Archive for January, 2011

January 31, 2011

Mubarak Replaces Cabinet in Effort to Calm Rampant Egyptian Riots

Thousands of Egyptians — taking to the streets across the country for a seventh straight day — defied a mid-afternoon government curfew Monday, despite a bulked-up and proactive military deployment scattered around the restive nation. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has sworn in a new Cabinet, replacing one dissolved as a concession to unprecedented anti-government protests. In the most significant change, the interior minister — who heads internal security forces — was replaced. A retired police general, Mahmoud Wagdi, was named to replace Habib el-Adly, who is widely despised by protesters for brutality shown by security forces. Seven days into an uprising against Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak that has disrupted the nation and filled the streets with protesters, the United States begins charter flights to help thousands of Americans leave.

Gangs of armed men attacked at least four jails across Egypt before dawn Sunday, helping to free hundreds of Muslim militants and thousands of other inmates as police vanished from the streets of Cairo and other cities. The army sent hundreds more troops and armored vehicles onto the streets of Cairo and other cities but appeared to be taking little action against gangs of young men with guns and large sticks who were smashing cars and robbing people. The Arab world’s most populous nation and the closest U.S. Arab ally appeared to be swiftly moving closer to a point at which it either dissolves into widespread chaos or the military expands its presence and control of the streets.

The tens of thousands of protesters who have thrown Egypt’s 30-year-old regime into tumult come from all walks of life — conservative Muslims and Christians, yuppies and the unemployed, young and old. For many, the protests demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down were a catalyst for years or decades of repressed anger at mistreatment at the hands of the state. There was rampant looting across the sprawling city of 18 million and a growing feeling of fear and insecurity. About a half-hour past midnight Friday morning in Egypt, the Internet went dead. Egypt has apparently done what many technologists thought was unthinkable for any country with a major Internet economy: It unplugged itself entirely from the Internet to try and silence dissent.

  • While hopes for democratic reform abound worldwide, beneath the surface Islamists seek to impose a government less aligned with the U.S. and more supportive of militancy

Global Islamist Revolution is Here

Joseph Farah, founder of WorldNetDaily, writes, “In case you didn’t notice, and few have, there is a global Islamist revolution under way. The world’s press doesn’t see it. The talking heads on cable TV don’t see it. Washington doesn’t see it. It’s a case of not noticing the forest for the trees. With revolts going on in Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, Yemen, Lebanon and Jordan, most of them clearly orchestrated from Iran, it’s easy to believe these are unrelated, disconnected uprisings. This is the work of the Muslim Brotherhood, with the aid and encouragement of Tehran. And the ripple effect of what we’re seeing is hard to overstate. As the leader of Jordan’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood, Hammam Saeed, warned over the weekend, the unrest in Egypt will spread across the Mideast and Arabs will topple those leaders allied with the United States.”

Military Lays Out Plan to Implement Gay Ban Repeal

Military training to apply the new law allowing gays to serve openly will begin in February and will move quickly, senior Pentagon leaders said. They said there is no intent to delay but would not guarantee full implementation of the repeal this year. The hedge on scheduling came despite assertions by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech this week that the repeal of the 17-year-old ban will be finalized in 2011. Speaking to Pentagon reporters on Friday, Gen. James Cartwright said he expects the services will know within the first month of training how well they are doing and how quickly they will be able to proceed.

  • Yet another step down the slippery slope of immorality that ensures the ultimate demise of the U.S.A.

Ten States now Developing Eligibility-proof Demands

Arizona may have the most advanced plan, but 10 of the United States – controlling 107 Electoral College votes – are now considering some type of legislation that would plug the hole in federal election procedures that in 2008 allowed Barack Obama to be nominated, elected and inaugurated without providing proof of his qualifications under the U.S. Constitution. And they aren’t all the simple legislation such as that adopted in New Hampshire a year ago that requires an affidavit from a candidate stating that the qualifications – age, residency and being a “natural born citizen” – have been met. In Georgia, for example, HB37 by Rep. Bobby Franklin not only demands original birth-certificate documentation, it provides a procedure for and declares that citizens have “standing” to challenge the documentation. His plan, he said, is needed because he saw “requirements in the Constitution that you don’t have a code provision to ensure that it happens.”

Immigration Sweep Nets 83 Arrests in Arizona

The office of an Arizona sheriff known for his efforts against illegal immigrants has arrested 83 people during a two-day crime sweep. Of those arrested, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday that 68 were illegal immigrants. Those who were not illegal immigrants were arrested for crimes including drug possession and theft. The sheriff’s office seized 725 pounds of marijuana and some methamphetamine during the operation, which ended Friday. It was the office’s 18th such sweep. Sheriff Joe Arpaio says his office’s 17 previous sweeps resulted in more than 1,000 arrests. He says a recent rise in the number of human smuggling arrests prompted another sweep.

U.S. Improving at Identifying Cyber Attackers

U.S. military and law enforcement officials say the government has made significant strides in figuring out who is responsible for complex cyber attacks, a fundamental but elusive first step to determine whether the U.S. should strike back, whom to strike, and how hard. U.S. authorities are using a mix of high-tech forensics and a greater emphasis on spying within the online world, although officials won’t reveal exactly how they are ferreting out cyber criminals in the vast, often anonymous Internet universe. Officials familiar with the issue say the escalating cyber security threat has triggered a greater government-wide emphasis on collecting intelligence related to computer crimes. To date, most cyber attacks aimed at the Pentagon have involved espionage — efforts to steal data rather than attempts to take down the network or manipulate data or communications. It took a serious breach of the military’s computer network in 2008 to change the Pentagon’s mindset and make cyberspace a greater priority.

Masonic/Elk Membership Declining

In an effort to boost flagging membership across the USA, an increasing number of Masonic lodges, like other fraternal service groups, are abandoning secretive ways and inviting the public in to see what the organization is really all about. There are fewer Masons today — by nearly a million — than there were in 1941. There are an estimated 3 million members worldwide and 1.5 million in the USA, he says, compared with more than 4 million members in the USA in 1959. Amos McCallum, a chairman of the past national presidents of the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks, says his group has 900,000 members, down from 1.6 million in 1980. Masons have long been the target of conspiracy theorists and today are tackling the myths through the service association’s website and the open-door policy at local lodges. The fraternity denies being part of a “one-world order” or controlling the United States government.

  • It’s not the organization itself that is satanic, but rather the upper echelon. But even the rituals for 1st-3rd degree Masons are subtly anti-Christian with symbolic death and resurrection to a false god.

Economic News

The economy gained strength at the end of last year as Americans spent at the fastest pace in four years and U.S. companies sold more overseas. The growth is boosting hopes for a stronger 2011, but it remains too weak to ease high unemployment. For all of last year, the economy grew 2.9 percent, the most since 2005. It was an improvement from 2009, when the economy suffered its worst decline in more than 60 years. Still, the economy isn’t growing fast enough to drive down unemployment, which was 9.4 percent in December. It takes about 3 percent growth just to create enough jobs to keep pace with the population increase. By some estimates, growth would have to be closer to 5 percent for a full year to drive down the unemployment rate by 1 percentage point.

A fight is looming between rich and poor countries over the value of the dollar and other key currencies, as governments use monetary tricks to boost their national recovery at the expense of other nations, political and business leaders warned Saturday. Washington has been leaning hard on Beijing to allow the Chinese renminbi to rise, saying it is being kept artificially cheap to maintain China’s cheap labor advantage. At the same time the United States, Britain and others have encouraged their central banks to pump money into the system as a means of stimulating the economy. “The U.S. is going to try to use weak dollar policy to help recovery in the U.S., and Brazil, India are not going to accept that and will fight back, and then we’re going to see some struggle and conflicts,” a Brazilian leader said. His words echoed concerns expressed by many participants of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week, where ways to maintain the fragile global recovery — and risks to it — are being hotly debated.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle packed with explosives rammed into a car carrying the deputy governor of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province on Saturday, killing him and wounding three of his bodyguards, the Interior Ministry said. The attacker struck as the official, Abdul Latif Ashna, was being driven to work in the provincial capital. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Kandahar, located in the Taliban’s traditional southern stronghold, has been the scene of several attacks recently.

Pakistan

The United States demanded the immediate release of an American arrested in the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis, saying Saturday that he is a diplomat who qualifies for immunity from prosecution and was illegally detained. The statement from the embassy raised the stakes in what could emerge as a major dispute between Pakistan and the United States. It also showed the shaky nature of ties between the two nations, a relationship Washington believes is crucial for success in Afghanistan and against al-Qaeda. Pakistani prosecutors said Friday they would pursue murder charges in the case. Hard-line Islamic leaders on Sunday rallied at least 15,000 people against an American official arrested in the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis and warned the government not to cave in to U.S. pressure to release the man.

Pakistan has doubled its nuclear weapons stockpile over the past several years, increasing its arsenal to more than 100 deployed weapons, according to a published report. As a result, Pakistan has now edged ahead of India, its nuclear-armed rival, The Washington Post reported Sunday. Only four years ago the Pakistani nuclear arsenal was estimated at 30 to 60 weapons.

  • Eventually, some of these weapons will fall into the hands of Islamic militants

Nigeria

Soldiers in a central Nigerian city opened fire Saturday on university students protesting continuing violence between Christians and Muslims, witnesses said, with at least five people killed in the ensuing violence. The shooting came as gas stations and a farmer’s market smoldered after late Friday violence that sparked when Christian students reportedly attacked Muslims trying to bury a corpse in Jos, a city at the epicenter of tensions between Nigeria’s two dominant faiths. One Muslim died in that attack, which sparked retaliatory assaults on Christian churches in the region Saturday morning. Saturday morning, witnesses said students marched toward soldiers, upset over the deaths of the fellow classmates.

Sudan

Southern Sudan’s referendum commission says more than 99% of eligible voters in the south voted and 99% opted for secession according to the first official primary results released since the vote was held earlier this month. More than 60% of eligible voters turned out in the country’s north, 58% of whom voted for secession as well. The chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, said 99% of Sudanese expatriate voters living in eight nations also voted for secession.

Volcanoes

About 600 people are returning home after seeking shelter overnight as a volcano in southern Japan spewed ash and smoke over nearby towns, with 612 people stayed in elementary schools for the night after volcanic activity increased Sunday. The explosive eruption at the 4,662-foot (1,421-meter) Shinmoedake volcano was its first major eruption in 52 years. Nobody has been injured in the eruptions.

Weather

The nation’s midsection was bracing for a massive winter storm that was expected to bring snow and ice to much of the Plains and Midwest early this week. The National Weather Service said freezing rain and snow could start to fall in some areas Monday, making morning commutes difficult. But that was expected to be just the beginning of a storm system that forecasters said could bring heavy snowfall Tuesday and Wednesday, paralyzing parts of the region. The storm was expected to march from the Rockies through much of the Plains and Midwest before making its way to the East Coast.

January 28, 2011

Islamist Militants Behind ‘Protests’ Toppling Arab Regimes

Islamists stand to gain the most from the so-called popular revolts targeting the regimes of Egypt, Yemin, and Tunisia, Israeli and Middle Eastern security officials warned Friday. The security officials said the hands of Islamists can be seen in the orchestration of the street protests, which have been championed by the White House and painted by much of the world news media as popular uprisings. In recent days, violent protests have targeted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak as well as Yemen’s leader, Ali Abullah Saleh, who is a U.S. ally. Islamist militants toppled the 23-year rule of President Zine Abidine Ben Ali, who fled Tunisia Jan. 14. Also, the terrorist group Hezbollah collapsed the Lebanese government, which is in the process of forming a new government led by a Hezbollah-backed prime minister.

The news media largely has painted the revolts in Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt as popular unrest, citing the use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to make the arrangements for the demonstrations. Israeli security officials told WorldNetDaily the Islamists have been taking advantage of populous sentiment against the Arab regimes to work up the masses into revolt that can usher in stronger Islamic rule.

Obama’s Spending Freeze ‘Insult to Our Intelligence’

The spending freeze that President Barack Obama proposed in his State of the Union address Tuesday is so small as to be meaningless, says Roger Pilon, legal affairs vice president for the Cato Institute. Pilon’s criticism, echoes the observations of several pundits, politicians, and political observers who are questioning the size and duration of the freeze in light of the nation’s ballooning debt. On Politico, Pilon writes: “With uncontrolled deficits well into the future and a debt exceeding $14 trillion, for Obama to propose saving only $40 billion per year in discretionary spending over the next five years, while ‘investing’ in pie-in-the-sky things like high-speed rail, wind farms, environmentally destructive ethanol, and the like is worse than unserious — it’s an insult to our intelligence. Like Obama, many Republicans too treat military spending, among other things, as sacrosanct, but at least they’re proposing more serious budget cuts.” We must first slash entitlement spending and then wasteful welfare spending to bring the budget back into balance, says James Carafano, assistant director of The Heritage Foundation’s Institute for International Studies.

  • With a socialistic government and a sense of entitlement among the general public, serious debt reform is mostly a pipedream

Social Security Fund Slides into Permanent Deficit

Social Security’s finances are getting worse as the economy struggles to recover and millions of baby boomers stand at the brink of retirement. Congressional projections show Social Security running deficits every year until its trust funds are eventually drained in about 2037. This year alone, Social Security is projected to collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in retirement, disability and survivor benefits, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That figure swells to $130 billion when a new one-year cut in payroll taxes is included, though Congress has promised to repay any lost revenue from the tax cut.

Birthright Citizenship Fight Begins in Arizona

Arizona is returning to the international spotlight with Thursday’s introduction of legislation that would strip illegal immigrants’ U.S.-born children of their citizenship and create a two-tiered, birth-certificate process. The intent is to attract a legal challenge that could eventually lead to the U.S. Supreme Court reconsidering whether the 14th Amendment truly grants citizenship to such children. The bills have the benefit of an even more conservative Republican Legislature than Senate Bill 1070 enjoyed last year as well as public support for tough immigration measures. But the bills’ passage isn’t a sure bet. Some lawmakers say the state needs to focus on the economy or securing the border instead of the distraction of another immigration controversy. The 14th Amendment states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” House Bill 2561 and Senate Bill 1309 would define children as citizens of Arizona and the U.S. if at least one of their parents was either a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent U.S. resident and therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Boomers Launch Encore Careers to Help Others

A growing “encore careers” movement among retiring boomers has launched an effort to match older workers who can’t or don’t want to retire with public service jobs that benefit society. The movement, begun in the late 1990s, has spawned non-profit groups and programs from Boston to Portland, Ore., aimed at helping older workers find new work. Many of the programs are run by people who have made the transition. At a time when 77 million Baby Boomers ages 46-65 are moving toward traditional retirement age, analysts say the movement could grow exponentially in the coming decades. A 2008 survey by MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a national think tank on boomers and work, found more than 5 million Americans in encore careers.

Number of U.S. Muslims to Double

Muslims will be more than one-quarter of the Earth’s population by 2030, according to a study released today. The number of U.S. Muslims will more than double, so you are as likely to know a Muslim here in 20 years as you are to know someone Jewish or Episcopalian today. U.S. Muslims will go from a tiny minority now, less than 1% of the nation, to 1.7%. That’s a jump from 2.6 million people in 2010 to 6.2 million. Those are among key findings in “The Future of the Global Muslim Population,” the first comprehensive examination of Muslims, whose numbers have been growing at a faster rate than all other groups combined. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life analyzed statistics from United Nations data and census material from more than 200 countries and studies by 50 international demographers.

Senate Rejects Changes in Filibuster Rules

The filibuster lives on. The Senate voted overwhelmingly late Thursday to reject efforts to change its rules to restrict the blockades that have sewn gridlock and discord in recent years on Capitol Hill. Instead, senators settled on a more modest measure to prevent single lawmakers from anonymously holding up legislation and nominations, and the parties’ Senate leaders announced a handshake deal to conduct business in a more efficient and civilized way. Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, also endorsed legislation, to be drawn up later, to break the logjam of confirmations of presidential appointments by reducing by as much as a third the number of appointees subject to Senate approval. Senators were emphatic in their votes against limiting the filibuster, a treasured right of minorities trying to prevent majorities from running roughshod over them.

Mortgage Modification Program a ‘Failure’

A mortgage modification program aimed at saving homeowners from foreclosure has failed because regulators are “afraid to rein in or impose penalties on the mortgage servicers” whose record “has been nothing short of abysmal,” the program’s watchdog told Congress Wednesday. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the government’s bank bailouts, bluntly labeled the mortgage program a “failure” in testimony before the House oversight committee. As a result, some House Republicans moved to scrap the 2-year-old program. Three Republicans, led by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, introduced a bill Tuesday to end the program, saving up to $30 billion in unspent bailout funds.

Financial Panel Pins Blame for Crisis

The financial crisis, which wreaked havoc on the economy and sparked a painful recession, could have been avoided, according to a federal commission. The presidential commission that has probed the causes of the 2008 financial and economic crisis released its findings Thursday in a 545-page book outlining its conclusions. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission blames “reckless” Wall Street firms and “weak” regulators. Naming names, the panel targets the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve for lax enforcement of banks, and former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan for supporting “30 years of deregulation.” The commission recommended that certain financial industry figures and corporations be criminally prosecuted.

