Archive for June, 2011

June 25, 2011

New York Legalizes Gay Marriage

Same-sex marriage is now legal in New York after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that was narrowly passed by state lawmakers Friday, handing activists a breakthrough victory in the state where the gay rights movement was born. The measure passed when a handful of Republican state senators surrendered to pressure to legalize gay marriage in that state. New York becomes the sixth state where gay couples can wed and the biggest by far. Gay rights advocates are hoping the vote will galvanize the movement around the country and help it regain momentum after an almost identical bill was defeated here in 2009 and similar measures failed in 2010 in New Jersey and this year in Maryland and Rhode Island. The gay rights movement is considered to have started with the Stonewall riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village in 1969.

  • End-time moral decay will continue to spread like wildfire, tearing asunder God’s social order and replacing it with Satan’s demonic agenda.

Evangelical Leaders Believe Secularism is Greatest Threat

Evangelicals from around the world fear one religious trend more than any other: secularism. Slightly over 70 percent of global evangelical leaders at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization named secularism as a major threat. Meanwhile, only 47 percent said the influence of Islam is a major threat. The survey, conducted by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, polled more than half of the 4,000-plus evangelical leaders from over 190 nations last fall in South Africa. Evangelical leaders from the Global North (86 percent) more often felt secularism is a threat to the evangelical faith than those in the Global South (59 percent). “To put it in context, it is not as though it is not seen as a threat, it is just that secularism in its associated practices tend to be seen as much more of a threat,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, according to Voice of America.

  • Secularism is Satan’s replacement for Christianity while Islam is used to create conflict. Secularism, at its core, places emphasis on self over God.

Minorities Produce Majority of Babies in the U.S.

For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and a growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies. Preliminary census estimates also show the share of African-American households headed by women — mostly single mothers — now exceeds African-American households with married couples, a sign of declining U.S. marriages overall but also of continuing challenges for black youths without involved fathers. Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury. In addition, married or two-parent heterosexual couples are now no longer the norm for a lot of kids, especially kids of color.

  • It isn’t the color that’s the problem but rather the breakdown of the family which will have dramatic and deleterious impacts on the social order

House Rejects Measure to Continue U.S. Role in Libya

The House refused to vote President Obama the authority for U.S. military operations against Libya on Friday but stopped short of cutting off funds for the mission, a mixed message reminiscent of congressional unease on Vietnam and more recent wars. In a repudiation of the commander in chief, the House voted overwhelmingly against a resolution that would have favored letting the mission continue for one year while barring U.S. ground forces. The vote was 295-123, with 70 Democrats abandoning Obama one day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had made a last-minute plea in a congressional meeting. But shortly after that vote, the House turned back a Republican-led effort to cut off money for military hostilities in the Libyan war. The vote was 238-180. While the first vote on White House authority has no immediate effect on American involvement in the NATO-led mission, it was an embarrassment to a sitting president and certain to have reverberations in Tripoli and NATO capitals.

Deaths Up from Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease

Nearly two-thirds of deaths in the world are caused by noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart and lung disease which are rapidly increasing at a cost to the global economy of trillions of dollars, according to U.N. estimates and preliminary results of a new study. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report that while the international community has focused on communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, the four main noncommunicable diseases “have emerged relatively unnoticed in the developing world and are now becoming a global epidemic.” According to the report, 36 million people died from noncommunicable diseases in 2008, representing 63 percent of the 57 million global deaths that year. Nearly 80 percent of deaths from these diseases were in the developing world, and 9 million deaths were of men and women under the age of 60. Ban said the rapidly increasing magnitude of noncommunicable diseases is fueled by rising risk factors including tobacco use, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, obesity and harmful alcohol use — and is driven in part by an aging population, the negative impact of urbanization, and the globalization of trade and marketing.

Experts Wary of Hacking Group’s New Political Agenda

Lulz Security – “laughing out loud at your security” – has for the first time given a clearly defined political motive for an attack, stating on its website that it targeted the DPS to protest racial profiling and the state’s immigration policies. Its name is computer slang for laughter. But the theft of hundreds of computer files from the Arizona Department of Public Safety marks a dramatic change for an international computer-hacking group that until now has been known for high-profile publicity stunts and Internet pranks. Computer-security experts say this signals the group’s transition from a band of merry pranksters to “hacktivists” who declare Net war on agencies or groups in order to carry out a specific agenda. Since emerging in May, LulzSec has tampered with websites belonging to the CIA, the U.S. Senate and three media companies. It has claimed responsibility for disabling a law-enforcement website in Great Britain, stealing files from a private-security firm working with the FBI and publishing user names from a pornography website.

E-waste Piles Up, Disposal Issues Grow

New smartphones, TVs and laptops enter the marketplace at an ever-quickening pace, and many gadget-loving consumers feel compelled to have the latest and greatest with the most buzz. As a result, they find themselves with a growing stash of gizmos in need of disposal. Trashed computers, TVs and other gadgets make up the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. As much as 80% of electronic waste goes out with the trash, the EPA estimates, while only about 20% is properly recycled. Recycling of many materials — such as glass, paper and plastics — is common practice for many Americans. Yet, when eco-conscious people want to winnow down a growing stash of unneeded tech products, how do they do that in an environmentally friendly way? For starters, don’t just throw your electronics in the trash. Many gadgets have toxic materials in them that might be released in a landfill or when burned in an incinerator.

Companies such as LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony have joined the Consumer Electronic Association’s eCycling Leadership Initiative, announced in April, which aims to recycle one billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016, up from the 300 million pounds of electronics recycled in 2010. For a list of dozens of companies that accept products for recycling go to: www.digitaltips.org/green/default.asp. Retailers such as Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples and Target accept many products for recycling at their stores. For free, a small fee or a monetary incentive, these stores serve as pick-up spots for discarded consumer electronics, with the ultimate goal of reducing this growing form of waste.

U.S. to Release 30 Million Barrels of Oil from Strategic Reserve

The U.S. is releasing 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as part of an international effort to make up for the loss in supply from the disruption in Libya’s production in the face of ongoing “kinetic military action,” the Energy Department announced Thursday. The release coincides with another 30 million barrels to be released in the coming month from other nations in coordination with the International Energy Agency. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the SPR is currently at a record 727 million barrels in storage. He said the situation in Libya — which the U.S. began bombing in March, but which has been under NATO control since May — has caused a loss of roughly 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.

Postal Service Suspends Retirement Plan Contributions

The financially troubled Postal Service is suspending its employer contribution to the Federal Employee Retirement System. The agency said Wednesday that it is acting to conserve cash as it continues to lose money. It was $8 billion in the red last year because of the combined effects of the recession and the switch of much mail business to the Internet. It faces the possibility of running short of money by the end of this fiscal year in September. The post office said it has informed the Office of Personnel Management that the $115 million retirement payment made every two weeks will be suspended effective Friday.

NJ Legislature Approves Deep Cuts in Benefits to Public Workers

New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday approved a broad rollback in benefits for three-quarters of a million government workers and retirees, the deepest cut in state and local costs in memory, in a major victory for Gov. Chris Christie and a once-unthinkable setback for the powerful public employee unions. The Assembly passed the bill as Republicans and a few  Democrats defied raucous protests by thousands of people whose chants, vowing electoral revenge, shook the State House. Leaders in the State Senate said their chamber, which had already passed a slightly different version of the bill, would approve the Assembly version on Monday, and Mr. Christie, a Republican, was expected to quickly sign the measure into law.

Impasse in Debt Reduction Talks

Bipartisan efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit have broken down over the specter of tax increases as a threatened government default looms less than six weeks away. Republicans’ refused to consider the elimination of special-interest tax breaks as part of a deficit-cutting package and Democrats’ refusal to slash $2 trillion or more over 10 years from the spending side alone. The immediate problem is raising the $14.3 trillion ceiling on the government’s borrowing authority. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that must be done by Aug. 2 to avoid an unprecedented default. Republicans say they won’t do it without an equal amount of spending cuts. And Democrats say they won’t do that without tax increases.

Economic News

More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, adding to evidence that the job market is weakening. Applications rose 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 429,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the second increase in three weeks and the biggest jump in a month. Applications had fallen as low as 375,000 earlier this year, a level that signals sustainable job growth.

The Commerce Department said the economy grew at a 1.9% annual rate in the January-March quarter. That’s not much better than the 1.8% rate estimated a month ago. The small upward revision reflected stronger exports and more business spending on stockpiles. Economists predict the economy will grow at a 2.3% rate in the current quarter and 2.6% for the full year, far below what is needed to make significant improvements in unemployment.

Businesses boosted their orders for machinery, electronics products and airplanes in May after a big cutback in the previous month. The Commerce Department says orders for long-lasting manufactured products increased 1.9% in May following a revised 2.7% decline in April.

The stock market fell Friday after poor earnings from technology companies suggested that companies are investing less as the economic recovery has slowed. Europe’s debt woes continued to weigh on markets as well. Moody’s warned that it might downgrade the credit rating of some Italian banks.

Noting that unemployment remains stubbornly high and other indicators show a weak economy, the Fed reaffirmed today with a unanimous vote that it will keep the federal-funds rate — currently at 0 to 0.25 percent — at historic lows “for an extended period.” The Fed also said it has no plans yet to take steps to continue its quantitative easing program by greenlighting a third round in a program that involves the Fed buying government bonds as a method to increase the overall supply of U.S. dollars.

After facing $4 sticker shock at the pump for much of 2011, consumers are now likely to get a break by the July Fourth holiday weekend as gas prices fall to $3.40 or lower. Regular gasoline peaked at a national average of $3.98 a gallon in early May. Slumping demand has pushed the average to $3.61. Recently announced reserve sales could cut prices another 20 cents or more.

The largest economies in the world agreed Thursday to a series of measures to stabilize world food prices after years of sudden fluctuations caused global instability, especially in poorer countries. French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said the G-20 summit of agriculture ministers had agreed to calm the world market by establishing a transparent system to track global supplies, emergency food reserves, engage in more research into new wheat strains and create a rapid response mechanism to deal with drought in producer countries. Rising energy prices prompted a spike in food prices in 2008 that caused worldwide hardship and sparked riots in a number of developing countries.

Afghanistan

President Obama heralded the beginning of the end of the nation’s 10-year war in Afghanistan on Wednesday, citing success in the battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban but offering no guarantee that the nation’s heavy investment in lives and treasure will leave behind a stable and secure nation. In ordering 10,000 service members home by the end of this year and 23,000 more by the end of next summer, Obama rejected the advice of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of troops in Afghanistan. He had urged that fewer troops be withdrawn, as did many Republican leaders. Instead, the president ceded to public discontent with a war that has cost $444 billion and seen more than 1,500 service members killed and 12,000 wounded. Some lawmakers, including many of Obama’s fellow Democrats, point out that even after these withdrawals, there will still some 67,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, more than twice the number than when Obama took office.

Afghanistan’s NATO-trained military is ready to take responsibility for fighting Taliban insurgents and securing key parts of the country that will be the first to transition as the U.S. begins a troop drawdown in July, the Afghan Defense Ministry said Wednesday. Many Afghans are eager to see an American departure nearly 10 years after U.S. forces invaded to oust al-Qaeda’s Taliban hosts from power. A suicide attacker blew up his sport utility vehicle packed with explosives outside of a small medical clinic in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing at least 25 people and wounded 50 or more.

A new report says little has been accomplished to end the relationship between corruption and the conflict in Afghanistan despite a decade of U.S.-led military efforts. The International Crisis Group’s 46-page report provides sobering analysis of a culture of corruption in Afghanistan, which includes collusion with the Taliban at high levels of government. It says violence and billions of dollars in international aid have brought wealthy officials and insurgents together. The result is an economy increasingly dominated by what the report calls a “criminal oligarchy of politically connected businessmen.”

Belarus

Belarusian authorities have detained more than 450 demonstrators in a series of anti-government protests organized through social media in the ex-Soviet nation, Most of those detained were released a few hours after the Wednesday evening’s protest, but several dozen went on trial Thursday,. The protest in the capital, Minsk, and nearly 30 other Belarusian cities was the third such action in as many weeks. Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko is facing growing public discontent over the nation’s worst financial turmoil since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The country recently devalued the national currency, causing panic buying of goods and huge lines at currency exchange offices.

Pakistan

A mobile phone of Usama bin Laden’s trusted courier recovered in the U.S. raid last month that killed both men in Pakistan contained contacts to a militant group that is a longtime asset of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, The New York Times reported late Thursday. It raises questions about whether the group and others helped shelter and support the Al Qaeda leader on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency. In tracing the calls on the cell phone, U.S. analysts have determined that Harakat commanders had called Pakistani intelligence officials. Bin Laden was able to live comfortably for years in Abbottabad, a town dominated by the Pakistani military just 35 miles from the capital city of Islamabad

Libya

Supporters of Moammar Gadhafi rallied Thursday in Tripoli after the Libyan leader lashed out at NATO over civilian casualties, calling the alliance “murderers” following an airstrike on the family home of a close associate. Gadhafi blasted the alliance for that strike, calling NATO “criminals” and “savages.” “Go on and attack us for two years, three years or even 10 years. But in the end, the aggressor is the one who will lose. One day we will be able to retaliate in the same way, and your houses will be legitimate targets for us,” Gadhafi added.

Syria

In a weekly ritual of defiance, thousands of protesters took to Syria’s streets Friday calling for the downfall of President Bashar Assad’s autocratic regime, despite a bloody military crackdown that has failed to silence a pro-democracy movement that has now lasted more than 100 days. Security forces opened fire, killing at least 15 people, including two children, activists said. The protests, which have occurred every Friday after weekly Muslim prayers, come as Syrian refugees continue to stream across the border to safe havens in Turkey to escape a military sweep in Syria’s northwest. More than 1,500 Syrian refugees crossed into neighboring Turkey on Thursday alone, boosting the number sheltered in Turkey to more than 11,700.

The Syrian regime, besieged by street protests at home and condemnation abroad, on Wednesday lashed out at European governments for threatening a new round of sanctions and accused the West of trying to sow chaos and conflict in the Arab nation. But Foreign Minister Walid Moallem also reiterated the president’s call for national dialogue and spoke of democracy over the horizon — a bold assertion after more than four decades of iron-fisted rule by the Assad family and months of bloody reprisals. It was the regime’s latest attempt to blunt three months of widespread demonstrations.

Iraq

Four bombs ripped through Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad Thursday evening, killing at least 40 people in the worst violence the capital has seen in months, Iraqi officials said. An American civilian contractor also died in a separate attack. The violence underscored the fragile nature of the security gains in Iraq at a time when American forces are preparing to withdraw by the end of this year.

Iran

The U.S. imposed sanctions Thursday on the Iranian state airline and a ports operator for allegedly helping the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps move weapons to Tehran’s allies around the Middle East. The sanctions are the latest American bid to use economic pressure to try to weaken the Tehran regime, the main U.S. nemesis in the region. Top administration officials said Thursday’s action was targeted specifically at the Revolutionary Guard, an elite unit of Iran’s security forces they said is Tehran’s domestic enforcer, plays a major role in proliferation activity, supports terrorism in the region, and commits human-rights abuses at home.

Increased public statements against Christianity in Iran have intensified pressures on Christians, sources said, but that’s not all. At their core, the statements reflect Islamic leaders’ dismay with the growth of house churches and may signal dissension within Iran’s leadership. “The reality is most of the house churches are so hidden that the government can’t do anything, and they know it,” said a regional expert who requested anonymity, Compass Direct News reports. In May, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi said authorities have not done enough to quench the growth of Christian house churches, considering the “massive funding” the government has spent toward that end. Experts believe public attacks on Christians resulted in the arrest of more than 120 Iranian Christians between December and January.

Myanmar

Bombs exploded almost simultaneously in three Myanmar cities Friday, wounding at least two people. Bombings have become increasingly frequent in Myanmar, where pro-democracy activists and ethnic groups are at odds with the military-backed regime. There was no claim of responsibility. The government had blamed ethnic Karen rebels for a bombing in Naypyitaw this month and a May train attack near the capital that killed two and injured nine.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.7 earthquake rattled northeast Japan early Thursday in the same area where a massive quake triggered a deadly tsunami in March, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. It was followed by several smaller aftershocks, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Thursday’s quake hit about 30 miles off the shore of Iwate prefecture at 6:51 a.m. the Japan Meteorological Agency said. Much of the coast in the area is still heavily damaged from March’s disasters. The U.S. Pacific Tsunami warning center said it did not expect a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami.

Wildfires

Fire crews are making major strides in corralling three major wildfires that have been burning in Arizona for weeks, and they expect to have one of the fires fully contained by this weekend. The 348-square-mile Horseshoe Two fire that will be the first contained has burned through almost an entire forest atop southeastern Arizona’s Chiricahua mountains. The forest supports a huge diversity of plants and animals and is a world-renowned bird watching area. The fire was tamed because it basically had burned across the whole mountain range. The Chiricahua is one of the state’s so-called “sky island” mountain ranges, which rise from the surrounding desert and grasslands and aren’t connected to other ranges.

The thousands of firefighters battling the state’s other two major blazes also were making progress, with 70% containment of the Wallow Fire, the state’s largest-ever which has burned 828 square miles in eastern Arizona. Meanwhile, the Monument fire in the Huachuca Mountains in southern Arizona has been burning since June 12. It has consumed 44 square miles and 57 homes on the outskirts of Sierra Vista, Ariz., about 15 miles north of the Mexican border. The fire is 64 percent contained.

Weather

With a threat of still more rain looming, Minot, N.D. was bracing Saturday for the Souris River to cascade past its already unprecedented level and widen a path of destruction that had severely damaged thousands of homes and threatened many others. Fed by heavy rains upstream and dam releases that have accelerated in recent days, the Souris surged past a 130-year-old record Friday and kept going. City officials were expecting the river to peak as early as Saturday evening at some 8 1/2 feet beyond major flood stage and remain there for several days, straining the city’s levees to the limit and overwhelming some of them. Forecasters said there was at least an even chance of additional storms in coming days. After a flyover Friday, officials estimated at least 2,500 homes had been swamped and predicted the number would rise to 4,500 by the time the river crests. At least two schools, a nursing home and hundreds of businesses also were endangered.

