Archive for March, 2011

March 25, 2011

Apple Suppresses Diversity, Yanks Christian App

Apple has done an about-face on an app for Exodus International — and the Christian organization is not happy about it, saying Apple has “caved, yet again” to pressure from “gay” activists. Exodus International vice president Randy Thomas says, “Our app was simply a resource app to help people who have questions about homosexuality and Exodus International, to learn what we’re really about’” According to a CNN report, those activists argued that in its claim to offer freedom from homosexuality through a relationship with Jesus Christ, Exodus uses “scare tactics, misinformation, stereotypes, and distortions of LGBT life to recruit clients.”

  • Liberals once again show themselves to be intolerant of views different than their own, despite their claims that they embrace tolerance

Most in U.S., Except Evangelicals, See No Divine Sign in Disasters

Most Americans— except evangelicals — reject the idea that natural disasters are divine punishment, a test of faith or some other sign from God, according to a new poll. The poll released today by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, was conducted a week after a March 11 earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan, and following a series of disasters over the past year or so. Nearly six in 10 evangelicals believe God can use natural disasters to send messages — nearly twice the number of Catholics (31%) or mainline Protestants (34%). Evangelicals (53%) are also more than twice as likely as the one in five Catholics or mainline Protestants to believe God punishes nations for the sins of some citizens. The poll found that a majority (56%) of Americans believe God is in control of the earth, but the idea of God employing Mother Nature to dispense judgment (38% of all Americans) or God punishing entire nations for the sins of a few (29%) has less support.

  • Unlike politicians, God is not influenced by majority opinion. The Bible clearly shows God using natural disasters as a means of judgment with the Book of Revelation indicating increased earthquake activity in “diverse” areas as a lead-up to the Great Tribulation during which humongous hailstones and even greater earthquakes will occur. So you can believe public opinion or you can believe God.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake that toppled homes in northeastern Myanmar has killed more than 70 people and injured at least 111. There were fears Friday the toll would mount as conditions in more remote areas became known. The Thursday night quake, measured at a magnitude 6.8 by the U.S. Geological Survey, was centered just north of the town Tachileik in the mountains along the Thai border. It was felt hundreds of miles away in the Thai capital Bangkok and Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

Rationing Begins in Japan

A suspected breach in the core of a reactor at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant could mean more serious radioactive contamination, Japanese officials revealed Friday, as the prime minister called the country’s ongoing fight to stabalize the plant “very grave and serious.” The uncertain situation halted work at the nuclear complex, where dozens had been trying feverishly to stop the overheated plant from leaking dangerous radiation. Suspicions of a possible breach were raised when two workers waded into water 10,000 times more radioactive than is typical and suffered skin burns.

Shops across Tokyo began rationing goods — milk, toilet paper, rice and water — as a run on bottled water coupled with delivery disruptions left shelves bare Thursday nearly two weeks after a devastating earthquake,  tsunami and nuclear disaster struck the nation. The unusual sights of scarcity in one of the world’s richest, most modern capitals came a day after city officials reported that radioactive iodine in the Tokyo’s tap water measured more than twice the level considered safe for babies. Radiation has been leaking from a nuclear plant 140 miles northeast of Tokyo since it was slammed by the March 11 quake and engulfed by the ensuing tsunami.

Coalition Keeps up Attacks in Libya

France declared Libya’s airspace “under control” on Friday, after NATO agreed to take command of the no-fly zone in a compromise that appeared to set up dual command centers and possibly new confusion. Deep divisions between allied forces currently bombing Libya worsened as the German military announced it was pulling forces out of NATO over continued disagreement on who will lead the campaign. Meanwhile, French fighter jets shot down a Libyan warplane Thursday, amid allegations that forces loyal to leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi violated the country’s UN-sanctioned no-fly zone. The incident is believed to be the first time a Libyan jet was sent into Libyan airspace since the coalition bombing began. French airstrikes hit an air base deep inside Libya and NATO ships patrolled the coast to block arms and mercenaries from flowing in to help Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Other coalition bombers struck artillery, tanks and parked helicopters, officials said Thursday.

In Tripoli, Libyan deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim said that the “military compound at Juffra” was among the targets hit before dawn. Juffra is one of at least two air bases deep in Libya’s interior that have been suppliers of arms and fighters for the Gadhafi. The provisional government for the rebels in Benghazi has been pleading for the coalition to do more than attack Gadhafi’s air defenses, saying his heavy armor was wiping out its lightly armed opposition soldiers. Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber said the American-led coalition has begun targeting Gadhafi’s artillery, tanks, mobile missiles and the “beans and bullets” that he supplies to his forces.

House Questions Libya Objectives

On Obama’s first full day back at the White House after a five-day trip to Latin America, his aides deflected criticism from House leaders and some potential presidential candidates that Obama has failed to adequately explain his rationale for launching military strikes to protect Libyan rebels. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has sent President Obama a letter asking him to explain the reasons behind the military mission in Libya. Obama has said the U.S. and allies are acting to enforce a United Nations resolution to protect Libyan citizens from attacks by Gadhafi’s army and air force. While the UN resolution does not mandate regime change, Obama has said his administration’s goal is Gadhafi’s removal from power. Critics fear a protracted conflict unless a clear exit strategy is stipulated.

Trump Refuses to Back Down Over Obama’s ‘Very Strange’ Birth

Donald Trump is not backing down from his demand that President Barack Obama produce his birth certificate and stepped up his criticism by questioning why he has not released other personal records, including college transcripts and legislative papers. The billionaire real estate tycoon and star of “The Apprentice” created a stir on Wednesday when he said on “The View” that Obama must release his birth certificate. Now Trump has reiterated his call in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, with this simple message for Obama: “Why don’t you produce your birth certificate and put to rest all speculation that you were born outside the United States?” He says Obama’s birth certificate controversy is a “strange situation” and that there are conflicting reports as to what Honolulu hospital he was born in. After questions were raised about his birth, Obama’s campaign released a Certification of Live Birth. The form is a summary document and does not include the newborn’s location of birth. The long-form Birth Certificate includes such data, but Obama has declined to release it.

More U.S. Colleges Adding Muslim Chaplains

A growing number of universities are adding full-time Muslim chaplains to work alongside the Christian and Jewish chaplains already common on college campuses. Pushing the trend are both the nation’s Muslim population growth and increased interest after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for better engagement with the Islamic world, says Omer Bajwa, who became Yale University’s first Muslim chaplain in 2008. The Pew Research Center estimates that there are 2.6 million Muslims in the United States — a number it says will grow to 6.2 million by 2030 because of immigration and high birth rates.

Judge Orders Use of Islamic Law in Tampa Lawsuit

The question of what law applies in any Florida courtroom usually comes down to two choices: federal or state. But Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen is being attacked by conservative bloggers after he ruled in a lawsuit March 3 that, to resolve one crucial issue in the case, he will consult a different source. “This case,” the judge wrote, “will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law.” Nielsen said he will decide in a lawsuit against a local mosque, the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, whether the parties in the litigation properly followed the teachings of the Koran in obtaining an arbitration decision from an Islamic scholar.

  • Some U.S. courts have applied international law and now Sharia law is being employed. America’s judicial boundaries are being breached by Islamists and secular humanists every bit as much as our physical borders are being purposely left porous by those who want to use diversity as the means to tear down our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Half of ‘Earmark’ Spending Untouched in GOP Bills

House Republicans who crafted two short-term spending bills made $5.3 billion in cuts by going after some of Washington’s least popular spending: those congressional pet projects known as “earmarks.” Even so, a congressional report shows they left $4.8 billion in earmarks untouched — and critics of congressional pork say they should go after it. “Many in Congress promised taxpayers a full earmark moratorium, not a half moratorium,” says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., an earmark opponent who requested the report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. Most of the remaining funds that congressmen set aside for pet projects are in defense, military construction and veterans affairs, according to the report last week.

Korea, China and India Invade U.S. Oil Fields

An invasion of U.S. oil fields by Asian buyers is happening. Recently, companies from Korea, China and India have bought land in the oil-rich states of Texas, Colorado and Wyoming, according to Reuters. In one of the biggest land deals, Korea National Oil (KNOC) bought one-third of Anadarko Petroleum’s land holdings in South Texas for $1.55 billion. China’s CNOOC purchased $1.3 billion of oil and shale land in Colorado and the Southwest. India’s Reliance RELI paid $11,354 per acre for land purchased from Pioneer Natural Resources.

  • The United States is an importer of oil. Should our government allow oil companies to sell off oil rich lands to foreign companies? Are we allowing foreign oil companies to deplete our oil fields? Doesn’t make sense unless you’re a New World Order globalist.

Economic News

More than two-thirds of Americans saw their net worth decline during the recession, suffering a median drop of 18%, according to a Federal Reserve study released Thursday. Median wealth, which the Fed defines as a household’s total assets minus their debts, fell to $96,000 from $125,000 during the period. Stocks were among the hardest-hit assets. The median value of primary residences dropped to $176,000 from $207,000 for those surveyed. The Fed’s flow-of-funds report found that household net worth peaked in the second quarter of 2007 and fell approximately 28% during the following two years.

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week. The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 382,000 in the week ended March 19, the fourth decline in five weeks. The four-week average has fallen almost 11% in the past seven weeks. The number of people receiving unemployment benefits fell for the fifth straight week to 3.7 million. But that doesn’t include 4.3 million people who are receiving extended benefits under emergency federal programs enacted during the recession.

The national spring home buying season is off to a bleak start, fueling worries that the U.S. housing market may not hit bottom this year. Sales of new homes in February plunged to their slowest pace on record, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, and median prices dropped to the lowest level since December 2003.

Companies trimmed their orders for long-lasting manufactured goods in February with a key category that signals business investment falling for a second month. The Commerce Department said that businesses reduced orders for durable goods 0.9% last month. Orders in a category that signals business investment plans dropped 1.3%. That followed a 6% decline in January, the biggest drop in two years.

Oil traded as high as $106.69 a barrel Thursday in a nervous and uncertain energy market. Prices have jumped 24% since the middle of February, when a rebellion broke out in Libya and squeezed off production that supplied nearly 2% of the world’s oil. some oil companies are taking their workers out of Yemen, where anti-government protests have been intensifying. Yemen produces only 0.3% of the world’s oil, according to the International Energy Administration, but it is an important transit point for crude shipments in the Middle East.

Portugal’s financial collapse appeared inevitable on Thursday, as markets took the government’s resignation as proof the debt-heavy country will lose its year-long battle to avoid an international bailout. Investors pushed the interest rate on Portugal’s 10-year bonds to a euro-era record of 7.71% — a level that is unsustainable and could force the country to ask for a rescue like Greece and Ireland did last year. The government quit late Wednesday after opposition parties rejected its latest debt-reduction plan, generating a new bout of market jitters over the country’s future.

Middle East

Israeli aircraft struck militant targets in the Gaza Strip on Thursday in response to rocket and mortar fire, stoking concerns that a grave new round of hostilities will fill the vacuum left by an impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. No injuries were reported in either the fire on Israel or the Israeli attacks on militant training sites, rocket-launching operations and smuggling tunnels. Wednesday’s terrorist bombing at a crowded Jerusalem bus stop stirred up painful memories of past terror attacks and fears that the Palestinians may be resuming bombings. The explosion — the first bombing in six years — killed a 60-year-old woman and injured more than 30 other people. The violence is the fiercest between the two sides since Israel went to war in Hamas-ruled Gaza more than two years ago to try to curb years of frequent rocket attacks.

Syria

Thousands of Syrians took to the streets Friday demanding reforms and mourning dozens of protesters who were killed during a violent, week-long crackdown that has brought extraordinary pressure on the country’s autocratic regime. There were no immediate reports of serious violence. Daraa, the main city of southern Syria’s drought-parched agricultural heartland, has become a flashpoint for protests in a country whose leadership stands unafraid of using extreme violence to quash internal unrest. The coming days will be a crucial test of the surge of popular discontent that has unseated autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and threatens to push several others from power.

Yemen

Yemeni forces are trying to prevent anti-government protesters from reaching the capital Sanaa. The troops are manning checkpoints on roads leading to Sanaa, trying to identify protesters. Protesters are trying to gather a million people Friday to demand the ouster of Yemen’s ruler of three decades, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Last Friday, security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing more than 40. Following their deaths, Saleh lost key support in his inner circle.

Britain is urging its citizens to leave Yemen immediately amid the worsening security situation in the crisis-stricken Arab nation. The small impoverished country has seen increasingly bloody violence as its embattled president tries to cling to power amid a wave of revolts sweeping the Arab world.

Afghanistan

A U.S. soldier who pleaded guilty Wednesday to the murders of three Afghan civilians was sentenced to 24 years in prison after saying “the plan was to kill people” in a conspiracy with four fellow soldiers. The 22-year-old Morlock is a key figure in a war crimes probe that has raised some of the most serious criminal allegations to come from the war in Afghanistan. Army investigators accused him of taking a lead role in the killings of three unarmed Afghan men in Kandahar province last year.

Pakistan

Gunmen attacked a minibus carrying mostly Shiite Muslims and killed eight people on Friday in a stretch of northwestern Pakistan that has seen a recent peace deal between rival Sunni and Shiite tribes. The gunmen who carried out the ambush in the Bagan area of the Kurram tribal region also kidnapped 18 people from the bus. The attack was the latest blow to the peace deal, which was meant to end a four-year conflict that cost hundreds of lives, but has failed to extinguish violence in the area.

Police say a suicide car bomber has targeted a Hangu police station Thursday in northwest Pakistan, killing at least five people. About two dozen people were also wounded in Thursday’s attack. Hangu lies near the troubled tribal regions along the Afghan border where al-Qaeda, Taliban fighters and local militants have flourished.

Iran

The U.N. Human Rights Council agreed on Thursday to a U.S.-backed proposal to establish a U.N. human rights investigator for Iran, the first in a decade. The council voiced concern at Iran’s crackdown on opposition figures and increased use of the death penalty, and called on the Islamic Republic to cooperate with the U.N. envoy to be named to the independent post. ‘The United States and other partners are gravely concerned at the situation in Iran where respect for human rights has deteriorated dramatically in recent years,’ U.S. human rights ambassador Eileen Donahoe said in a speech before the vote. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said earlier this month that Iran had intensified its crackdown on opponents and executions of drug traffickers, political prisoners and juvenile criminals.

North Korea

The United Nations says more than 6 million North Koreans are in urgent need of international food assistance. The world body reported Thursday that North Korea has suffered a series of shocks including summer floods and then a harsh winter, “leaving the country highly vulnerable to a food crisis.” Six million represents about a quarter of the country’s population. The U.S. is considering resuming food aid to the North, which has continued to advance its nuclear programs despite its chronic problems feeding its people.

Wildfires

Firefighters gained ground on two wildfires on the outer reaches of the Denver that forced thousands of people to flee their homes. A fire fueled by high winds 2.5 square miles of trees and grasslands Thursday and prompted evacuation orders for about 8,500 people near Franktown, 35 miles southeast of Denver. More than 100 firefighters contained 70% of the blaze later Thursday, and everyone was allowed to return home with the warning that they should be ready to leave again if necessary. A similar-sized wildfire burning since Sunday in the foothills west of Denver was 77% contained Thursday night. Fire officials ordered the evacuation of 17 homes threatened by the fire west of Golden, but people were allowed to go home the next day.

So far this year, wildfires have consumed 616,427 acres (about 95 square miles) nationwide, compared to just 86,446 acres last year (through 3/24). Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma are the hardest hit states where each has experienced severe drought conditions.

Weather

Spring can’t seem to upstage winter in the Northeast and parts of the nation’s midsection, as a far-reaching storm on Wednesday brought up to a foot of snow to areas from the Dakotas to upstate New York. Scores of schools closed or delayed opening in Wisconsin, northeastern Pennsylvania, upstate New York and northwest New Jersey because of the weather. Communities in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains were expecting more than 11 inches by the time the storm moved out late Wednesday. Higher elevations in New Jersey picked up 8 inches. In South Dakota, up to 10 inches of snow had fallen by Wednesday morning, and more than a foot of heavy, wet snow was on the ground in some parts of North Dakota. A tornado destroyed about 30 homes and damaged 60 more in Pennsylvania.

March 23, 2011

Radiation Spikes Spark Renewed Fears in Japan

A spike in radiation levels in Tokyo tap water spurred new fears about food safety Wednesday as rising black smoke forced another evacuation of workers trying to stabilize Japan’s radiation-leaking nuclear plant. Radiation has seeped into vegetables, raw milk, the water supply and seawater since a magnitude-9 quake and killer tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant nearly two weeks ago. U.S. officials announced a block on Japanese dairy and other produce from the region. The crisis is emerging as the world’s most expensive natural disaster on record, likely to cost up to $309 billion, according to a government estimate Wednesday. The death toll continued to creep up, with more than 9,400 bodies counted and more than 14,700 people listed as missing. Progress in cooling down the overheated facility has been intermittent, disrupted by rises in radiation, elevated pressure in reactors and overheated storage pools.

Vermont Nuclear Plant Gets OK for 20-Year Renewal

Federal regulators on Monday gave the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant a 20-year license renewal, despite calls for reconsideration following the nuclear disaster in Japan. However, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issued a statement Sunday calling for a moratorium on new licenses or license renewals for U.S. reactors in the wake of the Japanese crisis. “It’s hard to understand how the NRC could move forward for a license extension for Vermont Yankee at exactly the same time as a nuclear reactor of similar design is in partial meltdown in Japan,” Sanders told The Associated Press. “The idea of keeping Vermont Yankee open … until it is 60 years of age defies comprehension.”

  • The Japanese nuclear plant was not designed to experience a 9.0 earthquake, just an 8.5 quake. The quake caused the plant to fail, not internal processes. Such strong earthquakes are not expected in Vermont. As we try to wean ourselves off Muslim oil sources, we need to be careful not to overreact about nuclear power.

U.S. Radiation Expert Sees No Need for Alarm — For Now

As the race to cool down the reactors at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant continues, a U.S. expert on radiation contamination says there is no need to be alarmed, for now. That advice comes as Japanese food inspectors have detected trace amounts of iodine and cesium in some spinach and milk from farms several miles away from the plant and the World Health Organization calls on Japan to make sure such foods are not sold to nearby residents or export markets. “The fact that they can detect something doesn’t mean it’s harmful,” says Richard Morin, chair of the safety committee for the American College of Radiology. Morin says everyone is exposed to some form of natural radiation every single day. “You get an increase in your radiation dose when you eat a banana,” he says. “A banana has a bit of potassium-40 in it. Morin also says the history of the nuclear power industry in the USA, which uses 104 nuclear plants, including 23 similar to the stricken one in Japan, is “one of very good safety.” “Right now, there is no cause for alarm,” Morin says.

Libyan Fighting Continues

Blasts and gunfire were heard in Tripoli Wednesday, hours after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said his nation was laughing at coalition rockets. Four days of allied strikes have battered Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s air force and largely destroyed his long-range air-defense systems, a top U.S. commander said Tuesday. But there was little evidence that the attacks had stopped regime forces from killing civilians or shifted the balance of power in favor of the rebels. International airstrikes forced Moammar Gadhafi’s forces to withdraw tanks that were besieging a rebel-held western city Wednesday, residents said, while people fleeing a strategic city in the east said the situation was deteriorating amid relentless shelling.

Western diplomats, meanwhile, said an agreement was emerging about NATO would take responsibility for a no-fly zone over Libya after the United States which has effectively commanded the operation until now — reiterated that it was committed to the transition. NATO warships were to begin patrolling off Libya’s coast Wednesday to enforce the U.N. arms embargo. The international coalition continued airstrikes and patrols aimed at enforcing a no-fly zone and protecting Libyan civilians early Wednesday.

U.S. intelligence agencies are fretting that a desperate Moammar Gadhafi could resort to using weapons of mass destruction in acts of terrorism against Western targets or his own people. Gadhafi has extensive stockpiles of mustard gas and high explosives at his disposal that could be employed in attacks against targets in Europe or against rebels in Libya, the Wall Street Journal reports.