Federal Deficit to Reach Record $1.5 trillion

The weak economy and fresh tax cuts approved last month will help drive the federal budget deficit to nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in history and one of the largest as a share of the economy since World War II, congressional budget analysts said Wednesday. This year’s deficit will be the highest on record and will equal about 9.8 percent of the economy, the CBO said, slightly smaller than the 2009 budget gap, which at $1.4 trillion amounted to nearly 10 percent of the gross domestic product. However, at a time when policy makers had hoped to begin closing the gap between spending and revenue, the CBO forecast that it is widening again and is on track to remain well above $1 trillion in 2012, the fourth year in a row. As a result, the report said, “debt held by the public will probably jump from 40 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to nearly 70 percent at the end of fiscal year 2011.

  • The key phrase here is “debt held by the public.” Government runs up the debt then holds us accountable for it.

Economic News

The economy gained strength at the end of last year as Americans spent at the fastest pace in four years and U.S. companies sold more overseas. The growth boosts hopes for a stronger 2011. The Commerce Department said Friday that growth rose to an annual rate of 3.2% in the October-December quarter. That’s an improvement from the 2.6% growth in the previous quarter. And it was the best quarterly showing since the start of last year. The economy has now consistently picked up speed since hitting a rough path last spring.

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits rose sharply last week as snowstorms in some parts of the country forced companies to lay off workers. The Labor Department said new applications for benefits surged by a seasonally adjusted 51,000 to 454,000, highest since late October. Snowstorms several weeks ago had kept people from filing claims. Requests for unemployment benefits fell sharply in the previous week to 403,000. Applications below 425,000 tend to signal modest job growth. But they would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant decline in the unemployment rate.

Buyers purchased the fewest new homes last year on records going back 47 years. Sales for 2010 totaled 321,000, a drop of 14.4% from the 375,000 homes sold in 2009, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the fifth consecutive year that sales have declined after hitting record highs the five previous years, when the housing market was booming.

Orders for big-ticket manufactured goods fell 2.5% in December, although when volatile transportation orders are removed, they were up 0.5%. Ford earned its largest profit in more than a decade in 2010, as demand for its cars and trucks rose and it benefited from years of restructuring. Ford’s U.S. sales jumped 20% last year, double the rate of the industry. General Motors, in another sign of its progress since a government-led bankruptcy, said Thursday that it is withdrawing its application for $14.4 billion in federal loans it had sought to help build more fuel-efficient cars. GM, which has posted three straight profitable financial quarters since its 2009 bankruptcy said it no longer needed the loans because the company’s cash position has improved.

The pace of foreclosure filings slowed last year in the nation’s hardest-hit housing markets but picked up in other U.S. metropolitan areas. High unemployment drove up foreclosures in 72% of 206 leading metropolitan areas last year. Las Vegas posted the nation’s highest metropolitan foreclosure rate, with one of nine homes receiving a foreclosure filing last year. Nationwide, foreclosure activity rose almost 2%.

Japan

Standard & Poor’s cut Japan’s credit rating for the first time in almost nine years Thursday, issuing a harsh critique of the government’s ability to control its ballooning debt. The agency lowered Japan’s long-term sovereign debt rating one notch to AA-, which is the fourth-highest level and the same rating given to China, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The news sent the dollar as high as 83.18 yen from 82.20 yen. The downgrade is a stern reminder to Japan that it faces consequences for letting its debt swell to twice the size of gross domestic product. Japan and the United States faced new pressure to confront their swollen budget deficits as the IMF and rating agencies demanded more evidence they can bring their public debts under control. The International Monetary Fund said the G7’s two biggest economies needed to spell out credible deficit-cutting plans before the markets lose patience and dump their bonds.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say at least 41 people have been killed and many others wounded when a car bomb ripped through a funeral tent Thursday in a mainly Shiite area of Baghdad. Another series of roadside bombs aimed at Iraqi troops and an electricity official missed their targets but killed three other people. They’re the latest in more than a week of bombings that have killed nearly 200 people, raising concerns about an uptick in violence as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw from the country.

Afghanistan

A bomb exploded inside a grocery store frequented by foreigners on Friday in Kabul. Three foreigners and a child were among the dead, killing at least eight people and injuring others. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the attack was against a U.S.-based security contractor. The Afghan army will not collapse when international troops end their combat role, in the way that South Vietnam’s did in the 1970s, NATO’s top officer said Thursday. Italian Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola said the international community intends to remain committed to Afghanistan after NATO forces hand over responsibility to the Afghan security forces in 2014.

Roadside bombs killed 268 American troops in Afghanistan last year, a 60% increase over the year before, even as the Pentagon works to counter the Taliban’s makeshift weapon of choice. The number of U.S. troops wounded by what the military terms improvised explosive devices also soared last year. There were 3,366 U.S. service members injured in IED blasts — up 178% from the 1,211 hurt by the militants’ crudely made bombs in 2009. Defense officials attributed the rise in casualties to the surge in U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last year and increased fighting across the nation.

Egypt

Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters clashed Friday with police in Cairo, who fired rubber bullets into the crowds and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. Police also used water cannons against Egypt’s pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei and his supporters as they joined the latest wave of protests after noon prayers. Egyptian protesters burned a police post in the eastern city of Suez Thursday as demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak continued throughout the entire week. Nobel laureate and opposition leader ElBaradei returned to Egypt Thursday to join the demonstrations that are calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. ElBaradei, who once headed the International Atomic Energy Agency, writes in The Daily Beast that he is going back “because, really, there is no choice.” “You go out there with this massive number of people, and you hope things will not turn ugly, but so far, the regime does not seem to have gotten that message,” he writes.

  • An aptly named Islamic newspaper

Tunisia

Tunisia’s foreign minister announced his resignation Thursday, state media reported, as authorities sought to quell unrest by street protesters who want to oust other cronies of deposed former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The TAP news agency announcement about Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane came as the prime minister was expected to reveal the makeup of Tunisia’s second interim government since Ben Ali fled the North African country on Jan. 14 after weeks of protests. Protesters have complained bitterly about corruption, repression and the lack of jobs under Ben Ali’s rule.

Yemen

Tens of thousands of people called for the Yemeni president’s ouster in protests across the country on Thursday inspired by the popular revolt in Tunisia. The demonstrations led by opposition members and youth activists are a significant expansion of the unrest sparked by the Tunisian uprising, which also inspired Egypt’s largest protests in years. They pose a new threat to the stability of the Arab world’s most impoverished nation, which has become the focus of increased Western concern about a resurgent al-Qaeda branch, a northern rebellion and a secessionist movement in the south. “We will not accept anything less than the president leaving,” said independent parliamentarian Ahmed Hashid.

Haiti

Haitian president Rene Preval’s favored successor is dropping out of the country’s disputed election. The coordinator of the ruling Unity party says Wednesday that Jude Celestin will no longer seek the nation’s highest office. That opens the door for a second-round runoff between former first lady Mirlande Manigat and popular singer Michel Martelly. No date has been set for the vote. The United States and other international forces have pressured Haiti’s government to accept a recommendation by Organization of American States experts that would put Celestin out of contention. The Nov. 28 first round suffered fraud and disorganization. Riots followed preliminary results that indicated Celestin would advance to the runoff.

Mexico

A U.S. missionary working in Mexico who brought his mortally wounded wife to the border told authorities in the United States that gunmen in a pickup shot her in the head, police in Texas say. Nancy Davis, 59, died in a South Texas hospital Wednesday about 90 minutes after her husband drove the couple’s truck against traffic across the Pharr International Bridge. Police said the couple are missionaries from South Texas who travel extensively into Mexico. The scene echoed one described four months ago by an American tourist, who said her husband was gunned down by Mexican pirates on a border lake as the couple tried fleeing on Jet Skis

The police chief and all 38 police officers of a northeastern Mexican town have quit following a series of drug cartel attacks, including the decapitation of two of their colleagues. The police quit after the discovery Wednesday of the mutilated bodies of two officers who had been kidnapped by gunmen two days earlier. The killings followed three attacks on the police headquarters since December. Gunmen hurled grenades and sprayed the building with machine-gun fire. Soldiers, state and federal police have been deployed to patrol General Teran, a town along a notorious drug-smuggling route to the U.S. border, said Mayor Ramon Villagomez.

Weather

Still digging out from the latest winter storm, people on the East Coast face more snow this weekend and the possibility of another whopper next week. Residents across the East Coast Thursday woke up to roof collapses, power outages, stranded cars and delays of all kinds after a fast-moving winter storm dumped up to 19 inches in some areas of the region. Blinding snow was still hitting parts of New England Thursday morning. Boston, which has had more than 50 inches of snow this winter, was expected to get another foot. New York City, which got 15 inches of snow, averaged a snowfall rate of 2 inches an hour from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Air travel was all but shut down at two major airports in the New York area. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday authorized a two- hour delayed opening for all state offices due to the storm, which dumped more than a foot of snow in many parts of the state.

Storms that have whipped much of the nation this month are being blamed for a serious shortfall in blood donations. The American Red Cross says its national blood supply is at the lowest level for January in 10 years because winter storms and resulting travel disruptions caused cancellation of 14,000 donations. The shortage is most severe in the Northeast, which has been hammered with January snow. The Red Cross has issued new appeals for donations to replenish supplies and is asking its sponsoring organizations, such as companies and churches that frequently organize blood drives and host donation sites, to schedule new drives and contact regular donors.

January 26, 2011

Obama Adjusts Course Toward Center

A carefully calibrated State of the Union Address Tuesday night marked the culmination of a three-month transformation that has rebooted Barack Obama’s presidency and launched his re-election campaign. Call it Obama 2.0. After two years of fierce partisan combat over a health care bill — now signed into law, albeit still under fire — the president proposed more centrist policies in a less combative tone than he did in his previous addresses to Joint Sessions of Congress. He made a point of reaching out to Republicans and distanced himself a bit from fellow Democrats on issues such as capping carbon emissions (not a word about it) or tightening gun controls in the wake of the Tucson shooting (ditto). He devoted nearly all of the address to the overriding issue of the economy, repeating the word “jobs” 45 times in 61 minutes.

The speech follows a series of seismic changes at the White House in the wake of sagging presidential job-approval ratings and a stern rebuke from voters in the midterm elections. In the past few months, the president has overhauled his inner circle of White House from hard-charging lefties to more accommodating centrists. However, Obama offered no mea culpa, no lessons learned, for anything he’s done over the past two years and defended his signature health care law. But he also argued that only by expanding spending on clean energy, science and math education and the nation’s infrastructure could the United States expect to “win the future” — that is, to thrive against such emerging powerhouses as China and India.

President Barack Obama’s shift toward more centrist policies has boosted his popularity among most Americans. But liberals aren’t too happy about it. “As the president touts spending austerity, deficit reduction and extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, some Democrats worry Obama will pivot too hard away from the party’s core principles and concede too much to the new House GOP majority that campaigned on destroying his agenda,” the Politico news service states.

  • Although Obama is moving toward center for purely political reasons, it raises hope that the new Congress members will be able to forge some success against Obamacare and debt. However, beneath his political skin, Obama remains a committed socialist and New World Order supporter.

Republican Lawmakers Target U.N.

Newly empowered Republican lawmakers are taking their first shots at the United Nations, depicting it as bloated and ineffective as they seek to cut U.S. funding for the world body. Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, is seeking cuts and has introduced a bill intended to pressure the United Nations to change the way it operates and to make dues voluntary. She also is promising investigations into possible corruption and mismanagement. Congress at various times has withheld funding from the world organization, but last year, under Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate, the United States paid its dues in full as well as some back dues. The United States is the largest single contributor to the U.N. responsible for 22% of its regular budget and 27% of the funding for its peacekeeping operations.

  • In recent years, the U.N. has aligned itself against American and Christian interests and is not deserving of continued U.S. support

Terrorists Attack Unprotected Areas of Airports

The suicide bombing at a busy international airport outside Moscow exposes the vulnerable underbelly of airports in this country and around the world, several security experts and former anti-terrorist government officials say. Terrorists have long sought to disrupt aviation through hijackings and bombings. Since many of those recent attempts have failed at least partly because of heightened security, experts say, it makes sense that terrorists would launch attacks on the unprotected zones of an airport: baggage claim areas, ticket counters, security check-in lines and curbside areas where passengers are picked up and dropped off. In this country, anyone can walk up to a baggage claim area, which during peak hours can be a chaotic sea of travelers and their baggage. The bomb in Russia went off Monday afternoon in a crowded terminal where people awaited arriving passengers. As in this country, strict security checks occur only for those about to board a plane.

Authorities Fear Cops Being Targeted

Authorities are worried a recent wave of police officer shootings may not be a coincidence. In just 24 hours, at least 11 cops were shot around the country. The most recent incident at a fugitive’s house in St. Petersburg, Fla., left two officers dead and a U.S. marshal wounded Monday. Hours earlier, an Oregon officer was critically wounded after being shot multiple times during a traffic stop. Monday’s violence followed a bloody Sunday that left an officer in Indianapolis critically wounded during a traffic stop shooting, four officers in Indianapolis wounded after a gunman opened fire in a precinct and two more officers in Washington wounded in a shootout in a Walmart parking lot. “It’s not a fluke,” Richard Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations, told MSNBC.com “There’s a perception among officers in the field that there’s a war on cops going on.” According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, an organization that tracks police casualties, officer deaths were up 43 percent in 2010 compared to 2009.

Up to 35% of Wounded Soldiers Addicted to Drugs

Medical officials estimate that 25% to 35% of about 10,000 ailing soldiers assigned to special wounded-care companies or battalions are addicted or dependent on drugs — particularly prescription narcotic pain relievers, according to an Army inspector general’s report made public Tuesday. The report also found that these formations known as Warrior Transition Units — created after reports detailed poorly managed care at Walter Reed Army Hospital — have become costly way stations where ill, injured or wounded soldiers can wait more than a year for a medical discharge. Some soldiers have become so irate about the delays in leaving the Army that doctors, nurses and other medical staff say they have been assaulted in their offices and threatened, or had their private cars damaged or tires flattened, the report says. Most case managers and nurses interviewed by investigators said 25% to 35% of soldiers in warrior units “are over-medicated, abuse prescriptions and have access to illegal drugs.” They said most soldiers arrive in the units with narcotics provided by battlefield doctors or military hospitals.

Gitmo Detainee Gets Life Sentence

A judge sentenced the first Guantanamo detainee to have a U.S. civilian trial to life in prison Tuesday, saying anything he suffered at the hands of the CIA and others “pales in comparison to the suffering and the horror” caused by the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan sentenced Ahmed Ghailani to life, calling the attacks “horrific” and saying the deaths and damage they caused far outweighs “any and all considerations that have been advanced on behalf of the defendant.” The judge said he wanted a sentence that “makes it crystal clear that others engaged or contemplating engaging in deadly acts of terrorism risk enormously serious consequences.”

New Nutrition Labels Coming

Grocery shoppers will soon see the amount of calories, salt, sugar and saturated fat per serving plastered on the front of many popular food and beverage packages. On Monday, the food industry unveiled its voluntary front-of-pack labeling, called Nutrition Keys, designed to help make healthful choices. The Nutrition Keys also can include up to two other nutrients, such as potassium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iron or protein. Consumers will start seeing the labels on some food packages in the next few months, but they won’t be widely found until the end of the year. The program applies to packaged foods, but not fresh foods such as individual bananas or apples.

Economic News

Americans were more optimistic about jobs and the overall economy in January, pushing the latest reading on consumer confidence to its highest level since May 2010. The Consumer Confidence Index shot up to 60.6 in January, from 53.3 in December, the Conference Board, a New York-based research group that compiles the index, said Tuesday. The index is still well below a healthy reading. An overall reading above 90 indicates the economy is solid, and 100 or above indicates strong growth.

General Motors sold more cars and trucks in China last year than it did in the U.S., for the first time in the company’s 102-year history. Despite GM’s growth in China, Toyota Motor held onto the title of world’s largest automaker. The Japanese company reported 8.42 million sales worldwide last year. That’s 30,000 more than GM’s 8.39 million. GM said Monday that it sold 2.35 million vehicles in fast-growing China, about 136,000 more than it sold in the U.S., with China sales surging 29% as an expanding middle class gained wealth. Sales in the U.S., including heavy-duty vehicles, rose 6.3% as GM continued to rebound from its 2009 stay in bankruptcy protection.

Toyota announced another massive global recall today: Nearly 1.7 million cars — including Lexus IS and GS sedans in the U.S. — for two fuel leak problems. Toyota says it has no reports of accidents or deaths, but has had 75 complaints in North America and more than 140 unhappy owners in Japan. The latest recalls show Toyota is simply trying to come clean quickly on any problem — after paying record fines in the U.S. in government probes of foot-dragging on reporting and fixing previous serious flaws. But it’s also clear that President Akio Toyoda’s vow to return Toyota to its perch as a world standard for quality is going to take a long time.

President Obama called Tuesday for an end to federal subsidies for oil companies, proposing instead to use the money to promote biofuels and electric vehicles. “With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015,” Obama said in his State of the Union address to Congress. He set a goal of having 80% of U.S. electricity come from clean energy sources — which he described as solar, wind, clean coal, natural gas, nuclear power — by 2035.

J.C. Penney is closing some stores, outlets and call center locations and continuing to work on an exit from its catalog business in an effort to streamline operations and boost profits. Penney plans to close six underperforming stores and two call center locations. The retailer’s exit of its legacy catalog business includes shuttering 19 outlet stores that carry a large amount of catalog merchandise.