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June 22, 2011

Texas Governor Calls for Solemn Assembly

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has proclaimed Saturday, Aug. 6th, as a Day of Prayer and Fasting to seek God’s guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation. He has invited governors across the country to join him on Aug. 6 to participate in The Response, a non-denominational, apolitical, Christian prayer meeting hosted by the American Family Association at 62,000-seat Reliant Stadium in Houston. Gov. Perry also urged fellow governors to issue similar proclamations encouraging their constituents to pray that day for unity and righteousness for our states, nation and mankind. In sponsoring The Response, AFA is encouraging churches to organize and promote a local The Response prayer event in their communities. Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Gov. Nathan Deal, of Georgia have indicated that they will participate

Arizona Call to Prayer notes that, “This Solemn Assembly is being called to pray for ‘a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose.’ He asks the entire country to call upon the name of Jesus, not the political, commonly accepted, ultra ambiguous ‘god.’ There will be no mistake about who we are praying to, the only uncreated God, the only One who can save us.”

Defunding Efforts Cause Cuts at Planned Parenthood

The consequences of efforts to prevent taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood are now being felt. Legislatures in Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and Wisconsin have voted to defund Planned Parenthood. The moves are law in the first three. Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin is expected to sign a state budget with a similar provision by June 30. In Indiana, Planned Parenthood will stop treating Medicaid patients and lay off two of three specialists after $100,000 in donations it had been using to replace state money ran out this week. Although an effort in Congress to end the flow of federal dollars to the organization failed, funding of a federal program that provides family planning services to low-income women was reduced. Cuts in federal funds mean six Planned Parenthood clinics in Minnesota will close Aug. 1st. In Indiana, Planned Parenthood will stop treating Medicaid patients and lay off two of three specialists after $100,000 in donations it had been using to replace state money ran out this week.

Supreme Court Won’t Hear ACORN Funding Appeal

The Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal from ACORN, the activist group driven to ruin by scandal and financial woes, over being banned from getting federal funds. The high court on Monday refused to review a federal court’s decision to uphold Congress’s ban on federal funds for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Congress cut off ACORN’s federal funding last year in response to allegations the group engaged in voter registration fraud and embezzlement and violated the tax-exempt status of some of its affiliates by engaging in partisan political activities. ACORN sued, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City upheld the action.

Supreme Court Limits Wal-Mart Sex Discrimination Case

In blocking a huge sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Monday, the Supreme Court made it harder for all workers to join together and challenge alleged bias that may not arise from a clear company policy. The decade-old Wal-Mart case had been the largest job-discrimination class action in history, potentially covering 1.5 million women with potentially billions of dollars in liability for the nation’s largest private employer. By separate 5-4 and 9-0 votes, the high court said the class action against Wal-Mart had been improperly certified. Justice Antonin Scalia said the women who brought the case, alleging bias in pay and promotions, failed to point to companywide policies that had a common effect on all women covered by the class action. Scalia was joined in his decision heightening the standards for evidence in such class actions by the court’s four other conservatives. Dissenting were the court’s four liberals.

FDA Issues Graphic Cigarette Labels

In the most significant change to U.S. cigarette packs in 25 years, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday released nine new warning labels that depict in graphic detail the negative health effects of tobacco use. Among the images to appear on cigarette packs are rotting and diseased teeth and gums and a man with a tracheotomy smoking. Also included among the labels are: the corpse of a smoker, diseased lungs, a mother holding her baby with smoke swirling around them. They include phrases like “Smoking can kill you” and “Cigarettes cause cancer.” Each label includes a quit smoking hotline number. The labels will take up the top half of a pack of cigarette packs. Warning labels also must appear in advertisements and constitute 20 percent of an ad. Cigarette makers have until the fall of 2012 to comply.

Obama Eyeing Anti-Gun Backer to Run ATF

The Obama administration is in talks this week with the man who could replace the current head of the Bureau of  Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a man gun-rights groups have railed against as being hostile to their cause. Andrew Traver was nominated in November by President Barack Obama to become ATF director, but the National Rifle Association has stalled his appointment, citing his anti-gun rights stance. Kenneth Melson, the acting director of the ATF, will be stepping down in the wake of the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scheme in which weapons were sold to Mexico’s drug cartels. Melson, who has been acting director since April 2009, is likely to resign within the next couple of days, says CNN.

Uranium-Mining Ban Extended

The Obama administration dug in its heels Monday against the expansion of uranium mining on public lands near the Grand Canyon, extending a short-term ban on new claims and renewing support for longer-term limits. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar noted the negative effects of new mines on the region’s tourism economy and the opposition of Indian tribes who live near the canyon, but threats to the environment and specifically to the water supply clearly played an important role in the decision. Uranium mines active a decade ago were blamed for polluting the ground and water, and while mining companies say the industry is far more responsible now, Salazar said more study is needed to assure protection of the Canyon. The temporary moratorium on new mining claims will remain in place through Dec. 20 on about 1 million acres surrounding the canyon, Salazar said. Meantime, federal officials will complete a review of a proposal to withdraw the land from new mining activities for 20 years.

U.S. Aims for Global Food-Risk Coalition

At a time when nearly two-thirds of the fruits and vegetables, more than three-quarters of the seafood and 80 percent of the active ingredients in drugs consumed in the United States come from overseas, the Food and Drug Administration is looking to do some radical outsourcing to ensure their safety. The FDA is proposing to work with other countries to assemble “global coalitions of regulators dedicated to building and strengthening the product safety net around the world,” says a report issued Monday. As food and drugs come from ever-more-distant places, the problem of following their trail and inspecting them is becoming more difficult – and the agency is already stretched as it is, its leaders acknowledge. The safety of America’s food and medical products “remains under serious threat,” the report notes, citing recent problems including contaminated heparin, a blood thinner from China that killed more than 80 people; melamine-tainted pet food and milk from China; counterfeit glucose-monitor test strips; and low-quality titanium used in medical implants. The task may grow bigger after the House voted last week to cut the inspection budget for the FDA.

Economists Debate Impact of Arizona’s Unemployment-Aid Cut

Arizona could be turning itself into an economic laboratory of sorts by declining to extend unemployment benefits for those out of work for months. Last week, the Legislature did not enact a technical change needed to accept federal cash that would extend unemployment checks from 79 to 99 weeks for at least 15,000 Arizonans. Some lawmakers argued that the extension of benefits, worth up to $240 weekly in Arizona, is a disincentive to find another job. Others disagree, noting that the scarcity of jobs means many people will struggle to find work regardless of whether they receive an unemployment check, and some argue that jobless aid has other positive economic effects. Arizona’s lack of extended aid helps put the theories to the test.

Cell Phones Found to Cause Cancer

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), has declared after a review of the research that cell phones are possible cancer-causing agents. The expert panel ruled that there was some evidence that cell phone use was linked to two types of tumors—brain tumors (gliomas) and acoustic neuromas. Some scientists say the IARC classification is still not strong enough, and that cell phone radiation should have been classified as a “Probable Human Carcinogen” based on the existing science, but evidently there were not enough studies to classify it more strongly at this time. While some journalists and scientists are now downplaying the IARC decision, saying the IARC classification of cell phones as possibly carcinogenic does not mean cell phones cause cancer, and even claiming that there is no evidence of this at all, there is no uncertainty that IARC, a highly respected scientific body, is now clearly saying there is evidence of carcinogenicity, otherwise they would not have classified in category 2B.

Health Care Glitch would Give Medicaid to Middle Class

President Obama’s health care law would let several million middle-class people get nearly free insurance meant for the poor, a twist government number crunchers say they discovered only after the complex bill was signed. Up to 3 million more people could qualify for Medicaid in 2014 as a result of the anomaly. That’s because, in a major change from today, most of their Social Security benefits would no longer be counted as income for determining eligibility. After initially downplaying any concern, the Obama administration said late Tuesday it would look for a fix. Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster says the situation keeps him up at night. “Even now, as I raise the issue with various policymakers, people are not rushing to say … we need to do something about this,” Foster says.

Social Security a Ponzi Scheme?

Workers who see Social Security deductions taken from their paychecks every pay period can’t help but wonder if they’ll ever see the money again. That’s especially true with younger workers, whose contributions are being used to pay benefits to the swelling ranks of Baby Boomers, who are reaching retirement age or who are already retired. The Social Security system is under intense pressure as its method of takin g current workers’ contributions to pay for current retirees is under strain. And it’s that method, which often draws criticism for resembling a Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme “is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors,” according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme because it wasn’t an intentional fraud, defenders say.

  • Claiming the existence of a Social Security Trust Fund over years past is indeed “intentional fraud” in that Social Security taxes have gone straight into the federal budget, not into a fund set aside for retirees.

Debt-Ceiling Deal May Be for Short Term

The debt reduction talks led by Vice President Joe Biden are in what insiders call “a make or break week,” as negotiators try to find $2 trillion or more in spending cuts as part of a deal to increase the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says the negotiators are getting closer. Economists and Obama administration officials are warning of a calamity if the government defaults on its obligations. The default deadline is Aug. 2. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says that if a deal doesn’t include significant entitlement program changes, then legislation raising the borrowing limit for just a few months is likely.

Economic News

Fewer people purchased previously occupied homes in May, bringing sales down to their lowest level of the year. home sales sank 3.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.81 million homes, the weakest pace since November. Economists say that’s far below the 6 million homes per year sold in healthy housing markets. First-time homebuyers ticked down to 35% of sales. First-timers typically drive half of sales in healthy markets.

Despite months of high gas prices, a bevy of new fuel-stingy cars with conventional gas engines may be eating into sales of pricier gas-electric hybrids. Sales of high-mileage, high-value conventional compacts such as the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze are hot, while hybrid sales have stagnated.

In a sign of just how deep economic and budget problems have grown in the nation’s largest state, a gleaming new high school built at a cost of $105 million in Riverside, California, will sit unused for at least a year because education officials say they don’t have money to operate it.

California’s budget crisis is getting personal for state lawmakers. Their paychecks have been cut off until they agree on a balanced budget. Voters decided elected members of the state Assembly and Senate would not be paid if they failed to pass a balanced budget by the constitutional deadline, June 15.

Texas became the USA’s second-largest economy during the past decade — displacing New York and perhaps heading one day toward challenging California — in one of the biggest economic shifts in the past half-century. The dramatic realignment of the nation’s economy was illustrated by North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia all overtaking one-time industrial powerhouse Michigan in economic size from 2000 to 2010. The economic winners of the last decade are states that focus on raw materials, government and senior citizens. The big losers are places that make things — industrial states and even California.

Middle East

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appeared on Lebanese TV Monday, declaring that as president of the PA he had the right to choose who will be the prime minister in the new unity government between Fatah and Hamas. His statement was flatly rejected on Tuesday by Hamas, which accused Abbas of harming Palestinian unity efforts with such statements. Hamas has on several occasions said that they would never take part in a government led by Salaam Fayyad whom they claim has financially harmed the PA government. Abbas also mentioned September’s Palestinian statehood bid, and said that the Unites States has the power to stop such a bid by coming up with alternative negotiation options. He added that he believed that out of the 192 of UN’s General Assembly members, 116 would vote for a Palestinian state.

Afghanistan

Insurgents are now responsible for about 85% of civilian casualties in the Afghanistan War, an increase from last year and a sign that efforts by the United States and its allies to limit their firepower are succeeding. The Taliban continues to use civilians as human shields and employ suicide attacks and roadside bombs indiscriminately, coalition officials say. The casualty trend, which could help shift Afghan public opinion toward the coalition, comes as President Obama is expected to call for a major withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan Wednesday, with about 10,000 coming home to the U.S. in less than a year. There are about 100,000 U.S. service members there now. The U.S. has spent $1.3 trillion on the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade which has contributed to a ballooning budget deficit and a soaring national debt at a time when the economy is still struggling to get back on its feet.

Iraq

Suicide bombers detonated two explosives-laden vehicles early Tuesday near a government compound by a southern Iraqi governor’s home, killing at least 22 people and wounding dozens. The attacks come as Iraq’s top political factions started to discuss in earnest whether to ask some of the U.S. troops to stay beyond the Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline because of the security situation. While violence is well below what it was during the years that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, militants are still able to launch deadly attacks. The ongoing violence has led to concerns about what happens when the 47,000 remaining U.S. troops are withdrawn.

Pakistan

Pakistanis largely disapprove of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, with a majority believing the al-Qaida chief’s death is a bad thing and relations between Washington and Islamabad will suffer as a result, new polling data show. The findings of two Pew Research Center surveys reflect widespread anti-Americanism in a country where many view the U.S. as the main reason for rising Islamist violence that has killed thousands, even as many of the same Pakistanis hold the militants behind such attacks in low regard. The May survey found that 63 percent of Pakistanis disapproved of the bin Laden raid, while 10 percent approved and 27 percent gave no opinion.

Libya

NATO said a coalition bomb misfired into a residential neighborhood of Tripoli early Sunday and killed civilians, an acknowledgment that is likely to fuel a growing controversy over the West’s protracted effort to oust Moammar Gaddafi. Libyan officials said the blast flattened a two-story house, killing two children and seven adults. Sunday’s bombing marked the first time NATO has acknowledged that a military mishap had resulted in civilian deaths in Libya, and it came a day after the alliance confirmed that last week it accidentally struck a vehicle carrying allied rebel fighters.

Yemen

Security officials say 57 militants, mostly from al-Qaeda, have escaped from a prison in southern Yemen. Bands of gunmen attacked the prison simultaneously, opening fire on the guards from outside to divert their attention away from the escape. One guard was killed and another wounded in the attack. Wednesday’s escape was the latest sign that Yemen’s months-long upheaval has emboldened al-Qaeda militants to challenge authorities in the country’s nearly lawless south.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s effort to drown out pro-democracy protests exploded into clashes between government supporters and opponents Tuesday, and security forces opened fire and killed seven people, including a teenager. It was the latest deadly turn in a 3-month-old uprising that appears unbowed by a relentless government crackdown. The violence flared a day after a speech in which Assad, trying to contain the situation, offered a vague promise of reform, one brushed off as too little, too late, by the opposition, which wants an end to the Assad family’s 40-year authoritarian rule.

As protests against President Bashar al-Assad continue in Syria, Christian and refugee watchdogs say the situation for Christians may soon mirror their plight in Iraq. Greg Musselman, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs Canada, said the situation could spiral into sectarian war. According to Mission Network News, many of Iraq’s expatriate Christians have settled in Syria because of proximity. “So you have the Assyrian and the Chaldean Christians that left Iraq, and now they’re in a situation where they’re having to leave again,” Musselman said.

Tunisia

Tunisia’s former ruler and his wife were convicted in absentia on embezzlement and other charges on Monday after $27 million in jewels and public funds were found in one of his palaces. Five months after being forced from power, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Leila Trabelsi were sentenced to 35 years each in prison and fined tens of millions of dollars in the first of what is sure to be a long string of trials. With the 74-year-old Ben Ali not present for his judgment, there was a sense of frustration among many. The couple went into exile on Jan. 14 in Saudi Arabia, which failed to respond to an extradition request.

Sudan

The Sudanese Army and its allied militias have gone on an unsparing rampage to crush rebel fighters in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan, bombing thatch-roofed villages, executing elders, burning churches and pitching another region of the country into crisis, according to United Nations officials and villagers who have escaped. Tens of thousands of rebel fighters have refused the government’s threat to disarm, digging into the craggy hillsides. They are demanding political reform and autonomy, a familiar refrain in Sudan’s marginalized hinterlands that has set off insurgencies in Darfur in the west, as well as eastern and southern Sudan. The Sudanese Army has sealed off the area and threatened to shoot down United Nations helicopters. Sudan’s forces detained four United Nations peacekeepers and subjected them to “a mock firing squad,” the organization reported. The southern third of the country preparing to declare its independence next month.

Wildfires

The wildfires sizzling through dried-out forests and grasslands across the Southwest are a bad omen in a fire season that is expected to continue for weeks until nature provides relief in the form of seasonal rains. Fire officials are working to contain existing blazes even as they brace for new threats, setting up a dangerous and frustrating summer. The wildfire outlook issued by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, calls for above-normal fire potential in the Southwest through September.

Millions of acres across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Florida have been scorched in recent weeks. Officials blame fires in those states for at least six deaths this year, including two forest rangers killed Monday near the Florida-Georgia state line. Forestry officials say Florida has seen one of its most dangerous fire seasons in years, with more than 1,500 fires burning 1,300 square miles so far. That total far exceeds 2010, when just 132 square miles burned across the state. In all, wildfires have burned 4,543,808 acres across the USA this year, compared to an average of 1,827,218 acres over the past ten years.

The largest of the fires burning in the Southwest is the Wallow fire in eastern Arizona, which has consumed 825 square miles of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins. Although it’s the biggest in state history, no lives have been lost. It is 58% contained as of Tuesday night. A fire outside Sierra Vista in southern Arizona has destroyed at least 58 homes since it began June 12. That blaze has torched 42 square miles and was 45 percent contained by Tuesday night. And a blaze in the far southeastern part of the state, was 95 percent contained after charring more than 330 square miles since it started May 8. That fire, dubbed Horseshoe Two, has destroyed 23 structures and crews expected to fully contain it by Wednesday night. Virtually all the fires in Arizona this year have been human-caused.

Sen. John McCain says he’s “puzzled” that there’s a controversy surrounding remarks he made suggesting illegal immigrants were responsible for some of the massive wildfire in eastern Arizona. McCain tells NBC’s Today show all he was doing was repeating information he’d been given by federal officials. McCain said in an interview Tuesday, “We all know that people who come across our border illegally … that these fires are sometimes, some of them, caused by this.” He said “I’m puzzled .. that there should be any controversy.”

Weather

Thunderstorms and heavy winds pounded the upper Midwest Tuesday night, stranding Chicago commuter train riders for hours, forcing the cancelation of hundreds of flights, and temporarily delaying Vice President Joe Biden’s return to Washington after a fundraiser. Four Kansas family members sustained minor injuries when a tornado destroyed their home. Violent storms also have knocked over freight train cars and halted play at the College World Series in Nebraska. At least three homes were destroyed Monday afternoon in Norton County near the Nebraska border. The injuries reported were minor cuts and scrapes.

Thousands of Minot residents face a Wednesday deadline to evacuate their homes for a second time this spring as the rising Souris River moves closer to swamping the North Dakota city with what’s predicted to be its worst flood in four decades. Officials have ordered about 11,000 people, or a quarter of the city’s residents, to evacuate by 6 p.m. Water from the Souris River, which loops down from Canada through north central North Dakota and is bloated by heavy spring snowmelt and rain on both sides of the border, is forecast to top the city’s levees within two days.

