another record.

The number of people filing for bankruptcy protection in retirement has soared in recent years — even before the recession. In fact, people 65 and older are the fastest-growing segment of the population seeking bankruptcy protection. Their medical expenses, taxes and other costs keep going up, while their income is going down. Social Security hasn’t had a cost-of-living adjustment in a long time and pensions and retirement accounts took a huge hit during the recession. Reverse mortgages and other alternatives presented to them as “solutions” often just dig them further in the hole. Elder Americans carry 50% more credit-card debt than their younger counterparts.

An encouraging trade report and signs that a tax cut package would pass the Senate sent stocks to their highest levels in two years Friday. Bond prices fell for another day as investors expected the tax deal to lead to economic growth and higher budget deficits. The appeal of bonds may be dimming, as investors took more money out of bond mutual funds than they put in last month. The pullout snapped a two-year string of positive monthly flows into bonds, where investors have sought refuge after the financial crisis soured many people on stocks.

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., once the nation’s largest grocer, filed for bankruptcy protection late Sunday after years of struggling with enormous debt and rising competition from low-priced peers. The 151-year-old company, based in Montvale, N.J., operates 395 supermarkets in the northeastern United States under the A&P, Waldbaum’s, The Food Emporium, Super Fresh, Pathmark and Food Basics banners. It said all its stores, which employ 41,000 people, will remain open.

Middle East

Israel’s leader dismissed on Sunday a top ally’s call to share the holy city of Jerusalem with the Palestinians, another reminder of the challenges the U.S. faces as it shifts gears on its troubled Mideast peacemaking strategy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaffirmation of his intention to hold on to east Jerusalem was liable to escalate friction between the two sides and with the Americans. The White House Mideast envoy is scheduled to arrive this week in another attempt to push peace efforts forward. The conflicting claims to east Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The dispute over the area, home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, has derailed past peace talks and spilled into violence. The Palestinians want to establish their future state in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel later annexed east Jerusalem in a move that is not recognized by the international community.

  • · Jerusalem is God’s capital on earth and He does not want to share it with Satan. It’s boundaries were established ages ago, not in the 1900s by political machinations.

Afghanistan

A roadside bomb planted by the Taliban has killed 15 civilians in a dangerous and remote region of southern Afghanistan, officials said Saturday. The attack happened Friday afternoon as a pickup carrying villagers to a nearby bazaar rolled over the bomb. Also Saturday, a suicide bomber blew up a stolen police car that had been packed with explosives, injuring at least 14 people near an army checkpoint in northern Afghanistan. Six NATO service members were killed Sunday in an insurgent attack in southern  Afghanistan Sunday. More than 670 international troops have been killed so far this year, well above the 502 killed in the whole of 2009.

Taliban small-arms attacks against U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan are nearly twice what they were a year ago, a reflection of increased coalition penetration of Taliban strongholds and the insurgency’s resilience, military officials and analysts said. U.S. forces have encountered more than 18,000 attacks this year from Taliban fighters armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and in some cases missiles, according to data from the Pentagon. That compares with about 10,600 such attacks in 2009.

Iran

Iran‘s nuclear program is still in chaos despite its leaders’ adamant claim that they have contained the computer worm that attacked their facilities, cybersecurity experts in the United States and Europe say. The American and European experts say their security websites, which deal with the computer worm known as Stuxnet, continue to be swamped with traffic from Tehran and other places in the Islamic Republic, an indication that the worm continues to infect the computers at Iran’s two nuclear sites. The Stuxnet worm, named after initials found in its code, is the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever created. Examination of the worm shows it was a cybermissile designed to penetrate advanced security systems. It was equipped with a warhead that targeted and took over the controls of the centrifuge systems at Iran’s uranium processing center in Natanz, and it had a second warhead that targeted the massive turbine at the nuclear reactor in Bashehr.

Sweden

Swedish police said Sunday that two explosions in central Stockholm were an act of terrorism by what appeared to be a suicide bomber, who killed himself and injured two people. A car exploded in the city center near Drottninggatan, causing panic among Christmas shoppers. Shortly afterward, a second explosion was heard higher up on the same street. A Swedish news agency has reported receiving an email just before the blast referring to a case of a cartoon of Muhammad that outraged the Muslim world and to the country’s soldiers in Afghanistan. No one died except for the bombing suspect, but two explosions in Sweden’s capital tore at the fabric of this tolerant and open nation — a society that hadn’t seen a terrorist attack in more than three decades.

