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Tornadoes ripped through six states Wednesday through Thursday, killing at least 297 people — 210 in Alabama alone — in the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in almost 40 years. Entire communities were flattened, with city blocks reduced to splinters. There were 33 deaths in Mississippi, 33 in Tennessee, 15 in Georgia, five in Virginia and one in Kentucky. The tornadoes injured thousands of people — 800 alone in Tuscaloosa, Ala., home of the University of Alabama. As many as 1 million homes and businesses in Alabama were without power. President Obama, who visits Alabama today, said Thursday the damage in six Southeast states is “nothing short of catastrophic.”
Several twisters that hit Wednesday were monsters more than a mile wide, stayed on the ground for tens of miles and packed winds of more than 200 mph. The loss of life is the greatest from a single day of tornadoes in the USA since April 1974, when 329 people died. The number of tornadoes in April, well over 300 and still counting, set an all-time record by a large margin.
Nationally, 51 river gauges are recording water levels at a “major” flood stage, according to the weather service, mostly in the Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley and along the Red River of the North between the Dakotas and Minnesota. An additional 277 gauges are recording moderate or minor flooding. The impact of the flooding has been widespread, not just from damaged property, but also delayed plantings by farmers and disruptions to the rhythms of life for families and kids who are scheduled with lots of youth sports games in spring.
So far this year, wildfires have consumed 2,380,885 acres of land (almost 4,000 square miles), almost three times the average for the past ten years. Most of the damage has been in west Texas where sixteen large wildfires are still active and have destroyed 343 structures. Three wildfires in New Mexico have burned about 81,000 acres, but only one structure. These areas are experiencing extreme drought conditions.
With increased earthquake activity around the world, almost 3 million Americans are expected to participate Thursday in the USA’s first multistate earthquake drill. At 10:15 a.m. CDT, they are supposed to drop to their knees, cover their heads and necks and hold on to a sturdy object for two minutes to practice the appropriate reaction to a quake. The Great Central U.S. ShakeOut comes two centuries after devastating earthquakes around Memphis and southeast Missouri and is particularly relevant in the wake of the deadly March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, says Craig Fugate, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator. Participants in Thursday’s drill include businesses, schools and residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee. Indiana conducted its drill April 19. They are modeled on California’s annual ShakeOut, which began in 2008.
- Extreme weather, earthquakes and wildfires will continue to increase and intensify as the end-times roll forward toward the Great Tribulation to come
States Take Up Fight to Defund Planned Parenthood
After Republican efforts in Washington to defund Planned Parenthood fizzled this month, several states are now in a race to become the first to strip the organization of all taxpayer money. Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Texas are among the states who are taking up the fight that the GOP-led House couldn’t finish in the budget compromise. And unlike Washington, where Democrats still control two thirds of government, Republicans are flexing their muscles in states where they made historic gains in legislatures and governors’ mansions in last fall’s midterm elections. With their new power, Republicans have escalated their fight against abortion and its providers — particularly Planned Parenthood — alarming abortion-rights supporters.
- Not only is this good news for the pro-life cause, but increased state actions on many fronts (e.g. unions) begins a return to constitutional balance between states’ rights and limited federal powers
Illegal to Read Bible in Public?
An assistant pastor and two leaders from Calvary Chapel of Hemet were recently at a regional DMV office before it opened, when Mark Mackey began reading from the Bible aloud. A security guard confronted him and told him to stop. Ten minutes later, a highway patrol officer arrived, snatched the Bible from Mackey’s grasp and arrested him. Rather than giving an answer when the two men with Mackey asked what law had been broken, the officer inquired if they were also preaching. Shortly after, another officer arrested them both. Advocates for Faith and Freedom attorney Robert Tyler says the arrests were a direct violation of the First Amendment and an abuse of law enforcement’s power.
