Archive for July, 2011

July 28, 2011

Atheists Sue to block ‘WTC Cross’ from 9/11 Memorial

Atheists have sued to prevent cross-shaped steel girders from the destroyed World Trade Center towers from being included in the official Sept. 11 memorial, saying the religious symbol is unconstitutional because its gives “preferential representation” to Christians who died in the 2001 terror attacks. Workers found the broken, 17-foot-tall cross-shaped beams two days after the attacks, and they became known as the “World Trade Center cross.” Saturday, the rusted cross was moved from its temporary home near St. Peter’s Church and lowered into its permanent place inside the museum, which is under construction. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday argues that including the Roman Christian-style cross at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum violates the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the New York State Constitution.

New York sues USA to Force Homosexual Marriage Nationwide

The attorney general of New York State has sued the rest the USA in federal court, to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, claiming homosexuals have a right to sodomy under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Laws in 44 other states that define marriage between one man and one woman could be overturned by one federal court in Manhattan. Reuters reports:  “In court papers filed on Tuesday in U.S. federal court in Manhattan, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, violates same-sex couples’ right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution… Schneiderman wrote: ‘By discriminating among married couples based on sexual orientation and sex, DOMA deprives New York of the ability to extend true equality to all marriages valid in the State.'”

  • The slippery slope has begun to turn into an avalanche, reflecting the end-time acceleration toward the Great Tribulation

Prayer Ban at Military Cemetery Provokes Outrage

A Texas lawmaker is calling for a congressional investigation of the Houston National Cemetery after he went undercover and determined that cemetery officials are still preventing Christian prayers at the funerals of military veterans. “The Obama administration continues to try to prevent the word ‘God’ from being used at the funerals of our heroes,” said. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas). He attended a burial service at the cemetery undercover on July 8, when he says he witnessed volunteer members of the honor guard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars being prohibited from using any references to God. “The Obama administration had told the nation and me they were not interfering with the prayer said over the graves of veterans,” he said. VA officials have strongly denied they’ve banned any religious speech.

  • Despite Obama’s claims at various times that he’s a Christian or a Muslim, he has implemented wherever possible an anti-Christ strategy that seeks to undermine America’s Christian heritage and foundation.

Judge Nixes Stem Cell Suit

A lawsuit that had threatened to end the Obama administration’s funding of embryonic stem cell research was thrown out Wednesday, allowing the United States to continue supporting a search for cures to deadly diseases over protests that the work relies on destroyed human embryos. The lawsuit claimed that research funded by the National Institutes of Health violated the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law that prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo. But the administration policy allows research on embryos that were culled long ago through private funding. Lamberth said in his opinion Wednesday, “This Court, following the D.C. Circuit’s reasoning and conclusions, must find that defendants reasonably interpreted the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to permit funding for human embryonic stem cell research because such research is not ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.'” Pro-life advocates say there is no reason, and certainly no moral or ethical reason, to be destroying the lives of embryos for any reason.

  • Legal hairsplitting aside, an argument that human embryo’s are not destroyed by such research is blind to reality. Such research needs to be stopped in its entirety. Adult stem cells have proven to be much more likely to yield useful results.

Second Alleged Plot to Attack Fort Hood Foiled

At least one U.S. military serviceman has been arrested after raising concerns over another alleged plot to attack Fort Hood. Pvt. Nasser Jason Abdo, an AWOL soldier from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was arrested by the Killeen Police Department near Fort Hood and remains in custody there. Abdo was found with weapons and explosives at the time of his arrest. Abdo went AWOL on July 4. On the eve of his first deployment to Afghanistan — after only one year in the Army — Abdo applied for conscientious objector status. Another source told Fox News that two other U.S. soldiers also might be involved.

‘Do Not Track’ Challenges Tech Industry

The federal government has put Google, Microsoft, Apple and other technology companies on notice: Give consumers a way prevent advertisers from tracking their movements across the Web — or face regulation. Yet for all its innovative know-how and entrepreneurial spirit, the technology industry has yet to agree on a simple, meaningful solution to protect consumer privacy on the Internet. So privacy watchdogs and lawmakers are stepping up the pressure, calling for laws that would require companies to stop the digital surveillance of consumers who don’t want to be tracked. They argue that effective privacy tools are long overdue from an industry that typically moves at breakneck speed. The Federal Trade Commission has challenged the industry to offer a digital tracking off switch. The FTC envisions something akin to the government’s existing “Do Not Call” registry for telemarketers.

Rural America Shrinking

Rural America now accounts for just 16 percent of the nation’s population, the lowest ever. The latest 2010 census numbers hint at an emerging America where, by midcentury, city boundaries become indistinct and rural areas grow ever less relevant. Many communities could shrink to virtual ghost towns as they shutter businesses and close down schools, demographers say. More metro areas are booming into sprawling megalopolises. Barring fresh investment that could bring jobs, however, large swaths of the Great Plains and Appalachia, along with parts of Arkansas, Mississippi and northern Texas, could face significant population declines. These places posted some of the biggest losses over the past decade as young adults left and the people who stayed got older, moving past childbearing years.

Space Station to Plunge into Ocean in 2020

A Russian space official said Wednesday that once the mammoth International Space Station is no longer needed it will be sent into the Pacific Ocean. It’s a plan that’s long been in the works and is a step to avoid the station becoming dangerous space junk. It was supposed to plunge into the ocean as early as 2015. The U.S. recently extended its life until at least 2020, and there’s been talk of keeping it going even longer. Russia sank its Mir space station in the Pacific in 2001 after 15 years in operation. Skylab, America’s first space station, fell from orbit in 1979 after six years in space. The International Space Station is the biggest orbiting outpost ever built. It now consists of more than a dozen modules built by the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency.

Post Office Considers Closing 3,700 Branches

The Postal Service will study about 3,700 post offices with low sales and few customers for possible elimination as early as January, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said Tuesday. Most of those under review take in less than $27,500 a year and have only enough customers and mail to keep them busy two hours a day. Proposals to close any of its estimated 31,000 post offices often meet strong resistance from communities and their representatives in Congress. In January, the Postal Service named 1,400 post offices it wanted to close; only 280 are gone.

Healthcare Costs to Hit $4.6 Trillion in 2020

Despite President Obama’s promises to rein in health care costs as part of his reform bill, health spending nationwide is expected to rise more than if the sweeping legislation had never become law. Total spending is projected to grow annually by 5.8 percent under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, according to a 10-year forecast by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Without the ACA, spending would grow at a slightly slower rate of 5.7 percent annually. The nation’s health care tab is on track to hit $4.6 trillion in 2020, accounting for about $1 of every $5 in the economy, government number crunchers estimate in a report out Thursday. Including government and private money, health care spending in 2020 will average $13,710 for every man, woman and child, says Medicare’s Office of the Actuary. By comparison, U.S. health care spending this year is projected to top $2.7 trillion. Most of that spending is for care for the oldest and sickest people. The main reasons that health care spending keeps growing faster than the economy are the high cost of medical innovations and an aging society that consumes increasing levels of service.

House GOP Sets Vote on Revamped Debt-Limit Bill

House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican deputies are in a fight to the buzzer to round up enough support to pass his deficit-reduction bill, as the House begins arguably the most harrowing series of votes in his tenure — with the nation’s borrowing power, the economy and everybody’s interest rates in the balance. Barring the last-minute entrance of a compromise bill, there are only two options for skirting the August 2nd debt ceiling deadline — a Democratic bill in the Senate that Republicans deride as a “blank check” for President Obama, and Boehner’s bill. Democrats loathe that bill, but the speaker has worked strenuously over the past two days to present it as the only viable option.

Economic News

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week to the lowest level since early April, a sign the job market may be healing after a recent slump. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications fell 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 398,000. That’s the first time applications have fallen below 400,000 in 16 weeks. Economists cautioned that the lower level only reflects one week of data and that doesn’t necessarily signal a trend.

The number of people who signed contracts to buy homes rose for a second month in June. But the gain was not enough to signal a rebound in the weak housing market. The National Association of Realtors says its index of sales agreements for previously occupied homes rose 2..4% in June to a reading of 90.9. A reading of 100 is considered healthy by economists.

Most of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas are seeing a sharp drop in foreclosure activity as banks take longer to move against homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments. In the first half of this year, 84% of metropolitan areas with a population of at least 200,000 saw their foreclosure rate drop versus the same period last year, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac said Thursday. The decline is due to delays in the foreclosure process as lenders work through foreclosure documentation problems that first surfaced last fall.

Businesses cut back on orders for aircraft, autos, heavy machinery and computers in June, sending demand for long-lasting manufactured goods lower for the second month in the past three months. Orders for durable goods fell 2.1% last month, with the weakness led by a big drop in orders for commercial aircraft, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. A number of other categories also showed weakness including autos and auto parts.

Two years into the recovery, Americans’ confidence in the economy continues to sputter. U.S. consumers’ confidence rose slightly to 59.5 in July, according to The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index. That’s up from a revised 57.6 in June — which was a seven-month low — but still well below the reading of 90 that signals a healthy economy.

Apple, a week after reporting record sales and profit, surpassed $400 a share for the first time and is gaining ground on ExxonMobil, the world’s most valuable company. Apple, on the brink of bankruptcy when CEO Steve Jobs reclaimed the top job more than a decade ago, now has a bigger market value than Microsoft and Intel combined.

Norway

International experts said Tuesday that Norway’s government and security forces must learn stark lessons from a massacre made worse by a lackadaisical approach to planning for terror. Breivik’s lawyer, Geir Lippestad, said Tuesday his client was surprised he even made it onto the island without being stopped by police, never mind that he was left to fire his assault rifle and handgun for so long. The island’s lone part-time security guard was among the first people he killed. Survivors said they struggled to get their panicked pleas heard because operators on emergency lines were rejecting calls not connected to the Oslo bomb. When police finally realized a gunman was shooting teens and 20-somethings attending a youth retreat on the island, Breivik had already been hunting them down for half an hour. It took police more than 90 minutes to reach the gunman. Delta Force police officers made the 25-mile journey by car — they have no helicopter — then had to be rescued by a civilian craft when their boat broke down as it tried to navigate a one-minute hop to the island.

In the days since the world learned that Breivik could face a maximum prison sentence of just 21-years for the killings there has been some criticism of the Norwegian justice as being far too lenient. Many say that Norway may be too easy on criminals even though its crime rates now are low compared with those in the United States. Norway abolished the death penalty in 1988.

Middle East

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is quietly and illegally increasing the size of its military, in preparation to fight Israel for control of Jerusalem in September, when the United Nations may recognize Palestine’s independence and seize Jerusalem without Israeli permission.  IsraelNationalNews.com reports the PA Army has exceeded its legal size limit by 25%, but plans to grow their Army even more: “Sources inside the PA, [told reporters] senior PA security personnel have expressed concern that its 41,000 strong paramilitary force – some 11,000 stronger than [the 30,000] the Oslo Accords allow – is not up to the task of confronting the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) in Judea and Samaria should Israel, as seems inevitable, dispute any unilateral PA claims [of independence].”  So the PA complains the need even more troops to fight Israel and may rely upon Syria and Iran when war is declared on Israel.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber hiding explosives in his turban assassinated the mayor of Kandahar on Wednesday, just two weeks after President Hamid Karzai’s powerful half brother was slain in the southern province that is critical to the U.S.-led war effort. Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi, 65, was the third powerbroker from southern Afghanistan to be killed in just over two weeks, underlining fears of a surge in violence. During his four years as mayor, Hamidi became the enemy of the Taliban as well as others involved in criminal activities. Three suicide attackers blew up vehicles packed with explosives Thursday at the gates of a government compound in southern Afghanistan, the opening salvo of an hours-long fight that left at least 19 people dead.

Iraq

A double bombing Thursday struck an Iraqi bank in Saddam Hussein’s hometown where policemen were picking up their paychecks, killing 12 and wounding 34 people. The two midmorning blasts — one from a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives, immediately followed by a parked car bomb explosion — marked the fourth major attack this year on Iraqi security forces in the northern city of Tikrit, a former hotbed for Sunni insurgents bent on targeting the government and exposing the country’s instability.

Lebanon

A roadside bomb blew up next to a United Nations convoy carrying French peacekeepers in south Lebanon on Tuesday, wounding at least five of them in the second attack on the U.N. force in two months. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. But political tensions are rising in Lebanon over a U.N.-backed tribunal’s indictment last month of four Hezbollah members in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Iranian-backed Hezbollah is the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon today and it has refused to hand over the suspects.

Syria

Al-Qaeda’s new leader praised Syrian protesters seeking to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad while trying to portray the uprising as an Islamic battle against American and Israeli interests. The video message posted on extremist websites Wednesday is Ayman al-Zawahri’s first since al-Qaeda named him its new leader in June following the death of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. commando raid in Pakistan. The Egyptian-born al-Zawahri, who long served as bin Laden’s top deputy, directly addressed the Syrian protesters who have risen up against Assad’s rule despite a bloody government crackdown. “You are an example, explaining lessons to your Arab and Muslim nation in sacrifice, steadfastness and the struggle against oppression,” al-Zawahri said of the protesters.

Somalia

More than 40 Americans have been recruited and radicalized by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Somalia and have gone to the war-torn country to fight, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee says. The Homeland Security Committee also found that more than 20 Canadians had also been recruited and radicalized and joined the fight in Somalia. The government said the recruits are believed to have traveled to Somalia to join the Islamic terror group Al-Shabab to expel Ethiopian soldiers. Some of those young men have died in the fight. Al-Shabab has expanded its focus over the years, and it has aligned itself with other anti-Western terror groups.

The online activist group Avaaz.org said its investigation has identified 2,918 Syrians who were arrested or abducted by force by security troops and whose whereabouts are now unknown. The global organization said Thursday that, on average, one person disappears in Syria every hour since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad more than four months ago.

China

As the Pentagon plans for U.S. forces to exit Iraq and Afghanistan, it is keeping one eye trained on the rising threat in the East. For two decades China has been adding large numbers of warships, submarines, fighter jets and — more significantly — developing offensive missiles capable of knocking out U.S. stealth aircraft and the biggest U.S. naval ships including aircraft carriers. At the same time, China has announced that its territorial waters extend hundreds of miles beyond its shores, well into what its neighbors and the United States consider international waters. It has installed more than 1,000 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, a democratic island nation and U.S. ally. Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan all have complained to the United States about confrontations on the high seas with China. China says it is simply developing defensive weapons and protecting its interests.

Wildfires

Investigators determined that arson caused a wildfire that has burned more than 21 square miles of grass, brush and timber in northeastern San Diego County. The fire slowed its advance Wednesday into the backcountry, but hot weather and low humidity still posed a challenge for firefighters trying to surround it. The fire was 65 percent contained after burning 14,100 acres on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation and Anza Borrego Desert State Park. No homes were threatened.

