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.

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