- The unwritten law of secular humanism is that all things Christian must be banned, censored and eliminated in this new age of “tolerance” – a major goal of the New World Order. However, in its singular focus on Christianity, it unwittingly confirms that Christianity is the One True Religion.
Obama Ignores Easter
President Barack Obama found time to prepare an eight paragraph proclamation for Earth Day last Friday, but found zero time to issue a proclamation for Easter, the highest and holiest day of the year for Christians. While waxing eloquent about the necessity of preserving our nation’s “natural heritage,” he had not a word for the millions of Christians celebrating Easter in America and around the world. The American Family Association believes this was an intentional act of disrespect. “This is consistent with other egregious examples of disregard for our Christian heritage on the president’s part, such as omitting “Creator” from the Declaration of Independence, which he has done on at least three occasions. The president has been devoted to issuing statements marking all major Muslim holidays, which are of no historical significance to the United States whatsoever. He has released statements in honor of Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha, holidays which most Americans cannot pronounce and certainly do not celebrate.”
Questions Still Abound About Obama’s Recently Released Birth Certificate
President Obama said today he released new copies of his Hawaii birth certificate Wednesday because the flap over his birthplace threatens to overshadow the “enormous challenges” facing the nation. The White House is planning to post Obama’s birth records on the Internet. Obama faxed a letter to the Hawaii Department of Health on April 22, requesting two copies “of my original certificate of live birth — namely, the so-called “long form” that includes a second page. The Obama campaign had only posted the “short form” on the Internet back in 2008. The Hawaii health department replied that it would make an exception for Obama and make two certified copies from their bound volume of birth records; normally the department would generate computer copies. Donald Trump, who had consistently called on Obama to release his full birth certificate, said he is “honored to play such a big role in hopefully getting rid of this issue.
The question is whether the Obama birth record the White House released Wednesday is an authentic photocopy of an original 1961 vital record or a modern-day forgery. The Rosetta Stone for determining the authenticity of the Obama birth document is the long-form birth certificates for the Nordyke twins, which WorldNetDaily discovered and authenticated in July 2009. A side-by-side comparison of the Nordyke twins’ birth certificates with the Obama birth certificate the White House released yesterday reveals many differences, some with regard to content, others to format. The long-form birth certificates to the Nordyke twins have certificate numbers lower than the number given Obama, even though the president purportedly was born at the same hospital a day earlier than the Nordykes leading some to claim that Obama’s form is a forgery.
Obama’s New Team Blurs Lines Between Defense, Intelligence
President Obama welcomed a new team of warriors, spies and diplomats Thursday to the “urgent challenges” of defending America’s interests on multiple fronts overseas despite dwindling resources and a crushing national debt. The appearance of current and future Pentagon, CIA and Afghanistan war leaders — pending Senate confirmations — was emblematic of the increasingly blurred lines between Obama’s defense and intelligence communities. There was retiring Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a former CIA director, laughing alongside CIA Director Leon Panetta, Obama’s choice to replace Gates on July 1. Beside them stood Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, Obama’s choice for CIA director. Obama’s selections, contemplated at the White House for months, won bipartisan support amid indications the Democratic-controlled Senate will confirm all four nominees. This move further enhances the militarization of the CIA, whose teams already operate alongside U.S. special operations forces in conflict zones from Afghanistan to Yemen. The agency has also built up a substantial paramilitary capability of its own. But perhaps most significantly, the agency is in the midst of what amounts to a sustained bombing campaign over Pakistan using unmanned Predator and Reaper drones.
- Not only do the roles of the CIA and military become further blurred, but the increasing and overlapping redundancy in Intelligence operations will only decrease efficiency and effectiveness from already poor levels
Americans Depend More on federal Aid than Ever Before
Americans depended more on government assistance in 2010 than at any other time in the nation’s history, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data finds. The trend shows few signs of easing, even though the economic recovery is nearly 2 years old. A record 18.3% of the nation’s total personal income was a payment from the government for Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment benefits and other programs in 2010. Wages accounted for the lowest share of income — 51.0% — since the government began keeping track in 1929. From 1980 to 2000, government aid was roughly constant at 12.5%. The sharp increase since then — especially since the start of 2008 — reflects several changes: the expansion of health care and federal programs generally, the aging population and lingering economic problems. Americans got an average of $7,427 in benefits each in 2010, up from an inflation-adjusted $4,763 in 2000 and $3,686 in 1990. The federal government pays about 90% of the benefits.