Weather

Heavy rain sent landslides barreling through the South Korean capital and a northern town Wednesday, killing 17 and leaving at least three missing. About 15 inches of rain fell in Seoul in just 17 hours starting Tuesday afternoon. More than 10 inches fell on Chuncheon in the last two days. Weather officials say another 10 inches could fall through Friday in northern South Korea, including Seoul, parts of which were flooded from the rains.

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July 26, 2011

Norway Suspect Sought ‘Christian war’ Against Islam

Islamophobia has reached a mass murder level in Norway as the confessed killer claims he sought to combat encroachment by Muslims into his country and Europe. Anders Behring Breivik’s bombing and shooting spree puts the spotlight back on Europe’s uneasy adjustment to a shifting population. According to The New York Times, he called for “a Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination.” Acquaintances described him as being obsessed with what he saw as the threats of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration. Breivik’s manuscript, like the major Qaeda declarations, include detailed accounts of the Crusades, a pronounced sense of historical grievance and calls for apocalyptic warfare to defeat the religious and cultural enemy. But despite Breivik’s fears of cultural shifts, Muslims today are only 6% of the region’s population — and just 3% of the population in Norway.

  • End-time phobias of all kinds will spread lawlessness and violence across the globe, from Mexico’s drug cartels to Islamic terrorists to Christian extremists to eventually full-scale warfare in the Middle East.

Breivik spent nine years writing a 1,518-page manifesto. His lawyer confirmed he is the author. At the center of his rage is an objection to Muslim immigration in Europe and Norway’s embrace of multiculturalism. Police say he may have been in contact with the anti-immigration and anti-Muslim English Defense League in Britain and a neo-Nazi group in Sweden. Breivik also describes a group called the Knights Templar, a revival of the medieval knights who protected Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. Breivik’s Knights Templar would target “cultural Marxist/multiculturalist elites” who are allowing Muslims to enter Europe. Breivik copied some passages in his manifesto from writings by “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski.

As the nation of 4.9 million people convulsed with grief over the death of 93 people, Norway’s leaders vowed Sunday to remain an open and inclusive society. Norway’s citizens are among the world’s richest. The crime rate is among the lowest in Europe. The Nobel Peace Prize, the only Nobel awarded outside Sweden, is given annually in Oslo. Although the Labor Party leads Norway’s parliamentary democracy, far right and anti-immigration politicians have gained traction there and elsewhere in Europe.

Federal Officials Kept Mexico Gun Plans Secret

Federal gun agents and Justice Department officials did not share crucial information about a risky gun trafficking investigation with their U.S. colleagues in Mexico, even as those colleagues expressed concerns about a sudden spike in the number of U.S. guns linked to the probe that were being recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, congressional investigators found. A new report concludes that Justice and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives officials in Arizona and Washington “kept their own personnel in Mexico … totally in the dark” about the operation that allowed hundreds of weapons to flow into Mexico. The findings are part of a continuing congressional review of the ATF and its management of the trafficking strategy— known as Operation Fast and Furious. Federal authorities had hoped to build criminal cases against Mexican drug cartel leaders by allowing guns to move along the trafficking line into Mexico. Instead, current and former ATF officials said, the operation allowed hundreds of weapons to fall into the hands of cartel enforcers in Mexico and other criminals along the southwest border.

  • Too much secrecy and harebrained schemes in our bloated, “transparent” government

Gulf Oil Spill Victims Weary of Wait for Payouts

TV commercials by oil giant BP that promised to “make it right” and compensate those along the Gulf Coast who lost work during last year’s disastrous oil spill. More than a year after the spill ruined his oyster beds, however, a chorus of local fishermen, seafood processors, hoteliers and others say that nearly a year since it opened its doors, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility that administers the BP fund has not moved fast enough to pay those hurt most by the spill. Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder ordered an independent audit of the fund. The Gulf Coast Claims Facility has paid nearly $5 billion in claims to about 200,000 claimants, one of the largest payout efforts in U.S. history, according to the facility, but still far short of the $20 billion promised.

  • Like big government, large global corporations are fast with the slick talk but slow to deliver on their promises

Lawsuit Against NY Gay Marriage Bill Claims Flagrant Constitutional Violations

Citing “flagrant violations” of constitutional and legal procedures, a lawsuit has been filed to overturn New York’s same-gender “marriage” law that took effect on Sunday. A representative of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (NYCF) and a rabbi say in a lawsuit filed Monday in state court that New York’s Senate violated its own procedures and the state’s open meetings law when it approved the bill on June 24. Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver filed the lawsuit on behalf of NYCF and others because of what he terms “clear and rampant violations of the constitutional requirement to have open and transparent meetings.” According to Staver, the bill was “strong-armed” through the process.

Health Care Providers Embracing Cost-Saving Groups

Health care providers are embracing accountable care organizations, a key part of last year’s health care law, as they try to control rising Medicare and health care costs. Accountable care organizations are networks of doctors and hospitals that band together to better coordinate patient care by using computerized medical records and increased analysis of various treatments. Instead of the current system in which a patient sees a variety of doctors with little coordination, this new system is meant to eliminate duplication and provide financial incentives for providers to improve quality while also cutting costs. Hospital administrators and health care experts across the country say they’re creating the organizations, despite concerns about federal rules, because they realize they are the only way to remain profitable as a large portion of the nation’s population moves toward old age. Between 60 and 80 health care organizations use private accountable care models now, and that number will rise by at least 100 next year as the Medicare pilot program begins.

Prescription Drug Abuse Rising

The abuse of prescription drugs has risen to a dangerous level. A new federal study by the office of National Drug Control Policy entitled, “Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis,” indicates that nationwide, the per person use of prescription opioids (synthetic opiates) has increased by more than 400% over the past decade. Opiate overdoses, once almost always attributed to heroin, “are now increasingly due to abuse of prescription painkillers,” such as oxycontin, percodan, vicodin and others. The April 2011 report also states that prescription painkillers are now “the second-most abused category of drugs after marijuana and the second leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. after car accidents.”

Debt Ceiling Talks Stalled, Obama & Boehmer Face Off

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner faced off in back-to-back addresses to the nation Monday in prime-time, after House Republicans and Senate Democrats emerged with competing plans to address the U.S. debt ceiling. One of the biggest obstacles remaining: the size of the debt limit increase. House Republicans want an increase of $1 trillion — enough to last about six months, with future increases tied to more cuts and a House and Senate vote on a balanced budget amendment. The Senate wants $2.4 trillion, enough to get through the 2012 election. With just seven days left to raise the nation’s $14.2 trillion debt ceiling, President Obama and Republican congressional leaders failed to reach a bipartisan deal, leaving both sides to devise their own solutions.

The debt deal impasse doesn’t just threaten the U.S. credit rating. President Obama’s political standing also appears at risk. Obama’s job approval ratings last week averaged 43% last week, matching the lowest level of his presidency, Gallop reported. The ratings for House Speaker John Boehner and congressional Republicans aren’t any better, and the GOP may struggle to hold the U.S. House in next year’s elections.

Economic News

The wealth gaps between whites and minorities have grown to their widest levels in a quarter-century. The recession and uneven recovery have erased decades of minority gains, leaving whites on average with 20 times the net worth of blacks and 18 times that of Hispanics, according to an analysis of new Census data. What’s pushing the wealth of whites is the rebound in the stock market and corporate savings, while younger Hispanics and African-Americans who bought homes in the last decade — because that was the American dream — are seeing big declines.

Home prices in major U.S. cities rose for the second straight month in May, propped up by a flurry of spring buyers. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home-price index released Tuesday showed that prices rose in 16 of the 20 cities tracked. Boston posted the biggest monthly increase, followed closely by Minneapolis and Washington. Prices in three metro areas hit the hardest by the housing crisis — Detroit, Las Vegas and Tampa (Florida) — fell to their lowest points since the recession began. Prices in Phoenix were unchanged.

While the nation’s job growth has limped along since the economic recovery began two years ago, the Lone Star State job market is growing. From June 2009 to June 2011 Texas added 262,000 jobs, or half the USA’s 524,000 payroll gains. The stunning showing could play a role in the presidential race. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is signaling he may run for the Republican nomination. If he does, he’s likely to ground his campaign in his state’s outsized job growth. Economists point to an array of factors, including high energy prices that set off an oil-drilling frenzy, rising exports and a conservative banking industry that helped the state sidestep the housing crash.

Libya

Airstrikes hit a southeastern area of the Libyan capital early Sunday, sending up a huge cloud of white smoke, not far from the sprawling compound of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at Bab al-Aziziyah. Under a U.N. mandate, NATO warplanes have been carrying out airstrikes on the Libyan government military targets. Just 24 hours earlier there were a series of at least six explosions in the Bab al-Aziziyah area. NATO later reported a “command and control” facility had been hit.

Egypt

Groups of men armed with knives and sticks attacked thousands of protesters trying to march to the headquarters of Egypt’s military rulers Saturday, setting off fierce street clashes and leaving more than 100 injured. Security fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. The clashes come as tensions mount between the military council that took control of the country after a popular uprising ousted ex-President Hosni Mubarak and activists who want them to move faster in bringing former regime officials to justice and setting a date for the transition to civilian rule.

Yemen

A suicide attacker driving a pickup truck packed with explosives blew himself up outside an army camp in Yemen’s coastal city of Aden on Sunday, killing at least eight army soldiers and wounding dozens more. The blast took place near the gate of the camp as a column of vehicles loaded with troops and supplies was preparing to leave for nearby Abyan province to take part in fighting against al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Afghanistan

The new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said Monday that the United States is not rushing to leave the country. Speaking after being sworn in at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Ryan Crocker tried to allay Afghan fears about Obama’s plan to bring 10,000 U.S. troops home by year’s end, as many as 23,000 more by September 2012 and a formal end to the combat mission by the end of 2014. We must proceed carefully,” he said. “There will be no rush for the exits. But he also stressed the U.S. had no interest in having permanent bases in the nation.

Sri Lanka

A proxy to Sri Lanka’s now-defunct separatist Tamil Tiger rebels swept local council elections held in areas ravaged by the country’s 25-year civil war, officials said Sunday, amid reports of intimidation and vote-buying. The Tamil National Alliance won 20 local councils out of the 25 it contested in the ethnic Tamil-majority north and east, the Elections Department said. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance coalition secured five councils in Saturday’s vote. The resounding victory consolidates the Tamil National Alliance’s status as an authentic representative of ethnic Tamils in negotiations with Rajapaksa’s ethnic majority Sinhalese-controlled government in sharing political power and postwar rehabilitation.

North Korea

North Korea’s food shortage has reached a crisis point this year, aid workers say, largely because of shocks to the agricultural sector, including torrential rains and the coldest winter in 60 years. Six million North Koreans are living “on a knife edge” and will go hungry without immediate food aid, the World Food Program said, calling in April for $224 million in emergency aid. North Korean officials have made quiet pleas for help, citing rising global food prices, shortfalls in fertilizer and the winter freeze that killed their wheat harvest. In return, they agreed to strict monitoring conditions — a rare concession. Donations, however, have not been flooding the nation considered a political pariah for its nuclear defiance and alleged human rights abuses.

Wildfires

Thirty water- and retardant-dropping aircraft bombarded flames during flights on Monday over a nearly 20-square-mile California wildfire crackling through bush and brush on a remote American Indian reservation in northeast San Diego County. The 12,700-acre blaze was 45% surrounded Monday night, but there’s no estimate on full containment. The fire broke out Thursday on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation and has moved into Anza-Borrego State Park. A shed was destroyed but no homes have burned. Six firefighters have reported minor injuries, mostly heat exhaustion.

Weather

The heat wave that roasted the East Coast is easing, but the respite may be only temporary as soaring temperatures are forecast to return later this week. The heat will start building again across the northern plains and Ohio Valley toward the Northeast by the middle to end of the workweek. There’s little relief in sight for the scorched and parched southern Plains. Temperatures will stay in the 100s from Kansas southward. In Dallas, temperatures have been 100 degrees or more for 23 straight days. The Weather Channel forecasts at least another 10 days of that.

Last week’s heat broke records in several spots. All-time high temperatures were set Friday in Newark (108 degrees); Washington Dulles Airport (105); and Hartford, Conn., (103). Baltimore hit 106 degrees on Friday, one degree shy of its all-time high, and Central Park in New York City saw 104, 2 degrees short of its all-time-high record. July is on pace to be one of the five hottest months in U.S. history,.

Farmers in the Pacific Northwest could use a bit of the oppressive heat that’s crippling much of the United States right now. Farmers in parts of Oregon and Washington are struggling with cold, wet weather that’s slowing the growth of their crops. Cherries aren’t ripe. The region’s world-class grass seed won’t dry out. One Oregon county is seeking a disaster declaration after losing as much as 80 percent of its peaches. Farmers say they desperately need some warmth and a break from above-normal rainfall.

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July 23, 2011

91 Killed in Norway Massacre, Bomb Blast

A Norwegian gunman disguised as a police officer beckoned his victims closer before shooting them one by one, claiming at least 84 lives, in a horrific killing spree on an idyllic island teeming with youths that has left this peaceful Nordic nation in mourning. The island tragedy Friday unfolded hours after a massive explosion ripped through a high-rise building housing the prime minister’s office, killing seven people in a scene some likened to the aftermath of 9/11. The blast in Oslo, Norway’s capital and the city where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, left a square covered in twisted metal, shattered glass and documents expelled from surrounding buildings. The same man — a blonde-blue eyed Norwegian with reported Christian fundamentalist, anti-Muslim views — is suspected in both attacks. He has been preliminarily charged with acts of terrorism.

  • A terrible tragedy that the media is already hyping as the product of a “fundamentalist Christian.” No true Christian would ever perpetrate such a massacre.

States Enact Record Wave of Anti-Abortion Laws

Inspired by a contentious Nebraska law, abortion opponents in five other states have won passage of measures banning virtually all abortions after five months of pregnancy. The late-term bans — based on the premise that fetuses at that stage can feel pain — are among a record wave of more than 80 restrictions aimed at reducing access to abortion, all of them approved so far this year in state legislatures. Other measures expand pre-abortion counseling requirements, ban abortion coverage in new insurance exchanges, and subject abortion clinics to tough new regulations. The bills depart from the standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court which allow states to limit abortions when there’s a reasonable chance the fetus could survive outside of the womb, generally considered to around 23 or 24 weeks. Abortions in the U.S. average about 1.2 million a year.

Debt Talks Going Nowhere

The Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the GOP’s “cut, cap, and balance” deficit reduction plan Friday, voting 51-46 to set the measure aside and clear a path for further talks on what Democrats insist must be a more centrist measure balancing spending reductions and tax hikes. “Cut, cap, and balance,” which passed the Republican-controlled House earlier in the week, would have tied a debt ceiling increase to sweeping reductions in federal spending, caps on future expenditures, and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. While the measure was never expected to become law, holding votes on it allowed Republicans to demonstrate their preference for steps favored by many in the conservative tea party movement.