The supply of sand used to fill hundreds of thousands of bags needed to fight off the swollen Missouri River is running low after weeks of relentless flooding. The sand shortage comes as the bloated river rose to within 18 inches of forcing the shutdown of Cooper Nuclear Plant at Brownville, Neb. It stopped and ebbed slightly Monday, a reprieve caused by levee breaches in northwest Missouri. Flooding is a concern all along the river because of the massive amounts of water that the Army Corps of Engineers has released from six dams.

Hurricane Beatriz brushed Mexico’s resort-studded Pacific coast with powerful rains and winds early Tuesday, flooding streets as tourists hunkered down in hotels. Authorities closed the ports of Acapulco, Manzanillo and Zihuatanejo and urged hotel owners to tell guests not to go to the beach. As of late Monday, one tourist had been injured when a tree fell on him in Acapulco. Beatriz’s winds grew to a hurricane-force 90 mph early Tuesday and the storm was moving near or over the coast of Mexico overnight.

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June 20, 2011

U.N. Council Passes Resolution Supporting Gay Rights

The United Nations issued its first condemnation of discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people on Friday in a cautiously worded declaration hailed by supporters including the United States as a historic moment. Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the resolution put forward by South Africa, against strong opposition from African and Islamic countries. Couched in delicate diplomatic language, the resolution commissions a study of discrimination against gays and lesbians around the world, the findings of which will be discussed by the Geneva-based council at a later meeting. The proposal went too far for many of the council’s 47-member states, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Pakistan. A diplomat from the northwest African state of Mauritania said it was “an attempt to replace the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right.”

  • Such sexual deviations are indeed unnatural – and immoral. However, we must still love the sinner while condemning the sin.

N.Y. Gay Marriage Bill Hits Snags on Religion Questions

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was cautiously optimistic his gay marriage bill will soon become law as he held more one-on-one negotiations Friday with Senate Republicans. The Republicans who hold the critical votes say they worry Cuomo’s bill doesn’t adequately protect religious groups and churches that refuse to preside over same-sex weddings and other services. The Democrat-led Assembly passed the measure Wednesday as expected, and a vote in the Senate had been anticipated this week. The bill is widely viewed as the key to national momentum on the issue.

Obama Overruled Lawyers on Libya Air War

President Barack Obama decided he could continue the air war in Libya without congressional approval despite rulings to the contrary from Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers. The president relied instead on the opinions of other senior administration lawyers that continuing U.S. participation in the air operations against the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi did not constitute “hostilities,” triggering the need for Congressional permission under the War Powers Resolution, the New York Times reported in its online edition Friday night. The 1973 law prohibits the military from being involved in actions for more than 60 days without congressional authorization, plus a 30-day extension. The 60-day deadline passed last month with the White House saying it is in compliance with the law. The 90-day mark is Sunday. One issue was reported to be whether firing missiles from drones amounted to hostilities. Presidents can ignore the advice of the Office of Legal Counsel, but rarely do so, the newspaper reported.

  • Missiles fired from drones not hostile? Dictator Obama prefers ruling by fiat than obeying the Constitution.

Romney, Cain Nix Anti-Abortion Pledge

Presidenial hopefuls Mitt Romney and Herman Cain have declined to sign a pledge that calls for White House hopefuls to push for anti-abortion goals if elected presdient, Politico reports. Five other candidates — Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum — have signed the pledge, written by the Susan B. Anthony List. The pledge requires that candidates promise to nominate or appoint pro-life judges, Cabinet members and administration officials. It also calls for zero taxpayer funding for abortion and the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Romney was concerned that abiding by the pledge would “strip taxpayer funding from thousands of healthcare facilities” and would hamstring him in selecting officials for the executive branch.

Abortionist Lauded in Arizona

Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy reports that, “Phoenix Magazine’s current edition portrays a glowing image of Valley abortionist Gabrielle Goodrick, who claims to perform, on average, 40 abortions per week. The article reads like a Planned Parenthood ad: dehumanizing the preborn and completely ignoring the considerable physical and emotional risks women face when they have an abortion.” Shane Wikfors of the Sonoran Alliance points out what is missing from the article: Goodrick was placed on five years probation by the Arizona Medical Board for a substance abuse problem and was not “safe to practice.” “While not surprising, the lack of journalistic integrity is astounding,” Herrod says.

Left-Leaning Christians Rally at ‘Wild Goose’ Festival

The Wild Goose Festival is an attempt to reimagine Christianity for the 21st century under a bigger, wider more inclusive tent. The four-day festival is expected to draw thousands of young campers and some of the leading lights of the so-called Emergent Christianity movement. Organizers want to distance themselves from the politicized versions of Christianity, and re-engage in social justice work — particularly prison reform, a topic of some of the sessions. Wild Goose leaders share a conviction that there are multiple streams of Christianity flowing into one river. Already, the festival has drawn the ire of more conventional evangelical bloggers who don’t like its inclusive nature or openness to gays and lesbians. “The wise Christian will have nothing to do with these neo-Gnostic fools who’ve unbuckled themselves from the Word of God and have embarked upon their Wild Goose Chase of subjective experience,” wrote Ken Silva of New Hampshire-based Apprising Ministries.

  • This movement and its offshoots represent a dangerous attempt to undermine basic Biblical values under the guise of love, tolerance, inclusiveness and other lofty goals that sound good on the surface but are rotten to the core – a typical Satanic ruse.

NBC Forced to Apologize for Leaving Out ‘Under God’ in Pledge

An omission in the Pledge of Allegiance had NBC issuing an on-air apology Sunday during the U.S. Open for editing out ‘under God’ out of the pledge of allegiance. The network opened its broadcast with a montage that included children reciting the pledge, but the words “under God” were omitted. The backlash on social media was quick and harsh, with some tweets calling for a boycott of NBC. “Regrettably, a portion of the Pledge of Allegiance that was in that feature was edited out. It was not done to upset anyone, and we’d like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it,” NBC announced.

Christians Die for Their Beliefs Every 5 Minutes

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has told an OSCE meeting in Bodollo, Hungary, that 105,000 people are killed every year because of their Christian faith.  That means an average of one Christian is killed every five minutes. Researcher Bert Hickman of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity “We report that … over the last 10 years, on average 100,000 Christians have been killed every year,” Hickman concurred. “This doesn’t count Christians who are killed incidentally because of other causes,” he clarified. International Christian Concern’s Jonathan Racho says “Persecution of Christians has really increased over the past couple of years… The number is consistent with what we’ve been hearing from reports of violent persecution, massacres, and violence.”

More States Require ID to Vote

State legislatures across the country have passed a record number of laws this year requiring photo identification to vote, a controversial move pushed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. Proponents say the measures prevent vote fraud. Opponents say they are designed to stifle turnout among students, poor people and minorities, who are more likely to vote for Democrats but might lack government-issued IDs, such as driver’s licenses and passports. Six states have enacted photo ID laws since January — Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Bills in New Hampshire and North Carolina await gubernatorial action. The measures, all passed by Republican-controlled legislatures, could bring to 17 the number of states with photo ID requirements.

Obama Seeks to Jump-Start Economy Before 2012 Elections

Buffeted by glum economic news and frustrated by chronic joblessness despite $1 trillion in stimulus spending, the Obama administration has begun exploring a plethora of new proposals aimed at jump-starting the economy. Cuts in payroll taxes, reductions in the corporate tax rate, opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to reduce gas prices, and persuading Republicans to buy into more stimulus programs are just a few of the concepts reportedly being discussed. The administration has been battered by a spate of bad economic reports. Among them: Unemployment in May jumped to 9.1 percent, its highest level this year; real estate values have dropped to levels not seen since 2002; new jobless claims continue to be higher than expected. lso, the National Federation of Independent Business reported Tuesday that a majority of small businesses plan to trim their payrolls — the first time that’s happened since September 2010.

  • The danger is that Obama will print more money and create more debt in a vain attempt to get reelected that will further push the economy over the edge

Economic News

Unemployment payments to service members fresh out of the military have doubled since 2008, a sign that veterans are returning from war to an increasingly tough job market. The military paid $882 million in unemployment benefits last year, up from $450 million in fiscal 2008. The 2011 figures are trending even higher.

High food prices are likely to rise even further over the next decade, putting the poor at an increasing risk of malnutrition and hunger, a world food report warned Friday. The report predicts that prices will be 20% higher for cereals and up to 30% higher for meat in the coming decade compared to the past ten years.

As a result of the Dodd-Frank Act enacted by US Congress, a new regulation prohibiting US residents from trading over the counter precious metals, including gold and silver, will go into effect on Friday, July 15, 2011. Section 742(a) of the Dodd-Frank act “prohibits any person from entering into, or offering to enter into, a transaction in any commodity with a person that is not an eligible contract participant or an eligible commercial entity, on a leveraged or margined basis.”

  • Typically, this regulation is so loosely worded that we’ll have to wait and see how it’s enforced. However, control over the gold and silver markets in times of economic “emergency” is a key New World Order objective.

Though the finance ministers of the 17 countries that use the euro agreed to hand over the next bailout installment, worth 12 billion euros ($17 billion), they said they would only do that if the Greek Parliament backed further austerity measures. Greece is preparing to sell off billions of dollars worth of state assets including airports, highways, state-owned companies as well as banks, real estate and gaming licenses to meet international lenders’ demands that it raise funds.

Libya

NATO warplanes dashed into the Libyan capital Tripoli at midday Friday, pounding a target in the south of the city and sending a thick cloud of black smoke rising high into the air. NATO has been ramping up the pressure on Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. Though most airstrikes happen under cover of darkness, daytime raids have grown more frequent. Renewed diplomatic efforts to halt the country’s civil war appeared to be gaining momentum. Officials in the capital say they are open to international efforts that would bring an end to four months of fighting between forces loyal to the longtime leader and rebels who control the eastern third of the country along with pockets in the west. But they insist that Gadhafi will not bow to international pressure to push him aside.

Japan

The owner of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant plans to construct a barrier around one of its reactors that The Telegraph in London describes as a “concrete sarcophagus.” The structure, to contain radiation resulting from the plant’s meltdown after the deadly earthquake and tsunami in March, will be similar to the one built around the reactors at Russia’s Chernobyl plant in 1986. The Tokyo Electric Power Co. will begin construction on June 27, using remote-controlled equipment in order to protect workers. The structure will be outfitted with filters that clean the air inside, allowing workers to eventually enter the facility. The company is expected to do the same with the other reactors if this move proves effective. The Japanese government also approved a bailout that could help save the company from collapse in the face of its estimated $100 billion bill stemming from the Fukushima meltdown in March.

Afghanistan

Obama promised in December, 2009 to start withdrawing troops from the decade-long war in Afghanistan this July — and have almost all of them out by 2014. Now, it’s decision time again and the president is wrestling with the scope and pace of that withdrawal. Does he follow the advice of his military leaders and keep the bulk of the 100,000 troops there for as long as possible? Or does he cede to public impatience and growing demands from Congress that he launch a swift withdrawal?  A bipartisan group of 27 senators sent a letter to Obama noting that the mission in Afghanistan is largely complete — the Taliban government has been driven from power, al-Qaeda has been significantly diminished and its leader, Osama bin Laden, is dead — and demanding a “sizable” reduction in combat troops and logistical and support forces. Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report saying that nearly $19 billion in U.S. aid to Afghanistan over a decade has generated waste and corruption and been of limited success.

A suicide attacker blew up his explosives-laden car next to a German military convoy in northern Afghanistan on Sunday, killing three Afghan civilians and wounding eleven others. The attack comes after a particularly violent day for Afghan and NATO security forces. On Saturday, insurgents targeted a police station in a suicide attack in Kabul, killing nine people, including five civilians, before they were eventually gunned down. Eight NATO service members were killed in Afghanistan the same day. The violence continues despite assertions by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that fledgling peace talks have started between the U.S. and Afghan government and Taliban emissaries. There are as many as 40,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, but only 1,700 of them have agreed to switch sides.

Pakistan

U.S. officials say Pakistan has apparently tipped off militants at two more bomb-building factories in its tribal areas, giving the terror suspects time to flee, after U.S. intelligence shared the locations with the Pakistani government. The latest incidents bring to a total of four bomb-making sites that the U.S. has shared with Pakistan only to have the terrorist suspects flee before the Pakistani military arrived much later. The report does not bode well for attempts by both sides to mend relations and rebuild trust after the U.S. raid on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden.

Suspected U.S. drones fired missiles at a vehicle and a house in northwest Pakistan, killing at least seven people Monday in a rare attack in an area where some of NATO’s fiercest enemies have reportedly traveled. The Obama administration has dramatically stepped up covert CIA drone attacks against militants in Pakistan, but there have been only a handful of strikes in the Kurram tribal area. The U.S. has repeatedly asked Pakistan to launch an offensive against the network in North Waziristan, but the military has said that its forces are stretched too thin by other operations in the tribal areas. As a result, the U.S. has stepped up drone attacks in the area. The strikes Monday in Kurram could signal an expansion of this effort.

Saudi Arabia

Several Saudi women boldly got behind the wheel Friday, including one who managed a 45-minute trip through the nation’s capital, seeking to ignite a road rebellion against the male-only driving rules in the ultraconservative kingdom. Activists have not appealed for mass protests in any specific sites. But they urged Saudi women to begin a growing mutiny against the driving restrictions that are supported by clerics backing austere interpretations of Islam and enforced by powerful morality squads.

Libya

The Libyan government accused NATO of bombing a residential neighborhood in the capital and killing civilians early Sunday, adding to its charges that the alliance is striking nonmilitary targets. At least four people, including two children, were reported killed.

Yemen

At least 17 al Qaeda militants have died in clashes with Yemeni armed forces in Abyan province, state-run Yemen TV reported Monday. More than 100 influential religious clerics and tribal leaders called for the Yemeni president’s ouster and elections to choose a new leader, adding their weight to the opposition movement seeking to end nearly 33 years of autocratic rule by Ali Abdullah Saleh. Government forces in southern Yemen killed 12 al-Qaeda-linked militants and wounded three others in shelling attacks Sunday, Islamic militants are taking advantage of internal strife in Yemen to overrun parts of the country. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is being treated in Saudi Arabia for serious injuries suffered in a June 3 attack on his palace. In his absence, Yemen’s opposition parties have sought to persuade the ruling party to join them in a transitional leadership that would effectively shut out Saleh, who has resisted pressure at home and abroad to step down.

Syria

Syria’s embattled president said Monday his regime would consider political reforms, including ending his Baath Party’s monopoly on power. But Bashar Assad gave no sign he might step down, the key demand of nationwide protests. “Saboteurs” were trying to exploit legitimate demands for reform, he said. The vague timetable and few specifics — and lack of any clear move toward ending the Assad family’s 40-year rule — left Syrian dissidents deeply dissatisfied. The opposition estimates more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as Assad unleashed his military, pro-regime gunmen and the country’s other security forces to crush the protest movement.

Volcanoes

The ash cloud from a Chilean volcano that has been erupting for nearly two weeks has circled the globe and come home again. The cloud — which has disrupted flights in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand on its around-the-world trip — on Friday forced Chilean officials to cancel domestic flights for the first time since the Cordon Caulle volcano began erupting June 4. Chilean authorities evacuated 3,500 people living near the volcano after it began erupting but some have since returned.

Wildfires

Thousands more people evacuated their homes in southern Arizona Sunday as crews battling the Monument wildfire faced extremely high winds that drove flames across roads and containment lines and toward populated areas. The Monument Fire was one of several raging in the Arizona and New Mexico where forecasters say fire crews would likely have little relief from the hot, windy weather that has dogged them for days. About 3,000 people from 1,700 homes were evacuated south of the city of Sierra Vista where the blaze has been burning for a week but picked up speed Sunday as winds gusted up to 60 mph. The flames raced down a mountain and into a heavily populated area, forcing crews to abandon their lines and set up in new spots. Sunday’s evacuations brought the total number to about 10,000 people from 4,300 homes forced to flee the flames that have consumed almost 27,000 acres (over 40 square miles). Some residences were destroyed Sunday, adding to the 44 already reported, but fire officials still don’t have an exact number.

Meanwhile, the massive Wallow Fire that has been burning in eastern Arizona for three weeks kept about 200 residents of Luna, N.M., under an evacuation order for a second day. A containment line that had held through days of high winds was breached Saturday and the fire raced toward town before shifting winds steered it around the community. The Wallow fire, which is burning up much of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, is the largest of several wildfires burning in spots across the southwestern United States. The Wallow blaze has consumed nearly 800 square miles, a little more than 511,000 acres. Residents of Alpine, Ariz., were allowed to return to their homes Saturday morning after being forced out for more than two weeks, while residents of the resort town of Greer will be allowed to return home late Monday morning.

A new wildfire ignited Sunday in northcentral Arizona that officials said could threaten powerlines running to Phoenix as well as some scattered ranches in coming days. The blaze, about 40 miles northeast of Payson, had burned about 500 acres. Another wildfire in Cochise County, Ariz., called Horseshoe Two was 75% contained after charring about 210,000 acres — nearly 330 square miles. It has destroyed 23 structures since it started May 8. All of the Arizona wildfires are believed to be human caused. Investigators believe a campfire was the most likely cause of the Wallow fire. Numerous wildfires are also burning in drought-stricken New Mexico, Texas and Florida.

Weather

Almost all the levees along the Missouri River held strong. There have been no significant injuries or deaths. Now comes the weeks of fretting and worry over whether levees in several states will continue to hold until the river starts to drop sometime this fall. Water from one levee breach, five miles south of the small town of Hamburg, Iowa, reached the partially evacuated community late Wednesday. Upriver in South Sioux City, Neb., officials scrambled earlier this month to build a 7,000-foot-long levee to protect the city’s northwest side.

A flooded river in eastern China is at its highest level in more than 50 years, and thousands of train passengers were stranded after landslides buried parts of a railway line in the southwest. Flooding in China over the past two weeks has left more than 170 people dead or missing and forced out residents in regions along the Yangtze River. The landslides and mudslides have toppled homes and blocked roads due to ongoing torrential rains.