Britain’s economy contracted by half a percent in the last three months of 2010, official data showed Tuesday, shocking markets which had expected a continued recovery. Severe winter weather in December had a strong impact, particularly on the construction sector, the Office for National Statistics said. Not counting the effect of the snow, which snarled transport and kept people away from shops before Christmas, it estimated GDP would have been flat — still well below market expectations for at least 0.4% growth. Analysts warned that the underlying performance of the British economy had taken a severe hit, casting doubt over the government’s plans for sharp spending cuts and tax hikes.

Cocoa prices shot higher on Monday after the internationally recognized leader of Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans, called for a one-month ban on exports. Prices have risen 12% since Jan. 5. The export ban was proposed by Alassane Ouattara as a move to choke off funding for the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to concede defeat in the recent election. It is unclear whether the ban will be heeded by cocoa growers or how it will be enforced.

Russia

Two suicide bombers, including a female terrorist, were responsible for the blast at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport that killed 35 people, the Russian media reported Monday. Witnesses say the suicide bomber shouted “I’ll kill you all!” before detonating the explosives. Following the suicide bombing at Russia’s largest airport, President Dmitry Medvedev called Tuesday for full security checks to be conducted at all transport hubs and for government officials to be held accountable for security lapses. Medvedev said management of Domodedovo Airport must share responsibility for security failures that contributed to the blast Monday, which also injured 180 people. He described security at the airport as “simply a state of anarchy.” No claims of responsibility have been issued. Islamic militants in the southern Russian region of Chechnya have been blamed for previous attacks in Moscow, including a double suicide bombing on the capital’s subway system in March 2010 that killed 40 people. If Monday’s attack was by Chechen insurgents, it could indicate an ominous new strategy — unlike previous attacks, it targeted an area where foreigners were likely to gather.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s president said Monday that he will honor a deal not to further delay the inauguration of the country’s new parliament, in an attempt to end a standoff with incoming lawmakers that has threatened to spark a constitutional crisis. Hamid Karzai, however, rejected the lawmakers’ other demand to dissolve a disputed tribunal investigating allegations of fraud in September’s parliamentary election. “The Supreme Court has the authority to address those allegations through a special tribunal,” Karzai said in defending the panel of judges set up in late December.

Foreign military assertions that security in Afghanistan is improving are intended to influence Western public opinion ahead of a troop withdrawal and do not reflect the reality on the ground, a security group said. “Indisputable evidence” that conditions are deteriorating included a two-thirds rise in insurgent attacks in 2010 compared with the previous year, according to an EU-funded organization that advises aid groups on safety. The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), which advises non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on security, disputes Obama’s claims that “notable operational gains” had been made and the Taliban’s momentum arrested in much of the country.

Lebanon

The candidate backed by Iranian-allied Hezbollah was designated Tuesday to form Lebanon’s next government, angering Sunnis who protested the rising power of the Shiite militant group by burning tires and torching a van belonging to Al-Jazeera. The president appointed Harvard-educated billionaire businessman and former premier Najib Mikati as prime minister-designate after a majority of lawmakers voted for him. Mikati defeated U.S.-backed Saad Hariri, who was prime minister from 2009 until Hezbollah forced the unity government he led to collapse two weeks ago. The vote caps Hezbollah’s steady rise over the past few decades from a resistance group fighting Israel to Lebanon’s most powerful military and political force.

Tunisia

Authorities clashed with anti-government protesters outside the prime minister’s office Monday, teachers went on strike, and police demanded the right to form a union as Tunisia struggled to stabilize itself after its president was overthrown. As the crowd grew rowdy, police fired tear gas grenades in the air, and some demonstrators shattered the windows of police cars. Schools were set to reopen Monday after protracted closure because of the unrest, but teachers went on strike. Some students joined the demonstrations instead of heading to their classrooms. The protesters are angry that holdovers from former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime have leading posts in the interim government in place since last week. Noisy street demonstrations have continued since Ben Ali’s departure, but most have been peaceful.

Egypt

People across Egypt took to the streets on Tuesday in demonstrations against corruption and failing economic policies, rallies partly inspired by similar protests that rocked Tunisia this month. Thousands were protesting in the capital of Cairo, according to the “Front to Defend Egypt Protesters,” an alliance of lawyers who helped organize the events. At first, witnesses said, the police were restrained in Cairo. But later, they said, police fired around a dozen rounds of tear gas on the protesters, and people in the crowd threw the canisters back at the officers. By early Tuesday morning, more than 90,000 people throughout the country had pledged to participate in the event in a Facebook group called “We Are All Khaled Said,” named after an Alexandria activist who was allegedly beaten to death by police. The Facebook group demands raising the minimum wage, sacking the interior minister, creating two-term presidential term limits and scrapping existing emergency laws that the group says “resulted in police control” over the people and the nation. Thousands of riot police were deployed across the Egyptian capital on Wednesday in anticipation of fresh anti-government, Tunisia-inspired protests.

Weather

Train equipment froze, cars sputtered, schools canceled classes and cold-weather enthusiasts opted to stay inside Monday as a bitter blast of below-zero temperatures with promises of minus-50 wind chills gripped the Northeast. The gasp-inducing cold tested the mettle even of New Englanders, who pride themselves on winter hardiness. Schools in western and northeastern Pennsylvania, across upstate New York and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire closed their doors or delayed openings to protect students from temperatures that dropped to minus 27 or even lower. Amtrak suspended service between Albany and New York City, saying the extreme cold affected signals and switches. In New York, the city doubled the number of outreach vans it sends out looking for homeless people in such cold, checking on street people every two hours. A fast-moving but intense winter storm is forecast to dump several inches of heavy, wet snow across the big cities of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast today and early Thursday.

January 24, 2011

Abortion Foes Increasingly Confident of ‘Cultural Shift’

On the anniversary Saturday of Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion activists in America head into their annual March for Life rallies Monday confident that the huge election gains their allies made will lead to tougher restrictions in many states on the broad abortion access established 38 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. Opponents of abortion gained strength in Congress, among state governors and in many state legislatures, raising hopes among social conservatives for a broad surge of anti-abortion bills. “We are seeing a cultural shift toward protecting life and rolling back the tide of unrestricted abortions, said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life. There are now 29 anti-abortion governors out of 50 — an increase of eight, including 15 in states where abortion opponents also control both legislative chambers. While abortion-rights supporters traditionally hold commemorations of the court decision, the anniversary has become an even higher-profile date for the anti-abortion movement. Its major event, the March for Life in Washington, D.C., is scheduled this year to take place on Monday — not the anniversary itself — while other events were scheduled throughout the weekend nationwide.

Abortion Chief Does a 180

Abby Johnson’s life changed dramatically and forever Oct. 6, 2009. That was the day that she witnessed her first abortion as director of a Planned Parenthood clinic and resigned from the largest abortion corporation in the nation and became a pro-life activist. She tells her story in a new book, unplanned this month – just in time for the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. What changed her mind about abortion, ultimately, was seeing on an ultrasound screen a 13-week-old baby fighting for its life in the womb – only to lose that battle to the abortionist whom she was assisting. Not knowing where to go, Johnson turned to a local pro-life resource group. She explained the events that she had witnessed and swore that she would begin to advocate for life in the womb, instead of destroying it. Even though she had not intended on being a public figure, God had different plans. When Planned Parenthood found out about Johnson’s change of heart, they were frightened that others would hear her story and then change their minds on abortion. Their defense was to silence her with a temporary gag order and eventually take her to court. With those issues resolved, Johnson has been traveling the country sharing her story and motivating others to continue the pro-life fight.

Arizona “Most-Improved State” in the Nation  for Passing Pro-Life Laws

Arizona has been recognized by the nation’s leading pro-life organization as the country’s “most-improved state” for passing life-affirming legislation. In Americans United for Life’s annual Life List, Arizona is awarded the title for making huge strides in 2010 to protect the preborn. In 2010, the Arizona Legislature passed four pro-life bills into law including a bill that made it the first state in the nation to opt out of the taxpayer-funded abortion mandate created under the new national healthcare law. “Arizonans and their policymakers have made protecting life a priority,” said Cathi Herrod, President of Center for Arizona Policy. “They recognize the importance of preserving life from its very beginning to its natural end.” Looking ahead, pro-life advocates hope to continue this trend in 2011. Already three CAP-supported pro-life bills have been introduced at the Arizona Legislature.

Genetically Selecting ‘Gay’ embryos

If two homosexual men want to use in vitro fertilization to conceive a baby and then use genetics technology to ensure the baby is also “gay,” while disposing of any “straight” embryos, would the law have any ethical problems with that? America’s leading ethicist in the field of human reproduction has written a paper that argues future homosexual couples should have “the right” to do exactly that. John A. Robertson of the University of Texas Law School is the chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and an advocate of what his book “Children of Choice” calls “procreative liberty.”

Ground Zero Imam: ‘Apostates Against Islam Must be Jailed’

Those who leave Islam and preach against the Muslim religion must be jailed, declared the imam who has become the new face of the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City. “If someone leaves the din, leaves the path privately, they cannot be touched. If someone preaches about apostasy, or preaches their views, they’re jailed,” stated Imam Abdallah Adhami in a lecture obtained and reviewed by WorldNetDaily. According to Shariah, or Islamic law, the consensus view in Sunni Islam is that a male apostate must be put to death unless he suffers from a mental disorder or converted against his will. Adhami, speaking to a non-Muslim audience, claimed Islamic law only calls for punishment for public apostates and that most Islamic scholars demand only that public apostates be jailed as opposed to killed.

  • Jailed or killed. Don’t you just love the religion of ‘peace?’

WikiLeaks: Only 1% of Diplomatic Docs Published

Nearly two months after WikiLeaks outraged the U.S. government by launching the release of a massive compendium of diplomatic documents, the secret-spilling website has published 2,628 U.S. State Department cables — just over 1 percent of its trove of 251,287 documents. WikiLeaks has given the world’s public an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes look at U.S. diplomacy. Among the most eye-catching revelations were reports that Arab countries had lobbied for an attack on Iran, China had made plans for the collapse of its North Korean ally, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had ordered U.S. diplomats to gather the computer passwords, fingerprints and even DNA of their foreign counterparts. Over and over again, the cables captured world leaders lying — to each other, to their allies, and to their own citizens. Whether or not the State Department cables have already yielded their most arresting secrets, WikiLeaks is still sitting on a huge archive of leaked data from nearly every country in the world

$2.5B Billion Recovered in Health Care Fraud Cases

Federal agents recovered $2.5 billion from health care fraud judgments in the budget year that ended in September, a record-breaking amount. Overall the government recovered $4 billion, including $1.5 billion in administrative findings, rather than court action. The health care law created one agency and expanded another to help recover stolen money. The actuary for Medicare expects the provisions of the law to save an additional $4.9 billion in fraud and abuse during the next 10 years. That money will be folded back into Medicare to help it remain solvent. In 2011, the screening process for new Medicare providers and suppliers will be more strenuous. More than 19,000 businesses apply every month, but rules will prevent those that have a history of defrauding Medicare or state governments from providing services.

Federal Center Hopes to Spur Drug Research

U.S. officials concerned about the slowing pace of new drugs coming out of the pharmaceutical industry have decided to start a billion-dollar government drug development center to help create medicines. The New York Times reported on its website Saturday about the new effort that comes as many large drug makers, unable to find enough new drugs, are trimming back research. Promising discoveries in illnesses like depression and Parkinson’s that once would have led to clinical trials are instead going unexplored because companies are not inclined and do not have the money to undertake the effort. The drug industry’s research productivity has been declining for 15 years and shows few signs of reversing that trend. The paper reports that initial financing of the government’s new drug center is relatively small compared with the $45.8 billion that the industry estimates it invested in research in 2009. The cost of bringing a single drug to market can exceed $1 billion, according to some estimates.

Link Between Financial Trouble and Mental Illness

Going through one of the worst economic sagas in U.S. history has thrown the country into two types of depressed states: a financial one and a psychological one. Both have been devastating to our national identity, unity and priorities. The financial one is debated openly and spoken of in the media daily. The psychological one, however, is still closeted from our national discourse, still approached with social stigma as the dirty little by-product of the recession. But, after the events in Tucson, secret it can no longer be. A recent government report found that 20% of Americans had some form of mental illness in 2009. That’s 1 in 5 Americans suffers from mental illness, including depression and anxiety. Undetected, these conditions lead to alarming rates of suicide or other violence. The recent surge in mental health disorders has increased as economic certainty has deteriorated: joblessness, crippling debt and home foreclosure, exacerbated because many are ashamed to seek treatment, even with health insurance coverage as Tucson shooter Loughner’s family had available but failed to utilize.

Economic News

About 4.4 million people nationwide have been out of work for a year or more. The group makes up more than 40% of the total unemployed, the highest percentage since World War II. People in that category say there is a stigma that long-term jobless people have been sitting around and don’t really want to work. There is the perception that they won’t take a lower paying job — and if they do, they will bolt as soon as they find a higher paying one. The phenomenon poses a vicious cycle of unemployed people wanting work but not being able to get it because they are unemployed, human resource experts say. some companies — including PMG Indiana, Sony Ericsson and retailers nationwide — have explicitly barred the unemployed or long-term unemployed from certain job openings, outright telling them in job ads that they need not apply.

Despite widespread speculation the credit crunch was going to grind up whole swaths of companies and force them into bankruptcy, companies are showing their mettle and are defying these dire predictions. A dramatic drop-off in the number of companies going bankrupt is one of the most stark signs yet of how the killing off of businesses is easing as the economy heals. Perhaps more important for the future, though, is that the number of companies at immediate risk of failing is also sharply declining.

In September, the U.S. Census Bureau said Arizona had the nation’s second-worst poverty rate in 2009, behind Mississippi. The percentage of impoverished Arizonans was said to have increased to 21 percent in 2009 from 18 percent in 2008. The one-year change highlights the devastating impact of the Great Recession in Arizona, which typically falls in the upper third of the 50 states for high poverty rates. Although employers in the state now are creating more jobs than they are cutting, it could take years for workers to recover fully. Arizona lost about one-tenth of its jobs during the recession, many of them construction and other blue-collar jobs. Expected state budget cuts could hit the lower-middle class and working poor especially hard by reducing child-care assistance and cash, medical and other aid

The U.S. Postal Service will begin the process of closing as many as 2,000 postal offices in March and will review another 16,000 — half of all existing post offices — that are losing money, The Wall Street Journal reports. The new round of closures is in addition to 491 that are already being shuttered. The Journal says the U.S. Postal Service is lobbying Congress to allow it to change the law so that it can close the most unprofitable among them. At present, the service cannot shut an office for losing money, only in such cases as maintenance problems or expired leases, the newspaper says. The U.S. Postal service is an independent agency funded primarily by postage fees, but is required by law to provide universal service to all parts of the country.

Afghanistan

Legislators on Saturday thought they had a deal with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that would allow the new parliament to begin work on Wednesday, but by Sunday morning the deal appeared to be at risk of unraveling over the issue of a Karzai-backed tribunal investigating alleged election fraud. Under heavy pressure from Afghan lawmakers and Western diplomats, President Hamid Karzai agreed on Saturday to convene the newly elected parliament, ending a political standoff that threatened to spark a constitutional crisis. After hours of tense discussions at the presidential palace, Karzai backed off his earlier order to delay the session for a month to allow more time for a special tribunal to investigate allegations of fraud in September’s parliamentary election. In return, Karzai asked the parliamentarians to agree that any criminal case against a lawmaker could go forward. While he has not said so publicly, it is generally believed that Karzai is unhappy with the election results and thinks fraud reduced voter turnout among his fellow ethnic Pashtuns. Some of the hundreds of losing candidates said Karzai told them that he believed they were wronged and that he would do everything to support further investigations into election fraud.

Iraq

Two car bombs struck Shiite pilgrims Monday in an Iraqi holy city, killing at least 18 people as crowds massed for religious rituals marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the Islamic sect’s most beloved saint. The blasts in Karbala were the latest in nearly a week of attacks that have killed at least 159 people. The uptick in violence has shattered a lengthy period of calm and raised anew concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over their own security ahead of a full withdrawal by the U.S. military. One Iraqi official called it an attempt to undermine security ahead of a much anticipated meeting of Arab heads of state in two months. The three-hour drumbeat of explosions began around 7 a.m. in Baghdad’s rush hour at the start of the local work week. The attacks were a mixture of roadside bombings, suicide bombers and car bombs002E

Iran

Talks meant to nudge Iran toward meeting U.N. Security Council demands to stop uranium enrichment collapsed Saturday, with Tehran shrugging off calls by six world powers to cease the activity that could be harnessed to make nuclear weapons. Announcing the failure of two days of negotiations, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said no new date for another meeting had been set. She blamed what the six consider unrealistic demands by Iran — an end to U.N. sanctions and agreement that Iran can continue to enrich — for the disappointing results. Proposals by the six for improved U.N. monitoring of Iran’s nuclear activities were rejected by Tehran, as were attempts to kickstart dialogue by reviving discussions on Iran’s shipping out a limited amount of its enriched uranium in exchange for fuel for its research reactor. While no new talks were planned, Ashton said “our proposals remain on the table. Our door remains open. Our telephone lines remain open.”

Pakistan

A pair of suspected U.S. drone strikes killed six alleged militants in Pakistan’s troubled North Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border Sunday, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The attacks came as more than 2,000 tribesmen, many of them students, held a protest in one of North Waziristan’s largest towns demanding an end to the drone strikes, saying they killed innocent civilians. Militants have effective control over North Waziristan, and it was unclear if they played a role in organizing the protest. The U.S. refuses to acknowledge the covert CIA drone strikes publicly, but officials insist privately that the attacks are precise and mainly kill Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. However, there have been credible accounts of civilian casualties.