House Speaker John Boehner pulled out of month-long budget negotiations with the White House late Friday night. An angry President Obama said the Republicans walked away from a deal that would have cut the budget roughly $3 for every $1 in new tax revenue. “We have run out of time,” Obama said. Boehner — who will be back at the White House Saturday morning — said he broke off talks because Obama insisted on raising taxes as part of a debt ceiling increase, including a last-minute request for $400 billion in new revenues.

Americans Owe the World $534,000 Per Household

The gap between the money Washington takes into its coffers to pay its IOUs and what it actually owes on those IOUs is taking on Grand-Canyonesque proportions, with unfunded liabilities hovering around $62 trillion, according to a USA Today analysis. And that breaks down to a staggering $534,000 per U.S. household. By the end of September, another $5,240 that has accumulated will push the household share to nearly $540,000. Last year, the government added $5.3 trillion to the amount it owes in new financial obligations. Adding to the problem, more and more people are going to retire over the coming years vastly increasing Social Security and Medicare payments

  • Proverbs 22:7 (NKJV) declares the terrible state in which America now finds itself: “The borrower is servant to the lender.” And thus we find the USA now subservient economically to those who hold significant portions of our debt obligations – China, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations. We are no longer masters of our own destiny, having sold our birthright just as Esau did.

Obama & Pentagon Chief Okay End of Military Gay Ban

Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has decided to end the ban on gays serving openly in the armed services and certify that repealing the 17-year-old prohibition will not hurt the military’s ability to function. His decision comes two weeks after the chiefs of the military services told Panetta that ending the ban would not affect military readiness. After meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, the President Obama certified to Congress that repealing the ban would not jeopardize the military’s ability to fight. Dismantling the ban fulfills a 2008 campaign promise by President Barack Obama, who helped usher the repeal through Congress and signed it into law late last December. But the move also drew vehement opposition from some in Congress and initial reluctance from military leaders, who worried that it could cause a backlash and erode troop cohesion on the battlefield.

Drug/Traffic Crime Deportations Way Up

Huge increases in deportations of people after they were arrested for breaking traffic or immigration laws or driving drunk helped the Obama administration set a record last year for the number of criminal immigrants forced to leave the country. The U.S. deported nearly 393,000 people in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, half of whom were considered criminals. Of those, 27,635 had been arrested for drunken driving. An additional 13,028 were deported last year after being arrested on less serious traffic law violations, nearly three times the 4,527 traffic offenders deported two years earlier. Most of the immigrants deported last year had committed drug-related crimes. They totaled 45,003, compared with 36,053 in 2008. The spike in the numbers of people deported for drug and traffic offenses as well as a 78 percent increase in people deported for immigration-related offenses renewed skepticism about the administration’s claims that it is focusing on the most dangerous criminals.

Atlantis Lands, Ending Space Shuttle Era

Space shuttle Atlantis is back on Earth, and the shuttle era is over. Atlantis and its four astronauts glided through the twilight Thursday and landed in Florida shortly before sunrise. NASA is ending its 30-year shuttle program with Atlantis’ successful space station resupply mission. It is the 135th flight in shuttle history. Thurday, United Space Alliance, one of the space program’s largest employers, laid off about 2,000 employees. The next-to-youngest shuttle will remain at Kennedy Space Center and be put on display. NASA’s next stop with astronauts will be an asteroid, then Mars. Private companies will take over trips to the International Space Station.

Yellowstone Oil Spill Highlights Gaps in Pipeline Oversight

Three weeks after a broken Exxon Mobil pipeline spilled 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River, federal officials remain unsure how many pipelines there are that  carry hazardous fuels cross the nation’s rivers and streams, nor can they say how deeply those pipelines are buried. The spill into the Montana river amid historic flooding this month drew attention to what had long been an overlooked part of the nation’s energy infrastructure: the presence of pipelines underneath rivers coursing throughout the country. The spill raised concern that other underwater pipelines may have been exposed to debris by high and fast-moving waters that swept much of the U.S. in recent months. As regulators scramble to gauge what other lines might be at risk, lawmakers from both parties are raising alarms that another spill could be imminent unless the government steps up oversight of the largely self-regulated pipeline industry.

16 CAP-Supported Bills Become Law in Arizona

The Center for Arizona Policy reported Wednesday that “It’s been 90 days since the end of the 2011 legislative session, which means 16 Center for Arizona Policy (CAP)-supported bills take effect today. That’s 101 CAP-supported bills enacted into law since 1995! These new laws make significant progress towards advancing the foundational values of life, marriage and family, and religious liberty in our state. Victories like these never come without hard work, the support and prayers of people across Arizona, and the Lord’s blessing. Today would also be impossible if it wasn’t for the amazing 2010 elections, in which a two-thirds majority of pro-life, pro-family leaders were elected to the state House, Senate, and the governor’s office.

Showdown at the Quartzsite Corral

The state of Arizona is now investigating allegations of massive corruption among government officials inQuarzsite, the town that’s the focus of worldwide attention after a viral YouTube video showed police forcibly removing a woman from speaking at a town-hall meeting. The mayor says he’s no longer being paid and most local police officers are wrongly being fired and have been ordered not to leave their homes. Mayor Ed Foster, who’s been at war with his own council and Police Chief Jeff Gilbert whom he has called corrupt and “a Nazi,” believes potentially millions of dollars of taxpayer money is being illegally funneled through secret checks to unnamed councilmembers. The council met earlier this month as it locked out the public and declared a “state of emergency,” allegedly due to personal threats resulting from the national exposure. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Tom Horne said the matter is now under investigation.

Economic News

New claims for unemployment benefits rose 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 418,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Applications have topped 400,000 for 15 weeks, a sign of sluggish hiring. Applications had fallen in February to 375,000, a level that signals healthy job growth.

Unemployment rates rose in more than half of U.S. states in June, evidence that slower hiring is affecting many parts of the country. Rates declined in eight states and were flat in 14. Nevada had the highest unemployment rate among the states in June, at 12.4%. That’s up from 12.1% in May. California had the second-highest rate, at 11.8%. North Dakota reported the lowest unemployment rate, at 3.2%, followed by Nebraska and Montana, both 4.1%.

After falling to $3.54 a gallon from May’s $3.98 peak, prices have unexpectedly surged the past two weeks to a national average of almost $3.70 — a dollar higher than levels a year ago. Industry analysts say prices could climb higher short-term, curbing skittish consumer spending.

European leaders on Thursday clinched a 109-billion Euro rescue plan for Greece that could push the country into default on some of its debt for a short period but would also give Europe’s bailout fund sweeping new powers to shore up struggling economies. Banks have agreed to take part in several programs to reduce Greece’s debt, including plans that would mean exchanging existing bonds for new bonds with lower interest rates and longer maturities.

Somalia

Islamist militants in Somalia have reversed a pledge to allow foreign aid agencies to operate in famine-struck regions in the nation. The ban included the United Nations Development Programme, World Food Programme and CARE International. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Somalis are feared dead in the world’s worst famine in a generation, the U.N. said Wednesday, and the U.S. said it will allow emergency funds to be spent in areas controlled by al-Qaida-linked militants as long as the fighters do not interfere with aid distributions. “This desperate situation requires urgent action to save lives … it’s likely that conditions will deteriorate further in six months,” said Mark Bowden, the U.N.’s top official in charge of humanitarian aid in Somalia. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced an additional $28 million in emergency funding on top of the $431 million in assistance already given this year.

Israel

A growing movement in Israel is protesting against the conditions which make it difficult for ordinary people to live in the Jewish State. On Friday, 200 medical students staged a demonstration outside of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, adding their voices to a months old protest waged by doctors and other healthcare professionals across the country in demanding that the government reform the health care system, which Israelis have long complained is unnecessarily bureaucratic and inefficient. The protests by medical workers are happening at the same time as thousands of young Israelis have formed ‘tent cities’ across the country to protest against artificially high rents and other cost of living issues.

International supporters of the Palestinian cause again attempted Wednesday to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, put in place to prevent Hamas from receiving more weapons to use in attacks against the Jewish people. A French ship, the Dignite Al-Karama, reached the waters off the coast of Gaza but was halted by Israeli forces without incident. Last year the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara tried to break the blockade. When Israeli soldiers boarded to force the ship to stop, they were attacked by armed “peace activists.” Nine people were killed in the ensuing battle.

Syria

Syrian security forces swept through neighborhoods in Homs, a restive central city, firing machine guns and pulling people from their homes in a series of arrests. Homs has experienced some of the most intense and sustained violence in recent days as President Bashar Assad’s regime seeks to stamp out a more than 4-month-old popular uprising against him. Tens of thousands of Syrians defied the massive security crackdown and flooded the streets of Damascus and other cities Friday, insisting their protest movement was united and demanding the downfall of President Assad’s regime.

Libya

Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s troops have boobytrapped petroleum installations in the strategic oil port of Brega so they can be blown up if his regime loses the town. The Libyan leader also delivered yet another defiant speech in which he didn’t foresee any talks with rebels. “I will not speak to them, there will be no words between us until the Day of Judgement,” Gadhafi said. The address is the latest in a series of speeches accompanied by large rallies in different cities across the country over the past week to bolster support for the regime in the face of international backing for the rebels. NATO jet planes, meanwhile, struck the capital Tripoli near Gadhafi’s headquarters at Bab al-Aziziyah in the early hours of the morning Saturday.

Egypt

Several thousand protesters marched toward Egypt’s ministry of defense as well as the headquarters of the country’s military rulers in a rare rally Friday following reports of scuffles between protesters and soldiers in other cities. Armored vehicles and hundreds of military police blocked the road leading to the defense ministry, however, preventing nearly 4,000 protesters from advancing any further. It blocked traffic at a busy square across the city from Tahrir square, where several hundred die-hard activists have camped out for more than two weeks demanding faster change by the military. More than five months after mass street demonstrations drove President Hosni Mubarak from power, many Egyptians worry that their “revolution” has stalled.

Yemen

Shelling by Yemeni security forces killed a young girl and her mother Friday, and army forces fought with Islamists who have overrun a southern town in clashes that killed four combatants. Security across Yemen has nearly collapsed amid five months of mass protests seeking to topple the regime of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In the city of Taiz, south of the capital Sanaa, security forces have been clashing for weeks with armed tribesmen who say they came to protect protesters after a deadly government crackdown.

A spokesman for Yemen’s beleaguered government announced on Thursday that a senior leader of the country’s Al-Qaida branch was killed in heavy fighting in the south of the disintegrating country. The statement said that Ayed al-Shabwani was killed in fighting near the town of Zinjibar, held by Al-Qaida gunman since late May and the focus in recent days of a counter offensive by government troops backed by tribal militias.

Sudan

The Republic of South Sudan declared independence on July 9 and became the 193rd member of the United Nations a few days later. But ASSIST News Service reports that as the celebrations subside and the process of nation building begins, there is a stark reminder that this “national liberation” remains incomplete: tens of thousands Southern slaves remain in captivity in the North. “It is a sad irony,” said Dr. Charles Jacobs, President of the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG). “It was, after all, the enslavement of African villagers that animated and bolstered much of the rebellion in South Sudan. And it was reports of modern day human bondage in Africa’s largest country that awoke Americans to the tragedy in Sudan.” He says that in the campaign to Arabize and Islamize the African Christian/traditionalist South, the leaders of the Arab Muslim North killed almost 3 million and ethnically cleansed 4 million more.

India

Police have arrested three pastors of a Pentecostal group, the Gospel Messengers Team (GMT) and the couple who hosted them. According to Asia News, they are accused of trying to convert people to other religions, even by force. On the morning of July 13 about 150 Christians gathered at the house of Om Prakash for the regular weekly prayer, led by pastors AB Singh, Ganga Prasad and Robert of GMT. Later that morning, known leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) raided the meeting and threatened all those present. They falsely charged the pastors of having forcibly converted people to Christianity and of paying those present to attend. They were warned not to continue their ministry in the city. After a short time the police arrived, taking away Prakkash Om, his wife and three pastors, accusing them of forced conversions and other crimes.

Wildfires

A wildfire sparked by lightning in the Okefenokee Swamp more than 11 weeks ago reached a new milestone this week as firefighters said it has consumed more than 302,680 acres in southeast Georgia. The latest estimate of 300,239 acres means the Honey Prairie fire has burned more than 473 square miles. Firefighters have contained most of the flames within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near the Georgia-Florida state line. Extreme drought in southern Georgia has helped the fire feed off grasses, brush and trees since it started April 28. Fire is actually vital to the Okefenokee’s ecosystem. Refuge rangers say the swamp needs to burn periodically. Otherwise, it would become overgrown and eventually convert to uplands.

Weather

A heat wave that spread from the Midwest to the Northeast tormented millions of people with blasts of 100-degree temperatures and bog-like humidity as blackouts struck neighborhoods and deaths were blamed on the hot weather. On Friday, the mercury in Newark, N.J., reached 108, the highest temperature ever recorded there. Airports near Washington and Baltimore hit 105. Philadelphia reached 103, Boston 103, Portland, Maine, and Concord, N.H., 101 and Providence, R.I., 100. New York City hit 104 degrees, just 2 short of its all-time high, and with the oppressive humidity, it felt like 113. The electrical grid that serves 13 states, mostly in the Mid-Atlantic region, set an all-time record Thursday for power usage. The blistering heat wave now gripping much of the country remains remarkable both for its intensity and duration. This week’s heat wave has killed at least 22 people across the USA.

As the rest of the country bakes in summer heat, Seattle residents have been bundled up, dealing with temperatures that can’t seem to break out of the 60s. Even in a place used to rain, the gloominess is getting on people’s nerves. It’s been a month since the summer solstice and there have been only three days with temperatures above 80. To make matters worse, rain has dampened more than a few weekends.

Lake Powell in Arizona is nearing its highest level in nearly 10 years, but even runoff from near-record mountain snowpack can’t yet erase the effects of a lingering drought on the Colorado River. The huge reservoir near Page, which shrank to one-third of capacity during the decadelong drought, will peak for the summer at 75 percent full, more than enough water to help Arizona and Nevada escape forced shortages this year. Lake Mead, the river’s other major reservoir, will also recover some of its losses as federal officials shift water that has accumulated in Lake Powell downstream into Mead. By the end of the year, Lake Mead is projected to rise 51 feet above the record low level it reached last November. But the empty space that remains in the lakes also underscores the depth of the drought and the years it will take to recover from it.

