New Year’s Bomb Hits Egypt Church

A powerful bomb exploded in front of a crowded Coptic Christian church a half hour into the New Year early Saturday, hitting worshippers emerging from a holiday Mass in the Egyptian city of Alexandria and killing at least 21 people in an attack that raised suspicions of an al-Qaeda role. The attack came in the wake of repeated threats by al-Qaeda militants in Iraq to attack Egypt’s Christians. A direct al-Qaeda hand in the bombing would be a dramatic development, as Egypt’s government has long denied that the terror network has a significant presence in the country. al-Qaeda in Iraq has already been waging a campaign of violence against Christians in that country. Nearly 1,000 Christians were attending the New Year’s Mass at the Saints Church, said Father Mena Adel, a priest who attended. The service had just ended, and worshippers were leaving the building when the bomb went off about a half-hour after midnight, he said.

New Congress Will go after Obama’s health care bill

Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to hold a vote in January to repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul. They also say they have nearly enough support to override a presidential veto of the repeal. “Unpopularity numbers are as high as 60 percent across the country,” Fred Upton, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said of the healthcare law. Upton said a big House vote for repeal could sway votes in the Senate “to perhaps do the same thing. But then, after that, we’re going to go after this bill piece by piece,” he said, by trying to block various parts of the law including an individual mandate for insurance coverage.

Tea Party Republicans Vow to Attack Deficit Spending

Republicans elected to Congress with the help of Tea Party support pledged Sunday to devote themselves to balancing the budget over all else when they start their new jobs on Wednesday. In the lead-up to the next session, Tea Party freshmen and activists have expressed disappointment at the legislation passed by Congress in the waning days of the post-election lame-duck session. The bipartisan package to extend the Bush-era tax cuts was seen by some conservatives as a flawed deal that failed to bury the estate tax and make permanent the income tax rates of the past decade. At the same time, critics assailed the package for containing billions in new deficit spending. Tea Party candidates said Sunday they hope to change the culture of spending in Washington as they prepare to get sworn in this week. They said Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, earmarks and other items will all be on the table for serious reform.

Chief Justice Urges Progress Naming Judges

Republicans and Democrats must find a long-term solution to selecting federal judges, Chief Justice John Roberts says, while blaming both sides for the political gridlock of judicial nominations in the Senate. “Each political party has found it easy to turn on a dime from decrying to defending the blocking of judicial nominations, depending on their changing political fortunes,” Roberts said Friday in his year-end report. “This has created acute difficulties for some judicial districts. Sitting judges in those districts have been burdened with extraordinary caseloads.” There are more than 90 judicial vacancies in U.S. district and appellate courts. But only 60 nominees have been confirmed by the Senate for U.S. appellate and district courts in the past two years, with another 19 receiving no up-or-down vote.

Massive # of Birds & Fish Dead in Arkansas

Arkansas game officials hope testing scheduled to begin Monday will solve the mystery of why up to 5,000 birds fell from the sky just before midnight New Year’s Eve. The birds — most of which were dead — were red-winged blackbirds and starlings, and they were found within a one-mile area of Beebe, about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said. Birds fell over about a one-mile area, the commission said in a statement. Karen Rowe, an ornithologist for the commission, said the incident is not that unusual and is often caused by a lightning strike or high-altitude hail. A strong storm system moved through the state earlier in the day Friday.

Arkansas officials are also investigating the death of an estimated 100,000 fish in the state’s northwest, but suspect disease was to blame, a state spokesman said Sunday. Dead drum fish floated in the water and lined the banks of a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near Ozark, about 125 miles northwest of Little Rock, said Keith Stephens of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Fisheries officials collected some of the dying animals to conduct tests. Stephens said fish kills occur every year, but the size of the latest one is unusual, and suggested some sort of disease was to blame.