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June 16, 2011

Spring Weather Unprecedented

It was a spring to remember, with America pummeled by tornadoes, floods, wildfire, snowmelt, thunderstorms and drought. Government weather researchers said Wednesday that, while similar extremes have occurred throughout modern American history, never before have they occurred in a single month. The last time anything remotely looked like it was the spring of 1927, which also had a lot of tornadoes and flooding. The preliminary tornado count was 875 for April, and even after duplicates are eliminated the final total is expected to exceed the single-month record of 542 set in May, 2003.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow increasingly volatile and intense

Gay Judge’s Repeal of Same-Sex-Marriage Ban in Calif. is Upheld

A federal judge has upheld a ruling by a gay U.S. judge who struck down the voter-approved ban against same-sex marriage in California. Lawyers for backers of the ban argued at a hearing Monday that Judge Vaughn Walker should have recused himself or disclosed his relationship because he and his partner stood to personally benefit from the verdict. Walker publicly revealed after he retired in February that he is in a 10-year relationship with a man. Rumors that he was gay had circulated before and after he presided over the trial in early 2010. Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware said former Walker did not have to divulge whether he wanted to marry his own gay partner before he declared last year that voter-approved Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

Wisconsin Court Reinstates Contentious Union Law

Overturning a lower court, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has reinstated the contentious law that ends nearly all collective bargaining rights for state employees. The court found a committee of lawmakers was not subject to the state’s open meetings law, and so did not violate that law when they hastily approved the measure and made it possible for the Senate to take it up. In doing so, the Supreme Court overruled a Dane County judge who had struck down the legislation, ending one challenge to the law even as new challenges are likely to emerge.

Mexican Drug War Spills Across U.S. Border

The battle between ruthless Mexican drug cartels threatens to turn America’s southern neighbor into a failed nation-state — and has spilled deeper into U.S. territory than anyone has imagined. The drug wars have claimed nearly 40,000 lives since 2006 in a nightmare of beheadings, mass graves, kidnappings, and endemic corruption at the highest levels of Mexican society, as cartels rake in an astronomical $12 billion a year in illicit revenue. Newsmax has found that despite the administration’s reassurances, Mexico’s drug cartels have penetrated deep into our nation’s heartland, striking fear in ordinary Americans. Pinal County Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu praised Newsmax’s journalism saying the special report  “on the violence that ruthless Mexican cartels have brought into the border regions of the United States is invaluable. They are telling the real story about what’s going on near and on the border, the story that the mainstream media just hasn’t been willing to report.” Almost everywhere along the border, residents are gradually accepting a “new normal,” where the old assumptions of personal security and the rule of law no longer prevail.

In Arizona, high-speed police chases and rolling gun battles between the drug gangs have become routine. These firefights occur not in Nogales or Tijuana or Ciudad Juarez, but north of Tucson, about 35 miles from the nation’s sixth largest city, Phoenix. Law officers have received alerts from intelligence sources warning that the cartels may start booby-trapping their loads with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the bombs that terrorists use to devastating effect against American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. That concern grew less abstract on Easter Sunday. An IED was discovered along Highway 77 near Brownsville, Texas. It took police about three hours to “render the device safe,” and an investigation is underway.

House Members Sue Obama Administration over Libya Mission

A bipartisan group of House members filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging U.S. participation in the Libya military mission. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a letter to Obama on Tuesday that the administration could be in violation of the War Powers Resolution if it fails to get congressional authorization by Sunday, which he notes will be the 90th day since the mission began. The lawsuit cites the War Powers Resolution as well as the role of Congress in protecting taxpayers’ money, said Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, one of the 10 legislators filing it. A statement by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, an anti-war liberal who is leading the lawsuit effort with Jones, said that the lawsuit will “challenge the executive branch’s circumvention of Congress and its use of international organizations such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to authorize the use of military force abroad, in violation of the Constitution.” The Obama administration said Wednesday  in a 32-page unclassified report sent to Congress that U.S. military involvement in the Libya campaign led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization doesn’t need congressional authorization because the U.S. forces are providing primarily a support role and aren’t engaged in combat with hostile forces.

ATF Agents Call Gun-Tracking Program a ‘Disaster’

Federal agents based in Arizona “abandoned” surveillance of suspicious gun purchases along the Southwest border for months and allowed possibly hundreds of weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartel operatives. Three federal gun agents told a House committee Wednesday that dozens of gun traffickers suspected of working for Mexican drug cartels were “allowed to walk free” during an investigative operation that allowed hundreds of guns to fall into the hands of cartel enforcers and other criminals along the southwest border. “What we have here is a colossal failure of leadership,” said ATF agent Pete Forcelli, a supervisor in the Phoenix office. “We weren’t giving guns to people for killing bear, we were giving guns to people to kill other humans. This was a catastrophic disaster.” Forcelli and fellow agents John Dodson and Olindo Casa said they repeatedly raised concerns to their bosses about the risks, but, they said, their warnings were dismissed. Testimony from the agents and Terry’s family were part of a congressional inquiry of the ATF. Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said the allegations raised by the agents were being “taken very seriously.” He said a separate internal Justice Department investigation was ongoing.

  • While the mainstream media blames lax gun laws for arming Mexican drug cartels with American-made weapons, it is lack of enforcement and bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption that is the real problem.

TSA Security Exercise Covers 3 States, 5,000 Miles

A joint VIPR “security exercise” involving military personnel has Transportation Security Administration workers covering 5,000 miles and three states illustrates how the TSA is turning into a literal occupying army for domestic repression in America. The TSA, in alliance with a whole host of federal, state, local agencies as well as military personnel, is currently conducting a massive “security exercise” throughout Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. TSA grope downs and body scans are now being rolled out on highways, street corners, train stations, bus depots, public buildings, at sports events, and even at local prom nights as part of the VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) program promoted by the Obama Administration. The TSA has also announced its intention to expand the VIPR program to include roadside inspections of commercial vehicles, setting up a network of internal checkpoints and rolling out security procedures already active in airports, bus terminals and subway stations to roads and highways across the United States. Since the launch of the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” program, the DHS has also released promotional material which depicts would-be TSA agents conducting searches at public events, including a Tampa Bay football game.

  • Under the guise of preparing for repressing domestic violence under emergency powers, the federal government has set in motion operations that could well be used to suppress any opposition deemed dangerous by Homeland Security.

FBI Expands Agents’ Investigative Power

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents — allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention. The FBI soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents. The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity. A May ruling by the Supreme Court, Kentucky v. King, expanded the ability to conduct warrantless home searches.

  • In violation of the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the federal government continues to expand its powers in the name of Homeland Security but at the expense of God-given and constitutionally authorized freedoms

Blog Hoaxer Apologizes Amid Backlash

A 40-year-old American man living in Scotland said Monday he’s sorry for posing as a Syrian lesbian blogger who offered vivid accounts of life amid revolt and repression in Damascus, a hoax that has exposed the difficulty of sifting truth from fiction online. Tom MacMaster said he created the fictional persona of Amina Arraf and the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog to draw attention to conditions in a Middle East convulsed by change. Gay rights activists and bloggers say MacMaster has endangered real people who are trying to tell their stories in authoritarian societies. The blogs about life as a Syrian-American lesbian grabbed international attention soon after they began in February.

  • Sorting out truth from fiction is becoming more and more difficult in general, but especially over the anonymous Internet. Many sensationalistic emails being passed around have proven false. We must even be cautious with the Snopes site used to check veracity because it has a ultra-liberal slant

‘Gay’ Indoctrination a Reality

One homosexual activist says people who live the same lifestyle he leads aim to indoctrinate and recruit young children. In a recent opinion article, David Villarreal openly confesses that homosexual activists are pushing anti-bullying measures and pro-“gay” curriculum on children to “recruit” them. Villarreal writes that he would “very much like for many of these young boys to grow up and start [having sex with] men,” and he insists that children who are not indoctrinated to accept alternate lifestyles will later become “hateful” and ignorant. Dran Reese, director of The Salt & Light Council, laments the goal to target young children. “This is beyond perverted and immoral; this shows that homosexuals have no good, quality intentions with children but to indoctrinate them into a perverted, sexual lifestyle,” she contends.

Obama’s Birth Certificate Forged, Many Claim

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, the chief of Stand Up America, a national security expert and Fox News contributor, says the “Certificate of Live Birth” released in April by the White House as “proof positive” of President Obama’s Hawaiian birth is a forgery, but the FBI is covering the fraud and no one in Congress is willing to tackle the situation because of fears of a “black backlash” if the failings of the nation’s first black president are revealed. “We’ve had three CIA agents, retired, and some of their analytical associates look at it, and all came to the same conclusion, that even the long-form was a forged document,” Vallely said. WorldNetDaily also reports that scanner expert Doug Vogt has filed criminal charges with the FBI, alleging that the Obama birth certificate released by the White House April 27 was fraudulently created.

Childhood Diseases Return as Parents Refuse Vaccines

At least 152 cases of measles diagnosed in the USA so far this year — twice the number seen in a typical year, and the biggest outbreak in 15 years, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Half of patients have had to be hospitalized. The return of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles a viral illness that once killed 3,000 to 5,000 Americans a year is due to an increase in the number of parents who are refusing or delaying vaccinations for their children, experts say. In the past three years, doctors also have seen outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases such as mumps, whooping cough and a life-threatening bacterial infection called Hib. Although overall vaccine coverage remains high, 40% of parents say they have deliberately skipped or delayed a shot for their children. The biggest impediment to vaccinating kids today is not cost, but fear, Around the world, millions of parents began skipping or delaying vaccines because of an infamous (and since retracted) 1998 study in the British medical journal The Lancet. The study’s author theorized that a combined measles-mumps-rubella shot caused autism.

  • This remains a contentious issue because many continue to argue that the shots cause more problems than they prevent.

U.S. Births Down for 3rd Straight Year

U.S. births apparently have declined for a third year in a row, probably because of the weak economy. Births had been on the rise for years, and the number hit an all-time high of more than 4.3 million in 2007. But the count has been dropping since then. Last year, it fell 3% to slightly more than 4 million births. Experts believe the downward trend is tied to the economy, which officially was in a recession from December 2007 until June 2009 and is still flagging. The theory is that women who are unemployed or have other money problems feel they can’t afford to start a family or add to it.

Social Security Makes $6.5B in Overpayments

Social Security made $6.5 billion in overpayments to people not entitled to receive them in 2009, including $4 billion under a supplemental income program for the very poor, a government investigator said Tuesday. In all, about 10 % of the payments made under the agency’s Supplemental Security Income program were improper, said Patrick P. O’Carroll Jr., the Social Security inspector general. Error rates were much smaller for retirement, survivor and disability benefits, which make up the overwhelming majority of Social Security payments, O’Carroll told a congressional panel. Throughout the federal government, improper payments totaled $125 billion last year, up from $110 billion in 2009, O’Carroll said.

  • $125 billion is around 10% of our total annual deficit, an astounding number, once again revealing the gross inefficiency of our bloated government

Economic News

Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, though applications remain above levels consistent with a healthy economy. The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of new people signing up for unemployment benefits fell 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 414,000, the second drop in three weeks. Still, applications have been above 400,000 for 10 straight weeks, evidence that the job market is weak compared to earlier this year.

Another report Thursday showed that builders broke ground on more homes in May, but most of the gains were in the volatile apartment sector. New-home construction rose 3.5% from April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 units per year, but still far below the 1.2 million new homes per year that must be built to sustain a healthy housing market.

Americans paid more for food, cars and clothing in May. But the overall Consumer Price Index rose by the smallest amount in six months, slowed by the first drop in energy costs in nearly a year. Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% in May, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That’s down from April’s 0.4% increase. Food costs rose 0.4%. But energy costs fell 1%. So-called “core” prices, which exclude volatile food and energy, rose 0.3%, the most in nearly three years. Consumer prices rose 3.6% from April 2010 through May 2011, the biggest one-year gain since October 2008.

Three reports on the economy delivered a mixed report Tuesday: the Commerce Department said Americans bought fewer cars in May, pulling retail sales down (by 0.2%) for the first time in nearly a year; the Labor Department said wholesale prices rose at the slowest pace (0.2%) in 10 months in May as food costs fell and gas prices rose by the smallest amount in eight months; and businesses added to their stockpiles for a 16th consecutive month in April, but with the downturn in retail sales, many companies could be forced to slash inventories, further weakening the economy.

The outlook among homebuilders has been bad all year. And this month it became grimmer. An index that measures builders’ sentiment for their industry fell three points in June to 13, the National Association of Home Builders said Monday. That’s the lowest level in nine months. And it’s just five points above the lowest reading on record, from January 2009. Any reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the market.

The number of homeowners put on notice for being behind on their mortgage payments fell in May to the lowest level since 2006, result of a slowing housing market and lingering delays in banks’ foreclosure processes. Mortgage lenders, many of whom are still working through foreclosure documentation problems that surfaced last fall, also took back fewer properties in May, the second monthly decline in a row.

U.S. factories produced more goods in May, rebounding after supply disruptions stemming from the Japan crises and tornadoes in the South cut their output for the first time in 10 months. Factory production increased 0.4 percent last month. The increase follows April’s decline of 0.5 percent.

Four-dollar gas is quickly becoming a thing of the past, but not before siphoning billions from consumers and forcing the economy into low gear. After topping $4 a gallon in 17 states and threatening to surpass the all-time record of $4.11, reached in July 2008, regular-grade gasoline now averages $3.69. That’s 29 cents below May’s $3.98 high. The slide in prices — linked to rising inventories and soft demand — could continue through summer.

Greece

Tens of thousands of Greek demonstrators marched on parliament Wednesday in Athens to try to keep the government from passing a new austerity plan, with some young people on the edge of the rally throwing rocks and firebombs at police. At one point, peaceful demonstrators clashed with the violent groups of hooded youths to try to separate them from the larger rally. Thousands of police used parked buses and crowd barriers to block access to the building. The protests came as Prime Minister George Papandreou, facing an internal party revolt, is trying to push through a new five-year campaign of tax hikes, spending cuts and sale of state property in order to continue getting aid from the European Union and International Monetary Fund and avoid default.

Spain

About 2,000 demonstrators angry about planned budget cuts in education and health clashed with police outside a regional parliament in Spain on Wednesday. There were reports of 36 injuries. Some politicians could only reach Catalonia’s parliament using police helicopters. Scuffles broke out when police pushed back protesters so other lawmakers arriving on foot could get in. The politicians were heckled and at least two were sprayed with paint.

  • As economic conditions worsen over the next few years, necessary budget cuts will evoke more and more violent protests

Afghanistan

The number of attacks by Afghan security forces directly on U.S. and allied troops has increased dramatically this year. Since 2005, there have been 22 such attacks, nine of them in 2011, or 40% of the total. The attacks have coincided with an increase in the size of Afghan security forces and the addition of 30,000 more U.S. troops last year. The attacks since 2005 have killed 51 troops from the U.S.-led coalition and wounded 48 more.

Iraq

Assailants launched a complex strike on a government compound northeast of the capital Tuesday, setting off a suicide car bomb outside and then breaching the building’s perimeter. Nine people were killed, including at least three of the attackers. The attack in Baqouba bore the hallmarks of the insurgent group, al-Qaeda in Iraq. The assault also raised questions about how prepared Iraqi security forces are to protect the country when American troops leave by the end of this year.

Pakistan

The Pakistani army denied Wednesday that one of its majors was among a group of Pakistanis who Western officials say were arrested for feeding the CIA information before the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The New York Times reported said an army major was detained who copied license plates of cars visiting the al-Qaeda chief’s compound in Pakistan in the weeks before the raid. A Western official in Pakistan confirmed that five Pakistanis who fed information to the CIA before the May 2 operation were arrested by Pakistan’s top intelligence service. The arrests represent the latest crisis in the strained relationship between the two countries, a relationship that experts and military officials say is vital to the U.S. effort in battling terrorists.

Assist News Service reports that, although three Christians were acquitted in a blasphemy case recently, their lives are still under potential death threats by radicals. A local judge in Rawalpindi acquitted the three, as the prosecutor failed to prove the case against them. Additional District and Sessions Judge Sarfraz Akhter acquitted Hector Haleem, Basharat Masih and Robin Masih of the charges of sending blasphemous text messages. The case was initiated against them last year by a Muslim, Ghufran Sialvi. The court also initiated a criminal complaint against the investigating officer and the complainant after they failed to prove the charges against the accused. Haleem’s daughter Mehwish posted online petitions and posts asking for support of her father’s release.

Al-Qaeda Names New Leader, Calls for Jihad Against Sacred Places

Al-Qaeda’s longtime No. 2 leader, a doctor from a prominent Egyptian family who worked with Osama bin Laden for decades, has succeeded the slain terrorist as head of the global network, the group said Thursday. Ayman al-Zawahri, who turns 60 on Sunday, has long brought ideological fire, tactics and organizational skills to al-Qaeda. The surgeon by training was behind the first use of the suicide bombings and independent terror cells that have become the network’s trademarks. He is believed to be living somewhere near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

An ABC News report contains a newly released video by Al-Qaeda with specific calls for attacks on sacred places.  The video encourages western Muslims to conduct individual violent jihad against Western sacred places and houses of worship. Al-Qaeda media spokesman Adam Gadahn encourages western Muslims to conduct attacks in their home countries as an obligation and depicts the west as being at war with Islam. The video also provides guidance on how to conduct violent jihad, to operate in secrecy, to attack public figures, and to launch cyber attacks. Gadahn is quoted in the video as saying: “Muslims in the West have to remember that they are perfectly placed to play an important and decisive part in the jihad against the Zionists and crusaders, and to do major damage to the enemies of Islam, waging war on their religion, sacred places,” says Gadahn.

Yemen

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis demonstrated in nearly every major city of the country on Tuesday. They were the largest protests since President Ali Abdullah Saleh went abroad for medical treatment for injuries suffered in an attack on his compound. Yemen remains locked in a power struggle between the president’s allies and tribesmen demanding an end to the regime’s nearly 33-year rule. Islamic militants emboldened by months of turmoil in Yemen launched a surprise dawn attack Wednesday on a southern city, seizing entire neighborhoods for nearly 12 hours before withdrawing to farmlands on the outskirts. One soldier was killed and three were wounded in fighting between the militants and government troops in Houta, provincial capital of Lahj province. The militants are believed to number include several al-Qaeda members.

Libya

NATO resumed its airstrike on the Libyan capital of Tripoli late Tuesday, blasting at least two targets just before midnight, after military leaders voiced concerns about sustaining the operations if the alliance mission drags on. NATO’s nearly three-month air campaign has grounded Gadhafi’s air forces and weakened his military capabilities. But there are signs the pace of operations has put a strain on the trans-Atlantic alliance. In London, the head of British fleet — a key contributor to the Libya mission — warned that Britain will be unable to maintain the pace of operations if the mission drags on until the end of the year.