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July 20, 2011

Campus Crusade for Christ drops ‘Christ’

The global evangelical para-church Campus Crusade for Christ is changing it’s name to ‘Cru.” The main idea is to evade the problematic word “crusade” and the passe term “campus” and face up to the fact that many of it’s branches already use different names. The massive group known for the Jesus Film, books, tracts and more believes it has long outgrown it original name. Here’s what the Cru website says: “We were not trying to eliminate the word Christ from our name. We were looking for a name that would most effectively serve our mission and help us take the gospel to the world. Our mission has not changed. Cru enables us to have discussions about Christ with people who might initially be turned off by a more overtly Christian name. We believe that our interaction and our communication with the world will be what ultimately honors and glorifies Christ.”

  • What a disappointing, idiotic response to the increasing anti-Christ spirit in the world. This is a time to grow bolder, not weaker, to loudly proclaim Christ, not shrink from even mentioning His name.

Trade Center Cross to be Moved to Permanent Home

A cross made of World Trade Center beams will be moved to its permanent home later this week. On Saturday, a flat-bed truck will move the 20-foot tall cross from its current location beside St. Peter’s Church in Lower Manhattan to the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. A construction worker discovered the perfectly formed cross made of two steel beams standing upright in the ground zero rubble. The cross will be blessed during a ceremony by the Rev. Brian Jordan before being moved. Jordan also blessed the beams in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Obama Endorses Repeal of Defense of Marriage Act

President Obama endorses a new congressional proposal to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which basically defines marriage as between a man and a woman, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday: “He is proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced by Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein and Congressman (Jerrold) Nadler, which would take DOMA off the books once and for all. This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples.” This year, the administration had also said it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.

  • The dismantling of DOMA is a clear signal that end-time immorality is rapidly spreading and becoming more and more blatant.

Low Ratings for Obama, Congress on Debt Talks

Americans aren’t pleased by the political shenanigans they see in down-to-the-wire negotiations over the debt ceiling. Half of those surveyed in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll say President Obama and Congress are doing a worse job than their predecessors in dealing with the nation’s problems. Four in 10 call it the worst they’ve seen in their lifetimes. At least two-thirds say congressional Republicans and Democrats put their own political interests ahead of the country’s best interests. Just 7% see both sides as negotiating in good faith.

As expected, the GOP-led House has approved the “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan for reducing the debt on a mostly party-line vote of 234-190. But the plan won’t go any further in a Democrat-controlled Senate and with a veto threat from President Obama. A group of six senators (the so-called Gang of Six) made a new push to win backing for an ambitious deficit-reduction proposal that includes new revenues and deep spending cuts. President Obama will make a statement about the debt ceiling negotiations at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the White House announced.

Federal Workers More Likely to Die than Lose Jobs

Federal employees’ job security is so great that workers in many agencies are more likely to die of natural causes than get laid off or fired, a USA TODAY analysis finds. When job security is at a premium, the federal government remains the place to work for those who want to avoid losing a job. The job security rate for all federal workers was 99.43% last year and nearly 100% for those on the job more than a few years. The federal government fired 0.55% of its workers in the budget year that ended Sept. 30. Research shows that the private sector fires about 3% of workers annually for poor performance.

Minn. Governor Signs Budget to End Government Shutdown

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has signed a new budget, ending America’s longest state government shutdown in the past decade. Dayton’s signed the budget today after lawmakers met in special session to formally approve the deal that Dayton struck with leading Republicans last week. The 20-day shutdown, among other things, closed state parks and rest stops, laid off 22,000 state employees and stopped road projects. Both sides moved toward a deal last week when Dayton accepted a borrowing plan offered by the Republicans shortly before the stoppage began.

Ariz. to Build Border Fence with Private Donations

Supporters of increased border enforcement now can help Arizona build its own fence along the Mexico border. A new law effective Wednesday allows the state to build the fence, as long as it can raise enough private donations and persuade public and private landowners to let it be done on their property. A new website for the effort, http://www.buildtheborderfence.com, was set to go online at midnight. No other state has tried such a tactic. Arizona hopes to raise at least $50 million from donors across the nation, since illegal immigration is a nationwide problem.

Death Toll for Police Officers Rising

The death toll for police officers, including those fatally shot in the line of duty, is on pace to rise for the second straight year, despite a sustained decline in violent crime across the country. A midyear report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which closely tracks law enforcement fatalities, finds that overall officer deaths are up 14% in 2011, while deadly shootings have increased by 33%. According to the police organization, deadly shootings reached a 20-year high in the first half of this year, with 40 officers killed by gunfire, up from 30 in 2010.

Somali Man Admits Terrorism Charge in Minn.

On the eve of his trial in Minnesota, a 26-year-old Somali man today pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge for recruiting others and raising money for them to go to his homeland to fight. Omer Abdi Mohamed of Minneapolis pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to provide material support in a conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people in another country. He faces a maximum prison term of 15 years and monitoring for the rest of his life. Mohamed is one of 21 people of Somali descent in Minnesota to be charged in a far-ranging counterterrorism investigation.

Congress Affirms Support for Israel, Votes to Defund Palestinians

The House of Representatives voted 407-6, and the Senate affirmed by unopposed voice vote for a nonbinding resolution to defund the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) if they unilaterally ask the U.N. for independence. Congress widely approved H.Res 268, affirming “that Palestinian efforts to circumvent direct negotiations and pursue recognition of statehood prior to agreement with Israel will harm United States-Palestinian relations and will have serious implications for the United States assistance programs for the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority.” In other words, Congress may stop funding the P.A. (and their terrorist friends in Hamas) if they demand the U.N. approve their independence this September, seizing Jerusalem without Israel’s approval.

Economic News

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that builders began work on a seasonally adjusted 629,000 homes last month, a 14.6% increase from May. Still, that’s roughly half the 1.2 million homes per year that economists say must be built to sustain a healthy housing market.

Fewer people bought previously occupied homes in June, putting this year on pace to be the worst for sales since the housing bust. Home sales fell 0.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.77 million homes. That’s far below the 6 million homes per year that economists say represents a healthy housing market.

Gold vaulted past $1,600 an ounce Monday, driven by worries about the federal debt limit and ongoing problems in Europe. Gold fares well when people lose confidence in paper money, and faith in the euro and the U.S. dollar has taken a pounding lately.

Bank of America suffered significant losses in the second quarter, while Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo reported profits but still fell below expectations.

Falling mail volume and soaring red ink may soon doom Saturday mail delivery and prompt three-day-a-week delivery within 15 years, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe warned Donahoe’s forecast is based on a projected $8.3 billion loss this year as the drift from paper to electronic communication hammers the Postal Service. Congress mandated the six-day delivery in 1983.

Japan

The crippled reactors at Japan’s tsunami-hit nuclear power plant have reached stability more than four months since the disaster and the plant is on track for a cold shutdown within six months. Workers have toiled in hot and harsh conditions to stabilize the Fukushima Daiichi plant since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed reactor cooling systems, triggering partial meltdowns of the reactors and making the disaster the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. The assessment of reactor stability was based on several milestones: temperatures at the bottom of reactor pressure vessels are no longer climbing, a makeshift system to process contaminated water works properly after initial problems and nitrogen injections are helping prevent more explosions.

Iraq

Foreign investment is beginning to pour into Iraq this year, fueled by a growing confidence in the country’s improving stability. The amount of new foreign investment deals is on track to double this year. The rush of investment this year reflects a new confidence in Iraq’s stability and a reduction in risk, analysts say. U.S. companies have been slow to get in on the investment opportunities in Iraq, even lagging behind countries that opposed the war, such as France. In the first six months of this year, U.S. companies represented just 6.4% of the foreign investment in Iraq.

Afghanistan

NATO handed over responsibility for the security of the capital of an eastern province to Afghan forces Tuesday, the latest step in a transition process that will lead to the withdrawal of all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014. The U.S.-led coalition has started a process of transferring security in parts of the country where they feel Afghan forces are strong enough to take control, although so far that has largely been restricted to provincial capitals as much of the country remains lawless and unstable after a decade of war.

Pakistan

For years, the Pakistani spy agency funneled millions of dollars to a Washington nonprofit group in a secret effort to influence Congress and the White House, the Justice Department said Tuesday in court documents that are certain to complicate already strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. FBI agents arrested Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, the executive director of the Kashmiri American Council, on Tuesday and charged him with being an unregistered agent of a foreign government. Under the supervision of a senior member of Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, Fai donated money to political campaigns, wrote newspaper op-eds, organized congressional trips and met with White House and State Department officials.

Libya

Representatives of Moammar Gadhafi’s embattled government held face-to-face talks with U.S. officials in neighboring Tunisia over the weekend, a Libyan government official said Monday, describing the meeting as a first step in opening dialogue. A U.S. State Department official confirmed the meeting took place but said it was only to deliver a clear and firm message that Gadhafi must step down. The U.S. official said it was not a negotiating session and no future meetings were planned.

Government forces in trucks disguised with rebel flags shelled opposition positions Tuesday near the strategic eastern oil town of Brega, killing eight rebel fighters and wounding dozens more. Rebel forces have been pushing to seize the front-line town of Brega, which is home to an oil refinery and terminal, for nearly a week, but they say fields of land mines planted by Gadhafi’s forces have slowed the advance.

Yemen

Residents of a town in southern Yemen overrun by radical Islamists say government shelling has killed more than 20 militants in the past two days. More than five months of mass protests seeking to oust longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh have shaken security across Yemen. Radical groups linked to al-Qaida have overrun at least two towns in the country’s south and government forces have been trying to force them out. The U.S. fears al-Qaida and other radical groups could exploit chaos in Yemen to step up operations.

Syria

Syrian security forces opened fire at a funeral procession Tuesday, killing at least 10 people in a city that has been besieged for days by some of the most serious violence seen during the country’s four-month-old uprising. Tuesday’s killings bring the death toll in Homs to about 50 people since Saturday.

China

Chinese state media said Wednesday that 14 rioters were shot dead earlier this week after storming a police station in the country’s far west. The rioters occupied a police station on Monday and hacked to death a security guard. The attackers were aged between 20 and 40 and shouted “Allah the only God” as they took over the station. The Xinjiang area has been beset by ethnic conflict and a sometimes-violent separatist movement by Uighurs (pronounced WEE’-gurs), a largely Muslim ethnic group that sees Xinjiang as its homeland. Many Uighurs resent the Han Chinese majority as interlopers.

Weather

A giant wall of dust rolled through the Phoenix area again on Monday, turning the sky brown, creating dangerous driving conditions and delaying some airline flights. The dust, also known as a haboob in Arabic and around Arizona, wall was about 3,000 feet high and created winds of 25 to 30 mph, with gusts of up to 40 mph. Visibility was down to less than a quarter-mile in some areas. Another giant dust storm in Arizona caught worldwide attention on July 5th. That storm brought a mile-high wall of dust that knocked out power for hundreds of people and turned swimming pools into mud pits.

Much of the Midwest suffered Monday with heat and high humidity that won’t loosen their grip for days. More than 1,000 high-temperature records have been broken this month, There were heat warnings, advisories or watches in 17 states Monday. In Madison, Minn., the heat index, which measures how hot it feels when humidity is factored in, was 123. On Sunday night, Madison’s dew point was 86. The only other spot in the hemisphere with a dew point in the 80s was the Amazon jungle.

  • Weather extremes continue to increase as the end-times roll onward as both the spiritual and physical environments are shaken to the core.

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July 18, 2011

Apparently, recent issues of Signs of the Times were not correctly posted to this blog. They follow this 7/18/11 report.

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to Remain in Place

The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is back in place for the time being, with one major caveat: the government is not allowed to investigate, penalize or discharge anyone who is openly gay. A San Francisco federal appeals court ordered the military to temporarily continue the controversial policy in an order late Friday, the court’s response to a request from the Obama administration. The order is the latest twist in the legal limbo gay service members have found themselves in as the policy is fought in the courts. The federal government expects to do away with it by later this year.

Troops March in San Diego Gay Pride Parade

About 200 active-duty troops and veterans wearing T-shirts advertising their branch of service marched Saturday in San Diego’s gay pride parade with American flags and rainbow banners, marking what is believed to be the first time a military contingent has participated in such an event in the U.S. Many of the active-duty troops said they were moved to come out because it is time to end the military’s ban on openly gay troops. The march comes a day after a federal appeals court reinstated the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The crowd roared as the group waving military flags and holding placards identifying their military branch walked past the thousands.

  • Acceptance of gays has gone past the tipping point as adoption of the LGBT agenda becomes a clear sign that the end-times are moving more rapidly toward the Great Tribulation

Obama’s MPG Plan Evokes Praise & Criticism

Proponents of the Obama administration’s plan to require 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025 say dealers’ lots wouldn’t look much different then: from trailer-towing trucks to subcompacts, with only a few of electrics. But innovations from better gas engines to hybrid technology could save drivers on fuel, helping to offset higher sticker prices. Opponents see a 2025 in which buyers are forced into small vehicles they don’t want and where, regardless of fuel savings, costly technologies price some buyers out of the market. National security hawks wanting to cut America’s dependency on foreign oil are joining with environmental groups in support. Automakers lobbying for less-stringent rules find themselves aligned with the United Auto Workers union, which fears job losses. An alliance of 12 foreign and U.S. automakers will begin airing radio ads on Tuesday against what it fear are rules that could cripple the industry recovery and cost jobs.

Atty. Gen’l Holder’s Gunrunning Scandal Financed by Stimulus Funds

Life & Liberty PAC reports, “There is a new little wrinkle in Attorney General Eric Holder’s claims of ignorance regarding the Gunrunner Scandal – Holder’s Department of Justice requested and received $10 million in funding specifically for “Project Gunrunner” as part of Obama’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the Stimulus Bill. The damning evidence can be found on page 16 of the Act, under the heading “Department of Justice” and subheading “Office of Justice Programs. Eric Holder not only knew about Gunrunner, he requested $10 million to fund it. The only question now is, how much did Barack Obama know and when did he know it?”

Drug Smugglers Employ Children

According to Arizona Call to Prayer, “Record numbers of “body carriers” have been arrested. These are people who strap drugs to their bodies and try to walk through the ports of entry. According to the US Customs Agency, between October 2010 and May 2011 they have arrested 295 body carriers.  Alarmingly, nearly a third of them have been children, the youngest being 13 years old. Already this year, the number of juvenile body carriers arrested is double the total number from last year. They are paid anywhere from $50-$3,000 for their services and 60% of juveniles arrested are US citizens. Another technique that is becoming a popular way to avoid border patrol is by ultralight aircraft. According to officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), this form of drug smuggling has doubled in the last two years. These particular aircrafts are being “retrofitted to carry hundreds of pounds of marijuana.”

Medical-Marijuana Clubs Pop Up as Arizona Law Remains in Limbo

Medical-marijuana dispensaries can’t yet operate in Arizona pending a judge’s ruling on Proposition 203. But that doesn’t necessarily keep cardholders from finding pot. At least a handful of clubs that provide patients with medical marijuana have opened up in the the Phoenix area to fill that void. Because the new state law allows most medical-marijuana cardholders to grow their own pot and share it with each other – as long as there are no dispensaries near – these clubs have developed as a go-between. The law was meant to create a “regulated industry” of dispensaries. Instead, the pot clubs are an unintended consequence of the state and federal dispute over whether Arizona’s new law conflicts with federal statutes banning marijuana. The development of marijuana clubs has raised questions about their legality in two areas: the payment for the product and local zoning of the clubs.

