Archive for February, 2011

February 28, 2011



100 Hours to Government Shutdown?

The clock is ticking. As Congress returns from a week’s recess today, there are little more than 100 hours before the government’s spending authority expires at midnight Friday. Both sides are crafting plans in hopes of ending the standoff. This week, Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to vote on a short-term bill that would fund the government through midnight March 18 and cut $4 billion from agencies. Senate Democrats, who are working on their own plan to pay the bills through September, tentatively have backed the House proposal. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the chamber’s top Democrat, has not yet signed off on an agreement. Waiting for a solution are 2.8 million civilians who work for Uncle Sam, not including 1.6 million uniformed members of the military. Troops would be among those retained in a shutdown, along with air-traffic controllers, postal carriers and anyone deemed “essential” under rules issued by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Arizona Shooting has Little Effect on National Gun Debate

In the days after six people were killed and 13 wounded in a massacre near Tucson, many people hoped the shooting spree would spark a new debate about guns in America. Today, more than seven weeks after the shooting that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords with a serious gunshot wound to the head, hundreds of gun-related bills are being considered in statehouses nationwide. But in most cases, the proposals reflect long-standing ideas familiar to both sides of the issue. Even in Arizona, where several bills are pending that would expand the state’s already liberal gun rights, the shooting did not reset the debate. The lack of change in the legislative agenda may be because of public opinion in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. January polling by the Pew Research Center found that respondents were about evenly divided on the question of whether they favor protecting general gun rights more than instituting further general gun controls.

Wisconsin Protest Saturday ‘One of Largest’

Dozens of protesters camped overnight in the Wisconsin Capitol and vowed to be back in full force Monday after police backed away from threats to close the building, where demonstrators have held steady for two weeks to oppose Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening unions. Police figure the crowd of protesters Saturday in downtown Madison, Wis., exceeded last week’s Saturday protest, which was estimated at 70,000 people and included a small counter-demonstration by supporters of Gov. Scott Walker. The crowd could have numbered as high as 100,000, but counting it was difficult because it was spread over parts of State Street as well as the Capitol Square and in the Capitol itself. Police said there were no arrests and called the demonstrators “a very civil group.” A crowd of about 250 chanting, sign-waving supporters at a noon rally in Tallahassee, Florida in support of Wisconsin unions, denounced plans to lay off Florida employees and raise the cost of their health care and retirement benefits.

  • As the rock and a hard place squeeze more tightly together, tough choices between budget cuts and social services will result in more and more conflicts at the state level. The federal government did a good job of printing money and pushing the debt problem downhill to state and local governments which don’t have that same ability to manufacture money out of thin air.

Judge Tosses Out Lawsuit Against Obama Health Care Law

Last week, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit claiming that President Barack Obama’s requirement that all Americans have health insurance violates the religious freedom of those who rely on God to protect them. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, on behalf of five Americans who can afford health insurance but have chosen for years not to buy it. The case was one of several lawsuits filed against Obama’s requirement that Americans either buy health insurance or pay a penalty, beginning in 2014. Kessler is the third Democratic-appointed judge to dismiss a challenge, while two Republican-appointed judges have ruled part or all of the law unconstitutional. Kessler wrote that the Supreme Court will need to settle the constitutional issues.

U.S. Health Care Law Subject to Nullification?

In their battle against the federal health care legislation, Republican lawmakers in at least 11 states are turning to a centuries-old and rarely used tactic in an effort to wrest power from the federal government. The Republican-controlled Idaho House of Representatives became the first elected body in the nation to pass a nullification bill when it voted 49-20 in favor of a measure to nullify the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Seven Republicans voted against the nulification bill along with all House Democrats. The doctrine of nullification has deep roots in U.S. history. Thomas Jefferson in 1798 first outlined the notion that states have the right to void federal laws that they perceive run contrary to the U.S. Constitution when he argued against Congress’ passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Arizona’s Public-School Funding Battered by Recession

Arizona is facing two, possibly three, consecutive years of declines in basic per-student funding for K-12 schools. The Great Recession battered the state’s take from sales, property and income taxes and public-land sales, causing Arizona to chop its per-student funding, hike the sales tax and patch in with federal stimulus aid. The stimulus money will vanish in 2012, likely forcing further budget cuts. The state is trying to shore up K-12, but already it has dropped support of all-day kindergarten, cut funding for classroom equipment, and stopped kicking in money to maintain school buildings. Schools are making up for losses with property taxes and other federal money, yet still have laid off staff, trimmed salaries and raised class sizes. Laws are being floated to put in place more cost-saving approaches for K-12, such as offering more online education and graduating students sooner out of high school.

Christian Medical Plans Get Pass from Health Law

Religious “health care sharing ministries” successfully lobbied Democratic lawmakers to free their members from the requirement that everyone in the country have health insurance. “Christians are exempt from insurance mandates,” Niles’ old plan, Medi-Share, says on its website. Sharing ministries are “the only organized health care concept to receive a special exemption from the taxes, penalties and regulations” that the law imposes on insurers, the site says. Medi-Share members affirm a statement of Christian beliefs and pledge to follow a code that includes no tobacco or illegal drugs, no sex outside of marriage, and no abuse of alcohol or legal medications. Every month, they pay a fixed “share” to cover the medical expenses of members in need. The cost usually is less than private insurance, but it’s not tax deductible. Members use a network of medical providers.

“It accomplishes some of the same purposes of health insurance,” said Medi-Share’s president, Robert Baldwin. “There are also a lot of contrasts … first and foremost, the biblical basis: Members pray for one another and are prone to encouraging one another.” Medi-Share says it’s faithfully helped members pay medical bills for more than 17 years, based on a Bible verse: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Consumer advocates call them a gamble because there’s no guarantee they will pay claims.

  • And no one’s claims are ever denied by insurance companies? Yeah, right.

Scientists Study Rash of Baby Dolphin Deaths in Gulf

A rash of baby dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico has worried federal marine scientists, who are trying to come up with theories to explain the mystery. So far this year, 29 fetal-sized calves have been found dead on the beaches of the northern Gulf. A typical year sees only two such reports, usually in March. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official Teri Rowles says that it’s too early to tell whether the deaths are tied to last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Although the stranded calves appear in varied states of decomposition, all of them died within the last few months.

Credit Flows to the Rich, Dries Up for the Poor

A year after sweeping credit card regulations upended the industry, banks are showering perks and rewards on big spenders with sterling credit scores, while customers who have spottier histories are being socked with higher interest rates, lower credit limits and new annual fees. In some cases the riskiest customers are being dropped altogether. The widening differences between how customers are treated is largely the result of new constraints on card issuers. The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, or the CARD Act, was signed into law with great fanfare last year. A key change is that issuers can no longer hike rates on existing balances or in the first year an account is open. The penalty for late payments is also capped at $25 per violation. And monthly statements must clearly spell out the projected costs of making only minimum payments. The regulations are already transforming cards on the market. To make up for the drop in revenue, banks are imposing new annual fees and hiking interest rates — but mostly for those with the lowest credit scores. The best customers are more prized than ever.

Economic News

The jobs that were created and saved by the economic stimulus legislation that President Barack Obama signed in February 2009 cost at least $228,055 each, according to new data from the Congressional Budget Office. In a report released on Wednesday, the CBO said it now estimates the stimulus bill costs $821 billion, up from its original estimate of $787 billion. The CBO also estimated that between 1.4 and 3.6 million were employed as a result of the stimulus bill during the third quarter of 2010. The figures take into account not only the new jobs believed to have been created, but also the existing jobs that were saved that would otherwise have been lost. So the $821 billion cost of the stimulus, divided by the maximum of 3.6 million jobs the CBO believes were saved or created, equals $228,055 for each job, according to CNS News. Using the 1.4 million figure for jobs created or saved means each job cost $586,428.

The massive oil terminal at Brega feels strangely deserted for Libya’s second-largest hydrocarbon complex. After more than a week of turmoil in the country, production has been scaled back by almost 90% with many employees fleeing and ships not coming to collect its products.

Airlines have posted fare increases as a result of their ballooning fuel costs. High fuel prices are also putting a squeeze on drivers’ wallets just as they are starting to feel better about the economy. They’re also forcing tough choices on small-business owners who are reluctant to charge more for fear of losing cost-conscious customers. Gasoline prices rose almost 20 cents a gallon in the past week, or 6%, to a national average $3.368 per gallon Monday according to AAA. That’s the most ever for this time of year, when prices are typically low. And with unrest in the Middle East and North Africa lifting the price of crude oil to the $100-a-barrel range, analysts say pump prices are likely headed higher.

Israel

The Jerusalem Prayer Team reports that “the news media and government officials have bent over backwards to portray the forces that toppled Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt as ‘moderates.’ The President’s Director of National Intelligence called the Muslim Brotherhood a “mostly secular” group that has “renounced violence.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Last week the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood returned to Egypt from exile in Qatar. Before a crowd estimated at one million strong, he called for the “liberation” of Jerusalem. The people chanted in reply: “To Jerusalem we go to be millions of martyrs.” he unrest across the Middle East, and especially in Egypt, poses a grave threat to Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood has joined with Hamas in calling for Egypt’s border with Gaza to be opened. Mubarak’s soldiers had stopped much of the weaponry sent from Iran from reaching the terrorists there, and the supposedly moderate student group April 6 has called on the government to stop natural gas shipments to Israel. These Muslim extremists are anything but moderate.

Egypt

A constitutional reform panel on Saturday recommended opening Egypt’s presidential elections to competition and imposing a two-term limit on future presidents — a dramatic shift from a system that allowed the ousted Hosni Mubarak to rule for three decades. The changes are among 10 proposed constitutional amendments that are to be put to a popular referendum later this year. The proposals appeared to address many of the demands of the reform movement that help lead the 18-day popular uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11. But some Egyptians worry that the proposed changes don’t go far enough to ensure a transition to democratic rule, and could allow the entrenched old guard to maintain its grip on power.

Egyptian military police beat protesters Saturday to clear them from outside the Cabinet office where they were trying to camp out overnight to press demands for sweeping political reforms and the dismissal of remnants of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The clash signaled a tougher line from Egypt’s military rulers, who had avoided violently confronting anti-government protesters in the streets while promising to meet their demands for democratic reform and return the country to civilian rule. The protest movement, however, is growing impatient, and tens of thousands rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square throughout the day on Friday to keep up the pressure and, in particular, to demand the dismissal of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who was appointed by Mubarak.

Libya

Rebellion threatens to turn into a Libyan civil war as armed rebels braced Monday for a showdown today with troops loyal to dictator Moammar Gadhafi, only 30 miles from the capital city, Tripoli. Anti-government forces in Zawiya, just west of Tripoli, were surrounded by heavily armed forces loyal to Gadhafi. The Gadhafi loyalists also set up checkpoints along the main road between Zawiya and the capital, looking to stop any incursion of anti-government forces. Despite the prospects of more violence, sanctions from the United Nations, the United States and Britain, and calls for him to step down, Gadhafi has remained defiant.

Moammar Gadhafi, the longest-serving Arab ruler alive, holds no official title. For four decades, he insisted on being called “the Leader” by both close friends and visiting emissaries, ruling over oil-rich Libya through a patchwork of rival institutions that barely constituted a government. And he held onto power through ruthless oppression that included public hangings and massacres. Now Gadhafi’s airtight grip on Libya is being pried away as mass protests bring his nation to the brink of civil war. His tenuous relations with the United States and the West have fractured, his bank accounts worldwide are under scrutiny, and some of his top advisers have resigned or defected.

The U.N. Security Council moved Saturday to halt Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s deadly crackdown on protesters, slapping sanctions on him, his five children and 10 top associates. The European Union also agreed Monday to sanction Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, including an arms embargo, asset freeze and visa  ban. The Obama administration froze assets of the Libyan government, leader Moammar Gadhafi and four of his children Friday, just hours after it closed the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and evacuated its remaining staff.

Tunisia

Tunisia’s interim president chose a former government minister as a new prime minister on Sunday, appealing for a return to calm following new violent protests that have been hobbling this North African country since the ouster of its long-time autocratic leader. Beji Caid-Essebsi will replace Mohammed Ghannouchi, who resigned earlier Sunday after becoming a major irritant to Tunisians behind the so-called “Jasmine Revolution” that toppled autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month and sparked a wave of upheaval in the Arab world. As Ben Ali’s prime minister for 11 years, Ghannouchi became the emblem of an entrenched old guard that many Tunisians feared were hijacking their revolution.

Saudi Arabia

More than 100 leading Saudi academics and activists are calling on the oil-rich country’s monarch to enact sweeping changes, including setting up a constitutional monarchy, as mass protests that have engulfed other Arab nations lapped at Saudi Arabia’s shores. The statement seen on several Saudi websites Sunday reflects the undercurrent of tension that has simmered for years in the world’s largest oil producer. While King Abdullah is seen as a reformer, the pace of those changes has been slow as Saudi officials balance the need to push the country forward with the perennial pressure from hard-line clergy in the conservative nation.

China

A heavy police presence blunted protests in China that were modeled on demonstrations across the Middle East. The crackdown highlighted China’s resolve to deter any would-be protesters from responding to an online call for “Jasmine Rallies” in China’s capital and other cities. Echoing protests in the Arab world, the U.S.-based website boxun.com last week posted a call for citizens to gather every Sunday at specified locations in each city, including a Beijing McDonald’s. This was the second Sunday of scheduled protests. Chinese police swamped the area around a well-known McDonalds restaurant Sunday. Similar tactics were employed in Shanghai.

Afghanistan

Sixty-five civilians, including 40 children, were killed in a NATO assault on insurgents in eastern Afghanistan earlier this month, according to findings of an Afghan government investigation released Sunday. Tribal leaders had alleged that dozens of civilians were killed in the operation in Kunar province, which involved rocket and air strikes, but NATO has not confirmed any civilian deaths. The incident inflamed tensions between the Afghan government and NATO forces, and both sides opened investigations. Civilian deaths have been increasing in recent months as insurgents appear to become more indiscriminate in their targets, attacking banks, supermarkets and sporting events. At least three separate attacks Sunday, including one targeting spectators at an illegal dog fight, killed nine Afghan civilians and two NATO service members, officials said.

Iraq

Gunmen attacked Iraq’s largest oil refinery Saturday, killing one guard and detonating bombs that sparked a fire and forced the facility to shut down. Assailants broke into the Beiji refinery around 3:30 a.m., attacked the guards and planted bombs. One guard was killed and another wounded. Beiji is about 155 miles north of Baghdad. The refinery processes about 150,000 barrels of oil per day. Firefighters were still trying to put out a blaze started by the bomb explosions.

Earthquakes

Seismologists say a moderately strong earthquake with preliminary magnitude 5.2 has struck off the southern Greek island of Crete. There have been no initial reports of damage or injuries. The undersea quake occurred at 9:50 a.m. Monday, some 230 miles south-southwest of Athens, according to the Athens Geodynamic Institute. Greece is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, but serious damage or fatalities are rare.

A 4.7-magnitude earthquake struck central Arkansas just after 11 p.m. Sunday (12 a.m. ET Monday), the United States Geological Survey said. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The quake’s epicenter was 37 miles from Little Rock, Arkansas. More than 700 quakes have hit central Arkansas since September.The latest quakes are on a previously unknown fault.

Residents held open-air prayers for the dead and missing Sunday on the lawns of churches cracked and shattered in New Zealand’s earthquake while teams searched for more bodies in what could become the country’s deadliest disaster. “As our citizens make their way to church this Sunday they will be joined in prayer by millions around the world,” said Mayor Bob Parker of the devastated city of Christchurch. The death toll rose Sunday to 146, with officials citing “grave fears” for the more than 200 still missing.

Wildfires

Wildfires sweeping across West Texas destroyed 58 homes, forced evacuations and closed an interstate after heavy smoke caused an accident that killed a 5-year-old girl Sunday. The fires blackened almost 88,000 acres (35,000 hectares) and destroyed homes from the Texas Panhandle to the southern plains, Texas Forest Service spokesman Lewis Kearney said. The largest fire burned about 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) in the Panhandle northeast of Amarillo, destroying 27 homes and damaging seven others.

Weather

Another severe storm walloped the East on Friday, delaying flights, closing scores of schools and leading to at least one death. About 8 inches of snow fell in Albany by noon Friday with an expected accumulation through the weekend of 12 to 16 inches. In a suburb of Rochester, a 34-year-old woman died Friday afternoon after she was hit by a Pittsford plow truck backing up in a parking lot. A 30-mile stretch of the New York Thruway was closed by an accident south of Buffalo, and in Maine, dozens of cars were reported off the road. Flights out of New York’s metropolitan-area airports were delayed by the rain and wind.

February 25, 2011

Obama Admin. Won’t Defend Defense of Marriage Act

The Obama administration will no longer defend a law that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage — a major legal reversal that reinvigorates a national debate over gay rights. The decision, outlined Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Holder, represents the administration’s strongest legal advocacy for the rights of gay men and lesbians, who have strongly opposed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The law defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. “This is huge,” said Northwestern University law professor Andrew Koppelman, an expert on gays’ legal rights. “For the first time, the president of the United States has taken the position that laws that discriminate against gays are unconstitutional.”

  • It’s huge all right and it’s not all right – a major step away from God’s and nature’s natural order and a steep decline into the pit of immorality

A coalition of 34,000 black churches is blasting President Barack Obama’s decision to stop defending the federal law that bans recognition of gay marriage. The Rev. Anthony Evans, who heads the National Black Church Initiative, says Obama “has violated the Christian faith” by failing to uphold Jesus’ teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Matthew Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, says, “President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are acting as judge and jury in determining that a federal law passed by Congress in 1996 is indefensible!  The sheer arrogance of Obama and Holder is stunning. While they fully commit the staggering resources of the Department of Justice to defend ObamaCare and its clearly unconstitutional mandates…they then choose NOT to defend the  DOMA law that has been in place since 1996! The President and his Attorney General have a duty to defend lawfully passed legislation, especially when the essence of the law has been upheld by many courts.  THIRTY STATES have passed marriage amendments affirming marriage as the union of one man and one woman!”

A conservative military watchdog says a recent announcement from the Justice Department reveals that the administration misled Congress about the effects of repealing the ban on homosexual military service. The administration’s decision did not sit well with pro-family advocates who believe the Justice Department is obligated to enforce the statutes passed by Congress, regardless of whether the administration agrees with them politically. Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR), says the declaration contradicts Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ pledge to Congress and the military service chiefs last year, when he said DOMA’s existence would prevent the military from providing housing and benefits for same-sex couples who live together as “married” or “committed partners” on military bases. The CMR president concludes that Congress should call for immediate hearings to reconsider the rash action taken during the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress late last year.

Wisconsin Assembly Approves Plan to Curb Unions

The Wisconsin state Assembly approved a Republican proposal early Friday to strip public sector unions of most collective-bargaining rights despite fierce objections from Democrats and labor unions. The vote sets the stage for a showdown with state Senate Democrats who left Wisconsin last week to prevent a vote in that chamber, which also must approve the measure if it is to go into effect. After two all-night sessions and a Democratic bid for a compromise, the Republican-dominated Assembly abruptly ended debate early on Friday and approved the bill by a vote of 51 to 17. The plan has generated widespread protests among Wisconsin teachers and other union members. More than 50,000 demonstrators poured into the state capital of Madison over the weekend to protest against the plan. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has said the measure is critical to restoring Wisconsin’s financial health, and closing a budget deficit of $137 million for this fiscal year and $3.6 billion in the next two years.

