Spaniards Flee From a Series of Earthquakes

Thousands of Spaniards were stunned by the country’s deadliest earthquakes in 55 years and fled Lorca, a small agricultural city, fearing aftershocks might level it after a pair of moderate temblors killed nine people and caused extensive damage Wednesday. Lorca has a population of about 90,000 but was transformed into a ghost town. tens of thousands slept outside in makeshift camps, and many of those who remained were poor Latin American immigrants who work the fields and had nowhere else to go. Spain’s government promised to set up a shelter to house 3,500 people. One child died and thirty people remained hospitalized Thursday a day after the quakes. Only a few buildings were destroyed, but the quakes with magnitudes of 4.4 and 5.2 reported by Spain’s geological institute sent brick building facades and parts of terraces plunging into the streets and caused damage to hundreds of apartment buildings.

Indiana Cuts Off Funds for Planned Parenthood

A federal judge today denied Planned Parenthood of Indiana’s request that she order the state to hold off on enforcing a new law cutting funds to the health care provider.Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill Tuesday that would end the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood. Supporters of the bill, HB1210, say they do not want their tax dollars going to an organization that provides abortions. The bill also moves the deadline for women to receive abortions down to 20 weeks and mandates that doctors tell patients that abortion has been linked to infertility. The bill would cut off about $2 million of the $3 million Planned Parenthood receives annually in government funds and make Indiana the first state to prohibit the use of Medicaid at Planned Parenthood.

Presbyterians Clear the Way for Ordaining Gays, Lesbians

Non-celibate gays and lesbians will become eligible for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) following ratification of a constitutional amendment that reverses decades of official policy. The long-debated change came late Tuesday when a Minnesota presbytery, or regional governing body, voted 205-56 to ratify an amendment lifting an effective ban on gay ordination in the church constitution. That vote by the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area brought to 87 the number of presbyteries approving the change for the Protestant denomination based in Louisville, Ky. — the majority needed to amend the constitution.

  • Another step down the slippery slope of end-time immorality and lawlessness

Governor Signs Delaware Civil Unions Bill

Gov. Jack Markell signed Delaware’s civil unions bill into law Thursday morning. Lawmakers passed the bill in both chambers by margins of almost 2-to-1. Effective Jan. 1, the law will provide legal protections and benefits for same-sex couples who solemnize their relationships. With the signing, Delaware becomes the eighth state to grant comprehensive same-sex relationship rights — either through same-sex marriage laws, civil unions or domestic partnerships. The law does not change federal law, which restricts marriage benefits to opposite-sex couples.

  • Legal, but still immoral

Judge Halts Enforcement of Utah’s New Immigration Checks

A federal judge has halted enforcement of Utah’s new immigration law, citing its similarity to Arizona’s. U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups issued the temporary restraining order who said that the state’s lawyer did not successfully rebut the plaintiff’s argument that there would be “irreparable harm” to people if the law remained in effect, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Both sides will be back in court July 14 to argue the case.

Obama Proposes New Immigration Plan

President Obama laid out a plan in El Paso on Tuesday that would continue to strengthen security along the southwest border, make it harder for businesses to hire illegal immigrants and overhaul the nation’s visa system to attract better-educated foreigners to study and work in the United States. Critics pounced on one aspect of the president’s first push to overhaul the nation’s immigration system: a path for legalization for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. Obama’s plan would require illegal immigrants to register with the government, undergo criminal background checks, pay back taxes and fines, learn English and get in line behind people who have already applied to enter the country. Then, they would be eligible to become legal permanent residents in eight years, and full U.S. citizens five years later. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, responded by calling the plan an “amnesty” and said more needed to be done to secure the border.

House to Vote on Lifting Offshore Oil Moratorium

With almost 98 percent of America’s offshore oil off-limits to drilling, and sustained gas prices nearing $4 a gallon, congressional Republicans say only one thing is keeping America from tapping into its offshore resources — President Obama. On Wednesday, Congress will consider a bill to void that. The House is expected to pass H.R. 1231, a bill titled, “Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act”. The bill would require the administration to allow drilling in at least 50 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf areas known to contain the most oil and gas. Specifically, that means southern California, the Arctic, mid-Atlantic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico. It would also open up other areas in the southern Atlantic and allow governors there to to opt in to the plan if they chose.