S.D. Enacts New Abortion Law

Women who want an abortion in South Dakota will face the longest waiting period in the nation — three days — and have to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions under a measure signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Within minutes of Daugaard’s announcement that he had signed the measure, abortion rights groups said they plan to file a lawsuit challenging the measure, which one said could create particular hardships for women who live in rural areas hundreds of miles from the state’s only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls. Daugaard said in a written statement that he had conferred with state attorneys who will defend the law in court and a sponsor who has pledged to raise private money to finance the state’s court fight..

Democrats Continue Assault on Marriage

In the wake of President Obama’s decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, liberal Democrats — led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York — have decided to take advantage of the situation and have introduced a bill to overturn DOMA, which restricts marriage to between a man and a woman. Nadler, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and vice-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, reintroduced the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act” legislation in the Senate last week. Matt Barber, vice president of Liberty Counsel Action, refers to the bill as the “Disrespecting Marriage Act.” “We have a faction of radical leftists in the House and in the Senate who are willing to side and align themselves with extremist, homosexual pressure groups in order to try to take a sledgehammer to the institution of marriage, which is fundamental to any healthy society,” says Barber.

Black Population Falls in Major U.S. Cities

The black population is declining in a growing number of major cities — more evidence that the settlement pattern of African Americans is changing as they disperse to suburbia and warmer parts of the nation. 2010 Census data released so far this year show that 20 of the 25 cities that have at least 250,000 people and a 20% black population either lost more blacks or gained fewer in the past decade than during the 1990s. Blacks, many in the middle or upper-middle class, are leaving cities for the suburbs, and many of those living in the North are leaving for thriving Sunbelt centers of the South.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve is paying a record $79.3 billion to U.S. Treasury after the central bank earned a record amount of money last year from programs aimed at boosting the economy. The Fed says its payment to the Treasury Department for 2010 is 67% higher than the $47.4 billion it paid in 2009, the previous record. The central bank earned a record $81.7 billion last year from its massive holdings of securities, which were purchased to help stabilize the financial system and pull the economy out of the recession. Part of those earnings go toward funding the Fed, which receives no appropriations from Congress. Any money left over is turned over to the U.S. Treasury.

  • The Federal Reserve is not a government agency but rather a private organization given the right to function as our central bank. It is controlled by a cabal of international investors whose interests do not necessarily put the U.S. first.

The cost of the American and European assault on Libya already easily tops hundreds of millions of dollars, and has the potential to rise significantly if the operation drags on for weeks or months. The U.S. has fired 161 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libyan territory, with 24 missiles being fired overnight Monday into Tuesday. Each missile is priced at $1 million to $1.5 million apiece. An array of U.S. warplanes; 11 ships steaming in the Mediterranean, including three submarines, two destroyers and two amphibious ships; and one F-15 fighter jet that crashed, costing $75 million or more — it all adds up to numbers that are unnerving budget-conscious lawmakers as they grapple with the debt and job crisis back home.

Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis could deliver a bigger blow to that nation’s economy and U.S. manufacturers than originally estimated, some economists say, due to extended disruptions to Japan’s power grid and factory supply chains. Some large U.S. electronics makers likely will shut down due to the temporary loss of components from Japanese suppliers.

Egypt’s stock market is poised to reopen after being closed for nearly two months. Officials worried that keeping the market closed would further rattle already-shaken investor confidence in the country after the uprisings that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The relaunch of the Egyptian Exchange, expected Wednesday, comes after the prime minister accepted the resignation of the market’s chairman and appointed a new, temporary head.

Middle East

A bus has exploded in Jerusalem, and people are being taken away on stretchers, the AP reports. The explosion occurred near the main entrance to Jerusalem. The BBC reports “many casualties feared.” Bloomberg News, quoting Israel’s Channel 2, reports about 20 people injured in the blast. The explosion may be related to Tuesday’s shelling by Israel aimed at Palestinian militants that missed its target, killing three children and their uncle and wounding 13 other family members according to Palestinian sources. That attack was launched in response to repeated rocket fire toward Israel. It dramatically escalated a recent round of simmering violence with Palestinian militants and threatened to set off the first heavy fighting in more than two years. The Israeli military acknowledged civilians were killed but said it was aiming at Palestinian militants who had launched seven mortar shells against Israel earlier Tuesday.

Egypt

Fire swept the upper floors of Egypt’s Interior Ministry building on Tuesday as policemen protested outside to demand higher pay. A security official accused demonstrators of starting the blaze in downtown Cairo. Many Egyptians still associate the Interior Ministry’s security forces with the worst excesses of the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Earlier this month, protesters rallied outside State Security offices across the nation, storming some of them in a search of evidence of human rights violations. Tuesday’s protest outside the ministry, however, was held by policemen themselves. They want a minimum salary of $200 a month — much more than many get now — and other benefits, including improved health care.

While Egypt’s Christians were happy to see Hosni Mubarak leave, they aren’t welcoming a new government with open arms. Reuters reports that many Egyptian Christians say they voted Saturday to reject proposed constitutional amendments in a referendum that would have allowed quick elections. Christians say they fear rushing elections could sweep Islamist groups into power. “I fear the Islamists because they speak in civil slogans that have a religious context, like when one said he believed in a civil Egypt but at the same time no woman or Copt should run for president,” said Samuel Wahba, a Coptic doctor. If approved, the amendments would put parliamentary elections on the calendar for late Septembers with a presidential election in December.

Yemen

Yemen’s parliament enacted sweeping emergency laws Wednesday after the country’s embattled president asked for new powers of arrest, detention and censorship to quash a popular uprising demanding his ouster. The law suspends the constitution, allows media censorship, bars street protests and gives security forces 30 days of far-reaching powers to arrest and detain suspects without judicial process. Yemen’s embattled U.S.-backed president said Tuesday that a military coup would lead to civil war and pledged to step down by year’s end but not hand power to army commanders who have joined the opposition. There was no immediate response from the opposition, which has won the loyalty of influential clergy and tribal leaders, along with the powerful army commanders now calling for Saleh’s ouster. Saleh had previously rejected an earlier opposition demand that he resign by the end of the year.

Syria

New violence in a restive southern Syrian city killed as many as six people Wednesday, making it the deadliest single day since anti-government protests inspired by uprisings across the Arab world reached this country last week  The six people died in Daraa when security forces launched an attack near the al-Omari Mosque, where anti-government demonstrators have taken shelter. The Syrian government has sought to contain the first serious intrusion of the Arab world’s political unrest by firing the governor of the southern province of Daraa, where security forces had killed seven protesters over the weekend. But the dismissal failed to quell popular anger and the protests reached the province’s village of Nawa, where hundreds of people marched demanding reforms on Tuesday.

Iran

White House concerns that Iran’s hand is being strengthened by recent events in the Middle East is central to its response to the turmoil, say U.S., European, and Arab officials. President Barack Obama’s decision last week to use military force against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces was made in part by his administration’s fear that Western inaction could further embolden Tehran, these officials say. Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Shiite government are locked in a battle for regional influence. U.S. military planners are also concerned Iran could benefit from an overthrow of the monarchy in Bahrain, home to U.S. naval operations that help control the Persian Gulf’s oil flow. In Yemen, too, Washington’s closest Arab allies, in particular Saudi Arabia, are worried the potential overthrow of President Ali Abdullah Saleh could strengthen Iran in the region.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling on Christians worldwide to pray for believers in Iran, who face increasing pressure from authorities. On March 8, five Iranian Christians were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “crimes against the Islamic order” by the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz. The group was arrested last June and spent almost eight months in prison before a temporary release in February. Concern also remains high for another Church of Iran leader, Pastor Yousef Nadakharni, who was sentenced to death for apostasy, and whose appeal is pending at the Supreme Court. At least 282 Christians have been arrested in more than 30 Iranian cities since June 2010, though many were released. Christians in the country say the situation has deteriorated quickly since Dec. 26, 2010, when authorities began a fresh wave of arrests.

Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that his security forces will soon take charge of security in seven areas around the nation — the first step toward his goal of having Afghan police and soldiers protecting the entire nation by the end of 2014. In a speech Tuesday in Kabul, Karzai said, “The Afghan nation doesn’t want the defense of this country to be in the hands of others anymore.” He struck a nationalistic chord in his speech, which was peppered with criticism of the international effort. Karzai also reiterated his call for the Taliban to join the peace process and that the death of civilians must end. A series of recent airstrikes that have lead to the death of numerous civilians have seriously eroded relations between Karzai and the U.S.-led military coalition.

Nigeria

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that more than 4,000 people have been displaced in a series of nightly attacks by Muslim tribesmen in central Nigeria. The attacks have persisted since March 10 despite the deployment of secruity personnel in the area. At least five Christians have been murdered in the Bauchi state during the violence, and churches report that at least 463 homes and 13 churches have been torched. Local sources attribute the attacks to a group of around 2,000 militants from Niger, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto and other northern Nigerian states. The area has experienced numerous sectarian attacks since 1991, when a disagreement between a Fulani man and a Tsayawa meat seller escalated into violence that killed 400 people.

Ethiopia

Baptist Press reports that damage surveys following recent anti-Christian violence in Ethiopia showed at least 69 churches were burned. Another 30 Christian homes, a Bible school, a Christian orphanage and a church office were also burned. The anti-Christian attacks started March 2 after Muslims allegedly accused Christians of desecrating the Quran, the Islamic holy book. Violence continues to affect residents of the area. During the initial days of the attacks 3,000 Christians were displaced; International Christian Concern reports those numbers now have climbed to 10,000. Although Ethiopian Orthodox churches are predominant throughout the country, at least the first 55 churches burned belong to evangelical denominations, according to one anonymous Christian worker who served in Ethiopia from 2007 until 2010.

Wildfires

About 100 homes in the mountains west of Denver remained under evacuation orders Monday and hundreds more were on standby as strong winds helped spread a wildfire scorching more than a square mile of drought-stricken brush, trees and grasses. The fire has already blackened 1,200 acres(about two square miles) west of Golden, in Jefferson County, and officials said it was 15% contained. Gusts up to 40 mph fanned flames up and down the steep, rugged mountainsides in the suburb about 15 miles from downtown Denver. Air tankers and helicopters dropped fire retardant and water on a wildfire in the tinder-dry foothills west of Denver on Tuesday while 17 homes remained under evacuation orders.

A 4,000-acre wildfire is burning in Arizona, about eleven miles northeast of Nogales. Many structures are threatened and several local road closures are in effect. As of Monday, the fire is only 5% contained. Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Arkansas have ten active wildfires burning, having consumed 3,600 acres thus far.

Weather

A Pacific storm system moved across Arizona on Monday, bringing periods of heavy snow, rain and wind across the state, and causing at least 30 crashes and 24 highway slide-offs. Heavy snow fell in Flagstaff, and the white stuff fell at lower elevations including Prescott. Lower desert areas, including Phoenix, saw periods of heavy rain. Winds were high across the state, as strong as 40 mph in Tucson. The weather led to 30 crashes, two of which were fatal; 10 others involved injuries. Weather advisories were in effect throughout much of the state, including a red-flag warning in southeastern Arizona that means an increased danger of wildfires.

Miles of southern California beach remained closed Tuesday from a sewage spill stemming from a major spring storm, and forecasters said California would get only a single day to dry out before wet weather rolled in again. The weekend storm that dumped up to 10 inches of rain in some areas overwhelmed some sewage systems. Snow, ice and rockslides forced the shutdown of major highways and thousands were without electricity, while concerns about flooding and mudslides forced dozens of evacuations. Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles was shut down as wintry conditions through the mountains made passes too dangerous. The closure temporarily left drivers without the main route from Los Angeles to northern and central California.

March 21, 2011

Japan Shows Progress in Stabilizing Nuclear Plants

Japan’s imperiled nuclear facility stabilized Sunday, even as concerns rose over radiation-contaminated foods and aftershocks rumbled in the wake of an historic earthquake and tsunami. The scope of the tragedy climbed even higher Sunday. In its latest tally, Japan’s National Police Agency said the death toll had climbed to 8,649 people, with 13,262 missing from the massive magnitude-9.0 quake that struck March 11. The World Bank said in a report Monday that rebuilding may take Japan five years and cost $235 billion. Meanwhile, aftershocks have been a constant since the quake. On Sunday alone, about 20 quakes, from magnitude-4.4 to 5.8, shook Japan anew.

Releases of radiation-laced plumes from the damaged reactors and two pools already have exceeded 1979’s Three Mile Island accident in the USA. Over the weekend, water-cannon trucks aimed seawater at the two spent fuel rod pools of most concern. Engineers also reconnected power to the facility, which they hope will allow them to restart the automatic cooling of overheating reactors this week. The reactors are now cooled with seawater pumped into them, a desperation measure that may have averted disaster.

Radiation Contaminates Japanese Food Supply

Japan reported elevated radiation levels in spinach and milk from farms near its tsunami-crippled nuclear complex, as emergency teams scrambled Saturday to restore power to the plant so it could cool dangerously overheated fuel. The first word on contaminated food in the crisis came as Japan continued to grapple with overwhelming consequences of the cascade of disasters unleashed by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11. The tainted milk was found 20 miles from the plant while the spinach was collected between 50 miles and 65 miles to the south. While the radiation levels exceeded the limits allowed by the government, the products “pose no immediate health risk” and that more testing was being done on other foods. Japan’s Health Ministry says it has advised a village near a crippled nuclear plant not to drink tap water due to elevated levels of radioactive iodine.

No Radiation Threat Along West Coast

U.S. and California officials sought Friday to dispel fears of a wider danger from radioactivity spewing from Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors, saying testing indicated there were no health threats along the West Coast of the U.S. Driven by winds over the Pacific Ocean, a radioactive plume released from the Fukushima Dai-ichi reached Southern California on Friday, heightening concerns that Japan’s nuclear disaster was assuming international proportions. However, the results of testing reflected expectations by International Atomic Energy Agency officials that radiation had dissipated so much by the time it reached the U.S. coastline that it posed no health risk whatsoever to residents.

U.S. Marines, Sailors Arrive in Japan to Aid Quake Relief

More than 4,000 U.S. Marines and sailors have arrived in Japan to help with earthquake relief. “If approved for operations, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is ready to rapidly send vehicles and aircraft east toward the affected areas,” said operations officer Lt. Col. Michael Monti. “We can move water production capabilities to areas where there are water shortages, heavy equipment for debris removal, medical personnel to treat the wounded, and many other capabilities to help those in dire need.” The Pentagon said about 17,000 U.S. military personnel are involved in the relief operations.

Assault on Libya Inflicts Heavy Damage

A two-day U.S. and allied air assault on Libya has inflicted heavy damage on leader Moammar Gadhafi’s ability to fire missiles or attack rebels, according to Pentagon officials and reports from rebel strongholds. In Benghazi, the major rebel stronghold, residents fired weapons in jubilation Sunday and climbed on the burned-out shells of tanks destroyed by the airstrikes. They were celebrating the allied attacks, which came after Gadhafi’s forces pounded the city with artillery and tank shells and entered the outskirts. Air attacks over the weekend hit tanks, rocket launchers, radar and communications facilities of forces loyal to the Libyan strongman. Tomahawk missiles — 124 launched from ships and submarines on the first day of the attack — limited Gadhafi’s ability to shoot down allied planes with surface-to-air missiles. A three-story administration building in Gadhafi’s residential compound was blasted by a cruise missile late Sunday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. expects to turn over control of the Libya military mission to a coalition headed either by the French and British or by NATO, “in a matter of days.” President Obama, whose administration was cautious about using force in the conflict, said the military would place strict limits on American involvement. Analysts say events will be largely dictated by what happens on the ground, regardless of American intentions, raising concerns of escalating U.S. involvement in yet another theater of war, joining two major conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gadhafi is hunkered down in Tripoli and remains in control of powerful parts of his military. He pledges to wage a “long war” against “Colonial Western forces.” Some military analysts say the overall goals are unclear and worry that the West’s urgent action over the weekend isn’t backed by planning for what sort of Libya will be left behind when the aerial campaign stops.

E.U. High Court Rules Crucifixes Do Not Violate Freedom of Conscience

Crucifixes in public school classrooms do not violate a student’s freedom of conscience, a European high court ruled Friday in a verdict welcomed by the Vatican in its campaign to remind the continent of its Christian roots. The case was brought by a Finnish-born woman living in Italy who objected to the crucifixes in her children’s classrooms, arguing they violated the secular principles public schools are supposed to uphold. The debate divided Europe’s traditional Catholic and Orthodox countries and their more secular neighbors that observe a strict separation between church and state. Initially, the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights sided with the mother. Italy appealed, supported by more than a dozen countries including the late Pope John Paul II’s predominantly Catholic Poland, and won. Friday’s reversal has implications in 47 countries, opening the way for Europeans who want religious symbols in classrooms to petition their governments to allow them.

Franklin Graham: World’s Christians in Grave Danger

The Muslim Brotherhood, with the complicity of the Obama administration, has infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels and is influencing American policy that leaves the world’s Christians in grave danger, warns internationally known evangelist Franklin Graham. “The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active here in our country,” Graham tells Newsmax. “We have these people advising our military and State Department… “It’s like a farmer asking a fox, ‘How do I protect my hen house?’” That same Muslim Brotherhood is fomenting much of the rebellion and the deteriorating social order roiling the Middle East, forcing millions of Christians to flee for their lives, says Graham, son of beloved evangelist Dr. Billy Graham, and founder of The Samaritan’s Purse international charity. “Under [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarek and [Jordan’s] King Hussein and other moderate leaders, Christians had been protected,” Graham says.

  • An Islamic democracy is an oxymoron. New Muslim leadership will promote Sharia law which marginalizes Christians under the best of circumstances, and makes them outcasts subject to discrimination.

Judge Blocks Contentious Wisconsin Union Law

A Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday blocking the state’s new and contentious collective bargaining law from taking effect. The judge’s order is a major setback for new Republican Gov. Scott Walker and puts the future of the law in question. Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi issued the order, which was requested by that county’s District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat. Ozanne filed a lawsuit contending that a legislative committee that broke a stalemate that had kept the law in limbo for weeks met without the 24-hour notice required by Wisconsin’s open meetings law. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the measure and Gov. Scott Walker signed it last week. Assistant Attorney General Steven Means said the state will appeal the ruling.

N.Y. Sting Pulls 14 Buses Off Roads after Fatal Crash

A sting operation by New York state transportation investigators and law enforcement a week after a horrific fatal tour bus crash included a single stop in Manhattan in which all 14 tour buses pulled over were ordered off the road. State investigators reported nine “major issues” Friday night with the drivers, including lack of an updated log book required to show how long a driver has been behind the wheel. The state Department of Transportation investigators found 10 major vehicle issues and 40 minor infractions. New York City police, which participated in the sting, reported that 54 criminal summonses were issued Friday night in Manhattan, with eight buses towed away because of safety violations. Other buses ordered out of service were driven away by qualified drivers.

Arizona Faces Water Challenge

In 1911, a group of farmers on the lower Salt River, struggling to cope with floods and drought, built Roosevelt Dam and developed a reliable water supply that has met the needs of a growing region for 100 years. In 2011, the challenge is no longer how to ensure enough water to develop farming in the arid Valley, but where Phoenix and other Arizona cities will find water for the next 100 years. Demand has spread beyond the capacities of Roosevelt and the other dams on the Salt and Verde rivers. Drought has underscored the vulnerability of Colorado River water, delivered to the Valley in the last big water project built here, the Central Arizona Project Canal. Climate change has added uncertainty. Most water experts agree that if the region continues to grow, its cities will need to find more water – or use less of what is now available – to avoid drawing too deeply on non-renewable groundwater supplies. Arizona pioneered large-scale water banking, storing unused Colorado River water by pouring it into recharge basins to percolate into the ground for later use. So far, the state has banked about 1.6 trillion gallons. What worries some water managers is that the banked water could end up being used as a long-term source instead of an emergency supply.