Somalia

The European Union anti-piracy force says pirates have hijacked a U.S.-operated ship with 23 crewmembers aboard. The EU Naval Force said the MV Panama was attacked Friday just east of the Tanzania-Mozambique border, making it one of the most southerly attacks Somali pirates have pulled off. Somali pirates currently hold more than 500 crewmembers hostage from more than 20 ships. An international flotilla of warships has not been able to prevent continued attacks.

Weather

A powerful winter storm roared across the upper Midwest on Sunday with high winds and mounds of snow closing roads in several states and canceling more than 1,400 flights in Chicago. At least two weather-related deaths were reported Sunday. The storm system dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota and caused the Metrodome’s inflatable, Teflon roof to collapse moved east. The winter weather, with blowing snow that severely limited visibility, wreaked havoc on air and road travel. In the Chicago area, wind gusts of up to 50 mph, temperatures in the teens Fahrenheit, and wind chills well below zero.

A blast of Arctic air was sweeping down the Eastern Seaboard early Monday. It was forecast to drop temperatures below freezing as far south as Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency for citrus growers, and cause flight delays in the Northeast after wreaking havoc on travel in the upper Midwest.

A mudslide on rail tracks in Washington state has shut down Amtrak’s route between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle. Mudslides north of Vancouver, Washington, led to a 48-hour moratorium. The mudslides were caused by recent heavy rains.

December 10, 2010

Britain: Almost Half Say Jesus Is ‘Irrelevant’ to Christmas

Almost half of Britain’s adults don’t find any need for Christ in Christmas, according to a new survey by theology think tank Theos. Christian Today  reports that 49% percent agreed with the statement that the birth of Jesus is “irrelevant” to their celebration of Christmas, while 51 percent said the event is still relevant to them. Only 36 percent, however, plan to attend a Christmas church service this year. Theos director Paul Woolley said, “It’s clear that society is split right down the middle regarding the religious significance of Christmas.” The study yielded other surprises, as young adults ages 18 to 24 were more likely than any other age group to disagree with the statement that Jesus’s birth is irrelevant. “It will surprise people that young people are most likely to believe that Jesus is relevant to their Christmas.”

  • · Calling Christ irrelevant to Christ-mas is outright lunacy. But as deep darkness continues to spread over the earth, such illogical and idiotic sentiments grow steadily. The secularization of all things Christian is one of Satan’s primary end-time strategies.

H1N1 vaccine linked to 700 percent increase in miscarriages

NaturalNews reports that recent data presented to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Children’s Vaccines has revealed some shocking information about the effects of the H1N1 / swine flu vaccine on pregnant women. According to the report, the rate of miscarriage among pregnant women during the 2009 H1N1 / swine flu pandemic soared by over 700 percent compared to previous years, pointing directly to the vaccine as the culprit — but the CDC denies the truth and continues to insist nobody has been harmed. According to the CDC, nearly 50 percent of all pregnant women were vaccinated with the H1N1 vaccine during the 2009 / 2010 influenza season. Those whose physicians instructed them to get a seasonal flu shot were three times more likely to get it, while those instructed specifically to get the H1N1 shot were ten times more likely to get it. And the numbers clearly show that along with the rise in vaccinations due to the H1N1 scare came the sharp increase in miscarriages, including a slew of actual reported adverse events. But the CDC does not seem to care about the facts, as numerous reports indicate the agency has failed to report any of this vital information to vaccine suppliers.

ObamaCare Lawsuit on Fast Track to Higher Court

A district court judge’s ruling has put Liberty Counsel’s case against ObamaCare on a fast track to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. Mathew Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel says, “District Court Judge Norman Moon’s ruling on our lawsuit against the ObamaCare healthcare “reform” law has propelled our case forward to the court of appeals level faster than any of the other lawsuits against this unconstitutional legislation. And what initially appeared to be an adverse ruling at this first level of the federal judicial process actually gave us several advantages as the case goes forward! On the plus side of his ruling, Judge Moon found that our corporate plaintiff, Liberty University, and two private individual plaintiffs, had standing to bring this lawsuit against ObamaCare.  He also ruled that there was no bar to bringing the suit, as the government had argued. Both of those holdings will be very advantageous to our case at higher levels in the court system.”