Brain Drain in Silicon Valley

The nation is experiencing a brain drain. Silicon Valley may be the cradle for tech start-ups, but some foreign-born executives, engineers and scientists are leaving because of better opportunities back home, strict immigration laws here and California’s steep cost of living. President Obama highlighted the quandary in a speech Tuesday in El Paso. He pointed out that immigration reform is essential and that Intel, Google, Yahoo and eBay were all founded by immigrants. There are no hard data available, but authorities agree the number of foreign-born workers returning to India and China annually is in the tens of thousands. India is now flush with Internet service companies vying to become the country’s version of Amazon.com, Groupon or Expedia. American-educated and trained Chinese are returning home and playing a key role in helping major R&D innovation.

Squeezed Cities Ask Nonprofits for More Money

As recession-racked cities struggle to balance their budgets, a growing number are seeking more money — just don’t use the word taxes — from nonprofit institutions that occupy valuable land but by law do not pay property taxes. Boston has been sending letters to its largest nonprofit institutions this year, telling them the value of their land and asking them to begin making annual payments that would eventually rise to a quarter of what they would owe if they paid property taxes. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel of Chicago wants the city to begin charging water fees to nonprofits, which have been spared them in the past. And the mayor of Providence, R.I., Angel Taveras, cited Boston’s example this month when he called on nonprofits to pay more money to the city.

Economic News

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week, reversing nearly all the sharp rise reported the previous week. The number of new workers seeking unemployment benefits dropped 44,000 to a seasonally adjusted 434,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The drop suggests that the increase of 47,000 reported last week was mostly due to temporary factors. Still, the latest applications figure is far above the 375,000 level typically consistent with sustainable job growth.

Job openings rose by 99,000 to 3.1 million in March, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That’s the highest level of openings since September 2008 and the second straight monthly increase. But it is still significantly below the 4.4 million openings recorded in December 2007, when the recession began.

Sales at U.S. retailers rose in April, reflecting gains at service stations and grocery stores as fuel and food prices climbed. The 0.5 percent increase was the smallest since July and followed a 0.9 percent March gain. Mounting bills for gasoline and groceries are leaving Americans with less money for other purchases.

Oil prices continued falling Thursday, dropping below $96 a barrel on expectations that global oil demand growth will slow this year, particularly in the U.S. The Paris-based International Energy Agency said world demand for oil would be less than previously expected due to persistently high prices and lower expectations of economic growth in advanced economies. The national average gasoline price remained at $3.99 Thursday.

U.S. companies sold a record amount of goods and services overseas in March, but a big jump in oil imports pushed the nation’s trade deficit higher. The Commerce Department says the trade deficit rose 6% to $48.2 billion. despite exports increasing to a record $172.7 billion. oil imports soar d to $39.3 billion, an 18% rise from the previous month. The trade deficit with China decreased slightly to $18.1 billion.

Global insurance company American International Group and the federal government are offering to sell a total of 300 million AIG shares to the public. The stock sale would be a big step by the government to disentangle itself from AIG after spending billions of dollars on its rescue of the New York insurance company at the height of the financial crisis. AIG paid the Treasury Department nearly $7 billion in March to trim its outstanding balance to just under $60 billion of the $182 billion government bailout it received in 2008.

General Motors announced Tuesday that it will spend more than $2 billion on plant updates and expansion in eight states, creating 4,200 jobs. Most of the jobs will be on the plant floor, but some white-collar jobs are part of the plans.

Microsoft has agreed to buy the popular Internet telephone service Skype for $8.5 billion in the biggest deal in the software maker’s 36-year history. Buying Skype would give Microsoft a potentially valuable communications tool as it tries to make a bigger splash on the Internet and become a bigger force in the increasingly important smartphone market.

Bin Laden Kin Want Proof of Death

Relatives of Osama bin Laden want proof that the terrorist leader is dead and are calling for an investigation into how he was killed. “They just really want some answers, and they would just really like to know what exactly happened, why they weren’t called,” said author Jean Sasson, who worked with Omar bin Laden to pen a memoir entitled Growing Up bin Laden. “Many people will not believe that he’s dead,” she told CNN Wednesday. Her comments come a day after a statement from Omar bin Laden and his brothers was provided to The New York Times. The statement says that despite the extensive coverage of his death, “we are not convinced on the available evidence in the absence of (a) dead body, photographs, and video evidence that our natural father is dead.”