Syria

Troops opened fire early Thursday in the outskirts of Maaret al-Numan, a town of 100,000 on the highway linking Damascus with Syria’s second-largest city, Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers and buses used to transport anti-terrorism forces were deploying around the town of Khan Sheikhon south of Maaret al-Numan. It added that residents were fleeing the town that is surrounded from three sides. Syrian President Bashar Assad has unleashed the military to crush a popular uprising against his authoritarian rule. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.

The Syrian government’s crackdown is sharpening sectarian tensions along one of the country’s most explosive fault lines: relations between the Sunni Muslim majority and the minority Alawite sect to which the family of President Bashar al-Assad belongs, the New York Times reports. Deepening animosities are stoking fears of a civil war that is also being used as a pretext for suppressing dissent.. Syria is a volatile blend of Sunnis, Alawites, Christians, Kurds and others inhabiting the same land, but with disproportionate political power vested in the Alawite elite.

Nigeria

A suicide bombing in the parking lot of police headquarters in Nigeria’s capital has killed two people. A car blew up in the parking lot outside the building of the police headquarters Thursday morning. Police say the suicide bomber and a traffic warden who rode in the car to show the driver where to park were both killed in the attack. Nigeria has experienced a rise in bomb attacks in public spaces over the last year, but suicide bombings are practically unheard of in Africa’s most populous nation. Police blame a radical Muslim sect locally known as Boko Haram.

Algeria

Worthy News reports that all churches in use and under construction in Bejaia, Algeria, have been ordered to close. The High Commissioner of police, who gave the order, threatened “severe consequences and punishments” if Christians refuse. The country has required all non-Muslim worship sites to hold permits since 2006, but has repeatedly denied registering churches who attempt to comply. According to Mustapha Krim, Protestant Church Association in Algeria, churches have “gone round-and-round with [officials] for years… they want us to disappear from the map.” Following the most recent orders, Christians have continued to meet in house churches or in rural areas. “We worship out of conviction,” said parishioner. “We are not afraid, because we did nothing wrong. Whatever the circumstances, we will continue to say: ‘We are here to praise your name, Lord.'”

Volcanoes

The drifting plume of ash from Chile’s erupting volcano forced new cancelations of dozens of flights on Monday in Argentina, Uruguay and other South American countries, even as airlines in Australia. The cloud also has drifted across the Pacific Ocean, and most flights between Australia and New Zealand remained grounded.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake struck early Thursday off an island in the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea. No tsunami warning was issued, but the shaking was felt hundreds of miles away. the magnitude-6.6 quake struck just off the island of New Britain at a depth of 13 miles. The area is along the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanos and fault lines.

Wildfires

The Wallow Fire in Arizona has become the largest wildfire in the state’s history, surpassing the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire. The amount of land burned by the fire grew to about 750 square miles. The blaze was about 29% contained, fire officials said Wednesday. In Luna, N.M., just across the Arizona state line, evacuation plans were in place for the roughly 200 residents. Crews have been working to protect the town for days, hacking down brush, using chain saws to cut trees and setting small fires to burn anything that approaching flames could use as fuel. Investigators were questioning two “persons of interest” in the search for a cause of the massive wildfire, suspecting that an unattended campfire started the fire.

The Horseshoe2 fire further south in Arizona. Burning now for over a month, has now consumed over 300 square miles and 23 structures and is still only 60% contained. A new fire, Monument, broke out on 9,300 acres (almost 15 square miles) four miles east of Hereford in southeast Arizona, destroying or damaging 40 homes. Meanwhile, another fire broke out Monday in southern New Mexico at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and has burned over 30,400 acres as of Thursday morning.. Hundreds of visitors were evacuated as crews tackled the 3,000-acre wildfire inside the park. Another New Mexico wildfire near the Colorado border forced the closure of a busy interstate highway and has now burned over 25,600 acres and destroyed 13 structures. It is still only 20% contained as of Thursday morning. In Texas, eight large wildfires have consumed over 57,000 acres (about 90 square miles).

Wildfire concerns caused by droughts are combining with budget problems to increase the number of Fourth of July fireworks displays called off or in jeopardy of being canceled. States including Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana, California, Arizona and Alabama have banned all outdoor burning in certain areas, as well as the sale and use of fireworks.

Weather

A temporary earthen levee is the only barrier standing between Hamburg, Iowa and the floodwaters of the Missouri River, and officials hope efforts to beef it up will be enough to keep the small southwestern Iowa town from filling up like a bathtub. The stakes are high: If it fails, parts of the town could be covered by as much as 10 feet of water within days. And the high water could linger for months.

Hundreds of Canadian pronghorn antelope could be the next victims of snowmelt-driven flooding plaguing central Montana. Herds are stranded on the wrong side of the swollen Missouri River and face doubtful survival as they try to get back home. Nine feet of snow fell this winter in parts of central Montana, driving pronghorn antelope south from Canada sooner, and farther, than in past years. This winter, 55% of migrating antelope tagged in one survey were killed crossing rivers as well as by severe cold and starvation.

China says more floods caused by torrential rains in central and south China have left another seven people dead and seven missing. The heavy rains since Monday have forced about 88,000 people in six provinces to leave their homes. Weather forecasters say the heavy rains are expected to continue until Friday. Seasonal flooding has already left more than 170 people dead or missing.

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June 13, 2011

Arizona Wildfire

Thousands of people forced from two eastern Arizona communities by a massive wildfire were allowed to return home Sunday as firefighters reported progress against the blaze, but officials warned of potentially unhealthful levels of air pollution. With ash and smoke still thick in the air and limiting visibility, 7,000 residents of Springerville and Eagar were allowed back into their evacuated communities Sunday morning where 71 structures have been destroyed. Another 2,700 residents of rural areas near the fire were still under evacuation orders. New Mexico health officials were also warning residents of potentially hazardous air quality over the weekend from throat-burning smoke spewing from the gigantic wildfire in eastern Arizona that has been blazing for several weeks. The 710-square-mile fire jumped the state line late Friday as firefighters moved to counter spot fires sprouting up in New Mexico and lighting their own fires to beat it back. Health officials warned residents as far away as Albuquerque and Santa Fe about potential respiratory hazards.

Experts say the Southwest has entered an era of monster fires, sprawling infernos that, if they continue to erupt, could wipe out half of the state’s pine forests in another decade. In the past nine years, five oversized fires – two this year alone – have scorched more than 1.3 million acres of Arizona’s wildlands. The Wallow Fire, still out of control in the forests and meadows of the White Mountains, grew in less than two weeks into the second-largest fire in the state’s modern history. With so much at risk every time a monster fire takes hold, experts say state and federal officials must be more aggressive about managing forests to prevent a fire from exploding out of control. The key, they say, is thinning and restoring health to overgrown forests at a rate faster than they are burning. The Wallow Fire, which began raging across the White Mountains on May 29, is still only 10% contained and has destroyed at least 50 structures, including more than 29 homes.

More Earthquakes in New Zealand

A series of earthquakes shook the quake-weary New Zealand city of Christchurch on Monday, bringing down at least one building and briefly trapping two people inside a damaged church. Power was cut to about 10,000 homes in the city’s eastern suburbs, and dust billowed from the cordoned-off city center devastated in February’s major earthquake. More than 80 percent of the buildings in the central city’s “red zone” were damaged in that disaster, including more than 700 that cannot be salvaged. Ten people have been taken to hospitals with minor injuries from falling debris. All across Christchurch, people fled buildings in panic when a 5.2-magnitude quake struck during lunchtime. Just over an hour later, a 6.0 quake was recorded. The city has been shaken by thousands of aftershocks since the 6.3-magnitude quake killed 181 people on Feb. 22.

Obama Administration Creating ‘Shadow’ Communication Networks

The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks. The American effort, revealed in dozens of interviews, planning documents and classified diplomatic cables obtained by The New York Times, ranges in scale, cost and sophistication. Some projects involve technology that the United States is developing; others pull together tools that have already been created by hackers in a so-called liberation-technology movement sweeping the globe. The State Department, for example, is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside the reach of governments in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya, according to participants in the projects. In one of the most ambitious efforts, United States officials say, the State Department and Pentagon have spent at least $50 million to create an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan using towers on protected military bases inside the country. It is intended to offset the Taliban’s ability to shut down the official Afghan services, seemingly at will.

Cyber Attacks Increasing

Citigroup’s acknowledgment Thursday of a major data breach of customer account information is the latest in a string of reported cyber attacks on companies, schools and government agencies. This was the 251st public notification of a data breach this year. Cybercriminals are actively probing corporate networks for weaknesses, and businesses face unprecedented pressure to let everyone know when they’ve been hacked. Other high-profile breach disclosures this year include e-mail marketer Epsilon, Nasdaq, Sony, Google and defense contractors RSA, Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications and Northrop Grumman. On Friday Spanish police arrested three suspected computer hackers who allegedly belonged to a loose-knit international activist group linked to cyberattacks on Sony’s PlayStation network.

Experts Say Cook Sprouts to be Safe

Salad eaters, beware. Experts say it’s little surprise that sprouts are behind the world’s deadliest E. coli outbreak. Sprouts need warm and humid conditions to grow — precisely the same conditions required by bugs like E. coli and salmonella to thrive. And raw sprouts have been blamed before in food poisoning outbreaks, in the U.S. and a large outbreak in Japan in 1996. Investigators have determined that locally grown vegetable sprouts are the cause of the European E. coli outbreak that has killed 29 and sickened nearly 3,000. Germany has been the epicenter of the outbreak, with 2,808 sickened in Germany, 722 of whom are suffering from a serious complication that can cause kidney failure.

Southern Baptists in Decline

Baptisms fell to their lowest number in 60 years among Southern Baptists, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. The new numbers are a sign that the denomination is in trouble, Baptist leaders say. In 2010, Southern Baptists baptized 332,321 people, or 17,416 fewer than in 2009. Membership also dropped for the fourth year in a row, leaving the denomination with 16,136,044 members. “This is not a blip,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay. “This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline.” Stetzer pointed to two factors for the baptism decline. Southern Baptists are getting older, meaning they have fewer children who are being raised in the faith. And, Southern Baptists have lost their enthusiasm for evangelism — the practice of bringing new people into the faith.

Bible Bricks Squelched

A California high school has shut down a memorial brick paver fundraiser just because two Christian women wanted Bible verses on the bricks they purchased. Lou Ann Hart and Sheryl Caronna submitted requests and contributed several hundred dollars to purchase brick pavers with engraved scriptures. The pavers were to be placed along walkways at Palm Desert High School. Last August, after the bricks were made — but before they were installed — the women were informed that because of the religious messages on the pavers, they would not be included along the walkways at the school. In January, the women filed a lawsuit in a U.S. district court to allow the Christian messages. Now, rather than accept the pavers with Bible verses, the Desert Sands Unified School District has shut down the entire program and refunded all the money.

Why is the Federal Government Stockpiling Survival Food?

Off The Grid News reports that one of the nation’s largest suppliers of dehydrated food has cut loose 99% of their dealers and distributors because they’re using every bit of manufacturing capacity they have to fulfill massive new government contracts. FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) put out a Request for Proposal, or RFP, for even more dehydrated food. The RFP called for a 10-day supply of meals – for 14 million people. That’s 420 million meals. Typically, FEMA maintains a stockpile of about 6 million meals. In this economic climate, you would expect FEMA to be minimizing expenses. The approximate tab for 420 million meals comes to about a billion dollars.

  • Clearly the feds believe there will be a massive economic disruption in the near future. But who will get the survival food? The haves or the have-nots? No doubt about it, they’ll protect themselves first and foremost.

Economic News

The government is on track to exceed $1 trillion in deficit spending for a third straight year. The deficit for the first eight months of the current fiscal year is $927.4 billion, according to a new report from the Treasury Department. The U.S. has already exceeded debt limit of $14.3 trillion. The Treasury Department says it can keep paying bills until Aug. 2, but after that the the nation faces a serious credit risk that will raise the price of future borrowing.

This week a third credit agency, Fitch ratings, said it would downgrade the USA debt rating if President Obama raises the debt limit without responsible spending cuts. Fitch said it would put America on the “debt watch list,” joining Moody Investor Services and Standard & Poors, who already warn the international community that America may soon be bankrupt.

  • The evidence of a deepening economic slowdown is irrefutable. Housing is in double-dip territory. Bank stocks are plunging. Earnings warnings are multiplying. Everything from industrial production to consumer confidence to job growth is dropping. And now, perhaps most important of all, we have the growing impotence of Washington. Unlike in the past, it’s also going to be extremely difficult for the Federal Reserve to respond with another bout of money printing given the political pressures.

Fears that the global economic recovery is stalling pushed the Dow Jones industrial average below 12,000 for the first time since March and drove the stock market lower for the sixth straight week. Traders worry that weaker hiring, sluggish industrial output, and a moribund housing market are reversing a bull market that has lifted the Dow 20% over the past year.

The nation’s largest mortgage loan servicers have done a poor job in modifying distressed home loans through the government’s foreclosure prevention program and need “substantial improvement,” the Obama administration disclosed. Based on a recent audit, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase will lose government financial incentives — which reach at least $1,000 for a permanent loan modification — until they improve, the Treasury Department said. They received $24 million in such incentives last month. None of the 10 largest servicers participating in the Making Home Affordable Program have done a good job, Treasury reported.

The treasurer of Taylor Bean, the nation’s largest private mortgage lender, has been sentenced to six years in prison for her role in a $3 billion fraud that contributed to the sixth-largest bank collapse in U.S. history. The former president of the company received a 2-year sentence for his role in the scheme. Taylor Bean cheated three banks out of nearly $3 billion, leading to the collapse of Alabama-based Colonial Bank, and tried to get more than $500 million from the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Egypt

Egypt’s economy, whose inequities and lack of opportunities helped topple a government, has now ground to a virtual halt, further wounded by the revolution itself. The 18-day revolt stopped new foreign investment and decimated the pivotal tourist industry. The annual growth slowed to less than 2 percent from a projected 5 percent, and Egypt’s hard currency reserves plunged 25 percent. In a region where economic woes enraged an entire generation, whether and how Egypt can fix its broken economy will be a crucial factor in determining the revolution’s success. It could also influence the outcome of the revolts across the Arab region, where economic troubles are stirring fears of continued instability, authoritarian crackdowns, or even a backlash against what had appeared to be a turn toward Western-style market reforms.

Saudi Arabia

As one nation after another has battled uprisings across the Arab world, the one major country spared is also its richest — Saudi Arabia, where a fresh infusion of money has so far bought order. The kingdom is spending $130 billion to pump up salaries, build housing and finance religious organizations, among other outlays, effectively neutralizing most opposition. King Abdullah began wielding his checkbook right after leaders in Tunisia and Egypt fell, seeking to placate the public and reward a loyal religious establishment. The king’s reserves, swollen by more than $214 billion in oil revenue last year, have insulated the royal family from widespread demands for change even while some discontent simmers.

Iran

Iran has been caught ten different times in recent years transferring weapons to terrorists in the Middle East, according to the Jerusalem Post. The most recent incident came in April when British forces in Afghanistan found a weapons shipment of advanced Iranian-made anti-ship missiles and rockets for the Taliban. In addition, the Israeli Navy busted a cargo ship carrying arms for Hamas and how Turkish authorities stopped a cargo plane bound for Syria containing dozens of AK-47 assault rifles and nearly 2,000 mortar shells.

Pakistan

Two explosions went off minutes apart in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar, killing 34 people and injuring more than 100 in one of the deadliest attacks since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last month. The blasts, one of which was caused by a suicide bomber, occurred just after midnight Sunday in an area of the city that is home to political offices and army housing. The attack took place as CIA Director Leon Panetta and Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Islamabad, 95 miles to the east, to speak separately with senior Pakistani officials about intelligence sharing and efforts to reconcile with the Taliban.

  • Reconcile with the Taliban? Reconciliation with fanatic Islamist militants is not possible.

Afghanistan

The U.N. released a report Friday showing this past May to be the deadliest month for Afghan civilians since 2007.A string of attacks across Afghanistan Saturday, including a suicide bomber pushing an ice cream cart, killed at least 21 people A suicide bomber has killed four police officers and wounded at least six others guarding a remembrance ceremony for a top Afghan police commander. guards stopped the bomber from entering a Kunduz City mosque in the northern province of Kunduz. The bomber then detonated his explosives outside the mosque.

Libya

From the east and west, working with NATO air strikes, resurgent rebels battled Libyan government forces on Sunday at flashpoints along the Mediterranean coast. At least 22 people were killed as fighting raged in the western Libyan city of Misrata where forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi attempted to enter from the west and south. More than 60 others were injured. The city was continuously bombarded Friday afternoon. Misrata has borne the brunt of the fighting for the past two months. More than 1,000 people are believed to have been killed since early February, including 686 civilians who lived in the city. Meanwhile thousands of protesters overwhelmed security officers and torched the courthouse and police station in the northern town of Maaret al-Numan, and the army responded with tank shells.

Syria

Under the rattle of heavy gunfire and loud explosions, Syrian troops on Sunday regained control of a restive northwestern town, clashing with mutinous soldiers whose decision to side with armed protesters posed a potent threat to the authoritarian régime. Syrian forces shelled the town in of Jisr Al-Shugur and opened fire on scattered protests nationwide, killing at least 32 people over the weekend,. Thousands of citizens dashed to the Turkish border as military forces plowed forward. Syria’s government has said 500 members of the security forces have died, including 120 last week in Jisr al-Shughour. More than 1,400 Syrians have died and some 10,000 have been detained in the government crackdown since mid-March.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Syrian President Bashar Assad, condemning the Damascus regimes crackdown on protesters.  “Sadly, they don’t behave like humans,” Erdogan said of the Syrian army’s 4th Division, commanded by Bashar’s younger brother Maher Assad. The commentary was unusual for Erdogan, who has worked to strengthen his country’s relationship with Syria since coming to power in 2003.

Yemen

Nearly 100,000 Yemenis protested Friday in a main square of the capital, demanding the president’s ouster in the biggest rally since Ali Abdullah Saleh left for Saudi Arabia after he was wounded in an attack on his palace. Badly burned, Saleh was rushed to Saudi Arabia for treatment along with a number of top officials from his regime who also were wounded in the blast.