Russia

At least 10 people were killed and 20 injured in a suicide bomb blast at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport Monday, Interfax news agency reported. Moscow police were checking the subway and other places where large numbers of people gather to try to avert possible follow-on attacks. The airport is the busiest of the three serving the Russian capital. The news agency says the blast was perpetrated by a suicide bomber.

Albania

Three people have been killed and dozens were injured in extensive anti-government clashes outside the prime minister’s office in the Albanian capital Friday, in the worst violence to erupt in the volatile Balkan country in more than a decade. Some 22 civilians and 17 policemen and national guard officers were also hurt,. More than 20,000 people hit the streets to demand that Prime Minister Sali Berisha call early elections after the country’s deputy prime minister resigned over an alleged corruption scandal. Clashes broke out when several hundred protesters broke away from the main group and started attacking a riot police cordon.

Haiti

Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier told Haitians on Friday that he returned after 25 years in exile to participate in the post-earthquake reconstruction of his homeland and that he was ready to face “persecution” for alleged crimes during his administration. In his first public comments since his shocking return to Haiti on Sunday, the ousted strongman known as “Baby Doc” spoke in a faint voice and did not take questions, leaving that to three American consultants. He said the return was timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. After several restaurants and hotels refused to host his speech, Duvalier spoke sitting at a long wooden table in a rented guest house in the hills above Port-au-Prince. The 59-year-old former leader ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986 through terror and the regime he inherited from his father.

Tunisia

Tunisia’s prime minister pledged Friday to quit politics after elections that he says will be held as soon as possible, amid protests by citizens still angry at officials linked to their deposed president’s regime. Mohamed Ghannouchi said in an interview on Tunisian television Friday he will leave power after a transition phase leading to legislative and presidential elections “in the shortest possible timeframe.” Protesters have been demanding for days the departure of all remnants of the old guard under ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ghannouchi was an ally of Ben Ali and has been struggling to restore calm under a new multiparty government. The prime minister also pledged that all of the assets held abroad by Ben Ali’s regime had been frozen and would be returned to Tunisia after an investigation.

Tunisia’s once-feared police have staged a rally of their own, demanding better salaries and insisting they’re not to blame for shooting deaths among protesters who forced the North African country’s longtime autocrat to flee. At least 2,000 police rallied Saturday in downtown Tunis, an epicenter of protest and clashes between youths. It was a significant development for Tunisia, where police under Ben Ali were widely feared.

Algeria

Helmeted riot police armed with batons and shields on Saturday clashed with rock- and chair-throwing protesters who tried to march in defiance of Algeria’s ban on public gatherings. At least 19 people were injured, the government said, but an opposition party official put the figure at more than 40. Algeria has been among the many North African and Middle Eastern countries hit by shows of resistance against their autocratic leaders after a young Tunisian man set himself on fire last month, triggering a wave of protests that led Tunisia’s longtime strongman to flee the country. Protest organizers at the democratic opposition party RCD draped a Tunisian flag next to the Algerian flag on a balcony of party headquarters where the march was to begin in the capital, Algiers. Riot police, backed by a helicopter and crowd-control trucks, ringed the exit to ensure marchers couldn’t leave the building — and striking those who tried to come out to take part. Algeria’s government in 2002 enacted law banning public gatherings, a move largely targeting Islamic militants involved in a bloody insurgency that erupted in the country a decade earlier. Algeria has had a simmering Islamic movement.

Weather

Although much of the South has made news for being unusually cold and snowy this winter, it has also been extremely dry, especially in Florida, where almost 90% of the state is experiencing drought conditions. More than half of the southeastern USA is in a drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Highly populated South Florida just had its driest October to December since records began in 1932, according to the South Florida Water Management District. Rainfall in West Palm Beach is a foot below normal since Oct. 1. Several wells in Miami-Dade and St. Lucie counties are registering critically low water levels, the district reports. The dryness has caused the district to enact water restrictions and conservation efforts.

Judging by the weather, the world seems to have flipped upside down. For two winters running, an Arctic chill has descended on Europe, burying that continent in snow and ice. Last year in the United States, historic blizzards afflicted the mid-Atlantic region. This winter the deep South has endured unusual snowstorms and severe cold, and a frigid Northeast is bracing for what could shape into another major snowstorm this week. Yet while people in Atlanta learn to shovel snow, the weather 2,000 miles to the north has been freakishly warm the past two winters. Throughout northeastern Canada and Greenland, temperatures in December ran as much as 15 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Bays and lakes have been slow to freeze; ice fishing, hunting and trade routes have been disrupted.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

January 21, 2011

Abortion Doctor Charged with Killing 7 Babies

A Philadelphia doctor who gave abortions to minorities, immigrants and poor women in a “house of horrors” clinic was charged with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, prosecutors said Wednesday. Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 69, made millions of dollars over 30 years, performing as many illegal, late-term abortions as he could, prosecutors said. State regulators ignored complaints about him and failed to inspect his clinic since 1993, but no charges were warranted against them given time limits and existing law, District Attorney Seth Williams said. Nine of Gosnell’s employees also were charged. Gosnell “induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord,” Williams said. Patients were subjected to squalid and barbaric conditions at Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society, where Gosnell performed dozens of abortions a day, prosecutors said.

  • A culture of death that disregards the sanctity of life only leads to a seared conscience and more death

More Church Websites Invite Posting of Prayers

Need prayer power? Try the World Wide Web. More than four in 10 Protestant churches with websites now invite people to post pleas to the Lord on the main church site so volunteers and staff can chime in on the soulful call, according to a new survey. It’s the latest cyberspin on religious life, updating traditional prayer rooms and supplementing other familiar prayer request paths such as e-mail or social networks. Most churches (78%) had websites, including all the churches with more than 500 members and more than half of the smaller churches. That’s up from 53% overall in 2006. People can post a prayer publicly, such as a recent posting in which a teacher asked for spiritual help for students badly hurt in a car accident. Or they can be private, seen only by staff and the volunteer prayer team at some of the websites. Other church sites keep all Web-submitted prayer requests private, as if you were clasping hands with a pastor or volunteer in person.

Charter Schools Expanding with Public, Private Money

As cash-strapped school districts lay off teachers and close campuses, publicly funded charter schools are flourishing and altering the landscape of public education. Despite a painful economic downturn, the charter school movement is expanding rapidly across the country with support from the Obama administration, wealthy donors such as Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, and the highly publicized documentary “Waiting for Superman.” Charter schools typically receive a mixture of public and private money and operate free of many regulations that govern traditional public schools in exchange for achieving promised results. Nationwide, less than 4 percent of public school students are enrolled in charters, but that number is expected to rise significantly because of increased financial and political support. More than a dozen states loosened restrictions on charters over the past year for a chance to win a share of the federal $4.3 billion Race to the Top school reform competition. The number of charter schools grew by 6.7 percent to 4,936 in 2009-2010 and is projected to increase by 7.5 percent in the current school year. Charter schools are growing most rapidly in urban districts with struggling schools and large numbers of poor, minority students.

ObamaNet – Government issued Internet ID card

The Washington Times is warning that the White House cybersecurity adviser and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke President Obama wants to establish passwords for every citizen to centralize your personal information. Instead of logging onto Facebook or one’s bank using separate passwords established with each individual company or web site, you will be required to use the government-issued password. are drawing up “ObamaNet,” President Obama’s mandate for what amounts to a national ID card for the Internet. This will enable the government to track: every web site you visit and every keystroke you send on your home computer; every purchase you make and every deposit and withdrawal, and gain access to your electronic health care records; every blog comment you make, along with every Facebook and Twitter posts; to create lists of your friends and acquaintances and lists of all your political affiliations, political donations, club memberships, hobbies and interests.

  • Although the White House will tell you it is a voluntary program, government “voluntary” programs too often end up becoming mandatory.

Feds Nab Nearly 130 in Mafia Crack Down

The arrests of nearly 130 organized crime suspects Thursday represent the largest mob sweep in U.S. history but do not necessarily signal a re-emergence of the once-dominant Mafia, federal officials and crime analysts say. Some of the criminal conspiracies outlined in court documents released Thursday — which detail allegations of murder, extortion, weapons offenses and gambling — track activities going back three decades. Attorney General Eric Holder, in Brooklyn to announce the arrests, said the suspects include members of the five major crime families in New York — the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Luchese clans — who allegedly carried out “classic Mob hits.” Officials also arrested two men with alleged ties to the Decalvacante family in New Jersey and two men accused of being part of the New England Cosa Nostra. Holder said the mob “is probably not nationwide in its scope and impact as it once was, but it is an ongoing threat. … Our goal is to eradicate these folks as menaces to this nation.”

No U.S. Airline Fatalities in 2010

U.S. airlines did not have a single fatality last year. It was the third time in the past four years there were no deaths, continuing a dramatic trend toward safer skies. Years without deaths have occurred sporadically since the dawn of the jet age, but never have so many occurred in so short a period, according to an analysis of data from the National Transportation Safety Board. The average number of deaths fell from about 86 a year in the 1990s to 46 a year since 2000, a 46% drop. Last year, U.S. carriers flew more than 10 million flights and hauled more than 700 million passengers, but only 14 people suffered serious injuries, according to the NTSB. Last year also marked the first time that there were no passenger fatalities on any airline based in developed nations. Dozens of safety improvements that have gradually eliminated whole categories of crashes.

Americans Reject Higher Taxes But Also Major Spending Cuts

As President Obama and Congress brace to battle over how to reduce chronic annual budget deficits, Americans overwhelmingly say that in general they prefer cutting government spending to paying higher taxes, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Yet their preference for spending cuts dissolves when they are presented with specific options related to Medicare and Social Security, the programs that directly touch the most people and also are the biggest drivers of the government’s projected long-term debt. Nearly two-thirds of Americans choose higher payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security over reduced benefits in either program. And asked to choose among cuts to Medicare, Social Security or the nation’s third-largest spending program — the military — a majority by a large margin said cut the Pentagon.

  • An entitlement mentality is the primary hurdle to resolving the debt problem

States Look at Bankruptcy to Escape Debt Burdens

According to the New York Times, policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers. Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign. But proponents say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy. Beyond their short-term budget gaps, some states have deep structural problems, like insolvent pension funds, that are diverting money from essential public services like education and health care. Some members of Congress fear that it is just a matter of time before a state seeks a bailout, say bankruptcy lawyers who have been consulted by Congressional aides.

Economic News

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of new people seeking benefits fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 404,000 for the week ended Jan. 15. That’s not much higher than the 391,000 level reached last month, the lowest in more than two years. The unexpected rise in applications a week earlier may have been the result of seasonal factors. Applications often rise in early January after retailers lay off temporary holiday workers. Fewer than 425,000 people applying for benefits is considered a signal of modest job growth. Economists say applications must fall consistently to 375,000 or fewer to substantially reduce the unemployment rate.

Bank of America on Friday reported a loss of $1.6 billion in the fourth quarter after its costs related to soured home loans increased. The quarter’s results were a clean-up effort by the bank in an endeavor to start 2011 with a clean slate. The deep slump in the real estate market has continued to hamper Bank of America more than its competitors because of its 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial, the country’s largest mortgage company at the time.

Seeking to build ties with an economic rival, the White House said Wednesday that China would purchase $45 billion in U.S. exports, including a highly sought-after $19 billion deal for 200 Boeing airplanes. The announcement came as Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived at the White House for a state visit with President Barack Obama. The deals could soothe some concerns from the U.S. government and corporate America, both of which contend that China keeps its currency artificially low in order to make Chinese products cheaper in the U.S. and U.S. products costlier in China.

Middle East

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday pledged his nation’s continued support in helping the Palestinians acquire a modern, unified and sovereign state. Moscow is a member of the so-called Quartet of Mideast peace makers — along with the U.S., the EU and the U.N. Medvedev met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday in the West Bank, where he gave Palestinian aspirations a boost. “I told my Palestinian friends that our ultimate goal is the creation of a modern, unified and sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Medvedev said Wednesday.

Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai delayed parliament’s opening session by one month Wednesday so that a controversial tribunal he has backed can continue its investigation into election fraud. The move throws further uncertainty on the willingness of Karzai’s government to follow its own laws. The tribunal, appointed by Karzai’s Supreme Court, is considered unconstitutional by both the international community and the electoral bodies who organized and oversaw September’s legislative elections. t is generally believed that Karzai is unhappy with the new parliament — given his continued backing of investigations — and thinks fraud held down voter turnout among his fellow ethnic Pashtuns. Many had hoped that a free and fair parliamentary election would demonstrate Karzai’s commitment to fight cronyism and corruption a year after an international outcry over a fraud-marred presidential vote that resulted in his own re-election.

Osama bin Laden demanded that France withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the release of French hostages being held by al-Qaeda affiliates, according to an audio message broadcast on an Arabic news channel Friday. Extremist groups associated with al-Qaeda are holding at least seven French hostages, including five in the Sahara Desert and two in Afghanistan. France has about 3,850 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission fighting the Taliban. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said his nation remains undaunted in its role to help stabilize Afghanistan.

Tunisia

Tunisians lowered flags and state television broadcast recitations of the Quran on Friday to mourn dozens who died in protests that drove the country’s strongman from power. Several hundred demonstrators gathered peacefully across from the long-dreaded Interior Ministry in central Tunis, chanting “Down with the government!” The site, cordoned off by security forces, has seen near-daily protests for the past week by those who say the caretaker government is still too dominated by cronies of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali The head of the Arab League told the region’s leaders Wednesday the upheaval in Tunisia is linked to deteriorating economic conditions throughout the Arab world, warning them that their people’s anger has reached unprecedented heights. The summit is the first top level Arab meeting since protests fueled by joblessness and other economic woes in Tunisia forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee, bringing an end to his iron-fist, 23-year rule of the country. The unrest has helped inspire similar protests around the Arab world and calls for political change, though activists face vast security forces heavily vested in the status quo backing hard-line regimes ready to crack down on challenges to their rule.

Sudan

Officials say preliminary results show more than 98% of voters in and near Southern Sudan’s capital voted for independence from the north. The referendum committee for Central Equatoria State on Wednesday posted their results of the week-long poll that ended Saturday. The referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war between the largely Christian and animist south and the mostly Muslim north.

Somalia

South Korean special forces stormed a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea on Friday, rescuing all 21 crewmembers and killing eight assailants in a rare and bold raid on Somali pirates. The military operation in waters between Oman and Africa — that also captured five pirates and left one crewmember wounded — came a week after the Somali attackers seized the South Korean freighter and held hostage eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 citizens from Myanmar. Storming a ship held by pirates is rare and navies tend to avoid it because of the risk of harming hostages, who are usually kept below decks out of sight. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. Piracy has flourished off its coast, sometimes yielding multimillion-dollar ransoms. The ransoms the pirates get are among the few regular sources of income for small businesses that supply the pirates with food and other goods.

Weather

Brazilian officials have put Sao Paulo on alert as heavy rains hit the metropolis. As rain fell on Sao Paulo, water rose above car windows in some points in the South America’s largest city, blocking major highways. One woman died the day before when her house collapsed amid heavy rains. In Rio state, meanwhile, deaths from last week’s mudslides have risen to 727.

Rural towns in Australia’s southeast and the nation’s third largest city were on flood watch Friday as rivers surged in a weekslong flood crisis that has created widespread devastation across the continent. Eastern Australia has endured weeks of massive flooding that the government says could be the nation’s most expensive natural disaster ever. It shut down much of Queensland’s lucrative coal industry and has caused 30 deaths. In southeast Victoria state, rising rivers expected to peak on Friday were threatening homes in the small towns of Jeparit and Beulah, which cannot be reached by road because of flooding, the State Emergency Service said. Residents of Brisbane, the capital of northeast Queensland state which was devastated by flooding last week, were sandbagging low-lying homes again as a high tide was expected on the main river that snakes through the city. The Brisbane River is expected to remain high until Sunday.

January 19, 2011

Americans Fault Mental Health System in Tucson Rampage

In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a majority of Americans said in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll that they place a “great deal” of the blame on a failure of the mental health system to identify people who are a danger to the community. In answer to an open-ended question that allowed multiple answers, 55% of respondents said they placed a “great deal” of blame on mental health system failures; 43% said they placed a “great deal” of blame on easy access to guns; 37% cited drug use; 31% pointed to violence in movies, TV and video games; while just 22% cited inflammatory political rhetoric.

o       In this world of good and evil, there are no easy answers. Greater control by the mental health system would also lead to governmental abuses in order to quell dissident voices. Greater gun control wouldn’t solve the problem either. The return of Jesus Christ to rule and reign on earth is the only real solution.

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal over D.C. Gay Marriage Law

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from opponents of same-sex marriage who are seeking to put a proposal on the ballot to overturn the District of Columbia’s gay marriage law. The court did not comment Tuesday in turning away a challenge from a Maryland pastor and others who want Washingtonians to vote on a measure that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Bishop Harry Jackson led a lawsuit against the district’s Board of Elections and Ethics after the board refused to put the initiative on the ballot. The board ruled that the ballot question would in effect authorize discrimination. Last year Washington began issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples and began in 2009 began recognizing gay marriages performed elsewhere.