Economic News

Oil prices jumped to nearly $103 a barrel Monday in Asia after the Libyan leader vowed a “long war” amid a second night of allied strikes in the OPEC nation. U.S. stocks rallied Monday, with the Dow surging more than 200 points in a broad-based rally. Investors were encouraged by progress in Japan’s nuclear crisis and AT&T’s $39 billion deal to acquire T-Mobile USA.

Fewer Americans bought previously occupied homes in February and those who did purchased them at steep discounts. The weak sales and rise in foreclosures pushed home prices down to their lowest level in nearly nine years. Sales of previously occupied homes fell last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million. That’s down 9.6% from 5.4 million in January. The pace is far below the 6 million homes a year that economists say represents a healthy market. Nearly 40% of the sales last month were either foreclosures or short sales, when the seller accepts less than they owe on the mortgage. The median sales price fell 5.2% to $156,100, the lowest level since April 2002.

After a reign as the nation with the second highest corporate income tax rate, the United States is set to move into first place when Japan lowers its rate next month. The combined federal and state rate in the U.S. is 39.2 percent of corporate profits, a new analysis by the Tax Foundation disclosed. When Japan, which currently has a rate of 39.5 percent, enacts a planned cut of 4.5 percentage points in April, America will have the highest rate of all the economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the group of 34 advanced nations with economies most comparable to the U.S.

State governments are rushing to pay billions of dollars of medical bills before special federal assistance for Medicaid expires July 1. The hurry-up-and-pay effort will put an extra $1 billion or more into the pockets of financially struggling states — and increase the federal deficit by a similar amount. To beat deadlines for reduced federal aid, states are writing checks swiftly, paying off backlogs of bills and asking hospitals and doctors to send in bills as fast as they can.

Middle East

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired more than 50 rockets into Israel on Saturday, the heaviest barrage in two years, Israeli officials said. A Hamas official was killed and four civilians were wounded when Israel hit back with tank fire and air strikes. The violence comes amid increasing calls for reconciliation between Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his bitter rivals in Hamas. Abbas is seeking U.N. recognition for a Palestinian state by the fall and is currently lobbying for votes worldwide. But the internal rift makes their vision of statehood harder to achieve and hinders their ability to reach a peace agreement with Israel.

Brazil a Model for Budding Mideast Democracies

President Obama told residents of Rio de Janeiro Sunday that pro-freedom movements in Libya and throughout the Middle East can take inspiration from the example of a free and vibrant Brazil. Brazil “shows that a dictatorship can become a thriving democracy,” Obama said in a speech that focused on the U.S. relationship to his host country’s growing economic power. Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, a regime that was eased from power not by a sharp, violent revolution, but through a long, massive popular movement of peaceful protest and strikes led in large part by labor unions and dissident political groups. The nation’s first female leader, President Dilma Rousseff, who took power in January, was a key member of a Marxist militant group that battled against the dictatorship.

  • A Marxist, socialistic “democracy” is Obama’s ideal

Egypt

Voters in Egypt have overwhelmingly backed changes in their constitution that will allow for early elections and limit a future president to two terms. Official results show that 77% of voters in Saturday’s referendum supported the changes, the BBC reports. The voting on Saturday came less than six weeks after a popular uprising forced President Hosni Mubarak from office after 30 years. It is a marked change from elections under Mubarak that usually had a very low turnout and an outcome determined in advance. Officials say 45 million people, or 41.2% of eligible voters, turned out. It was the first time that the Muslim Brotherhood, which backed the changes, has campaigned openly since it was banned in 1954.

Bahrain

Bahrain’s king said Monday that a foreign plot to “subvert security and stability” in the Gulf island kingdom has been foiled, and praised the Saudi-led force he invited to help quell the unprecedented unrest in this majority Shiite nation. Any reference to a foreign conspiracy against Bahrain’s Sunni dynasty can be interpreted as jab at the region’s Shiite powerhouse Iran. Gulf Sunni kings and sheiks are concerned Iran will gain more influence in the oil-rich region by helping Bahrain’s Shiites in their revolt for greater political freedoms. Bahrain on Friday tore down the 300-foot monument at the heart of a square purged of Shiite protesters this week, erasing a symbol of an uprising that’s inflaming sectarian tensions across the region.

Yemen

Rival tanks deployed in the streets of Yemen’s capital Monday after three senior army commanders defected to a movement calling for the ouster of the U.S.-backed president, leaving him with virtually no support among the country’s most powerful institutions. A crackdown that has killed dozens of protesters failed to stop massive demonstrations as crowds of thousands clashed Saturday with security forces smashing their protest camps and even seized control of one southern city. In the capital, the government had to bring out tank units and other military forces to protect key buildings as crowds swelled. Protesters also stood their ground in the southern port of Mukalla, surging out of their destroyed encampment and encircling a police station. More than a month of daily protests calling for political freedoms and an end to corruption have presented President Ali Abdullah Saleh with the most dire challenge to his 32 years of running Yemen, a deeply impoverished land of restive tribes and numerous conflicts on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Syria

Police fired live ammunition and tear gas Sunday at thousands of Syrians protesting in a tense southern city for a third consecutive day, killing one person and signaling that unrest in yet another Arab country is taking root. The violence in Daraa, a city of about 300,000 near the border with Jordan, was fast becoming a major challenge for President Bashar Assad, who tried to contain the situation by freeing detainees and promising to fire officials responsible for the violence. Protesters in Syria would face a tough time trying to pull off a serious uprising along the lines of those that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia. Assad’s Syria is a country that crushes political dissent, closely controls the media and routinely jails critics of the regime.

Morocco

Several thousand protesters have staged protests in cities around Morocco to demand more political changes. A group of protesters in the commercial capital Casablanca clashed briefly with pro-government activists who arrived at the end of a demonstration. The protests were organized by the February 20 movement, which has led protests for the past month, with support from Morocco’s best-known Islamist movement, Adl wal Ihsan, which is barred from politics in the kingdom. The state news agency MAP says protests were held in Fes, Tetouan, Tangiers and other cities and towns. King Mohammed VI has pledged changes to the constitution for the first time in 15 years, amid a push for greater democracy across the Arab world.

Turkey

Though the horrific scale of the 2007 Malatya murders has not been repeated in Turkey’s Protestant church, a recent report shows harassment continues to be a daily problem for the country’s Christians. In a report published earlier this year, the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches’s (TEK) Committee for Religious Freedom and Legal Affairs showed Turkish laws and “negative attitudes of civil servants” continue to make it nearly impossible for non-Muslims to establish places of worship. Compass Direct News reports that missionary activities are still considered a national threat despite the existence of Turkish laws guaranteeing citizens the freedom to propagate and teach their faith, and children are victims of discrimination at school, according to the report. “After four years [since the Malatya murders], Turkey’s religious freedoms have not improved as desired,” said attorney Erdal Dogan.

Haiti

One candidate is a musician with a bad-boy past. The other is a former first lady with a long political resume. Haiti voted Sunday for one of them to lead a country where anger with the government runs deep and nearly a million people are living on the streets. The election, already delayed by a political crisis, is also clouded with uncertainty over the return of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular but divisive figure whose mere presence was considered by the U.S. government and others as a possible threat to the vote. Mirlande Manigat, the former first lady, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a star of Haitian compas music, emerged as the top two finishers in a first-round vote in November with 18 candidates that was marred by fraud and disorganization. One of Martelly’s most high-profile supporters, hip-hop star Wyclef Jean — himself a would-be candidate until officials disqualified him — was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to his hand late Saturday. The details surrounding the shooting were unclear.

Mexico

The crime report describes the body of the shooting victim in the plain, unadorned language of the police: Thin. Black hair, light brown skin, purple blouse. Bullet wound in chest. Then comes the age: About 4 years old. Children, from toddlers to early teens, are increasingly falling victim to the brutal violence of Mexico’s drug war, a conflict that has killed more than 34,000 lives in the last four years. Once, Mexican cartel gunmen took out their targets with accurate fire, often leaving their children sitting unharmed in the same car. Now the killers increasingly seem to be willing to kill even the youngest of children. The problem has become particularly acute in Acapulco, the Pacific coast resort that has become the scene of bloody cartel turf battles. The U.S. ambassador to Mexico resigned Saturday amid furor over a leaked diplomatic cable in which he complained about inefficiency and infighting among Mexican security forces in the campaign against drug cartels. President Felipe Calderon publicly criticized Pascual’s cable, which was divulged by the WikiLeaks website.

At least three people who allegedly worked for a Mexican drug cartel face charges of plotting to buy a Stinger Missile, anti-tank rockets and other military firepower, according to federal court papers unsealed Friday in Phoenix. “The object of the conspiracy was to obtain and possess military grade weaponry, and then to export that weaponry to the Republic of Mexico, and supply that weaponry to a Mexican drug trafficking organization,” says an indictment in U.S. District Court. The defendants – David Diaz-Sosa, Jorge De Jesus-Casteneda and Emilia Palomina-Robles – were indicted by a grand jury on multiple conspiracy counts involving drugs and weapons.

Haiti

One candidate is a musician with a bad-boy past. The other is a former first lady with a long political resume. Haiti’s voters will choose one of them Sunday to lead a country where anger with the government runs deep and nearly a million people are living on the streets. The election, already delayed by a political crisis, is also clouded with uncertainty over the return of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular but divisive figure whose mere presence was considered by the U.S. government and others as a possible threat to the vote. Mirlande Manigat, the former first lady, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a star of Haitian compas music, emerged as the top two finishers in a first-round vote in November with 18 candidates that was marred by fraud and disorganization. One of Martelly’s most high-profile supporters, hip-hop star Wyclef Jean — himself a would-be candidate until officials disqualified him — was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to his hand late Saturday, a spokesman said. The details surrounding the shooting were unclear.

March 18, 2011

Final Bible Translations in Process

An international ministry has announced a new aggressive goal to launch translation efforts in the remaining regions around the world that yet to have the Bible in those languages. Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, the world’s largest Bible-translation organization, hopes to begin the remaining projects by 2025. When translations of God’s Word began nearly 70 years ago, almost 500 languages in the Western hemisphere had no writing, grammar, or dictionary, let alone a Bible translation. Today, more than 450 of those language development and scripture-translation projects are complete or under way, leaving fewer than 50 scripture translations to launch. Paul Edwards, executive director of Wycliffe’s Last Languages Campaign”It’s the greatest period of Bible translation that the world has ever seen,” he states. “In 1999 we estimated it was going to take us 150 years — now we think within 15 years we will have started the final remaining Bible translations.”, says more than 1,000 languages have been translated in the past decade.

God Said, “I Will Shake All Nations”

The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes that, “The prophet Haggai described the day we’re living in when he declared in Chapter 2, verse 7, ‘And I will shake all nations., Hebrews 12:27 says it like this: ‘God’s voice shook the earth … yet once more, I will shake not only the earth but the heavens, signifying that all those things that can be shaken … until those things which cannot be shaken will remain.’ We are living in perilous times as described in 2 Timothy 3:1: ‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.’ But the prophet Daniel reminds us that: ‘The people who do know their God shall be strong and do exploits.’ (Daniel 22:32) In the midst of the shaking, God promises grace and strength and hope.

  • End-time shaking has begun in earnest and will accelerate over the next few years

Japan Raises Severity of Nuclear Accident

The Japanese government acknowledged Friday that it was overwhelmed by the scale of last week’s twin natural disasters, slowing the response to the nuclear crisis that was triggered by the earthquake and tsunami that left at least 10,000 people dead. The admission came as Japan welcomed U.S. help in stabilizing its overheated, radiation-leaking nuclear complex, and reclassified the rating of the nuclear accident from Level 4 to Level 5 on a seven-level international scale, putting it on a par with the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. Nuclear experts have been saying for days that Japan was underplaying the crisis’ severity. At the stricken complex, military fire trucks sprayed the reactor units for a second day, with tons of water arcing over the facility in desperate attempts to prevent the fuel from overheating and spewing dangerous levels of radiation.

Teams of ‘Heroes’ Fight to Contain Nuclear Reactors

Emergency workers shuttled into and out of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant today as they scrambled to contain melting nuclear cores and even wider releases of dangerous radiation. After temporarily evacuating the plant for five hours in the face of high radiation, the 180 workers, in shifts of 50 at a time, resumed pumping seawater into the plant’s three damaged reactors. The workers were hailed as heroes in Japan. “This is like suicide fighters in a war,” said Keiichi Nakagawa, associate professor of the Department of Radiology at University of Tokyo Hospital.

Foreigners Flee Japan as Nuclear Crisis Worsens

Several governments, including Australia, France and China, have advised citizens to leave Tokyo and quake-hit areas, or have taken steps to evacuate them. The State Department late Wednesday authorized a voluntary evacuation of family members and dependents of U.S. personnel in Tokyo and Yokohama that affects some 600 people. It also issued a warning to Americans to avoid travel to Japan and said U.S. citizens in the country should consider leaving. Senior State Department official Patrick Kennedy said chartered planes would help private American citizens wishing to leave. He said people faced less risk in southern Japan, but warned that changing weather could raise radiation levels elsewhere in the coming days.

National Guard Troops to Leave Mexico Border in June

National Guard troops that have helped beef up security along the southwestern border since last summer will leave as planned by the second week of June, the commander of the Arizona Guard told a House panel Tuesday. Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, adjutant general of the Guard in the state, said that the mission has gone well and that his troops have helped the Department of Homeland Security monitor the border and gather intelligence against the transnational crime cartels that smuggle drugs, weapons and cash across the border. Matt Chandler, a spokesman for Homeland Security, said Tuesday that soldiers have helped seize over 14,000 pounds of drugs and apprehend 7,000 illegal immigrants. He said the southwestern border today has more enforcement manpower and technology than ever, much of which has been added while the National Guard has been assigned there.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who called for the National Guard deployment last summer and has sued the federal government for not enforcing immigration laws, said Tuesday that she was disappointed that the deployment was ending on schedule. “It’s inexcusable and inexplicable to consider withdrawal of National Guard troops from our southern border at a time when cartel violence continues and the security of the border region remains under threat from drug and human smugglers,” she said. “Unfortunately, this appears to be further evidence that the White House is not fully committed to devoting the manpower and resources necessary to secure the border.”

  • This is ‘transparent’ all right. Transparently idiotic. The border is as volatile as ever and will only get worse while the National Guard troops go home to polish their rifles.

Ariz. Senate Rejects Illegal Immigration Bills

The Arizona Senate soundly defeated five bills aimed at illegal immigration on Thursday in a marked departure from last year, when enactment of a tough local enforcement measure put the state at the heart of a fierce national debate over the issue. Majority Republicans were split in their votes on the defeated bills, which included two measures intended to force a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against automatic citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. The other three dealt with health care, public services and everyday activities such as driving. With business leaders urging lawmakers to put the issue aside to avoid damaging the still-ailing economy, “it’s time for us to take a timeout,” said Republican Sen. John McComish. “It’s something that the people don’t want us to be focusing on.” Critics also said the bills rejected Thursday were over-reaching and flawed. Supporters of the measures voiced frustration and said there could be political fallout for lawmakers who voted against them.

  • What “people” don’t want Arizona to focus on illegal immigration? Californians? Obama? Liberals? This is still a serious problem for Arizona that continues to need focus and solutions.

Top Lawmaker Protests Homeland ‘Whistle-Blower’ Demotion

The Homeland Security Department demoted a senior career employee who confidentially complained to the inspector general that political appointees were improperly interfering with requests for federal records by journalists and watchdog groups. The new Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigating those practices told the Obama administration that the decision “appeared to be an act of retaliation” and warned, “Obstructing a congressional investigation is a crime.” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., urged Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to remind employees about their rights and whistle-blower protections and “make DHS managers aware of the consequences for retaliation against witnesses who furnish information to Congress.”

  • Same old political games. Self-preservation prized above all things honest and decent.

Death Rate Down, Life Expectancy Up in U.S.

Children born today can expect to live longer than ever in U.S. history, according to government data released Wednesday. Life expectancy at birth increased to 78.2 years in 2009, up from 78 years in 2008. Death rates for 10 of the 15 leading causes of death decreased significantly between 2008 and 2009, including for heart disease, cancer and stroke. For white males, life expectancy is 75.7 years; for white females, 80.6. For black American males, life expectancy is 70.9 years; for females, 77.4 years. Infant mortality in the U.S. hit a record low in 2009 at 6.42 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births. This is a 2.6% decline from 6.59 deaths per 1,000 births in 2008. The death rate for the U.S. population fell for the 10th year in a row to an all-time low of 741 deaths per 100,000 in 2009. This is down from 758.7 deaths in 2008. Death rates declined for heart disease (down 3.7%), cancer (1.1%), chronic lower respiratory diseases (4.1%), stroke (4.2%), accidents (4.1%), Alzheimer’s disease (4.1%), diabetes (4.1%), influenza and pneumonia (4.7%), septicemia (1.8%) and homicide (6.8%).

Medicinal Marijuana Raids in Montana Stun Advocates

Federal agencies conducted 26 raids on medical marijuana facilities in 13 Montana cities this week, as agents seized thousands of marijuana plants and froze about $4 million in bank funds. The raids stunned medical marijuana advocates, many of whom believed the Obama administration’s policy was to leave states with medical marijuana laws alone. Montana U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter said there was “probable cause that the premises were involved in illegal and large-scale trafficking of marijuana.” “When criminal networks violate federal laws, those involved will be prosecuted,” he said. While 15 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana use, the federal government still considers the drug an illegal controlled substance with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

Tea Party Activists Irked over Fiscal Representation in House

Tea Party activists knew that the dozens of members they got elected to Congress in November couldn’t balance the budget or eliminate the country’s debt overnight. Now their patience seems to be running out. Tea Party officials across the country said they were angered to see more than 30 Tea Party-backed members of Congress voting for the three-week spending plan passed by the House of Representatives this week, which included just $6 billion in cuts. They’ve taken some good first steps, but you cannot continue to kick the can down the road. Somebody needs to man up and make the tough decisions,” said Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express. “They’ll be voted out as quickly as they were voted in.”

House Votes to Abolish Public Radio Funding

The House on Thursday voted to end federal funding to National Public Radio, the nationwide public radio network whose leadership has been questioned after a series of executive decisions about programming, staffing and reporting bias. Republican supporters said it made good fiscal sense, and Democratic opponents called it an ideological attack that would deprive local stations of access to programs such as “Car Talk” and “All Things Considered.” The bill, passed 228-192 along mainly partisan lines, would bar federal funding of NPR and prohibit local public stations from using federal money to pay NPR dues and buy its programs. The prospects of support in the Democratic-controlled Senate are slim. Seven Republicans broke ranks to vote against the bill.

TARP Saved Wall Street, Less Effective for Main Street

The government’s bailout of banks, auto makers and insurers helped prevent a more severe economic crisis, but might have sowed the seeds of the next one, a congressional watchdog group said Wednesday in its final report. The Congressional Oversight Panel said that the government’s rescue fund may have prevented an economic depression by sending billions of dollars to companies crippled in financial crisis that erupted in 2008. But little has been done to aid to homeowners facing foreclosure or others far from Wall Street. “The good news is that America did not suffer another depression,” panel Chairman Ted Kaufman said. However, Treasury’s “programs for Main Street have been far less effective” than the cash injections that stabilized Wall Street banks during the worst financial crisis in generations, he said. Of the $411 billion that Treasury handed out from the bailout fund, $150 billion remains in private hands. Treasury also has reported profits of $37 billion from fees, dividends and other deal-sweeteners it received from bailed-out companies.

Soaring Food Prices Send Millions into Poverty, Hunger

Corn has soared 52% the past 12 months. Sugar’s up 60%. Soybeans have jumped 41%. And wheat costs 24% more than it did a year ago. For about 44 million people — roughly the population of the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago metropolitan areas combined — the rise in food prices means a descent into extreme poverty and hunger, according to the World Bank. The World Bank’s food index has soared 29% from its level last January. In the U.S., the effect of higher food prices has been modest. U.S. consumers spend about 9% of their income on food, and another 3% for dining out. In many emerging markets, however, 50% or more of a family budget goes toward food — not because food is so expensive, but because income is so low. Kick up the price of wheat or rice or corn, and you’re spelling the difference between having two meals a day or one. Rising food prices have been one of the factors in the Middle East protests.