FBI Says Muslim Brotherhood Already “Deeply Rooted” in US

News reports published this week revealed that both House and Senate investigators are looking into links between the radical Muslim Brotherhood and various Muslim organizations inside the United States. The report revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood is already “deeply rooted” within the United States. Veteran FBI agent John Guandolo said, “The most prominent Islamic organizations in the United States are all controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood.” The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes that, “Despite efforts by the mainstream press and some government officials to portray them as moderates and even secular, the Muslim Brotherhood is in fact a deeply radical organization, committed to the destruction of Israel and the institution of Islamic sharia law over all the world. Their motto reads: “Allah is our goal; the Prophet is our guide; the Koran is our constitution; jihad is our way; and death for the glory of Allah is our greatest ambition.” The potential rise to power of this extremist group in Egypt poses a grave threat to Israel, America, and the rest of the free world.”

IRS to be More Lenient on Liens

The IRS announced Thursday that it’s significantly reducing the number of liens it will place on property owned by delinquent taxpayers and will make it easier for taxpayers to get existing liens withdrawn. The use of tax liens has soared more than 60% since the start of the recession, according to IRS Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. Olson has called on the IRS to moderate the use of this collection tool, which can make it difficult for an individual to find a job, obtain affordable housing or buy insurance. IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said the IRS will impose a lien when a taxpayer owes back taxes of $10,000, up from the previous threshold of $5,000. As a result of the higher threshold, “Tens of thousands of people won’t be burdened by liens,” Shulman said.

Economic News

Sales of new homes fell significantly in January, a dismal sign after the worst year for that sector in nearly a half-century. New-home sales dropped to a seasonally adjusted rate of 284,000 homes last month, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That’s down from 325,000 in December and less than half the 600,000-a-year pace economists consider healthy. Last year was the fifth consecutive year that new-home sales have declined.

Fewer people requested unemployment benefits last week, pushing the four-week average of applications to its lowest level in more than two and a half years. The Labor Department says the number of laid-off workers applying for unemployment benefits dropped 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 391,000. It was the third drop in the past four weeks. But the number still needs to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant decline in the unemployment rate.

Oil prices zoomed to nearly $102 a barrel Thursday in Asia as chaos in Libya disrupted crude supplies from the OPEC nation, and traders worried that instability could spread to oil-rich countries in the Middle East. Oil had been trading in the upper 80s to low 90s. Gas prices jumped 6 cents overnight Thursday, as the recent spike in oil prices begins to hit filling stations across America. The national average price for a gallon of regular gas rose to $3.29.

The Washington Post reported this week that President Obama’s budget plan will quadruple the interest owed on the national debt over the next 10 years, by which time every American will pay over $2,500 every year just to cover the interest payments.  By the year 2014 (just 3 years away) the interest payments will surpass the amount we spend on education, transportation, energy, and all other discretionary programs, and by 2018 interest on the debt will surpass Medicare payments.

The Federal Deposit Insurance reported that banks earned $21.7 billion in the fourth quarter. That compared with a net loss of $1.8 billion a year earlier. The agency said bank earnings were buoyed in the latest quarter by reduced charges for soured loans. The FDIC called 2010 a turnaround year for the banking industry, with net income reaching a three-year high of $87.5 billion. It contrasted with a loss of $10.6 billion in 2009.

Middle East

Israeli tank fire wounded 11 people, including at least six militants, in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday following an attack on an Israeli patrol. The Israeli military said its tanks opened fire after the militants detonated a bomb targeting the Israeli patrol near the border and then fired mortars at the soldiers. Gaza health officials say two of the wounded militants were in serious condition. Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas militants say they fired mortars at the troops. No Israeli soldiers were hurt. Israel and Hamas have largely observed an unofficial cease-fire since an Israeli military offensive in Gaza two years ago. But clashes sporadically flare up along the volatile border.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in cities across the Middle East on Friday to protest the unaccountability of their leaders and express solidarity with the uprising in Libya that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is trying to suppress with force.

  • In Iraq, demonstrations for better government services spiraled out of control in many places. Protesters burned buildings and security forces fired on crowds in Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi and in Salahuddin Province, north of the capital, killing at least four people.
  • Large-scale demonstrations in Yemen appeared to proceed more peacefully, even festively. More than 100,000 people poured into the streets on Friday, after Yemen’s embattled president pledged on Wednesday not to crack down on protesters.
  • In Egypt, tens of thousands of people returned to Tahrir Square in central Cairo to celebrate one full month since the start of the popular revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
  • In Bahrain, pro-democracy demonstrations on a scale that appeared to dwarf the largest ever seen in the tiny Persian Gulf nation blocked miles of downtown roads and highways in Manama, the capital, on Friday. The crowds overflowed from Pearl Square in the center of the city for the second time in a week.
  • The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have begun to shift the balance of power in the region, bolstering Iran’s position while weakening and unnerving its rival, Saudi Arabia, regional experts said. While it is far too soon to write the final chapter on the uprisings’ impact, Iran has already benefited from the ouster or undermining of Arab leaders who were its strong adversaries and has begun to project its growing influence, the analysts said. This week Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since its revolution in 1979, and Egypt’s new military leaders allowed them to pass.

Al Jazeera Coverage Enrages Dictators, Wins Global Viewers

“Don’t believe those misleading dog stations,” Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said this week. He wasn’t referring to CNN or the BBC. Arab-owned television channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have been denounced by targets of the Middle Eastern revolts, showing they’ve played a pivotal role in the uprisings that have shaken countries from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya and Yemen. Gadhafi called them the “biggest enemy.” In Egypt, Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau was shut down at the start of rallies that led to the ouster of 82-year-old president Hosni Mubarak. Beaming images of the protests and interviewing key participants, Al Jazeera in particular has moved from being perceived as a Middle Eastern talk shop to a catalyst for change. Although the Arabic- and English-language broadcaster has sometimes acted like a participant rather than an observer of the uprisings, it is now winning praise in Europe and the U.S., which may help it extend its global reach.

Libya

Rebels holding Libya’s third- and fourth-largest cities Thursday repulsed tank-backed assaults by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces as the embattled dictator struggled to reclaim areas outside the capital and fresh high-level defections further fractured his regime. The crackdown is widely feared to have killed more than 1,000 people over the nine-day revolt. The U.S. and its NATO allies were actively considering imposing a no-fly zone over Libya to stop regime airstrikes on civilians. In his latest diatribe over state-run television Thursday, Gadhafi claimed that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had instigated the rebellion and admitted that his forces were losing control of Zawiya, 30 miles west of Tripoli. Misrata, the country’s third-largest city, with a population of about 300,000, remained in rebel hands after daylong fighting. The insurrection erupted in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, and spread east to the Egyptian border and west along the coast of the Gulf of Sidra, where most of the country’s 6.4 million people live.

Governments around the world are making a run to get their citizens out of volatile Libya Friday. A United States ferry with at least 275 Americans onboard finally left Libya Friday. The departure has been delayed by bad weather. China has evacuated 12,000, or about one third, of its citizens from turmoil in Libya, many of them workers for Chinese-run projects in the oil-rich nation, official media said on Friday. The mass evacuation, supported by a Chinese naval frigate, is the latest test for a government that has encouraged firms to seek business across the developing world, often in conditions considered too difficult or poorly paid for Western firms. China’s Ministry of Commerce has said 75 Chinese companies have operations in Libya. Vietnam said it had evacuated about 1,300 of its citizens from Libya out of 10,482 living and working there. India plans to evacuate its citizens from Libya by air and sea. Government officials said they have chartered a ferry with the capacity to seat 1,200 people. The HMS Cumberland departed Benghazi carrying 207 passengers, about 68 of them British.

Iraq

Iraqi security forces trying to disperse crowds of demonstrators in northern Iraq killed 5 people Friday as thousands rallied in cities across the country. Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets on Friday to protest against corruption and a lack of basic services in an organized nationwide “Day of Rage” inspired by uprisings around the Arab world. At least five people were killed and 49 wounded in clashes between protesters and security forces in several towns when demonstrators tried to storm government buildings and security personnel fired shots in the air to try to disperse them. The Arab world has erupted in protests aimed at ousting long-standing rulers, holding free elections and improving basic services, but Iraqi rallies have focused more on gripes over essential needs and corruption.

Iran

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that an estimated 45 Christians in various locations were detained overnight by the Iranian authorities on Feb. 13. At least five people were held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. They were all released the next day after questioning. The wave of arrests and temporary detentions by the Iranian government appear to be part of the government’s wider tactic of repression and intimidation of the Christian community. Similar tactics have been deployed against Iran’s Baha’i community. Concern is mounting for seven Baha’i leaders detained since early 2008 after it was revealed that two women have been transferred to the brutal ‘Section 200’ of Gohardasht prison on 12 February.

Egypt

Christian Today reports that two alleged accomplices in a church bombing that killed six Christians in Egypt have been acquitted. The January 2010 drive-by shooting killed six Christians and a Muslim security guard outside a Nag Hammadi church on the orthodox Christmas Eve. A state security court has upheld the death sentence handed to chief suspect Mohamed Ahmed Hussein. The Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Nag Hammadi, Bishop Cyril, condemned the verdict. “The court imposed one death sentence because one Muslim was killed, and the Egyptian judiciary wasted the blood of the six murdered Copts, who are of no value to the society,” he said. The blood of Christians, however, is “worth nothing.” He believes the two acquittals signals the increasingly influence of Sharia law on Christians in Egypt.

Laos

A group of Christians in Laos is facing severe food shortages after authorities forced them from their homes and destroyed their crops. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that the group of about 65 Christians was forced out of Katin village when they refused to give up their faith at gunpoint in 2010. Village officials are now refusing to let them back into the village to farm their land, and have destroyed a makeshift garden outside the village. Families still inside the village have been forbidden to help the Christians. At first 11 families were driven from the village in Saravan province at gunpoint during a worship service in January 2010, before a further seven families of new converts to Christianity were driven out in December 2010. The Laos Constitution provides protection for its people to practice a religion of their choice without discrimination. However, legislative protection is weak and implementation at a local level can be arbitrary.

Somalia

Reports in Somalia indicate that intense fighting between African Union peacekeepers and Islamist militants has resulted in heavy casualties.           A spokesman for the African Union, Maj. Barigye Bahoku, said peacekeepers had killed 14 militants on Wednesday. An al-Shabab spokesman, Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, said that militants had killed five peacekeepers and captured one alive.

Earthquakes

A small earthquake has hit Hawaii, with a jolt felt across Honolulu. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude 3.6 temblor struck at 2:12 p.m. on Thursday in between the islands of Oahu and Molokai. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. No tsunami was generated. The quake that lasted for several seconds shook homes and people throughout Oahu, from high-rise buildings in downtown Honolulu to the tourist district of Waikiki.

This week’s massive earthquake flattened office towers and killed at least 113 people in nearby Christchurch. With 228 people listed as missing, the toll of fatalities was still expected to rise. Water supplies to Lyttelton were cut, and residents gathered Thursday at a fresh water station set up near the town center, filling as many watering cans, plastic buckets and bottles as they could carry home. The pavement under their feet wobbled during relentless aftershocks, but residents said they were nothing compared with Tuesday’s nightmare. The quake unleashed huge boulders from surrounding hills, sending them hurtling toward the village. One monstrous rock, around 16 feet wide and 10 feet tall, bounced twice as it crossed a main road, gouging deep holes in the pavement, then rocketed into the front yard of a one-story white brick home. The boulder smashed into the front door and exited out the back — taking out everything in between.

Weather

A perfect storm of freezing rain at morning rush hour on Wednesday caused numerous wrecks around the St. Louis area, including one 31-vehicle pileup near downtown. Three accidents in the city of St. Louis involved nine vehicles or more. Twenty-one people were hurt. “This is the worst I’ve seen in my years as an emergency responder,’ St. Louis Fire Capt. Dan Sutter, who was on the scene of the 30-car wreck.” I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude.”

Severe storms raced across a stretch of the nation’s midsection on Thursday, pummeling trees and splintering power lines as they pushed to the southeast. Winds between 60 and 70 mph toppled trees there, blocking roads and damaged homes across Arkansas. On Highway 51 near Memphis, sheets of rain fell, tree limbs blew onto the road. Authorities found the bodies of three Amish children early Friday who were swept away in a creek swollen by heavy rains in southwestern Kentucky and continued searching for another child. A married couple along with seven children were trying to cross the creek Thursday on a roadway in their horse-drawn buggy when it overturned knocking them into the water.

Much of the northern and western USA will likely shiver through below-average temperatures the next three months, a new spring forecast says, while the South continues to struggle with severe drought conditions. The unusual cold for the northern and western USA means that natural-gas heating demand from March to May should be 20% more nationwide than it was during the unusually warm spring of 2010. The main driver behind the expected cold in the North and West appears to be the La Niña climate pattern, a periodic cooling of tropical Pacific Ocean water, which affects weather patterns in the USA and around the world. It typically brings warmer and drier conditions to the southern USA and cold air into the northern and western states.

With 2010 tying as the world’s warmest year on record and efforts to slow greenhouse gas emissions looking stymied, calls are rising for research into engineering our way out of global warming — everything from launching solar shade spacecraft to genetically engineering green deserts. An international consortium of 12 universities and research institutes on Tuesday, for example, announced plans to pioneer large-scale “ocean fertilization” experiments aimed at using the sea to pull more greenhouse gases out of the sky.

  • Uh oh, now we’re really in trouble if our scientists start playing around with already unstable weather

February 23, 2011

Healthcare Conscience Laws Gutted

The Obama administration has stripped part of conscience protections for the healthcare industry — which means Congress may need to step in. Rules for enforcing 30-year-old conscience laws were put in place by the Bush administration, but the Obama administration has now changed that. Left in place are protections only for those who object to abortion and sterilization, but little else. Dr. J. Scott Ries, a spokesman for the Christian Medical Association, sees nothing but bad results from this move. “If the Obama administration is successful in diminishing the right of a physician — or any healthcare worker, for that matter — to have a conscience in their practice, this is going to profoundly impact healthcare in our country,” Ries states”[The rule changes] weaken a foundational civil right that’s going to force doctors to either check their moral integrity at the door of their clinic or hospital — or leave medicine altogether.”

  • The reason for the original regulation was because the government was not enforcing compliance or responding to complaints. Why? Because abortions, birth control, family planning, et. al. are part and parcel of the immoral liberal agenda.

High Court to Hear Case Against Ashcroft

Abdullah al-Kidd was arrested at a Dulles Airport ticket counter in March 2003, led away in handcuffs and sent to three different jails across the country. He says he was strip searched and subjected to humiliating conditions. After two weeks, he was released and never charged with a crime. Al-Kidd, a U.S. citizen who is African-American and Muslim, later sued then-attorney general John Ashcroft and other officials for violating his rights. In a case now before the Supreme Court, he claims his arrest wrongly flowed from aggressive Justice Department policies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The dispute tests when top officials can be held responsible for a policy that violates someone’s rights. It is one of the lingering controversies surrounding Bush administration actions after 9/11, pitting national security concerns against civil liberties.

  • The federal government will eventually use anti-terrorist measures against its own citizens to squelch opposition of its increasingly socialistic policies.

Dems Dare GOP on Federal Shutdown

Democrats are daring Republicans who continue to press for deep cuts in federal spending with a potential government shutdown now just nine days away. Agencies in the Obama administration are making ready for a government shutdown and congressional Democrats have responded to Republican calls for deep spending cuts with a proposal for no reductions at all. GOP leaders and staffers could be out as early as today with a counterproposal on short-term spending – which aides say is likely to be for two or three weeks and with pro-rated cuts in keeping with their larger proposal. The tone on Capital Hill suggests that finding a compromise will not be easy.

Wisconsin Governor Refuses to Give In to Protests

Democrats kept the Wisconsin Assembly up overnight with a droning filibuster in another desperate attempt to block the Republican governor’s bold plan to strip public sector workers of nearly all of their bargaining rights. The Assembly began debate around noon Tuesday, with lawmakers coming to the floor under heavy guard as protesters in the rotunda cheered and banged on buckets and bongo drums. Democrats began introducing dozens of amendments and gave drawn-out, rambling speeches criticizing the bill. Republicans sat mostly in silence as the debate dragged into the wee hours. Huge crowds gathered at the Capitol for an eighth day Tuesday to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to cut union benefits and end most public workers’ collective bargaining rights as the state Assembly debated the bill. A vote didn’t appear likely until well into Wednesday or later.

Arizona Senate Panel Passes Sweeping Bills Targeting Illegals, Birthright Citizenship

An Arizona Senate committee late Tuesday narrowly approved a sweeping bill that would target illegal immigrants in public housing, public benefits and the workplace. The committee earlier Tuesday also approved a bill that would deny automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants in a measure designed to set up a possible U.S. Supreme Court case on the issue. Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, who authored Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration law last year that touched off a nationwide debate on whether states can enforce federal immigration laws, sponsored Tuesday’s more sweeping measure. “If you’re in the country illegally, you don’t have a right to public benefits, period,” he said. The bill toughens requirements that employers check work eligibility of new hires, allowing for their business licenses to be suspended if they don’t use the federal E-Verify system. Workers caught using a false identity to get a job would face mandatory six-month jail sentences.

Arizona Muslim Convicted in ‘Honor Killing’ Case

A Phoenix jury convicted an Iraqi Muslim immigrant of second-degree murder Tuesday for running over and killing his daughter in a case termed an “honor killing” by prosecutors who said the father carried out the attack because he believed his daughter had become too Westernized. Faleh Hassan Almaleki mowed down Noor Almaleki, 20, with his Jeep Cherokee because he believed she brought dishonor to the family. He had wanted her to be a traditional Iraq woman, while she refused an arranged marriage, went to college and had a boyfriend. Almaleki, 50, also was convicted of aggravated assault for injuries suffered by the mother of his daughter’s boyfriend during the October 2009 incident in a suburban Phoenix parking lot,

Supreme Court Rules Against Parents in Vaccine Case

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the parents of a child who suffered seizures after a routine vaccination cannot sue the drugmaker. By a 6-2 vote, the justices said a 1986 law that set up a special court and compensation fund for injuries stemming from vaccines bars all design-defect lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which along with the U.S. government had urged the court to bar such lawsuits, said the decision will enhance the national immunization system and ensure “that vaccines will continue to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in this country.” Lawyers who represent children who have suffered adverse effects, including the American Association for Justice and Public Citizen, said the ruling is a disincentive for manufacturers to put safer vaccines on the market.

  • The 1986 law barring lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers is yet another example of federal interference and micromanagement

More of World’s Crops are Genetically Engineered

The amount of land devoted to genetically engineered crops grew 10% last year, and 7% in the year before, as farmers in major grain and soy exporting countries such as Brazil and Argentina continued to adopt the new seeds. These so-called biotech crops, often bred with genes that allow them to tolerate weed killers or generate their own insecticides, now cover 10% of the world’s farmland, up from nothing just 15 years ago. In 2010, 81% of all soybeans, 64% of cotton, 29% of corn and 23% of canola globally were from biotech seeds. The most common modification is herbicide tolerance, where plants are given a gene that allows farmers to spray them with the weed killer glyphosate, known to most home gardeners as Roundup, without harming them. Sixty-one percent of biotech crops carry this gene.

Teens Share Self-Injury, ‘Cutting’ Videos on YouTube

In what researchers call an “alarming new trend,” teens and young adults are creating and sharing YouTube videos about cutting, burning or otherwise harming themselves — and even demonstrating techniques, a study says today in Pediatrics. Previous research suggests that 14% to 21% of teens and young adults have deliberately injured themselves at least once — using knives to cut their arms or legs, for example. Some go on to attempt suicide, the third-leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24. Though it’s unlikely that watching a video would cause an otherwise happy person to begin cutting, the videos could “trigger” an urge to harm themselves in young people who have already tried it or who are at risk to do so. Why do they hurt themselves in this way? Young people say they do it to cope with stress or traumatic experiences. ost do it in secret, hiding scars under long-sleeved shirts and confiding only in anonymous people online. The top 100 videos analyzed for the study had been viewed more than 2 million times. Viewers rated them highly, giving them average scores of 4.6 out of 5.