Arizona Police Agencies Strapped by Cutbacks

Arrest warrants for more than 32,000 people are outstanding in Maricopa County, but the Sheriff’s Office will be less able to track them down after a decision to remove the lone deputy assigned to a U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force. As budgets dwindle and many Arizona law-enforcement agencies enter another year without hiring new officers, more police departments and sheriff’s offices are forced to weigh their participation in broad multiagency operations against their duty to meet the core function of patrolling streets and solving neighborhood crimes. Arizona police agencies are not alone in making such a decision. It’s a growing trend among law-enforcement agencies nationwide. The result could damage some of the gains made in collaboration and crime reduction during the past two decades.

Debt Plan Gains Ground in Congress

A bipartisan effort in the Senate to allow President Barack Obama to raise the federal debt ceiling in exchange for about $1.5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years gained momentum Sunday as leaders agreed they would have to act in the next two weeks to avert a potential default by the U.S. government. The growing sentiment for raising the federal limit on U.S. borrowing sets the stage for a week of largely scripted actions on Capitol Hill, where leaders in both chambers are looking to build support for the plan being crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Republican leaders will first push forward in the House and the Senate with a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. The measure is virtually certain to fail in the Senate, which will then take up the debt-limit proposal by midweek.

President Barack Obama cut himself some extra margin of error Friday when he claimed 80 percent of Americans want the debt crisis solved with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. The Gallup poll, cited by the White House as the main basis for Obama’s statement, actually found that 69 percent supported tackling the deficit with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

Economic News

Global consumer confidence fell in the second quarter to its lowest level in a year and a half as an uncertain economic outlook, a deepening euro zone debt crisis and rising inflation made people more cautious, a survey showed on Sunday. Consumer sentiment in the United States was weaker than in the second half of 2009 at the height of the global recession, according to The Nielsen Company’s quarterly survey of global consumers.

Thirty one percent of U.S. consumers said they have no spare cash for discretionary spending, along with 25 percent of consumers in the Middle East and Africa and 22 percent of Europeans.

More than 50% of Americans receive more in federal benefits than they pay in taxes, according to Stansberry & Associates.

Eight of 90 European banks flunked stress tests projecting how they would fare in another recession, and 16 more barely passed — but the results proved controversial. Some countries challenged the results as inaccurate and overly pessimistic, while analysts worried the tests did not account for the key risk of a Greek debt default.

Middle East

The latest attacks on Jews living in southern Israel saw five more Kassam rockets fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza last Friday. These attacks are so commonplace that they receive no attention in the Western media. The Jerusalem Prayer Team asks, “Imagine what would happen if five rockets were fired from Mexico targeting civilians living in California or Texas! We wouldn’t ignore it! Yet the Quartet for Middle East Peace that met in Washington this week continues to push President Obama’s plan to hand over much of Jerusalem, along with Judea and Samaria, to the very same terrorists who are attacking Israel on an almost daily basis. Yet, in just a few days, the UN Security Council will begin debate on the plan to create a Palestinian nation with no consideration for Israel’s security or future survival.”

  • The world is aligning itself against Israel, just as end-time Biblical prophesies foretell.

Britain

Britain has been transfixed by the phone hacking scandal that has shaken its media world. But will it really change the nation’s press? Much depends on the shelf life of the outcry over alleged skullduggery by journalists working for British papers owned by Rupert Murdoch. But there’s a fundamental dilemma: Even as Britons recoil at trashy tabloid tactics, they have bought such papers by the millions — hungry for juicy gossip obtained by the very illegal means they decry. Editor Rebekah Brooks was arrested Saturday by police investigating allegations of phone hacking by the News of the World and allegations that police officers were bribed to leak sensitive information. Two top police officials, including the police chief of London, have resigned over the British phone-hacking scandal.

Libya

A series of NATO airstrikes rocked the Libyan capital before dawn Sunday, sending up huge plumes of smoke over the city after hitting what Libyan state television said were civilian and military targets. The distant rumbling of blasts continued for at least an hour, suggesting some kind of facility with explosive materials had been hit. NATO fighters have been carrying out airstrikes against Libyan military targets as part of a U.N.-mandated operation to protect civilians.

Syria

Syrian troops backed by tanks stormed a town Sunday near the border with Lebanon as security forces rounded up more than 500 people, including a leading opposition figure, across the country over the past two days. Some 2,000 members of the military and security agencies stormed Zabadani after cutting the town’s telephone services, Internet connections and electricity.

An estimated 1 million Syrians took to the streets Friday to press for the ouster of President Bashar Assad. Saturday, tens of thousands of Syrians shouting “We want freedom!” carried slain protesters through the streets, one day after security forces killed at least 28 people during the largest anti-government demonstrations since the uprising began. Activists say the government’s crackdown on dissent has killed some 1,600 people since March, most of them unarmed protesters. But the regime disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, saying religious extremists — not true reform-seekers — are behind it.

Yemen

Senior protest figures in Yemen have formed a shadow government they say will prepare to run the country should President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime collapse. The 17-member transitional presidential council includes former government officials and civil society leaders. The move seeks to create a unified protest leadership after five months of demonstrations calling for Saleh’s ouster. The protesters are acting independently from Yemen’s official opposition parties, which they reject for negotiating with Saleh.

Egypt

Egypt’s prime minister named 12 new Cabinet members Sunday in a reshuffle under pressure from protesters demanding a purge of remnants of the former regime. State TV dubbed the new lineup the “Revolution Cabinet.” Most of the ministers were relative newcomers, clearly a way to avoid further criticism by the protesters. Thousands of Egyptians have returned to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February, complaining that change has come too slow under the military council that took over power.

Afghanistan

NATO warplanes on Sunday bombed a school in eastern Afghanistan taken over by an unknown number of Taliban fighters as Afghan troops battled with insurgents holed up inside the building. Taliban fighters took control of the school, which was empty because the students are on summer break, early Sunday in the Khewa district of the eastern province. Fighter jets carried out airstrikes and attack helicopters fired at the school.

Iraq

Two separate blasts killed five people and wounded nearly three dozen Saturday, Iraqi officials said, in the latest reminder of the violence and instability in the country as U.S. troops prepare to leave. The first bomb, hidden in an empty rickshaw, blew up near Shiite pilgrims headed to the holy city of Karbala early Saturday morning, killing two people and wounding 26. In Baghdad, a bomb in a minibus parked outside a restaurant and nightclub in the Karradah neighborhood killed three passers-by and wounded at least nine.

Iran

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta this week became the latest U.S. official to blame Iran for a recent series of deadly attacks on U.S. forces. The new Pentagon chief also suggested the United States would respond in self-defense against the Iranians if necessary. But how is the U.S. so sure that the weapons and training are coming from Iran? ‘We have a very comprehensive understanding of where the rockets are manufactured,’ said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq. ‘We can identify what factory they were made in by certain markings. We’ve seen markings recently of rockets that were manufactured in Iran in 2010. These are not things that were just buried in old cache sites. They continue to come across the border in very large numbers.’ U.S. officials say three Shiite militia groups – the Promised Day Brigade, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah – are responsible for the deaths of at least 18 U.S. troops in the past seven weeks.

Latin America

The Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah is expanding its influence in Latin America with the aid of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, according to testimony before the Committee on Homeland Security. At a July 7 committee meeting, Roger Noriega — former American ambassador to the Organization of American States — said Hezbollah has been establishing alliances with Mexican and other drug cartels. Noriega told the committee that the Venezuelan government is encouraging Hezbollah activities in several Latin American nations. A key operative in the Hezbollah network, he pointed out, is the second highest ranked diplomat in the Venezuelan embassy in Syria. Noriega also noted that an Iranian overseer of Hezbollah is wanted by Argentinian prosecutors for his role in the 1992 and 1994 terrorist attacks against the Israeli embassy and the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires.

Mexico

In Mexico’s grinding drug war, the casualties stand at a staggering 34,000 dead since President Felipe Calderón launched a military offensive against the violent cartels nearly five years ago  However, even these extraordinary figures do not account for collateral damage to border towns. The unrelenting violence, though confined largely to Mexico, is unmistakably altering a unique culture that has bound generations on both sides of the vast southwestern border. From Matamoros, near the Gulf of Mexico, to Tijuana, on the Pacific Ocean, Mexican produce markets, restaurants, nightclubs, tile makers, pharmacies and medical practices used to thrive before the cartel violence erupted. But now, even in sleepy places such as Del Rio and Eagle Pass, Texas, and Nogales, Ariz., visiting Mexico is no longer an option. So few people now visit Ciudad Acuna, Del Rio’s Mexican sister city, that the town’s century-old institutions are closing down. All along Acuna’s main street, there are now for-sale and rent signs in the shuttered windows.

Volcanoes

A volatile volcano in central Indonesia unleashed its most powerful eruption yet Sunday, spewing hot ash and smoke thousands of feet (meters) into the air and sending panicked villagers racing back to emergency shelters. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Mount Lokon, located on northern Sulawesi island, has been dormant for years but rumbled back to life late last week.

Wildfires

Wildfires in the USA have burned about 5,900,000 acres (over 9,200 square miles), 74% greater than the 10-year average. However, there have been fewer large (over 100 acres) wildfires than average (40,863 vs. 45,490), meaning that the average acres per wildfire has grown to 144 acres vs. the ten-year average of  74 acres, nearly double. This is a result of too many years of fire suppression in the nations’ forests, leaving dense foliage to more rapidly spread such fires.

Firefighting crews declared that brushfires which started in the Ein Tina nature reserve and subsequently spread to Nahal Gilbon in the Golan Heights on Friday were on their way to being contained. Israel’s newly inaugurated firefighting aircraft as well as several crews on the ground have been pressed into service to fight blazes which have broken out in the north of the country as a scorching summer heat wave and lingering regional drought have created the conditions for fires which have already burned 2,500 acres in the last few days.

Weather

A scorching weekend across the Plains and upper Midwest — including 100-degree temperatures and withering humidity from Texas to South Dakota— was a feel of what’s forecast to be a dangerous heat wave across most of the central and eastern USA. Some of the warmest temperatures so far this summer are forecast this week for the big cities along the Interstate 95 corridor in the East. Little relief is in sight: Above-normal temperatures are predicted to last the next couple of weeks over much of the eastern half of the USA.

Disruption caused by Midwest flooding has inundated Amtrak with delays and extra expense this summer while dampening the spirits of passengers traveling popular routes, forcing them in some cases to hop off the train and onto chartered buses. Amtrak’s Empire Builder, its most popular cross-country route, normally takes travelers from Chicago through the Rocky Mountains before heading to the Northwest. But for several weeks, westbound riders have gone no further than St. Paul, Minn. “These are the worst weeks of disruption I’ve seen,” said Marc Magliari, a Chicago-based Amtrak spokesman. “It’s the longest I can recall routes ever having this kind of service interruption. I’ve seen flooding, but never for this long.”

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Call2Fall Calls for National Prayer on Sunday, July 3rd

The Family Research Council is calling for Americans to “commit to spend at least 5 minutes on your knees before the Lord on Sunday, July 3rd, to seek God’s face in repentant prayer on behalf of our nation. This ‘Call2Fall’ on our knees in prayer for our nation is based on God’s original call in 2 Chronicles 7:14. To join this movement, visit Call2Fall.com and click ‘I’m in.’ An estimated one million people joined in last year’s Call2Fall. We already have over 800,000 signed up for this year’s effort. Churches from all 50 states are holding a special emphasis on Sunday, July 3rd.”

Churches’ Dilemma: 80 Percent of Flock Is Inactive

A recent survey shows that 80/20 principle is a fact of church life in most congregations — only 20 percent are heavily involved, while 80 percent are minimally involved and attend infrequently at best. For example, a National Congregation Survey shows the Southern Baptist Convention had a membership of 16,160,088 people in 2008, but a yearly attendance rate of 38 percent. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had a membership of 4,542,868 in 2009, but the yearly attendance rated rested at 28 percent. According to The Christian Post, researcher Scott Thumma said, “So many pastors that I’ve talked to recognize the problem, don’t know what to do about it and then instead of trying to tackle it, they kind of put it aside.”

  • Evangelism is the responsibility of every Christian

Several States Forbid Abortion After 20 Weeks

Dozens of new restrictions passed by states this year have chipped away at the right to abortion by requiring women to view ultrasounds, imposing waiting periods or cutting funds for clinics. But a new kind of law has gone beyond such restrictions, striking at the foundation of the abortion rules set out by the Supreme Court over the last four decades. These laws, passed in six states in little more than a year, ban abortions at the 20th week after conception, based on the theory that the fetus can feel pain at that point — a notion disputed by mainstream medical organizations in the United States and Britain. Opponents of abortion say they expect that discussion of fetal pain — even in the face of scientific criticism — will alter public perception of abortion, and they have made support for the new laws a litmus test for Republicans seeking the presidency. Since Nebraska passed the first 20-week limit last year, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and, this month, Alabama have followed. A similar law has advanced in the Iowa legislature, and anti-abortion campaigners have vowed to promote such laws in more states next year.

Socialists/Communists Unite to Counter Tea Party

A new movement led by communist revolutionary group founder Van Jones seeks to counter the tea party while petitioning for a progressive agenda that includes “making Wall Street and the super-rich pay their fair share.” The organization, dubbed “The American Dream Movement,” is partnered with a slew of radical groups funded by billionaire George Soros. The movement has been described as a grassroots progressive group seeking to emulate the success of the Tea Party. The movement, however, is anything but grassroots. It is already partnered with two of the nation’s largest unions, the AFL-CIO and the SEIU, who boast an army of millions of public employees. Also signed on to the movement are the Soros-funded groups, Campaign for America’s Future and the Center for Community Change. The CCC boasts a board filled with radicals, including socialist activists.

Dream Act Back on Agenda

Working with both the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and liberal Senators, President Obama is aggressively resurrecting the DREAM Act. Fox News is reported that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) held the first-ever Senate hearing Tuesday on the DREAM Act, in an attempt to convince fellow members of the Senate that ushering in widespread amnesty through the DREAM Act will “make our country stronger.” Even worse, Obama and ICE Director John Morton have issued expanded guidelines to ICE’s Detention and Operations handbook that instruct agents to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis — including NOT enforcing existing immigration laws if the illegals committing minor crimes are enrolled in a school or have ties to the U.S. military.

Thousands of college and high-school students throughout the country are increasingly willing to risk deportation for their cause. They call themselves “Dreamers,” supporters of the Dream Act. The bill would allow some illegal immigrants who were brought here as children to gain legal status if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military. But Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has other illegal immigrants much higher on her deportation to-do list. There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and Napolitano said she does not have the resources to catch them all. Napolitano said her priority is to find and deport illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes or are suspected of terrorist activity.