Afghanistan

The death of Osama bin Laden and growing pressure from Congress to shrink the U.S. presence and expense in Afghanistan have given new impetus to those within the Obama administration who favor a swift reduction of U.S. forces, according to senior administration officials and leading lawmakers. Even before the death of bin Laden, the confluence of the national debt crisis, the 2012 election and events on the ground had bolstered arguments that the administration’s plans to remake Afghanistan’s government and economy went too far beyond the goal of safeguarding U.S. security. Current expenditures of $10 billion a month are “fundamentally unsustainable” and the administration urgently needs to clarify both its mission and exit plan, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Tuesday. In Afghanistan, the U.S. commander in charge of the country’s east cautioned that bin Laden’s death hadn’t changed the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, and it must continue.

  • The Afghanistan mission got off course when it switched from destroying terrorist camps and training facilities to winning control of that nation’s government and economy.

Pakistan

Fresh tension has erupted between the CIA and Pakistani intelligence after several Pakistani media outlets published the alleged name of the CIA station chief in Islamabad. Two senior Pakistani officials said the name published was incorrect, but one said it was similar to the real one. Despite the inaccuracy, publication of the name was seen as a sign of worsening relations between the two spy agencies a week after the death of Osama bin Laden in a garrison town north of Islamabad.

Middle East

Israel began moving additional forces into the West Bank on Wednesday ahead of threatened protests on May 15, the 63rd anniversary of Israeli independence (according to the Gregorian calendar) which Palestinians call “Nakba (Catastrophe) Day.” Security officials believe that widespread protests are possible as early as Friday, although intelligence estimates are that the protests will not be violent. The planned protests are being coordinated through several Facebook groups, which claim to have drawn inspiration from recent events in Egypt and other Arab countries.

Libya

NATO airstrikes struck Moammar Gadhafi’s sprawling compound in Tripoli and three other sites early Thursday, hours after the Libyan leader was shown on state TV in his first appearance since his son was killed nearly two weeks ago. Explosions thundered across the capital and wailing ambulances raced through the city as the last missile exploded. NATO has hit Tripoli repeatedly this week as part of its effort to weaken the regime’s resistance to a 3-month-old rebellion. NATO said most of the alliance’s 46 air strikes on Wednesday were concentrated in and around the Libyan capital, hitting command and control centers, ammunition dumps and anti-aircraft missile launchers.

Egypt

Hundreds of Egyptians, many of them Coptic Christians, demonstrated on Monday in Cairo to protest Muslim-Christian clashes that left 12 dead and a church burned. Demonstrators, who numbered about 1,000 by midday, said they feared that some in Egypt seek to create an Islamic state that would marginalize the Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s nearly 80 million population. Most are Coptic Christians. Some of the protesters gathered outside the building that is headquarters for state-run TV criticized the army’s handling of the weekend clashes and demanded that the military ruler step down.

Syria

The Syrian army shelled residential areas in the country’s third-largest city Wednesday, sending people fleeing for cover in a sharp escalation in the government’s attempts to crush a popular revolt against President Bashar Assad’s autocratic rule. Heavy tank- and gunfire rocked at least three residential neighborhoods in the besieged city of Homs, which has seen some of the largest anti-government demonstrations during the seven-week-long uprising. More than 750 people have been killed in a crackdown on the unrest and thousands of Syrians have been detained, with about 9,000 still in custody.

As demonstrations against the Syrian government intensify, Christians are coming under increasing pressure to join the uprising – or leave. In one Christian village outside the southern city of Deraa a home came under fire by a group of masked men on motorbikes, while Muslim residents in the village of Hala have issued an ultimatum to their Christian neighbours either to join the demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime or to leave. Their demands are making life extremely difficult for the Christians, who have closed their shops and are considering what course of action to take. Churches have also received threatening letters.

Yemen

Yemeni police trying to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters in two cities Thursday wounded 45 people. Taiz has been a hotbed of anti-government protests. Crowds seized control of the Oil Ministry building Thursday. Protesters have been demanding the resignation of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh in weeks of demonstrations, some involving tens of thousands of people. Saleh has been clinging to power, warning that if he leaves without an orderly succession, the al-Qaida branch in Yemen will take advantage of the resulting chaos. Saleh torpedoed a mediation effort last month that appeared to be close to resolving the crisis.