Economic News

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week. New claims fell to a seasonally adjusted 385,000 last week, marking the third decline in the past four weeks, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average for claims dropped to 386,250, the lowest level since July 2008. The number of people receiving regular unemployment benefits fell by 80,000 to 3.71 million. That was the lowest level since the week of Sept. 27, 2008. Benefit applications below 425,000 signal modest job growth. Companies are finally hiring more after months of sluggish job creation. Employers added 192,000 jobs in February, the biggest gain in nearly a year.

The New York Federal Reserve Bank confirmed Friday that it intervened in currency markets for the first time in more than a decade. The disclosure by the U.S. came a day after the Group of Seven major industrialized nations pledged in a statement to join in a coordinated effort to weaken the Japanese yen. The yen has surged in the last week to post-war record levels following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. A super-strong yen could cripple Japanese exports, further worsening the economic impact of the disaster that killed thousands and triggered an unfolding nuclear crisis.

U.S. exporters to Japan are reporting widespread disruptions to their shipments, with some containers destroyed, stranded in warehouses or unable to get to customers because of inadequate transportation systems. Most affected are U.S. growers of fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products that ship in large quantities to the world’s third-largest economy. Japan, because of its mountainous terrain and cooler climate, depends heavily on agricultural imports. Reduced U.S. exports could have a small but noticeable effect on economic output during a fragile recovery

Libya

Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa says Libya is declaring an immediate cease-fire and stopping all military operations. Friday’s decision comes after the U.N. voted to authorized a no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan people, including airstrikes. Koussa says the cease-fire “will take the country back to safety” and ensure security for all Libyans. But he also criticized the authorization of international military action, calling it a violation of Libya’s sovereignty. In a show of defiance, Moammar Gadhafi’s forces bombarded the last rebel-held western city for a second day Friday as the international community raced to stop him. The attack on Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, comes as the rebels were on the defensive in their eastern stronghold after Gadhafi vowed to launch a final assault and crush the nearly 5-week-old rebellion against him.

The opposition expressed hope the U.N. resolution, which was passed late Thursday after weeks of deliberation, would help turn the tide in their favor after days of fierce fighting. The U.N. Security Council resolution sets the stage for airstrikes, a no-fly zone and other military measures short of a ground invasion. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that the U.N. no-fly zone over Libya “requires certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems.” The move comes as Qaddafi forces have made “significant strides” against the rebels in Libya.

Bahrain

Bahrain continued its crackdown on protesters today with the arrest of key opposition leaders. The arrests came hours after security forces swooped down on the Pearl Roundabout in the center of Manama, the capital, and dispersed pro-democracy protesters camped there. The crackdown, reversing the government’s initial gestures toward reform, began on Monday as hundreds of Saudi-led troops entered Bahrain as part of a Gulf Co-operation Council initiative. At least six people, including three policemen, were killed and more than 1,000 others injured in clashes Wednesday, al-Jazeera reports. The opposition, which is seeking political reform, has gone to ground to plan its next move, the BBC reports.

Yemen

At least 31 people have been killed by security forces who opened fire on an anti-government demonstration in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, and dozens have been wounded. The death toll is among the highest in the month of violence that has shaken Yemen with protesters demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. Government forces and pro-government thugs have used live fire in an increasingly deadly crackdown. Police started shooting at the protesters rallying outside the Sanaa University from rooftops and nearby houses as demonstrators filled the square after Friday prayers.

Egypt

The protests have not ended in Egypt. In the weeks since a massive street protest ousted President Hosni Mubarak, demonstrators gather nearly every day in one corner or another of the capital to demand better pay or job security. Experts say a new culture of street demonstrations has arisen. Egyptians are using the techniques of the rebellion to organize smaller protests with narrower aims, usually involving wages. Every day, activists send messages on Twitter with the latest news on street protests. The government initially was reluctant to crack down on the protesters, but lately they have been exercising more authority.

Saudi Arabia

Diplomats say Saudi Arabia’s monarch will announce a government reshuffle Friday, an anti-corruption drive and a promise to increase food subsidies to combat rising prices. The rare speech by King Abdullah, the country’s ailing, 86-year-old monarch, comes after a several small demonstrations in the oil-rich kingdom. Though only dozens of people have participated, it appears the monarchy is worried the protests could escalate into more intense gatherings, inspired by the unrest sweeping the Arab world. The king will replace the ministers of defense, higher education and religious affairs.

Afghanistan

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Afghans must overcome “major obstacles” to demonstrate their ability to control the country’s future, including a dispute over the status of parliament and an impasse over the embattled Kabul Bank. The United Nations chief said in a quarterly report to the U.N. Security Council that Afghan parties have taken a number of positive steps, but he warned that if tensions over parliament could lead to a political crisis, in which the government’s credibility and effectiveness would be adversely affected. Afghanistan’s parliament — one of few checks on the administration of President Hamid Karzai— was finally inaugurated in late January after months of investigations and debate over allegations of widespread fraud during the polling. But vote recounts and continued questions about who was rightfully elected could throw doubts on parliament’s legitimacy.

The U.S.-led coalition says more than 40 insurgents have been killed in fighting over the past two days in southwestern and eastern Afghanistan. The operation in the still restive province started two days ago targeting narcotics and weapons trafficking. Opium poppies in Helmand are a main cash crop the Taliban use to fuel their insurgency. NATO is expecting an increase in violence as the traditional Afghan fighting season begins with spring.

Pakistan

U.S. unmanned aircraft fired four missiles into a building where suspected militants were meeting Thursday, killing more than 30 of them in an unusually deadly strike close to the Afghan border. The strikes took place in the Datta Khel area of the North Waziristan tribal region — the main sanctuary for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters along the Afghan border. The roughly three dozen suspected militants at the meeting were allied with Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a powerful Pakistani Taliban commander in the area who has focused his efforts on fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan. The insurgents were discussing plans to send new groups of fighters across the border, intelligence officials added. Pakistan’s army chief strongly condemned the drone attack, saying the missiles struck a peaceful meeting of tribal elders near the Afghan border.

Weather

After weeks of preparing for major spring floods, St. Paul officials are now warning of water levels unseen in more than four decades that could force the evacuations of 2,200 people. Experts are predicting an uncomfortable 50% chance that the Mississippi River could swell past its record of 26.4 feet set in 1964, and the city is stepping up its preparation efforts. City officials sent letters to residents in the Lowertown area of downtown and the Upper Landing development near downtown, urging them to find temporary alternate places to stay and to store their pets and vehicles. Flooding also could close the area’s utility, storm-water and sewer services.

The Upper Midwest isn’t the only region expected to see potentially catastrophic flooding over the next few weeks. Almost half the USA, including much of the Midwest, Northeast and all the way down the Mississippi River Valley to New Orleans, has an above-average risk for spring flooding, according to a forecast issued by the National Weather Service on Thursday. Many metropolitan areas — where more than one million Americans live — have a greater than 95% chance of major flooding this spring, including Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D.; St. Paul, Minn.; Davenport, Iowa; Rock Island, Ill. and Sioux Falls, S.D. The National Weather Service says there’s an 80% chance the Red River in North Dakota will exceed last year’s 36.95-foot crest at Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., and a 35% chance it will surpass the record crest of 40.84 feet in 2009, when both communities were devastated by flooding.

Rain that fell over New Jersey early Wednesday doesn’t appear to be aggravating flooding in the northern part of the state. Officials don’t expect the rain to pose much of a threat to the swollen Passaic River at Pine Brook and Little Falls. The river continues to recede and officials say it might drop below flood stage on Thursday. Some roads remain closed in the flood zone and several dozen residents in Paterson and Little Falls are waiting to learn when they could return to their homes. Schools reopened in Paterson and Woodland Park. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are starting to assess the damage.

March 16, 2011

Surging Radiation Levels in Japanese Nuclear Plant

Japan suspended operations to keep its stricken nuclear plant from melting down Wednesday after surging radiation made it too dangerous to stay. Surging radiation levels forced Japan to order emergency workers to temporarily withdraw from its crippled nuclear plant Wednesday, losing time in a desperate operation to cool the overheating reactors — the most urgent crisis from last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. The technicians were dousing the nuclear reactors with seawater in a frantic effort to cool them when they had to retreat in the late morning. The plant’s operator ordered the technicians back to the site in the evening after radiation levels subsided. Conditions at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant appear to be worsening. A white cloud of smoke or steam rising above Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Wednesday may have been caused by a breach in the containment vessel in another one of its reactors, government officials said.

The nuclear crisis has triggered international alarm and partly overshadowed the human tragedy caused by Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. Millions of people struggled for a fifth day with little food, water or heat, and already chilly temperatures turned to snow in many areas. Police say more than 452,000 people are staying in temporary shelters, often sleeping on the floor in school gymnasiums. Nearly 3,700 people are officially listed as dead, but officials believe the toll will climb over 10,000 since several thousand more are listed as missing.

Japanese Radiation Cloud Could Pose Threat to US

President Obama told a Pittsburgh television station today he is not worried about radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant reaching the United States. However, if a radiation cloud from Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors eventually reaches the western United States, it could pose a threat to American crops and the people who eat them, nationally known neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, M.D., told Newsmax. “Most of the health risks are not going to be due to acute radiation poisoning,” he tells Newsmax. “It’s going to be a risk of increased cancer. The big danger in this country is the crops being contaminated, the milk in particular, with Strontium 90. That radiation is incorporated into the bones and stays for a lifetime.” If radiation does arrive in the United States, people would need “to change their diet. They need to stop eating Western farm products,” Dr. Blaylock says.

  • It’s way too early to tell how much radiation will eventually escape and be carried eastward toward the U.S. Obama typically downplays possible problems before they fully manifest, as in the Gulf coast oil spill.

Quake shifted Japan coast about 13 feet, knocked Earth 6.5 inches off axis

Friday’s massive earthquake may have shifted Japan’s main coastline by up to 13 feet to the east, experts tell the BBC, citing the country’s network of 1,200 GPS monitoring stations. It may also have knocked Earth off its axis by about 6.5 inches, causing our world to rotate faster and shortening the day — by about 1.8 millionths of a second. The Japan Meteorological Agency has raised the quake’s magnitude to 9; the U.S. Geological Survey puts it at 8.9. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday that very low levels of airborne radiation were detected at Yokosuka and Atsugi bases, about 200 miles to the north of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Fox News reports.

Tsunami Damage in California more than $40M

A California official estimates that statewide damage from last week’s tsunami exceeds $40 million. In Santa Cruz Harbor, 18 vessels sank, about 100 were damaged and another 12 remained unaccounted for. The damage in Santa Cruz Harbor alone is estimated at $17 million. Officials at Crescent City Harbor, which also suffered significant wave damage, are still working on a damage total.

U.S. Public was More Generous after Haiti Earthquake

Charitable giving for the Japanese earthquake is running far behind the donations rung up from Americans in the days after last year’s earthquake in Haiti, CNN reports. Blame Japan’s relative wealth — and maybe Twitter. Four days out from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, giving totalled about $23 million, CNN said, citing The Chronicle of Philathropy. That compares with about $150 million raised within four days of the crisis in Haiti. “Japan is not Haiti and it’s not Indonesia, it’s a developed country with a GDP somewhat similar to our country,” Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, told CNN. “It’s not what people typically think of as a country in need of wide-scale international aid.”

International Pedophile Ring Smashed

European police say they have rescued 230 child victims of abuse and arrested 184 suspects in a global investigation into a Dutch-based international pedophile ring. The three-year investigation codenamed Operation Rescue identified and rescued children in more than 30 countries. The ring was based around an online forum and was “probably the largest online pedophile network in the world.” Police say the forum called boylover.net, based in Amsterdam, had up to 70,000 members.

1000+ Chaplains Join Lawsuit to Restore Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) have filed legal briefings defending military chaplains with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to reverse a district judge’s decision to strike down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” [DADT] the policy that prohibited open homosexual behavior. The friend-of-the-court brief explains that Congressional action to change the law in December did not justify the activist judge’s attempt last fall to dismantle the 1993 law judicially, and that chaplains’ free speech rights are now under fire. At least 8 chaplain endorser groups are joining the lawsuit Log Cabin Republicans v. USA, representing over 1000 chaplains from the Lutheran Missouri Synod, Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, National Association of Evangelicals, Church of God of Prophecy, Conservative Congregational, Grace Churches, and Evangelical Churches.  Arthur Schulcz, counsel for the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, helped draft the brief.

Hispanic Population has Grown More than Prior Estimates

The Hispanic population grew more dramatically than expected in states with smaller and newer immigrant populations, according to an analysis of Census data out today. The 2010 Census counted almost 600,000 more Hispanics than the Census Bureau had estimated in the 33 states for which data have been released so far, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Twenty-eight states had more Hispanics than expected. he Census count of 38.7 million Hispanics is 1.5% higher than the bureau’s estimates. The underestimates show that immigrants continue to spread into the South and the Midwest from traditional gateways, such as California and New York.

  • The glut of illegal immigration comes home to roost. Such increases should have been expected.

GOP Pushes to Make English Official Language of the U.S.

Republicans introduce legislation in the House and Senate to make English the official language of the U.S. Republicans in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would declare English the official language of the United States and require the development of English language testing guidelines for those applying for U.S. citizenship. The English Language Unity Act would set out a new chapter in U.S. code that imposes an obligation on U.S. officials to “preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the Federal Government.” Part of this chapter would include a “uniform English language rule” holding that “all citizens should be able to read and understand generally the English language text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the laws of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution.”

Pepsi Unveils 100% Plant-Based Bottle

PepsiCo on Tuesday unveiled a bottle made entirely of plant material. The bottle is made from switch grass, pine bark, corn husks and other materials. Ultimately, Pepsi plans to also use orange peels, oat hulls, potato scraps and other leftovers from its food business. The new bottle looks, feels and protects the drink inside exactly the same as its current bottles, said Rocco Papalia, senior vice president of advanced research at PepsiCo. “It’s indistinguishable.” PepsiCo says it is the world’s first bottle of a common type of plastic called PET made entirely of plant-based materials. The discovery potentially changes the industry standard for plastic packaging. The plastic is the go-to because it’s lightweight and shatter-resistant, its safety is well-researched and it doesn’t affect flavors. It is not biodegradable or compostable. But it is fully recyclable.

House Passes 3-Week Stopgap Spending Bill

The House of Representatives passed a second stopgap spending measure this month, funding the government for three more weeks while cutting $6 billion. The vote was tighter than last time, 271 to 158, with 104 Democrats and 54 Republicans voting no. Lawmakers on both sides said patience for short-term spending bills is running out. Congress cut $4 billion in the last short-term spending bill, which expires midnight Friday. Tuesday’s measure would have an expiration date of April 8. The short-term spending bills are necessary because the Senate voted down a House-passed plan to fund the government through September, but with $60 billion in cuts. The new measure is likely to pass the Senate. Six Republican senators voted against the earlier short-term spending bill, and more defections are almost certain when the Senate addresses the new bill, which tea-partiers have condemned because it includes federal tax dollars for abortions in the nation’s capitol and funds non-abortion services for Planned Parenthood.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve expressed more confidence in the U.S. economy even as Japan’s nuclear crisis raised worries around the globe. The Fed said the economic recovery is on “firmer footing” and the jobs market is “improving gradually” in a statement released after its meeting Tuesday. The Fed on Tuesday, in a unanimous decision, said it was maintaining the pace of its $600 billion Treasury bond-purchase program to help the economy grow more strongly and to lower unemployment, which now stands at 8.9 percent.

A wholesale price index jumped last month the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. Excluding those volatile categories, inflation was tame. The Labor Department said Wednesday that the Producer Price Index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6% in February — double the 0.8% rise in the previous month. Outside of food and energy costs, the core index ticked up 0.2%, less than January’s 0.5% rise. Food prices soared 3.9% last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Wheat prices have doubled in seven months, corn has increased more than 90 percent and soybeans have surged more than 55 percent. Energy prices rose 3.3% last month, led by a 3.7% increase in gasoline costs.

The Commerce Department said home construction plunged to a seasonally adjusted 479,000 homes last month, down 22.5% from the previous month. It was lowest level since April 2009, and the second-lowest on records dating back more than a half-century. The building pace is far below the 1.2 million units a year that economists consider healthy.

The ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan hit gold and commodities almost as hard as stocks. Gold for future delivery fell Tuesday to $1,392.80 an ounce, a 2.3% drop. Silver tumbled harder, falling 4.8% to $34.12 an ounce. Other commodities fell as well. The drop in gold is unusual, because gold is normally touted as a haven in turbulent times. But you can’t eat gold. Another theory: Even gold is looking too volatile to some investors.

Cuba’s central bank is devaluing the country’s peso by about 8% in relation to the dollar and other foreign currencies, hoping the move will spur exports and local production as the government tries to overhaul a moribund economy. It was the first time the government has revalued the currency in six years, when it increased the nominal value of its currency in relation to the dollar. Monday’s shift puts the exchange rate back to where it was before.

Investors cheered on Monday a surprisingly broad European package of measures to deal with the government debt crisis that has over the past year threatened the existence of the euro currency. Eurozone leaders increased the size of the bailout fund — the so-called European Financial Stability Facility — and lowered the interest rates on the loans bailed-out Greece has taken out.

Middle East

The Israeli navy intercepted an Egyptian-bound ship carrying a large delivery of weapons off the country’s Mediterranean coast on Tuesday, saying the arms had been sent by Syria to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. At least three crates of weapons were uncovered on board. Hundreds of others will be inspected once the ship arrives in Israel. Israel’s military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu said it represents “more evidence of the Iran, Syria, Hezbollah axis.” Israel has long blamed Iran and Syria for smuggling weapons to militants in Gaza and Lebanon, a claim both nations have denied. Iran and Syria are the main backers for two of Israel’s main foes — Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Thousands of Palestinians thronged major squares in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Tuesday to deliver an impassioned appeal to their leaders to end the long-running feud that has divided the Palestinian people between two rival governments. Protesters waved the black, red, green and white Palestinian flag in their largest show of grassroots strength since democracy-fueled protests began rocking the Arab world in January. Demonstrators on each side of the Palestinian divide hoisted banners urging their leaders to unite the government that split after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007, leaving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah Party ruling only the West Bank.

Libya

Moammar Gadhafi’s troops pummeled rebel forces Tuesday in the last major city outside their stronghold of Benghazi, pounding them with airstrikes, missiles, tanks and artillery. Residents of Ajdabiya fled as tanks rolled into the city from two directions, and rockets pounded homes and shops. People drove out of town with furniture strapped to car roofs. If the city of 140,000 falls, Gadhafi will have a clear shot at the entire east of Libya, which 10 days ago was in rebel hands. Earlier Tuesday, Gadhafi had said his forces recaptured the last rebel-held city west of Tripoli, Zwara. The only other significant opposition-held city in the western half of the country was Misrata, which has been under siege for days and cut off from food and water deliveries.

Supporters of a no-fly zone over Libya introduced a U.N. resolution aimed at stopping Moammar Gadhafi’s planes from bombing civilians, with France urging quick action but Russia and Germany expressing misgivings. Lebanon, the council’s only Arab member, introduced the draft resolution Tuesday afternoon. The Arab League has called for the measure, and the Arabs are strongly backed by France and Britain, which drafted elements of a no-fly resolution last week, although now it looks like it might be too late to forestall Gadhafi’s counterattack even if the measure eventually passes.

Bahrain

Soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armored vehicles Wednesday to drive out hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark square in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, a day after emergency rule was imposed in the violence-wracked Gulf kingdom. At least six people were killed. The full-scale assault launched at daybreak swept into Pearl Square, which has been the center of uprising against Bahrain’s rulers since it began more than a month ago. Stinging clouds of tear gas filled streets and black smoke rose from the square from the protesters’ tents set ablaze. It was unclear whether the offensive included soldiers from other Gulf nations who were dispatched to help Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, which has been under relentless pressure from the country’s majority Shiite Muslims to give up its monopoly on power.