Number of Catholics Up, But Trails Muslims

The number of Catholics in the world edged up 1% in 2009, the Vatican says, bringing to 1.18 billion the number of adherents of the world’s largest church, about one in five of the global population. However, a recent Pew Forum study finds Catholics are still outnumbered by 1.57 billion Muslims, nearly one in four of the world’s population and growing by 2% annually. About half of the world’s Catholics live in North and South America, with 24% found in Europe, 15% in Africa and nearly 11% in Asia. Growth in the number of priests, meanwhile, was much more modest: less than 0.2%.

States Employ Private Insurance Companies for Managed Care

Desperate to rein in rising Medicaid costs, Tennessee last year became the sixth state to require its frailest and costliest patients — the elderly and disabled who need long-term care — to enroll in managed care plans. At least 10 other states, including Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island, are considering introducing or expanding the use of managed long-term care. The trend is sparking opposition from the nursing home industry and raising some concerns from AARP and other patient advocates. Traditionally, states pay Medicaid providers, such as doctors and nursing homes, directly for individual services. But many officials say that system makes it hard for them to predict and control Medicaid spending. Under managed care, states pay health insurers a fixed monthly fee for each Medicaid patient. The lump sum is used for all the patient’s costs, including physician and nursing home care. Managed care companies, including UnitedHealthcare and Wellcare Health Plans, say they can save money for states by keeping Medicaid patients who need long-term care at home, whenever possible, rather than in more-expensive nursing homes. They use care coordinators to monitor patients to help ensure they’re getting the right care in the most appropriate setting.

Productivity Gains Hurt Joblessness

One reason U.S. employers are hiring slowly — and unemployment is at 9% more than 18 months into the recovery — is that Anderen’s increased productivity is commonplace across the USA. Services firms and manufacturers alike cut their staffs sharply in the recession as sales plunged, and they found ways to do more with fewer workers. Productivity is the economy’s output per labor hour. It typically falls sharply early in recessions as companies hold on to workers even as output falls on the belief they’ll need them in the upswing. But in the recent downturn and the 2001 slump, employers slashed in anticipation of falling sales and then kept cutting, wringing more from each employee and boosting profits even as sales grew modestly. Productivity has risen more in this recovery than previous ones, jumping 3.5% in 2009 and 3.6% last year. A growing economy generally means more jobs, and the USA’s average 3% growth the past six quarters should have sliced unemployment, but it hasn’t had much effect yet. However, now that the recovery is heating up, hiring is expected to intensify. Most economists predict U.S. employers will add about 2.4 million jobs this year, more than double last year’s 950,000. But many economists say the nation won’t recover the 8.3 million jobs lost in the recession until 2014.

Economic News

If political unrest in Libya spreads to other oil-rich countries and the ensuing chaos disrupts crude oil production, gas prices could hit $5 a gallon by peak summer driving season, industry analysts say. Benchmark crude oil prices soared Tuesday, rising about 7% to $96 a barrel as violence and a military crackdown spread in Libya, the first major oil-producer hit by a burgeoning anti-government movement. The increased violence prompted BP and Norway’s Statoil to pull oil workers from the country. Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi has ordered his security forces to sabotage oil facilities in order to cut off flows to ports in the Mediterranean, Time magazine reported Wednesday. Economists are concerned about the impact of rising energy prices on the fragile global economic recovery.

The Consumer Confidence Index rose in February to its highest point in three years as Americans are feeling more positive about their income prospects and the direction of the economy. The Conference Board, a private research group, says its Consumer Confidence Index climbed to 70.4 this month from a revised 64.8 in January, hitting its highest level since February 2008. It was the index’s fifth consecutive monthly increase. While confidence is rising, it is still well below the 90-plus readings that signal a stable economy.

Home prices in major U.S. cities tracked by a private trade group have fallen to their lowest levels since the housing bubble burst. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index fell in December from November in all but one of the 20 cities it tracks. The 20-city index declined 1%.The only market to see a gain was Washington, D.C. Eleven of the markets hit their lowest point since the housing bust, in 2006 and 2007.

China holds billions of dollars in U.S. debt, and we’re just now learning about how they use that to try and influence U.S. policy. The AFP news service is reporting that documents from Wikileaks “vividly show China’s willingness to translate its massive holdings of US debt into political influence on issues ranging from Taiwan’s sovereignty to Washington’s financial policy.” An October 2008 cable, released by WikiLeaks, showed a senior Chinese official linking questions about much-needed Chinese investment to sensitive military sales to Taiwan. The much-delayed arms package was eventually sold, but did not include requested F-16 jets in a bow to Chinese influence.

Middle East

Two Iranian warships sailed from the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean on Tuesday, the first such trip in at least three decades, eliciting Israeli charges that Tehran is seeking to influence and dominate the Middle East. The vessels headed toward Syria, but were expected to remain in international waters as they passed the Israeli coast. The warships could further destabilize the Middle East, a region already reeling from an unprecedented wave of anti-government rebellions. In Tehran, the deputy commander of the Iranian navy said, “The world arrogance (U.S.) should know that the army of the Islamic Republic is fully prepared to defend the holy ideals of the Islamic Republic and this readiness grows day by day.”

Libya

Heavy gunfire broke out in Tripoli as forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi tightened their grip on the Libyan capital while anti-government protesters claimed control of many cities elsewhere and top government officials and diplomats turn against the longtime leader. International outrage mounted a day after Gadhafi vowed to defend his rule and called on supporters to crack down on anti-government protesters. Gadhafi’s retaliation has already been the harshest in the Arab world to the wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East. About 1,000 people have been killed thus far according to credible sources. The fighting in Tripoli came as the opposition reportedly seized control of Misrata, which would be the first major city in the west to fall to anti-government forces.

A Libyan military aircraft crashed Wednesday southwest of Benghazi after the crew refused to follow orders to bomb the city, Libya’s Quryna newspaper reported. The State Department said late Tuesday it has chartered a ferry boat to evacuate Americans from Libya by sea amid increasingly violent unrest in the North African state as Gadhafi vowed further crackdowns.

Algeria

The Algerian president’s office agreed Tuesday to lift a 19-year state of emergency in a bid to defuse spiraling and potentially dangerous discontent across the nation. The measure had been instituted in 1992 to combat Islamist extremists. Lifting the measure is a two-step process. The ordinance — which does not pass through parliament — that put the state of emergency in place must be replaced another. It was not immediately clear just how generous authorities will be in putting Algeria on a new footing. However, they have indicated that a ban on street demonstrations in the capital could be maintained, making the change but a partial victory for opposition forces.

Bahrain

Tens of thousands of people waved flags and flooded this tiny sheikdom’s capital Tuesday as the king vowed to free political prisoners in his latest attempt to end an uprising. A throng of people 3 miles long appeared to be the largest demonstration seen here since protests began eight days ago. “The people want the fall of the regime!” they chanted. “This rally is a historic event in Bahrain; it’s an honest public sign that the people of Bahrain, Sunni and Shiite, are supporting the demands of the protesters for an elected government and the separation of the authorities,” said Khalil Almarzooq, leading member of the Alwefaq opposition group.

Egypt

Poverty soared in the last years of the Mubarak regime, as inflation levels rose as high as 30% but salaries stayed the same. Lines for subsidized bread became a common sight. As belts tightened, fewer families could afford the $10 a year for their children to attend school, or pay for notebooks and uniforms. In the vast slums where hundreds of thousands of the poorest live on the outskirts of Cairo, children help their families by selling trinkets to drivers, or by begging and stealing. Jane Gibreel, country director of Save the Children, says there may be as many as 50,000 street children in Cairo.

Somalia

In a final showdown Tuesday morning, Pentagon officials say gunfire erupted on the yacht Quest during negotiations with the pirates who had taken the ship and its four American passengers hostage. It was being shadowed by a fearsome flotilla of U.S. Navy warships and high-flying drone aircraft. Naval forces responded to the gunfire, the U.S. military said in a statement, and after boarding found all four hostages had been shot and killed by their captors. The two couples were the first U.S. citizens killed in the wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden for years.

Pakistan

The American arrested in Pakistan after shooting two men at a crowded traffic stop was part of a covert, C.I.A.-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country, according to American government officials. Working from a safe house in the eastern city of Lahore, the detained American contractor, Raymond A. Davis, a retired Special Forces soldier, carried out scouting and other reconnaissance missions for a Central Intelligence Agency task force of case officers and technical surveillance experts, the officials said.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake struck one of New Zealand’s biggest cities Tuesday at the height of a busy workday, toppling tall buildings and churches, crushing buses and killing at least 75 people in one of the country’s worst natural disasters. It was the second major quake to hit Christchurch, a city of 350,000, in five months, though Tuesday’s 6.3-magnitude temblor caused far more destruction than a stronger September quake that struck before dawn on a weekend. More than 100 people, including as many as a dozen visiting Japanese students, were thought to be trapped in the rubble. The 26-story Hotel Grand Chancellor, one of the tallest buildings in Christchurch, is on the verge of collapse after a magnitude-4.2 aftershock.

Weather

Winter delivered another punishing blow to the snow-weary northern USA on Monday, again snarling flights, closing roads and leaving thousands powerless. As one snowstorm dissipated, a second winter storm was gaining strength. Some of the highest snow totals from the first storm included 19 inches in Madison, Minn.; 16 inches in Midland, S.D.; 15.5 inches in Linden, Mich.; 14.6 inches in Waupaca, Wis., 14 inches in Coudersport, Pa., and 10.3 inches in Frewsburg, N.Y. This latest winter blast — the eighth this season — didn’t cause as much travel disruption as some of the previous storms. Although wintry weather at the end of January and early February led to nearly 19,000 canceled flights, 1,190 flights had been grounded as of 4 p.m. Monday. Still, the unrelenting string of storms and resulting cancellations are costing an industry tens of millions of dollars as it tries to recover from a deep economic slump, says airline analyst Bob Herbst.

Tomatoes are disappearing from plates at restaurants and may soon become more expensive at supermarkets. A chilly winter in Florida, Texas and Mexico has hurt tomato crops in all three areas. Experts say supplies will be limited, quality may be lower and prices will be higher until late March or mid-April.

February 21, 2011

Protests Continue in Arab World

Demonstrators were back in the streets Sunday in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, where the son of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi said protesters had seized control of some military bases and tanks. Appearing on Libyan state television Sunday night after six days of protests, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi warned protesters that they risked igniting a civil war in which Libya’s oil wealth “will be burned.” He acknowledged that the army made mistakes during protests because it was not trained to deal with demonstrators but added that the number of dead had been exaggerated, giving a death toll of 84. Human Rights Watch put the number at 174 through Saturday. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the nation’s ruler of more than 32 years, offered to have protesters sit down with him and talk over their differences as thousands of Yemenis gathered Sunday outside Sana University. “We are ready to respond to their demands if they are legitimate,” Saleh said, according to the state-run Saba News Agency. Yemen’s main opposition coalition rejected the offer. In Bahrain, host of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, a weekend of protests gave way to quiet Monday as the military retreated from a square that was the scene of a bloody attack last week and allowed protesters to go back in. Meanwhile, protests also broke out in Algeria and Morocco.

Ø These youth-led, internet-driven protests have forever changed the face of Muslim nations, leading either to greater freedom or more repression. This is a rare opportunity to pray for the light of Jesus to penetrate the Islamic spiritual darkness that has heretofore blanketed these severely oppressed nations.

GOP-Controlled House Passes Spending Cut Bill

After four days of marathon, near-round-the-clock sessions, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved a bill early Saturday to runt he federal government through the fall and slash $61 billion in spending. The 235-189 vote to send the bill to the Senate was largely along party lines and defied a veto threat from President Obama. It marked the most striking victory to date for the new Republicans elected last year on a promise to attack the deficit and reduce the reach of government. Three Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure. The sweeping $1.2 trillion bill covers every Cabinet agency through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, imposing severe spending cuts aimed at domestic programs and foreign aid, including aid for schools, nutrition programs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and Planned Parenthood. The bill also prohibits the funding of the new health care reform law.

Wisconsin Budget Battle Sends Dems AWOL

70,000 protesters failed to change the minds of Wisconsin lawmakers dug into a stalemate over Republican efforts to scrap union rights for almost all public workers. If changes aren’t made to the benefit contributions paid by Wisconsin’s nearly 300,000 public sector employees, about 10,000-12,000 workers will lose their jobs, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker warned Sunday. Democratic legislators on the run avoided state troopers Friday and threatened to stay in hiding for weeks, potentially paralyzing the state government in a standoff with majority Republicans over union rights for public employees. The party’s battle against balancing the state budget by cutting the pay, benefits and collective bargaining rights of public workers is the boldest action yet by Democrats to push back against last fall’s GOP wave. Republicans told everyone months ago that unions would be one of their targets, and the GOP now has more than enough votes to pass its plans once the Legislature can convene. The 14 Senate Democrats left the state Thursday, delaying action in that chamber on the sweeping bill. Wisconsin’s growing war over public-employee benefits is becoming a major battleground between President Barack Obama and grass-roots conservatives who say the time has come to restore sanity to state, local and federal budgets.

Few States Follow Mental-Health Gun Law

More than half the states are not complying with a post-Virginia Tech law that requires them to share the names of mentally ill people with the national background-check system to prevent them from buying guns, an Associated Press review has found. The deadline for complying with the three-year-old law was last month. But nine states haven’t supplied any names to the database. Seventeen others have sent in fewer than 25, meaning gun dealers around the U.S. could be running names of would-be buyers against a woefully incomplete list. Officials blame privacy laws, antiquated record-keeping and a severe lack of funding for the gap the AP found through public records requests. Eleven states have provided more than 1,000 records apiece to the federal database, yet gun-control groups have estimated more than 1 million files are missing nationwide.

Arizona‘s Flu Season Hits State Hard

The flu arrived earlier than normal and is lingering longer in Arizona this year. Several schools reported absence rates of more than 10 percent this week, doctors offices have been packed with miserable kids, and parents are overloading hospital emergency rooms with coughing toddlers and infants struggling to breathe. This week marked the eighth consecutive week of widespread influenza, and state health officials say there is more in store. Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director for the immunization program at the Arizona Department of Health Services predicted another four to eight weeks of influenza activity in Arizona. There were 851 confirmed flu cases last week, up from 772 the week before, for a total of 5,115 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases so far this season. Three children have died. The report shows that the more sex, drugs, violence, obscenity and general immorality a film contains, the less the movie will make at the box office. In fact, the dollars-and-cents breakdown of box office receipts illustrates, the cleaner the movie, the more money it will make.

Hollywood Rolls Out Red Carpet for God

At this weekend’s 19th Annual Movieguide Awards Gala, stars strolled the red carpet and statuettes were awarded, but one aspect in particular set this event apart from typical Hollywood extravaganzas: Rather than longwinded speeches thanking their agents, the award winners expressed their gratitude, sometimes in tears, to God. The Movieguide Awards Gala is an event designed to honor those films and filmmakers that present positive and faith-affirming messages as well as to demonstrate to Hollywood the inspiring power – and even profitability – of putting well-told, redemptive tales on the silver screen. One of the films nominated for awards this year was “To Save a Life,” a story about teenage suicide that has literally been saving lives. In addition to honoring the films and filmmakers, the Movieguide Gala includes an annual report to the movie industry that includes the hard facts on comparative box office receipts between films with positive messages and/or values and those that disregard or denigrate those values.

Scientist Finds Gulf Bottom Still Oily

Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a top scientist’s video and slides that she says demonstrate the oil isn’t degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the seafloor. That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012. “There’s some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn’t seem to be degrading,” Samantha Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. Her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of the Gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil. Magic microbes consumed maybe 10% of the total discharge, the rest of it we don’t know,” Joye said. “There’s a lot of it out there,” she later added.

Ø Hmm. Who to believe. BP? The federal government? An impartial scientist? A coverup of the truth seems likely.

Millions of Dollars Owed Denied to Gulf Oil Spill Cleanup Crews

Subcontractors say they are still owed hundreds of millions of dollars for their work in the Gulf oil spill cleanup. Because contractors typically can’t pay other subcontractors until the first has been paid, the ripple effect of not paying the top contractors is huge, affecting hundreds of businesses. When FoxNews.com asked O’Brien’s about the unpaid bills, they admitted to only paying 90% of all amounts invoiced. When asked why they weren’t paying subcontractors the remaining 10%, BP was unresponsive. Lawyers and accountants of the affected subcontractors are estimating that 10% is several hundred-million dollars, if not more.

Economic News

Crude oil prices jumped 4% Monday as violent protests spread in Libya, raising the possibility that oil supplies from that OPEC nation could be disrupted. By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark light, sweet crude for March delivery was up $3.10 a barrel to $89.30.

Portugal‘s financial agony deepened Friday, threatening to pitch Europe into a new round of economic turmoil over its debt crisis. The country’s borrowing costs are punishingly high, with the interest rate on its 10-year bonds holding above 7% for a 10th session Friday. The broad consensus in markets is that Portugal is doomed to become the third member of Europe’s bailout club, after Greece and Ireland.

Even as its economy cools, China’s demand for imported grain is likely to surge this year, providing a boon to the U.S. and other exporting nations. This week, China reported that strong imports had sharply narrowed its January trade surplus to $6.45 billion from $13.1 billion in December. China is one of the largest metals and energy consumers in the world. It’s also a top importer of U.S. agricultural products.

If the U.S. dollar is being devalued so rapidly, then why does it sometimes increase in value against other global currencies? It is because everybody is recklessly printing money now. The truth is that it is not just the U.S. Federal Reserve which has been printing money like there is no tomorrow. Out of control money printing has also been happening in the UK, in the EU, in Japan, in China and in India. Investors all over the world are racing to get out of paper and to get into hard assets. Just about anything that is “real” and “tangible” is hot right now. Gold hit a record high last year and it is on the rise again. Demand for silver is becoming absolutely ridiculous right now. Oil is marching up towards $100 a barrel again. Agricultural commodities have exploded in price over the past year. Many investors are even gobbling up art and other collectibles. Paper money is no longer considered to be safe.

Israel

As the Obama administration vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution claiming that Israel settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are “illegal,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the settlements “illegitimate.” “I think it is absolutely clear to say, number one, that it’s been American policy for many years that settlements were illegitimate and it is the continuing goal and highest priority of the Obama administration to keep working toward a two-state solution with both Israelis and Palestinians,” Clinton told ABC. The UN resolution accusing Israel of illegal activity failed because of the U.S. veto.

Ø The Obama administration continues its half-hearted “support” of Israel, while laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital

Libya

A major government building in the capital was on fire Monday morning, a Reuters reporter said. The building is where the General People’s Congress, or parliament, meets when it is in session in Tripoli. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is believed to have fled the capital Tripoli after anti-government demonstrators breached the state television building and set government property alight, London’s Daily Mail reported early Monday. Over the weekend, Libyan security forces opened fire on mourners at the funeral for anti-government protesters in the city of Benghazi, where a doctor says at least 200 people have already been slain in days of demonstrations. Marchers were bearing coffins to a cemetery when they passed a compound of President Moammar Gadhafi in Libya’s second-largest city. The man said security forces fired in the air and then opened up on the crowd. A hospital official says four people have been wounded, two seriously. The latest casualties follow a day of brutal violence Saturday. Witnesses told The Associated Press a mix of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and Gadhafi loyalists assaulted demonstrators with knives, assault rifles and heavy weapons. Rebellion has sprouted in a half-dozen cities against Gadhafi, who came to power in a coup in 1969. Gadhafi’s son offered to put forward within days changes that he described as a “historic national initiative.” He said the regime was willing to remove some restrictions and to begin a discussion of the constitution. He offered to change a number of laws, including those covering the news media and the penal code. He threatened to “eradicate the pockets of sedition” and said the army will play a main role in restoring order.