House Approves DREAM Act, but Passage Unlikely in Senate

In what may be a short-lived victory for young immigrants, the House voted Wednesday to approve a bill to allow illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to earn legal status if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military. It was the first time in the 10-year legislative history of the DREAM Act that the House has passed the bill. The vote was 216-198. But Republicans are expected to block a vote on the bill in the Senate on Thursday, ending hopes by immigrants’ rights groups and their Democratic allies to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act in the final days of the 111th Congress. Under Senate rules, Democratic leaders need 60 votes to stop an expected GOP filibuster of the bill. With little or no GOP support, Democrats are expected to fall short.

Republicans Block ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal

Republicans stopped an attempt in the Senate on Thursday to repeal a law that prohibits gays from serving openly in the military. Supporters were unable to muster the 60 votes needed to move ahead with a bill that would have allowed repeal, falling short in a 57-40 vote. President Obama expressed disappointment that “yet another filibuster has prevented the Senate from moving forward” with defense spending. Congress is scheduled to return home for Christmas next week, so time is running out. It has been 48 years since Congress failed to pass a military spending bill. Advocates of retaining “don’t ask, don’t tell,” led by Sen..John McCain, R-Ariz., say abandoning the law would be too disruptive to the military while the nation is engaged in two wars.

Obama, Lawmakers Clear Way for Passage of Tax Cut Bill

The White House and key lawmakers cleared the way Thursday night for swift Senate action to avert a Jan. 1 spike in income taxes for nearly all Americans, agreeing to extend breaks for ethanol and other forms of alternative energy as part of the deal. Tax provisions aimed at increasing production of hybrid automobiles, biodiesel fuel, energy-efficient homes, coal and energy-efficient household appliances would be extended through the end of 2011 under the bill. While there is no precise timetable for passage, a test vote was set for Monday afternoon that appears likely to demonstrate overwhelmingly support for the legislation, which supporters say would help accelerate a sluggish recovery from recession.

WikiLeaks Cyberattacks Show Growing Threat

A cyberattack by supporters of WikiLeaks against the MasterCard and Visa websites foreshadows a new generation of increasingly dangerous assaults on the Internet, security experts say. The attacks Wednesday were part of a recent series by supporters and enemies of WikiLeaks. Last week, WikiLeaks servers were knocked offline by people angry over its release of diplomatic and military information that critics said could embarrass the government and even risk lives. Wednesday’s attacks were run by “hacktivist” groups, including Operation Payback and Anonymous. They distributed software that swamps a website to thousands of participants. They coordinated the action onTwitter. Operation Payback has attacked organizations that its participants believe are involved in Internet censorship, including recording and media companies that were trying to shut down illegal file-sharing sites. Anonymous has attacked Australian government sites to protest a firewall around the country that inspects incoming Internet traffic for threats. Internet-security experts say the action Wednesday should be a wake-up call to act before larger and more damaging assaults.

States Take On Sharia Law

Last week a federal judge temporarily blocked a law in Oklahoma from taking effect that bars judges from considering Islamic Sharia or international law in state, courts while she determines whether it violates the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits establishment of a state religion. Although Oklahoma’s law is the first to come under court scrutiny, legislators in at least seven states, including Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, have proposed similar laws, the National Conference of State Legislatures says. Tennessee and Louisiana have enacted versions of the law banning use of foreign law under certain circumstances. Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House, is pushing for a federal law that “clearly and unequivocally states that we’re not going to tolerate any imported law.” Islamic law or sharia, which means “path” in Arabic, is a code of conduct governing all aspects of Muslim life, including family relationships, business dealings and religious obligations. Islamic countries operating under the guidance of sharia may have varying interpretations of the code. Earlier this year an appeals court in New Jersey overturned a state court judge’s refusal to issue a restraining order against a Muslim man who forced his wife to engage in sexual intercourse. The judge found that the man did not intend to rape his wife because he believed his religion permitted him to have sex with her whenever he desired.

Ambassador Singled Put for TSA Pat-Down

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed concern Thursday over the pat-down of India’s sari-clad ambassador to the U.S. at the airport here over the weekend, an incident that has prompted calls for an apology from Washington. Ambassador Meera Shankar, 60, was selected for a pat-down Saturday by a Transportation Security Administration screener. Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar, 60, was selected for a pat-down Saturday by a Transportation Security Administration screener at the airport in Jackson, Mississippi. Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna called the pat-down “unacceptable” and said his nation would complain to the U.S. government.

  • · So, it’s okay to pat-down us ordinary citizens but not such high-profile people such as ambassadors? Greater control over the “masses” is a key New World Order goal.