Egypt

Egypt’s interior minister on Tuesday dissolved the country’s widely hated state security agency, which was accused of torture and other human rights abuses in the suppression of dissent against ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule. The new interior minister, Maj. Gen. Mansour el-Essawy, a former Cairo security chief, said in a statement that a new agency in charge of keeping national security and combatting terrorism will be formed. Dismantling the State Security Investigations agency was a major demand of the protest movement that led an 18-day uprising to oust Mubarak. Since he stepped down on Feb. 11, Egyptians have stormed the agency’s main headquarters and other offices, seizing documents to keep them from being destroyed to hide evidence of human rights abuses. Many protest leaders have said that despite the fall of Mubarak and his government, the agency remained active in protecting the old regime and trying to sabotage the democratic transition.

Pakistan

A Pakistan court has acquitted an American CIA contractor of two murder charges and freed him after the victims’ family received “blood money” and pardoned him. Raymond Davis, 36, had been charged with shooting to death two men in Lahore in January during what he said was an attempted armed robbery. In pardoning Davis, the relatives acknowledged to the court today that they had received $1.4 million in “blood money,” or compensation for the deaths, a common practice in Pakistan for settling disputes. The dispute had touched off a diplomatic row with the United States who claimed Davis was protected by diplomatic immunity. U.S authorities will now investigate the killings.

Iran

Iran has intensified its crackdown on opponents as well as executions of drug traffickers, political prisoners and juvenile criminals, the United Nations said on Monday. In a report, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also voiced concern at floggings, amputations and the continued sentencing of men and women to death by stoning for alleged adultery. Journalists, bloggers and lawyers have been arrested or had their work impeded, and allegations of torture and unfair trials are rife, he said in a report to the Human Rights Council. ‘The secretary-general has been deeply troubled by reports of increased executions, amputations, arbitrary arrest and detention, unfair trials and possible torture and ill-treatment of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and opposition activists,’ the U.N. report said. Ban called on Tehran to allow U.N. human rights investigators to go to Iran to assess the situation. No visit had taken place since 2005 despite repeated requests, he said.

Malaysia

Christians in Malaysia say they are “greatly disillusioned, fed-up and angered” by what they say is government-sanctioned withholding of Bibles in their native language, Bahasa Malaysia. The Christian Post reports that 30,000 Bibles are being held at port cities, according to the Christian Federation of Malaysia. The group includes the nation’s largest ecumenical, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic Christian bodies, and says almost no Bibles have been allowed in the country since March 2009. The group believes the withheld Bibles are the fallout of national debate two years ago on whether Christian publications were allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God. Although the Malaysian courts officially sided with churches, the Ministry of Home Affairs has held 5,000 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia since March 2009.

Weather

Flooding continues to be a problem in parts of northern New Jersey more than a week after rain-swollen rivers drove residents from their homes. The Passaic River at Little Falls isn’t expected to drop below flood stage until Thursday. Motorists continue to face road closures in Paterson. Public schools in Paterson and Woodland Park were closed Tuesday. Residents elsewhere in northern New Jersey began cleaning up and assessing damage.

Federal officials on Tuesday continued keeping close tabs on the swollen Ohio River and communities near where it links to the Mississippi River, saying significant flooding already in southern Illinois and neighboring Missouri could worsen in the next week or so. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last weekend went into its highest stage of flood-fighting readiness in the region, setting up emergency field offices in several Missouri cities Floodwaters appear to have swallowed up some farmland, rural roads, and fishing and hunting areas in low-lying areas, though there were no immediate reports that homes or major highways were affected.

A surprise snowstorm snarled traffic in the St. Louis area Tuesday. The wet, slick snow caused slow-going on roadways throughout the region. A few slide-offs and fender-benders were reported during the morning commute. Snow, rain and patchy drizzle were also reported elsewhere around Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska early Monday. The snow caused several traffic delays in Kansas City, but authorities said no major accidents were reported.

March 14, 2011

In Disasters’ Wake, Japan Races to Diffuse Nuclear Threat

An explosion Monday afternoon ripped through Unit 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station in northeastern Japan and destroyed the roof of a reactor building. The Japanese government quickly imposed a 12 mile quarantine and required residents to immediately evacuate, but said those beyond were not at risk. Japanese safety authorities continued to struggle Monday to stave off a worst-case scenario of a radioactive explosion at nuclear power reactors damaged in Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary said a hydrogen explosion occurred at the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. the reactor’s containment vessel was intact after the explosion, and the possibility of a large radiation leak is very small. Japan’s nuclear safety agency said six workers were injured in the explosion. A complete meltdown, or the collapse of a power plant’s ability to keep temperatures under control, could leak dangerous levels of radioactivity and pose major health risks. Unlike the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the Japanese reactors are housed in a sealed container to prevent such a release of contamination.

Japan said at least 1,800 people were confirmed killed in the quake and giant wall of water that followed on Friday; about 1,400 people were missing. Nearly 200,000 people evacuated the area around two nuclear power plants along Japan’s northeastern coast. The bodies of hundreds of people washed ashore Sunday while search crews pulled bodies from mud-caked homes. Even as aid rushed in from around the world, the misery of dislocated survivors grew in the face of freezing temperatures, crumbled cities and the desperate need for food and clean water. Hundreds of thousands of survivors streamed into emergency centers.

Japan was shaken anew by a strong earthquake Sunday off its eastern coast, closer to Tokyo than the massive quake that hit Friday. The latest temblor swayed buildings in the capital. The U.S. Geological Survey says the temblor had a magnitude of 6.2 and struck at 10:26 a.m. It was centered about 111 miles east of Tokyo, at a depth of 15.2 miles. Japan has been rattled by more than 150 aftershocks since Friday’s massive quake.

California Harbor Closed After Tsunami

Boats aren’t being allowed to travel through California’s Santa Cruz Harbor as crews work on hauling up sunken boats and removing debris after Friday’s tsunami. A U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman said Sunday that 18 boats sunk in the harbor, while approximately 100 were damaged. No vessels are being allowed to move through the harbor, though boat owners are being allowed access to boats docked in the harbor. A helicopter crew spotted a “light sheen” of surface oil Saturday, but there have been no additional reports of pollutants in the water.

Thousands of Protesters in Wisconsin

Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the Capitol Square on Saturday, vowing to take the fight over collective bargaining powers from the streets of Madison to the voting districts of Wisconsin. Two days ago, Republican Gov. Scott Walker put his signature to an historic measure that severely curtails the ability of public union employees to bargain collectively. Walker said the law is necessary to give financially strapped state, county and local governments the latitude to negotiate labor contracts. His detractors say the governor’s plan sets back labor laws in the state decades and they have vowed to pursue recalls against Republican officials who approved the changes. Opponents of Republican Gov. Scott Walker went to work Sunday on recall efforts targeting Republican state senators who supported the new governor’s overhaul of public employee union rights.

  • As necessary measures are taken to deal with the debt crisis, protesters will seek to maintain the status quo in their particular area of concern. But we all must take a hit to survive this crisis. The status quo will sink us for good. Just because something seems good and is nice to have doesn’t mean it’s an entitlement.

Obama’s Restrictions Driving Up Oil Prices

Gas prices are rising, and Republicans are urging voters to take it out on President Obama. In today’s Republican radio address, Sen. Lisa Murkoswki, R-Alaska, attributed higher prices to the administration’s environmental efforts and a slow permitting process that amounts to a “de facto moratorium” on domestic oil drilling. “Instead of canceling leases and refusing to issue permits, we need to put people back to work,” Murkowski said. The Alaska senator said prices have been pushed up by “international events” — presumably a reference to the Middle East unrest — “but our own short-sightedness and restrictions have also played a critical role.” Gasoline prices have risen by 40 cents over the past month, Murkowski said, and “more than doubled since January of 2009” — which just happens to be the month Obama took office.

  • America has huge oil reserves, but our dependency on foreign oil has increased over the past few years. This is an unconscionable bow to the dictates of the globalists seeking to rein in influence of the USA.

Records Show Lax Border Security

A public-interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption says recent documents it obtained from the government illustrate the failure of the Obama administration to prevent potential terrorists from sneaking into the U.S. In late January, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the number of illegal alien apprehensions by the Border Patrol in FY 2010. Those records, obtained last week, revealed that more than 59,000 “Other than Mexican” illegal aliens were apprehended through October 7, 2010. By far, the majority came from three Central American countries just south of Mexico. But some came from the four countries currently on the State Department’s list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” — Cuba, Iran, Syria, and the Sudan — as well as the Islamic countries of Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said, “N ow the numbers themselves aren’t all that huge — 14 from Iran, 5 from Syria, for instance — but you really don’t need that many to cause a lot of terror, as we learned on 9/11,” he offers. “So that’s the concern…that our porous borders are a national security threat.”

East-West Military Gap Rapidly Shrinking

Western cuts and swiftly rising defense spending in emerging economies are redrawing the global strategic map, a leading think-tank said on Tuesday, with the danger of conflicts between states also rising. In its annual Global Military Balance report, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said the shift in economic power was already beginning to have a real military effect and closing any strategic gap. “Western states’ defense budgets are under pressure and their military procurement is constrained,” said IISS director general John Chipman. “But in other regions — notably Asia and the Middle East — military spending and arms acquisitions are booming. There is persuasive evidence that a global redistribution of military power is under way.”

Federal Funding of Public Media Under Fire

Public broadcasting fans have a lot more to worry about than the embarrassing tape, released this week, of a National Public Radio executive criticizing Tea Party activists, evangelical Christians and Republicans. Critics of the federal government’s $460 million a year outlay to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) — which contributes to NPR and PBS— call the expenditure an unneeded luxury at a time when most households are awash in media. NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigned Wednesday amid the political fallout surrounding the tape. But supporters of public media say it’s important to have programming that isn’t beholden to advertising. Mark Meckler, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, says the purpose of funding public media once “was to provide another voice. But there’s a cacophony of voices on the radio and on the Internet today.”

  • PBS and NPR have become mouthpieces for the liberal left. While there doesn’t appear to be any real reason to fund public media with scarce taxpayer dollars, it ought not represent one political faction over another.

Toxin Killed Millions of Sardines

The millions of sardines that were found floating dead in a Southern California marina this week tested positive for a powerful neurotoxin. High levels of domoic acid were found in the sardines, which may have distressed them off the Los Angeles coastline and caused them to swim into the Redondo Beach marina. Critically low oxygen levels in the water caused the sardines to suffocate, but it’s possible the toxin may have been one explanation for why they crowded into the marina. Domoic acid is often found in the stomach of fish that have been feeding on plankton during toxic algae blooms. The toxin has been linked to neurological disorders, illnesses and deaths in seabirds, sea lions, sea otters and whales. The presence of the toxin in the sardines could lead to health complications for pelicans, gulls and other sea life that have been feasting on the dead fish.

Aircraft Collisions with Birds Increase

Severe collisions between airborne jetliners and birds — such as the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight downed over New York two years ago by a flock of geese — have soared the past two years, a USA TODAY analysis of the latest federal data shows. The trend, driven by a growth in the population of large birds, has unnerved some of the field’s leading experts and prompted calls for new efforts to reduce the dangers. The number of severe bird strikes suffered by airline flights above 500 feet reached a new high of 150 in 2009, the federal data show. That represents a 40% increase in the rate of bird strikes compared with the average from 2000 through 2008. In an era in which airline crashes have become increasingly rare and whole categories of accidents have disappeared, birds remain a stubborn problem.

Some TSA Scanners Producing Excessive Radiation

The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that it would retest every full-body X-ray scanner that emits ionizing radiation — 247 machines at 38 airports — after maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected. However, the highest readings listed on some of the records — the numbers that the TSA says were mistakes — appear to be many times less than what the agency says a person absorbs through one day of natural background radiation. Even so, the TSA has ordered the new tests out of “an abundance of caution to reassure the public,” spokesman Nicholas Kimball says. The tests will be finished by the end of the month, and the results will be released “as they are completed,” the agency said on its website.

Economic News

Amid a painfully slow job recovery, one of the great mysteries of this recession has been the disappearance of several million workers from the labor force. The decline in the participation rate — the percentage of the population who say they are part of the workforce — has eclipsed every other recession of the past 50 years. The numbers are staggering. Since the labor force peaked in October, 2008 at 155 million, 2.4 million Americans have dropped out of the labor force. In the prior recession earlier this decade, the labor force dropped by just 600,000. Before the recession, 66% of the population said to count them in the labor force. Now, it’s fallen to 64.2%.Younger people have fallen out of the labor force in numbers never before seen, especially younger women. Meanwhile, the aging trend of the workforce, in place before the recession, has dramatically accelerated, especially among older women.

Oil and gasoline prices are sky-high, and heating oil use is tumbling as people find alternative ways to stay warm — evidence that Americans’ efforts to wean themselves off oil can bear fruit. Millions of U.S. households use oil to heat their homes, but the Northeast has a higher proportion of people who use it as their primary heating source than any other region. Nowhere is the dependence greater than in Maine, where oil heats three out of four homes. Heating oil prices have shot up 32% over the past four months in Maine. But consumption has fallen more than a third in the past five years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nationally, sales of residential heating oil have fallen 26%.

Japan’s central bank pumped a record $184 billion into money markets and took other measures to protect a teetering economy Monday, as the Tokyo stock market nose-dived following a devastating earthquake and tsunami. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average slid 6.2% in its first day of trading since the quake centered on northeastern Japan struck Friday. Escalating concerns about the financial and economic fallout of the disaster triggered a plunge that hit all sectors of the stock market. By flooding the banking system with cash, the Bank of Japan hopes banks will continue lending money and meet the likely surge in demand for post-earthquake funds.

Libya

Troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi pounded an oil town in eastern Libya with artillery fire and airstrikes Sunday after the Arab League shunned the Libyan leader and asked the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone. Analysts in the region say Arab leaders have turned away from Gadhafi out of concern for their own political survival in the pro-democracy uprisings of the Middle East. The White House said Sunday that the Arab League has taken an “important step” and that there is a clear international message that the violence in Libya must stop. President Obama has called for Gadhafi to step down but has not ordered the U.S. military to impose a no-fly zone unilaterally.

Gadhafi forces said they captured the oil port of Brega from rebels, which would be the latest in a series of setbacks for opposition forces who just a week ago held the entire eastern half of the country. Gadhafi’s troops have reversed many of those early gains, in places such as Bin Jawwad and Ras Lonouf, slamming the rebels with superior firepower from the air and ground. Rebels fighting Gadhafi have urged the West to impose a no-fly zone because they are convinced it is the only way to neutralize Gadhafi’s firepower advantage over them.

Egypt

Egypt has jailed an ex-lawmaker from the former ruling party on charges of ordering a brutal attack on protesters during the country’s 18-day uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. Prosecutor General Abdel Maguid Mahmoud ordered the imprisonment of Abdel Naser al-Jabri, suspected to be among officials who unleashed Mubarak loyalists on horses and camels that charged into the protest encampment on a central Cairo square with whips and swords, attacking demonstrators. Officials put the number of protesters killed during the uprising at 365, but rights activists say the figure is much higher.

Bahrain

Clashes between protesters and security forces in Bahrain resulted in more than 1,000 people hospitalized, human rights activists told CNN Monday. A key part of the capital was taken over by protesters, and about 100 demonstrators blocked access to the Bahrain Financial Harbour with barricades such as trash cans and cinder blocks, effectively shutting down the commercial district. A pro-government group of parliamentarians is urging the king of Bahrain to impose martial law for three months in the wake of the protests, which have been going on for about a month. Saudi Arabia sent about 1,000 troops into Bahrain on Monday to help put down weeks of protests by the Shiite Muslim majority, a move opponents of the Sunni ruling family on the island called a declaration of war. Analysts saw the troop movement as a mark of concern in Saudi Arabia that political concessions by Bahrain’s monarchy could embolden the Saudi kingdom’s own Shiite minority.

Iraq

A suicide bomber blew up his booby-tapped car early Monday outside an Iraqi army battalion headquarters in the country’s east, killing 10 soldiers and wounding 29 people in a bombing that brought down the building. The bomber drove his car past a security gate and detonated his explosives right outside the headquarters of an army intelligence battalion in Kanan, east of the provincial capital of Baqouba, 35 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad. Diyala provincial council spokeswoman Samira al-Shibli said emergency workers were still frantically trying to rescue victims from beneath the rubble several hours later.

Pakistan

Pakistani intelligence officials say an American missile attack has killed three militants traveling in a vehicle close to the Afghan border. Monday’s attack was the fourth in the space of 24 hours in northwest Pakistan. The intelligence officials say the strike took place in Malik Jashdar village near Miran Shah in the North Waziristan region.

Ivory Coast

A rebel army allied with Ivory Coast’s democratically elected president has taken control of a fourth town in the country’s far West. the New Forces rebels captured the small town of Doke over the weekend, extending earlier gains that included the prefecture of Toulepleu and the town of Zouan-Hounien on the Liberia border. The rebels have thrown their weight behind Alassane Ouattara, the recognized winner of the Nov. 28 presidential election who has been prevented from assuming office by the country’s strongman who is refusing to leave office. Months of diplomacy have failed to persuade Laurent Gbagbo to yield power.

India

The Indian navy captured 61 pirates from a hijacked boat after a brief gunfight in the Arabian Sea, the military said Monday. Indian ships also rescued 13 crewmembers from the Mozambiquan fishing vessel Sunday night nearly 695 miles off the coast of Kochi in southern India. The navy was still checking whether the pirates were from Somalia or Yemen. Piracy has plagued the shipping industry off East Africa for years, but violence and ransom demands have escalated in recent months. Pirates held some 30 ships and more than 660 hostages as of February. This was the third anti-piracy operation by the Indian navy this year. The navy captured 28 Somali pirates last month and another 15 in January.

In its race to join the club of international powers, India has reached another milestone — it’s now the world’s largest weapons importer. A Swedish think tank that monitors global arms sales said Monday that India’s weapons imports had overtaken China’s, as the South Asian nation pushes ahead with plans to modernize its military, counter Beijing’s influence and gain international clout. India accounted for 9% of all international arms imports in the period from 2006 to 2010, and it is expected to keep the top spot for the foreseeable future. China dropped to second place, with 6% of global arms imports. The United States was the largest arms exporter, followed by Russia and Germany, according to the report.

South Sudan

Southern Sudanese officials said they will suspending talks and diplomatic contact with northern Sudan over claims that the northern government is funding militias in the south, a move that could further destabilize what will become the world’s newest country in July. The announcement Sunday follows clashes that have killed hundreds of people in recent months. The oil-rich south voted in January to secede from the north, but there are many issues that still remain unaddressed, including the sharing of oil revenues, the status of southerners or northerners living across the border, and who controls the disputed border region of Abyei, a fertile area near large oil fields.

Wildfires

Nine wildfires are burning in Oklahoma, having consumed about 7,000 acres thus far. Two other wildfires were fully contained over the weekend after scorching 820 acres. Meanwhile, the Pena wildfire eleven miles west of Nogales, Arizona, expanded by 2,700 over the weekend and has now burned about 4,300 acres.