Jordan

A Jordanian security official says King Abdullah II was unharmed following an attack on his motorcade in southern Jordan, the Associated Press reports. AFP reports that a group of young men in the southern city of Tafileh attacked the motorcade with stones and empty bottles. On Sunday, the king vowed to implement reforms leading to a parliamentary election and creation of a cabinet based on the results. He also promised a crackdown on corruption, but warned against “chaos” and a creation by the media of a climate of “hatred.” Abdullah was on a fact-finding trip to inspect infrastructure projects and hear his subjects’ demands.

Lebanon

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Najib Mikati has formed a new government that he hopes will receive the backing of parliament, he announced Monday, five months after the country’s last government fell. The government of the last prime minister, Saad Hariri, was brought down in January by the Shiite Hezbollah movement. Mikati is a Sunni political independent who was backed by Hezbollah and its allies.

North Korea

The US Navy intercepted a North Korean ship suspected of carrying missiles to Burma, forcing it to return to the rogue nuclear state. North Korea has been accused of repeatedly flouting international sanctions to deliver arms and possibly nuclear material to other pariah states, such as Burma and Iran.

Somalia

An explosion Friday in the home of Somalia’s interior minister killed him and a woman suspected of being a bomber as violent demonstrations swept the capital. Security guards and soldiers opened fire on stone-throwing protesters angry at an agreement calling for the ouster of the country’s popular prime minister, killing two people. The minister’s niece carried out the attack and that she was “sent” by al-Shabab,” an Islamist militia with ties to al-Qaida.

Nigeria

Bombers set off seven explosions in Maiduguri, Nigeria on Tuesday, including one next to a Catholic church. The blasts killed at least five people. Police spokesman Lawal Abdullahi told Agence France-Presse that police engaged in a shootout with and killed at least three of the attackers in the city, situated in Borno State in north-eastern Nigeria. He said a bomb hurled by attackers into St. Patrick’s church missed the target and landed back out on the street where it went off, killing two passers-by. According to the Christian Post, the attackers were part of the Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has repeatedly attacked non-Islamic targets across the country. The group has also claimed responsibility for instigating and pursuing deadly violence following last months’ president election.

Wildfires

Wildfires have scorched nearly 4 million acres this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. The center says this is about two-and-a-half times the historic average to this date and represents the highest total acres burned in the past decade.

Weather

While tornadoes and floods have made most of the national weather headlines over the past several weeks, raging wildfires and blistering drought also have continued to plague huge portions of the southern tier of the USA. Most of the fires have been in bone-dry Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Drought extends from Arizona to Florida, with Louisiana (100% in drought), Texas (98%), and New Mexico (99%) the three hardest-hit states, with Arizona at 74%.  Fifty-eight percent of Texas is experiencing “exceptional” drough, the worst level. Drought also continued to expand across 80% of highly populated southeastern Florida. The drought is wilting crops across the state, sparking wildfires and dropping Lake Okeechobee— one of the country’s largest lakes — to historically low levels.

The plight of cities along the Missouri River has been well documented. But beyond the cities, individual ranches and farms also are under threat throughout the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska. And they often don’t have the resources that are available to save homes and property in populated areas. Water hasn’t been this high since 1952.

One of the more vexing outcomes of the recent Mississippi River floods is the large volume of silt being deposited by the powerful current at the mouth of the river, where giant commercial ships and tankers angle through each day to reach ports, refineries and other destinations upriver. The river dumps sediment every year near its mouth, and each year the Army Corps of Engineers must dig out enough of it to allow ships and tankers to pass through safely. But this year’s unusually swollen river has pulled down a record amount of sediment. The lower Mississippi River, which usually collects 36 million cubic yards of silt a year, is on track this year to amass 60 million cubic yards Southwest Pass, a 22-mile tributary that connects the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, has narrowed from 750 feet wide to less than 200 feet in some places because of the increased sediment.

Chinese state media says a new round of flooding across central China has killed 41 people and injured more than 100 with 33 still missing. Floodwaters toppled homes and destroyed embankments at reservoirs and rivers in Hubei province. Torrential rain hit Xianning city from Thursday night to Friday morning, and inundated three counties in the province. In Hunan province, flooding has destroyed roads and cut off power supplies and telecommunications. The latest deaths bring the total killed in seasonal flooding this year to at least 98.

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June 9, 2011

Arizona Wildfire Threatens More Towns

Thousands of people are fleeing small towns in the path of a fast-moving Wallow fire in eastern Arizona that has raged through 600 square miles of land, an area larger than the city of Phoenix. There is little relief in sight. At zero percent containment, the fire in Apache County has become the nation’s No. 1 firefighting priority. About 2,500 firefighters from around the country are trying to keep the fire, second-largest in state history, from consuming the towns in its path. Over 600 homes are threatened as the fire moves east toward New Mexico. A mandatory evacuation order was extended to remaining residents of Springerville and Eager in the path of the wildfire. Sixteen structures have been destroyed so far, but the count is likely much more with firefighters unable to enter areas populated with many homes.

The blaze is headed toward a pair of transmission lines that supply electricity to people as far east as Texas. El Paso Electric warned 372,000 customers of rolling blackouts if the fire damages power lines. The enemy right now is heavy smoke that has blown as far east as Iowa and disrupted air travel to Albuquerque, 200 miles away. Thick ash has been falling in some towns from the fire/ The Wallow blaze was sparked May 29 by what authorities believe was an unattended campfire.

105,000 Christians Martyred Annually, Says Official

According to Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne, another Christian dies for his faith every five minutes. CatholicCulture.org reports that Introvigne’s figures do not include the victims of civil wars, or wars between nations, but only the people put to death because they are Christians. He estimates 105,000 Christians are killed every year. Introvigne told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians, “[I]f it is not recognized that the persecution against Christians is the first worldwide emergency with regard to religious discrimination and violence, dialogue between religions will only produce wonderful symposia but no concrete results.”

More than 80% of U.S. Mosques Advocate or Promote Violence

Dozens of mosques around the United States have been identified in a new study as incubators for jihad against America, with more than 80 percent of those surveyed advocating violence. “Of the 100 mosques surveyed, 51 percent had texts on-site rated as severely advocating violence; 30 percent had texts rated as moderately advocating violence; and 19 percent had no violent texts at all,” said the survey published by Middle East Quarterly. Mosques identified as being more Shariah-adherent mosques were more likely “to feature violence-positive texts on-site.” In 84.5 percent of the mosques, the imam recommended studying violence-positive texts. Of the 51 percent of the mosques with texts severely advocating violence, 100 percent were led by imams who recommended that worshippers study texts promoting violence. Nearly three in five of the mosques invited guest imams known to promote violent jihad.

  • The notion that Islam is a “peaceful religion” is mere Muslim propaganda that is spread by the globalist-controlled mainstream media to promote tolerance and marginalize Christianity

Medicare & Social Security Creating a Mountain of Debt

The health insurance program for seniors is the nation’s biggest financial challenge. The first of 77 million Baby Boomers turn 65 this year and qualify for Medicare. Enrollment will grow from 48 million in 2010 to 64 million in 2020 and 81 million in 2030, according to Medicare actuaries. That 33-million increase in the next 20 years compares with 13 million in the last 20. This demographic burst — combined with the addition of a prescription drug benefit in 2006 and rising health care costs generally — has created an unfunded liability of nearly $25 trillion or $212,500 per household. That is the taxpayers’ obligation, beyond what Medicare taxes will bring in or seniors will pay in premiums. That $25 trillion is likely an underestimate, Medicare’s actuaries say, because it counts on 165 cost-saving changes in the health care reform law. Many of these are unlikely to occur — such as cutting physician payments 30% by 2012. Medicare’s financial hole grew $1.8 trillion last year, more than the federal deficit. Spending on Medicare is set to increase from $523 billion last year to $676 billion in 2015 and $861 billion in 2020.

Social Security faces the same demographic challenges as Medicare: a rapidly aging population and increased longevity. Social Security’s long-term shortfall grows about $1.2 trillion annually — a sign of an imbalance between the number of young workers and older beneficiaries. The $21.4 trillion unfunded liability represents the difference between all taxes that will be paid and all benefits received over the lifetimes of everyone in the system now — workers and beneficiaries alike. Social Security’s cost will soar more quickly than Medicare because its early retirement age is 62 rather than 65. Social Security’s cost will grow from $712 billion in 2010 to $911 billion in 2015 and $1.2 trillion in 2020, according to the program’s actuaries. President Obama’s debt reduction commission recommended raising the early retirement age to 64 over 75 years, trimming benefits to affluent seniors and reducing annual cost-of-living increases.

According to a USA Today analysis reported Tuesday, the total of all government unfunded obligations has now reached 61.6 trillion, or $534,000 per household. That’s more than five times what Americans have borrowed for everything else — mortgages, car loans and other debt. It reflects the challenge as the number of retirees soars over the next 20 years and seniors try to collect on those spending promises. The interest on our total debt obligation is $3.6 trillion a year.

  • It is unlikely that our political process will yield solutions of sufficient magnitude to prevent debt-driven economic chaos

Appeals Court Hears States’ Case Against Health Care Law

A federal appeals court Wednesday sharply questioned the validity of the government’s new requirement that most Americans buy health insurance and whether, if it is struck down, the entire 2010 health care overhaul is doomed. Of the many legal challenges to the Obama-sponsored health care overhaul, the case brought by 26 states that was heard Wednesday by a federal appeals court in Atlanta stands out. In a lawsuit targeting the rule that all Americans buy health insurance, the states have banded together to claim that Congress exceeded its power and tread on states’ domain. Other lawsuits, such as those recently argued in appeals courts in Richmond and Cincinnati, were filed by individual entities, for example, a Christian university, the single state of Virginia and a cluster of people who do not want to purchase coverage. The case to be aired Wednesday in Atlanta marks the only one in which a lower-court judge, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of Florida, voided the entire health care law after declaring the individual insurance mandate unconstitutional. (His ruling is on hold while appeals are pending.)

Obamacare to Cause 30% of Businesses to Drop Health Coverage

Once provisions of the Affordable Care Act start to kick in during 2014, at least three of every 10 employers will probably stop offering health coverage, a survey released Monday shows. While only 7% of employees will be forced to switch to subsidized-exchange programs, at least 30% of companies say they will “definitely or probably” stop offering employer-sponsored coverage, according to the study published in McKinsey Quarterly. The survey of 1,300 employers says those who are keenly aware of the health-reform measure probably are more likely to consider an alternative to employer-sponsored plans, with 50% to 60% in this group expected to make a change.

Narcissism, Risk-Taking Drive Sex Scandals

The roster of politicians scorched in sexually tinged scandals refreshes itself on a regular basis, leading to outrage, broken families and, on occasion, criminal charges. But while the circumstances differ greatly, the overarching question asked by the public is the same: What were you thinking? Some psychologists say narcissism leads politicians to stray; others, cite a personality type prone to risk-taking, high-sensation and attention seekers. Whatever it is, the outcome is as powerful — and as salacious — as ever, with Weiner, a Democratic New York congressman facing calls for his resignation after acknowledging that he sent graphic photos to women he knew on social media websites. “This was a very dumb thing to do, it was a very hurtful thing to do,” he said from the stage, tears in his eyes. “If you’re looking for some kind of deep explanation for this, I simply don’t have one.”  “It’s risk-taking,” said Frank Farley, a professor in psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. “We want bold leadership, we don’t want a timid wallflower in these positions. The thing is there are two sides to risk-taking and the negative side is where you do things and, in a sense, you can’t stop yourself:”

  • Narcissism is becoming more prevalent and blatant, another Biblical end-time phenomenon as many become “lovers of self” (2Timothy 3:2)

Many People Don’t Know They Have HIV

Experts at the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) have long estimated that 20% of people infected with HIV don’t know it. One-third are diagnosed so late in the course of their infection that they develop AIDS within one year. The new analysis found that the states with the biggest epidemics and the greatest number of late diagnoses are Florida, New York, Texas, Georgia and New Jersey. The issue has taken on new urgency in light of a study released last month by the National Institutes of Health showing that HIV therapy cuts by 96% the risk that an infected person will pass HIV to a sexual partner.

Black Health Gap Persists

Death rates for black Americans surpass those of Americans overall for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV and homicide, the CDC reports. “Educationally, we’re doing better. Economically, we’re doing better, so why is it that this gap will not go away?” asks Michelle Gourdine, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and author of the newly released Reclaiming Our Health: A Guide to African American Wellness. Many black Americans have no health insurance and a trip to the doctor is a major expense, says Mona Fouad, director of the Minority Health and Disparities Center at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

OPEC Fails to Reach Consensus on Increasing Output

In a surprise move, OPEC says it has decided not to increase output levels, with the option of meeting within the next three months for a possible production hike. Oil prices jumped above $100 per barrel after the news. The decision reflects unusual tensions in an organization that usually works by consensus. Saudi Arabia and other influential Gulf nations had pushed to increase production ceilings to calm markets and ease concerns that crude was overpriced for consumer nations struggling with their economies. Those opposed were led by Iran, the second-strongest producer within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Uprisings in Libya and Yemen have created jitters about OPEC’s ability to pump enough oil. The economic downturn has added to uncertainties, with consuming countries saying present prices of benchmark crude around $100 a barrel are unaffordable in the long run.

Economic News

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits for the first time hardly changed for a second straight week, stuck at a high level that points to a slowing job market. Weekly unemployment benefit applications ticked up 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 427,000 last week. It marked the ninth straight week in which applications have been above 400,000. Applications had fallen in February to 375,000, a level that signals sustainable job growth.

Main Street out-muscled Wall Street on Wednesday as the Senate reaffirmed its support of limits on what banks can charge businesses for debit card transactions. After weeks of furious lobbying and aggressive ad campaigns, retailers cheered defeat of a measure that would have forced a one-year delay and re-examination of the caps on what are known as “swipe fees.” The measure needed 60 votes for passage but fell six votes short.

Americans borrowed more money in April for a seventh straight month, but they cut back on using their credit cards. The Federal Reserve says consumer borrowing rose by nearly $7.2 billion, fueled by greater demand for school and auto loans. A category that measures credit card use fell for the second time in three months.

The housing bust has been kinder to higher-priced homes than to lower-priced ones. Nationwide, top-tier homes have lost 38% of their value since prices peaked in 2006, while prices for bottom-tier homes have dropped 63% since peaking in 2007. The disparity is consistent across larger cities, according to a study on the state of the U.S. housing market released Tuesday by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Global food prices fell slightly in May, but they will remain “at stubbornly high levels” for months to come, a U.N. agency said Tuesday. Food prices dropped 1% in May compared to the previous month, but remain 37% above May 2010. The index hit an all-time high in February, raising fears of a repeat of the food crisis of 2007-2008, when high prices led to violence and political tensions in many parts of the world.

China has dropped 97 percent of its holdings in U.S. Treasury bills, decreasing its ownership of the short-term U.S. government securities from a peak of $210.4 billion in May 2009 to $5.69 billion in March 2011, the most recent month reported by the U.S. Treasury.

Japan

Japan admitted Tuesday it was unprepared for a severe nuclear accident like the tsunami-caused Fukushima disaster and said damage to the reactors and radiation leakage were worse than it previously thought. In a report being submitted to the U.N. nuclear agency, the government also acknowledged reactor design inadequacies and a need for greater independence for the country’s nuclear regulators. The report said the nuclear fuel in three reactors melted through the inner containment vessels, not just the core. The report said the “inadequate” basic reactor design — the Mark-1 model developed by General Electric— included the venting system for the containment vessels and the location of spent fuel cooling pools high in the buildings, which resulted in leaks of radioactive water that hampered repair work.

Pakistan

Taliban fighters stormed a checkpoint, killing eight Pakistani soldiers in an Afghan border region that the army previously said it had cleared of insurgents, while two bomb attacks elsewhere in the northwest on Thursday killed six civilians. The attacks showed the strength of militant groups along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan despite Pakistani army offensives against them and U.S. drone-fired missile strikes. After four years of offensives, there are few signs the authorities have the upper hand.

Libya

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, increasingly cornered under a stunning upturn in NATO airstrikes, lashed back with renewed shelling of the western city of Misrata Wednesday, killing 10 rebel fighters. The international alliance said it remained determined to keep pounding Gadhafi forces from the air, but would play no military role in the transition to democratic rule in oil-rich North African country once the erratic leader’s 42-year rule was ended. Moammar Gadhafi stood defiant Tuesday in the face of the heaviest and most punishing NATO airstrikes yet — at least 40 thunderous daylight attacks that sent plumes of smoke billowing above the Libyan leader’s central Tripoli compound. In late afternoon and as the strikes continued, Libyan state television broadcast an audio address from Gadhafi, who denounced NATO and the rebels challenging his rule. He vowed never to surrender.

Syria

Syrian troops encircled a restive northern town on Thursday, an activist said, and hundreds of people fled through a single escape route into Turkey to escape days of violence. What appeared to be an imminent assault in the town of Jisr al-Shughour would sharply escalate the upheaval that threatens the 40-year regime led by President Bashar Assad. Armed men killed 120 Syrian security forces and torched government buildings Monday in a northern region where troops have unleashed deadly assaults on protesters for days. The government vowed to respond “decisively,” hinting at an even more brutal crackdown by a regime known for ruthlessly crushing dissent.

Yemen

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was more badly injured than thought in a blast at his compound last week, complicating the U.S. response to increased instability in a key battleground in the war against al-Qaeda. Saleh is receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia for burns covering some 40% of his body, three U.S. officials said. Yemen’s leader also is suffering from bleeding inside his skull. Government troops trying to recapture areas held by Islamic militants have killed 12 suspected al-Qaeda members in the troubled southern province of Abyan. The clashes have also killed another 19 people, including three children, in two Yemeni provinces Tuesday, signaling no respite to the violence in the poor Arab nation shaken by months of unrest.

Even after the departure of its embattled leader of nearly 33 years, the officials said dozens of suspected Muslim militants attacked an army position in the southern Abyan province late Monday night. The ensuing gunfight left nine soldiers and six of the attackers dead. Only days earlier, jubilation had gripped the nation with the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who underwent surgery in Saudi Arabia for wounds he suffered in a rocket attack on his compound.