Crowds Protest Alabama Immigration Law

Large crowds carrying candles and wearing white marched quietly Saturday in a demonstration organized by churches and other faith-based groups against Alabama’s tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration. The protest began with a mass prayer for kindness and mercy in a shady park, where people waited in line to sign a petition against the law. The crowd was a mix mostly of whites and Hispanics. Organizers gave instructions in both English and Spanish. Organizers said the law is a mean-spirited attempt to run an entire group of people out of a state that is still trying to recover from the damage of decades of race-based segregation laws.

  • It wasn’t illegal to be black, but it is illegal to sneak across our borders illicitly avail oneself of our jobs, emergency health services and welfare system.

States Tackle Immigration Piecemeal

Five states this year followed Arizona’s lead by passing laws that expanded the powers of local police officers to enforce immigration laws. And although each of the states has tried different approaches, they are seeing the same results. Federal judges in Indiana, Utah and Georgia have blocked recently passed laws in those states. The National Immigration Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union are planning lawsuits against recently signed immigration laws in Alabama and South Carolina. If the laws continue suffering the same fate of being blocked in federal courts, the rulings could halt an increasingly fractured immigration system as each state struggles to find its own plan absent a comprehensive federal solution.

  • The Obama administration and Congress have failed our country miserably by avoiding the politically sensitive but critical need for immigration reform, even as federal courts restrict state efforts

Justices Reject Ban on Violent Video Games for Children

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down on First Amendment grounds a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to children. The 7-to-2 decision was the latest in a series of rulings protecting free speech, joining ones on funeral protests, videos showing cruelty to animals and political speech by corporations. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for five justices in the majority in the video games decision, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, No. 08-1448, said video games were subject to full First Amendment protection. Depictions of violence, Justice Scalia added, have never been subject to government regulation. “Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed,” he wrote.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona Campaign Finance Law

In a second decision Monday, the last day of the term, the court also struck down an Arizona campaign finance law as a violation of the First Amendment. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Court struck down the matching funds provisions of Arizona’s taxpayer-funded campaign finance system.  This is an historic decision with implications far beyond Arizona’s border: Monday’s decision will put an end to similar schemes in seven other states and stop other proposed matching-funds plans in their tracks. The Supreme Court said: “The First amendment embodies our choice as a Nation that, when it comes to [campaign] speech, the guiding principle is freedom—the ‘unfettered exchange of ideas’—not whatever the State may view as fair.” They noted that Arizona’s matching funds provisions disadvantage citizen-funded candidates for exercising their First Amendment rights by causing their campaign contributions and expenditures to trigger taxpayer subsidies to opposing government-funded candidates.

Just 5% Account for Nearly Half of U.S. Healthcare Costs

A new survey on health care finds that a small percentage of very sick patients account for about half of all medical spending and are the driving force behind double-digit increases in insurance premiums, the National Journal reports. The survey, by the non-partisan National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, found that from 2005 to 2009, 5% accounted for 47.5% of all health care spending, and 1% were responsible for 20% of all medical costs. Half the population racks up only 3% of total spending. In 2008, the average person’s medical costs were about $233. For the top 1%, the average was $76,476.

Diabetes Increasing Alarmingly Worldwide

Nearly 10 percent of the world’s adults have diabetes, and the prevalence of the disease is rising rapidly. As in the United States and other wealthy nations, increased obesity and inactivity are the primary causes in developing countries such as India and in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East. That’s the sobering conclusion of a study published Saturday in the journal Lancet that traces trends in diabetes and average blood-sugar readings in about 200 countries and regions over the past three decades. The study’s findings predict a huge burden of medical costs and physical disability lying ahead in this century, as diabetes increases a person’s risk of heart attack, kidney failure, blindness and some infections. Worldwide, the prevalence of diabetes in men older than 25 rose from 8.3 percent in 1980 to 9.8 percent in 2008. For women older than 25, it increased from 7.5 percent to 9.2 percent.

Hackers Declare War on Orlando, Fla.

A rogue group of computer hackers has reportedly made good on its threat to shut down Orlando-area websites. The group, Anonymous, successfully attacked tourist site orlandofloridaguide.com, which was inaccessible early Tuesday. The site was accessible again on Wednesday. On Monday, the group said it was upset that the head of a group known as Food Not Bombs was arrested in Orlando. That group had been feeding large numbers of homeless people in an Orlando park in defiance of an ordinance requiring permits to feed groups in downtown parks. In retaliation, the hackers said they would take down several websites and would not stop until the activist is released.

  • Internet hacking is fast becoming a primary weapon for both individuals and countries (e.g. China)

Texas Lawmakers pass TSA ‘Anti-Groping’ Bill

Both houses of the Texas Legislature have passed “anti-groping” bills that would criminalize intentional, inappropriate touching during airport security pat-downs by the TSA. But supporters of a tougher line against TSA say the new versions have been watered down too much. The revisions give security officials a defense to prosecution if they act with “reasonable suspicion” that the search is necessary. The new version would still make it a misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in jail to touch a person’s sexual organs and other sensitive areas.

California Democrats Force Budget Closure

Democrats and Republicans both found something to dislike in California’s newest spending plan, which passed with only Democratic votes after months of budget negotiations proved fruitless. Democratic lawmakers said they were forced to use their newfound majority-vote authority to fill in California’s remaining $9.6 billion budget deficit without the tax renewals they had sought all year. Republicans, meanwhile, criticized the budget package for lacking any of the changes they sought to restrain state spending and improve California’s business climate. In a late vote Tuesday, Democrats in the state Legislature approved an $86 billion spending package using more spending cuts, greater-than-expected tax revenues and some new fees that are sure to be challenged in court.

Maverick Senators Call for Medicare Changes

Two U.S. senators known for having independent streaks are proposing to overhaul Medicare by raising the eligibility age by two years and requiring the wealthy to pay more out of pocket for care. Senators Tom Coburn, the conservative Oklahoma Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut independent and former member of the Democratic caucus, introduced their proposal today. The government projects Medicare, the U.S. health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, will run out of funds to pay full benefits in 2024. Their proposal would save $600 billion in a decade, the lawmakers said. The top Democrat in the U.S. House, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, quickly rejected Coburn and Leiberman’s plan. “This proposal is unacceptable, especially for struggling middle-class Americans,” she said in a statement. “It is unfair to ask seniors to get less in benefits and wait longer to get onto Medicare,” she said. Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing to end corporate tax breaks to raise revenue, which Pelosi said would be a fairer solution.

  • Rises in corporate taxes are passed on to consumers and afflict the poor and middle class more than the wealthy, so this smokescreen continues to signal liberal avoidance of harsh economic reality

Obama Pushes $600 Billion in New Taxes in Debt Talks

President Barack Obama threw the talks on the debt ceiling crisis into turmoil on Monday afternoon by proposing a $600 billion tax hike before even meeting with Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. Just as Democrats and Republicans seemed to be inching toward an agreement that would stave off the prospect of a default on the nation’s debts, Obama introduced a measure that is sure to have the GOP howling in opposition. Conservatives ridiculed the idea that the White House could be taking such a proposal seriously. The move came as Republicans signaled that they were finally prepared to talk about cuts to military spending, one of the major roadblocks to agreement.

Economic News

Following a string of bad economic news, consumer confidence fell to a seven-month low in June on continuing worries about high unemployment and stagnating wages. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index slipped to 58.5 in June. That’s down from a revised 61.7 in May, which marked an almost six-point drop. A reading of 90 indicates a healthy economy on the index, which measures how Americans feel about business conditions, the job market and the next six months.

U.S. home prices edged up in April as the spring buying season began, but several more months of the same are needed to say the market has bottomed, economists say. For the first time in eight months, home prices posted a monthly increase in April, up 0.7% from March.

Consumer spending in May was at the weakest pace in 20 months, a sign that high gas prices and unemployment are holding back the economy. Spending was unchanged last month, the Commerce Department said Monday. That was the worst result since September 2009. And when adjusted for inflation, spending actually dropped 0.1%.Incomes rose 0.3% for the second straight month. But adjusted for inflation, after-tax incomes increased only 0.1% in May, after falling the same amount in the previous month.

Think the United States is out of the mortgage meltdown? Think again, as providers of private mortgage insurance, who covered $700 billion in U.S. home loans, are battling a growing number of foreclosures and dwindling capital. Big companies like MGIC, Radian and PMI are at risk, Barron’s reports. A growing backlog of foreclosures is threatening to disrupt the industry.

Bank of America and its Countrywide unit will pay $8.5 billion to settle claims that the lenders sold poor-quality mortgage-backed securities that went sour when the housing market collapsed. The deal, announced Wednesday, comes after a group of 22 investors demanded that the Charlotte, N.C. bank repurchase $47 billion in mortgages that its Countrywide unit sold to them in the form of bonds. The settlement is subject to court approval and covers 530 trusts with original principal balance of $424 billion.

The U.S. dollar is poised to lose its status as the global reserve currency during the next 25 years, according to a UBS survey of central bank reserve managers. UBS queried more than 80 central bank reserve managers, sovereign wealth funds and multilateral institutions. The poll findings also indicate a growing role for gold bullion, with several of those surveyed saying the biggest change in their reserves during the next decade would be adding more gold.

Greece

Greece’s lawmakers have approved a key austerity bill, paving the way for the country to get its next vital bailout loans that will prevent it from defaulting next month. The unpopular $40 billion five-year package of spending cuts and tax hikes was backed by a majority of the 300-member parliament Wednesday. The European Union and International Monetary Fund have demanded the austerity measures pass before they approve the release of a $17 billion loan installment from last year’s rescue package. Hours of rioting outside Greece’s parliament left 46 people injured Tuesday, on the eve of the vote by lawmakers to adopt the painful austerity measures.

United Kingdom

Thousands of British schools will close and travelers will face long lines at airport immigration this week when three quarters of a million workers go on strike — the first blast in what unions hope will be a summer of discontent against the cost-cutting government’s austerity plans. The first test comes Thursday, when 750,000 public-sector workers — from teachers to driving examiners to customs officials — walk out for the day, part of a growing wave of opposition to the Conservative-led government’s deficit-cutting regime of tax hikes, benefit curbs and spending cuts. The unions say the strike is just the start of a campaign of labor action on a scale unseen in Britain for three decades.

Middle East

Israel on Sunday began tearing down a section of its contentious West Bank separation barrier near a village that has come to symbolize Palestinian opposition to the enclosure. The rerouting marked a major victory for the residents of Bilin and the international groups that have backed their struggle. But they said it fell short of their demands to remove the structure from the village altogether and vowed to continue with their weekly protests. The dismantling of the section near the village of Bilin comes four years after Israel’s Supreme Court ordered it torn down, rejecting the military’s argument that the route was necessary to secure the nearby Modiin Illit settlement.

Afghanistan

The U.N. World Food Program announced on Monday that it is reducing food assistance to millions of Afghans in about half the country’s 34 provinces because of a shortage of more than $200 million. The World Food Program had planned to help feed more than 7 million people in Afghanistan this year, but a shortage of donor funds means 3.8 million people will be assisted. NATO helicopters fired rockets before dawn Wednesday at Taliban gunmen who stormed one of Afghanistan’s premier hotels, ending a brazen, nearly five-hour assault that left 19 people dead — including all eight attackers. The strike against the Inter-Continental was one of the biggest and most complex to have occurred within Kabul and appeared designed to show that the insurgents are capable of striking even in the center of power at a time when U.S. officials are speaking of progress in the nearly 10-year war.

Two separate roadside bomb blasts killed seven Afghan civilians in eastern Afghanistan Monday morning. A vehicle struck one of the bombs in Qarabagh district, killing four civilians, including two children. Another vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Ghazni city, killing three civilians. A suicide bomber blew up his sport utility vehicle outside a small clinic in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, bringing the building down on those inside, Afghan authorities said. At least 35 people were reported killed. A senior leader of an al-Qaeda-linked terror group has been captured in northern Afghanistan dressed up like a woman — the latest in a recent series of cases involving male militants disguised as females, the U.S.-led military coalition said Tuesday.

Egypt

Egyptian security forces and protesters clashed for a second successive day in central Cairo on Wednesday in scenes not seen since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February. A senior official says more than 1,000 people have been hurt in two days of clashes between police and protesters over demands that the country’s military rulers speed up the prosecution of police officers accused of killing protesters early this year. Riot police were deployed around the Interior Ministry and were using tear gas to keep the protesters at bay. The demonstrators were responding with rocks and firebombs. Many of the protesters are believed to be relatives of some 850 people killed during the uprising that ousted the former president, and are frustrated over what they perceive as the slow pace of prosecution of police officers believed to be responsible for the deaths.

Libya

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his son and his intelligence chief for crimes against humanity in the early days of their struggle to cling to power. Judges announced Monday that Gadhafi is wanted for orchestrating the killing, injuring, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of an uprising to topple him from power after more than four decades, and for trying to cover up the alleged crimes. The warrants turn Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi into internationally wanted suspects, potentially complicating any efforts to mediate an end to more than four months of intense fighting in the North African nation.

Libya’s state news agency says a NATO airstrike on a city near the front lines in eastern Libya has killed 15 civilians with 20 wounded . NATO warplanes hit a number of civilian sites Saturday in the oil-refinery town of Brega, including a restaurant and a bakery.

Yemen

Yemeni military forces commanded by President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son have bombed several villages of anti-government tribes north of the capital, killing at least three people. Republic Guard forces using warplanes and artillery pounded villages scattered in the Naham mountain area, some 20 miles north of Sanaa. The assault killed at least three people and destroyed as many as 48 houses. Hundreds were forced to flee their homes. The Naham mountain area has seen clashes between government forces and anti-Saleh tribes since the beginning of Yemen’s popular uprising in mid-February.

Pakistan

Pakistan has ordered the United Kingdom to withdraw some of its military training teams from the country, the British Embassy said Monday. The demand is likely related to fallout from the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last month. Following the al-Qaida chief’s death, Pakistan sent home at least 120 U.S. military trainers, an expression of the country’s anger over the American operation, which was kept secret from the Pakistani government.

Iraq

The U.S. military says two American troops have been killed in northern Iraq while conducting operations. Eleven American troops have died this month in combat related situations. The casualty figure is the highest number of combat related deaths since May 2009 when American forces were still operating freely in Iraqi cities. The deaths bring to 4,465 the number of American troops who have died in Iraq.

