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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