Weather

Rain-swollen waterways in northern New Jersey were slowly receding Sunday after cresting overnight, causing fewer evacuations than expected but still flooding roadways around in the region. Despite clear skies in the forecast, officials said flooding will remain a concern for at least the next few days, and it’s not clear when all affected residents will be able to return to their homes. The flooding continued to cause major travel disruptions in the region. Several major roadways remained closed, while traffic was moving slowly through others water-logged roadways. Some cars stuck in high waters had been abandoned, and a bus became stuck on a bridge in Paterson early Sunday due to the flooding along the Passaic River. Most residents in other northern towns who had been evacuated earlier in the week were back home Sunday,

March 11, 2011

Deadly Earthquakes in Japan & China

A ferocious tsunami spawned by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded slammed Japan’s eastern coast Friday, killing at least 60 people as it swept away boats, cars and homes while widespread fires burned out of control. Tsunami warnings blanketed the entire Pacific, as far away as South America, Canada, Alaska and the entire U.S. West Coast. The magnitude 8.9 offshore quake unleashed a 23-foot tsunami and was followed by more than 50 aftershocks for hours, many of them of more than magnitude 6.0. Police said at least 60 people were killed and 56 were missing. The death toll was likely to continue climbing given the scale of the disaster. The government ordered thousands of residents near a nuclear power plant in Onahama city to evacuate because the plant’s system was unable to cool the reactor. The reactor was not leaking radiation but its core remained hot even after a shutdown. The plant is 170 miles northeast of Tokyo. Even for a country used to earthquakes, this one was of horrific proportions because of the tsunami that crashed ashore, swallowing everything in its path as it surged several miles inland before retreating. Tsunami waves hit Hawaii in the early morning hours Friday and were sweeping through the island chain Officials predicted Hawaii would experience waves up to 6 feet, and officials spent hours evacuating ahead of the storms.

An earthquake toppled more than 1,000houses and apartments China’s extreme southwest near the border with Myanmar on Thursday, killing at least 25 people and injuring more than 250, officials and state media said. Photos from the scene showed buildings that buckled, crushing their lower floors. Police, firefighters and soldiers rushed to the area to pull out people trapped in the rubble. One sidewalk was lined with injured people, lying on blankets and being shielded from the sun by large vendor umbrellas. The quake hit while many people, including students, were home for a customary midday rest. In addition to the 22 killed, 201 people have been injured. The website of the Chinese government earthquake monitoring station said the magnitude-5.8 quake was centered on Yunnan province’s Yingjiang county and struck just before 1 p.m. (0500 GMT) at a depth of six miles.

A powerful earthquake off Indonesia rattled the popular resort island of Bali early Friday, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, officials said. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 6.5-magnitude quake struck at 1:08 a.m. Thursday and was centered 315 miles beneath the ocean floor, about 160 miles northeast of Bali. The quake was felt in the main city of Denpasar.

Court Won’t Hear Challenge to ‘In God We Trust’

The United States Supreme Court has declined to hear atheist Michael Newdow’s latest challenge to the nation’s “In God We Trust” references. The Associated Press reports that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the use of the phrase, saying it was ceremonial and “had nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion.” Newdow, who previously contested the “so help me God” found in the presidential oath of office as well as the “under God” reference from the Pledge of Allegiance used in public schools, claimed the references to God violate the Constitution as an establishment of religion.

Atheist to Present BBC’s New Bible Series

Christian Today reports that BBC has tapped Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, an atheist, to host its new series, “In The Bible’s Buried Secrets.” The series will focus on recent archaeological discoveries that may impact people’s understanding of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In an interview with the Radio Times, Stavrakopoulou said she did not think the Bible could be used as a reliable historical source and said that as an academic “you leave your faith at the door.” Even as an atheist, however, she said the Bible is still important. “The Bible is a work of religious and social literature that has a huge impact on Western culture, and for that reason it’s important that programs like these are made.”

  • Secular media loves nothing better than trashing the Bible and Christianity. Having an atheist hosting a series about the Bible is a biased travesty.

Israel About to Create a “Temporary” Palestinian State?

According to news reports out of Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Cabinet are considering a proposal that would immediately create an interim Palestinian state with temporary borders that would be permanently settled in later negotiations. The move comes ahead of a visit by the “Quartet”—the EU, the UN, Russia and the United States—to the Jewish state. The Palestinians have responded negatively to the suggested plan. They are holding out hope for a better deal from the world community than they can get at the bargaining table with Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu told the gathering that Israel cannot ignore the pressure it is receiving from the world. The plan is for the UN to unilaterally and officially proclaim a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

  • Any concessions that involve giving up East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state is against God’s heart but in keeping with Biblical prophesies of a one-world anti-Christ led government

Wisconsin Republican Senators Vote Without Democrats

The Wisconsin state Assembly voted Thursday 53-42 in favor of an explosive union rights legislation that passed the Senate Wednesday night, an extraordinary turn of events that has thrown the state into deeper political turmoil. The state’s Republican senators used a surprise procedural maneuver to swiftly pass a bill that would strip most collective-bargaining rights from public employees. The Senate voted 18-1 without debate to approve the contentious bill, even though all 14 Senate Democrats remained out of state in an effort to stop the chamber from having enough members to vote. The Senate requires a quorum to take up any measures that spend money. Republicans made several technical changes to the legislation — taking out the spending measures but leaving in collective-bargaining changes — that eliminated the need for any Democrats to be present. The bill now passes to Republican Gov. Scott Walker for his expected signature. Chaos broke out afterwards as union mobs organized by Barack Obama’s “Organizing for America” and MoveOn.org stormed into the Capitol, knocking down police officers, and vandalizing the Capitol.

Illinois Abolishes Death Penalty, Clears Death Row

After two decades of debate about the risk of executing an innocent person, Illinois abolished the death penalty Wednesday, a decision that was certain to fuel renewed calls for other states to do the same. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who has long supported capital punishment, looked drained moments after signing the historic legislation. Lawmakers sent him the measure back in January, but Quinn went through two months of intense personal deliberation before acting. He called it the most difficult decision he has made as governor. “If the system can’t be guaranteed, 100-percent error-free, then we shouldn’t have the system,” Quinn said. Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 men remaining on death row. They will now serve life in prison with no hope of parole. Illinois becomes the 16th state in the nation without a death penalty.

Saudi Student Arrested in Texas for Terror Plot

A federal grand jury has indicted a 20-year-old Texas college student from Saudi Arabia on a single count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. The grand jury in Lubbock handed up its indictment Wednesday against Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari. Prosecutors say Aldawsari was attempting to build a bomb with components bought online and that he was mulling plans to attack various sites, including dams, nuclear plants and the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush. Court records indicate that federal agents traced his online purchases, discovered extremist online posts he made and secretly searched his apartment, computer and e-mail accounts and read his diary, according to court records.

Females in Military Suffer Higher Divorce Rate

For women in the military, there’s a cold, hard reality: Their marriages are more than twice as likely to end in divorce as those of their male comrades — and up to three times as likely for enlisted women. And military women get divorced at higher rates than their peers outside the military, while military men divorce at lower rates than their civilian peers. About 220,000 women have served in Afghanistan and Iraq in roles ranging from helicopter pilots to police officers. Last year, 7.8% of women in the military got a divorce, compared with 3% of military men, according to Pentagon statistics. Among the military’s enlisted corps, nearly 9% of women saw their marriages end, compared with a little more than 3% of the men. Like all divorces, the results can be a sense of loss and a financial blow. But for military women, a divorce can be a breaking point — even putting them at greater risk for homelessness down the road.

Light Bulb Law Faces Challenge in Congress

Amid battles over health care, the federal budget and the soaring deficit, another fight is brewing on Capitol Hill this week — over light bulbs. Some House and Senate Republicans want to repeal a 2007 law that phases out traditional incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient options. The Senate’s energy panel has a hearing Thursday on the repeal bill. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., last week also introduced a bill that calls for a study into whether new bulbs pose a health risk. Some consumers have complained about dimmer light from one type of the new bulbs, CFLs, or compact fluorescent lamps, and about their disposal because they contain small amounts of mercury. The new light bulbs also cost more than traditional incandescent bulbs, but they last longer.

Economic News

The Commerce Department says retail sales rose 1% last month, partly because of higher prices for gasoline. February sales were 8.9% higher than February 2010. Still, it was the biggest increase in four months. Sales totaled $387.1 billion, up 15.3% from the recession low reached in December 2008.

The number of homes receiving a foreclosure-related notice fell to a 36-month low last month, as lenders delayed taking action against homeowners because of heightened scrutiny over banks’ handling of home repossessions. Some 255,101 properties received at least one foreclosure-related notice in February, down 14% from January and down 27% from the same month last year. The sharp drop was primarily due to lenders taking a more measured approach to their foreclosure processes since the industry came under fire last year.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose slightly in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million, up 2.7% from December. But the pace is far below the 6 million homes a year that many economists say represents a healthy market. The number of first-time homebuyers in January fell to 29% of the market, the lowest percentage in nearly two years. Foreclosures represented 37% of sales in that same month. Sales of new homes also fell in January, following the worst year for that sector on records dating back nearly half a century. New-home sales dropped to a seasonally adjusted rate of 284,000. That’s much less than half the 700,000-to-800,000 pace considered healthy by economists.

Businesses at the wholesale level added to their stockpiles in January and their sales jumped by the largest amount in 14 months. Wholesale inventories rose 1.1% in January, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the 12th gain in 13 months. Sales at the wholesale level rose for the seventh straight month. The 3.4% increase was the largest gain since November 2009. The rise in inventories in January left stockpiles at $436.9 billion. That’s 13.1% higher than the low reached in September 2009.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week, only the second increase in six weeks. Applications rose 26,000 to a seasonally adjusted 397,000 during the week ended March 5. The rise comes after applications fell to their lowest level in nearly three years in the previous week. Applications below 425,000 signal modest job growth. But they need to fall consistently below 375,000 to signal a decline in the unemployment rate. Unemployment benefit applications peaked during the recession at 651,000.

The U.S. deficit in international trade of goods and services jumped 15.1% to $46.34 billion from $40.26 billion the month before, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The January deficit was the largest in seven months and much bigger than Wall Street’s expectations, with oil prices playing a key role.

No one’s watching the Libyan rebellion more closely than U.S. businesses with multibillion-dollar investments at risk in the North African nation. But for all their corporate clout, the major U.S. oil companies and other firms with Libyan operations have been unable to get much solid information about the business impact of the revolt that has led to new sanctions on Libya and jeopardized years of lobbying and millions in profits. The U.S. firms spent heavily to help open Libya to foreign trade and investment amid periodic international sanctions for Libyan-linked terrorism acts, such as the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103.

Libya

Rebels held out Friday in part of a strategic oil port after fierce fighting with Moammar Gadhafi loyalists waging a heavy counteroffensive trying to push the opposition further east away from the capital. Libya’s opposition battled for military and diplomatic advantage against Gadhafi’s embattled regime on Thursday, winning official recognition from France and hitting government forces with heavy weapons on the road to the capital. France became the first country to formally recognize the rebels’ newly created Interim Governing Council, saying it planned to exchange ambassadors after President Nicolas Sarkozy met with two representatives of the group based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. The international Red Cross said dozens of civilians have been wounded or killed in recent days in grueling battles between Gadhafi’s army and the opposition movement trying to oust him. The fighting intensified on the main front line between the Mediterranean oil port of Ras Lanouf and the city of Bin Jawwad, where the rebels appeared to be have established better supply lines bringing heavy weapons like multiple-rocket launcher trucks and small tanks to the battle.

Egypt

Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, told Egyptian television on Wednesday that he will run for president only if a real democratic system is in place, not the reforms the current leaders are proposing. ElBaradei said that suggested constitutional amendments to move Egypt toward democracy are “superficial.” He appealed to Egypt’s military rulers to scrap them or delay a scheduled March 19 vote on them. The constitutional amendments limit the terms for a president to run to two four-year terms. They also allow independents and opposition members to run, impossible under the regime of deposed President Hosni Mubarak. ElBaradei said he would vote against the amendments. He said the changes don’t limit the powers of president or give enough time for political parties to form, setting parliamentary elections in a few months.

Ethiopia

An estimated 10,000 Christians have been forced to flee their homes in western Ethiopia following a barrage of attacks by Muslim extremists, who are rampaging through the area setting churches and houses ablaze. Three Christians have been killed, with many more injured in the violence, which started in Asendabo, Jimma Zone, last Wednesday (2 March) after Muslims accused a Christian of desecrating a copy of the Quran. Attacks involving thousands of Islamists have continued, spreading systematically through five districts in the predominantly Muslim area. Information about the extent of the damage and number of people affected is still coming in; so far, 55 churches and dozens of homes are reported to have been torched, with many more properties looted by the mob. An estimated 2,000 Christian families (10,000 people) are currently displaced, having fled to Jimma city to escape the violence.

Morocco

King Mohammed VI said Wednesday that Morocco will revise its constitution for the first time in 15 years, aiming to strengthen democracy in the face of a push across the Arab world. In a rare TV and radio speech to the nation, the popular monarch said a new commission would suggest constitutional revisions to him by June, and the overall project would be put to Moroccan voters in a referendum. A major question was whether the constitutional changes on tap will involve the highly contested Article 19, which largely underpins the near-absolute power that the king has in Morocco. It enshrines the monarch as “the defender of the faith” — Islam — and “guarantor of the perpetuation and the continuity of the state,” as well as respect for the constitution.

Nigeria

Women and children continue to be the target of violent attacks a year after the massacre of more than 400 Christians in three villages in central Nigeria. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that armed Fulani men, traditionally Muslim, attacked Dogo Nahauwa, Zot and Ratsat on March 7, 2010. On that occasion, CSW said, the army was slow to respond with assistance, leading some victims to question their commitment to tackling the violence. Unfortunately, confidence in the security services has continued to plummet as attacks regularly occur in villages within close proximity to military outposts. This year alone, CSW said, violent night-time attacks on villages and university and college campuses in Plateau State have left over 50 people dead.

Afghanistan

An international intelligence official says that NATO forces have seized the most powerful Iranian-made rockets ever smuggled into Afghanistan for the Taliban’s upcoming spring campaign. The official said on Wednesday that about 50 122-millimeter rockets in a three-truck convoy were captured by NATO troops on Feb. 5th in southern Nimruz, near the Iranian and Pakistani borders. The rockets can be fired up to 13 miles away from a target, and explode in a burst up to 80 feet wide – double that of the previous rockets provided by Iran to the Taliban since 2006. The Afghan government says a suicide bomber has killed the police chief of northern Kunduz province and two of his bodyguards Friday. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iraq

A bomb struck Iraq’s largest crude oil pipeline on Wednesday, halting exports after the third insurgent strike on the industry in weeks that could lead to millions of dollars in losses and exacerbate acute energy shortages that have prompted deadly protests. The attack comes as oil prices are rising across the world in the wake of political unrest across the oil-rich Middle East, including in Iraq, where Iraqis have been frustrated with long lines at the gas pump and relentless blackouts. The pipeline, which generally pumps 400,000 barrels of crude a day to Turkey, will be shut for at least three days for repairs.

Weather

Winds whipped by a line of severe weather tore roofs off buildings, overturned cars and caused minor injuries as the system trudged across the Southeast on Wednesday. Two apparent tornadoes damaged buildings near Mobile in southwest Alabama, hours after several tornadoes were reported to the west in Louisiana. The system also dumped 7 inches of rain in parts of Mississippi and spawned thunderstorms in Tennessee that ripped off part of a school’s roof.

A gust topping 50 mph destroyed the large scoreboard across the lake from the 18th green at Doral and toppled two television towers Thursday during a storm delay in the first round of the Cadillac Championship. No one was injured, and fans were given access to the clubhouse to seek shelter. The 16 players who had started the first round were already off the course because of a storm delay when a microburst came through and sent structures crashing to the ground.

Residents of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic nervously watched already-rising rivers Thursday and New Jersey’s governor declared a state of emergency as heavy rain moved into the region from the South. Flood watches were in effect across much of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. A rising Ohio River shut down a Cincinnati public school Thursday and covered roads as the storm marched northward after soaking the Southeast, where it tore roofs off buildings and flipped cars. Rainfall amounts of 3 inches or more were forecast for portions of northern New Jersey, where streams are still running high from a weekend storm that flooded many basements and forced evacuations in some low-lying areas.

March 9, 2011

Obama’s Gitmo Regulations Slammed by Supporters

President Obama ended a two-year ban on military commission trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention center Monday in the latest sign that he may not be able to shutter the prison in Cuba any time soon. President Obama’s new executive order on the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is producing disappointment from the administration’s liberal supporters and “I-told-you-so” catcalls from its more conservative critics. Nominal supporters say the resumption of military trials — and the re-affirmation of indefinite detentions for certain prisoners — create what the American Civil Liberties Union calls “a troubling ‘new normal.'” For an administration that hates to be compared to its predecessor, the morning brought some frustrating headlines. A Washington Post column says “Obama’s new Gitmo policy is a lot like Bush’s old policy.” Obama made the closure of Gitmo a major part of his 2008 campaign pitch, and he suspended military trials there his first week in office.

Wisconsin Governor Offers Unions a Compromise

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has offered to keep certain collective bargaining rights in place for state workers in a proposed compromise aimed at ending a nearly three-week standoff with absent Senate Democrats, according to e-mails released Tuesday by his office. The e-mails show a softened stance in Walker’s talks with the 14 Democrats who fled to Illinois to block a vote on his original proposal that would strip nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers and force concessions amounting to an average 8% pay cut. Under the compromise floated by Walker and detailed in the e-mails, workers would be able to continue bargaining over their salaries with no limit, a change from his original plan that banned negotiated salary increases beyond inflation. He also proposed compromises allowing collective bargaining to stay in place on mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay and classroom size for teachers. Increased contributions for health insurance and pension, projected to save the state $330 million by mid-2013, would remain.

NPR President Schiller Resigns over Tea Party Comment

National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller has resigned, the radio network announced Wednesday. The announcement comes a day after a hidden-camera video was released showing a senior NPR executive criticizing the Tea Party  as “racist.” Ron Schiller, no relation to Vivian Schiller, issued an apology Tuesday night and said his already-announced resignation would be effective immediately. NPR condemned the comments, but the company announced Wednesday that the Board of Directors accepted Schiller’s resignation, “effective immediately.” The resignation follows several previous incidents of discriminatory remarks and suspicious terminations.

Christian Parents Jailed in Germany

In Germany, several parents have been jailed for keeping their children from attending sex-education programs at school. Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) legal counsel Roger Kiska tells OneNewsNow that the German school system has made it mandatory for nine- and ten-year-olds to participate in the programs, including an interactive play. “The purpose of the play, they say, is to prevent abuse,” says Kiska, “but what they’re teaching is that if it feels good, do it.” According to the attorney, many Christian parents objected to the programs’ content. “They believed that under international law and [under] German law, they had every right to remove their children from those classes and instill in their children their own Christian beliefs about sexuality and love and marriage and chastity — and for this, ten parents have been sent to jail.”

Hispanics Change Responses on Race in 2010 Census

Hispanics from states with large and established Latino populations increasingly identified themselves by race — most chose white — rather than the murky “Some Other Race” that many picked a decade before, a USA TODAY analysis of 2010 Census data finds. It is a sign that the fastest-growing and largest minority population in the United States is adjusting to the way Americans categorize race, some demographers say. If anything, it’s an indication that they are at least figuring out that the government doesn’t recognize “Hispanic” as a race, but as an ethnicity. “I don’t know if it’s assimilation or just learning,” says Jeffrey Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. Census forms ask people who identify themselves as Hispanic to also check what race they are. There are Hispanic whites, Hispanic blacks, Hispanic Asians and so on. Those who don’t identify with existing race categories have to pick “Some Other Race.” In 2000, about 42% of Latinos adopted that option, and almost every one of the 15.3 million who picked that “other” category was Hispanic.

California Growth Stalls

The state that spurred a migration from the rest of the country and the world for 150 years experienced its slowest growth since the Great Depression this past decade, new 2010 Census data show. High unemployment, record home foreclosures and declines in industries such as construction and technology have put the brakes on the economy. Joblessness in the state was 12.5% in December, compared with 9% nationwide. California’s demographic makeup showed dramatic changes since 2000 as the Hispanic and Asian populations rose and the white share of the state count fell to 40%, just two in five residents. Gains by Hispanics did not keep pace with the 1990s rate: up 28% vs. 43%. Still, Hispanics are 38% of the state’s population. The Asian population rose 31% to 4.8 million — 13% of the state. Non-Hispanic whites declined 5.4%. The black population declined just under 1%, its first drop ever in the state.