Yemen

Yemeni riot police in the capital shot dead a protester and injured five others on Saturday when they opened fire on thousands marching in the 10th day of unrest rocking the country. Protesters began marching early in the morning from the University of Sanaa to the Ministry of Justice while chanting, “the people want the fall of the regime,” until they were met by riot police and supporters of the president. The president’s supporters armed with clubs and knives attacked the crowd and engaged in a stone throwing battle while at one point police fired in the air to disperse the march. Protesters complain of government corruption and political patronage. Yemen remains the Arab world’s poorest state. Almost half of the people live on less than $2 a day, and unemployment is at 40%. Its dwindling oil supply is likely to run out in 2017, according to the World Bank.

Bahrain

Yemen‘s embattled leader on Monday rejected demands that he step down, saying widespread demonstrations against his regime are unacceptable acts of provocation. Bahrain’s opposition leaders gathered Sunday to examine offers for talks by Bahrain’s rulers after nearly a week of protests and deadly clashes that have sharply divided the strategic Gulf nation. The streets in the tiny island kingdom were calmer as efforts shifted toward possible political haggling over demands for the monarchy to give up its near-absolute control over key policies and positions. But bitterness and tensions still run deep after seesaw battles that included riot police opening fire on protesters trying to reclaim a landmark square. At least seven people have been killed and hundreds injured since the Arab wave for change reached the Gulf on Feb. 14. The opposition’s main demand is for the resignation of the government, including a prime minister — the king’s uncle — who has been in his position for 40 years. They also want the government to address claims of discrimination and abuses against Shiites, who make up about 70% of Bahrain’s 525,000 citizens.

China

Jittery Chinese authorities wary of any domestic dissent staged a concerted show of force Sunday to squelch a mysterious online call for a “Jasmine Revolution” apparently modeled after pro-democracy demonstrations sweeping the Middle East. Authorities detained activists, increased the number of police on the streets, disconnected some mobile phone text messaging services and censored Internet postings about the call to stage protests at 2 p.m. in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other major cities. The campaign did not gain much traction among ordinary citizens and the chances of overthrowing the Communist government are slim, considering Beijing’s tight controls over the media and Internet. A student-led, pro-democracy movement in 1989 was crushed by the military and hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed.

Algeria

Algerian police thwarted a rally by thousands of pro-democracy supporters Saturday, breaking up the crowd into isolated groups to keep them from marching. Police brandishing clubs, but no firearms, weaved their way through the crowd in central Algiers, banging their shields, tackling some protesters and keeping traffic flowing through the planned march route. A demonstrating lawmaker was hospitalized after suffering a head wound when he fell after police kicked and hit him, colleagues said. The gathering, organized by the Coordination for Democratic Change in Algeria, comes a week after a similar protest, which organizers said brought an estimated 10,000 people and up to 26,000 riot police onto the streets of Algiers.

Morocco

Morocco‘s interior minister says five charred bodies were found in a bank set aflame by troublemakers on the sidelines of one of many nationwide protests pushing for more democracy in the kingdom. At least 128 people were injured — mostly security forces — in unrest linked to protests a day earlier that drew at least 37,000 demonstrators in dozens of towns and cities. The minister said that “troublemakers” vandalized dozens of public buildings, stores and banks, including one in northeastern Al Hoceima where the five bodies were found. He said 120 people were arrested. The demonstrations marked Morocco’s entree into a wave of protests across the Arab world after popular uprisings toppled longtime autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.

Iraq

Demonstrators thronged streets in northern Iraq Saturday to demand justice over a deadly shooting at a protest earlier this week. In Baghdad, hundreds of orphans and widows rallied to call on the government to take care of them. The uprisings sweeping the Middle East have galvanized many in Iraq, one of the rare democracies in the region, to demand better services from their leaders. The demonstrations in the capital and the northern city of Sulaimaniyah were peaceful, but five protesters were killed earlier this week. A few thousand demonstrators took to the streets in downtown Sulaimaniyah, demanding that those responsible for a shooting two days earlier that killed two people and injured nearly 50 be held responsible.

A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb Monday at a police station north of Baghdad, killing at least 12 police officers. Monday’s bombing also wounded at least 22 people. The attack in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, comes nine days after a suicide bomber targeted Shiite pilgrims returning from a religious ceremony at the city’s al-Askari mosque. Thirty-six were killed in that attack. The police battalion that came under attack had been dispatched from a southern Shiite province two weeks ago to help protect pilgrims during the ceremony,.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to an Afghan government office Monday, killing at least 30 people — many who were waiting in line to obtain government identification cards  Violence has been on the rise in the north, where there are known hide-outs for the Taliban, al-Qaeda and fighters from other militant factions . Gunmen detonated explosives in front of a bank and then stormed the building in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, killing at least three people and injuring scores of others. A doctor at the city’s main hospital said more than 60 people were injured in the attack on the Kabul Bank branch in the city, including civilians, police and Afghan army soldiers. Three suicide bombers took part in the raid. Kabul Bank handles payrolls for many of Afghanistan’s police and soldiers. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Somalia

A warship is shadowing a yacht with four Americans on board that was hijacked by Somali pirates, a pirate said Sunday, as the vessel was reported to be moving closer to the Somali coast. The hijacked yacht is the most recent of 30 or more vessels captured off the coast of Somalia by pirates. The latest hijacking came two days after a Somali pirate was sentenced to 33 years in prison by a New York court for the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship. That incident ended when Navy sharpshooters killed two pirates holding the captain.

Mexico

A spate of attacks on taxis in the Mexican resort city of Acapulco has left 12 taxi drivers or passengers dead, police said Sunday, just hours before the Mexican Open tennis tournament is scheduled to start. Acapulco has been the scene of bloody drug cartel turf wars, and taxi drivers have often been targeted for extortion or recruited by the gangs to act as lookouts or transport drugs.

Wildfires

Last week there were 2,291 wildfires reported across the U.S. with 26 of those considered large (over 100 acres). Most of these occurred in the south, from Texas through Florida where drought conditions prevail. Eighteen of these large wildfires were contained.

Earthquakes

Federal officials say a minor earthquake has shaken southern Alabama, and people more than 200 miles away have reported feeling the tremblor. The U.S. Geological Service says the 3.5-magnitude earthquake happened at 5:15 p.m. Friday. There were no immediate reports of damage. Residents in the Pensacola area of the Florida panhandle also said they felt the earthquake, as did residents as far north as Birmingham, Ala. It’s been five years since an earthquake struck within 125 miles of where Friday’s earthquake hit.

Weather

A winter storm that blew through the upper Midwest over the Presidents Day long weekend coated roads with ice and snow and led airlines to cancel hundreds of flights. Residents of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin who didn’t get the Monday holiday off faced what was expected to be a dismal commute. Officials were urging people to stay off the roads if possible, rather than risk driving on icy roads or through wind-driven snow. Early Monday, the National Weather Service said up to 10 inches of snow had fallen on parts of southern Michigan since the storm began Sunday afternoon. The National Weather Service posted winter storm watches or warnings Monday from Montana to New England, a distance of more than 1,800 miles. Blizzard warnings were out for most of the Dakotas and parts of Minnesota, and as much as 13 inches of snow was recorded in western South Dakota.

A gust of wind picked up a bounce house with two girls playing inside Saturday, dumping one girl in the yard but carrying the other away and dropping her onto a neighbor’s roof. The incident in the town of Marana left a 10-year-old with serious head lacerations and other injuries. She was taken to a trauma center in Tucson after firefighters got her off the roof. Northwest Fire District spokesman Adam Goldberg says the two girls were at a birthday party when what family members called “a microburst” picked up the bounce house. The 10-year-old was carried more than 100 feet before falling out onto the roof. About two dozen roof tiles were shattered by the impact.

The National Christmas Tree is no more. The Colorado blue spruce that stood on the Ellipse south of the White House since 1978 was toppled Saturday morning by heavy winds. By the afternoon, the 42-foot tree was ground into mulch. The tree was exposed to the elements because it stood alone on the Ellipse. The park service already has a replacement picked out.

February 18, 2011

U.K. to Allow Church Civil Ceremonies for Gays

Gay couples are to be allowed civil partnership ceremonies in churches, Britain’s government said Thursday — erasing some of the last remaining distinctions between gay partnerships and traditional marriages. Although marriage and civil partnership are already similar under British law, civil partnership ceremonies are currently not allowed to have religious references, are banned from churches, and must take place in a public building overseen by a government registrar. The change, being introduced under equality laws, will give same-sex couples the chance to tie the knot in religious buildings — although the government stressed that churches can opt out if they wish to.

Hawaii Eyes Gay Ceremonies after Civil Unions Pass

Hawaii lawmakers gave final approval to civil unions Wednesday and sent the legislation to Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who plans to sign it into law within 10 business days. Civil unions would begin Jan. 1, 2012, making the state the seventh in the nation to grant virtually the same rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself. The culturally diverse islands are already a welcoming place for gay tourists, including some who seek informal partnership ceremonies. With civil unions, those ceremonies would come with a certificate that’s valid in other states with civil unions or same-sex marriage, depending on their local laws. Five states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.

Planned Parenthood Financing Caught in Budget Feud

Almost unnoticed in the wars over the federal budget has been a pitched battle over money for Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception, medical services and abortions at 800 clinics around the country. For the last several weeks, those on opposite sides of a sharp cultural divide have engaged in dueling rallies, virtual conferences, online petitions and phone banks as crucial Congressional votes drew near. At stake is more than $75 million that Planned Parenthood receives to provide family planning assistance to low-income women, money that its opponents say only frees up funds for abortions. The newly conservative House of Representatives has proposed cutting the entire $317 million program of aid for family planning, known as Title X, in a 2011 spending bill that is expected to pass by the weekend. A proposed amendment to the bill would also bar Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funds for any purpose. The fight will shift to the Senate, where the Democrats retain a small majority. It is unlikely they will agree to cut all financing for Planned Parenthood.

Budget Showdown Moves to Senate Amid Shutdown Threat

Washington’s game of budget brinksmanship heads to the Senate, as the House of Representatives worked late Thursday making more cuts to an austere spending plan that neither the Senate nor the White House is ready to adopt. The government’s current spending authority expires March 4, and each side accused the other of bringing the federal government closer to a shutdown. The last time a federal shutdown occurred was during the Clinton administration. A final vote on the bill is possible today. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday he won’t extend that deadline by passing a short-term, status-quo spending bill. He said Democrats were “threatening to shut down the government rather than to cut spending and to follow the will of the American people.”

111 Charged in Medicare Scams Worth $225M

Federal prosecutors Thursday charged 111 people, including doctors, nurses and health care company officials, with bilking the Medicare system out of $225 million in the largest one-day health care fraud sweep in U.S. history. Attorney General Eric Holder said the charges filed in nine cities are part of an ongoing national crackdown related to a range of false billing schemes by health providers from New York to Los Angeles. Holder alleged the suspects submitted claims to Medicare for treatments or services, including home health care, medical equipment, physical therapy and prescription drugs, that were “medically unnecessary and often never provided.”

Arizona Slashes Business Taxes to Lure Jobs

In Arizona, lawmakers plan to balance future state budgets by spending less while also reducing income – by cutting taxes. They believe the move will bring more business activity and more money down the road. Gov. Jan Brewer on Thursday signed into law a tax-cut package that legislative budget analysts estimate at $538 million, revamping the state’s business-recruitment arm in the process. The unanswered question is whether Arizona can erase continuing budget shortfalls while also reducing business taxes. The tax cuts will come at a challenging time, phasing in just months after a temporary 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax expires. Lawmakers have used that extra revenue to help reduce budget shortfalls so far. Others worry the tax cuts will further deplete state coffers, leading to deep cuts in education and other social services.

Economic News

A big jump in food and gas costs pushed the consumer price index up in January, but outside those volatile categories inflation was up just 0.2%, still the largest increase in more than a year. The consumer price index rose 0.4% last month, matching December’s increase, the Labor Department said Thursday. In the past year, the index has risen 1.6%. Core prices, which exclude food and energy, increased 1% over the past 12 months. Food prices increased 0.5% in January, the most in more than two years. Energy costs jumped 2.1%. Clothing prices rose 1% in January, as apparel companies offset the rising cost of cotton.

Gasoline pump prices reached a 28-month high Wednesday even though oil and gas supplies in the U.S. continue to grow and demand for gas is weak. The national average for regular gasoline rose to $3.156 a gallon Friday morning. That’s about $1.23 more than the price at the pump two years ago. The rising prices were in part a result of the turmoil in the Middle East which poses a risk to supplies

More people applied for unemployment benefits last week, one week after claims had fallen to the lowest level in nearly three years. The Labor Department said that 410,000 people filed new claims for unemployment assistance last week, a jump of 25,000 from the previous week. Applications are still well below their peak of 651,000, reached in March 2009, when the economy was in the depths of the recession, but they would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant and steady decline in the unemployment rate.

Interest payments on the national debt will quadruple in the next decade and every man, woman and child in the United States will be paying more than $2,500 a year to cover for the nation’s past profligacy, according to figures in President Obama’s recent budget proposal.

The closure of Egypt’s banks for two of the past three weeks has added strain on an economy already reeling from the evaporation of tourism and a prolonged stock market closure caused by the political upheaval that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. The closures were ordered after protests and strikes by poorly paid bank workers, some of them demanding a purge of executives they accused of corruption. The bank shutdown and the draining of ATM machines have paralyzed businesses and left ordinary people scrambling for cash.

Afghanistan

The military has reduced the number of troops wounded or killed by homemade bombs in Afghanistan by 37% since August by improving its ability to find the explosives before they blow up. About one-sixth of the bombs used by insurgents in January ended up wounding or killing troops compared with the one-quarter of such bombs that caused casualties last year. In 2010, IEDs wounded or killed 7,800 troops in the U.S.-led coalition, according to data released to USA TODAY. That accounts for nearly half of all casualties.

Iraq

The Iraqi defector who helped convince the American intelligence community and press that Iraq was making weapons of mass destruction has admitted that his testimony was false. Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, also known ever-more-appropriately as Curveball by German and American intelligence, fabricated evidence that was famously used as justification for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. In an interview with The Guardian in London, he claimed he used the misinformation in order to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. The admission came as a no surprise to some who have long believed that the evidence, presented to the U.N. by then Secretary of State Colin Powell in the run-up to the invasion, was false.

Egypt

Rivaling the biggest crowds since their pro-democracy revolt began, flag-waving Egyptians packed into Tahrir Square for a day of prayer and celebration Friday to mark the fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak a week ago and to push their new military rulers to steer the country toward reform. The groups that sparked the 18-day uprising leading to Mubarak’s downfall called the massive gathering the “Friday of Victory and Continuation,” a name reflecting both their pride in forcing a national leadership change and their worries about the future. The ability of organizers to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people to rally in Cairo— and for a similar celebration in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria — was meant to send a message to the ruling generals that they should honor their pledge to install a freely elected government within six months.

The vast majority of Islamic terrorists who were being held inside Egypt’s prisons have escaped in recent weeks, WorldNetDaily reports. Out of hundreds of jailed terrorists, only nine Islamic terrorists currently remain in any Egyptian prison. The information raises the prospect of further instability in Egypt, in particular in the region of the Suez Canal, which carries about 8 percent of global seaborne trade.

Yemen

Anti-government demonstrators clashed with supporters of Yemen’s longtime ruler and riot police, who fired tear gas and shots in the air to disperse the crowd on what organizers called a “Friday of Rage” across the country. In the city of Taiz, what appeared to be a hand grenade was thrown at a group of protesters, seriously wounding at least eight people in the blast and stampede that followed. Riots also flared overnight in the southern port of Aden with police shooting to death one demonstrator after cars and a local government building were set ablaze. It was the eighth straight day of protests in Yemen inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Demonstrators in the Arab world’s poorest country are calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh— a key U.S. ally in fighting al-Qaeda terrorists — who has ruled the country for 32 years.

Libya

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi drove through his nation’s capital in a motorcade, drawing a cheering crowd as the long-time ruler tried to rally support amid reports of widening anti-government protests. Protests have erupted in several cities in Libya this week, especially in the east, and the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Friday that 24 people were killed in unrest on Wednesday and Thursday. Libyan protesters seeking to oust longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi defied a crackdown and took to the streets in four cities Thursday on what activists have dubbed a “day of rage,” Hundreds of pro-government demonstrators also rallied in the capital, Tripoli, blocking traffic in some areas, witnesses said.

Bahrain

Thousands of mourners called for the downfall of Bahrain’s ruling monarchy and worshippers at Friday prayers, chanting against the king as anger shifted toward the nation’s highest authorities after a deadly assault on pro-reform protesters that has brought army tanks into the streets of one of the most strategic Western allies in the Gulf. The crackdown left at least five dead and more than 230 injured and put the nation under emergency-style footing with military forces in key areas and checkpoints on main roads. Armed patrols prowled neighborhoods and tanks appeared in the streets for the first time Thursday after riot police with tear gas and clubs drove protesters from a main square where they had demanded sweeping political change in this tiny kingdom. Medical officials said four people were killed. Police cars with flashing blue lights encircled Pearl Square, the site of anti-government rallies since Monday. Barbed wire was set up on streets leading to the square, where police cleaned up flattened protest tents and trampled banners. The Interior Ministry declared the protest camp “illegal” and warned Bahrainis to stay off the streets. The island nation was effectively shut down since workers in the capital could not pass checkpoints or were too scared to venture out. Banks and other key institutions did not open.

Tanzania

A military ammunition depot in Zanzibar, Tanzania’s largest city, blew up overnight in a series of explosions that leveled homes, killed at least 25 people and wounded about 145 others. Several houses and a school were leveled during Wednesday night’s explosions, which sent huge orange bursts into the night sky. Thousands ran for their lives, and 200 children have been unable to find their parents. The blasts closed the city’s international airport, near the Gongola Mboto military base. Some 4,000 residents were evacuated to the national stadium in Dar es Salaam, which lies along the Indian Ocean in East Africa.

Mexico

At least 13 people were fatally shot in less than 24 hours in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez on Thursday, authorities said. “They were killed in separate shootings throughout the city. We had 13 killed by 10 p.m.,” said Adrian Sanchez, a municipal police spokesman.

Weather

Millions of people in the Midwest are at risk from major flooding this spring, according to a forecast being released Friday by the National Weather Service. “Excessive precipitation, mainly in the form of snow, coupled with continuously frigid temperatures, has yielded a thick snowpack in much of the upper Midwest. We expect significant flooding when this snow begins to melt,” the service said.

February 16, 2011

Turmoil Spreads in Arab World

Fallout from a wave of anti-government protests continued to spread across the Middle East on Tuesday, plunging the region into instability as governments wavered between cracking down and giving into demands. Most governments are responding to the protests with a combination of reconciliation and police pressure in the hopes they can survive the wave of anti-government sentiment. Yemen’s president said he would not run for re-election. Jordan’s king, Abdullah II, dismissed his Cabinet and pledged to initiate political reforms. Steven Heydemann, a Middle East analyst at the U.S. Institute of Peace, .said he didn’t believe the revolts would have the same outcome as Egypt and Tunisia, where the majority of people seemed to coalesce behind the protests. Many of the countries have the same complaints — a lack of jobs and political repression — but they don’t have the cohesion seen in revolts in Egypt and Tunisia (see below for country-by-country details).

