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.

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