  • · Something fishy going on in Arkansas

Technology Replacing Talking Face-to-Face

Americans are connected at unprecedented levels — 93% now use cellphones or wireless devices; one-third of those are “smartphones” that allow users to browse the Web and check e-mail, among other things. The benefits are obvious: checking messages on the road, staying in touch with friends and family, efficiently using time once spent waiting around. The downside: Often, we’re effectively disconnecting from those in the same room. That’s why, despite all the technology that makes communicating easier than ever, 2010 was the Year We Stopped Talking to One Another. From texting at dinner to posting on Facebook from work or checking e-mail while on a date, the connectivity revolution is creating a lot of divided attention, not to mention social angst. Our days are filled with beeps and pings — many of which pull us away from tasks at hand or face-to-face conversations. We may feel that the distractions are too much, but we can’t seem to stop posting, texting or surfing.

Many analysts say it’s time to step back and reassess. “We’ve come to confuse continual connectivity with making real connections,” says Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self in Cambridge, Mass. “We’re ‘always on’ to everyone. When you actually look more closely, in some ways we’ve lost the time for the conversations that count.”

Most People Lie on Social Networking Sites

A USA Today/Sheraton Hotels poll reveals that 69% of respondents admit that they are not totally honest about their personal data on social networking sites. 22% say they flat out lie, another 21% indicate that their information is a total fabrication, while 26% admit to “fibbing a litte.”

  • · Anonymity breeds dishonesty. Accountability is becoming extinct.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the year at its highest level since August 2008, before the height of the financial crisis, and gained of 11% for the year. Including dividends, the Dow was up about 14%.Gold closed Friday at $1,421.40 an ounce, up roughly 31% for the year after an almost uninterrupted climb since January.

The price of oil is poised for another run at $100 a barrel after a global economic rebound sent it surging 34% since May. That could push gasoline prices to $4 a gallon by summer in some parts of the country, experts say. The run-up in oil prices this year sent the average gas pump price to $3.07, according to AAA. That’s 43 cents, or 16%, more than a year ago.

Tax collections are surpassing projections, the clearest sign yet that state and local government finances are on the mend as the economy improves. Sharp rises in tax collections since July, especially in the last three months, have boosted tax revenues to levels not seen since 2008, a review of tax reports shows. Including federal aid, state and local government revenue is running at a record high.

The federal government ran up more new debt during the 111th Congress than it did during the first 100 Congresses combined, according to the U.S. Treasury. As of Dec. 28, the national debt had risen by $3.22 trillion during the Democratic-controlled Congress — equal to more than $10,429 for each person counted in the 2010 Census. The total debt stood at $13.85 trillion on that date, or about $44,890 for every man, woman, and child in the country. The new accumulated debt shattered the record set by the previous 100th Congress, which adjourned on Jan. 4, 2009 — $1.95 trillion.

Egypt

Dozens of grieving Christians returned to pray Sunday in a blood-spattered church where 21 worshippers were killed in a suicide bombing, many of them sobbing, screaming in anger and slapping themselves in grief. The bombing in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria struck worshippers as they were leaving midnight Mass Saturday about 30 minutes into the new year. Egyptian officials immediately blamed it on foreigners and al-Qaida. During the Mass on Sunday, authorities deployed heavy security outside the Saints Church including riot police backed by armored vehicles. Riots erupted Saturday in Alexandria when Christians, accusing authorities of not doing enough to protect the minority group, clashed with police and Muslims.

Nigeria

FBI agents have been dispatched to help the Nigerian government investigate the deadly bombing that struck an army barracks in the country’s capital on New Year’s Eve. At least four were killed and many more wounded in the attack on Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Muslim extremists were implicated in the attack, though nobody has yet claimed responsibility. The FBI is often asked to help with such investigations due to its expertise in evidence collection. Victims in the Nigerian bombing had been celebrating New Year’s Eve in the barrack’s open-air beer garden and market.

India

Two years after violence drove thousands of Christians away from their homes, Orissa state in India has quieted. According to President of Gospel for Asia KP Yohannan. However, that doesn’t mean Christians feel safe. “There was publicity spread throughout the state of Orissa by the radical fundamentalists that they will stop the celebration of Christmas for the Christians, especially in Kandhamal,” he said, Mission News Network reports. The attacks didn’t materialize, but they did scare hundreds of small communities and churches away from celebrating. Yohannan compares persecution in India to media coverage of high gasoline prices. “All of a sudden the entire media is talking about it. But after about six or seven months, nobody talks about it. It all becomes normal. Persecution is exactly the same. I see that no change has taken place.”