A Christian attorney argues that the Supreme Court’s rejection yesterday of an appeal dealing with the definition of marriage isn’t an indicator the court favors same-gender “marriage.” While Liberty Counsel’s director of cultural affairs Matt Barber admits being disappointed in the ruling, but he says “the court is also reluctant to get into and involved with municipal squabbles, and in this case, a disagreement within the District of Columbia.”

House to Vote on Obamacare Today

The GOP-led House is expected to vote to repeal the law Wednesday, although the repeal effort is not expected to go anywhere in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority. Republicans say they’ll hold investigative hearings to hold up the law, as well as work to eliminate funding for it. Leading up to today’s vote, both sides attacked the budgetary implications of repealing or keeping the law, and most of their numbers came from the same place: the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The office sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner this month saying a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would increase the budget by $230 billion. The law “is loaded with gimmicks,” Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., said during a floor debate Tuesday. “We find thatit adds $700 billion to the deficit.” The Democrats say health care costs will continue to rise no matter what happens.

Six more states joined a lawsuit in Florida against President Obama’s health care overhaul on Tuesday, meaning more than half of the country is challenging the law. The six additional states, all with Republican attorneys general, joined Florida and 19 others in the legal action. The states claim the health care law is unconstitutional and violates people’s rights by forcing them to buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties. Federal government attorneys have said the states do not have standing to challenge the law and want the case dismissed. Lawsuits have been filed elsewhere. A federal judge in Virginia ruled in December that the insurance-purchase mandate was unconstitutional, though two other federal judges have upheld the requirement. It’s expected the Supreme Court will ultimately have to resolve the issue.

U.N. Agency Warns of Shortfall in Fight on Hunger

The World Food Program is nearly $3 billion short this year in its fight against global hunger, and the gap is likely to grow if food prices keep rising, Josette Sheeran, the head of the U.N. agency, said in an interview Monday. The shortfall amounts to almost half the agency’s budget. The U.N.’s front line agency against hunger relies on voluntary contributions from governments, corporations and individuals. Hunger has been on the rise since the financial and food crises of 2008 and more than 1 billion people are reduced to one meal a day. “If food prices escalate again, the most vulnerable in the world will lose the one meal a day they are having,” Sheeran said.

Incurable Bacteria a Worse Threat than Cold to Citrus Groves

While Florida farmers have lost much of their crop to cold weather for a second year, they say a fast-spreading, incurable bacteria presents a greater threat to their trees and the citrus industry. Citrus greening has destroyed groves in the U.S., Brazil, Asia and Africa. Detected in Florida in 2005, it leaves fruit sour, malformed and unusable. Eventually, it kills the tree. The disease has been particularly devastating because it takes years for citrus trees to reach peak production, and the disease targets young trees, making it difficult for growers to replace those that have been lost. Trees don’t pass the bacteria to each other. Instead, greening — also known as yellow dragon disease, HIB or, in Chinese, Huanglongbing — is spread by insects. There is no cure. Hundreds of researchers from more than a dozen countries converged on Orlando last week to talk about the disease and hear the latest research.

Retail Outlets Adding Electric Car Charging Stations

Retail stores around the USA are installing charging stations for electric vehicles to serve owners of an emerging fleet of electric cars, bikes and scooters. Some charge for the service — the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., has a $3 per hour fee — others offer it for free. Whole Foods also installed charging stations at stores in Connecticut, Denver and near Dallas in 2010. Best Buy installed EV (electric vehicle) charging stations at 12 stores while the Meijer shopping chain installed EV chargers at three stores in metro Detroit. Retailers will help overcome consumers’ biggest concern about electric vehicles — that motorists will become stranded on the road if they run out of juice.

Increase in Temp Workers Both Encouraging & Concerning

Temporary jobs, both professional and blue-collar, are being added at a fast clip in an otherwise sluggish economic recovery, according to data and labor experts. Growth in temp jobs is a good sign the economic recovery is taking hold, say experts, but it also raises concerns that temp employment could have a more permanent place in tomorrow’s workforce. Local job placement companies say demand for temporary workers is strongest in manufacturing and information technology. “Coming out of a recession, temporary help picks up first. It lets employers test the waters of recovery,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at Economic Policy Institute, a national research group. However, “we don’t want to become a nation of temp workers,” she said. “There’s less stability, the wages tend to be lower and there’s fewer benefits.

Economic News

Permits for housing construction soared in December, while initial construction of homes declined, the government reported Wednesday. The number of permits for future housing construction surged to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 635,000 last month, up 16.7%. That was the biggest monthly rise since June 2008. But the picture wasn’t as bright for actual construction. Housing starts, the number of new homes being built, slumped 4.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 529,000 in December. Construction of single-family homes slipped 9% to a rate of 417,000.

Firefighters began turning in their helmets and police officers their badges Tuesday as part of deep municipal layoffs hitting Camden, N.J., already one of the nation’s most impoverished and crime-ridden cities. The mayor of Camden said 168 police officers, 67 firefighters and about 100 non-uniformed city employees were laid off Tuesday. The layoffs come as Camden, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, faces a huge budget deficit and declining state aid.

The severe US economic recession has cast a spotlight on years of fiscal mismanagement, including chronic underfunding of retirement promises. “States face cost pressure, most prominently from retirement benefits and Medicaid [the health program for the poor],” according to the Financial Times. Using data from the states, the Pew Center on the States, a research group, has estimated a funding gap for pension, healthcare and other non-pension benefits, such as life assurance, of at least $1 trillion as of the end of fiscal 2008.

China’s rising inflation rate may soon be felt on U.S. shores. For American exporters, that’s not bad news. The Obama administration has long complained that China’s undervalued currency keeps prices of its exports low, putting U.S. manufacturers at a disadvantage. But China’s inflation woes are changing this dynamic. As Chinese goods get more expensive, this improves the relative competitiveness of U.S. products. Annual inflation in China is slightly more than 5%, and it was 1.5% in the U.S. last year.

Israel

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and four other Labor MK’s announced their intention to leave the Labor Party and form a new Knesset faction called called ‘Atzmaut’ (Independence) on Monday. Barak said the new faction would be “centralist, Zionist and democratic” which he said was necessary since much of the Israeli Left had become “post-Zionist.” His announcement was greeted with glee by Kadima leader Tzipi Livni who promptly called for new elections even as the other Labor Ministers in the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigned from the government, causing a crisis for Netanyahu who must now find a new partner to continue governing. In his resignation speech, Labor MK and former Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog agreed with the decision and wished Barak well, saying it was a painful but necessary move, since Labor had become to split in its objectives and worldview to continue functioning. The Labor party was founded by David Ben-Gurion and dominated Israeli politics for much of the country’s history but in recent years its support has plummeted.

o       Unfortunately, Israeli government has become too secularized and has abandoned Biblical principles as the basis of its rule. Trading God’s appointed land for peace has been a failed and unholy plan.

Middle East

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki declared this week that “The majority of the international community will recognize an independent state” by September. Speaking to a group of Palestinian journalists, al-Maliki said that Trinidad Jimenez, the Spanish Foreign Minister had assured him the European Union will announce their recognition of Palestine “at the beginning of September.” Palestinian leaders are continuing a major international diplomatic push to encourage world leaders to recognize them as an independent nation with pre-1967 borders. According to the Jerusalem Prayer Team, President Obama and his Administration are strongly supporting this effort behind the scenes. Reportedly, Mr. Obama personally promised King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that he would force Israel to hand over Judea and Samaria along with East Jerusalem to the Palestinians before the end of his first term in office. This is a direct attack on Bible prophecy—and the results will be devastating if this evil plan succeeds, not just for Israel but for every nation that takes part in cursing the Chosen People.

Iran

According to the New York Times, the Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal. Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role – as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own. Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

Pakistan

Pakistani churches say they’re frustrated by the government’s refusal to amend a controversial blasphemy law that makes it a capital crime to insult Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. Religion News Service reports that human rights groups have urged for the law to be repealed or amended to protect the rights of minority faiths in a nation that is overwhelmingly Muslim and increasingly volatile. Pakistani officials have brushed off calls from outsiders for the law’s repeal. On Tuesday (Jan. 11), Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters that “it is our law and we will work according to our law.”

Afghanistan

The Afghan government has organized more than 2,000 villagers into armed local defense forces so they can keep out insurgents and support coalition and Afghan forces. The self-defense groups are part of an expanding U.S.-backed program that bears a resemblance to a similar tactic in Iraq that proved successful. n Afghanistan, the program has helped protect villages from insurgent attacks and the plan could expand to up to 10,000 people. The small defense forces are being established all around the country. The groups will have about 250 to 300 people each. The plan resembles the “Awakening” in Iraq, in which sheiks and local leaders helped recruit followers into the local police or community defense groups in 2007. The Awakening spread throughout Iraq and contributed to the overall success in combating militants.

A suicide attacker driving an explosives-packed ambulance crashed through the front gate of an Iraqi guard force headquarters Wednesday, killing at least seven people and toppling a building, Civilians are increasingly the victims of the escalating Afghan war, particular from planted bombs on roads and in markets. A recent United Nations report said it documented 2,412 conflict-related civilian casualties in the first 10 months of 2010.

Iraq

A suicide attacker driving an explosives-packed ambulance crashed through the front gate of an Iraqi guard force headquarters Wednesday, killing at least seven people and toppling a building, Another suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest in a crowd of police recruits on Tuesday, killing at least 52 people, officials said, undercutting Iraqi security efforts as the nation struggles to show it can protect itself without foreign help. The death toll was still rising more than three hours after police said the bomber joined a crowd of more than 100 recruits and blew himself up outside the police station in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, some 80 miles north of Baghdad. The attack starkly displayed the Iraqi forces’ failure to plug even the most obvious holes in their security as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw from Iraq at the year’s end.

Ivory Coast

Security forces loyal to the incumbent leader who refuses to give up power opened fire in Ivory Coast on Tuesday killing at least one person, as military chiefs from neighboring nations met to plan a possible armed intervention to depose Laurent Gbagbo. The shooting broke out early in the morning in the neighborhood of Abobo, the largest district of this commercial capital with more than 1 million residents. Most residents in Abobo voted for opposition leader Alassane Ouattara who has been internationally recognized as the winner of the recent presidential election. Also on Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council delayed a vote on a resolution to beef up the 9,800-strong U.N. peacekeeping force by 2,000 troops because of concerns by Russia, U.N. diplomats said. Russia has repeatedly expressed concern about the United Nations deciding the result of the presidential vote.

A Pentagon advisor says the apparent victory of a Muslim candidate in the Ivory Coast’s disputed presidential election is the latest example of how Islam is steadily moving its influence southward into sub-Saharan Africa. Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power, still controls the military. The Christian Broadcasting Network maintains that Gbagbo, who is a Christian, only lost to the Muslim challenger because of voter fraud. Still, many countries, including the United States, are calling on Gbagbo to step aside.

Tunisia

A Tunisian prosecutor opened an investigation Wednesday into the overseas assets of the ousted president and his deeply resented family, as Tunisian authorities worked to restore order amid street protests against remnants of the former regime. The move came as hundreds of protesters led a peaceful — if noisy — rally in central Tunis, demanding that former allies of deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stop clinging to power. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday after 23 years in power, and a caretaker government run by his longtime prime minister is now struggling to calm tensions. The fragile state of the government highlights Tunisians’ questions about who is in control of this moderate Muslim nation on the Mediterranean Sea, popular among European tourists and seen as an ally in the West’s fight against terrorism.

o       A Muslim nation, regardless of whether they’re considered ‘moderate,’ will never be a true ally in the war on terrorism because 95% of terrorists are Muslims.

Earthquakes

A major 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked a remote area of southwestern Pakistan early Wednesday, shaking many parts of the country and causing tremors as far away as India and the United Arab Emirates. The quake was centered in Baluchistan province, the country’s most sparsely populated area. Several mud houses collapsed or were damaged in an area outside the town called Mashkil. There was no immediate word on casualties, but the area is sparsely populated

Weather

A mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain iced up roads and runways from the nation’s capital all the way to northern New England on Tuesday, making for messy driving and delaying flights for tens of thousands of travelers. The ice soon faded as the day warmed up, but northern New England was expected to get hit with several inches of snow late Tuesday and into Wednesday. The storm came less than a week after 2 feet of snow fell in parts of Connecticut and elsewhere along the East Coast. Tuesday’s icy blast also closed hundreds of schools and delayed or canceled flights throughout the region.

Enough snow is piling up along the upper Colorado River that the spring thaw could reverse the precipitous decline of water levels at Lake Mead and help Arizona avoid drought-related water rationing until 2015 or later. In October, the reservoir dropped to within 7 feet of triggering drought restrictions, and hydrologists said a dry year could wipe out those last few feet. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it now expects runoff from the winter snowpack to raise water levels at Lake Mead later this year, easing drought conditions at the giant reservoir, which last fall sank to its lowest level since 1937. The lake has already risen 5 feet since Dec. 1, after a series of storms drenched southern Utah and southern Nevada. Snowpack in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains is 133 percent of average overall, with some locations reporting amounts 200 percent of average.

January 17, 2011

TV Watchdog: New MTV Series About Teens ‘Dangerous’

The Parents Television Council (PTC) is calling a new show set to premiere tonight (Monday, Jan. 17) on MTV as “the most dangerous program that has ever been foisted on children.” PTC spokeswoman Melissa Henson says MTV is being “disingenuous” in kicking off the new series. Henson says based on what her group has seen from the BBC series and trailers for the new MTV version, Skins takes a very disturbing look at teenage life. She says it portrays “lots of promiscuous teenage sex, lots of drug use, underage alcohol consumption; dangerous, reckless, irresponsible behavior…all of which goes rewarded or without consequence; lack of any kind of parental involvement or supervision in the lives of these kids.” Henson tells OneNewsNow she believes MTV is deliberately marketing Skins to a teen audience. She points out that many of the actors and actresses on the show are under 18, so according to the MTV rating they are too young to watch the show they are performing in. In fact, PTC says according to video trailers available to the public, the series “make[s] sexual objects of almost every single one its characters” and asks viewers to approve of those characterizations.

Teens Taking the Torch in Crusade for Life

The teen division of a national pro-life group plans to have a strong presence at the March for Life in Washington later this month. More and more young people participate in the annual event every year, which takes place around the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. This year’s event is scheduled for January 24. Jake Dagel, international youth director of Pro-Life Unity’s Teen Defenders project, says, “We are looking at a way to make teenagers feel empowered and to let them know through the power of Christ how possible it is for them to end abortion.” He goes on to point out that the abortion movement continues to tell teenagers lies, but young people are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that one-third of their generation has been lost to abortion.

Jailed Arizona Gunman Reportedly Showing ‘No Remorse’

Arizona’s most notorious new prisoner is showing no remorse at all for his heinous actions, sources told the New York Post. Jared Lee Loughner’s eyes look “dead — he’s pure evil,” one prison worker told a visitor. Another person who was inside the federal prison in Phoenix, where Loughner is being held, said the madman with the ghoulish grin is living up to his image as a cold-blooded murderer.

o       Laughner is a demon-possessed maniac whose violent actions do not reflect any deeper political agenda other than Satanic rage

House GOP Prepares for Health Care Repeal Vote

Republican efforts to stymie the health care law passed last year aren’t likely to end with a planned House vote Wednesday to repeal it, even if the effort dies in the Senate, according to opponents and supporters of the law. Instead, Republican opponents are already talking about ways to delay the law’s implementation or cut its funding. The House of Representatives had planned to vote on the repeal last week, but after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was critically wounded in an assassination attempt, the House called off all business to pay its respects. Debate is now scheduled to begin Tuesday with a vote likely Wednesday. When the vote to repeal the law does take place, congressional watchers said, it will likely pass in the Republican-controlled House, and then not even be brought up in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority. Meanwhile, both sides are making plans for what comes next. Some of the law’s features have already been implemented, such as allowing adult children younger than 26 to be on their parents’ insurance policies, closing the “doughnut hole” so seniors don’t pay so much for prescriptions and allowing Medicare to cover preventive care without a co-pay.

While there are many reasons to oppose this flawed government health insurance law, it is important to remember that Obamacare is also one of the largest tax increases in American history. Anyone not buying “qualifying” health insurance must pay an income surtax. f an employer does not offer health coverage, and at least one employee qualifies for a health tax credit, the employer must pay an additional non-deductible tax of $2,000 for all full-time employees. This provision applies to all employers with 50 or more employees. Another increase involves the creation of a new, 3.8 percent surtax on investment income earned in households making at least $250,000 ($200,000 single). There is also a new 40 percent excise tax on “Cadillac” health insurance plans ($10,200 single/$27,500 family). Dozens of other onerous increases are listed on Newsmax.com’s article: Obamacare Packs Crushing New Taxes.

Napolitano Cancels Troubled ‘Virtual’ Border Fence

The Obama administration has scrapped a controversial high-tech fence along the Mexican border that cost taxpayers about $1 billion and never worked as intended. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made the announcement today that she was canceling the contract with Boeing for the “virtual” fence. “Following the completion of the department-wide independent, comprehensive assessment of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Secure Border Initiative-network (SBInet) program, DHS briefed Congress today on my decision to end SBInet as originally conceived and on a new path forward for security technology along the Southwest border.” The Southwest Border Fence involved a combination of physical and virtual fencing that was to have covered 670 miles and eventually the entire 1,969-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

Budget Worries Push Governors to Same Mind-Set

The dismal fiscal situation in many states is forcing governors, despite their party affiliation, toward a consensus on what medicine is needed going forward. The prescription? Slash spending. Avoid tax increases. Tear up regulations that might drive away business and jobs. Shrink government, even if that means tackling the thorny issues of public employees and their pensions. Some states seem better off (North Dakota) and others worse (California), but the shared, essential problem in many states is simple: not enough money coming in to pay for all that is going out. While state revenues — shrunken as a result of the recession — are finally starting to improve somewhat, federal stimulus money that had propped up state budgets is vanishing and costs are rising, all of which has left state leaders bracing for what is next. For now, states have budget gaps of $26 billion, by some estimates, and foresee shortfalls of at least $82 billion as they look to next year’s budgets.