- The entitlement attitude is killing our economy. Most people seem to think that government should meet their every need and we have too many politicians eager to trade such assistance for votes. We need to close the spigots now before we drown in debt.
Air in U.S. Metro Areas Getting Cleaner
Most U.S. cities with the dirtiest air are getting cleaner, but about half of Americans still live in areas where it’s often difficult to breathe, the American Lung Association reported Wednesday. “We’re very pleased to report great progress,” American Lung Association President Charles Connor said in announcing the findings. Yet he cautioned, “Air pollution remains a very real health threat.” All 25 cities with the worst ozone pollution improved their air quality between 2008 and 2009. All but two with the most year-round particle pollution also improved, but only 12 of the 28 with the worst short-term levels had fewer unhealthy days. Honolulu and Santa Fe ranked as the two cities with the cleanest air overall. The Los Angeles metro area remains the smoggiest, although it’s improved significantly in the last decade. Bakersfield, Calif., has the worst particle pollution, both on a daily and annual level. The air over Phoenix is no longer the most-polluted in the nation – but it’s still second worst.
In addition, EPA’s 2009 data, released last week, shows total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — primarily carbon dioxide — fell 6.1% from 2008, the largest decline in at least five years. The agency, which began a multiyear plan to regulate these emissions in January, attributed the drop to less polluting fuels and lower energy consumption because of the recession.
Women Surpass Men in Bachelor, Advanced Degrees
The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that for the first time, more working American women have bachelor and advanced degrees than their male co-workers. Census figures released today show that as of last year for workers ages 25 and older, 37% of women had a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with 35% of men. As they moved from the home and into the workforce, women began surpassing men in college enrollment in the 1980s, the Associated Press notes. Overall, 30% of adults 25 and older, or 60 million people, had at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s an increase of 4 percentage points from 2000. In addition, 87% of adults 25 and older had at least a high school diploma or equivalent, up from 84% in 2000.
Obama/GOP Wrangle over Oil Subsidies
One day after Republican House Speaker John Boehner suggested that Congress “ought to take a look at” long-standing tax breaks for oil companies, President Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to immediately repeal an estimated $4 billion a year in “unwarranted” breaks for the profitable industry. Boehner felt differently Tuesday, joining other GOP leaders and oil industry officials in denouncing the idea. Oil companies have staved off efforts to end their subsidies for years. The issue has gained political currency recently with budget watchdog groups and even the president’s own bipartisan fiscal commission arguing for reforms to the tax code to boost revenues. An investigation into possible manipulation of gasoline prices has uncovered “disturbing” revelations, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday, declining to elaborate. He indicated the information would be reviewed by a fraud task force formed last week.
Americans earned and spent more in March, but much of the extra money went toward more expensive gasoline. Personal incomes rose 0.5% last month and consumer spending increased 0.6%, the Commerce Department reported Friday. But after adjusting for inflation, spending rose a much more subdued 0.2% and after-tax incomes were essentially flat. Americans are paying more for gas, prompting economists to scale back their growth forecasts.
ExxonMobil earned nearly $11 billion in the first quarter, a performance that will likely land it in the center of the national debate over high gasoline prices. The world’s largest publicly traded company on Thursday reported net income of $10.65 billion, for the first three months of the year. That compares with $6.3 billion a year earlier. Revenue increased 26% to $114 billion largely due to increased gas prices which reached a national average of $3.91 Friday morning.