Iran

Iran has conducted covert tests of ballistic missiles in addition to a 10-day program of public military maneuvers, Britain alleged on Wednesday. Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that there had been secret experiments with missiles that would be able to deliver a nuclear weapon. Britain believes Tehran has conducted at least three secret tests of medium-range ballistic missiles since October, amid an apparent escalation of its nuclear program and scrutiny from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Belarus

Russia cut off electricity supplies to struggling Belarus over unpaid bills on Wednesday, raising the heat on its economically struggling neighbor. Belarus is already suffering its worst financial crisis since the 1991 Soviet collapse. It has recently devalued the national currency, causing panic buying of goods and huge lines at currency exchange offices. Russia has traditionally been Belarus’ main sponsor and ally, but it phased out economic subsidies in recent years as it pushed for control of Belarus’ industrial facilities.

Wildfires

Federal forest officials say a wind-driven wildfire has burned about 60,000 acres and forced the evacuations of about 11,000 people in northern New Mexico and the closure of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The fire has burned at least six square miles and is threatening buildings, power lines and natural gas lines. Lab officials closed the facility and say all radioactive and hazardous materials were being protected. The wildfire has destroyed 30 structures south and west of Los Alamos, stirring memories of a devastating blaze in May 2000 that destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings.

The site was founded during World War II to develop the world’s first nuclear weapons. Los Alamo County authorities have issued voluntary evacuation orders for the towns of Los Alamos and White Rock. Residents from the rural towns of Cochiti Mesa and Las Conchas were evacuated after the fire started Sunday. Residents downwind of the wildfire are worried about the potential of a radioactive smoke plume if the flames reach thousands of barrels of waste stored in above-ground tents.

Weather

Despite Missouri River floodwaters breaching one nuclear plant and nearly surrounding another, federal officials said the two plants near Omaha remain safe. The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station, 19 miles north of Omaha, had been shut down since April for refueling. Another nearby nuclear facility, the Cooper Nuclear Station 75 miles south of Omaha in Brownsville, Neb., appears less threatened, although floodwaters bracket three sides of the plant.

North Dakota’s Souris River crested this weekend, surging past a record set more than a century ago. The river peaked early Sunday, 4 feet above the record level it reached in 1881. It had swamped an estimated 4,000 homes, but it is now expected to drop roughly 2 feet by midweek The water’s rapid rise had led to the evacuation of roughly 10,000 to 12,000 residents in the city of Minot.

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Islamic Terrorism Still a Threat

Germany’s top security official said Friday that the terrorist threat to the country hasn’t decreased and the number of radicals continues to grow, even with the death of Osama bin Laden. “The Islamist terrorist threat is widely varied and has not concentrated on a single leader of al-Qaeda for a long time,” he said. Overall, the number of people in Germany linked to radical Islamic groups rose to 37,470 in 2010. Most of those — 31,370 — were connected to Turkish groups, nearly all of them in Milli Gorus, a group whose founder advocates creating an Islamic state in Turkey. Most worrying was the increase in numbers in “Salafi” groups that espouse an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam and have been especially successful at recruiting young people, said Heinz Fromm, who heads the domestic intelligence agency.

Can Gov’t Track GPS Units Without a Warrant?

The Supreme Court agreed to weigh in on an important privacy issue for the digital age, whether the police need a warrant before using a global positioning system device to track a suspect’s movements. The justices said Monday they will hear the Obama administration’s appeal of a court ruling that favored a criminal defendant. The federal appeals court in Washington overturned a criminal conviction because the police had no warrant for the GPS device they secretly installed on a man’s car. Other appeals courts have ruled that search warrants aren’t necessary for GPS tracking. The Justice Department argued that warrantless use of GPS devices does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. It also said prompt resolution of the divergent court opinions is critically important to law enforcement.

  • As with all technology, GPS is both a boon and a boondoggle. While it’s always a good thing to capture criminals, history has shown that such tools can and will be used by government for more nefarious purposes.

Rhode Island Lawmakers Pass Bill to Allow Civil Unions for Gays

Less than a week after same-sex marriage was legalized in New York, the Rhode Island State Senate approved on Wednesday evening a bill allowing not marriage, but civil unions for gay couples, despite fierce opposition from gay-rights advocates who called the legislation discriminatory. The bill, which already passed in the state’s House of Representatives and which the governor said he will likely sign, would grant gay and lesbian couples most of the rights and benefits that Rhode Island provides married couples. It was offered as a compromise this spring after Gordon D. Fox, the openly gay speaker of the Democratic-controlled House, said he could not muster enough votes to pass a same-sex marriage bill.

Texas Pulls Planned Parenthood Funding

Texas has passed a bill defunding Planned Parenthood, making it the seventh state to do so. The bill sends $47 million in tax funds to other organizations that provide medical services to poor women. Jonathan Saenz of Liberty Institute calls Monday’s vote in Austin a “defining moment” in Texas for the pro-life movement. “This legislation particularly takes away funding from groups that provide abortions and are affiliates for abortions, and it also prioritizes family-planning money in a way that it goes to organizations that provide comprehensive healthcare for women in the state of Texas, which Planned Parenthood does not do.” Planned Parenthood has sued Indiana and Kansas for passage of defunding bills in those states.

Evangelicals See Declining Influence in U.S.

Are U.S. evangelicals losing their influence on America? A new poll released June 22 from the Pew Forum seems to say just that. The vast majority – 82 percent – of U.S. evangelical leaders saying their influence is declining. At the same time, their counterparts in Africa, Asia and Latin America are far more optimistic. “There’s both a huge optimism gap and a huge influence gap in terms of the way these folks perceive things,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 Evangelical leaders. The perception of declining influence comes as the nation has become both more pluralistic and more secular. The vast majority of U.S. leaders surveyed — 92 percent — called secularism a major threat to evangelical Christianity.

Appeals Court Upholds Health Care Law

A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld the government’s new requirement that most Americans buy health insurance, in the first decision by a U.S. appeals court on the centerpiece of the Obama-sponsored health care overhaul. The ruling by the Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit gives the administration a significant victory. Yet the 2-1 panel decision marks what is likely to be the first in a series of appeals court rulings in upcoming months. Ultimate resolution of the politically charged dispute is likely to come from the U.S. Supreme Court sometime next year.

Obama Administration Fires ATF Whistleblower

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is being accused of retaliating against an agent who helped publicize the agency’s role in allowing thousands of guns to cross the U.S. border and fall into the hands of Mexican drug gangs. The agent, Vince Cefalu, who has spoken out about the ATF’s so-called “Project Gunrunner” scandal, says he was served with termination papers just last week, and he calls the move politically motivated. Cefalu first told FoxNews.com about the ATF’s embattled anti-gun smuggling operation in December, before the first reports on the story appeared in February. “Simply put, we knowingly let hundreds of guns and dozens of identified bad guys go across the border,” Cefalu said at the time. Since then, Cefalu’s claims have been vindicated, as a number of agents with first-hand knowledge of the case came forward. Yet last week, Cefalu, who has worked for the agency for 24 years, was forced to turn in his gun and badge.

Feds Might Prosecute States over Medical Marijuana

The U.S. Justice Department says that marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws could face prosecution for violating federal drug and money-laundering laws. In a policy memo to federal prosecutors obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said a 2009 memo by then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden did not give states cover from prosecution. Starting in February, 10 U.S. attorney’s offices have asserted they have the authority to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws. State officials say that following a two-year period in which federal prosecutors gave breathing room to state medical marijuana laws, the Justice Department is now toughening up its position as more states move toward opening facilities to dispense marijuana.

Sonic, Burger King, Other fast-food Chains Selling Alcohol

In a bid to boost business, two Sonic restaurants in South Florida soon will sell beer and wine. The move follows Burger King “Whopper Bars” recently opened in Miami, Las Vegas and Kansas City that sell beer. Starbucks recently began to serve local beer and wine in a handful of Seattle stores. In a tough economy, the move towards alcohol is a way to compete with casual dining — and can help boost typically slow evening business they say. But the trend has many critics. “Fast food plus fast alcohol equals fast drunks,” warns Michele Simon, research and policy director at the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog group.

Massey Faked Mine Records to Deceive Inspectors

Massey Energy kept two sets of records at the West Virginia coal mine where 29 workers died in an explosion last year, omitting recurring safety problems to mislead government inspectors, a federal official announced Thursday. “The investigation team concluded that the managers were aware that chronic hazardous conditions were not recorded” at the Upper Big Branch mine. Testimony from some of the 266 witnesses his agency has interviewed “indicated that management pressured examiners to not record hazards in the books.”

  • Deception and lawlessness are the primary spirits of the end times, infecting every facet of the social order in conjunction with the anti-Christ spirit.

Arizona Medicaid Cuts on Hold for Now

Low-income Arizonans got an indefinite reprieve from cuts to the state’s Medicaid program after federal health officials Thursday delayed approval of the plan and the state suspended the enrollment freeze, which was scheduled to take effect Friday. The eleventh-hour action came just minutes before a Maricopa County Superior Court judge denied a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop cuts to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. The freeze, which is expected to eliminate 17,000 adults from the rolls in the first month and 135,000 people by next July, is part of sweeping state budget cuts. The government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is expected to approve the changes. But even if it does so as early as today, it will take a week for AHCCCS to implement the freeze.

Electrical Fire Affects 100,000 Homes and Businesses in AZ

A fire at a power substation in east Mesa set off a cascade of electrical failures Thursday that left more than 100,000 homes and businesses without power on a sweltering summer afternoon. Service had been restored to many by late evening. But Friday will bring new questions about whether service in the area can keep air-conditioners running for an afternoon of even higher temperatures. Thursday’s problems began with a fire in an electrical transformer. Though the fire was doused, the extra load placed on other stations led to failures throughout the afternoon. Blackouts hit nearly every area of Mesa and Apache Junction at various times, forcing hospitals to use emergency generators and prompting companies to send thousands of workers home early. Temperatures are expected to hit 112 degrees Friday.

Housing Market Turning Around in Several Rural States

The housing market is hurting nationally, but it appears to be marching toward recovery in a handful of mostly rural states. The states — including North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa and Alaska — have economies more dependent on the energy, industrial or agricultural sectors, stronger parts of the U.S. economy. Their home prices, in general, didn’t rise as much as in other states in the boom years, so they’ve fared better in the wake of the crash. Their unemployment rates are also better than the national average. North Dakota, Iowa and Wyoming have seen the strongest rebound in numbers of non-distressed home sales, reaching about 70% of their 2006 levels while the U.S. as a whole is still under 50%.

Kansas City Fed Chief Thomas Hoenig Sounds Alarm

The president of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank issued a scathing rebuke of U.S. monetary policy, Congress and even the American consumer in a sweeping speech Thursday. Thomas Hoenig, who will retire from his post in October, said the economy has been artificially inflated by low interest rates and will face more crises in the future unless policymakers and consumers shift their habits to focus on economic production instead of debt-driven growth. We have this leveraged economy that we have used to build our growth over the last 10 to 15 years that we cannot carry forward,” he said. Hoenig reiterated his call for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. He said the longer interest rates are low, the more the economy will suffer when rates inevitably rise.

Economic News

The Senate will forgo its scheduled recess for the week of July 4 to work on legislation to raise the debt ceiling and cut the deficit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday. The Treasury Department says that on Aug. 2 it will run out of money to pay the nation’s bills in full and on time.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits was mostly unchanged last week, evidence that the weak U.S. economy is struggling to generate jobs. Applications have topped 400,000 for 12 straight week, after falling in February to 375,000, a level that signals sustainable job growth.

U.S. food prices may ease later this year now that farmers have planted the second-largest corn crop in nearly 70 years. Many analysts had worried that wet weather would cut the number of corn acres. But record-high prices are encouraging farmers to use more acres for corn, and less for crops like soybeans and wheat.

Minnesota stumbled into its second government shutdown in six years, with a divide over taxes and spending to close a $5 billion deficit. Talks fell apart well before the deadline, leaving state parks closed on the brink of the Fourth of July weekend, putting road projects at a standstill and forcing thousands of state worker layoffs.

British teachers and public service workers swapped classrooms and offices for picket lines Thursday as hundreds of thousands walked off the job to protest pension cuts. Unions say about 750,000 workers were expected to join the one-day strike, disrupting courthouses, tax offices and employment centers, as well as schools.

Lloyds Banking Group, the largest retail bank in the U.K., plans to cut 15,000 more jobs and save 1.5 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) a year by 2014 as it works to return to full private ownership, the company said Thursday. Taxpayers own 41% of the bailed-out group.

A high-profile Facebook protest has scored a victory for consumers in Israel: Their threats of a boycott have forced dairy manufacturers to lower the price of cottage cheese by some 25%.The two-week campaign drew more than 105,000 people to join a Facebook group vowing to boycott the Israeli staple until prices dropped.

Greece

Global financial markets continued to rally Thursday as Greece’s parliament backed sweeping austerity measures to avoid bankruptcy. But Greece’s plan is a stopgap at best, economists say. The austerity package includes a five-year, $40 billion plan to trim spending through increasing taxes, cutting wages for public sector employees, and raising the country’s minimum retirement age to 65 from 61. Parliament’s approval, amid a day of violent anti-government protests in Athens Wednesday, was seen as crucial for $17 billion in bailout loans aimed at staving off default this summer.

Hong Kong

Tens of thousands of people vented anger over Hong Kong’s skyrocketing property prices and government policies Friday at an annual march marking the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule. Many waved flags calling for universal suffrage while others chanted “Down down with property tycoons” and called for Chief Executive Donald Tsang to step down. Since the territory was handed back to China on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong has largely retained its Western-style civil liberties, including press freedom and the right to hold public protests. But its people still cannot directly elect the city’s chief executive or all legislative members. One of the big themes of the march marking the 14th anniversary is the growing rich-poor divide in Hong Kong, where skyrocketing property prices have left many residences unaffordable and forced out small shopkeepers.

Japan

Japan began imposing energy restrictions on companies, shopping malls and other major electricity users Friday to cope with power shortages caused by the loss of a tsunami-hit nuclear power plant. Big factories, office buildings, universities and department stores in the Tokyo area must use 15% less electricity than a year ago. The limit does not apply to households, but the government has urged them to conserve energy. The government also has launched a campaign urging office workers to shed their suits and ties for lighter clothes such as polo shirts to endure the country’s summer heat.

Germany

German lawmakers overwhelmingly approved on Thursday plans to shut the country’s nuclear plants by 2022, putting Europe’s biggest economy on the road to an ambitious build-up of renewable energy. Lawmakers sealed for good the shutdown of eight of the older reactors, which have been off the grid since March. Germany’s remaining nine reactors will be shut down in stages/ By 2020, Germany wants to double the share of energy stemming from water, wind, sun or biogas to at least 35%. Until this year, nuclear energy accounted for a around a quarter of Germany’s power supply.

Afghanistan

Coalition and Afghan officials are tripling the authorized size of a U.S.-funded program to establish local self-defense groups, dramatically expanding a tactic that has proved effective in turning the population against insurgents. The plan, which is similar to a successful program in Iraq that helped turn the tide of war there, is seen as a possible “game changer” by giving villagers the means to resist the Taliban. Afghan and coalition officials recently approved a plan that would allow the local forces to grow as large as 30,000, Smith said. The original plan authorized a force of 10,000. The plan will help build local security as the United States reduces its troop levels by 33,000 between now and September 2012.