FBI: 100 Percent Chance of WMD Attack

The probability that the U.S. will be hit with a weapons of mass destruction attack at some point is 100 percent, Dr. Vahid Majidi, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, tells Newsmax. Such an attack could be launched by foreign terrorists, lone wolves who are terrorists, or even by criminal elements, Majidi says. It would most likely employ chemical, biological, or radiological weapons rather than a nuclear device. As it is, Majidi says, American intelligence picks up hundreds of reports each year of foreign terrorists obtaining Weapons of Mass Destruction. Majidi’s directorate within the FBI investigates more than a dozen cases in the U.S. each year where there was intent to use WMD.

House of Representatives Votes to Extend Patriot Act

The House of Representatives Monday night approved a nine-month extension of the Patriot Act after rejecting the same proposal a week ago. Last week, 277 lawmakers voted yea. But that fell just short of the required two-thirds threshold. Finding a supermajority wasn’t a problem Monday night as the House considered the bill under regular rules that mandate just a simple majority for passage. This bill cruised to approval, 275 to 144. The Patriot Act extensions deal with special “roving” wiretaps, which allow law enforcement officials to use one search warrant to monitor a suspect’s calls, even if he or she skips from phone to phone. Traditional search warrants only apply to a single telephone line. The bill also grants anti-terrorism officials the authority to search library records. The Senate still has to act before the bill expires in a few weeks.

State Dept. Taps Twitter to Reach Iranians

After watching Facebook and other social media help grass-roots movements toss repressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, the State Department is turning to Twitter to encourage opposition groups in Iran, where thousands clashed with police Monday in the country’s largest gathering of anti-government protesters in more than a year. The State Department began tweeting messages in Farsi on Sunday on two Twitter accounts: “U.S. calls on Iran to allow people to enjoy same universal rights to peacefully assemble, demonstrate as in Cairo,” they posted. The United States stands with cyber dissidents and democracy activists from the Middle East to China and beyond, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday. She pledged to expand the Obama administration’s efforts to foil Internet repression in autocratic states.

Ecuadoran Judge Fines Chevron $8 Billion for Amazon Pollution

A judge in Ecuador has fined Chevron $8 billion for decades of pollution by its Texaco division in the country’s Amazon rain forest. The ruling comes days after international arbitrators ordered Ecuador to not enforce any judgment against the oil giant. That action, which happened Wednesday, came a day after a New York judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping the plaintiffs from going overseas to seek enforcement of any court ruling against the company. In a statement, Chevron called the Ecuadoran court’s judgment “illegitimate and unenforceable,” “the product of fraud” and “contrary to the legitimate scientific evidence.” The company said it would appeal.

  • There’s no doubt that Chevron has severely damaged the Amazon rain forest, but such corporations are an important part of globalist strategies to impose a one-world government and empower international courts.

2 U.S. Immigration Agents Shot in Mexico

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was killed and another wounded while driving through northern Mexico Tuesday, in a rare attack on American officials in this country which is fighting powerful drug cartels. The two agents were driving in the northern state of San Luis Potosi when they were stopped at what appeared to be a military checkpoint. After they stopped, someone opened fire on them. U.S. and Mexican officials said they were working closely together to investigate the shooting and find those responsible.

Census Shows U.S. Blacks Moving South

The nation’s blacks are leaving big cities in the Northeast and Midwest at the highest levels in decades, returning to fast-growing states in the once-segregated South in search of better job opportunities and quality of life. The Southern U.S. region— primarily metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami and Charlotte, N.C. — accounted for roughly 75% of the population gains among blacks since 2000. The gains came primarily at the expense of Northern metro areas such as New York and Chicago, which posted their first declines in black population since at least 1980. In all, about 57% of U.S. blacks now live in the South, a jump from the 53% share in the 1970s.

Baby Boomers Flood Seminaries

Boomers are the fastest-growing demographic at U.S. divinity schools, according to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). TIME reports that younger students under age 30 are still the biggest demographic in the student body, but those over 50 have jumped from 12 percent of students in 1994 to 20 percent in 2009. ATS says the slow economy and job loss may contribute to the trend, but doesn’t really explain it. “I wanted to give back in some way,” says the Rev. Bob Fellows, who completed his seminary training three years ago at the age of 58. He says, “As an older minister, I have a lot more useful life experience.”

Overall Church Membership Continues to Decline

Mainline Protestant denominations in the United States continue their decades-long membership decline, while the membership in Pentecostal churches are on the rise, according to new figures compiled by the National Council of Churches. The Roman Catholic Church (No. 1) and the Southern Baptist Convention (No. 2) are still significantly larger than all other North American denominations, but Catholics posted minimal growth of less than 1%, and Southern Baptist membership fell for a third straight year. The membership drop in mainline churches led to a 1% decrease in total U.S. church membership, to 145.8 million. The Presbyterian Church (USA) led with the greatest membership drop of the 25 largest denominations, down 2.6%. Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced the greatest growth percentage overall, gaining 4.4%.

Leviathan Sea Monster Fossil Found in Ancient Peruvian Seabed

The fossilized skull of a gigantic sea monster that attacked and ate whales was unearthed in an ancient seabed along the arid wilderness of the Peruvian coast. The remains of the incredible creature are so huge, researchers have dubbed it “the Leviathan.” The Leviathan, a terrifying behemoth of the deep, is described in the Bible’s Old Testament. The Hebrews called it one of the seven princes of Hell and its gatekeeper. Those that observed it in the waters far offshore claimed the horrible thing was the most terrifying creature in existence. Long thought to be a myth, the Leviathan has been found. The fossil is well-preserved and is a testament in living stone to the terrors of the seas.

Young Non-Drinkers Up in Down Economy

The tough economy appears to be having a sobering effect — literally — on incoming college freshmen. Some new surveys of high school students suggest increasing numbers are beginning college as teetotalers. Outside the Classroom, an organization that provides alcohol education training at colleges, finds that since 2006, the percentage of incoming freshmen who abstain from alcohol has jumped from 38% to 62%. Why the number of teetotaling 18-year-olds is up isn’t clear. CEO Brandon Busteed says the economy is a big reason. Students “are taking (college) more seriously because they realize it’s their future,” he says.

Veterans: Military Rape Cases Botched

A group of U.S. veterans who say they were raped, insulted and otherwise abused by their comrades want to force the Pentagon to change how it handles such cases. More than a dozen female and two male current or former service members say servicemen get away with rape and other sexual abuse and victims are too often ordered to continue to serve alongside those they say attacked them. In a federal class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday, they want an objective third party to handle such complaints because individual commanders have too much say in how allegations are handled. The alleged attackers in the lawsuit include an Army criminal investigator and an Army National Guard commander. The abuse ranges from obscene verbal abuse to gang rape.

Budget Battle Affects Only Fraction of Funds

When Congress takes up President Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget, the debate will center on just a fraction of the overall $3.7 trillion budget: his proposals on spending and how to pay for them. Not counting what the government spends on national security and social safety-net programs such as Medicare and Social Security, spending on other domestic programs accounts for just 12% of the overall budget. Obama put off a bigger, politically riskier battle over the possibility of trillions of dollars in cuts to the popular entitlement programs. Now that Republicans control the House of Representatives, the 2011 budget is back on the table. Tuesday, lawmakers began debate over steep spending cuts touted by the Republicans: $61 billion for the remaining seven months of this fiscal year – still only 1.6% of the total budget, while the annual deficit remains over $1 trillion.

If the federal budget released by President Barack Obama today is implemented, it will double the national debt over the next 10 years. The current national debt is $13.56 trillion (end of FY 2010). By the end of 2021, that debt would rise to $26.3 trillion under the White House budget. The reaction of Tea Party-backed Congress members to the budget cuts and spending freeze proposed by President Obama on Monday was swift and unanimous: not nearly enough. But whether the House and Senate leadership fully embrace the $100 billion cuts supported by Tea Party activists will be a significant test for the power and influence of the fledgling movement.

Economic News

Shoppers pushed retail sales up for a seventh straight month although the increase was the weakest since June. Retail sales increased 0.3% last month to $318.6 billion. Sales are up more than 14% from the recession low hit in December 2008. And they rose in a month in which severe winter weather limited economic activity in many parts of the country.

The U.S. unemployment rate stands at 10.2 percent as of February 12, much above the official estimate of 9 percent, according to the Gallup polling agency. The rate of those considered to be underemployed, meanwhile, hit 19.7 percent, Gallup says. The official unemployment rate in January fell to 9 percent from 9.4 percent in December.

  • Surely the government wouldn’t understate the unemployment rate, would they?

Bracing for what the IRS calls the largest set of tax law changes in 20 years, a newly released IRS budget reports that the agency is seeking to bolster its resources in preparation for Obamacare implementation to the tune of 1,054 new auditors and staff — at a cost of $359 million to taxpayers.

Bookseller Borders, which helped pioneer superstores that put countless mom-and-pop bookshops out of business, filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, sunk by crushing debt and sluggishness in adapting to a rapidly changing industry. The 40-year-old company plans to close about 200 of its 642 stores over the next few weeks. All of the stores closed will be superstores. Borders plans to operate normally and honor gift cards and its loyalty program as it reorganizes.

The Chinese are struggling with a monthslong surge in food prices that has defied government efforts to combat inflation with interest rate hikes, price controls and a campaign to boost vegetable and grain output. On Tuesday, the government reported inflation accelerated in January, rising to 4.9% from December’s 4.6%. That was driven by a 10.3% jump in food costs because of tight supplies and strong demand. Economists expect more sharp price rises in coming months.

The parent company of the New York Stock Exchange says it has agreed to combine with the operator of the Frankfurt stock exchange, Deutsche Boerse. The deal announced Tuesday will create the world’s largest financial exchange owner. “Each of the group’s national exchanges, including those in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Lisbon, will keep its name in its local market and all exchanges will continue to operate under local regulatory frameworks and supervision.”

Egypt

The top leaders of the protest movement that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak said Tuesday that they will demand the military move more quickly on creating an interim civilian government, cut off natural gas shipments to Israel and not allow Mubarak to leave. The leaders say they will resume massive demonstrations if its requests are denied. The demands will be presented Wednesday by ten activists at a meeting with the Armed Forces Supreme Council, which is now running the country.

Egypt’s long banned Muslim Brotherhood said Tuesday it intends to form a political party once democracy is established, as the country’s new military rulers launched a panel of experts to amend the country’s constitution enough to allow democratic elections later this year. The panel is to draw up changes at a breakneck pace — within 10 days — to end the monopoly that ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party once held, which it ensured through widespread election rigging. The initial changes may not be enough for many in Egypt calling for the current constitution, now suspended by the military, to be thrown out completely and rewritten to ensure no one can once again establish autocratic rule.

CBS correspondent Lara Logan is recovering in a U.S. hospital after being beaten and sexually assaulted by a Cairo mob in the frenzied aftermath of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation Friday, the network disclosed Tuesday. Logan, 39, was reporting from Cairo’s Tahrir Square when her film crew was surrounded by more than 200 people “whipped into a frenzy,” CBS said. After she was separated from her crew, she was assaulted before she was rescued by a group of women and Egyptian soldiers, CBS said.

Yemen

Thousands of people marching for the ouster of Yemen’s U.S.-allied president clashed Tuesday with police and government supporters, and at least three demonstrators were injured in a fifth straight day of Egypt-inspired protests. Police tried to disperse the demonstrators using tear gas, batons and stun guns, but about 3,000 protesters defiantly continued their march from Sanaa University toward the city center, chanting slogans against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, including “Down with the president’s thugs!”

Bahrain

Thousands of protesters in Bahrain are filling a main square in the Gulf nation’s capital as Egypt-inspired demonstrations gripped the country for a second day. Security forces appeared to hold back as the crowds poured into Pearl Square in Manama. The dramatic move Tuesday comes just hours after a second protester died in clashes with police in the strategic island kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Opposition groups are calling for greater political freedoms and an end to the ruling Sunni monarchy’s grip on key decisions and government posts. The nation’s majority Shiites have long complained of discrimination.

Iran

Hardline Iranian lawmakers called on Tuesday for the country’s opposition leaders to face trial and be put to death, a day after clashes between opposition protesters and security forces left one person dead and dozens injured. Tens of thousands of people turned out for the opposition rally Monday in solidarity with Egypt’s popular revolt that toppled President Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power. The demonstration was the first major show of strength from Iran’s beleaguered opposition in more than a year. Iranian police used tear gas and electric prods to crack down on the country’s biggest antigovernment protest  At an open session of parliament Tuesday, pro-government legislators demanded opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mahdi Karroubi and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami face be held responsible for the protests. Pumping their fists in the air, the lawmakers chanted “death to Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami.”

Tunisia

A month after massive protests ousted Tunisia’s longtime dictator, waves of Tunisians are voting with their feet, fleeing the country’s political limbo by climbing into rickety boats and sailing across the Mediterranean to Europe. More than 5,000 illegal immigrants have recently washed up on Italy’s southern islands — an unintended consequence of the “people’s revolution” that ousted autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspired the uprisings in Egypt and beyond. European powers cheered when Tunisia’s 74-year-old ruler fled into exile in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, but the fallout a month later has tempered their enthusiasm.

Libya

Hundreds of Libyans calling for the government’s ouster clashed with security forces early Wednesday in the country’s second-largest city as Egypt-inspired unrest spread to the country long ruled by Moammar Gadhafi. The protest began Tuesday and lasted until the early hours Wednesday in the port city of Benghazi. Police and armed government backers quickly clamped down on the protesters, firing rubber bullets. The outbreak of protests that has roiled the Middle East has brought unprecedented pressure on leaders like Gadhafi who have held virtually unchecked power for decades. As in the uprisings that toppled longtime autocratic rulers in two countries flanking Libya— Egypt and Tunisia — Libyan activists are used social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to rally people in their homeland. They called for a major protest on Thursday.

Iraq

About 2,000 demonstrators attacked government offices in a southern Iraqi province, ripping up pavement stones to hurl at a regional council headquarters in a protest over shoddy public services. The demonstration was among the most dramatic since Iraqis began venting their anger about dysfunctional government at all levels in relatively small protests across the country — an echo of the tumult happening across the Arab world. Unlike protesters in other countries demanding democracy or regime change, however, demonstrators in Iraq have focused on unemployment, lack of electricity and corruption. Forty-nine people were wounded in the protests in Kut, 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad.

Afghanistan

Coalition forces in Afghanistan have beaten the insurgency in an important stronghold of Taliban fighters, though pockets of resistance remain, a U.S. commander said Monday in an interview with USA TODAY. “This is really the heart of the insurgency,” Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills said of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. “I believe they have been beaten.” The province is among the first targets of a surge of 30,000 U.S. service members ordered into Afghanistan by President Obama in December 2009. At the time, the Taliban had control over Marjah, a center of the country’s opium trafficking industry that the insurgents had used to pay for its fighters and supplies, according to the Pentagon. The Marines pushed the Taliban out of Marjah soon after. The progress in Helmand province “shows you the momentum is shifting,” said James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Loosening the Taliban’s grip on the drug trade “could have a cascading effect in the years ahead,” he said.

Russia

A pair of suicide bombers, including a woman, attacked security forces in Russia’s volatile Dagestan province on Monday, killing two security officials and wounding 21 others, according to officials and news reports. The female suicide bomber blew herself up as she tried to enter a police station in the village of Gubden — known as a stronghold of radical Islamists — killing one soldier and wounding six others. Several hours later, after Gudben was cordoned off by police and the military, another suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car near a police post, killing a police officer and wounding 17 other security personnel. Dagestan is the largest and most ethnically diverse province of the predominantly Muslim Northern Caucasus region. The province has been beset by almost daily violence that stems from two separatist wars in neighboring Chechnya.

Earthquakes

Another strong earthquake has shaken central Chile, part of a wave of aftershocks that have been rocking the same area that suffered so much destruction almost a year ago from a disastrous magnitude-8.8 quake. A magnitude-6.6 quake that struck just after midnight Sunday after a magnitude-6.8 quake Friday sent thousands running for higher ground. Chile has updated the toll from the Feb. 27, 2010 disaster to 524 deaths and 31 disappeared. That massive quake left 220,000 homeless and caused $30 billion in damage.

Weather

Christians in Sri Lanka are crying out for food after the country was ravaged by a second wave of extensive flooding in as many months. People had no sooner returned home after the first flood, which started with heavy rainfall at the end of December and displaced more than 367,000 people, when a fresh deluge hit the east, centre and north of the island last week. The floods have destroyed vital rice crops, which are normally harvested at this time of year, as well as vegetable crops and the mud houses in which many families live. People are begging for food, which is unheard of in the region even during previous crises. A senior church leader in Sri Lanka said, “You can see from their eyes they are a broken people.

 

 

February 14, 2011

Uncertainty Clouds Middle East

The United States faces an intensely uncertain future in Egypt, a stalwart ally of decades in the volatile Middle East, where key tenets of American foreign policy are now thrown into doubt. For many people in Egypt, they were years of oppression, corruption and poverty; but for the U.S., Mubarak was an anchor of stability at the helm of the world’s largest Arab nation, enforcing a peace treaty with Israel and protecting vital U.S. interests, including passage for oil through the Suez Canal. The U.S. provides some $1.5 billion a year in aid to Egypt, the vast majority of it to the military, and has a good relationship with the Egyptian military, which often sends officers here for training. That doesn’t guarantee a commanding U.S. role. On Saturday, Egypt’s first day in nearly 30 years without Hosni Mubarak as president, its new military rulers promised to abide by the peace treaty with Israel.

U.S. Intel Chiefs on Defensive over Egypt

Top U.S. intelligence officials defended their tracking of fast-moving political unrest in Egypt and Tunisia on Thursday, saying their officers in the region had filed hundreds of reports warning of the growing instability months before demonstrators took to the streets to oppose their governments. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said U.S. intelligence officers had done “yeoman’s work” in tracking the instability, particularly in Egypt, where he likened the developments that are threatening the government of President Hosni Mubarak to a political “earthquake.” “You know where the fault lines are … but trying to predict the onset of the earthquake is a little more difficult,” Clapper told the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

During a House Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Egypt’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement “largely secular.” In response to questioning from Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) about the threat posed by the group, Clapper suggested that the Egyptian part of the Brotherhood is not particularly extreme and that the broader international movement is hard to generalize about. “They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt…..In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally,” Clapper said.

  • Clapper is either so out of touch with reality as to appear delusional, or he is a dupe of the New World Order globalists. With respect to the major political earthquakes over the past fifty years or so, our vaunted and excessively funded intelligence network has proven woefully inadequate. The return on our investment is so low as to warrant major budget cuts.

Obama to Propose a Five-Year Spending Freeze

President Obama on Monday will unveil his budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, including a five-year freeze on domestic spending. The White House says the freeze will help reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade. President Obama’s $3.7 trillion budget plan for 2012 would trim Pell college grants and low-income heating aid, raise taxes on upper-income taxpayers and oil companies, and slash $1.1 trillion from the deficit over 10 years. Yet the spending plan still would result in a 2012 deficit of $1.1 trillion. Even those figures are dependent on raising some taxes in 2013 that Obama agreed to cut for the next two years at the behest of Republicans— income taxes for those earning more than $250,000 and estate taxes for upper-income families. Monday’s release of next year’s budget plan will be likely ignored by resurgent Republicans intent on cutting $100 billion from the president’s old budget.