Survey: 31 Million Drove Drunk; 10M Drove High

Nearly one in eight drivers 16 and older drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year, and more than 4% drove under the influence of illicit drugs, says a federal government report that sheds alarming light on the problem of impaired driving in the USA. An estimated 30.6 million people drove under the influence of alcohol, and an estimated 10.1 million drove under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The estimates are based on surveys of 213,350 people 16 and older from 2006 through 2009 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). The survey did find some good news: Alcohol-impaired driving rates for the period 2006-09 compared with 2002-05 fell from 14.6% to 13.2%. Drugged-driving rates over the same periods fell from 4.8% to 4.3%. The survey found that younger drivers were more likely to admit getting behind the wheel after drinking or taking illicit drugs.

  • · Be careful out there and expect the unexpected

SpaceX Launches Falcon 9 into Orbit

Aerospace start-up SpaceX made history Wednesday, the first private firm to launch a spacecraft into orbit and guide it back to Earth. The company, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, and three hours later recovered its Dragon space capsule off the coast of Mexico. The Falcon 9-Dragon combo is being developed for post-shuttle cargo supply runs to the International Space Station. And the company intends to launch astronauts to the outpost. SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., and Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., are under NASA contract to develop the means to fly cargo safely and reliably to the station. Their spacecraft would join unmanned Russian, European and Japanese freighters hauling supplies.

Economic News

The U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level in nine months, as growing demand for American goods overseas pushed exports to their highest level in more than two years. The Commerce Department says the trade deficit narrowed to $38.7 billion in October. The figure was 13.2% below September’s deficit of $44.6 billion. U.S. exports rose 3.2% to $158.7 billion, the highest level since August 2008. Imports dipped 0.5% to $197.4 billion, with lower demand for oil and foreign-made cars.

Applications for unemployment benefits dropped last week to the second-lowest level this year. First-time claims for jobless aid fell 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 421,000 in the week ending Dec. 4, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure, dropped for the fifth straight week to 427,500. That’s the lowest since August 2008, just before the financial crisis intensified. First-time applications peaked during the recession at 651,000 in March 2009, and then steadily declined to about 470,000 by the beginning of this year. Claims were stuck near that level for most of this year before moving down again in October and November.

The government’s heavily criticized $700 billion financial rescue program has earned nearly $35 billion in income over the past two years, according to data obtained by The Associated Press. The data showed that income from the Troubled Asset Relief Program rose nearly 17 percent through November, compared to where it stood in October. The income was boosted by the government’s ongoing sales of Citigroup stock.

  • · But we’re still $665 billion in debt from a bailout that largely went into corporate pocketbooks and did little for “main street”

House and Senate Republicans on Wednesday thwarted Democratic efforts to award $250 checks to Social Security recipients facing a second consecutive year without a cost-of-living increase. President Obama and Democrats have urged approval of the one-time payment, saying seniors barely getting by on their Social Security checks face undue hardships without the COLA increase. But most Republicans contended that the nation couldn’t afford the estimated $14 billion cost of the payment.

  • · As a retiree receiving Social Security, I agree that it is more important not to add to the critical debt problem facing our country

Middle East

In one of the most startling Wikileaks disclosures of recent weeks, a document released on Wednesday reveals that Syria refused Iranian entreaties to fight alongside Iran against Israel if it were to strike Tehran’s renegade nuclear program. The statements in the document, dated December 20, 2009, were probably made by a Syrian diplomatic source who spoke with American Embassy officials in Damascus. The Assad regime told the Iranians not to expect Syria, Hizbullah or Hamas to take part in this war. According to the source, Syrian officials replied by saying that Iran was strong enough to develop its own nuclear program and fight against Israel.

From the start of his term, President Obama was determined to defy the cynics and doubters and push for peace in the Middle East. But the White House’s efforts to broker a deal in the decades-old dispute between Israelis and Palestinians had faltered — demonstrating once again why it is one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. After months of grueling diplomacy, using a mixture of pressure and promises, the White House abandoned attempts to persuade Israel to slow West Bank settlement activity. The Palestinians had demanded the freeze in exchange for engaging in direct talks that were supposed to lead to a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel. That deal, it was hoped, would lead to a broader Middle East peace accord.