Iraq

Five American troops serving as advisers to Iraqi security police in eastern Baghdad were killed Monday when rockets slammed into the compound where they lived. The deaths were the largest single-day loss of life for American forces in two years. A suicide bomber in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit and gunmen in the country’s capital killed a total of eight people on Monday morning, demonstrating the simmering violence that threatens Iraq’s stability. In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, four people died when a bomb went off outside a checkpoint going into a government compound. It was the second attack in four days against the compound and the government employees who live and work there.

Iran

In a shocking report published this week, RAND Corporation researcher Gregory Jones revealed that at the current rate of uranium enrichment, Iran will be prepared to build its first nuclear warhead in just two months. The study revealed that, despite reports of setbacks and delays, Iran has continued to produce enriched uranium, and is nearing the 90% enrichment level needed to reach the goal of its weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on Monday that it has unearthed more evidence that Iran is illegally working towards the production of nuclear weapons, despite its strenuous denials of wrongdoing.  Iran will soon install more advanced centrifuges at its new uranium enrichment site, the country’s nuclear chief said Wednesday, underscoring Tehran’s continued defiance in the face of international sanctions imposed over its controversial nuclear program. Vice President Fereidoun Abbasi also announced that Iran plans to triple its output of the higher enriched uranium in 2011 and move the entire program to the new, secretly-built facility.

Weather

An intense and deadly early June heat wave sent temperatures soaring into the mid to upper 90s across the entire eastern half of the nation on Wednesday, closing schools and causing cities to open cooling centers. Daily record highs of 99 degrees were set Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Other cities, such as Syracuse, N.Y. (97 degrees) and Philadelphia (96), also set record highs.

One of the hardest-hit towns in flood-soaked Montana took another blow Wednesday as record flooding struck the small agricultural community for the second time in two weeks, forcing dozens of residents from homes they had just started to clean up. The Musselshell River gushed into Roundup’s neighborhoods, nearly submerging cars and swallowing the ground floors of homes. Officials evacuated between 30 and 35 residences and businesses.

Heavy rain hammered southern Haiti for a seventh straight day Tuesday, triggering floods and mudslides and causing houses and shanties in the capital to collapse. The official death toll was 23 but could rise as remnants of the storm lingered. Haitian authorities listed six people as missing. Runoff from the rain sent rivers surging and flooded many homes as people scrambled to their rooftops. The slow-moving storm system also toppled trees and debris blocked streets throughout the capital.

Monster tornadoes, historic floods, massive wildfires and widespread drought: Springtime has delivered a wallop of weather-related destruction and misery across much of the nation this year. And it may all be related. Never mind the debate over global warming, its possible causes and effects. We’ve got “global weirding.” That’s how climatologist Bill Patzert describes the wide range of deadly weather that has whipped the nation this year, killing hundreds of people and doing billions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses, schools and churches. Patzert, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. points to the La Niña climate pattern, a phenomenon born far out in the Pacific Ocean that shapes weather across the globe. Less famous than its warm-water climate sibling El Niño, this year’s La Niña has been “near record-breaking” in its intensity. La Niña is defined as cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which affect weather patterns around the world.

  • It may be weird, but it’s not just La Nina – it’s end-time weather growing more and more turbulent as the shaking of the planet has begun in earnest (Hebrews 12:26)

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June 5, 2011

Wildfires

Crews on Saturday worked to protect several small Arizona communities from two large wildfires by clearing away brush near homes and planning to set fires aimed at robbing the blazes of their fuel. The Wallow Fire, near the White Mountain community of Alpine, grew to 218 square miles, or more than 140,000 acres, by Saturday morning. The fire is the third largest in state history, with its smoke visible in parts of southern Colorado. Fire officials said they had zero containment of the fire near the New Mexico-Arizona state line, which has forced many people to evacuate. The fire has burned four summer rental cabins since it started May 29th. The fire had reached Alpine’s outskirts and was about two miles away from homes in Nutrioso

Meanwhile, crews were trying to protect a church camp and two communities from the Horseshoe Two fire that had burned 140 square miles in far southern Arizona. It’s the fifth-largest fire in state history. The 90,000-acre blaze had come within a mile of the evacuated Methodist church camp in the steep Pine Canyon near the community of Paradise. Crews also were focusing on protecting the evacuated communities of Paradise and East Whitetail Canyon. The fire was within two miles of the eight to 10 homes in East Whitetail Canyon. The blaze is 55% contained. The nearby Chiricahua National Monument was closed as a precaution. The Horseshoe Two fire has been burning since May 8 and about 800 firefighters are battling the 100,200-acre fire.

Middle East

Israeli troops opened fire across the Syrian frontier on Sunday to disperse hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters who stormed the border of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Syrian television reported eleven people, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli gunfire. The unrest marked the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Mideast war. The Israeli military accused Syria of instigating the disturbances to deflect attention from its bloody crackdown on a popular uprising at home. Clashes also broke out between Palestinians and Israelis at the Qalandia crossing between Jerusalem and Ramallah in the West Bank on Sunday.

A top spiritual adviser to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Mohammed Tagbi Mesbah, has issued an edict clarifying the duty of Muslims to kill Jews by any means possible—including suicide attacks. “When protecting Islam,” the cleric wrote, “Muslim people depend on martyrdom operations. It not only is allowed, but even is an obligation.” Mesbah’s followers regard his words as binding religious edicts. His statement clearly directs them to strike even at Jewish children.

U.S. Court Lifts Prayer Ban for Texas Graduation

A federal appeals court has lifted a ban on public prayer at a Texas high school graduation. The ruling, by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reverses a lower court that sided with an agnostic family who sued the Medina Valley Independent School District in Castroville.

Alabama Passes Arizona-Style Immigration Bill

The Alabama Legislature passed an Arizona-style law Thursday night to crack down on illegal immigration, including a requirement that all businesses verify new employees are legal residents. The House voted 67-29 and the Senate concurred 25-7 in a compromise bill worked out by Republican legislators who led the charge for the legislation. The bill now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley, who has advocated immigration legislation and is expected to sign it into law. Like the Arizona law, the Alabama bill allows a police officer who stops a motorist for a traffic violation to detain the person if he has a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally. They said “reasonable suspicion” could include acting nervously or having a tag that doesn’t match vehicle registration records.

House Rebukes Obama Over Libya

The House on Friday rebuked President Barack Obama for failing “to provide Congress with a compelling rationale” for the military campaign in Libya, but it stopped short of demanding that he withdraw U.S. forces from the fight. By a vote of 257-156, the House approved a resolution that criticized Obama for not seeking congressional authorization for the 76-day-old campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The resolution gives Obama 14 more days to convince Congress the attacks against Gadhafi are justified by U.S. interests. The House rejected, 265-148, a more drastic measure that would have demanded that Obama pull out of the Libyan operation within 15 days.

Hispanics Sentenced to Half of All Felony Crimes

Statistics released this week revealed that Hispanics now comprise nearly half of all people sentenced for federal felony crimes, a number swollen by immigration offenses. In comparison, Hispanics make up 16 percent of the total U.S. population. Sentences for felony immigration crimes, which include illegal crossing as well as other crimes such as alien smuggling, accounted for about 87 percent of the increase in the number of Hispanics sent to prison over the past decade, according to an analysis of U.S. Sentencing Commission data. The trend has divided lawmakers and officials in the courts and along the border. Some politicians believe the en masse hearings should be expanded to deter illegal immigration. Others question whether the system actually affects people seeking to cross the border, while some contend the programs distract prosecutors from pursuing more serious crimes. Federal courts along the Mexican border are overwhelmed with immigration enforcement cases.

Households With Children Declining

Children, the mainstay of suburbia and residential neighborhoods across the nation for more than a half-century, are fewer and increasingly sparse in many places. The number of households that have children under age 18 has stayed at 38 million since 2000, despite a 9.7% growth in the U.S. population. As a result, the share of households with children dropped from 36% in 2000 to 33.5%. There are now more households with dogs (43 million) than children. Americans are getting older, and women are having children later. And when they do, they’re not having as many.

Births among Hispanics — they make up 23.1% of those under 18, up from 17.1% in 2000 — have not been enough to stem the overall decline. The number of non-Hispanic white women of child-bearing age has dropped 6% since 2000, and they’re not having having enough children to keep that population from dropping. Fertility has declined among blacks, too, resulting in a 2.3% drop in black children during the same period.

Americans Rank Top Immoral ‘Sins’ in New Poll

Americans are less likely to call certain behaviors a “sin” these days if it affects no one but themselves. The poll, conducted by Gallup, revealed 91 percent of respondents considered extramarital affairs immoral. In addition to cheating spouses, polygamy, cloning humans, suicide and pornography all ranked as the top five immoral “sins” among Americans. However, the Christian Post reports that the number of Americans who believe assisted suicide to be morally acceptable rose to 45 percent. Only 30 percent said embryonic stem cell research was immoral, and only 36 percent said fornication is sin. The poll shows what Richard Land, president of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says is a deep-rooted problem with Americans’ sense of priorities. Land says Americans’ moral values are skewed to focus less on their obligations and responsibilities and more on their “supposed rights and privileges.”

U.S. Sells Stake in Chrysler to Fiat

Chrysler Group, newly profitable and confident in its revamped products, will soon sever its ties with the U.S. government after most — but not all — of the bailout loans it got two years ago are repaid. Italian automaker Fiat agreed late Thursday to buy the U.S. Treasury’s 6% interest in Chrysler for $500 million. Once the deal closes, the government will no longer hold a stake in the auto company. The deal will give Fiat a majority 52% stake in the automaker. The U.S. government will ultimately lose around $1.3 billion in the deal. The government authorized $12.5 billion in loans for Chrysler from the end of 2008 through Chrysler’s bankruptcy filing in the summer of 2009.

Arizona CEOs Reap Record Payday

The latest evidence of an uneven economic recovery comes from Arizona’s corporate suites, where the top executives who run the state’s shareholder-owned companies earned record paychecks last year. The CEOs and chairmen of 43 public companies tracked by The Arizona Republic earned a median of $1.54 million in 2010, up from $1.04 million in 2009. Higher corporate profits and a resurgent stock market drove much of the increase in executive pay. The $1.54 million is the highest since The Republic started evaluating executive pay more than a decade ago and compares with a recession low of $868,000 in 2007. Higher compensation for these bosses came during a year of widespread consumer stress, when unemployment in the state topped 10 percent, bankruptcy filings across Arizona surpassed 40,000 and home prices continued to slide. Executive pay has emerged as perhaps the most telltale sign of a rich-poor divide in America.

Federal Workers Making More Than Governors

At a time when many American workers are struggling to make ends meet and government debt is threatening to undermine economic recovery, thousands of federal employees are raking in bigger salaries than the governors of the states where they live, a new report reveals. In fact, federal public employees now make twice the salaries of their private sector counterparts — annual earnings that top $123,000. The median US household income, by comparison, is $52,000 annually. The report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service shows that more than 77,000 federal workers — in jobs ranging from medicine and air traffic control to public relations, computer programming, and even interior decorating — earned more in 2009 than their state’s chief executive. “The pay gap between governors and federal employees should prompt Congress to take a closer look at federal salaries,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who requested the CRS report. “With our debt and deficits spiraling out of control, now is the time to ask agencies — not just governors — to do more with less.”

Economic News

The economy added only 54,000 new jobs in May — the fewest in eight months — and the unemployment rate rose from 9.0% to 9.1%. The weakening job market raises concern about an economy hampered by high gas prices. The 54,000 is far lower than the previous three months’ average of 220,000 jobs per month. The weak employment report sent stocks sharply lower, closing out the fifth straight week of losses for the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 index.

Another report Friday indicated that conditions in the services sector of the economy are still improving. The Institute for Supply Management said its closely watched non-manufacturing index showed growth in May, for an 18th consecutive month. The index rose to 54.6 from 52.8 in April. A reading above 50 indicates the sector is expanding.

Fewer U.S. home loans are going delinquent and new problem loans have hit three-year lows, possible signs that a five-year wave of foreclosures is starting to recede. Almost 8% of U.S. home loans were at least 30 days past due in April but not yet in foreclosure. That was up slightly from March but down 16% from a year ago.

The consumer confidence index shrank in May to 60.8 from 66.0 in April due to growing pessimism about jobs and incomes, according to the Conference Board. Readings below 100 indicate economic stagnation or decline.

Greece

Protesters took over the Finance Ministry building in Athens Friday morning, hanging a giant banner from the roof calling for a general strike, just as Greece wraps up tough negotiations with international officials on new austerity measures. About 200 protesters from the communist party-backed PAME union blockaded the entrance to the ministry from dawn, preventing employees from entering. They hung a banner over five stories of the front of the building and took down the European flag from the top of the ministry, replacing it with their own union flag.

Germany

Hospitals in northern Germany are being overwhelmed as they struggle to provide enough beds and medical care for patients stricken by an outbreak of E-coli, the German health minister admitted Sunday. Hamburg is the epicenter of the deadliest E. coli outbreak in modern history, which has killed at least 18 people since May 2. More than 1,700 people in Germany have been infected, including 520 suffering from a life-threatening complication that can cause kidney failure. Ten other European nations and the U.S. have reported 90 other cases, all but two related to visits in northern Germany. Researchers have been unable to pinpoint exactly where or what food was responsible.

Iraq

A series of bombings ripped through the capital of Iraq’s western Anbar province Thursday night, killing nine people. At least 25 people were also injured in the explosions. The bomb explosions appeared coordinated to maximize deaths. The blasts in what was the heartland of the al-Qaida-led insurgency are a reminder of the danger still facing Iraq, as it prepares for the departure of the remaining U.S. troops by the end of this year.

Pakistan

A top Al Qaeda commander and possible replacement for Usama bin Laden was killed in an American drone-fired missile strike close to the Afghan border, the militant group he heads and a Pakistani intelligence official said Saturday. Ilyas Kashmiri’s death is another blow to Al Qaeda just over a month after bin Laden was killed by American commandos in a northwest Pakistani army town. Described by U.S. officials as Al Qaeda’s military operations chief in Pakistan, he was one of five most-wanted militant leaders in the country, accused in a string of bloody attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai massacre.

A bomb exploded at a bus stand in northwest Pakistan early Sunday, killing six people in the latest violence to hit the country since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. At least 10 people were wounded. Many of the dead and injured were in a pickup truck near the bus stand. Islamist militants who flowed out of Afghanistan fought fierce battles with Pakistani security forces Friday in one of the deadliest clashes on the Pakistan side of the frontier in months. Authorities said 63 people were dead. Beyond emphasizing the difficulties of fighting an enemy that pays no attention to borders, the battle pointed to possible trouble for both the U.S. and Pakistan when Washington begins withdrawing troops later this year. Pakistan is already complaining NATO doesn’t have enough troops along the Afghan side of the border.

Afghanistan

Efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban appear to be gaining traction, with the head of the Afghan peace council saying Saturday that it has been in contact with three factions of the insurgent movement and the U.S. defense secretary predicting negotiations by the end of the year. The United Nations will give a thumb’s up or thumb’s down later this month on whether to take Taliban figures off a U.N. sanctions blacklist list — a move that could enable prospective intermediaries to travel abroad to hold talks. At a news conference Saturday in the Afghan capital with President Hamid Karzai, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said if the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces can hold territory captured from the Taliban, and even expand that security “we will be in a position towards the end of this year to perhaps have a successful opening to reconciliation.”

Egypt

A former Egyptian finance minister has been sentenced in absentia to 30 years for squandering public funds and abusing his authority, Yousef Boutros-Ghali, a nephew of former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, left Egypt during the uprising that forced out President Hosni Mubarak. Yousef Boutros-Ghali was a powerful confidant of Mubarak’s son Gamal. Boutros-Ghali’s location is unknown.

Libya

NATO announced Saturday it had for the first time used attack helicopters in Libya, striking military vehicles, military equipment and forces backing embattled leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. French helicopters struck 15 military vehicles and 5 military command buildings.

A series of at least 10 NATO strikes hit in and around the Libyan capital early on Friday, targeting military barracks close to Gadhafi’s sprawling compound in central Tripoli, a police station and a military base. The strikes appeared to be the heaviest in Tripoli since South African President Jacob Zuma visited Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the capital earlier this week in an apparently unsuccessful effort to find a peaceful resolution to the country’s crisis.

Yemen

Military officials and witnesses say dozens of gunmen are attacking the presidential palace at Taiz, Yemen’s second largest city, and have killed four soldiers in an attempt to storm the compound. The attackers belong to a group set up recently to avenge the killing of anti-regime protesters at the hands of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s security forces. Saleh left the country overnight for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after he was wounded Friday in an attack on his compound in the capital Sanaa. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded when opposition tribesmen determined to topple him hammered his palace with rockets Friday in a major escalation of nearly two weeks of fighting with government forces. At least four guards were killed and seven top officials were also wounded. Saleh suffered light injuries to the neck There was no official announcement on who was acting as head of state. But under Yemen’s constitution, the vice president takes over for up to 60 days when the head of state is absent.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis held a mass funeral Friday for 50 people killed in regime-sponsored violence in the capital. Heavy shelling expanded into new sections of the city. Soon after Friday prayers, witnesses said heavy shelling rocked the commercial neighborhood of Hadda in southern Sanaa. Residents fled to basements for cover.

Syria

The Syrian government cut off Internet service (3G, DSL, Dial-up) all across Syria, including in government institutions to prevent its citizens from communicating about times and locations for protests. A Syrian rights group says the death toll from a military operation in a northern town has gone up to 25 and included four policemen. The operation is part of a crackdown that began Saturday and was continuing Sunday. Syrian troops pounded a central town with artillery and heavy machinegun fire Friday, killing at least two people in the latest onslaught as authorities cut off Internet service in several regions in an apparent move to prevent the uploading of videos of anti-regime demonstrations. Friday’s deaths bring the toll in Rastan and nearby Talbiseh to 74 killed since the attack started last Saturday.

Bahrain

Eyewitnesses say Bahraini police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters marching toward Pearl Square in the country’s capital. The downtown square was the epicenter of weeks of Shiite-led protests against Sunni rulers earlier this year in the Gulf kingdom. Friday’s march in Manama comes two days after authorities lifted emergency rule. It was imposed in March to quell demonstrations by Bahrain’s Shiite majority demanding greater freedoms and inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.

Weather

Many people in South Dakota think the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew it this year, waiting until too late to begin releasing water through the six dams on the Missouri River. Corps officials insist otherwise, and blame unexpectedly heavy spring rains. Meanwhile, Gov. Dennis Daugaard advised people in neighborhoods nearest the river to leave voluntarily in case levees don’t hold, and hundreds have done so after a hectic week of moving possessions and adding sandbags around their houses. They face weeks out of their homes until the river begins cresting in mid-June, with high water expected to linger for up to two months.