21 Pennsylvania Priests Suspended Over Sex Abuse

The Philadelphia archdiocese suspended 21 Roman Catholic priests Tuesday who were named as child molestation suspects in a scathing grand jury report released last month. The priests have been removed from ministry while their cases are reviewed. The two-year grand jury investigation into priest abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia resulted in charges against two priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher who are accused of raping young boys. And in an unprecedented move in the U.S., a former high-ranking church official was accused of transferring problem priests to new parishes without warning anyone of prior sex-abuse complaints. The grand jury named 37 priests who remained in active ministry despite credible allegations of sexual abuse.

  • The unique and unbiblical Catholic requirement of celibacy for priests is the primary underlying cause. Other Christian denominations don’t have this problem anywhere near the same degree.

Wyoming Beset by Big-City Problem: Smog

Wyoming, famous for its crisp mountain air and breathtaking, far-as-the-eye-can-see vistas, is looking a lot like smoggy Los Angeles these days because of a boom in natural gas drilling. Folks who live near the gas fields in the western part of this outdoorsy state are complaining of watery eyes, shortness of breath and bloody noses because of ozone levels that have exceeded what people in L.A. and other major cities wheeze through on their worst pollution days. Gas drilling is going strong, and as a result, so is the Cowboy State’s economy. Wyoming enjoys one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, 6.4%. And while many other states are running up monumental deficits, lawmakers are projecting a budget surplus of more than $1 billion over the coming year in this state of a half-million people. Still, in the Upper Green River Basin, where at least one daycare center called off outdoor recess and state officials have urged the elderly to avoid strenuous outdoor activity, some wonder if they’ve made a bargain with the devil.

30% of Under-30s Text & Drive

Car crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths. Nearly 5,500 people in the U.S. were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2009. And according to a poll LaHood released, 63% of drivers under 30 acknowledge using a handheld phone while behind the wheel. 30% say they’ve sent text messages while driving. “Distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic on America’s roads, and teens are especially vulnerable because of their inexperience behind the wheel and, often, peer pressure,” Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said. A brochure that lists six steps parents can take, including setting a good example and setting and enforcing ground rules, is available online and will be distributed to schools and volunteer groups; a public service announcement has been produced and is being sent to TV stations nationwide; and a video meant to be played in retail stores including Wal-Mart could be seen by as many as 100 million people, LaHood said.

Traffic Congestion Up by 11% in Metro Areas

Traffic congestion in the USA’s 100 biggest metropolitan areas increased by 11% last year and should only get worse as the economy improves and more people get behind the wheel to get to work, according to a report out Tuesday by a firm that tracks congestion. The report finds that 70 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas saw increased congestion last year compared with 2009, and 41 saw congestion that exceeded their 2006 levels. Traffic congestion in the USA peaked in 2007, reflecting a 21% increase in miles driven from 1995 to 2007. Even a rise in gasoline prices — which topped $3.50 a gallon this week nationally on average — isn’t likely to ease congestion soon, the report says. Its findings are supported by a new report from the federal government showing Americans drove 3 trillion miles last year, the most since 2007

States Slash $1.8 billion in Mental Health Spending

Since 2009, state legislatures have cut $1.8 billion in non-Medicaid mental health spending, according to a report released today by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Vital services cut include community- and hospital-based psychiatric care, inpatient housing and access to medications for tens of thousands of adults and children living with serious mental illnesses, the report says. Deeper cuts are projected for 2011 and 2012. One in 17 Americans lives with a serious psychological disorder such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, according to the report. About one in 10 children live with a serious disorder. The report adds that the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in Tucson has put the spotlight on the public mental health system. One important lesson learned, he says: “Get people into treatment when they need it,” urges Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the alliance.

Economic News

Gasoline prices across the nation rose 34 cents a gallon on average the past two weeks, prompting some analysts to fret that pump prices could soon hit the $4-a-gallon psychological barrier and stall the USA’s nascent economic recovery. Gasoline is averaging $3.52 nationally for a gallon of regular, with prices over $4 in California and elsewhere. Automakers and dealers are starting to see an uptick in sales of their most-fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids and electrics.

Fueled by concern about strife in the Middle East, the safe-haven appeal of silver helped push its price up 1.5% Monday to $35.86 an ounce — which flirted with its highest level in 31 years. The price of silver is up 113% since the end of 2009.

Europe’s government debt crisis has flared up again as Portugal had to pay 50% more to raise cash Wednesday than it had to just six months ago. Investor tensions grew after the Portuguese government revealed it is paying 5.99% interest on two-year bonds to raise euro1 billion ($1.4 billion). That was way above the 4% demanded at the last similar auction in September. The major concern in the markets is that a March 25 summit of EU leaders in Brussels will not yield the “comprehensive solution” to the debt crisis that has been trumpeted. There’s also a realization that higher borrowing costs will make it far more difficult for countries like Greece and Portugal to grow themselves out of the debt mire.

Libya

Moammar Gadhafi said in an interview broadcast Wednesday that Libyans would fight back if Western nations impose a no-fly zone to prevent the regime from using its air force to bomb government opponents staging a rebellion. He said imposing the restrictions would prove the West’s real intention was to seize his country’s oil wealth. Gadhafi was responding to U.S. and British plans for action against his regime, including imposing a no-fly zone to prevent Gadhafi’s warplanes from striking rebels.

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader have been fighting rebels in the east as well as in a handful of towns close to the capital Tripoli, where he has regained total control. As Russian-made jets dropped more bombs on the city of Ras Lanouf, rebel leaders in their stronghold to the east of Benghazi were retrenching. While the airstrikes were not causing major damage to the city or rebel positions, they have seemingly halted the advance of the young and disorganized anti-government forces to the stronghold of Gadhafi in Tripoli. Soldiers loyal to Gadhafi have blocked some 30,000 migrant workers from fleeing into Tunisia and forced many to return to work in the Libyan capital.

Egypt

Security and hospital officials say Muslim-Christian clashes in the Egyptian capital Cairo killed 11 people and wounded more than 90. They said the clashes took place late Tuesday night and lasted several hours. The clashes began when several thousand Christians protested against the burning last week of a church in a Cairo suburb by a Muslim mob following a deadly clash between Muslims and Christians over a love affair between a Muslim and a Christian. The Christian protesters on Tuesday blocked a vital highway, burning tires and pelting cars with rocks. An angry crowd of Muslims set upon the Christians and the two sides fought pitched battles for about four hours. The six killed were believed to be mostly Christians who died of gunshot wounds.

Egypt’s military rulers on Monday swore in a new Cabinet that includes new faces in key ministries, responding to protesters’ demands that the new government be free of stalwarts of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The new Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, a U.S.-educated civil engineer, is expected to be met with the approval of the pro-reform groups that led the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11. The caretaker government’s main job and challenge will be to help steer the country through reforms and toward free elections.

Tunisia

A Tunisian court has dissolved the party of longtime autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was ousted in a popular revolt. The court in the capital Tunis formally announced the end of the Constitutional Democratic Rally, or RCD, on Wednesday. Pro-democracy activists have demanded the party’s dismantling since Ben Ali was ousted after weeks of protests Jan. 14. The protests led to uprisings across the Arab world.

Ivory Coast

Hundreds of marching women converged Tuesday near the bloodstained pavement where soldiers fatally shot seven unarmed female protesters last week in an attack that has prompted a wave of criticism from around the world. Many of the organizers of the deadly demonstration stayed home Tuesday fearing reprisal by security forces. But hundreds of others took to the streets in defiance on International Women’s Day to express their disgust at the regime of strongman Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo has refused to cede power even though the country’s election commission declared opposition leader Alassane Ouattara the winner of the Nov. 28 vote. Nearly 400 people have already been killed, most of them civilians who voted for Ouattara.

Afghanistan

U.S.-led military forces have captured or killed more than 900 Taliban leaders in the past 10 months, making it harder for the insurgency to maintain its offensive capabilities, according to the U.S. military in Afghanistan. The decapitation of leadership comes amid stepped-up raids by U.S. special operations units in Afghanistan. The raids have netted insurgent leaders, weapons and drugs used to finance actions against coalition forces, NATO says. Some experts say it remains to be seen how much damage the raids have done to the Taliban’s fighting ability.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber attacked a funeral attended by anti-Taliban militiamen in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least 36 mourners and wounding more than 100 others. The blast took place close to the city of Peshawar, not far from the tribally administered regions that border Afghanistan where militants are at their strongest. The area is home to several tribal armies that battle the Taliban and receive government support for doing so. Like elsewhere in the northwest, the militias have been relentlessly targeted by the insurgents.

The Taliban detonated a car bomb in Pakistan’s third-largest city on Tuesday, killing 20 and wounding more than 100 people in an attack they said targeted the offices of the country’s main intelligence agency. The militants are based in the tribal regions close to Afghanistan, but have been able to tap into extremist networks in the country’s heartland of Punjab and strike there with regularity over the last three years. Police said the offices of a “sensitive” security agency were nearby but were not damaged in the attack. The remote-controlled bomb devastated a gas station and an office of Pakistan’s state airline in the industrial city.

Iran

The head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiay Amano, confirmed this week that he has received new information that Teheran’s renegade nuclear program has a military dimension, adding that Iran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA is causing great suspicion, although he stopped short of outright accusing Iran of building atomic weapons.

Following the arrival of two Iranian warships in Latakia, Syria after their passage through the Suez Canal, Iran and Syria have signed a deal that will allow Iran to build a permanent naval base at the Syrian port. In addition to providing a Mediterranean home for Iran’s navy, the deal provides for a weapons depot for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, housing and base facilities for incoming troops, and logistical support for submarines.

India

Hindu extremists have attacked Koya tribal Christians at least 15 times since Dec. 8, 2010, Christian leaders said. Compass Direct News reports that the attacks occured in remote villages in Orissa state. In the latest attack, about 60 assailants beat two Christians until one fell unconscious. Women and children have also been injured in the attacks on churches. Christians have suffered midnight raids on prayer meetings in which they have been beaten, he said, resulting in some Christians fleeing their homes and going into hiding. At least four families have left their village and not returned due to extremist warnings. “There is great fear among the people because of the threats they received from the extremists,” Pastor Purusu said. “Persecution against the Christians has become a daily occurrence in the area.”

Columbia

Assailants kidnapped at least 23 local oil contractors working for Canada’s Talisman Energy Inc. on Monday in a remote part of Colombia’s southeastern jungle. The Colombian workers were abducted from an oil camp in the municipality of Cumaribo, about 300 miles east of the capital, Bogota. The area is accessible only by helicopter. It is not yet known who or why the contractors were abducted, but they may have been Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas, who are present in the area.

Mexico

Gunmen swarmed a convoy transporting two prisoners in northern Mexico, shredding three police vehicles with bullets and killing seven officers and one inmate, prosecutors said Monday. Six officers and the second inmate were wounded. Attackers traveling in about 20 vehicles caught the police convoy in a crossfire Sunday near the city of Guasave, Sinaloa state, A note left at the scene said the beheadings were revenge for the killing of a man who was shot dead during an attempted kidnapping. Federal police, meanwhile, said a newly captured leader of the Zetas drug cartel revealed it has a non-aggression pact with three other gangs — the Juarez, Beltran Leyva and Arellano Felix organizations. The Zetas, once a group of assassins who have become a potent gang in their own right, are currently waging a viscous turf war in northeastern Mexico with their former employers, the Gulf cartel.

A 20-year-old woman who made international headlines when she accepted the job as police chief in a violent Mexican border town was fired Monday for apparently abandoning her post after receiving death threats. Marisol Valles Garcia was given permission to travel to the United States last week for personal matters but failed to return to Praxedis. Local news media have reported that Valles Garcia was seeking asylum in the United States.

China

Breaking a seven-year moratorium, Chinese officials plan to dam the nation’s last free-flowing river in a remote canyon that is home to almost as many species of plants as in the whole of the USA and shrink a fish refuge on the Yangtze River to make room for another dam. China says a renewal of hydropower projects is needed to reduce the country’s carbon emissions, which are No. 1 in the world largely because of a reliance on “soft” coal for power. Soft coal is of poorer quality than the coal used for power in the USA and has a higher sulfur content. Environmental groups say China and state-owned power enterprises are using the issue of carbon emissions as an excuse to revive plans for dozens of hydroelectric projects for industrial purposes opposed by villagers in remote river basins.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit northeastern Japan on Wednesday, shaking buildings hundreds of miles away in Tokyo and prompting the country’s meteorological agency to issue a tsunami warning for the coast. There were no immediate reports of significant damage or injuries. The meteorological agency said the quake hit at 11:45 a.m. local time Wednesday and was centered about 90 miles off the northeastern coast — about 270 miles northeast of Tokyo — at a depth of about 6.2 miles. A 24-inch tsunami reached the coastal town of Ofunato, in Iwate prefecture, shortly after noon.

Wildfires

A brush fire near Silver City, New Mexico, has burned as many as 15 buildings and forced authorities to evacuate a neighborhood threatened by flames, according to the state forestry department. Winds gusting up to 50 mph spread the fire from 50 acres early Monday to over 1,800 acres (about 3 square miles) by Wednesday. Authorities evacuated a neighborhood in Silver City, about 230 miles south of Albuquerque. High winds had prevented firefighters from calling in water-dropping helicopters or planes until Wednesday morning

Weather

The National Weather Service says three tornadoes have touched down in southeastern Louisiana, injuring one person, damaging a house, destroying a trailer, as well as knocking down trees.. The tornadoes developed in a line of severe thunderstorms that moved across the region Wednesday morning ahead of a cold front.

Residents of the mid-Atlantic region are keeping a wary eye on rivers and creeks as heavy rainfall approaches. The National Weather Service has already posted a flood watch for parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland from Thursday morning through Friday morning. Flooding has already closed roads and forced evacuations in New Jersey. The water may not subside before the next storm.

A fierce winter storm blanketed northern New England and upstate New York with up to 30 inches of snow Monday, while western Connecticut was deluged with so much rain that parts of homes and cars floated down a swollen river. The storm helped push the winter of 2010-11 up the record list. Even before the snow stopped, it became the fourth-snowiest winter on record in Burlington, at 121.4 inches. Parts of upstate New York are buried under more than 2 feet of heavy snow, with freezing rain, sleet and 30 mph winds added to the mix, closing scores of schools and knocking out power to more than 40,000 customers.

March 7, 2011

Utah Passes Arizona-Style Immigration Law

Utah lawmakers have approved an immigration package that includes an enforcement law reminiscent of Arizona’s but tempered with a guest worker program for illegal immigrants. The immigration measures approved by both chambers Friday night would allow illegal immigrants to get a permit to work in Utah. But they also include a requirement that police check the immigrant status of anyone stopped for a felony or serious misdemeanor. Supporters say the entire package balances economic needs and compassion, while opponents argue it will likely encourage more illegal immigration. The Arizona law approved last year drew nationwide controversy over provisions requiring police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person’s immigration status if they have reasonable suspicion they’re here illegally. That aspect of the law was put on hold by a federal judge.

U.S. Failing On Homeland Border Security

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Napolitano says that the U.S. southern border is more secure than ever before.  However, a recent report released by her own DHS states that Homeland Security is only achieving “operational control” of 44% of the southwest border. What is operational control? A few more pages into the DHS report shows that they are referring to places on the border where there is even a DHS attempt to monitor border traffic. And of that 44% only a measly 15% is actually an area where an illegal alien has a high probability of apprehension.

European Nations Impose Language Requirements on Immigrants

Italy is the latest Western European country turning the screws on an expanding immigrant population by demanding language skills in exchange for work permits, or in some cases, citizenship. While enacted last year in the name of integration, these requirements also reflect anxiety that foreigners might dilute fiercely-prized national identity or even, especially in Britain’s case, pose terror risks. Some immigrant advocates worry that as harsh economic times make it harder for natives to keep jobs, such measures will become more a vehicle for intolerance than integration. Others say it’s only natural that newcomers learn the language of their host nation, seeing it as a condition to ensure they can contribute to society. In Austria, where native speakers have been sometimes known to scold immigrant parents for not speaking proper German to their children, foreigners from outside the European Union need to prove they speak basic German within five years of receiving their first residency permit. Failure to do so can bring fines and jeopardize their right to stay.

Youth Marijuana Use Linked to Psychosis as Adults

Smoking marijuana as a teenager or young adult raises your risk of having psychotic symptoms later in life, a new Dutch study shows. The findings come just weeks after Australian researchers reported on a connection between smoking marijuana and an onset of psychosis 2.7 years earlier than those who hadn’t used the drug. This latest study goes one step further by showing that marijuana use actually precedes the onset of symptoms, suggesting a possible cause-and-effect relationship. Some 16 million people in the United States alone use marijuana regularly, and most started smoking in their teens. It is the third most widely used addictive substance after tobacco and alcohol. The researchers found that those who started smoking pot as youths had double the risk of developing psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations. And the more persistent the use, the more persistent the symptoms.

Swindlers Rarely Pay Court-Ordered Fines

During the past decade, federal judges have ordered hundreds of the nation’s biggest swindlers to repay millions of dollars they stole. So far, the government has collected about 2 cents on the dollar. A USA TODAY analysis of Justice Department records illustrates the difficulties prosecutors are likely to face in the coming years, as they try to wring money from scam artists who profited from the nation’s housing and financial crises. Although the biggest judgments totaled about $30 billion, the government has collected only about $660 million to date, and some criminals have paid less than the cost of a speeding ticket. One reason: Many of the criminals are close to broke. By law, courts generally set restitution without considering whether the defendant has the money. In other cases, however, criminals likely hid or squandered their money before they were convicted and ordered to pay.

Michael Moore Rallies Protesters in Wisconsin

Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore urged Wisconsin residents Saturday to fight against Republican efforts to strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights, telling thousands of protesters that “Madison is only the beginning.” The crowd roared in approval as Moore implored demonstrators to keep up their struggle against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation, saying they’ve galvanized the nation against the wealthy elite and comparing their fight to Egypt’s revolt. He also thanked the 14 state Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to block a vote on the bill, saying they’ll go down in history books. A Wisconsin Democratic lawmaker says negotiations have stalled with Republicans over controversial legislation that would strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights.

  • You can tell you’re on the right path when Michael Moore protests against you

Lobbying Frenzy In D.C.

Congress and the White House have temporarily averted a government shutdown, but big lobbying battles loom over dozens of major cuts House Republicans approved last month. Planned Parenthood, public radio stations and scores of other interests are scrambling to make their cases heard on Capitol Hill, hiring new lobbyists, mailing petitions, buying TV ads and, desperately trying to protect their fiefdoms from budget cutters. The focus of the lobbying free-for-all: a House-passed bill to fund the government through Sept. 30 that would cut $61 billion in federal spending.

  • When there’s not enough money to go around, budget cuts are necessary. Liberal spending policies have created an enormous sense of bureaucratic entitlement. Liberal programs harmful to the nation’s moral and economic health are the wolves crying the loudest. Time to reel them in and shut them down.

Obama, Reid and Pelosi ‘Deceitfully’ Hid $105 Billion in Obamacare

Rep. Michele Bachmann told Newsmax that President Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi should apologize to the American people for the $105 billion appropriation they “deceitfully” hid in the healthcare reform legislation. The Minnesota Republican declares that the “stunning revelation” of the expenditure points to “one of the biggest lies we have ever seen.” Bachmann expressed her anger over the $105 billion appropriation that has only now come to light in an updated Congressional Research Service report on the Obamacare legislation. “We’ve been fighting to cut $100 billion out of the budget and then we find out that the Democrats led by President Obama have already spent $105 billion and didn’t bother to tell Congress.”

Economic News

Oil prices climbed to near $106 a barrel Monday as intense fighting between Libyan government forces and rebels appeared to be turning into a civil war and raised the prospect of a prolonged cut in crude exports from the OPEC nation. Investors also are concerned violent protests and political upheaval could intensify in the Middle East, where Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia have more than 60 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves.

America’s dependence on foreign sources of oil has increased to 52% of the daily requirement as compared to 45% just 15 years ago.  Over half of that amount comes from countries that are inherently unstable or ruled by despotic regimes whose interest it is to de-stabilize the United States. But according to Vision To America, the United States is sitting on the world’s largest untapped oil reserves — a natural resource that would not only mitigate the over $400 billion sent overseas to other countries but could create untold millions of jobs and put the country on a sound financial footing.

