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.

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