House GOP Unveils $61B Spending Cut Plan

House Republicans called for cuts in hundreds of programs across the face of government Friday night in a $61 billion savings package toughened at the last minute at the demand of tea party-backed conservatives. From education to job training, the environment and nutrition, few domestic programs were left untouched — and some were eliminated — in the measure, which is expected to reach the floor for a vote next week. Among the programs targeted for elimination are Americorps and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In contrast, spending on defense and veterans’ programs were protected. The measure marks an initial down payment by newly empowered Republicans on their promise to rein in federal deficits and reduce the size of government.

Administration Offers 3 Options for Mortgage Market Overhaul

The Obama administration laid out three broad options Friday for reducing the government’s role in the mortgage market. All three would almost certainly lead to higher interest rates and costs for borrowers. The administration said in a report that the government should withdraw its support for the mortgage market slowly, over five years or more. The report describes a path for winding down the troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But rather than making a single recommendation, the administration offered Congress three scenarios and will let lawmakers shape the final policy. The options are: No government role, except for existing agencies like the Federal Housing Administration; A government guarantee of private mortgages triggered only when the market is in trouble; Government insurance for a targeted range of mortgage investments that already are guaranteed by private insurers. The government guarantee would kick in only if those private companies couldn’t pay.

Tween Evangelist? Justin Bieber Film Packed with Prayer

With a smooth voice, a signature mop of hair and a string of hits, Justin Bieber has accumulated millions of fans and sold 3.7 million albums in the United States last year. Now Bieber’s handlers are showcasing another side of the 16-year-old pop sensation: Christian icon for the tween set. Bieber’s faith is on display in the new 3-D concert film/documentary Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, which hits theaters Friday (Feb. 11). Paramount Pictures has screened the movie for faith leaders across the country and distributed spiritual discussion guides — the same tools used to promote The Passion of the Christ and The Blind Side as family-friendly fare. Bieber has never shied away from faith. He was singing Christian songs on YouTube before he became famous. His born-again Christian mother Pattie Mallette has shared her spiritual conversion on a Christian TV show and openly shares her beliefs and Bible verses with 281,000-plus Twitter followers. Bieber’s come-from-nowhere climb to become the fourth top-selling artist of 2010 has given a higher profile to his Christian beliefs and background, which he also addressed in last fall’s autobiography, First Step 2 Forever: My Story.

California Wants Gays, Lesbians & Transsexuals as Mandatory ‘Role’ Models

Lawmakers in the state of California are proposing a law that would require schools to portray lesbians, homosexuals, transsexuals and those who have chosen other alternative sexual lifestyles as positive role models to children in all public schools there. “SB 48: The worst school sexual indoctrination ever” is how officials with the Campaign for Children and Families describe the proposal, SB 48 sponsored by openly homosexual State Senator Mark Leno. The plan by “homosexual activist” Leno “would require all students in social studies class to admire ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender’ role models. “The Democrat state legislators pushing this radical bill want to recruit boys and girls to support the homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda, personally and publicly,” the organization’s Action Alert warns.

Illegal Immigrant Charged With First-Degree Murder in Virginia

A Salvadoran man who was ordered deported nearly a decade ago but never left has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in a series of shootings and a knife attack in a Virginia suburb of Washington, authorities said Friday. Jose Oswaldo Reyes Alfaro, an illegal immigrant, was charged in the pair of attacks blocks apart Thursday night that left three people dead and three others injured. The killings touched off further discussion of illegal immigration in Manassas and surrounding Prince William County, which was one of the early flashpoints in the national debate over whether local authorities should play a role in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. “It’s another abject failure of the federal government,” said state Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, a former city council member and police officer. “Yet it happens over and over and over again, and then we have to hear all of these apologetic excuses as to why we shouldn’t be addressing criminal illegal aliens on the state or local level. It’s just disgusting.”

More Older Students Head to College

The economic downturn has generated even more interest in higher education among non-traditional students. In January, the unemployment rate for adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.2%, vs. 9.4% for high school graduates with no college education. Some economists believe that due to structural changes in the economy, thousands of jobs in manufacturing and other sectors that typically didn’t require a college degree will never come back. About half of today’s college students are enrolled part time, 38% work full time, and 27% have dependents. Colleges and universities are responding by expanding evening classes, developing online curriculums and offering courses at satellite locations.

Housing Crash Is Hitting Cities Once Thought to Be Stable

The rolling real estate crash that ravaged Florida and the Southwest is delivering a new wave of distress to communities once thought to be immune — economically diversified cities where the boom was relatively restrained. In the last year, home prices in Seattle had a bigger decline than in Las Vegas. Minneapolis dropped more than Miami, and Atlanta fared worse than Phoenix. The bubble markets, where builders, buyers and banks ran wild, began falling first, economists say, so they are close to the end of the cycle and in some cases on their way back up. Nearly everyone else still has another season of pain to endure. The fact that even a fairly prosperous area like Seattle was ensnared in the downturn shows just how much of a national phenomenon the crash has been. Seattle real estate sales are down about 31 percent from its mid-2007 peak. As the overall economy seems to be mending, housing remains stubbornly weak. That presents a vexing problem for the Obama administration, which has introduced several initiatives intended to help homeowners, with mixed success.

States Aim Ax at Health Cost of Retirement

Governors and mayors facing large deficits have set their sights on a relatively new target — the soaring expense of health benefits for millions of retired state and local workers. As they contend with growing budget deficits and higher pension costs, some mayors are complaining that their outlays for retiree health benefits are rising by 20 percent a year — a result of the wave of retirements of baby boomers and longer life expectancies on top of the double-digit rate of health care inflation. The nation’s governors face a daunting $555 billion in unfunded liabilities to finance retiree health coverage. Michigan officials complain that retiree health obligations consume one-seventh of the state’s payroll costs, and New York City is slated to pay $2 billion toward retiree health next year. In state after state, changes are occurring rapidly. For example, New Hampshire has stopped financing health insurance for many future retirees, while North Carolina has begun requiring state employees to work 20 years, up from five years, to qualify for full retiree health benefits.

Economic News

The trade deficit widened in December, closing out a year in which America’s gap ballooned by the largest amount in a decade. The deficit increased 5.9% in December to $40.6 billion, the Commerce Department reported Friday. U.S. exports of goods and services rose to $163 billion, a 1.8% gain, but imports rose even faster. A 2.6% gain pushed total U.S. imports to $203.5 billion, the highest level since October 2008. The increase was led by a 16.8% rise in imported oil. For all of 2010, the U.S. trade deficit rose to $497.8 billion, a 32.8% surge. n 2009, the deficit had fallen to the lowest point in eight years as demand for imports plunged. Economists believe the deficit will keep widening in 2011.

The International Monetary Fund issued a report last week on a possible replacement for the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The IMF said Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs, could help stabilize the global financial system. SDRs represent potential claims on the currencies of IMF members. They can be converted into whatever currency a borrower requires at exchange rates based on a weighted basket of international currencies. The IMF typically lends countries funds denominated in SDRs. While they are not a tangible currency, some economists argue that SDRs could be used as a less volatile alternative to the U.S. dollar.

  • The globalists are chomping at the bit to reduce U.S. influence in the world

Most of the 26,000 white-collar workers at General Motors will get performance bonuses of 4% to 16% of their base salaries this year, but payments to a small number could be 50% or more, the company confirmed late Thursday. Chrysler Group also will give bonuses to white-collar workers, with payments expected on Friday. Both companies needed government bailouts in 2008 and 2009 to stay in business and make it through bankruptcy protection. Both companies have performed far better financially than they did before bankruptcy. GM made $4.2 billion in the first three quarters of the year and is expected to post a fourth-quarter profit in the coming weeks. Chrysler lost $652 million last year but is predicting a net profit this year.

Egypt

Hundreds of thousands of protesters screamed and cheered Friday as it was announced that President Hosni Mubarak was stepping down. Chanting “Free Egypt!” the crowds exploded in jubilant cries of joy, blaring car horns, dancing in the streets, waving flags and singing after 18 days of protests finally ousted Mubarak. Egypt’s military rulers have promised the country will abide by its international agreements, a nod to allay concerns that Egypt’s peace deal with Israel could be threatened. Egypt’s military rulers are dissolving the parliament and suspending the constitution, meeting two key demands of pro-democracy protesters. Both the lower and upper houses of parliament are being dissolved. The last parliamentary elections in November and December were heavily rigged by the ruling party, virtually shutting out any opposition representation. The caretaker Cabinet, which was appointed by Mubarak shortly after the mass pro-democracy protests began on Jan. 25, will remain in place until a new Cabinet in formed.

The military said they will run the country for six months, or until presidential and parliament elections can be held. The military leaders said they were forming a committee to amend the constitution and set the rules for popular referendum to endorse the amendments. Now Egyptians, who have been led since 1954 by former military leaders, must decide who their new president will be. After 30 years without choice, Egyptians now face a dizzying array of potential leaders. In the scramble for power among groups of various political identity, the Muslim Brotherhood — an Islamist militant group that has held as many as 20% of the seats in Egypt’s parliament in recent years — is vowing to increase its influence on daily life in Egypt.

Yemen

Yemeni police clashed Sunday with anti-government protesters staging a third-consecutive day of demonstrations calling for political reforms and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Several thousand protesters, many of them university students, tried to reach the central square in the capital of Sanaa, but were pushed back by police using clubs. The ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after an 18-day uprising has emboldened protesters in Yemen and raised questions about the country’s stability as well as other Western-allied governments in the region. Saleh has been in power for three decades and has tried to defuse the unrest by promising not to run again. His term ends in 2013.

Algeria

Heavily outnumbered by riot police, thousands of Algerians defied government warnings and dodged barricades to rally in their capital Saturday, demanding democratic reforms a day after mass protests toppled Egypt’s autocratic ruler. Protesters chanting “No to the police state!” and brandishing signs that read “Give us back our Algeria” clashed with baton-wielding police in helmets and visors. Organizers said more than 400 people were briefly detained, but aside from some jostling between police and protesters no violence was reported. An estimated 10,000 people succeeded in jostling, squeezing and jumping over the barricades and gathering in the city center before the protest was broken up.

Middle East

The Palestinian prime minister dissolved his Cabinet in an emergency meeting on Monday in what appeared to be a gesture inspired by unrest rocking the Arab world. The official Wafa news agency said the move was intended to prepare for general elections planned later this year. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad now has six weeks to name a new Cabinet. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank on Saturday promised to hold long-overdue general elections by September, a surprise move spurred by political unrest rocking the Arab. In principle, elections could help end the deep political split between West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamic militant Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, the other territory the Palestinians want for their state. Hamas immediately ruled out participation. Still, it could become difficult for Hamas to reject elections at a time of growing calls for democracy throughout the Middle East. Hamas itself has praised the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a victory for the Egyptian people.

Bahrain

Bahrain’s security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse anti-government protesters Monday in advance of plans to stage major rallies and bring the Arab reform wave to the Gulf for the first time. The sporadic unrest since late Sunday underscores the sharply rising tensions in the tiny island kingdom — a strategic Western ally and home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Social media sites have been flooded with calls by an array of political youth groups, rights activists and others to join demonstrations later Monday, a symbolic day in Bahrain as the anniversary of the country’s 2002 constitution that brought pro-democracy reforms such as an elected parliament. But opposition groups seek deeper changes from the country’s ruling dynasty, including transferring more decision-making powers to the parliament and breaking the monarchy’s grip on senior government posts. Bahrain’s majority Shiites — about 70% of the population — have long complained of systemic discrimination by the Sunni rulers.

Afghanistan

Taliban insurgents armed with bombs, automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Kandahar police headquarters Saturday during a bloody assault on the southern Afghan city that killed at least 21 people and wounded dozens more. The bold afternoon raid showed insurgents are still able to launch deadly strikes on heavily fortified government institutions despite the past year’s influx of U.S. troops into Kandahar province, the Taliban’s birthplace. Fifteen of those killed were Afghan police officers. The police post is located in central Kandahar, not far from the governor’s offices.

Iraq

A suicide bomber blew himself up Saturday on a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims, officials said, killing 36 people headed back from a revered shrine that has been a flashpoint in Iraqi sectarian strife. It was the second attack in three days targeting visitors to the al-Askari mosque in the former insurgent stronghold of Samarra, north of Baghdad, for commemorations of the death of a ninth century religious figure who is buried there. The shrine is still being rebuilt after its golden dome was destroyed in a Feb. 22, 2006, bombing that was blamed on al-Qaeda in Iraq and sparked years of retaliatory bloodshed between Sunnis and Shiites.

Pakistan

In a show of the escalating diplomatic rift over a detained American in Pakistan, the U.S. cancelled talks in Washington involving high level officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. “in light of the political changes in Pakistan,” as reported the Wall Street Journal. The man is reportedly Raymond Davis, an employee of a U.S.-based security company who was working under contract for the U.S. government in Pakistan, has been detained after authorities say he shot and killed two armed men. He will likely to be charged with murder. The U.S. government has given few details about the man, who it hasn’t officially named. The embassy in Islamabad said the man, who it claims fired in self-defense, is covered by diplomatic immunity and should be immediately released.

Mexico

Armed men opened fire and hurled a grenade into a crowded Guadalajara nightclub early Saturday, killing six people and wounding at least 37 in a western city whose former tranquility has been shattered by escalating battles among drug cartels. The attack in Mexico’s second-largest municipality took place just hours after a shootout between soldiers and presumed cartel gunmen left eight people, including an innocent driver, dead in the northeastern city of Monterrey. Monterrey is Mexico’s third-largest city. While there have been isolated grenade attacks around the city, Saturday’s was the first to be thrown into a crowd and cause so many injuries.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck central Chile Friday, centered in almost exactly the same spot where last year’s magnitude-8.8 quake spawned a tsunami and devastated coastal communities. Electricity and phone service were disrupted and thousands of people fled to higher ground following Friday’s quake, but the government quickly announced that there was no risk of a tsunami, and there were no reports of damage or injuries. In the following hours, a dozen aftershocks ranging from magnitude-3.9 to magnitude-6.3 shook the seismically active area.

Weather

After weeks of bitter cold and intense blizzards, the USA got a break this past weekend with significantly warmer weather and no big storms. A warming trend spread across the Midwest and South and into most of the Northeast over the weekend and will continue into early next week. Temperatures will be above average nearly coast to coast. Only the Pacific Northwest and Florida will be slightly below average.

February 11, 2011

U.S. Faces Terror Threat from Within

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano offered a sobering assessment of the terror threat facing the United States on Wednesday, saying it was at perhaps the “most heightened state” since the Sept. 11 attacks nearly a decade ago. Napolitano, appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, said the threat from al-Qaeda, the group that planned the assaults in 2001, has been augmented by al-Qaeda-inspired groups and the emergence of homegrown radicals in the USA. “One of the most striking elements of today’s threat picture is that plots to attack America increasingly involve American residents and citizens,” she said. During the past two years, more than 120 people have been indicted in federal court on terror-related charges. About 50 of them were U.S. citizens, said Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., homeland committee chairman, citing Justice Department statistics. King described the threat as “serious and evolving.”

China Gains Chokehold Over Metals Critical to U.S. Defense

An alarming new report says the United States is choosing to rely on China for the rare earth metals that are critical for the production of America’s strategic defense weapons, giving the communist nation a chokehold on the ability of the U.S. to defend itself, according to WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin. While the U.S. has the world’s second-largest reserves of the substances, instead of facilitating production, it has left China to take over the market – it controls some 97 percent of the global sales of these elements, according to the report. The American Security Project, in fact, says the U.S. is “completely reliant on China” for rare earth metals for the production of the nation’s most critical weapons systems. “The U.S. has gone from the world’s top producer and supplier of rare earths to being completely dependent on one country – China – for its supply. China’s dominance in the rare earths market will have profound implications for U.S. national security in the next couple of years,” indicating that it may already be “too late to avoid a global shortage of rare earth metals, placing the U.S. in greater risk.”

  • China also holds a huge amount of America’s debt instruments and, thereby, our economic future in its hands. The once leader of the Free World has put itself into a subservient position that will come back to haunt us in the years ahead.

U.S., Mexico Police Unite to Fight Border Crime

Top Homeland Security officials said Tuesday that a little-known coalition of U.S. and Mexican police agencies has played a major part in cracking down on smuggling and illegal immigration along the Arizona-Mexico border. The joint operation between the U.S. Border Patrol, Mexican federal police and about 60 U.S. state, federal, tribal and local police agencies has had a dramatic success in making drug seizures and arresting undocumented immigrants. Since the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats launched quietly in September 2009 with coordinated training, intelligence-sharing and patrols, the program has resulted in the arrest of 270,000 illegal border crossers, the seizure of 1.6 million pounds of marijuana and the recovery of $13 million in cash in the border’s Tucson Sector. Authorities said that as the program continues, it will be another factor in the efforts to help stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drug smugglers into Arizona.

Arizona Sues Feds Over Immigration Issues

Arizona is suing the U.S. government, claiming the feds have failed to secure the border and protect the state from “an invasion” of illegal immigrants. Gov. Jan Brewer said the intent of the lawsuit is to force the federal government to protect Arizonans. “The first and foremost issue we’re facing right now is the security, safety and welfare of our citizens,” Brewer said. “The federal government needs to step up and do their job.” The lawsuit was filed Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Phoenix as a countersuit to one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against Arizona challenging the constitutionality of its tough new immigration law. “Arizona did not want this fight, we did not start this fight,” Brewer said. “But now that we are in it, Arizona will not rest until our borders are secure.”

  • Gov. Brewer may freeze during campaign debates, but she makes tough decisions and does not back down from a fight

Allentown Pipeline Explosion Revives Natural Gas Worries

A fiery natural gas explosion in Allentown, Pa., is the latest in a series of deadly accidents that have raised worries about a form of energy that had a good safety record until recently. Five bodies were found Thursday after a natural gas explosion Wednesday rocked a working-class residential neighborhood. A gas pipeline explosion shook residents in eastern Ohio villages Thursday, only a day after a house explosion in neighboring Pennsylvania took the lives of five residents and destroyed several homes in Allentown. “Every nine or 10 days on average someone ends up dead or in the hospital from these pipelines. More needs to be done for safety,” says Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust.

The blasts comes in the wake of the worst natural gas pipeline catastrophe in a decade — an explosion and fire in San Bruno, Calif., on Sept. 9 that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. Nine buildings were destroyed and others damaged in this small town on Lake Erie near Cleveland when a natural gas line malfunctioned Jan. 24 and filled homes with gas. A gas line blast killed a worker for the city-owned gas company, injured six and flattened cars and buildings Jan. 18. Two furniture store employees were killed and the owner seriously injured Dec. 29 in the Detroit suburb when the gas line apparently exploded.

  • Most of these pipelines were built in the 1950s and are beginning to fail system wide

Veterans More Likely to be Homeless

Military veterans are much more likely to be homeless than other Americans, according to the government’s first in-depth study of homelessness among former service members. About 16% of homeless adults in January 2009 were veterans, though vets make up only 10% of the adult population. In that year, 136,334 veterans spent at least one night in a homeless shelter — a count that did not include homeless veterans living on the streets. The urgency of the problem is growing as more people return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study found 11,300 younger veterans, 18 to 30, were in shelters at some point during 2009. Virtually all served in Iraq or Afghanistan. HUD, Veterans Affairs and the Labor Department have begun a homelessness-prevention test project in five communities near military installations. HUD is providing $10 million in short-term rental assistance, the VA is providing $5 million for medical services and case management, and the Labor Department is providing job training and counseling.