Afghanistan

The Air Force has more than doubled the number of airmen in Afghanistan who call in airstrikes, as the use of bombs, missiles and strafing runs has spiked to its highest level since the war began. The increasing reliance on airstrikes and the troops who direct them comes as the U.S. military has raised its troop level in Afghanistan to 100,000, including 30,000 deployed last year. Those troops often rely on bombs to repel attacks and help them destroy Taliban strongholds. The more aggressive approach, military analysts say, may provide better protection for U.S. and NATO troops and help kill insurgents, but it also infuriates Afghans because of collateral damage and civilian deaths.

Pakistan

Pakistan‘s prime minister, struggling to keep his party’s grip on power, sought support from opposition leaders Monday after a coalition partner said it would defect and threatened to bring down the government. The political turmoil could distract the government from its alliance with the U.S. against Islamist militants in neighboring Afghanistan, though security is largely the purview of the powerful military. The crisis also all but guarantees lawmakers will make no progress anytime soon on solving the critical economic problems that have forced the country to rely on $11 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund. For ordinary Pakistanis, it’s inflation, chronic power outages and other daily hardships that are the biggest concern. Failure to make gains on such domestic issues does not bode well for the long-term stability of this impoverished, nuclear-armed nation.

Iraq

A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car northeast of Baghdad, killing one passerby and injuring 33, police and hospital officials said. In two other, separate incidents Monday, a policeman was killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad and a Christian woman was shot to death by armed men who broke into her house. The predawn attack on the Christian woman’s house was the latest in a string of attacks on Iraq’s dwindling Christian community. The soldiers’ deaths raise to at least 4,431 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. The U.S. ended combat operations in Iraq in September. About 50,000 American troops remain, assisting and training Iraqi security forces who are to take over full responsibility for protecting the country by year’s end, when the U.S. is to withdraw all forces.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-7.1 earthquake shook southern Chile on Sunday, frightening hundreds of people who fled for higher ground fearing it could generate a tsunami like the one that ravaged the coastline last year. There were no immediate reports of deaths or damage. When the first quake struck, people in several coastal cities quickly moved for higher ground, abandoning some shopping centers entirely. Residents of the region have fresh memories of the magnitude-8.8 quake and resulting tsunami on Feb. 27, 2010, that killed at least 521 people and left 200,000 homeless.

A magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck a rural area of northern Argentina Saturday morning, but its epicenter was so deep that it gave only a light shake to towns nearby. It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries or damage.

Weather

Military planes were flying food and other supplies toward a major city being slowly swamped in Australia’s flood emergency on Monday, and police were increasing patrols in evacuated regions amid reports of looting. Floodwaters that cover an area the size of France and Germany combined are draining slowly toward Australia’s northeast coast, filling bulging rivers to overflowing and inundating at least 22 towns and cities in the cattle and fruit and vegetable farming region. In Rockhampton, a coastal city of about 75,000 people, waters from the still-swelling Fitzroy River closed the airport, cut the main highway leading to the state capital of Brisbane, and sent scores of families to abandon their homes for relief centers set up on high ground. State authorities say about 200,000 people have been affected by the floods.

Shaken residents spent New Year’s Day sifting through the wreckage wrought by tornadoes that touched down in several states on the last day of 2010, killing seven people and injuring dozens of others. Six people — three in Missouri and three in Arkansas— died Friday as tornadoes fueled by unusually warm air pummeled the South and Midwest. A seventh person who was injured Friday in Missouri died Saturday. In Missouri, state officials received initial reports from nine counties that as many as 280 homes and other structures sustained damage and that at least 50 of them were destroyed. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said 39 homes and 40 businesses were destroyed or seriously damaged by the storms. The storms knocked down trees and power lines. About 6 inches of rain fell in places, leading to flash flooding.

One week after a blizzard paralyzed the city, it’s more than 6 feet deep in spots. Not the snow — the trash. The Department of Sanitation announced it would resume garbage pickups on Monday for the first time since the Christmas weekend storm dumped 20 inches of snow on city streets. Trash collection was suspended while crews struggled to plow streets. City officials endured days of withering criticism for the city’s slow response to the storm. Because the sanitation department still is hauling away snow, it will deploy only half the usual number of garbage collection trucks.

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