China

Baptist Press reports that at least 13 members of a Beijing church were arrested Sunday, May 8, in the fifth straight week of its defiance of the Chinese government. Officials have continued to force people out of their homes in an effort to pressure the congregation. One family learned they were being kicked out of their home at 6:40 Sunday morning, before the service even began. The high-profile clash between the government and Shouwang Church — one of the largest unregistered illegal churches in Beijing — has led to hundreds of house arrests or detentions. More than 500 church members were placed under arrest on Easter weekend alone, prevented from leaving their houses or apartments. Shouwang Church itself is homeless, having lost its meeting space when the government pressured the owners of a restaurant — its last home — to kick out the church. The church also has tried to rent space, only to see various landlords pressured not to cooperate.

Japan

Japan will scrap a plan to obtain half of its electricity from nuclear power and will instead promote renewable energy and conservation as a result of its ongoing nuclear crisis, the prime minister said Tuesday. Nuclear plants supplied about 30% of Japan’s electricity, and the government had planned to raise that to 50% by 2030. The operator of the stricken power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., has been struggling for nearly two months to restore critical cooling systems that were knocked out by the disaster. Some 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the plant were evacuated from their homes on March 12, with many now living in gymnasiums. On Tuesday, about 100 evacuees were allowed into that exclusion zone briefly to gather belongings from their homes.

Congo

The African nation of Congo has been called the worst place on earth to be a woman. A new study released Wednesday shows that it’s even worse than previously thought: 1,152 women are raped every day, a rate equal to 48 per hour. Congo, a nation of 70 million people that is equal in size to Western Europe, has been plagued by decades of war. Its vast forests are rife with militias that have systematically used rape to destroy communities. Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. special representative for sexual violence in conflict, said she consistently stresses that “the number of reported violations are just the tip of the iceberg of actual incidents,” since many women are reluctant to report being raped or abused.

Haiti

Time is running out for many Haitians who came to the USA after the 2010 earthquake and now may be sent back to a country in chaos. President-elect Michel Martell, who will be inaugurated Saturday, has an ambitious agenda to restore his country, but conditions are grim: hundreds of thousands still living in tents, scant public services, a stubborn cholera outbreak. In the USA, meanwhile, many earthquake survivors are jobless, scrambling for medical care and relying on friends and family for food and shelter. Visas are expiring, and immigration officials have not acted on most requests for a change in status that would let them stay in the USA.

Wildfires

Wildfires have consumed over 2.5 million acres (almost 4,000 square miles) in the U.S. so far this year, the most in decades. Currently there are 9 large (over 100 acres) wildfires burning in Texas, 7 in New Mexico, 5 in Arizona, 2 in Florida, and one each in California, Georgia, North Carolina and Kansas. The largest wildfire has destroyed 314,444 acres in West Texas with another having consumed 89,200 acres. A 98,000 acre wildfire is burning in Georgia while a New Mexico wildfire has burned 60,920 acres in New Mexico with the largest one in Arizona has consumed 13,300 acres 50 miles northeast of Bisbee and is only 10% contained.

Weather

Although Texas is finally receiving some rain, the drought report issued Thursday shows all of the state suffering drought conditions to some degree, with the drought level for 47% of the state rated “exceptional,”.35% “extreme” and another 11% “severe.” All of New Mexico is also experiencing drought conditions, with 30% “exceptional,” 31% “extreme” and 26% “severe.”  Arizona is rated at 16% “extreme,”, 15% “severe,” 27% “moderate” and 28% “abnormally dry.”

The bloated Mississippi River continued its yawning, destructive march downriver, surpassing one historic height after another since cresting at Memphis last week. Even as the river’s system of levees and floodwalls hold the river in check, dozens of tributaries from Missouri to Natchez are overflowing, swamping neighborhoods, devouring homes and driving people and animals to higher ground. The slow-moving disaster is expected to cause more than $4 billion in damages and displace thousands.

Mississippi River rose Monday to levels not seen in Memphis since the 1930s, swamping homes in low-lying neighborhoods and driving hundreds of people from their homes. But the levees held and protected the city’s world-famous musical landmarks, including Graceland and Beale Street. All but three of Mississippi’s 19 river casinos were closed Wednesday because of flooding and the others in Vicksburg are expected to shut down by the weekend, the state’s gaming commissioner said, noting that some could be out of business for up to a month. It is the first time since the river casinos opened in the early 1990s that the state has closed so many because of a disaster. And the closures are going to put a dent in local tax revenues and cash registers.

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