More Strokes Hitting Young, Middle-Aged

Strokes are rising dramatically among young and middle-aged Americans while dropping in older ones, a sign that the obesity epidemic may be starting to reshape the age burden of the disease. The numbers, reported Wednesday at an American Stroke Association conference in California, come from the first large nationwide study of stroke hospitalizations by age. Government researchers compared hospitalizations in 1994 and 1995 with ones in 2006 and 2007. The sharpest increase — 51% — was among men 15 through 34. Strokes rose among women in this age group, too, but not as fast — 17%.”It’s definitely alarming,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco, American Heart Association president and a neurologist at the University of Miami. “We have worried for a while that the increased prevalence of obesity in children and young adults may take its toll in cardiovascular disease and stroke,” and that appears to be happening, he said.

States Race to Ban Risky ‘Bath Salts’ Drug

A growing number of states are moving to ban a new synthetic drug known as “bath salts” that can cause severe side effects, including paranoia, hallucinations and sometimes violent behavior. Emergency bans have been issued in Louisiana, North Dakota and Florida. Legislators in Hawaii, Kentucky, North Dakota and Mississippi have introduced bills to ban the drug, which can be sold legally in stores and online in most places. Calls to poison centers across the nation have skyrocketed in recent weeks as the drug has grown in popularity. The drug has been compared to cocaine and methamphetamine because of its addictive characteristics. Many of the products, sold under names such as Cloud Nine, Ivory Wave and Blue Silk, contain methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, which is a chemical not approved for medical use in the United States. Packages containing the powdery substance are typically labeled “not for human consumption” and marketed as “bath salts.”

States Forced to Cut Health Care Programs

Many states are facing a health care quandary: demand for health-related services is growing, voters don’t want to raise taxes, payments to doctors, hospitals and clinics have already been reduced, and states risk losing federal funds if they cut eligibility for the joint federal-state Medicaid health program for the poor and disabled. Most states have cut services and budgets during the recession. Even though the economy is picking up, state revenue is weak, and billions in temporary federal stimulus funding that helped many governors avoid deeper cuts dry up June 30. The next fiscal year is shaping up to be the worst since the Great Depression, says Michael Leachman of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. It reports that 44 states and the District of Columbia project shortfalls totaling $125 billion for fiscal 2012, which begins in July for most.

More States Give Help to Unemployed Homeowners

A $7.6 billion federal effort to help unemployed homeowners avoid foreclosure will soon be running in all 18 states sharing the funds. The Hardest Hit Fund, announced by President Obama a year ago and expanded to more states since then, largely targets lower-income jobless or underemployed homeowners. Those eligible receive forgivable loans for mortgage payments, or they may tap other programs, such as one to help them get current on mortgage payments. Generally, the loans are forgiven after five years if borrowers stay in the homes and keep current on payments. California will receive $2 billion of the funds, Florida another $1.1 billion and Arizona will get $268 million.

Economic News

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly three years. New claims for jobless aid sank a seasonally adjusted 36,000 to 383,000, the lowest since early July 2008. Applications are well below their peak of 651,000, reached in March 2009, when the economy was deep in recession. 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 and steady decline in the unemployment rate.

Fewer U.S. homes entered the foreclosure process in January than in any month in more than three years. The number of homes that received an initial default notice fell 1% last month from December and tumbled 27% from January last year. Scheduled foreclosure auctions also fell to the lowest level in two years. In all, 261,333 properties received a foreclosure-related notice in January, which translates to one in every 497 U.S. households.

Get ready for higher food prices, which appear to be just around the corner for U.S. consumers and potentially a crippling burden for the world’s poor. A combination of natural calamities and congressional mandates has come together to drive world food prices to levels that make some governments in developing nations nervous, because higher costs can mean political instability. The toll on American grocery carts thus far is low, but analysts say price increases are coming. The immediate causes of the rise are clear: bad harvests due to drought in Russia, China and Argentina and floods in Australia, among other things. But a longer-term cause may come as a surprise:— 24% of the U.S. corn crop is now mandated to go to ethanol, taking slack out of the world food market and making price shocks more likely, agricultural economists say.

The protests in Egypt have brought the country’s economy to a grinding halt, and as chaos reigns and resources become scarce. The cost of basic supplies such as rice, potatoes and lentils has at least doubled since the demonstrations broke out just over two weeks ago, and with no end to the unrest in sight.

Egypt

Despite widespread news reports that Hosni Mubarak would resign, the embattled Egyptian ruler refused to relinquish office Thursday night. Instead, in a rambling speech that outraged opposition groups, Mubarak transferred constitutional powers to Suleiman, the longtime state intelligence chief and Mubarak confidant appointed vice president on Jan. 29. Suleiman’s heavy-handed role suppressing anti-Mubarak dissident organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and his ties to the CIA make him a poor choice to lead the country, even temporarily, and could lead to escalating violence in the coming days, many observers say. President Mubarak then left Cairo via helicopter, and headed to his residence in Sharem a-Sheikh, a resort town in Egypt.

Egypt’s military threw its weight Friday behind President Hosni Mubarak’s plan to stay in office through September elections while protesters fanned out to the presidential palace in Cairo and other key symbols of the authoritarian regime in a new push to force the leader to step down immediately. The statement by the Armed Forces Supreme Council — its second in two days — was a blow to many protesters who had called on the military to take action to push out Mubarak after his latest refusal to step down. But soldiers also took no action to stop demonstrators from massing outside the palace and the headquarters of state television, indicating they were trying to avoid another outbreak of violence.

Anti-government protesters said they were more determined than ever as the uprising entered its 18th day. Bus drivers and public transport workers in Cairo joined thousands of state employees on strike Thursday in spreading labor unrest that has pumped further strength and momentum into Egypt’s wave of anti-government protests. With its efforts to manage the crisis failing, the government warned of the potential for a coup. Anti-government protesters called on Egyptians to walk off their jobs and march in the streets Friday to force Mubarak to step down immediately in a “protest of millions.”

Israel

The Jerusalem Prayer Team reports: “Imagine the United Nations telling America to hand over half of Washington DC to Al Qaeda for use as their capital city. It’s the most ridiculous thing in the world…and yet that is exactly what is about to happen to Israel. Half of its capital—the Holy City of Jerusalem—is to be stripped from Israeli control and placed in the hands of the Palestinian terrorists who have spent decades proving they are serious when they say they mean to kill all the Jews. The only way that this worldwide plot against the Chosen People can be stopped is if America uses its veto at the UN Security Council to stop it…yet sadly President Obama and his Administration are actually supporting this effort to curse Israel in our name. According to the unfailing and unchanging promise of God, if America sides with this plan, we WILL be cursed. God said, “I will bless them that bless thee and curse them that curse thee.” (Genesis 12:3) We have an opportunity at this prophetic moment to be a blessing to the children of Abraham by standing together in defense of Jerusalem.”

Iran

Irony alert: Although Iran’s establishment supports the Egyptian popular protests, the government has placed under house arrest an Iranian opposition figure who called for a rally on Monday in Tehran to show support for them, the BBC reports. The official website of 72-year-old cleric Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament and candidate for president, announced the move. The house arrest will be in place until next week, the web site says, according to the BBC. A spokesman for Iran’s judiciary called on Iranians to show support for the Egyptian uprising by attending a state-sponsored rally on Friday that also commemorates the anniversary of Iran’s revolution.

India/Pakistan

India and Pakistan announced Thursday they would resume wide-ranging peace talks that were frozen after the 2008 terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, which were blamed on Pakistan-based militants. The U.S. has been pressing the nuclear-armed rivals to restart their peace efforts in hopes that reducing tensions along their border would free Pakistan to focus on its fight against Taliban militants — a key element of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. A statement released simultaneously in New Delhi and Islamabad said the new talks would focus on counterterrorism, humanitarian issues, peace and security, the disputed Kashmir region and other border issues.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber linked to the Pakistani Taliban attacked soldiers during morning exercises at an army training camp in the northwest Thursday, killing 27 troops and wounding 40 others. The bombing showed that despite years of army operations against their hideouts along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked fighters retain the ability to strike back. It was one of the worst attacks on security forces in recent months. An examination of the body parts at the scene indicated the bomber was a teenage boy, which is a common finding in suicide bombings in Pakistan.

Malaysia

Malaysian prosecutors filed charges that carry the death penalty Friday against seven Somali pirate suspects in an attack on a Malaysian-operated ship, in the first such charges in Asia against the African sea bandits. The Somalis — some as young as 15 years old — are suspected of taking 23 Filipino crewmembers captive aboard a chemical tanker in the Gulf of Aden on Jan. 20. Malaysian naval commandos responsible for protecting the vessel stormed it less than two hours later and freed the crew. Malaysian government lawyers on Friday charged the men with using firearms against Malaysian armed forces personnel with the intention of causing death or harm. The charge carries a penalty of death by hanging,

Mexico

Gunmen barged into a bar in the battered border city of Ciudad Juarez and opened fire late Thursday, killing seven women and one man, authorities said. Three other people were wounded at the “Las Torres” bar and were in critical condition. Ciudad Juarez is the center of a fierce turf war between the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels, and has become one of the world’s most dangerous cities. More than 3,000 people were killed last year in the city of 1.3 million residents across from El Paso. Meanwhile, a shootout between troops and armed men killed nine people in a central Mexican state that his seen a rise in drug violence. The gun battle erupted after soldiers came under fire while investigating a tip about the presence of armed men in Tabasco, a town in the southern part of Zacatecas state.

Weather

An icy blast tugged temperatures well below zero degrees in a large swath of the South on Thursday, leaving ranchers and farmers fretting about their animals after a winter storm dropped 2 feet of snow on parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma and left at least three people dead. early morning, temperatures had dipped to -18 in Fayetteville and to -27 in Bartlesville, Okla., according to the National Weather Service. The frigid temperatures followed a powerful blizzard that howled through the nation’s midsection Wednesday and made its way into the Deep South, where it brought a mix of rain and snow to some areas. The heaviest snow was concentrated in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, where the towns of Colcord and Spavinaw got 22 and 23 inches, respectively.

A lake-effect snowstorm has dumped nearly two feet of snow on parts of central New York, forcing school closings and travel restrictions in some communities. The National Weather Service reports Thursday morning that 19 inches fell in less than 6 hours in Pulaski in Oswego County and 23 inches has fallen on nearby Redfield, near Lake Ontario’s eastern end 35 miles north of Syracuse. Forecasters say another 1 to 2 feet of snow could fall by Friday morning, accompanied by high winds.

Winter hurts, and never more so than this year across the battered Northeast as doctors report seeing a spike in strained muscles from shoveling snow, broken bones from slick stairs and sidewalks, and dangerously low blood banks as fewer people venture out. Many areas have enjoyed a recent reprieve from what has become a routine of heavy snowfall every few days, but a blast of frigid air swept across the region Wednesday portending a new round of hazards as freshly melted snow freezes again and coats roads and walkways with a fresh layer of ice. At Hartford Hospital in Connecticut’s capital, about two dozen people have been treated in the past week alone after falling off roofs and ladders while trying to clear snow. Others have lost fingers in snow-blower accidents, a few have suffered heart attacks while shoveling, and some have been sidelined with broken limbs after slipping on ice.

China will spend $1 billion to alleviate its worst drought in six decades — a long dry spell in the world’s largest wheat-growing region that threatens further jumps in the commodity’s global price. The main wheat belt has gotten virtually no precipitation since October. The funding announced late Wednesday is part of a government plan to boost grain production, divert water, build emergency wells, raise the minimum purchase price of grain, and take other steps in the affected areas in central and northern China.

February 9, 2011

MTV’s ‘Skins’ Program Losing Sponsors

A Parents Television Council (PTC) activist campaign that has been joined by others to target sponsors of a controversial MTV show appears to be working. Melissa Henson, spokesperson for the PTC, says the Skins program, which takes a disturbing look into teenage life, has few sponsors left. She told OneNewsNow it may just be a matter of time until the show gets canceled. But it seems that MTV has sort of dug in their heels, and it may be that they’re going to be willing to run it at a loss,” Henson notes. “But the audience numbers keep dwindling, so they’re losing viewers, they’re losing advertisers. I don’t know what MTV has to gain by keeping it on the air.”

  • MTV and other similar left-wing, LGBT sponsored shows seek to alter our culture and destroy Christian morality and will not give up easily

Republicans Plan to Choke Off Funding for Health Care Law

There’s an old saying in Washington that policy follows the money. In other words, if there’s no money for something, the policy won’t go very far. Such could be the case with the health care reform law Congress approved last year. The approved bill may be the law of the land, but it won’t mean much if the funding stream dries up. And that’s exactly what House Republicans intend to do next week when they bring a measure to the floor to run the government from March through the end of September. Some House Republicans are eyeing this legislation as a way to strip the health care law of any dollars, thus depriving health care operations of any money. However, such a cut could be untenable to the Democratically controlled Senate and the president, who are expected to fight cuts to the health law. An impasse over the spending bill could trigger a government shutdown. Nearly a year after the health care law was passed, most voters still favor repealing the overhaul — by a double-digit margin, according to a new poll. A Rasmussen Reports poll released Monday reveals that 58 percent of likely voters favor repeal to some degree, with 44 percent strongly supporting it. Thirty-seven percent oppose repeal, with 26 percent strongly opposing it.

Republicans Fail to Pass Patriot Act Extension

The House on Tuesday failed to extend the life of three surveillance tools that are key to the nation’s post-Sept. 11 anti-terror law, a slip-up for the new Republican leadership that miscalculated the level of opposition. The House voted 277-148 to keep the three provisions of the USA Patriot Act on the books until Dec. 8. But Republicans brought up the bill under a special expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds majority, and the vote was seven short of reaching that level. Although Republicans took over the House last month, 26 of their members, including Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona, joined the 122 Democrats who voted against the proposal. Supporters say the three measures are vital to preventing another terrorist attack, but critics say they infringe on civil liberties. The Patriot Act bill would have renewed the authority for court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones. Also addressed was Section 215, the so-called library-records provision that gives the FBI court-approved access to “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation. The third deals with the “lone wolf” provision of a 2004 anti-terror law that permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. people not known to be affiliated with a specific terrorist organization.

  • The real issue is trust – do we sufficiently trust the federal government to use such tools judiciously or will they be abused to further underhanded agendas such as those espoused by secular globalists?

Americorps Fraud Identified but Ignored

The top watchdog over AmeriCorps has told Congress that he has found several cases of fraud in the national service program — but that prosecutors won’t pursue them. In some cases, the alleged fraud involves the misuse of more than $900,000. The acting inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service also says there’s a “pattern” of volunteer fraud — grant recipients misusing their time, often for personal gain. Investigators “continue to face challenges in having our investigations accepted” for prosecution, Kenneth Bach said in a December report. Federal prosecutors told him the cases “lack jury appeal” or don’t meet a “dollar threshold.” AmeriCorps-related programs spend $1.2 billion a year supporting 81,000 members who serve in poor communities.

  • The last thing the Obama administration want publicized is fraud in yet another prized community service organization

Job Training Overlap Costs U.S. $18B Per Year

The federal government spends $18 billion a year on 47 separate job training programs run by nine different agencies. All but three programs overlap with others to provide the same services to the same population, according to a government report released Wednesday. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that “little is known about the effectiveness” of the programs because half haven’t had a performance review since 2004 and only five have ever had a study to determine whether job seekers in the program do better than those who don’t participate. Managing that patchwork of federal programs is a network of 575 business-led local workforce boards running 1,300 one-stop job centers. Sherry Marshall, who runs one such agency in Cincinnati, says the result is a system that can be bewildering to job seekers and the businesses that would hire them. “Most employers find it incredibly complicated. It’s mind-boggling to me, and this has been my profession for the last 12 years.”

  • Typical federal inefficiency that wastes much of our tax dollars

‘Inexcusable’ Delay on TSA Body-Scanner Safety Reports

The Transportation Security Administration has told members of Congress that more than 15 million passengers received full-body scans at airports without any malfunctions that put travelers at risk of an excessive radiation dose. Despite the reassurance, however, the TSA has yet to release radiation inspection reports for its X-ray equipment — two months after lawmakers called for them to be made public. The chairman of a House oversight committee on homeland defense calls the delays “inexcusable.” The TSA’s increased use of full-body X-ray scanners sparked traveler concerns last fall about radiation safety. The TSA says the radiation dose is tiny — equivalent to what a person receives during two minutes inside an airplane at cruising altitude. Fueling concerns about the potential for scanner malfunctions and the TSA’s ability to identify problems: a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found the TSA and its contractors had failed in the past to detect when some baggage X-ray machines were emitting excessive levels of radiation or had safety features that were missing or disabled.

Federally Funded Arabic Language Program Ripped

Some elementary and intermediate school students will be forced to take Arabic language and culture classes in a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb. Several Dallas television stations have reported that the Mansfield Independent School District is instituting the Arabic language studies after receiving a federal grant from the Foreign Language Assistance Program of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Under the program, Arabic classes would be mandatory at an elementary and intermediate school in the district and optional at the middle and high schools. The DOE program identifies Arabic as “a language of the future.”

  • Beyond the intrusion of the federal government making more and more things mandatory, this grant reveals the intent of the current administration to create a foundation of support for greater Islamic influence in America

Asians Increasingly Farming in Southeast U.S.

Asians are part of a farming trend unfolding in rural South Carolina and across the Southeast: Growing numbers of Vietnamese, Korean, Hmong, Laotian and other Asian farmers are moving in and creating communities based on agriculture. Nationally, from 2002 to 2007, the number of Asian farmers jumped 40%, compared with a 7% rise in total farmers. The number of Asian farmers is expanding rapidly here in Dixie, according to lending cooperatives that finance farm loans and to the farmers themselves. About 150 Vietnamese farmers work in southern Georgia. In North Carolina, Asian farming communities have sprouted in Caldwell, Catawba, Lee, Moore and Stanly counties. Florida has numerous plant nurseries owned by Korean families in the Apopka area near Orlando. In rural South Carolina, most Asian farmers raise chickens.

Exposure to Pesticides in Womb Linked to Learning Disabilities

Babies exposed to high levels of pesticides while in the womb may suffer from learning problems, a new study suggests. The study focused on a chemical called permethrin, one of the pyrethroid pesticides, commonly used in agriculture and to kill termites, fleas and household bugs, says lead author Megan Horton of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. Most of the pregnant women in this New York-based study were exposed by spraying for cockroaches. Permethrin — among the most commonly detected pesticides in homes — is being used more often today as older organophosphorous pesticides are phased out because of concerns that they harm brain development. Children exposed to the highest pesticide levels before birth were three times as likely to have a mental defect compared to children with lower levels, the study says. Children with the highest prenatal exposures also scored about 4 points lower on an intelligence test.

Child Obesity Linked to Formula, Early Solids

A new study sheds light on ways to fight childhood obesity — before infants are even out of the cradle. Formula-fed babies who begin solid foods too early — before they’re 4 months old — are six times as likely to become obese by age 3, compared with babies who start on solids later, according to a study of 847 in today’s Pediatrics. About 9% of children in the study were obese by age 3. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents delay introducing solid foods until ages 4 to 6 months, 26% start on solids by 4 months old, according to background information in the study. Breast-fed babies face no additional risk of obesity, regardless of when they start solids, the study says.

Some Consumers Resisting New Light Bulbs, Hoarding Old Ones

Faced with a U.S. phaseout of incandescent light bulbs starting next year, some consumers are taking pre-emptive steps: They’re stockpiling the bulbs. Under a 2007 energy law, manufacturers must start phasing out incandescent bulbs in favor of more-efficient bulbs such as compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. While CFLs use at least 75% less energy, some consumers complain the lighting is dimmer, doesn’t look as warm and doesn’t come on right away. Some also worry about the disposal requirements because of the bulbs’ tiny mercury content.