  • With the world’s largest oil reserves, it is beyond ridiculous that we are so dependent on foreign sources. However, it is a primary goal of the New World Order folks to eviscerate America’s influence in the world and Obama just plays along.

A weaker dollar and the perception of higher quality in U.S.-made vehicles are leading to hopes of more vehicle exports, although the figures pale compared with the number of vehicles imported into the U.S. More than 1.5 million new cars were exported last year, up 38% from 2009.

U.S. Repatriating Foreigners Who Fled Libya

The United States is stepping up efforts to repatriate (i.e. return to their home countries) foreigners fleeing Libya. The State Department said Saturday four U.S. military aircraft are picking up Egyptians who crossed the Libyan border into Tunisia, and flying them to Cairo. The government also said it is contributing $3 million to the International Organization for Migration to help repatriate thousands of foreign nationals who crossed into Tunisia to escape clashes between the government of Moammar Gadhafi and the insurrection against him. On Friday, the U.S. sent two cargo planes into Tunisia with supplies for refugees from Libya.

Libya Battles Continue

The hodgepodge of forces arrayed against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appears made up of mostly young volunteers armed with weapons seized from storehouses. Thousands of Gadhafi’s soldiers defected, and large swaths of the eastern portion of the country have fallen under rebel control. These forces have battled government forces to a standstill in several cities. On Sunday, forces loyal to Gadhafi used helicopter gunships and artillery and rockets to halt the advance of rebels toward Sirte, a city about 250 miles east of the capital, Tripoli. In Misrata, 120 miles east of Tripoli, 20 people were killed and 100 wounded when pro-Gadhafi troops punched into the city with mortars and tanks. They were pushed out five hours later by rebel forces. Gadhafi’s regime fought all weekend to take control of Zawiya, west of Tripoli — where his forces hit rebel positions with tanks and mortars 30 miles from the capital.

Egypt

Egypt’s prime minister-designate named a caretaker Cabinet on Sunday to help lead the country through reforms and toward free elections after the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Three weeks after Mubarak’s ouster, Egyptians are now turning their anger toward his internal security apparatus, storming the agency’s main headquarters and other offices Saturday and seizing documents to keep them from being destroyed to hide evidence of human rights abuses. Protesters stormed inside at least six of the buildings, including the agency’s main headquarters in Cairo’s northern Nasr City neighborhood, confronting officers face-to-face and attacking some in a surreal reversal of roles.  The 500,000-strong internal security services are accused of some of the worst human rights abuses in the suppression of dissent against Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule. The protesters are demanding the agency be dismantled and its leaders face a reckoning. Many protest leaders say despite the fall of Mubarak and his government, the agency remains active in protecting the old regime and trying to sabotage the revolution.

Bahrain

Pearl Square in Bahrain’s capital has turned into a village of its own as protesters here enter their third week of a challenge to a royal family that has ruled for two centuries. Having wrested control of the square from authorities following a bloody battle with soldiers, the protesters here say they won’t leave until they have an elected government in this small island country in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. Every day, they say, they are getting stronger. Pearl Square is also where strategy is devised and plans executed. On Sunday, thousands of Shiites blocked the entrance to the prime minister’s office but failed to disrupt the weekly Cabinet meeting. Shiites make up about two-thirds of the Muslim population of Bahrain, which has been run by a Sunni dynasty since the 19th century. Shiites in the protests have complained that they are persecuted and discriminated against for jobs and housing.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s president on Sunday rejected a U.S. apology for the mistaken killing of nine Afghan boys in a NATO air attack and said civilian casualties are no longer acceptable. Civilian casualties from coalition operations are a major source of strain in the already difficult relationship between Karzai’s government and the United States, and they generate widespread outrage among the population. The killing of the nine boys took place on March 1 in the Pech valley area of Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan.

Iran

Just days after two Iranian warships reached the Syrian port of Latakia via the Suez Canal an Iranian-Syrian naval cooperation accord was signed. The accord provides for Iran to build its first Mediterranean naval base at the Syrian port. The base will include a large Iranian Revolutionary Guards weapons depot stocked with hardware chosen by the IRGC subject to prior notification to Damascus. Tehran will be setting in place the logistical infrastructure for accommodating incoming Iranian troops to fight in a potential Middle East war.

Lebanon

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly defended the Obama Administration’s request for $100 million in military aid to Lebanon, despite the fact that the nation’s government has been taken over by the radical terrorist Hezbollah movement. She urged Senators to approve the funding while acknowledging that it might fall into the wrong hands! Hezbollah has launched countless attacks against Israel. The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes that, “This outrageous demand by Hillary Clinton is just the latest indication that our leaders don’t get it. The same radical Islamists who want to destroy Israel want to do exactly the same to America.”

Estonia

Estonia’s center-right government was poised to stay in power for a second term after winning a clear parliamentary majority Sunday in the Baltic country’s first election as a eurozone member, preliminary results showed. The outcome was a sign of political stability taking hold in a nation with a 1.3 million population where no previous government had managed to serve a full term since Western-style democracy replaced communism following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.2 earthquake has shaken a northern region of Chile, but no injuries or major damages have been reported. The U.S. Geological Survey in Colorado says the quake was centered in Putre, about 40 miles from the port of Arica near the border with Peru. Chile’s national emergency agency says the quake caused some alarm among the population, because of the magnitude-8.8 quake that struck central Chile in February and killed 524 people and left 31 missing.

A minor earthquake has rumbled in the Anchorage area. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says the magnitude-3.7 quake struck at 8:17 p.m. Saturday and was centered about 20 miles south of Anchorage. The center says the temblor was felt in Anchorage, but there were no reports of any damage.

Weather

Authorities say at least 11 people were injured by a tornado on Louisiana that had sprung from a vast storm system kicking up abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. More than 100 homes were damaged in Saturday’s tornado, many of them destroyed, authorities said, and about 1,500 people were evacuated overnight because of natural gas leaks. The system that hit Louisiana quickly moved east and drenched New Orleans, where several Mardi Gras parades either were delayed, started earlier or canceled because of the severe weather.

March 4, 2011

Judge Gives Admin. One Week to Save Obamacare

The clock is ticking on the Obama administration’s plans to implement Obamacare. That was the bottom-line result following a federal judge’s ruling Thursday giving the administration just seven days to file an expedited appeal either to the U.S. Supreme Court or the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. If the administration misses that deadline, it could face an injunction that would bring its implementation of Obamacare to a screeching halt in 26 states. Judge Roger Vinson’s 20-page ruling chastised the government for dragging its feet before seeking a stay, or temporary suspension, of his January ruling that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Vinson previously ruled that requiring individuals to make a federally mandated purchase — buying a healthcare plan — exceeds the federal government’s constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce.

Boehner Rips Obama’s ‘Outrageous’ Behavior

House Speaker John Boehner declared Thursday that President Barack Obama’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court is “outrageous” and vows that Republicans will intervene in the next few days. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that the Obama administration will not fight legal challenges to the constitutionality of the DOMA, which has banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage for 15 years. “DOMA is the law of the land. It was passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate. And I think it is outrageous for the president to say, well, we’re not going to enforce it. It’s the law of the land. It is the job of the Justice Department to defend the work of our government. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also slammed Obama for his decision regarding the DOMA, saying the president is not a “one-person Supreme Court.”

  • Finally someone in Congress speaks out in defense of DOMA.

Justices Side with Funeral Picketers

A Supreme Court decision protecting anti-gay picketing by the Westboro Baptist Church as free speech has veterans groups and other opponents vowing to step up efforts to block church followers from demonstrating at high-profile funerals and interfering with grieving military families. The small, fundamentalist congregation said it will only increase its protests. In one of the most watched cases of the term, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the First Amendment shielded Westboro from a lawsuit for picketing the funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq. Only Justice Samuel Alito dissented. Westboro has demonstrated nationwide to gain attention for its belief that the United States, particularly the military, is too tolerant of homosexuality.

  • Free speech is the foundation of a free society, it must not be curtailed no matter how much we disagree or dislike what other people have to say.

Pope: Jews Not to Blame for Jesus’ Death

Pope Benedict XVI has made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus Christ, tackling one of the most controversial issues in Christianity in a new book. In “Jesus of Nazareth-Part II” excerpts released Wednesday, Benedict uses biblical and theological analyses to explain why there was no basis in Scripture that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus’ death. Interpretations to the contrary have been used for centuries to justify the persecution of Jews.

  • Although a mob of Jews clamored for Jesus’ crucifixion, we cannot condemn an entire people group – just as we cannot condemn all Americans for the actions of the funeral picketers.

Billboard Company: You Can Question God, Not Obama

For Clear Channel Communications, one of the largest media conglomerates in the U.S., it’s apparently OK to question God on billboards going up around the country, but not OK to question Barack Obama. That’s the observation of WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah, the force behind a 2-year-old billboard campaign that doesn’t even mention Obama’s name, but merely asks, “Where’s the birth certificate?” While ClearChannel refused to run those ads, along with two other major outdoor advertising companies, Lamar and CBS, ClearChannel is making its inventory of billboards available to the overtly anti-God humanist Center for Inquiry’s “Living Without Religion” campaign kicking off this week in Indianapolis, Houston and other major cities.

America‘s Third War: Texas Farmers Under Attack at the Border

In Texas, nearly 8,200 farms and ranches back up to the Mexican border. The men and women who live and work on those properties say they’re under attack from the same drug cartels blamed for thousands of murders in Mexico. “Farmers and ranchers are being run off their own property by armed terrorists showing up and telling them they have to leave their land,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said Thursday. One Texas farmer, who asked not to be identified, said it’s common for him to see undocumented immigrants walking through his property. Another farmer, Joe Aguilar, said enough is enough. After walking up on armed gunmen sneaking undocumented immigrants into the United States through his land, Aguilar decided to sell his farm. Texas farmers and ranchers produce more cotton and more cattle than any other state, so Staples is concerned this war could eventually impact our food supply, and calls it a threat to our national security.

More Teens, Young Adults are Virgins

A growing number of teens and young adults say they’ve never had sexual contact with another person, according to the largest and most in-depth federal report to date on sexual behavior, sexual attraction and sexual identity in the USA. The study, released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics, reports that 27% of young men and 29% of young women ages 15-24 say they’ve never had a sexual encounter. That’s up from 22% for both males and females, in the government’s last such survey released in fall 2005. Among ages 15-17 in the new study, 58% of girls and 53% of boys said they have had no sexual contact, compared to 48.6% of girls and 46.1% of boys in 2002. For ages 20-24, 12% of women and 13% of men said they have never had sexual contact, compared with 8% for both sexes in 2002. Experts say it appears “that there is a trend toward postponement” of sexual activity.

America’s Ten Dirtiest Cities

Philadelphia, a U.S. capital during the Revolutionary War, is often known as the City of Brotherly Love. Yet it gets another, much less flattering moniker in a new scorecard of U.S. cities — the “capital of toxicity.” The Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metro area, which includes parts of four states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland) ranks No. 1 on Forbes’ 2011 Most Toxic Cities list. The reason? It has more than 50 Superfund sites, which are unused areas containing hazardous wastes. Yet it wasn’t just old cities that topped the list. Four of the 10 worst are California metropolitan areas with chronic smog problems. They include Bakersfield (No. 2), Fresno (No. 3), Los Angeles (No. 6) and Riverside-San Bernardino (No. 10.) The other top scorers include the metro areas of New York (No. 4), Baton Rouge (No. 5), Houston (No. 7), St. Louis, Mo. (No. 8.) and Salt Lake City (No. 9.)

Wisconsin State Workers Brace for Layoffs

Thousands of Wisconsin state workers were bracing for layoff notices Friday as Republican Gov. Scott Walker and absent Democrats remained in a standoff over a budget balancing bill that would also strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights. Walker said he would issue 1,500 layoff notices Friday if at least one of the 14 Senate Democrats doesn’t return from Illinois to give the Republican majority the quorum it needs to vote. Senate Republicans voted Thursday to hold the missing Democrats in contempt and force police to bring them back to the Capitol. The legislation has led to nearly three weeks of protests — some attended by tens of thousands of union supporters — in and around the state Capitol, which was completely cleared of demonstrators late Thursday for the first time in 17 nights after a judge ordered the building closed during non-business hours.

Americans Favor Government Shut Down Over Continued Spending

There’s a major disconnect between the “political class” in Washington and American voters overall on how to face the budget debate and the wider issue of the growing U.S. debt, a new poll by Rasmussen Reports revealed Thursday. The survey shows 58 percent of Americans would rather see a partial government shutdown than keep spending at 2010 levels. Only 33 percent would prefer to keep spending at current levels. Democrats would prefer to avoid a shutdown by 58 percent, but 80 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of independents say a shutdown is a better option. The issue arises because Congress has not yet passed a budget for 2011, instead authorizing spending for a few months or weeks at a time. That authorization is about to expire.

Economic News

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.9% as the U.S. economy added 192,000 non-farm jobs in February, the U.S. Labor Department reports. It is the first time since April 2009 that the jobless rate has fallen below 9%.The Labor Department says private-sector employers add 222,000 job. That was offset by the loss of 30,000 government jobs, mainly at the state level.

The number of Americans requesting unemployment benefits for the first time plunged last week to a nearly three-year low. Applications for unemployment benefits fell 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 368,000 the week ended Feb. 26. The four-week average for applications, a less volatile figure, fell last week to 388,500. That’s the lowest since July 2008. Economists say applications that remain consistently below 375,000 tend to signal declines in the unemployment rate. Applications for benefits peaked during the recession at 651,000.

High crude oil prices continue to drive retail gasoline prices higher. Pump prices jumped another 4 cents Friday to a new national average of $3.47 per gallon, according to AAA. Gasoline has climbed more than 33 cents a gallon since the uprising in Libya began in mid-February, costing Americans an extra $108 million a day to buy the same amount of fuel.

As angry populations roil one Middle Eastern regime after another, and discontent over escalating food prices and lagging living standards is heard elsewhere in the developing world, investors are moving staggering piles of cash out of emerging markets. They are putting their money back into what they hope are the relatively stable havens of the U.S., Europe and Japan. Strenuous efforts by Europe to contain its debts, the ability of Japan’s crucial export sector to weather a strengthening yen and strong corporate earnings in the U.S. have played a big part in convincing investors that the outlook is pretty promising for advanced economies in 2011. Not so for developing countries.

Middle East

Rulers of countries such as Bahrain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have pledged incentives such as lower food prices and increased wages or offered cash payments to help insulate their ruling families from the protests sweeping through the region. Some of the offers have worked, analysts say. Jordan’s King Abdullah II ordered a $230 million package last month to reduce prices of food commodities and create jobs as Egypt’s protests gained steam, effectively quelling protests there. Others haven’t: Bahrain’s monarchy offered the equivalent of $2,650 to be paid to each family last month. A few days later, thousands of protesters took to the streets anyway. And Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s offer of $400 to each citizen didn’t stop anti-government forces from taking over eastern parts of the country and continuing to threaten to topple his regime. Ruling monarchies, particularly in oil-rich Arab Gulf states, have compensated citizens as a way to quiet dissent for decades. Citizens in countries such as Saudi Arabia are compensated from cradle to grave, receiving free health care, housing and education throughout their lives and are never taxed.

Libya

Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi fired tear gas at protesters who marched in Tripoli on Friday, calling for the Libyan leader’s ouster in defiance of a fierce crackdown by regime supporters that has spread fear in the capital. More than 1,500 protesters marched out of the Murad Agha mosque after noon prayers in the eastern Tripoli district of Tajoura, chanting “the people want to bring the regime down.” The protesters transformed a nearby square, tearing down posters of the Libyan leader. But soon after the march began, security forces fired tear gas at the crowd. Then security forces fired live ammunition, scattering the protesters again.

Mutinous army units in pickups armed with machine-guns and rocket launchers deployed around the strategic oil installation at Brega Thursday, a day after the opposition foiled an attempt by loyalists of Moammar Gadhafi to retake the port in rebel-held east Libya. Government warplanes launched a new airstrike on the town Thursday morning. Wednesday’s attack on Brega, some 460 miles (740 kilometers) east of Gadhafi’s stronghold in the capital Tripoli, marked the regime’s first counteroffensive on the eastern half of the country, which fell quickly under opposition control after the revolt began on Feb. 15.

Tunisia

Tunisia’s interim president said Thursday the country will vote July 24 to elect a constitutional assembly tasked with writing the country’s new constitution. Caretaker president Fouad Mebazaa called for the vote during a nationally broadcast address in which he said the new constitution “must be a mirror of the peoples’ aspirations and the principles of the revolution.” Mebazaa said prior to the vote a group made up of national personalities, representatives of political parties and other civil society figures will write a new electoral code. The new code will be ready by the end of March, he said.

More than 140,000 people have crossed the border into Tunisia to flee the violence in Libya, and thousands more arrive daily, according to the United Nations. Most are young Arab men from countries neighboring Libya who worked in its factories and oil fields. United Nations experts warned that fast action is needed to protect and feed them before the exodus turns into a humanitarian emergency. The Egyptian military announced it has sent two ships to Tunisia to bring back stranded Egyptians and another Egyptian military transport ship was already there. Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Abdel-Hakam said more than 103,000 Egyptians have returned home from Libya either through the airports or by land since the uprising and an additional 20,000 foreigners have fled directly to Egypt from Libya.

Bahrain

Bahrain’s security forces are on high alert after sectarian clashes between Sunnis and the majority Shiites leading anti-government protests in the Gulf nation. Police patrols have been stepped up Friday in the capital, Manana, before a planned march by opposition groups demanding the Sunni monarchy dismiss the Cabinet and relinquish many powers. Nearly three weeks of protests and unrest has gripped the tiny island nation — home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Tensions are higher after a street battle late Thursday between Sunnis and Shiites.

China

Chinese human rights activists have been disappearing ever since a call went out last month on the Internet for a “Jasmine Revolution” similar to the uprisings against authoritarian regimes in the Middle EastChinese human rights activists have been disappearing ever since a call went out last month on the Internet for a “Jasmine Revolution” similar to the uprisings against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. Three human rights lawyers have disappeared into China’s labyrinthine security system in the past two weeks. More than 100 other people have had their movements restricted, and six activists face subversion charges, possibly for posting information online about the “Jasmine Rallies.” Several foreign journalists were warned by Chinese police this week that they risk having their visas revoked if they continue to report on the Jasmine Rallies.

Germany

The attack on a busload of U.S. Air Force troops at Frankfurt airport that killed two is being investigated as a possible act of Islamic terrorism, German federal prosecutors said Thursday. Two airmen were also wounded late Wednesday when a man identified as a 21-year-old ethnic Albanian from Kosovo fired on the servicemen at close range. His family said the young man worked at Frankfurt airport and was a devout Muslim.

Sudan

Officials in Southern Sudan say that women and children have fled en masse from Abyei, a disputed flashpoint town between north and south Sudan, after fighting killed more than 100 people. Abyei has long been seen as the major sticking point between the north and south, which voted to secede in January and is on course to become the world’s newest country in July. Abyei had been promised a separate self-determination vote, but its future is now being negotiated.

Nigeria

A bomb exploded near a Nigerian ruling-party rally for a northern governor, killing three people and wounding 21 others as a decisive April election looms for the oil-rich nation. Attackers threw the explosive from a speeding vehicle as it passed the rally on Thursday in Niger state. A statement later issued on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan claimed one person was in police custody Thursday night.

Weather

Torrential rain could lead to dangerous flooding in the south-central and northeastern USA this weekend. Severe storms could also spark tornadoes in the Plains and Deep South on Friday and Saturday. A powerful storm is forecast to “explode” over the Midwest on Friday. Some spots could pick up about 5 inches of rain.

The National Park Service on Thursday predicted an early bloom for Washington’s cherry blossoms, with warm temperatures already speeding the buds toward full bloom in late March. The average peak bloom date is April 4, according to the Park Service, so the first blossoms will come early this year.