The historic Mississippi River flood has begun to abate, but the impact is far from over. Thousands of acres (hectares) of crops, timber and catfish farms are still flooded, mostly by tributaries that backed up because the Mississippi River was so high. Hundreds of people are still displaced from flooded homes. Some people had nothing to go home to. Even if the flooding wasn’t as bad as initially feared, it’s still been treacherous for those affected. Some 5,600 people have applied for government assistance in Mississippi in Tennessee, though the damage is still being assessed because high waters are still causing problems for officials.

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June 2, 2011

Objections Fly Over Rainbow Flag

President Obama has declared June “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month” — and to the dismay of a pro-family group based in Richmond, Virginia, the Federal Reserve Bank is joining in the celebration. Though The Family Foundation’s new office in Richmond has a beautiful view of the state capitol and the flags, the rainbow flag fluttering above the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond is also in view. Foundation president Virginia Cobb says, “We think the Federal Reserve ought to be focused on the economy rather than focusing on special rights.” Meanwhile, the Mississippi-based American Family Association has received a complaint from a Federal Reserve employee who objects to the flag and what it represents. In reference to the “gay pride” flag flying just below the American flag, the employee wrote in an email: “For the past five or six years, the homosexual agenda has been pushed down our throats. The bank president and vice president have initiated this agenda. This offends me as a Christian.”

  • So, government can’t promote Christianity but they can blatantly endorse the gay agenda?

House Republicans Reject Debt Ceiling Increase

House Republicans gave President Obama an earful on their concerns regarding unemployment, the national debt and government regulation during a meeting Wednesday morning following a decisive vote against raising the debt ceiling. The meeting marked the latest development in budget negotiations which for months have failed to yield a compromise. Without a deal to cut spending, House Republicans say they cannot approve an increase in the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. On the evening before the meeting, a proposal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling by another $2.4 trillion failed by a wide margin. The vote was lopsided, with just 97 in favor of the measure and 318 against. Eighty-two Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the increase.

President Obama and House Republicans agreed to disagree on solutions to the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt problem Wednesday at a sometimes-contentious White House meeting that illustrated how difficult it will be to reach a compromise. With two months until the government runs out of cash to pay a long line of creditors, Republicans accused the president of demagoguing their deficit-reduction plan and having none of his own. They vowed that they would not consider tax increases sought by Obama and said entitlements such as Medicare must be cut

Feds Block Indiana’s Cuts to Planned Parenthood Funding

The Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday it would prohibit Indiana from carrying out a new state law that cuts off money to Planned Parenthood clinics that serve women on Medicaid; the law targets abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood. HHS said the Indiana law against Planned Parenthood places illegal restrictions on the ability of Medicaid recipients to choose their health care providers. Recall that Planned Parenthood played a big role in the April budget battle that nearly led to a government shutdown; Obama beat back Republican demands to cut federal funding for the organization because of the abortion issue. There’s a political context to all this: Planned Parenthood is a major contributor to Democrats. Also, while Indiana is normally considered a Republican state, Obama carried it in 2008, and would dearly love to do so again next year. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is a major Republican figure who considered running against Obama in 2012.

Military Personnel Frown on Obama Performance

A Gallop poll released Monday shows a disconnect between United States military personnel and civilians in how they feel about the performance of President Barack Obama. Forty-eight percent of civilian respondents approved of Obama’s performance, while just 37 percent of their military counterparts gave the president a favorable review. Older respondents were more likely to give lower marks than younger ones.

Obama’s Appointees Get Low Ratings

President Obama’s political appointees aren’t getting good reviews from career government employees. Government Executive, a part of the National Journal family, says its latest survey “shows strained relationships between senior career federal managers and executives and the political appointees they work with.” It adds that the career people “rated Obama appointees lower than those in previous administrations:” Obama appointees earned a C average, or 2.0, compared with a 2.3 for those in the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations. More than 30 percent gave Obama appointees a D or an F for overall job performance. Obama officials lack functional and agency-specific knowledge, according to survey respondents. “The role [of senior leadership] has increased, but the effectiveness, skill and knowledge has dramatically decreased,” the report notes.

Supreme Court Absolves Ashcroft

Former attorney general John Ashcroft cannot be held responsible for a post-9/11 policy that led to the arrest and detention of a Muslim U.S. citizen, the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 Tuesday. The justices then split over how to assess federal authorities’ questionable use of a material-witness law after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The more liberal justices broke from the conservative majority to question the treatment of Abdullah al-Kidd, who was held for two weeks and never charged with a crime or called to testify. Though the decision shields Ashcroft from a claim for money damages, the ruling leaves open questions about the breadth of the material-witness law and whether it was constitutionally invoked in al-Kidd’s case.

Pentagon Declares Cyber Combat an Act of War

The Pentagon has concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first time opens the door for the U.S. to respond using traditional military force. The Pentagon’s first formal cyber strategy, unclassified portions of which are expected to become public next month, represents an early attempt to grapple with a changing world in which a hacker could pose as significant a threat to U.S. nuclear reactors, subways or pipelines as a hostile country’s military. In part, the Pentagon intends its plan as a warning to potential adversaries of the consequences of attacking the U.S. in this way. “If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” said a military official. Recent attacks on the Pentagon’s own systems—as well as the sabotaging of Iran’s nuclear program via the Stuxnet computer worm—have given new urgency to U.S. efforts to develop a more formalized approach to cyber attacks.

Global War on Drugs a Failure

A report by a global commission on drug policy declares flatly that the global war on drugs has failed, despite harsh measures against traffickers and years of vast expenditures to stamp out narcotics trafficking and use. The 19-member commission, a private venture chaired by ex-Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, includes George Schultz, President Reagan’s secretary of state; Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group; former U.N. secretary general Koffi Anna; George Papandreou, prime minister of Greece; Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve; and Javier Solana, former EU foreign minister. “Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers,” the report says. Among the commission’s recommedations: end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others; encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.

  • The globalist New World Order folks want nothing more than drugged out citizens under complete government control

IRS Sees Huge Increase in Identity Theft

The IRS is grappling with a nearly five-fold increase in taxpayer identity theft between 2008 and 2010, a Government Accountability Office told a House hearing Thursday. There were 248,357 incidents in 2010, compared to 51,702 in 2008. The must wait for a refund while the IRS sorts out which return is real and which is a fraud. Many identity thieves don’t get prosecuted, according James White, director of strategic issues for the GAO. ”The IRS pursues criminal investigations of suspected identity thieves in only a small number of cases,” White says. IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said his criminal division concentrates on schemes of national scope and added that 95 percent of those prosecuted for refund-related identity theft go to prison.

Arizona Sales-Tax Increase Falling Short

For the past year, Arizonans have been paying a penny more per dollar in sales tax in the name of shielding education, public safety and health services from deep state budget cuts. But $1 billion of the $1.1 billion in reductions recently made by the Legislature and approved by Gov. Jan Brewer for the fiscal 2012 budget came from education and health care. That’s why people are saying the promise of last year’s Proposition 100 has not been kept. “There’s a betrayal if you pull money away from the very areas that the tax was supposed to protect,” said Connie Anderson, an executive member of Valley Interfaith Project. It could have been much worse, countered Brewer, who struggled with a reluctant Legislature for a year to get the tax question on the ballot. “If we didn’t have the support of the voters, education would have been cut probably another $80 (million) or $100 million,” Brewer said. “The most vulnerable (people) would have been cut a lot more.”

  • Most everyone wants government debt reduced but virtually no one seems willing to sacrifice their piece of the pie

Economic News

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, but applications remain stuck at levels that signal weak job growth. The Labor Department said that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits for the first time dropped 6,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 422,000. It was the third drop in four weeks. But the declines follow much bigger increases in April. Applications had fallen to 375,000 in late February — a level consistent with sustainable job growth.

A U.S. payrolls survey Wednesday came in surprisingly weak. Private employers added just 38,000 jobs in May, down from 177,000 in April. The figures reinforced fears that the U.S. economic recovery is quickly running out of steam. Reports Wednesday on manufacturing and company hiring were so weak that the Dow Jones industrial average plunged nearly 280 points, or 2.2 percent, wiping out more than one-fourth of the year’s

Home prices in 20 U.S. cities dropped in March to the lowest level since 2003, showing housing remains mired in a slump almost two years into the economic recovery. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities fell 3.6 percent from March 2010, the biggest year-over-year decline since November 2009.

Almost 4 million homes have been lost to foreclosures in the past five years, turning many former owner-occupied homes into rentals. The shift to rental housing is potentially long-lasting and portends changes for neighborhood stability and how people build wealth, economists say. Twenty-five cities — including Baltimore, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Sacramento — swung from having more than half homeowners in 2000 to majorities of renters in 2010.

Farmers can lock in about $6.73 a bushel on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for corn they will deliver to market in December, nearly twice the price a year ago.

Europe

A massive and unprecedented outbreak of bacterial infections linked to contaminated vegetables claimed two more lives in Europe on Tuesday, driving the death toll to 18. The number of sick rose to more than 1,500 people in at least eight nations. Nearly 400 people in Germany were battling a severe and potentially fatal version of the infection that attacks the kidneys. World Health Organization says E. coli bacteria causing the outbreak is a strain never seen before. A U.S. expert said doctors had never seen so many cases of the condition, hemolytic uremic syndrome, tied to a foodborne illness outbreak before. Investigators across Europe are frantically trying to determine how many vegetables were contaminated with enterohaemorrhagic E.coli — an unusual, toxic strain of the common E. coli bacterium —and where in the long journey from farm to grocery store the contamination occurred.

  • This European outbreak of a virulent strain of E-Coli in several different countries is a hint of things to come from end-time pestilence

Japan

U.N. inspectors faulted Japan on Wednesday for underestimating the threat of a devastating tsunami on its crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant but praised its overall response to the crisis as exemplary. The preliminary report by a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency also said the tsunami hazard was underestimated at several other nuclear facilities in Japan, and called for experts worldwide to learn from the disaster to avert future accidents. The report said the potential size of the tsunami that hit the plant, estimated at as high as 49 feet, was not sufficiently planned for and “overwhelmed” the plant’s defenses.

Germany

Germany’s coalition government agreed early Monday to shut down all the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022, the environment minister said, making it the first major industrialized power to go nuclear-free since the Japanese disaster. The country’s seven oldest reactors had already been taken off the grid pending safety inspections following the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan and will now remain offline permanently. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, stands alone among the world’s major industrialized nations still using nuclear power in its determination to gradually replace it with renewable energy sources.

Russia

Russia’s Orthodox Church teamed with Conservative parliamentarians Monday to push legislation that would radically restrict abortions in a nation struggling to cope with one of the world’s lowest birthrates. The legislation would ban free abortions at government-run clinics and prohibit the sale of the morning-after pill without a prescription. abortion for a married woman would also require the permission of her spouse, while teenage girls would need their parents’ consent. A week’s waiting period would also be introduced so women could consider their decision to terminate their pregnancy.

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that the recent chaos in Egypt is allowing terrorist organizations to gain a foothold in the Sinai Peninsula, threatening Israel’s southern flank.

The Arab League, meeting in Doha this past weekend, issued a statement that it would back Palestinian requests for UN recognition this September, and insisted that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the new Palestinian state. President Obama’s call to return Israel to the 1967 borders is a subtle way of endorsing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and surrendering the Golan Heights in a buildup to the U.N. vote this fall which will recognize Palestine officially for the first time. The Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas is closely aligned with Iran and has called for “suicide attacks against Israeli civilians – including Israeli children – saying that such attacks are not only “allowed,” but are even “an obligation.”

  • The marginalization of Israel is the clearest sign of all that the period Jesus called “the beginning of sorrows” is building up toward the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24)

Algeria

Persecution against Christians continues in Algeria, as authorities have ordered that several Protestant churches close their doors — a trend that is expected to continue until all the country’s Protestant churches are shut down. According to International Christian Concern’s (ICC) Aden Clay, Algeria’s campaign to eradicate Christianity in the predominantly Muslim country has simply advanced one more step. The government and courts are also continuing to target individual Christians. “In one case, there was an Algerian Christian who was sentenced in court with a five-year imprisonment for sharing his Christian faith with a neighbor,” the ICC spokesman laments. “Basically, he was charged with blasphemy, criticizing the Islamic prophet Mohammed.”

Libya

Five Libyan generals, two colonels, and one major have defected to rebel forces “in the last few days,” according to Libya’s former ambassador to the United nations, Abdel Rahman Shalgham. A total of about 120 Libyan army officers have so far defected to the rebels. A United Nations panel said Wednesday that Libyan government forces have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, apparently as a result of orders given by Moammar Gadhafi and other senior officials. The U.N. investigators said they have received estimates of 10,000-15,000 people killed since February and added there is evidence that opposition forces also committed acts which would constitute war crimes.

Syria

Syrian government troops pounded a central town with artillery and gunfire Thursday, renewing attacks in a restive area that has been largely cut off from outside contact for six days. At least 15 people died, bringing the total killed there to 72 since the onslaught began. What began as street demonstrations calling for reforms evolved into demands for President Bashar Assad’s ouster in the face of the violent crackdown, especially in Syria’s south and center, where the challenge to his family’s 40-year-rule is seen as strongest. The Syrian government on Wednesday freed hundreds of political prisoners and the president set up a committee for national dialogue in an effort to end the 10-week uprising, but concessions have been coupled with deadly attacks on the towns seen as the greatest threat to his power.

Yemen

Street battles raged Thursday between the army and opposition tribesmen in the capital Sanaa and dozens of people on both sides were killed and wounded. Elsewhere a thousands-strong force of tribal fighters fought to break through government lines on the northern outskirts of the city. Yemeni medical officials say at least 41 people were killed Tuesday in overnight shelling and street battles between government forces and rival tribal fighters in the capital. Presidential Guard units shelled the headquarters of a brigade responsible for guarding sensitive government institutions. Army officers who have defected to the opposition say the government suspected the brigade commander was about to join the movement to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemeni warplanes carried out airstrikes Monday on a southern town seized by hundreds of Islamic militants over the weekend, witnesses said, as the political crisis surrounding the embattled president descended into more bloodshed. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has clung to power despite months of daily protests, defections by key allies and international pressure to go, has repeatedly warned that Islamic militants and al-Qaeda would seize control of the country if he steps down.

Afghanistan

A suicide attacker blew up an explosives-packed car Monday at the gates of an Italian military base in western Afghanistan, killing several people. The base in Herat city houses an Italian provincial reconstruction team, a collection of military and sometimes civilian workers who are tasked with helping build up local government and infrastructure.

Angered by civilian casualties, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday he will no longer allow NATO airstrikes on houses, issuing his strongest statement yet against strikes that the military alliance says are key to its war on Taliban insurgents. The president’s remarks follow a recent strike that mistakenly killed a group of children and women in southern Helmand province.

Iran

Iran’s parliament voted on Wednesday to take Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to court over his takeover of the country’s vital oil ministry, escalating the power struggle between the president and the hard-line establishment that has turned against him. The 165-1 vote was the latest salvo in the political maneuvering that began when Ahmadinejad publicly challenged Iran’s supreme religious leader in April. Lawmakers were infuriated when Ahmadinejad consolidated a series of ministries, fired the oil minister and named himself as the replacement. The takeover also technically puts Ahmadinejad at the helm of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, since Iran this year holds the rotating presidency.

Serbia

Protesters throwing stones and bottles clashed with baton-wielding riot police Sunday in Belgrade after several thousand Serbian nationalist supporters of jailed war-crimes suspect Ratko Mladic rallied outside the parliament building to demand his release. By the time the crowds broke up by late evening, about 100 people were arrested and 16 minor injuries were reported. That amounted to a victory for the pro-Western government, which arrested Mladic on Thursday, risking the wrath of the nationalist old guard in a country with a history of much larger and more virulent protests. The clashes began after a rally that drew at least 7,000 demonstrators, many singing nationalist songs and carrying banners honoring Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, accused of genocide. The demonstrators, who consider Mladic a hero, said Serbia should not hand him over to the U.N. war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Wildfires

Two wildfires have destroyed at least 12 homes on the outskirts of the Texas Panhandle city of Amarillo. Low humidity, temperatures in the 100s and high winds have created favorable conditions for fires. About 2.8 million acres have burned in the state since November. The Horseshoe2 fire in Arizona is about 75% contained, but has consumed over 80,500 acres thus far and structures remain threatened. A new Arizona fire, Wallow, has destroyed 18,000 acres near Alpine and numerous evacuations are in effect. Another new Arizona fire, Murphy, has burned 7,800 acres southwest of Tucson.

Tornadoes

At least four people died Wednesday when tornadoes swept through parts of Massachusetts, a state where twisters are an unusual if not rare occurrence. Two tornadoes touched down in central and western parts of the state, including one in Springfield, the state’s third-largest city. The storm splintered and sheared roofs along Main Street in Springfield, leveled several homes and caused widespread damage in more than 20 communities. Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and activated 1,000 National Guard troops. More than 55,000 homes were left without power as toppled trees knocked out electric lines.

Weather

Torrential rainfall and record snowmelt are contributing to a slow-motion flood disaster along the Missouri River and its tributaries in the northern Rockies and northern Plains. Residents of Montana and the Dakotas are enduring the worst of the floods, which are projected to continue at least through the remainder of June. Thousands of residents in the three states are facing evacuations. The governor of flood-plagued Montana ordered more National Guard troops to join the anti-flood effort Monday, while states downstream along the bloated Missouri River strengthened levees and laid sandbags ahead of the release of waters from dams and reservoirs. Flooding in Montana could ultimately be the worst in decades for the state, with an unusually heavy snowpack in the mountains, persistent spring rains and waterlogged ground incapable of soaking up any more moisture.

Crews raced approaching floodwaters Tuesday to complete emergency levees aimed at protecting Pierre, South Dakota’s capital city. Meanwhile, the mayor of Minot, N.D., ordered a quarter of the city’s residents to evacuate areas along the flooding Souris River. Residents of the upscale community of Dakota Dunes in southeastern South Dakota, below the final dam on the river, have been told to move their possessions to higher ground and be ready to leave their homes by Thursday. Several thousand people in Pierre, and neighboring Fort Pierre on the west bank have been working day and night since late last week to lay sandbags around their homes and move to safety.

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