The economy slowed sharply in the first three months of the year, and more people sought unemployment benefits last week, the second rise in three weeks. The Commerce Department said Thursday that the gross domestic product, the broadest indicator of the economy, grew at a 1.8% annual rate in the January-March quarter. That was weaker than the 3.1% growth rate for the October-December quarter and the worst showing since last spring. In another report, the Labor Department said that new claims for unemployment benefits jumped 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 429,000 for the week ending April 23. That’s the highest total since late January.
Americans’ concerns about jobs and inflation eased somewhat in April, pushing the Consumer Confidence Index higher. The increase comes after an unexpected drop in March. But the measure had risen for five consecutive months before that and hit a three-year high in February. The Conference Board said Tuesday the index rose to 65.4 from 63.8 in March. The index is still far from the reading of 90 that indicates a healthy economy.
Home prices are still falling in most major U.S. cities, and at least 10 major markets are at their lowest point since the housing bubble burst. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city index shows price declines in 19 cities from January to February. The index fell for the seventh straight month. A record number of foreclosures are forcing down home prices in most metro areas, and prices are expected to keep falling through this year. U.S. home prices dropped in February, and further declines are expected. The median price of homes sold in February was down 3.3% from a year earlier and down 1.1% from January. Home prices in the 20 large cities have now fallen almost 33% from their peak at the height of the housing boom.
Businesses increased their orders for heavy machinery, computers, autos and steel in March, boosting demand for long-lasting manufactured goods for a third straight month. Orders for durable goods rose 2.5% in March, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. That’s up from 0.7% increase the previous month. Orders for durable goods totaled $208.4 billion in March, 29.8% above the recession low hit in March 2009. Durable goods are products that are expected to last at least three years.
Consumers continue to spend billions on overdraft fees, despite a Federal Reserve regulation that requires banks to obtain customers’ permission before signing them up for overdraft-protection programs, consumer advocates say. Consumers will spend an estimated $38.5 billion in overdraft penalty fees in 2011, up from $18.6 billion in 2000. Part of the problem is that most banks fail to adequately disclose the cost of different overdraft options. Banks have used high-pressure and misleading sales tactics to persuade consumers to sign up for their overdraft-protection programs, the Center for Responsible Lending said Tuesday.
In a striking cultural signal of just how differently consumers are eating, Starbucks has leaped ahead of Burger King and Wendy’s to become the nation’s third-largest chain restaurant in domestic sales. Starbucks now ranks behind only No. 1 McDonald’s and runner-up Subway,
Angry protested and demanded compensation for products contaminated by radiation spewing from Japan’s crippled nuclear plant. The 200 farmers from northeastern Japan wore green bandanas, held aloft cabbages they said they couldn’t sell and carried signs saying “Stop nuclear energy” outside the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant damaged in the March 11 tsunami. Radiation leaking from Fukushima Dai-ichi plant — about 140 miles north of Tokyo — has been found in milk, water and vegetables such as spinach from around the plant. Authorities have banned the sale of raw milk from some towns near the plant, as well as spinach, cabbage, broccoli and several other leafy vegetables from throughout Fukushima prefecture, though most restrictions in nearby prefectures have been lifted.
The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, announced Wednesday that they were putting aside years of bitter rivalry to create an interim unity government and hold elections within a year, a surprise move that promised to reshape the diplomatic landscape of the Middle East. The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, announced Wednesday that they were putting aside years of bitter rivalry to create an interim unity government and hold elections within a year, a surprise move that promised to reshape the diplomatic landscape of the Middle East. The deal, brokered in secret talks by the caretaker Egyptian government was declared to be a new chapter in the Palestinian struggle for independence, hobbled in recent years by the split between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza. It was the first tangible sign that the upheaval across the Arab world, especially the Egyptian revolution, was having an impact on the Palestinians, who have been losing faith in American-sponsored peace negotiations with Israel and seem now to be turning more to fellow Arabs.