Up to 100 Major U.S. Cities & States Might go Bankrupt in 2011

All over America, critical services are being eliminated: Police, fire and other emergency services are being cut; Health care services are being limited or eliminated altogether; Schools and universities are losing funding and being forced to raise tuition costs; Maintenance of roads, bridges and even electrical grids is being curtailed; Thousands of state, county and city jobs are being cut; All because state and local governments can’t pay their bills. Prominent Wall Street analysts are now warning that up to 100 MAJOR U.S. cities and states will go bust in 2011.

o       The primary result of the federal bailout was to shift the problem from Washington to the states. As stimulus funds dry up, so too will many localities face the dreaded prospect of bankruptcy.

Economic News

The federal debt, which has averaged less than 40% of the total economy, now represents more than 60%. It’s likely to hit 100% in a little over a decade. Last week, both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s commented on the need for the United States to make changes or jeopardize its triple-A credit rating. A few years back, such warnings would have seemed inconceivable. Almost every impartial analyst has declared the situation unsustainable. And many European countries have already been hit by nervous credit markets worried about their debt levels.

o       We’ll see whether the new blood in Congress has the wherewithal to deal with this untenable albatross

The $858 billion tax plan approved by Congress in December included a surprise 2% reduction in payroll taxes for 2011, in what amounts to a $120 billion bet that Americans will spend the money and help juice the economy. Economists are estimating that by putting more cash in our pockets — ready to spend — the tax package taken altogether could add between 0.5% to a full point to GDP growth this year.

Holiday spending reached the highest level on record last year, but that news isn’t as good as it sounds. The $462 billion in holiday spending reported by a trade group on Friday handily tops the $453 billion peak reached in 2007, before the economy took a nosedive. But the government figures do not take into account rising prices. Although inflation has been tame over the past few years, holiday spending would have had to clear $478 billion to signify spending was back to pre-recession levels.

Chinese President Hu Jintao called the present U.S. dollar-dominated currency system a “product of the past” and highlighted moves to turn the yuan into a global currency. Hu also offered a veiled criticism of efforts by the U.S. Federal Reserve to stimulate growth through huge bond purchases to keep down long-term interest rates, a strategy that China has loudly complained about in the past as fueling inflation in emerging economies, including its own. He said that U.S. monetary policy “has a major impact on global liquidity and capital flows and therefore, the liquidity of the U.S. dollar should be kept at a reasonable and stable level.”

Iran

Iran said Saturday it has determined that two pilotless spy planes it claims to have shot down were operated by the United States, and offered to put them on public display. The air force of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said earlier this month that it shot down two highly advanced spy planes that had violated Iranian airspace. It provided no timeframe or proof. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in the Gulf, said at the time that it had no reports of any aircraft downed recently. On Saturday, Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency quoted the head of the Guard’s naval force, Gen. Ali Fadavi, as saying Tehran will show the two small reconnaissance planes publicly. Fadavi said the drones were among “the most advanced unmanned reconnaissance planes in the U.S. Navy with high flight capabilities.”

Iraq

Two U.S. soldiers were killed by an Iraqi trooper who opened fire on them during a training exercise Saturday, raising fresh concerns about Iraq’s security forces as the Americans prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of this year. Another soldier was killed Saturday during a military operation in central Iraq, making it one of the deadliest days for U.S. forces in the country in months. The exercise in Mosul was a final drill to showcase U.S. efforts to train Iraqi forces before a Monday visit by top U.S. and Iraqi generals. Both nations have been eager to highlight Iraq’s security forces before U.S. troops leave the county at the end of the year after eight years of war.

Pakistan

Gunmen attacked tankers carrying fuel for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan as they sat parked at a roadside restaurant in southwest Pakistan on Saturday, setting 14 of the vehicles ablaze, officials said. Islamist militants and criminals in Pakistan frequently attack trucks carrying supplies for U.S. and NATO troops. The supplies typically arrive in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi and travel overland to neighboring Afghanistan. The trucks were likely headed to the border crossing in the town of Chaman, the smaller of two such crossings into Afghanistan. 136 NATO tankers were destroyed in 56 such attacks last year in the province. Some 34 people died and 23 were wounded in the attacks.

India

A stampede of pilgrims returning from one of India’s most popular Hindu festivals killed more than 100 people and injured 25 others. The stampede was set off Friday night when a group of pilgrims in a jeep drove into a crowd of worshippers walking along a narrow forest path as they returned from offering prayers at the hilltop Sabarimala shrine in the state of Kerala in southern India. The annual two-month festival attracts millions of worshippers to the remote temple to the Hindu deity Ayyappan. The ceremony Friday marked the end of the festival, and an estimated 150,000 devotees were thought to have taken the narrow path out of the densely forested hills where the stampede took place.

Tunisia

The U.S. State Department rejected claims that revelations of rampant corruption in leaked U.S. diplomatic documents had sparked the Tunisian uprising and called upon the new government to adopt broad political and economic reforms. Major gunbattles erupted outside the palace of Tunisia’s deposed president, in the center of the capital, in front of the main opposition party headquarters and elsewhere on Sunday as authorities struggled to restore order and the world waited to see if the North African nation would continue its first steps away from autocratic rule. Police arrested dozens of people, including the top presidential security chief, as tensions appeared to mount between Tunisians buoyant over Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s departure and loyalists in danger of losing major perks. Unrest engulfed Tunisia after a popular rebellion forced the president to flee: Dozens of inmates were killed in two prison fires, looters emptied shops and torched the main train station and gunfire echoed through the capital. Anger over corruption and the lack of jobs ignited a month of protests, but Ben Ali’s departure — a key demand of demonstrators — has not calmed the unrest.

Sudan

Southern Sudan’s president on Sunday offered a prayer of forgiveness for northern Sudan and the killings that occurred during a two-decade civil war, as the first results from a week-long independence referendum showed an overwhelming vote for secession. Exhausted poll workers who counted ballots overnight and deep into Sunday morning posted returns at individual stations, and an Associated Press count of a small sample showed a 96% vote for secession. Sudan’s south ended its independence vote Saturday, a vote most believe will split the large country in two at the divide between Sudan’s Muslim north and Christian and animist south. The two sides ended a more than two decade civil war in 2005 in a peace deal that provided for last week’s vote.

Mexico

Twelve suspected drug cartel gunmen and two soldiers were killed in a nearly six-hour gunbattle in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, authorities reported Friday. About 100 soldiers, marines and police located a drug gang safe house in the state capital of Xalapa and surrounded it late Thursday. The gunmen resisted fiercely and a standoff ensued, with authorities firing tear gas into the house and exchanging fire with those inside. Other gunmen shot up homes and cars in surrounding neighborhoods, apparently to try to draw soldiers away from the safe house. Security forces finally stormed the house early Friday and seized grenades, ammunition and vehicles.

Weather

A break in near-constant rain Sunday allowed Brazilian rescue helicopters to deliver desperately needed food and water to some of the neighborhoods buried under tons of earth in mudslides that killed more than 600 people. Days of heavy rains unleashed tons of earth, rock and raging torrents of water down steep mountainsides and directly into towns over an area of about 900 square miles. The known death toll stood at 626 people Sunday. Officials fear it will rise sharply as the remote areas are reached and more bodies found.

Honduran officials have evacuated at least 2,000 people along the Caribbean coast due to flooding following two days of rain. The Taujica River has overflowed its banks, damaging some homes in northern provinces. About 5,000 people in Colon province were stranded when a bridge was knocked out by floodwaters. There are no immediate reports of fatalities.

Heavy weekend rains causing landslides and minor flooding in western portions of Washington and Oregon are also taking a human toll with authorities reporting one death related to the storms. Two people have also been injured as the Pacific weather system swept into the region during the weekend, while two others were rescued after being stranded by high waters, and some evacuations were reported. The rains in Oregon were pushing some rivers and streams over their banks at a time when many waterways were rising because of warming temperatures and melting snow, with some rivers reaching flood stage and more were expected to rise above that level. In Washington, heavy rains were causing problems along the Pacific Coast and the Cascades Mountains with flood warnings issued for several waterways.

January 12, 2011

AZ Shooter a Liberal Leftist, Not a Tea Party Supporter

A Second Amendment rights advocate says the liberal media and Democratic politicians are trying to blame conservatives and talk radio for the recent shooting in Tucson, even though the shooter is likely “a man of the left.” While Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords (D-Arizona) fights for her life in a hospital intensive care unit, the left is trying to piece together a right-wing-inspired motive behind the madness by irresponsibly placing blame on talk radio and the tea party movement. But Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA), believes there is substantial evidence to show that suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, is an angry leftist who hates America and Christianity. “In the back yard they found a satanic altar with a skull and some oranges before it. Kind of like Cain’s offering in Scripture [Genesis 4] — instead of the animals, he did it his way,” Pratt notes. “He was anti-Christian; he was for burning the flag.” During the past few days friends of the shooter, Jared Loughner, have stepped forward to say that they knew him to be a political liberal.  He admired the Communist Manifesto and burned the American flag. A friend of the shooter also said in an interview on Tuesday that Loughner, 22, had talked about a philosophy of fostering chaos.

Lawmaker Blames Sheriff for Not Protecting Tucson Rally

An Arizona lawmaker who proposes legislation that would let college faculty members carry firearms assailed Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik for his criticism of the state’s lenient gun laws. He blames the sheriff for not ensuring that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ outdoor rally in Tucson was protected from a mass shooting. “If he would have done his job, maybe this doesn’t happen,” Republican state Rep. Jack Harper said in an interview Monday. “Sheriff Dupnik did not provide for the security of a U.S. congresswoman.” Harper’s remarks expose a deep, hard-edged political divide over the volatile issue of gun rights in the state and nation two days after a gunman killed six, gravely wounded Giffords and injured 13 others. At a news conference Sunday, Dupnik singled out Harper’s proposed college faculty gun bill as an example of what he called the state’s lax firearm laws. One of the nation’s leading media analysts, L. Brent Bozell, says the left’s systematic ridicule of Sarah Palin and other conservatives following the Arizona shooting rampage reflects a deliberate campaign to “ultimately criminalize” conservative thought in America.

What Causes a Young Person to Snap?

This weekend’s Tucson shooting spree, which killed six people and wounded 14 others, has left many people wondering what was going on in the mind of the suspected gunman. It is too early to know if Jared Lee Loughner, 22, is struggling with mental health, but experts say it is not uncommon for people in his age group to experience their first serious episode of mental illness. The Tucson tragedy is just one in a string of violent attacks by young adults in recent years. In 2007, a massacre at Virginia Tech left 33 dead. A University of Virginia lacrosse player is awaiting trial in the beating death of his girlfriend in May. Several other school shootings have occurred recently. Why the late teens and early 20s are a vulnerable time for those prone to mental illness probably is the result of a combination of factors, says Alec Miller, a professor of psychiatry and chief of child and adolescent psychology at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

“There is a biological piece, then you add certain life stressors at that time of life: going to college or leaving home for first time; having a first, profound and intimate breakup. They don’t have the same kind of support that they had when they were 14, 15, 16,” Miller says. Loughner exhibited disruptive behavior before this weekend’s shooting. Pima Community College suspended Loughner last year for classroom and library disruptions, according to a statement from the school. Officials briefed his parents, and told Loughner to come back only after a mental health professional had assessed that he was not a danger to himself or others. After that, “there was no further college contact with Loughner,” the college says. One of Loughner’s teachers, Ben McGahee, told USA TODAY that after just one week of classes, Loughner proved so disruptive and belligerent that “I remember going home and thinking to myself, ‘Is he going to bring a weapon to class?’  The police were sent to the home where shooter Jared L. Loughner lived with his family on more than one occasion.

o This tragedy is more reflective of youthful angst than it is of political rhetoric which was merely the excuse for inexcusable violence.

Abortion Decline Leveling Off

The steady, long-term decline in the number and rate of abortions in the USA leveled off in 2008, according to the most comprehensive survey of statewide data. The report released Monday online by the New York City-based Guttmacher Institute, which has tracked abortion since 1974, also found that medical abortion using drugs approved in 2000 by the federal government has risen as a percentage of all abortions. The analysis finds the total number of abortions in 2008 — 1.21 million — was essentially the same as in its last report, which used 2005 data. The 2008 rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 is also statistically virtually unchanged from the 2005 rate of 19.4 abortions. It is far below the peak in 1981 of 29.3 abortions.

Guttmacher, which supports abortion rights, bases its periodic reports on surveys of abortion providers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which relies on voluntary reporting by state health departments, released its most recent report in 2009, based on 2006 data. Karen Pazol of Atlanta, who oversees the CDC’s report, says the 2006 data did show “an interruption of the long-term decline” but because CDC doesn’t have data for 2007 or 2008, she “can’t predict whether it’s a short-term change or a interruption of a long-term decline.”

Alaska Oil Pipeline Reopened

The Trans Alaska Pipeline was shut for down over the weekend after a leak was discovered at Prudhoe Bay, forcing oil companies to cut production to 5 percent of their average 630,000 barrels per day. The shutdown of one of the United States’ key oil arteries, which carries about 12 percent of the country’s production, is the latest setback for the aging, 33-year old pipeline, which handles less than a third of the oil it did at its peak in the 1980s. Closures of the pipeline, although short, have provoked criticism of its operators, particularly major owner BP, whose reputation is already at an all-time low after the Gulf of Mexico blow-out last year, causing the largest-ever U.S. oil spill. The pipeline was reopened on an interim basis while workers build a bypass at the pump station where the leak occurred.

Governor Brown Seeks Extension of Calif. Tax Increases

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a budget Monday that would slash funding to most areas of state government and maintain a series of tax increases for five years to close California’s huge budget deficit. The Democratic governor released his first budget proposal since winning election last fall. He called for $12.5 billion in spending cuts, including reductions in welfare, social services, health care for the poor and a combined $1 billion cut to the University of California and California State University systems. Brown also wants the Legislature to call a special election in June to give voters an opportunity to continue hikes in the income, sales and vehicle taxes for five years. His proposal relies on new revenues of $12 billion. The governor’s office says the only area of state spending he would protect is K-12 education. Brown said his recommendations will close an 18-month budget gap estimated at $25.4 billion and require sacrifice from all Californians.

Economic News

U.S. home prices fell 5.1% in November from a year earlier and are expected to go lower as the housing market struggles to find its recovery, according to a report Tuesday. Real estate analytics firm CoreLogic said that single-family home prices declined for the fourth month in a row and at a faster pace. Sales and prices have fallen since the federal tax credits expired in June. The economy avoided a double-dip recession, but housing is double dipping.

The Swiss government has scheduled an emergency meeting Friday on the franc, which is soaring against the dollar and the euro because of investor concerns about European and U.S. debt. The Swiss currency has hit record highs against both those currencies in recent months as investors consider it a safe haven during turbulent economic times. The Swiss National Bank has spent billions to try to dampen the franc’s surge, to little effect.

Haiti

More than $300 million dollars and thousands of volunteers — all powered by religious faith — have poured in to earthquake-shattered Haiti to help rebuild the country and restore its spirit. Church by church, parish by parish, hundreds of thousands of Americans have donated funds or traded vacations for mission trips. Among the leaders, Catholic Relief Services has raised $192 million, including $80 million raised in a special U.S. parish collection. About 80% of Haitians say they are Catholic. The agency doubled its Haiti-based staff from 300 workers before the quake to 600 now. It expanded its focus from agriculture and HIV/AIDS work to emergency food and shelters, reconstruction employment for 10,000 Haitians and, now, to fighting the cholera epidemic on the northern side of the island. Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian global relief agency, “raised more for Haiti this year than for any project we’ve ever undertaken, $51 million — most with $40 individual donations,” agency founder Rev. Franklin Graham says. The United Methodist Church raised more than $43 million for Haiti after the quake. Its Committee on Relief has sent more than 80 volunteer mission teams last year and expects to double that number in 2011 to work in clearing rubble, distributing food and rebuilding infrastructure.

Iraq

Violence in Iraq dropped last year despite the political turmoil, demonstrating the ability of Iraq’s forces to maintain security in the country, the U.S. military command in Iraq says. The number of violent incidents fell to 8,233 in 2010, down from 11,203 in 2009, according to U.S. military statistics. That is the lowest level of violence since the emergence of a widespread insurgency after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. The peak of violence was 2007 when there were 67,727 incidents. The statistics include attacks on U.S. and IraqThe decrease in violence came in a year when the two top vote-getters in Iraq’s second national elections in March had been in negotiations for months over who would take over as prime minister. Making those security gains permanent will depend on Iraq’s ability to develop democratic institutions that allow people to express their discontent through politics rather than violence, some analysts say.

