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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