- While “democracy” might seem to be infecting Muslim countries, they are growing more unified in their goal of eliminating Israel
Moammar Gadhafi has suffered military setbacks in recent days in western Libya, a sign that his grip may be slipping in the very region he needs to cling to power. His loyalists were driven out of the city of Misrata, a key rebel stronghold in Gadhafi-controlled territory. A NATO airstrike turned parts of his Tripoli headquarters into smoldering rubble. And rebel fighters seized a border crossing, breaking open a supply line to besieged rebel towns in a remote western mountain area. President Obama on Tuesday authorized $25 million in non-lethal assistance to the Libyan opposition — the first direct U.S. aid to the rebels after weeks of assessing their capabilities and intentions. This falls short of providing military aid and weapons to the rebels, which some U.S. lawmakers have urged, most notably Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Yemen’s political opposition accepted a deal Tuesday that would see President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down in 30 days, bringing to an end the country’s three-month-long crisis. The long-term success of the agreement remained in doubt as anti-government activists vowed to intensify demonstrations. Mohammed Salem Basendwah, chairman of the six-party coalition of opposition — the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) — confirmed their acceptance of the deal three days after Saleh pledged his agreement to the proposal that would grant him immunity from prosecution. It was brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Basendwah said the deal had not been accepted unconditionally and remained cautious.
Al-Jazeera reports that at least four people have been killed Friday after Syrian security forces fired on demonstrators in the coastal city of Latakia.. Syria’s state-run television says “armed terrorists” have attacked a military post in the southern city of Daraa, killing four soldiers and capturing two. The report comes as thousands of Syrians took to the streets across the country Friday — including the capital of Damascus — in demonstrations against the regime of President Bashar Assad. Syrian forces heaped more punishment this past week on the residents of restive towns, detaining hundreds in raids or at checkpoints, firing on people trying to retrieve the bodies of anti-government protesters and even shooting holes in rooftop water tanks in a region parched by drought. The crackdown by President Assad has intensified since last , when more than 100 people were killed. Security forces also conducted raids in the Damascus suburb of Douma and the northern coastal town of Jableh. Western powers convened a special session of the U.N.’s top human rights body Friday to investigate possible abuses in Syria,and condemn the deaths of more than 450 people in protests.
Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera announced on Thursday that it was suspending some operations in Syria after members of its staff were attacked while covering anti-government demonstrations. The Arabic language network, whose coverage has helped define the “Arab Spring” uprisings to the world, is one of the few networks still operating in Syria. But network officials complained that authorities in Syria have tried to use their journalists to tell their side of the story while attempting to force them to ignore protesters and even threatening them with violence if they did not cooperate.
Egypt is charting a new course in its foreign policy that has already begun shaking up the established order in the Middle East, planning to open the blockaded border with Gaza and normalizing relations with two of Israel and the West’s Islamist foes, Hamas and Iran. Egyptian officials, emboldened by the revolution and with an eye on coming elections, say that they are moving toward policies that more accurately reflect public opinion. In the process they are seeking to reclaim the influence over the region that waned as their country became a predictable ally of Washington and the Israelis in the years since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The first major display of this new tack was the deal Egypt brokered Wednesday to reconcile the secular Palestinian party Fatah with its rival Hamas.
A U.S. government agency’s annual report on violations of religious rights added Egypt on Thursday to the list of the world’s 14 worst violators. The situation there for religious minorities, especially Coptic Christians, has deteriorated markedly, even since former President Hosni Mubarak resigned in February, the report said. The others on the list of “countries of particular concern” are repeats from last year: Myanmar, also known as Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Eight NATO service members and a contractor are dead after an Afghan military pilot opened fire on the foreign troops following a dispute at the airport in Kabul. Wednesday’s shooting was the deadliest incident in which a member of the Afghan security forces turned against coalition forces. The worst incident before that occurred on April 16 when an Afghan soldier walked into a meeting of NATO trainers and Afghan troops and detonated a vest of explosives hidden underneath his uniform. Six NATO troops, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter were killed in that incident. About half of recent attacks by Afghan security forces against their U.S. comrades were due to combat stress or personal disagreements and the rest were Taliban infiltration plots, according to a military review.