Afghanistan

NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan said Monday that a recent pledge by a southern Afghan tribe to stand up to the Taliban shows the military push in the country’s most violent region is making headway and stifling the insurgents’ “central nervous system.” U.S. Gen. David Petraeus told The Associated Press in the southern city of Lashkar Gah that a shift in thinking by the Afghan government and NATO means that the tribe’s risky move is being embraced rather than ignored. And that brings the hope that others may follow suit, he said. He told the AP that the Taliban is losing sway in volatile Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south. Petraeus said there is increasing dissension among the fighting ranks of the insurgency and that fighters are bristling at being ordered to battle through the winter by bosses sitting far away in Pakistan.

Lebanon

The Islamic militant group Hezbollah and its allies plan to resign from the Lebanese Cabinet on Wednesday, a move that would likely topple the government over tensions stemming from the international investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV that ministers were planning to resign in the afternoon unless Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri— the son of the slain leader — agrees to their demand to convene an urgent Cabinet meeting over the tribunal crisis. Hariri, whose coalition has been sharing power with the Iranian-backed militant group, was to meet Wednesday with President Obama in Washington to discuss the crisis. A U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the elder Hariri’s killing is widely expected to name members of the Hezbollah in upcoming indictments, which many fear could re-ignite hostilities between Lebanon’s rival Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

North Korea

North Korea‘s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles poses a direct threat to the United States, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday, a blunt assessment of the risk posed by an erratic dictatorship that considers the U.S. its foremost enemy. North Korea will have a limited ability to deliver a weapon to U.S. shores within five years using intercontinental ballistic missiles, Gates predicted. North Korea has threatened to test such missiles, and has already conducted underground nuclear tests that prove it has manufactured at least rudimentary nuclear weapons. The risk of war on the Korean Peninsula is also rising because South Koreans are fed up with provocation and harassment from the North, Gates said.

Sudan

A security official in Southern Sudan says another bout of violence during this week’s independence referendum has killed 10 people. Arab tribesman attacked a bus carrying southern Sudanese from the north to the south, killing 10 people and wounding 18. Southern officials have said that the Misseriya tribe on Sunday attacked police in the contested region of Abyei, killing 20. International officials worry the tentative peace between north and south Sudan could be disrupted during this week’s referendum.

Eritrea

International Christian Concern reports that Eritrean officials arrested 30 Christians for praying at a private house in the capital of Asmara on Jan. 2. Some of the Christians were only recently released after being detained for their faith. The detained Christians are members of the Philadelphia Church, an evangelical church outlawed in Eritrea. Several churches have been forced to go underground in Eritrea since 2002 when officials required all religious groups to register. The officials only registered four religious groups: Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Eritrea. More than 3,000 Christians in the tiny country have been detained for their faith and imprisoned in inhumane conditions.

Weather

Up and down the East Coast, armies of emergency workers with plows and salt spreaders hit the streets Wednesday morning, as the snowstorm that caused mayhem in the South moved into the region and dumped more than a foot in some areas overnight. About 22 inches of snow has fallen in Ridgefield, Conn., and 18 inches in Danbury. State police there have responded to about 500 spinouts, fender-benders and stranded vehicles. Airports reported hundreds of flights canceled. The heaviest snow was expected on Long Island. On Tuesday, freezing temperatures have left snowy Southeastern states “like a big ice skating rink,” says Julia Jarema, spokeswoman for North Carolina Emergency Management. Nearly 70% of the contiguous USA is covered in snow — more than double the snow cover of last month, the weather service says. Every state except Florida reported snow on the ground Tuesday.

Deadly floodwaters that have cut a swath across northeast Australia seeped onto the streets of Brisbane Wednesday, the nation’s third-largest city, forcing people to flee both suburbs and skyscrapers. City Mayor Campbell Newman said almost 20,000 homes in low-lying areas of the city of about 2 million were expected to be swamped by the time the river system it is built on reaches its expected peak Thursday. Military helicopters searched Tuesday for scores of people missing after a tsunami-like wall of water ripped through an Australian valley, tossing cars like toys in the deadliest episode of a weeks-long flood crisis. At least nine people were killed and 59 still unaccounted for almost 24 hours after the flash flood hurled untold millions of gallons of water down Queensland state’s Lockyer Valley on Monday. The valley funneled rain from a freak storm — forecasters estimated up to 6 inches fell in half an hour fell near Toowoomba city — into a stream that formed a path of destruction, lifting houses from foundations. The torrent slowed and spread out as it moved downstream toward the state capital of Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city with some 2 million people.

January 10, 2011

Government Officials Under Attack

The shooting of an Arizona congresswoman and judge in Tucson Saturday in which a total of six people were killed and 13 wounded is symptomatic of hostility toward government turned violent. The 22-year-old suspect in the shooting posted anti-government messages online that talk about mind control. The shooter is described by acquaintances in terms that have become familiar for suspects in violent rampages: a loner, short-tempered, bitter. U.S. District Judge John Roll, also killed in the attack, had received death threats while he presided over a $32 million civil rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher. Just the day before, incendiary devices were discovered to have been mailed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Maryland elected officials.

Last month, a San Francisco man who was opposed to the health care overhaul passed by Congress was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for threatening to destroy the home of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. On Dec. 30, a former firefighter pleaded no contest for threatening Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., and other public officials. The U.S. Marshals Service in 2008 reported that threats to federal judges and prosecutors were up 69% from 2003, and that such threats were averaging nearly 100 a month nationwide. “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve,” said newly elected House Speaker John Boehner.

The shooting rampage in Tucson seems to have created a reset moment for confrontational politics, as lawmakers reflect on the repercussions of the overheated rhetoric traded on the airwaves and on the campaign trail. Members of Congress from both parties called Sunday for civility over belligerence as the House temporarily shelved the contentious debate over repealing the health care law and lawmakers paused to contemplate the tragedy. Former House Majority Leader and tea party patriarch Dick Armey said Sunday that the tragic shootings in Arizona should not deter a vigorous debate over the policies of the Obama administration. Congressional Republicans said Sunday that the weekend shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, was not the result of lax U.S. gun laws and that the incident should not result in tougher regulations. “Washington, D.C., had seven murders last week, and it has some of the most strict gun laws in the U.S,” they noted.

o       Such violence is never justified. Unfortunately, there are those social misfits who look for excuses to strike out and harm others, whether in schools or government. Political rhetoric is no different now than before. Kennedy and Reagan were on both sides of the political divide. However, as end-time lawlessness increases according to Biblical prophecies, such violence will escalate.

‘Religion of Peace’ Launched ‘Ferocious’ Attacks in 2010

The Religion of Peace website reports that for 2010, there were 1987 jihad attacks in 46 nations resulting in 9,175 deaths and 17,436 injured, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin. Analysts are expressing alarm that individual attacks on Christian churches are being replicated rapidly and appear to be reflecting a new wave of Islamists’ war against any stability in the Middle East. Recent al-Qaida attacks on Christians stretching from North Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia reveal a new terrorist initiative that not only attempts to eliminate remnants of existing non-Islamist religions but hits hard at “soft target” opportunities, such as praying Christians in Egypt, leaving security experts off-guard. Analysts say the orchestrated attacks against Christians – from Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria to Russia’s mostly Muslim North Caucasus of the Ingushetia region bordering Chechnya – initially were thought to be random. However, the killing spree now is being viewed as a coordinated pattern of attacks representing a new and higher level of violence.

ObamaCare Targeted in Congress

Republicans prevailed Friday in a 236-181 procedural vote, largely along party lines, that sets the stage for the House to vote next week on the repeal. In a post-election bow to tea partiers by the new GOP House majority, Republican lawmakers are undertaking an effort to repeal the health care law in full knowledge that the Democratic Senate will stop them from doing so. The real action is in states, where Republicans are using federal courts and governors’ offices to lead the assault against Obama’s signature domestic achievement, a law aimed at covering nearly all Americans.

Shortly before the House vote, Republican governors representing 30 states opened up a new line of attack, potentially more successful. In a letter to Obama and congressional leaders, the governors complained that provisions of the health care law are restricting their ability to control Medicaid spending, raising the threat of devastating cuts to other critical programs, from education to law enforcement in a weak economy. It’s ammunition for critics trying to dismantle the overhaul piece by piece. Moreover, a federal judge in Florida is expected to rule shortly in a lawsuit brought by 20 states that challenges the law’s central requirement that most Americans carry health insurance. A judge in Virginia ruled it unconstitutional last month, while in courts in two other cases have upheld it. It’s expected that the Supreme Court will ultimately have to resolve the issue.

Mortgage Mess Deepens

The highest court in Massachusetts ruled against U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo on Friday in a pivotal mortgage foreclosure case that could spark more turmoil and uncertainty in a housing market already mired in depression. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a lower court judge’s ruling invalidating two mortgage foreclosure sales because the banks, in their capacity as trustees for mortgage securities, did not prove that they actually owned the mortgages at the time of foreclosure. The decision, which highlights the failure of financial firms to adhere to the rules that govern mortgage-backed securities, is likely to lead more borrowers to sue bank servicers and trustees for wrongful foreclosures. It’s unclear what the ruling means for people who were forced from their homes after defaulting on their loans or for those who purchased houses in foreclosure sales. Last fall, the banking industry’s foreclosure machine came under intense scrutiny with revelations that low-level employees called “robo signers” powered through hundreds of foreclosure affidavits a day without verifying a single sentence. At the time, analysts warned that the banks’ allegedly fraudulent document procedures could imperil their ability to prove that they owned the mortgages. The Massachusetts ruling stokes those concerns.

  • If it isn’t the government messing things up, it’s the banks and Wall Street, with the little guy on Main Street paying the price

Taxes Up, Deficit Slightly Down

Americans are paying more taxes, a sure sign of economic recovery — and one that has the federal budget deficit declining ever so slightly. That’s the word from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which just released its review of the first quarter of fiscal year 2011, which began in October. The good news: Revenue increased 9% from the same period a year ago, while spending grew only 3%. That translated into a $371 billion deficit for three months, $18 billion less than in October-December 2009. Biggest reason for the improvement: a $33 billion increase in taxes withheld “as a result of strengthening economic conditions,” CBO says. Biggest reason for only a small improvement: interest payments on the national debt, fast approaching $14 trillion, rose 10%, while defense spending was up 7%, mostly for procurement as well as operations and maintenance.

Economic News

For the first time since the Great Recession began more than three years ago, the job market is expected to show stronger gains in 2011 as consumers spend more and businesses cast off their hesitancy to hire. Through 2011, employers will add 183,000 jobs a month — vs. 94,000 a month in 2010, according to the average forecast of 28 economists surveyed by USA TODAY. New Mexico, Florida and Texas will lead the way on a percentage basis, while New Jersey and Vermont are projected to see only modest growth in jobs.

Americans took out $5.56 billion more in auto, student and personal loans in November but continued to cut credit card debt, the Federal Reserve just reported. It’s the first back-to-back monthly increase since the summer of 2008. The 4.2% jump in so-called non-revolving debt contrasts with a 6.3% drop in revolving debt (your credit cards).

Assets in exchange traded funds have broken above $1 trillion for the first time. ETFs are portfolios of stocks, bonds or even commodities that trade on the stock exchanges. ETFs have become popular because they’re easy to move in and out of: You can buy or sell ETFs at any time during the trading day. With conventional funds, you get the end-of-day price, provided you place your order before the market closes.

Philippines

For the past decade, the Philippines has been an attractive call-center destination due to its educated, English-speaking population. But its appeal is at an all-time high as the Philippines inches past India as the largest call-center operator in the world. The Philippines now leads India in call-center jobs, employing 350,000 compared with India’s 330,000, according to the Contact Center Association of the Philippines, which represents the country’s call-center operators. Some American companies such as US Airways are pulling back on call centers in the Philippines. But many others — including Citi and Chase — are outsourcing customer calls, back-office work or other operations to the country. “The thing that the Philippines excels in is that they have the most accent-neutral language,” says Kevin Campbell, group chief executive for technology, for Accenture.

Middle East

Palestinian Hamas terrorists in Gaza started the New Year the same way they ended the last, “celebrating” by launching what IDF officials described as a “military-grade” rocket at the 6,500 Jewish civilians who call Sha’ar Hanegev home. Thankfully the unguided rockets caused no injuries. The end of 2010 saw a major increase in the number of attacks being launched against Israel from Gaza—the land Israel gave to the Palestinians in 2005 in exchange for empty promises of peace. Hamas was responsible for most of the nearly 800 terrorist attacks against Israel last year. Israeli officials have also noted a marked increase in attempts to smuggle weapons into Gaza, most provided by Iran which has long been a major funder and sponsor of Hamas’ terrorist objectives. In addition, several ships have been stopped by the Israeli navy while attempting to run the blockade around Gaza and a massive shipment of weapons and military supplies that originated in Iran was stopped in Nigeria not long ago.

Afghanistan

Insurgents in Afghanistan have answered the Obama administration’s troop surge with a surge of their own, planting thousands of roadside bombs that caused more U.S. troop casualties last year than the prior eight years of the war. Since President Obama took office in January 2009 and vowed to end Taliban gains in Afghanistan, casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have nearly quadrupled. In 2010, the bombs wounded 3,366 U.S. troops. In nine years of war, 617 American troops have been killed by IEDs and the majority of those deaths came in the past two years. The 268 troops killed by IEDs in 2010 account for more than 40% of all deaths caused by bombs during the war. “It’s clear that the insurgency in Afghanistan remains very robust,” said John Nagl, a former Army officer and president of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington. “As we increase our capabilities in the country and the region, they are also ‘surging.’ ”

Sudan

Men and women walked to election stations in the middle of the night Sunday to create a new nation: Southern Sudan. Some broke out into spontaneous song in the long lines. And a veteran of Sudan’s two-decade civil war, a conflict that left 2 million people dead, choked back tears. Thousands of people began casting ballots Sunday during a week-long vote to choose the destiny of this war-ravaged and desperately poor but oil-rich region. Because only 15% of southern Sudan’s 8.7 million people can read, the ballot choices were as simple as could be: a drawing of a single hand marked “separation” and another of clasped hands marked “unity.” Long lines snaked through the southern capital of Juba. In rural areas, tribesmen carrying bows and arrows walked dirt paths from their straw huts to one-room schools to vote.

United Kingdom

British transport authorities have warned aviation officials that al-Qaeda is considering an attack against a U.K. airport or other airline industry target in a threat described as credible, the BBC reported over the weekend. An American official said that the British authorities had warned their U.S. counterparts of a possible terror threat to planes flying through the United Kingdom. British authorities have said they were monitoring all forms of transit in the U.K. out of caution. The heightened awareness came from increased “chatter” among suspects under surveillance by the authorities, a U.K. government security official said.

Germany

Germany froze sales of poultry, pork and eggs from more than 4,700 farms Friday to stem the spread of food contaminated with cancer-causing dioxin, as fears grew that farmers could have been using tainted livestock feed for months. South Korea and Slovakia on Friday banned the sale of some animal products imported from Germany, while authorities in Britain and the Netherlands were investigating whether food containing German eggs — like mayonnaise or liquid egg products — was safe to eat. Prosecutors in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein launched an investigation into the German firm Harles & Jentzsch GmbH, suspecting the company knew but failed to tell authorities that fat it had produced for use in feed pellets was tainted with dioxin.

Earthquakes

One of our readers reports, “A  3.something earthquake hit last week 50 miles north of Indianapolis, IN.  This would be in the neighborhood of my childhood home of Kokomo, Indiana so I contacted my cousin there and he said it was like a big house shaking “boom”  !  He actually thought something had fallen from the sky and hit his roof.  He went outside to investigate.  It was the earth quaking.  Maybe 55 years ago as a young child, I remember a small earthquake.  But this was definately an earthquake in a “diverse place!”

Weather

A punishing winter storm that began to hammer the South on Sunday is continuing its onslaught today over a 1,000-mile stretch from Texas to the Carolinas. Snow, sleet and freezing rain is making travel dangerous if not impossible across much of the region. In Atlanta, stranded vehicles littered roadsides at daybreak Monday as several inches of snow and sleet coated the city and other parts of the South, freezing the morning commute in many areas and cancelling thousands of flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the world’s busiest airport. The winter blast rolled across the South on Sunday, coating bridges and roads with snow, sleet and freezing rain and causing at least one death in Louisiana. Snow and ice had blanketed several cities which rarely get much snow. The same storm will then make a turn up the East Coast and threaten the Northeast with yet another potentially crippling snowstorm Tuesday and Wednesday.

January 7, 2011

CPAC Homosexual Sponsor Drives Conservative Groups Away

Several pro-family organizations have announced they won’t attend an upcoming conservative gathering in Washington, DC, because among its sponsors is a homosexual activist group. The American Conservative Union’s (ACU) Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is normally one of the largest annual gatherings for conservative activists and a platform for Republican presidential candidates. However, this year’s event, scheduled for February 10-12 in Washington, DC, will be missing some major conservative heavy-hitters, including the American Family Association (AFA), the Family Research Council (FRC) and Concerned Women for America (CWA), as those groups boycott CPAC because it is receiving sponsorship from the homosexual group, GOProud. The activist group has strongly supported the effort to repeal the exclusion of homosexuals from military service. Another prominent pro-family group, Focus on the Family, announced earlier this week it is also considering ending its sponsorship of the conference in the future.