  • · It’s “intractable” because this is God’s battle, not mankind’s, and won’t be resolved until Jesus returns and Satan is defeated

Haiti

Haitians prepared for armed clashes and more days of flaming barricades as rival candidates called on supporters to take to streets and tip the balance in a sharply disputed presidential election leading. Gunfire ripped through post-earthquake shanties near the ruins of the national palace on Thursday afternoon, killing at least one man and injuring several more, witnesses said. Third-place candidate and carnival singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly blamed the attack on supporters of government-backed candidate Jude Celestin, who is edging him out by less than 1 percentage point for a spot in a January run-off. The United States reissued a travel warning recommending all U.S. citizens reconsider nonessential trips to Haiti — citing high crime, the cholera outbreak and social unrest. Canada closed its embassy until further notice because of the post-electoral violence. Flights were canceled in and out of the capital’s international airport. Haiti’s electoral council says it will recount the ballots in the country’s disputed presidential election in the presence of international observers.

Mexico

Gunmen blockaded the western Mexican city of Morelia Thursday with cars and buses they stole from motorists and then torched in a second day of violence for the region that has left at least three people dead, including an 8-month-old baby. The gunmen arrived at all five roads leading into Morelia and fired into the air to force drivers and passengers from their vehicles. Such blockades have become a common cartel tactic in Mexico’s raging drug war. The blockades came a day after three people were killed in a shootout between suspected La Familia gunmen and federal police in Apatzingan, another city in the state.

Germany

An Islamic center was firebombed Thursday in Berlin — one of more than half a dozen arson attacks on Islamic institutions in the city this year — prompting a Muslim official to demand police protection for all mosques in Germany. The Sehitlik Mosque, Berlin’s largest, has been attacked four times this year, and the al-Nur mosque in the city’s Neukoelln neighborhood once. Neither attack caused injury or serious damage. Berlin police said in a statement later Thursday that the latest attack was part of a series of more than 10 attacks on Muslim institutions in the city.

Britain

Furious student protesters attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, vandalized buildings and battled riot police Thursday as a controversial hike in university fees triggered Britain’s worst political violence in years. Protesters angry at a huge tuition fee hike are fighting with police and smashing windows in London, after legislators in the House of Commons approved a plan to triple university fees to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) a year. Thousands of students staged a peaceful protest but a minority turned violent, hurling sticks and rocks at riot police, smashing store windows and setting on fire a giant Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.

  • · The end-time spirit of lawlessness is spreading just as prophesied

China

ChinaAid is calling recently attacks on Chinese house churches a “grave and troubling setback” for the country’s religious freedom. The human rights group reported that Chinese officials have begun calling the unregistered church network a “cult,” indicating that a new crackdown is underway. According to classified information obtained by ChinaAid, the Chinese Communist Party launched “Operation Deterrence” on Dec. 1 and will continue through March 2011. A long “blacklist” of church leaders and influential believers reportedly has been drawn up, as the operation narrowly focuses on the church network. Recent government actions against Christians, including official harassment of influential house church leaders, the ordination of a Catholic bishop in defiance of the Vatican’s wishes and even the cyberattacks that brought down ChinaAid’s Chinese and English news websites, appear to have been a prelude signaling the advent of the crackdown.

Weather

Heavy snow in Paris on Wednesday and Thursday shut down the city’s main airport, its bus system and the Eiffel Tower. Travelers in Paris and Frankfurt slept at the airport after snow and ice caused travel chaos. Elsewhere in Europe, bad weather caused travel chaos in Scotland, and a child’s body was found after a flash flood in Spain. In Paris, where heavy snowfall is unusual, the snow reached 4 inches. It quickly turned into a slushy mess, and vehicles skidded on unplowed roads. In Scotland, the first minister said everything possible was being done to keep the country moving in “exceptional conditions.” Road and rail journeys were once again plunged into chaos by the severe cold, and a 20-mile stretch of Scotland’s busiest road, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, was closed.

Meanwhile, in Spain the Interior Ministry said rescuers had found the body of a 9-year-old boy who drowned in a flash flood, as torrential rains lashed parts of central and southern Spain. Elsewhere in Spain, around 100 homes in Cordoba were evacuated out of fear the Guadalquivir River would burst its banks. Another 150 families had to leave their homes in Lora del Rio in neighboring Seville province.

The toll of confirmed deaths in Colombia’s landslide has reached 47, with some 80 people still unaccounted for. Antioquia state emergency management director John Rendon tells The Associated Press there is no chance of finding survivors under the sodden earth, which is up to 26 feet deep. President Juan Manuel Santos has declared a 30-day state of emergency that will allow emergency appopriations to deal with record flooding, which by official count has claimed 223 lives this year.

Arizona is currently the only state in the nation with all of its area considered to be in drought. Texas and Louisiana are not far behind, with mostly southern states experiencing substantial drought conditions while the northern tier is largely drought free.