  • Another socialist government mandate interfering with individual rights. Mercury disposal is also a potentially worse possibility than inefficient incandescents

Economic News

The 2011 federal budget deficit is headed rapidly toward $1.5 trillion, the Congressional Budget Office says, as spending continues to outpace rising tax payments. Four months into the fiscal year, the deficit was $424 billion, a mere $7 billion less than this time last year, despite the improving economy. Interest on the national debt was the fastest growing part of the budget. It was $80 billion in the first four months of the year, up 9% from 2010.

Think your taxes are too high? As a share of the nation’s economy, Uncle Sam’s tax take this year will be the lowest since 1950. Income tax payments this year will be nearly 13% lower than in 2008. Corporate tax receipts will be lower by a third, according to projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The poor economy is largely to blame. But so is a tax code that grows each year with new deductions, credits and exemptions. In the next few years, many can expect to pay more in taxes. Some increases were enacted as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. And many states have raised taxes because — unlike the federal government — they have to balance their budgets each year.

  • While the public wants less federal debt, they are not willing to pay more taxes or give up their “entitlements.”

Americans are putting more money on their credit cards after two years of cutting back, helping fuel the third straight monthly increase in consumer borrowing. The Federal Reserve reported Monday that consumers increased their borrowing by $6.1 billion in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $2.41 trillion. That represented a gain of 3%.Credit cards rose 3.5%, the first advance after a record 27 straight monthly declines.

China’s central bank raised interest rates for the second time in just over a month in a bid to dampen high inflation and guide blistering economic growth to a sustainable level. The People’s Bank of China announced Tuesday on its website that the benchmark 1-year deposit rate would rise a quarter percentage point to 3%.China’s leaders seek to cool surging inflation that could pose a threat to political stability. Rising prices are especially sensitive in a country where poor families can spend up to half their incomes on food.

Egypt’s central bank stepped in Tuesday to halt a sharp fall in the country’s currency while the stock exchange outlined regulations aimed at thwarting potentially steep losses when it reopens next week. Two weeks of anti-government protests have battered investor confidence. The Egyptian pound dropped to near six-year lows against the U.S. dollar in recent days after banks reopened. They had been shuttered for a week because of the demonstrations.

Egypt

Egypt’s protesters and opposition groups were infuriated Wednesday by a warning from Vice President Omar Suleiman that if their movement doesn’t enter negotiations, a “coup” could take place causing greater chaos, as a mass demonstration in a central Cairo square entered its 16th day. Vice President Omar Suleiman said there will be “no ending of the regime” and no immediate departure for President Hosni Mubarak. Suleiman’s sharply worded warning cast a shadow over his efforts, backed by the United States, to put together negotiations with the opposition over democratic reforms. The protesters fear the regime will manipulate the talks and conduct only superficial reforms, so they insist they will only enter substantive negotiations after Mubarak steps down. Thousands of protesters chanting “we are not leaving until he leaves” camped overnight in downtown Tahrir Square, the epicenter of their demonstrations, Many have been sleeping underneath the tanks of soldiers surrounding the square to prevent the vehicles from moving or trying to clear the area for traffic.

An Egyptian Islamist terrorist organization founded by the Muslim Brotherhood is re-establishing itself amid the political upheaval in Cairo, WorldNetDaily has learned. Both Egyptian and Israeli security officials said the group, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, is being reconstituted at the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood. The officials affirmed Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya serves as the de fact “military” wing of the Brotherhood, which originally founded Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya is suspected of involvement in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and it took credit for the 1995 attempted killing of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It has carried out scores of deadly terrorist attacks, some targeting foreign tourists. The Muslim Brotherhood seeks to spread Islam around the world. Hamas and al-Qaida are violent Brotherhood offshoots. While the Brotherhood claimed it abandoned violence to push for a peaceful takeover of Egypt, the group’s new spiritual leader, Muhammad Badi, recently has publicly called for violent jihad.

  • While the Muslim Brotherhood publicly claims to support democratic reform in Egypt, behind the scenes it is using other organizations to foment unrest and advance militant Islam

Afghanistan

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warned that combat will likely escalate during the spring thaw as Taliban insurgents try to return to areas cleared by the international forces during the past several months. Last year’s surge boosted the international force to about 150,000 troops. NATO and President Hamid Karzai hope to have more than 300,000 Afghan army and police in action by next autumn facing a much smaller organized insurgent force. The Obama administration and NATO plan to begin reducing their troop contingent in July, and to end its combat role by the end of 2014. Last year was the deadliest of the nearly decade-long war for international troops, with more than 700 killed.

Iraq

Car bombs ripped through the oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Wednesday, killing seven and wounding up to 80 people in the heart of a region of long-simmering ethnic tensions. The blasts struck outside the headquarters of the Kurdish intelligence forces known as the Asayish, on a highway and near a gas station in southern Kirkuk, located 180 miles north of Baghdad. Kirkuk is the epicenter of ethnic tensions among Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen. The city also sits on top of one-third of Iraq’s estimated $11 trillion in oil reserves, and Arabs fear the Kurds want to annex Kirkuk to their northern autonomous region. The regional tensions have stalled a long-awaited national census that would determine the real numbers of the country’s religious and ethnic groups. But the count also could inflame the larger dispute over territory and oil between Iraq’s central government and the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north.

Pakistan

In a sign of new and serious tensions between the United States and a key counterterror ally, the Obama administration has suspended some high-level contacts with Pakistan and may downgrade the status of an upcoming meeting to boost pressure on the government to release a U.S. Embassy employee who killed two Pakistanis. The dispute over the arrest of the man has become a crisis in U.S.-Pakistan relations and officials said they feared it could threaten future cooperation in a critical theater of the war against extremists and al-Qaeda unless it is resolved quickly. Two top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee said U.S. aid to Pakistan is in jeopardy if the American is not released. Washington insists the detained American has diplomatic immunity and shot the Pakistanis in self-defense as they tried to rob him at gunpoint.

Iran

Iran has resumed amassing enriched uranium at a steady pace after possible cyber sabotage and a mysterious albeit brief halt in its nuclear activities late last year, diplomats and experts say. Technical woes, toughened international sanctions and the Stuxnet computer worm may all have figured in hampering Iran’s nuclear progress, potentially pushing back estimates for when it might be able to assemble an atomic bomb if it decided to do so. But despite such problems, the Islamic Republic is pressing ahead with its disputed nuclear energy program and its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) is continuously growing. It is now believed to have enough material for one or two nuclear bombs if refined much further, even though it is unclear how soon it could build such a weapon.

Korea

North Korean military officers abruptly walked out of the first official talks with rival South Korea in months Wednesday, dashing hopes for eased tensions after a deadly artillery attack in November increased war rhetoric on the peninsula. Hopes had been high that the Koreas would agree on details for holding their first high-level defense talks in more than three years. However, they failed to set a date for the next meeting. During Tuesday’s talks, South Korea argued the high-level talks must focus on two attacks against it last year, while the North Koreans demanded the talks discuss other military issues as well, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Mexico

Mexican authorities say three teenage boys were shot to death in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, and at least two of them attended school in Texas. The boys were killed at a car dealership in the city across the border from El Paso. There were no leads on suspects or a motive, and witnesses would give no statements, Sandoval said. At least 60 bullet casings were found at the scene. Two of the boys were U.S. citizens.

Indonesia

Hundreds of Islamic hard-liners stormed a courthouse and set two churches on fire Tuesday in central Indonesia to protest what they considered a lenient sentence for a Christian convicted of blaspheming Islam. Jakarta resident Antonius Richmond Bawengan, 58, was found guilty of distributing books and leaflets that “spread hatred about Islam” and sentenced to the maximum five years in prison. Islamic hard-liners shouted during the rioting that the man should have received the death penalty.

Ireland

Northern Ireland police arrested three suspected Irish Republican Army dissidents Tuesday over a botched Belfast ambush that involved hiding a bomb on a small child’s bicycle. Police spent four days searching Belfast’s Antrim Road — dubbed “the Murder Mile” during the worst days of the Northern Ireland conflict — following telephoned warnings from an IRA faction that its members had hidden bombs in the area that failed to detonate. Two days into the search, police found one small bomb inside a car. Two days later they found a second bomb taped to an abandoned preschool-sized bicycle. The attackers apparently tried to lure police into the area by vandalizing the window of a shop, then telephoning the police to report the crime. But when police responded, neither bomb in the area detonated.

Somalia

Pirates have seized a Greek-flagged supertanker with 25 crew members off the coast of Oman. It was the second such seizure in two days. On Tuesday, Somali pirates firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades hijacked an Italian-flagged oil tanker in the Indian Ocean that was heading to Malaysia.

Weather

Yet another round of winter weather was bearing down on the Southeast on Wednesday after coating parts of the nation’s snow-weary midsection in white. The new storm comes barely a week after a record-setting weather system pummelled the Plains and the Midwest. Parts of Oklahoma had received up to 12 inches of snow as of 7 a.m. Wednesday (8 a.m. ET), according to the state Department of Emergency Management. Wind chills were between 10 and 30 degrees below zero in some areas, and authorities were urging people to stay off the roads. A winter storm warning was in place across portions of nine states — from Texas to Alabama. A winter weather advisory also touched portions of Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. The warnings and advisories were expected to move eastward throughout the day.

February 7, 2011

Islamic Flood Coming to U.S.?

An Israeli author and expert on the Middle East is warning Americans that Islamic immigrants could possibly flood the U.S. as a result of the events taking place in Egypt. Washington, DC, is already flooded with Muslims in very high positions in the U.S. administration, and these Muslims already control the gates,” notes Avi Lipkin, an Israeli scholar and author who has traveled throughout the U.S. to warn Americans about the threat of Islam. “The floodgates are open. The Muslims are coming in in tremendous numbers into the U.S.” But he warns that the floodgates will only get worse when illegal aliens gain their amnesty. “Once the amnesty takes place for the Latin Americans, then they will get ready for the next wave of illegals, which will be the tens of millions of Muslims who are going to be flooding into the U.S., especially Egyptians and Palestinians.”

  • Britain is already caving in to a large number of Muslim immigrants, compromising existing laws to accommodate Islam’s Sharia law, as part of an organized mission to overwhelm Western societies with sheer numbers.

Liberal Media Wages War in Egypt

The Jerusalem Prayer Team reports that “the liberal media has attempted to dumb-down the American people painting a picture that the crisis in Egypt is simply a matter of innocent Egyptians who want democracy versus Murbarak-supporting mobs attacking the freedom demonstrators. That is an outright lie. They don’t really believe that the terrorists behind this chaos are evil. Nor do they believe evil really exists. These New Agers hate Israel, the Bible, and Christians in general. The media attacks have become so severe anyone that contradicts them is considered ignorant, evil, racist, and a bigot. This is done in the name of political correctness and godless globalism. It is the theater of the absurd and a festival of hypocrisy. What the Liberal Left media is doing in Egypt and in the United States should be called treason. It sees these terrorist devils as “freedom fighters.” The Muslim Brotherhood has been trying to assassinate Mubarak and overthrow Egypt for decades. Not only is the PLO involved in this revolution in Egypt, so is al-Qaeda, and Iran with its two long arms of terror, Hamas and Hezbollah. Yes, al-Qaeda operatives are in Cairo doing everything possible to fan the flames.”

‘Chrislam’ Emerges in Protestant Churches

A Protestant renewal organization is concerned about the recent efforts of some mainline Protestant churches to produce an ecumenical reconciliation between Christianity and Islam. According to a recent blog post from The Last Crusade, congregations in several metropolitan areas — Houston, Atlanta, Seattle, and Detroit — preached sermons and held Sunday school lessons recently on the founder of Islam, Mohammad, whom Muslims consider a prophet. Qurans were also placed in the pews next to Bibles. Proponents of the movement, which has been dubbed “Chrislam,” claim that Christians cannot love their neighbors without having a relationship with them. Alan Wisdom, director of the Presbyterian Action committee and vice president for research and programs at The Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD), contends that Islam should never be viewed as an equal to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, Qurans should never be placed next to God’s Holy Word. “The Bible is God’s unique revelation to us. The pulpit of a church is for preaching the Word of God… We worship Jesus Christ, and we can’t mix that worship with any other allegiance.”

U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Treaty Finalized

The U.S. and Russia on Saturday finalized a nuclear arms treaty that limits the number of atomic warheads the former Cold War foes are allowed to possess — securing a key foreign policy goal of President Barack Obama. The New START treaty was approved by the U.S. Senate in December after Obama pressed strongly for its passage, and Russia ratified the deal last month. The treaty went into effect when U.S. Secretary of State Hillar Rodham Clinton exchanged the ratification papers with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of an international security conference in Munich on Saturday. New START is a cornerstone of Obama’s efforts to “reset” U.S. relations with Russia. The New START treaty, negotiated last year, limits each side to 1,550 strategic warheads, down from 2,200. The pact also re-establishes a monitoring system that ended in December 2009 with the expiration of an earlier arms deal.

U.S. Intelligence on Arab Unrest Draws Criticism

U.S. intelligence agencies are drawing criticism from the Oval Office and Capitol Hill that they failed to warn of revolts in Egypt and the downfall of an American ally in Tunisia. President Barack Obama sent word to National Intelligence Director James Clapper that he was “disappointed with the intelligence community” over its failure to predict the outbreak of demonstrations would lead to the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis. “These events should not have come upon us with the surprise that they did,” the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. A top CIA official, Stephanie O’Sullivan, told senators Thursday that Obama was warned of instability in Egypt “at the end of last year.”

  • Obama always tries to deflect any criticism to somebody or something else

U.S. Cracks China’s Internet Censors

The U.S. government has figured out how to bust through Internet censorship filters in order to deliver news and other vital information via e-mail to people in countries like China, according to a recent report. The official report from the Broadcasting Board of Governors detailed successful testing the agency conducted as it tried to slip data into inboxes in Hong Kong and China. The testing involved technology known as Feed Over e-mail, or FOE, to bypass traps the Chinese government has in place to screen out unwanted Internet content. Experts behind the testing said this information weapon probably could not have done much good in a situation like that unfolding in Egypt, where the government was flat-out blocking Internet access in response to the political unrest.

Economic News

State and local governments are enjoying a strong rebound in revenue that will make balancing this year’s budgets easier, but a nearly $40 billion falloff in federal stimulus aid starting in July could pose steep challenges. A new wave of conservative governors and legislators elected in November is shaping taxing and spending policies this month with more money to work with than their counterparts had a year ago. Revenue rose 4.3% last year, the best since before the recession began in December 2007, and the biggest gains in sales and income tax collections came during the final three months of 2010.

Of the 13.9 million Americans the government says were unemployed last month, about 1.8 million had been without work at least 99 weeks — almost two years. That’s nearly double the number in January 2010. Companies in January announced plans to trim fewer than 39,000 jobs, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas — 46% fewer than a year earlier and the fewest planned layoffs in January since Challenger began keeping track in 1993. Those who have a job are less likely to lose it than at any point in at least 14 years. Those who are unemployed are in trouble. Employers won’t likely step up hiring until they feel more confident about the economy.

Retail gasoline prices are likely to creep higher as anti-government protests continue in Egypt and concerns remain about the stability of the Middle East. The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.124 on Friday, according to AAA. Analysts expect prices to stay at $3 a gallon or higher — perhaps rising as much as 8 cents over the next two weeks — until the conflict in Egypt is resolved and tensions ease in neighboring countries. The pump increases come at a time when U.S. gasoline inventories are at an 18-year high of 236.2 million barrels.

Egypt

The leadership council of Egypt’s ruling party resigned Saturday, including the president’s son, but supporters of President Hosni Mubarak expressed optimism that he will survive the chaotic effort to oust him. Egypt’s vice president on Sunday met with the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups opposed to the regime of Hosni Mubarak as thousands of people remained in the streets to commemorate those who died in anti-government protests. Vice President Omar Suleiman said the government would no longer hamper freedom of the press and won’t interfere with text messaging and the Internet. He also proposed lifting a state of emergency that Mubarak imposed upon taking office after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat. Sadat was killed in 1981 by people linked to the Muslim Brotherhood who objected to the peace treaty with Israel. The Brotherhood made a strong showing in Egypt’s elections in 2005, winning 20% of the seats in the parliament. There were signs that life was returning to normal in downtown Cairo. Sunday is a work day in the Arab world, and the crowd in Tahrir Square was far smaller than previous days.

Coptic Christians saw their fears confirmed Saturday when an empty church was bombed in Egypt. According to The Christian Post, no one was injured and the church sustained minimal damage. The explosion follows almost two weeks of protests in Egypt calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. Christians have ceased meeting in their churches during that time, fearing for their safety amid the unrest. Christians, who make up eight to 12 percent of the population, have been calling for more protection from the state. Amid the ongoing protests, they are praying for a new Egypt, with democracy and freedom for the persecuted minority.

Tunisia

Tunisia’s interior minister has suspended all activities of the country’s former ruling party amid the most serious protests since the country’s autocratic president fled into exile less than a month ago. Fahrat Rajhi on Sunday suspended all meetings of the Democratic Constitutional Rally, known as the RCD, and ordered all party offices or meeting places it owns closed — ahead of a demand to dissolve the party. The RCD embodied the policies of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled into exile Jan. 14 after a month of nationwide anti-government protests. The party became a key instrument by which Ben Ali maintained power, and by which corruption spread. The announcement came hours after crowds pillaged, then burned a police station in the northwestern city of Kef a day after police shot dead at least two demonstrators.

Zimbabwe

The ripple effect of Egypt’s anti-government protests is not only being felt in the Middle East but as far away as Zimbabwe, a country with a similar political situation. Supporters of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe — an authoritarian ruler who’s been in power since 1980 — are accusing the country’s main opposition leader of using the Egyptian protests to whip up similar anti-government sentiment in the southern African nation. When asked about whether the Egypt protests could affect events back home, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said, “when people take their rights and start demanding more rights, there is nothing wrong with that.”

Cambodia

Cambodia called for U.N. peacekeepers to help end the fighting along its tense border with Thailand, where artillery fire echoed for a fourth day Monday. A one-hour clash Monday morning stopped after both sides agreed to an unofficial cease-fire. Fighting has erupted daily since Friday, leaving at least five dead and two dozen wounded. Cambodian officials say a Thai artillery barrage Sunday collapsed part of “a wing” at the Preah Vihear temple, a U.N. World Heritage site, but Thai officials have dismissed that account as propaganda. Both sides blame the other for instigating each day’s clashes, which have shattered a series of cease-fire agreements.

Iran

Two Americans accused of spying appeared in a closed-door Iranian court session Sunday to begin trial after an 18-month detention that has brought impassioned family appeals, a stunning bail deal to free their companion and backdoor diplomatic outreach by Washington through an Arab ally in the Gulf. All three — two in person and one in absentia — entered not guilty pleas during the five-hour hearing, said their lawyer, Masoud Shafiei. He added that he was barred by Iranian law from giving any further details of the proceedings. He described the jailed Americans — Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal — as appearing in good health. The case highlights the power of Iran’s judiciary, which is controlled directly by the nation’s ruling clerics and has rejected apparent appeals by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to show some leniency.

Pakistan

Christians and other minorities in Pakistan have learned that their government will not be amending the country’s controversial blasphemy law. Assist News Service reports the decision follows massive protests by Islamic and mainstream opposition parties against any changes. The protestors had demanded that the Pakistani government makes clear its stance over the issue of blasphemy law, which uses its penal code to prohibit and punish blasphemy against Islam. Christians say the law is used arbitrarily and with little evidence to discriminate against them. An accusation of blasphemy commonly subjects the accused, police, lawyers, and judges to harassment, threats, and attacks.