Apple Now calls Christian Belief “Objectionable”

Shockingly Apple has turned the Manhattan Declaration down again, and they ask you to act at once.  Please call (408-996-1010) or email Steve Jobs (sjobs@apple.com) at Apple today and tell him of your displeasure.
As you know, on December 8 we re-filed the Manhattan Declaration iPhone app with nothing except the Declaration and the opportunity to sign showing support. Apple rejected the app, saying in a letter on December 22 that the app contains “references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence will be rejected.  We have evaluated the content of this application and consider its contents to be objectionable and potentially harmful to others.” What this means is that the teachings of the Bible itself are offensive, even dangerous and are being censored.

o          To read the Manhattan Declaration pledge of Christian values go to www.manhattandeclaration.org

States to Target Birthright Citizenship

Arizona state politicians will introduce model legislation this week to encourage states to prevent children of illegal immigrants from being granted citizenship under the 14th Amendment. Lawmakers in at least 14 states have said they are committed to passing the legislation targeting birthright citizenship. At least seven states are likely to pass bills similar to the first Arizona immigration overhaul this year. Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce will unveil the bill Jan. 5 in Washington, D.C. Pearce argues that the “original intent” of the 14th Amendment was to grant citizenship to freed U.S. slaves, and that it was never meant to apply to the children of foreigners.

Islamic Countries Dominate Open Door Persecution List

Despite Communist North Korea topping the annual Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) for the ninth consecutive year, the most dangerous countries in which to practice Christianity are overwhelmingly Islamic ones. Of the top 10 countries on the 2011 WWL, eight have Islamic majorities. Persecution has increased in seven of them. They are Iran, which clamps down on a growing house church movement; Afghanistan, where thousands of believers cluster deep underground; and Saudi Arabia, which still refuses to allow any Saudi person to convert to Christianity. Others are lawless Somalia, ruled by bloodthirsty terrorists threatening to kill Christian aid workers who feed Somalia’s starving, impoverished people; tiny Maldives, which mistakenly boasts it is 100 percent Islamic; Yemen with its determination to expel all Christian workers; and Iraq, which saw extremists massacre 58 Christians in a Baghdad cathedral on Oct. 31. Of the top 30 countries, only seven have a source other than Islamic extremists as the main persecutors of Christians. The annual World Watch List is compiled by the research department of Open Doors International. It tracks the shifting conditions under which Christians live in 77 societies and then ranks the top 50 where it is hardest to practice the Christian faith.

House Republicans Challenge Obama on Debt Limit

In power scarcely a day, House Republicans bluntly told the White House on Thursday its request to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit will require federal spending cuts to win their approval, laying down an early gauntlet in a new era of divided government.  Speaker John Boehner made the challenge as the new GOP majority voted to cut funding for House members’ own offices and committee operations by $35 million. Rank-and-file Republicans described that vote as a mere down payment on a much more ambitious assault on record federal deficits. Boehner, R-Ohio, also said emphatically he is standing by a pre-election pledge to cut government spending by at least $100 billion this year. “No ifs, ands, or buts about it,” he said, despite recent comments from other Republicans the total might be overly ambitious.

Pentagon Plans to Cut 47,000 Ground Troops

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, citing the country’s “dire fiscal situation,” announced Thursday that U.S. ground forces will be cut by up to 47,000 troops by 2015 as part of Pentagon belt-tightening. The Pentagon, like all government departments, will have to live with slimmer budgets, given “the nation’s grim financial outlook,” Gates said. The White House has ordered the Pentagon to budget for relatively small annual increases for the next five years. Its budget next year will be $553 billion, or $13 billion less than expected, but still 3% higher than last year. In all, Gates announced plans that will allow the military to save $150 billion over five years. The money saved by the services will be transferred to other programs, such as buying more drones for the Air Force and to pay for higher-than-expected costs for fuel, health care and other bills.

Panel: Gulf oil Spill Could Happen Again

Disasters like the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig could happen again without significant reform, according to the conclusions of a presidential panel that has the companies involved in the nation’s largest oil spill pointing fingers at each other again. In a 48-page excerpt of its final report obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, the commission described systemic problems within the offshore oil and gas industry and government regulators who oversee it. The oil spill commission said poor decisions led to technical problems that contributed to the April 20 accident that killed 11 people and led to more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing from BP’s well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Inquiries by BP and Congress have found the same. Meanwhile, the Justice Department continues its own investigation, as does a joint U.S. Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement panel.

  • How many groups need to study this? Typical bureaucratic overkill which most likely will result in more regulation with little actual effect. Greedy, unscrupuous corporations will always find and exploit loopholes.

Undersea Bugs Ate Natural Gas Released in Oil Spill

Deep sea bacteria completely devoured much of the natural gas released in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a scientific team concluded Thursday. The findings help build the case that ocean bottom bugs are a natural biofilter that regularly dine on natural seeps of methane, or natural gas, and related chemicals worldwide. Methane was the most abundant component of the summer oil spill. About 220,000 tons was released from April to July. The finding adds to evidence that deepwater microbes also consumed other “light” crude oil constituents, such as propane and ethanol, released in the spill. Measures suggest only 0.01% of the methane released in the spill still lingered. Intense water pressure and cold temperatures at the spill site, 5,000 feet deep, kept much of the methane trapped in underwater layers, where the microbes could feast on the gas, instead of allowing it to bubble to the surface.

New Alzheimer’s Law Aims to Coordinate Efforts, Strategy

Alzheimer’s disease, already a national epidemic according to experts, got a lift this week. On Tuesday, President Obama signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) into law. NAPA’s aim is to create a coordinated national strategy that deals with Alzheimer’s, a brain-wasting condition projected to leap from 5.3 million cases this year into the double digits by midcentury. The number of Alzheimer’s cases has increased more than 50% from 2000 to 2007. No. 6 on the list of top 10 causes of death in the USA, Alzheimer’s is the only one without an effective way to prevent, cure or even slow the disease, says Robert Egge, the Alzheimer’s Association’s vice president of public policy. Though the new law doesn’t in itself deliver money for research to find a cure or support services for patients and caregivers grappling with the disease, it will help establish an interagency council that will work with the secretary of Health and Human Services to give a full assessment of what needs to be accomplished to stem the disease.

  • Will another government initialed commission really change things? Experience suggests not. Better to invest in university and non-profit research.

2nd Ariz. Patient Dies, Denied Transplant Due to Budget Cuts

A second patient denied a transplant because of Arizona budget cuts has died, according to the University Medical Center in Tucson. The unidentified patient, who was waiting for a new liver, died Dec. 28, the Arizona Republic reports. On Oct. 1, the state stopped paying for certain organ transplants for patients covered by Medicaid. About 95 to 100 people were taken off the waiting list, the Arizona Daily Star says.

  • How about cutting government bureaucracy instead of killing people?

2 Million Fish Found Dead in Maryland

Authorities in Maryland are investigating the deaths of about 2 million fish in Chesapeake Bay. “Natural causes appear to be the reason,” the Maryland Department of the Environment said in a news release. “Cold water stress exacerbated by a large population of the affected species (juvenile spot fish) appears to be the cause of the kill.” The investigation comes days after the deaths of an estimated 100,000 fish in northwest Arkansas. Authorities suspect disease was to blame there, a state spokesman said. In Maryland, preliminary tests showed water quality to be acceptable, officials said.

  • Is this the beginning of the end-time plagues prophesied in Revelation where 1/3 of all marine life will die?

Fireworks Likely Cause of Massive Ark. Bird Kill

It wasn’t a secret government spraying program, Martians or gas seeping out of the New Madrid fault that killed the 5,000 or so blackbirds that died New Year’s Eve in Beebe, Ark. It was someone shooting off professional grade fireworks in a residential district, scaring the night-blind birds out of their roost into a 25-mph flight that ran them into houses, signs and even the ground, says Karen Rowe, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission ornithologist. “They were bouncing off houses, basketball backboards, trucks,” she says. Rowe made her observations Wednesday as Game and Fish officials got back further results from necropsies on the dead birds.

Good Deeds Fall Victim to Bad Times

The sour economy is making it hard for non-profit groups to find volunteers as need grows and budget cuts force them to rely more on unpaid help. Some prospective volunteers are busy job hunting, working second jobs or returning to work after a spouse’s layoff. Others don’t want volunteer work that requires driving because of high gas prices. “The economy is having a huge impact on people having the time and wherewithal to volunteer,” says Jennifer Smith Turner, CEO of Girl Scouts of Connecticut, which has a waiting list of a few hundred girls because of a shortage of volunteer troop leaders. In Monroe County, Pa., 10 people won’t get food from Meals on Wheels until 16 volunteer drivers are found, Executive Director Mimi Mikels says. “It’s only going to get worse as gas prices increase,” she says. “If you’re unemployed, it’s money you don’t have.”

U.S. Population Growing, but More Slowly

Despite the slowest decade of population growth since the Great Depression, the USA remains the world’s fastest-growing industrialized nation and the globe’s third-most populous country at a time when some are actually shrinking. The United States reached 308.7 million in 2010, up 9.7% since 2000 — a slight slowdown that many experts say was caused by the recession and less immigration. The U.S. is one of the few industrialized countries that has a fertility rate close to replacement level. The rate of births needed for a generation to replace itself is an average 2.1 per woman. The USA’s is at 2.06. “Between 2010 and 2050, Europe’s population will actually decline,” says Carl Haub, senior demographer at the non-profit Population Reference Bureau. “In most developed countries, raising the birth rate is a national priority.” The worry is less about size than population imbalance: More elderly people who need social support but fewer young people who work and help a nation’s economy thrive.

Number of Poor in U.S. Millions Higher

The number of poor people in the U.S. is millions higher than previously known, with 1 in 6 Americans— many of them 65 and older — struggling in poverty due to rising medical care and other costs, according to preliminary census figures released Wednesday. At the same time, government aid programs such as tax credits and food stamps kept many people out of poverty, helping to ensure the poverty rate did not balloon even higher during the recession in 2009. Under a new revised census formula, overall poverty in 2009 stood at 15.7%, or 47.8 million people. That’s compared to the official 2009 rate of 14.3%, or 43.6 million, that was reported by the Census Bureau last September. Across all demographic groups, Americans 65 and older sustained the largest increases in poverty under the revised formula — nearly doubling to 16.1%. As a whole, working-age adults 18-64 also saw increases in poverty, as well as whites and Hispanics.Tthe Northeast and West were the regions mostly likely to have poor people — nearly 1 in 5 in the West.

IRS Tax Liens Jump by 60%

IRS liens filed against taxpayers jumped 60% since the start of the national recession, according to a new federal report that urges the tax agency to moderate the collection policy and study its effectiveness. The IRS filed more than 1 million liens in federal fiscal year 2010, the highest in nearly two decades and a spike from the nearly 684,000 filed in the year ahead of the recession’s December 2007. Although the IRS has taken some steps to aid financially struggling taxpayers, it “has continued the trend toward more lien filings despite the worst economy in at least a generation” — with serious financial impact on some of those unable to pay, the taxpayer National Taxpayer Advocate report concluded. “Lien filings can badly damage or destroy a taxpayer’s creditworthiness because they are picked up by the credit-rating agencies and retained on the taxpayer’s credit reports for seven years from the date the tax liability is resolved, or longer if it is not resolved,” wrote Nina Olson, who heads the Taxpayer Advocate’s office.Tthe report said it is “questionable whether liens generate much, if any, direct revenue.”

Economic News

The nation’s unemployment rate fell to 9.4% in December, lowest since May 2009, as businesses added 103,000 jobs, the Labor Department said Friday. The Labor Department says the 103,000 jobs added in December are an improvement from November’s revised total of 71,000. But the growth is far below most analysts’ expectations. The drop in the unemployment rate was partly because the government no longer counts people as unemployed when they stop looking for work.

More people applied for unemployment benefits last week, one week after applications fell to their lowest level in more than two years. The Labor Department says applications rose 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 409,000 in the week ending Jan. 1. Economists say applications need to fall consistently to 375,000 or below to substantially bring down the unemployment rate. Applications for unemployment benefits peaked during the recession at 651,000 in March 2009.

Strong consumer demand pushed a key measure of the U.S. economy’s service sector last month to its highest level in more than four years. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said Wednesday that its index of service sector activity rose to 57.1 in December, up from 55 the previous month. Any reading above 50 indicates growth. The increase marks the 12th straight month of expansion for the sector, which employs 80% of the work force. It includes industries from health care to retail to financial services. The index is at its highest point since May 2006.

China

Last year, China became the world’s second-largest economy — behind the United States — overtaking Japan, which had held that ranking since 1968. China’s rising influence can be seen not just in the goods for sale in Tokyo, but across Japanese society: Chinese investors here are snapping up real estate and setting up homes and businesses. Its foreign-exchange students are flocking to Japanese universities. Chinese tourists also are arriving in greater numbers, boosting Japan’s sagging economy with their spending. The China-fication of pockets of Japan’s proud and nationalistic society is as much a tale of Japan’s decades-long stagnation as it is of China’s rise. This shift in power brings economic, social and cultural implications for Asia, the USA and the rest of the world. China’s rapid rise means the Japanese can’t take it for granted that they’ll remain dominant in any field, including technology.

Russia

Russia’s legislature says the New START nuclear arms treaty ratified last month by the U.S. Senate restricts the U.S. from building and operating missile defenses against nuclear attacks. President Obama says the opposite: that the treaty “places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile defense programs.” There may never have been such a huge dispute on such a fundamental aspect of a high profile treaty between two major world powers. As reported by the Voice of Russia on Monday, Russia’s Duma, the lower house of parliament, “plans to confirm the link between the reduction of the strategic offensive arms and the restriction of antimissile defense systems’ deployment in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START),” according to the lawmaking body’s foreign policy chief. The Russian news agency quoted the chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, who was apparently sneering that U.S. negotiators had been tricked. Kosachev claimed, “our American colleagues do not recognize the legal force of the treaty’s preamble. The preamble sets a link between strategic offensive arms and defensive arms.”

Israel

Israeli Air Force Commander Major General Ido Nehushtan briefed reporters about the dangers and challenges Israel is facing in this New Year. He described 2011 as a “critical year” particularly with regard to the threat of Iran completing work on its nuclear weapons program. According to General Nehushtan, Israel’s task of planning for all the different threats it may face is complicated by a military buildup of Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the governments of Syria and Iran. There have been developments in the amount of missiles and rockets that are in our enemies’ hands,” he said. “We assume that in the future, IAF bases will be a target. We are aware of this and are preparing accordingly.”

Afghanistan

The United States plans to send more than 1,000 Marines to Afghanistan soon, a U.S. military official told CNN on Thursday. The Marines will support the expansion of security efforts in southern Afghanistan, and they will be on the ground for only a few months, the official said. “We intend to keep the pressure on the Taliban throughout the winter and take advantage of the security gains already achieved,” the official said. A Pentagon spokeswoman told CNN there are about 97,000 U.S. service members deployed to Afghanistan.

A suicide bomber struck a bath house in a southern Afghan city as men gathered to wash up before Friday prayers, killing 17 people, including a border police officer who was the apparent target, Twenty-three other people were wounded. NATO also announced Friday that one of its service members was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. The blast reflected the continuing instability in Afghanistan, particularly in the southern part of the country. That area has traditionally been the Taliban’s stronghold and the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of a war that is approaching the start of its 10th year.

Greece

A Greek radical anarchist group has threatened to blow up judges officiating over the trial of suspected group members as it claimed responsibility on Wednesday for a powerful blast outside an Athens courthouse. The Dec. 30 court bombing severely damaged the building and parked cars, but caused no injuries. “From now on, their (the judges) personal safety is in direct jeopardy,” Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire said in an online posting on a left wing website on Wednesday. “We publicly pledge that, for every year in prison that our brothers receive, we will plant a kilo of explosives in (judges’) front yards, cars and offices.” The suspected group members are due to be tried on Jan. 17 on terrorism charges for a string of bombings against Greek politicians.

Somalia

Two years after international forces dispatched a flotilla of warships to counter piracy around the Horn of Africa, attacks on merchant ships are rising again. Last year, pirates captured 53 ships in the region, up from 51 in 2009, according to the Combined Maritime Forces, which oversees the operations. There were 160 attempted attacks in 2010, up from 145 the year before. Pirates have shifted tactics so they can prey on merchant ships farther out at sea and evade an international flotilla that was dispatched to the Horn of Africa region to protect heavily used shipping lanes. Currently 31 ships are being held with more than 600 crewmen. Most were seized by Somali pirates and are held off the coast of this lawless African country.

Honduras

Gunmen killed four women and four children, including an 18-month boy, and wounded three others Thursday in an attack on a minibus in Honduras. The attack in eastern Honduras came three days after the bombing of a bus in neighboring Guatemala killed 6 people. The motive in the Guatemala attack appears to be related to extortion by street gangs.

Weather

Two separate winter storms — one in the Northeast and one in the South — could wreak travel havoc Friday and into the weekend. Beyond this weekend’s messy weather, meteorologists see no break in the wintry pattern for the next several weeks as the USA shivers toward what could be its coldest January since 1985. Another storm took aim at New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg was still under fire for slow cleanup of a stubborn winter blast that kept streets clogged for days and delayed trash pickups, causing uncollected garbage to pile up for more than a week. Up to six inches more snow is possible beginning Friday.

Near-freezing temperatures and icy Himalayan winds have killed dozens of people in northern India over the past two weeks and forced schools to close in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is one of India’s poorest states with nearly a fifth of its 180 million people homeless. In New Delhi, at least 10 homeless people died from the cold weather over the past two weeks despite a drive by police and welfare officials to persuade people living on the streets to sleep in 80 city-run shelters. Authorities in Lucknow arranged 74 bonfires at major road crossings, hospitals, and bus and railway stations to keep people from dying from the cold.