The massive security breach that allowed the Taliban to spirit more than 480 Afghan inmates out southern Afghanistan’s largest prison must have involved inside collaborators, the Justice Ministry said Tuesday, as security forces worked to recapture the escaped convicts. The Taliban said the prison break was five months in the making, with diggers starting the tunnel from under a nearby house while they arranged for inmates to get keys so that they could open their cells on the night of the escape. Seventy-one escapees have been recaptured.
A roadside bomb hit a bus taking Pakistani navy employees to work in Karachi on Thursday, killing five people in the third such attack this week and just days after the army chief claimed to have “broken the backbone” of militants. The series of attacks in the country’s largest city and economic heart show the determination and reach of al-Qaeda-linked extremist networks despite American-backed Pakistani army offensives against their main bases in the northwest close to the Afghan border.
Iran has sharply stepped up its use of public executions, hanging 13 men this year, nearly as many as in all of 2010, in an attempt to intimidate its citizens, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. Eight of the hangings have taken place since mid-April, including two juveniles convicted for a rape and murder committed when they were 17, the human rights group said. ‘It is deeply disturbing that despite a moratorium on public executions ordered in 2008, the Iranian authorities are once again seeking to intimidate people by such spectacles which not only dehumanize the victim, but brutalize those who witness it,’ said Amnesty official Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. Iran executed at least 252 people last year, 14 in public, Amnesty said. Human rights groups often criticize Iran, saying the Islamic republic has one of the highest execution rates in the world.
U.S. officials brought multiple questions to human rights talks this week in China, where the worst crackdown on dissent in years has seen scores of people detained in recent months. They’ll leave with precious few answers. “Our disagreements are profound,” Michael Posner, assistant secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said at the close of the two-day U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue on Thursday. The lack of results this week, in talks that mark the 16th round of the human rights dialogue since 1990, leaves some analysts questioning whether such exchanges should continue. China’s state-run media insist the nation is making significant progress, and they reject U.S. criticism.
Christian Newswire reports that at least 10 house church pastors who were involved in the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism have been criminally detained in China. On April 16, ten house church pastors from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia were criminally detained by the Hohhot Public Security Bureau’s Domestic Security Department and the Criminal Police Brigade on “suspicion of fraud” for their involvement in the October 2010 Lausanne Congress, according to ChinaAid sources. Criminal detention is the first step of the legal process that leads to a trial, conviction and sentencing to a jail term. House church leaders in another Inner Mongolian city, Ordos, have also been criminally detained in relation to the Lausanne congress. Hohhot police noted a “suspicion of fraud” charge, saying it stemmed from “persons not recognized by the government as clergy engaged in fund-raising activities.” In fact, the pastors applied for a travel stipend from Congress organizers and participated in fund-raising efforts for pastors in other countries as well.
China’s population is aging rapidly, the government said Thursday, though its leaders are refusing to relax strict family planning controls that are part of the cause. The results of a national census conducted late last year show the proportion of elderly people in the country of 1.34 billion jumped, while that of young people plunged sharply. China’s rapid aging has fueled worries over how long the country will be able to sustain its high economic growth, as fewer young people are available to work in factories and build the roads that transformed it into the world’s second biggest economy after the United States.
Security forces have unearthed six more bodies in a northeastern Mexican border state where a drug gang is believed to be kidnapping passengers from buses and hiding their victims in secret graves, authorities said Tuesday. A total of 183 bodies have been discovered in a month. The horrific discoveries have intensified criticism that lawlessness reigns in Tamaulipas state, where the Zetas drug gang has terrorized migrants trying to make their way north to the United States. It is the same region where authorities say the Zetas killed 72 Central American migrants in August.