Syria

Hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded cities around Syria on Friday in one of the largest outpourings against the regime of President Bashar Assad since the uprisings began more than three months ago. At least six people were killed in various clashes. The demonstrations underscored the resilience of the protesters despite Assad’s relentless crackdowns. Meanwhile, Syrian army forces spread through a restive mountainous area near the Turkish border on Thursday as the death toll from a two-day military siege rose to 11 people. The action by Syrian troops appeared to be aimed at preventing residents from fleeing to Turkey, where more than 10,000 Syrians have already taken shelter in refugee camps. Syrian activists say more than 1,400 people have been killed as President Bashar Assad tries to crush three months of nationwide protests.

Libya

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution Tuesday authorizing U.S. involvement in the NATO-led mission in Libya, a small step forward for those in Congress seeking a path out of a stubborn legal stalemate with the White House. The resolution would give approval to U.S. engagement in the mission for up to one year, but puts new restrictions on expanding the U.S. role. Four Republicans joined the Democratic majority to pass the measure on a 14-5 vote. It’s a resolution that President Obama has declared he would “welcome” but which he also insists he does not need under law — a point on which many in Congress, including Democrats, disagree.

Iraq/Iran

Iran is furnishing new, more deadly weapons to Shiite Muslim militias targeting U.S. troops in Iraq as part of a pattern of renewed attempts to exert influence in the region, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.  Shiite militias backed by Iran have ramped up attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, making June the deadliest month in two years for American forces. The militiamen’s goal is to prevent the U.S. military from extending its presence in the country past the end of this year. Three separate militias have been involved in the attacks, particularly a small but deadly group known as the Hezbollah Brigades, believed to be funded and trained by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard and its special operations wing, the Quds Force.

Pakistan

Pakistan told the United States to leave a remote desert air base reportedly used as a hub for covert CIA drone attacks, Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar was quoted by state media as saying Wednesday. His remarks are the latest indication of Pakistan attempting to limit US activities since a clandestine American military raid killed Osama bin Laden on May 2 and plunged ties between the anti-terror allies into chaos.

Congo

The U.N. human rights office says initial reports from eastern Congo indicate that at least 121 women were raped by government troops earlier this month. U.N. investigators would return to the restive region next week to gather more information on the alleged incident.. Armed groups in the region have frequently used rape as a weapon of war. Eastern Congo has been wracked by violence since Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spilled conflict across the border. Hutu militias that participated in the massacres of more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus sought refuge in Congo.

Earthquakes

Authorities say they’ve received no reports of damage or injuries after a magnitude-3.5 earthquake struck northern California’s Lake County. The United States Geological Survey says the quake struck at 4:13 a.m. Wednesday about five miles west of Middletown and 20 miles north of Santa Rosa, which is in neighboring Sonoma County.

Wildfires

Firefighters battled a 145 square-mile fire burning in a canyon leading to parts of the Los Alamos nuclear lab and an evacuated town, even as confidence rose that both would be spared from the flames. Some of the 1,000 firefighters at the scene lit backfires Thursday to remove brush and other fuels as well as coat a canyon slope with a thick line of fire retardant foam. Los Alamos Canyon runs past runs past the old Manhattan Project site in town and a 1940s era dump site where workers are near the end of a clean-up project of low-level radioactive waste. The World War II Manhattan Project developed the first atomic bomb, and workers from the era dumped hazardous and radioactive waste in trenches along six acres atop the mesa where the town sits.

Another wildfire twenty-eight miles northwest of Roswell, NM, has consumed 72,650 acres and destroyed seven structures. Numerous evacuations are in effect. Numerous fires in Texas and Florida have been contained after days of heavy rain.

With seasonal rains anticipated in July, local leaders and federal Forest Service officials said they are beginning the first steps toward restoring national forestland, hoping to minimize severe erosion from mountainsides laid bare by fire. Corbin Newman, regional forester in charge of the national forests in Arizona and New Mexico, called the fires of recent weeks “amazingly intense” and worse than anything seen in the region in 50 to 75 years. Fires have burned more than 935,000 acres in Arizona and an additional 653,000 acres in New Mexico this year. There have been more than 1,650 fires in the region this year, the vast majority attributed to human causes.

Weather

A lightning strike on a primary school in Uganda killed 18 students and their teacher and injured 36 other pupils. Two other people died in separate lightning strikes elsewhere in the African nation. In the past week, a wave of lightning strikes has killed a total of 31 Ugandans. A government meteorologist said the electrical storms have resulted from “an unusual” surge of moist air flowing from the Atlantic Ocean and through the Congo Basin, combined with prior dryness.

The Atlantic season’s first tropical storm swirled over Mexico’s central Gulf coast Thursday, bringing heavy rains to a wide swath of the country but causing little damage. The heart of Tropical Storm Arlene struck land near Cabo Rojo, a cape just off the mainland between the cities of Tampico and Tuxpan. Arlene weakened to a tropical depression late Thursday and was expected to dissipate Friday.

A landslide triggered by days of incessant rain killed at least eight people in a southeastern Bangladesh city on Friday, A big chunk of earth from a hill buried the victims’ thatched huts as they slept in Chittagong city’s Tigerpass area. Rescuers recovered eight bodies and two survivors from the rubble and were searching for others believed to be trapped.

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Federal Judge Blocks New Kansas Abortion Rules

A federal judge has temporarily blocked a new licensing law and other regulations for Kansas abortion providers. U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, issued an injunction that will remain in effect until a trial is held in a lawsuit challenging the rules. The new regulations would have halted the work of two of the state’s three abortion providers. The new law requires hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices to obtain an annual license from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to perform more than five non-emergency abortions in a month. The regulations tell abortion providers what drugs and equipment they must stock and, among other things, establish minimum sizes and acceptable temperatures for procedure and recovery rooms. In blocking the law, Murguia said evidence presented in court documents showed the providers would “suffer irreparable harm” through the loss of business and patients.

  • What about the harm to the aborted babies?

New Ohio Law Allows Concealed Weapons

Along with a new state budget, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who fought the gun lobby during his campaign last year, has signed a measure allowing concealed weapons in bars, malls, stadiums, museums and other venues that serve alcohol. Businesses can ban concealed weapons for safety reasons. Already the Cincinnati Bengals football team has said it will ban weapons from its stadium. Ohio joins 42 other states that allow licensed concealed firearms to be carried into restaurants, but, only a handful of states, Tennessee and Arizona among them, have concealed carry laws as broad as Ohio’s pending law in terms of where gun owners can pack.

Exxon Oil Spill in Montana River Prompts Evacuations

An ExxonMobil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River in Montana ruptured Saturday and leaked hundreds of barrels of oil into the waterway, causing a 25-mile plume that fouled the riverbank and forced municipalities and irrigation districts downstream to close intakes. The break near Billings in south-central Montana led to temporary evacuations of hundreds of residents along a 20-mile stretch. Cleanup crews deployed booms and absorbent material as the plume moved downstream at an estimated 5 to 7 mph. The river has no dams on its way to its confluence with the Missouri River just across the Montana border in North Dakota. It was unclear how far the plume might travel.

Vulnerable Feel Pinch of Minn. Shutdown

Minnesota lawmakers headed home for a long holiday weekend, bracing for likely public anger as some of them meet constituents for the first time since a failure to reach a budget agreement forced a government shutdown. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP leaders had no plans for new talks before Tuesday, five full days after the shutdown started. Minnesota’s second shutdown in six years was striking much deeper than a partial 2005 shutdown. It took state parks and rest stops off line, closed horse tracks and made it impossible to get a fishing license. But it also was hitting the state’s most vulnerable, ending reading services for the blind, silencing a help line for the elderly and stopping child care subsidies for the poor.

Regulators Combat Unemployment Insurance Fraud

State and federal regulators are cracking down on waste and fraud in the unemployment insurance system, abuses that have hit record levels as jobless claims surge in a weak economy. In the 12 months through March, the overpayment rate was 11.6% — more than $1 for every $9 paid out, Labor Department figures show. That’s up from the 12 months ending in June 2010, when a record $16.5 billion, or 10.6% of the $156 billion in jobless benefits disbursed to Americans, should not have been paid, according to the department. The overpayment rate was 9.6% in fiscal 2009 and 9.2% in 2008. The main reason for overpayments is that some workers continue to receive unemployment checks even after they land a new job. Another problem is that many employers fail to adequately provide state officials the reason an employee left the company so the worker’s eligibility can be determined. Also, some workers receive benefits even when they don’t comply with state job search requirements.

Obama’s Stimulus Cost $278K Per Job

A new government report on President Barack Obama’s stimulus package shows that the program cost taxpayers $278,000 for each job it created according to number-crunching work by the Weekly Standard. The paper claims that the report put out by the president’s Council of Economic Advisors proved that the program “did very little, if anything, to stimulate the economy, and a whole lot to stimulate the debt.” The White House issued the report on Friday, leading to its content being largely ignored over the long holiday weekend.

Americans More Indebted Than Ever Before

U.S. consumers have 37 percent more credit card and other revolving debt than they did 10 years ago, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing Federal Reserve data. Granted, that’s 6 percent less than the consumer debt peak of $2.6 trillion hit in September 2008. However, most of the debt decline had occurred by September 2009. Over the past year, consumers’ credit has been essentially flat at around $2.4 trillion. The news is especially grim when it comes to mortgage debt: Almost 23 percent of mortgages are underwater, according to data compiled by JPMorgan Chase. There is also more mortgage debt outstanding than there was five years ago, roughly $9.9 trillion, according to the Fed. The result is consumers find it harder to tap home-equity credit lines or sell their houses.

Economic News

Two years after economists say the Great Recession ended, the recovery has been the weakest and most lopsided of any since the 1930s. After previous recessions, people in all income groups tended to benefit. This time, ordinary Americans are struggling with job insecurity, too much debt and pay raises that haven’t kept up with prices at the grocery store and gas station. But corporate profits are up by almost half since the recession ended in June 2009.

The Commerce Department reported that construction spending declined 0.6% in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $757.9 billion. It is barely above an 11-year low hit in February and roughly half the $1.5 trillion pace considered healthy by most economists. Analysts say it could be another four years before construction returns to healthier levels. Home construction fell 2.1%.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, says that its index of manufacturing activity rose to 55.3 in June from 53.5 in May, the slowest growth in 20 months. A reading above 50 indicates that the manufacturing sector is expanding. Growth had slowed sharply in May. High gas prices cut into consumer spending and an auto parts shortage stemming from Japan’s March 11 earthquake/tsunami.

Gasoline prices usually peak in the summer. This year, however, they peaked on May 5. The subsequent slide in pump prices has made gasoline an average 24 cents a gallon cheaper than what it was on Memorial Day. The national average now stands at $3.55 per gallon.

Automakers sold 7.1% more new vehicles in the U.S. last month than they did a year earlier, but still didn’t match mediocre results of May. The annual sales pace in June was 11.45 million vehicles, Autodata reported, up from 11.17 million a year earlier, but a stumble from 11.8 million in May.

Middle East

A top Palestinian official says Russia is supporting his government’s bid to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations this fall. U.N. membership requires a recommendation from the Security Council and approval by two-thirds of the General Assembly, or 128 countries.

Security officials say an explosion has hit the Egyptian pipeline that carries gas to Israel and Jordan. The Monday morning blast took place in the Sinai Peninsula, near town of El-Arish, which is just 30 miles from Israel. The blast is the third to hit the strategic pipeline since an Egyptian uprising overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak in February. Bedouin tribesmen in the area have attacked the pipeline in the past.

Afghanistan

Outgoing U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus saluted his troops for the last time as their military leader on the Fourth of July as three U.S. senators made a surprise visit and chastised the White House for its troop withdrawal plans. Petraeus, who President Obama named his next CIA chief, told American troops during a re-enlistment ceremony in Kandahar that they have achieved progress on the battlefield but that “much work remains” to be done in Afghanistan. Petraeus and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both testified in hearings after the decision was announced that the plan was “more aggressive” than their preferred option. Senate Armed Services Committee members John McCain, R-AZ, Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were with McCain in Afghanistan on Monday and expressed similar concerns.

NATO says four of its service members have been killed in two separate attacks in eastern Afghanistan. The international coalition says three NATO troops died from an improvised roadside bomb and a fourth soldier was killed in a separate insurgent attack. The deaths bring to 280 the number of international troops killed so far this year and nine this month.

Iraq

The US ambassador in Baghdad said on Saturday that the State Department has asked for a $6.2 billion budget for Iraq in 2012, underscoring that its oil and gas reserves were critical for the world’s future energy needs. The embassy plans to double in size next year to 16,000 personnel, when it takes over many military tasks after US troops pull out of Iraq at the end of this year, including military sales and training of Iraqi security forces. Nearly 50,000 American troops still remain, down from a high of 170,000 after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Morocco

Morocco’s overwhelming approval of a new constitution granting new rights to women and minorities was met with scorn by some democracy advocates and hope by foreign policy experts that the reforms could become a model for Arab monarchies facing uprisings. Morocco said the reforms proposed by King Mohammed VI were approved by 98% of Moroccans who took part in a vote Friday — the first Arab nation to hold an election since the “Arab Spring” protest movement swept the region. The amended constitution gives more power to the elected parliament and establishes an independent judiciary but the king will still control matters of foreign policy and religion. It comes at a time when other Arab monarchies have used violent repression as a response t calls for democratic reforms.

Libya

Embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi threatened attacks on Europeans if NATO does not stop its airstrikes. Meanwhile, NATO said Saturday it has begun ramping up its airstrikes on military targets in the western part of Libya, where rebel forces claim a string of advances through territory still largely under Gadhafi’s control. Gadhafi’s regime is determined to stand firm against opposition fighters moving from southern and eastern fronts toward the capital Tripoli. The rebels have largely solidified control over the eastern third of Libya but have struggled to push out of pockets they hold in the west. The coalition said it has destroyed more than 50 military targets in the west this week.

President Obama’s claims that the United States is not engaged in hostilities against Libya are centered around the premise that they are purely providing “support” for the British and French attacks, and that as such they are not a direct combatant. This claim is entirely untrue, however, as a spokeswoman for US African Command (AFRICOM) confirmed Friday. Rather, the US has flown 801 attack sorties, and actually dropped bombs on Libya in 132 cases after the president claimed the support role began.

Syria

Activists on Saturday now hope the huge outpouring a day earlier in the city of Hama — an estimated 300,000 people chanting against Assad’s regime — could re-energize the protest movement at a pivotal time. President BasharAssad’s forces appear unable to sustain the blanket crackdowns of recent months.

Yemen

Dozens of Yemeni troops went missing after a battle with al-Qaeda-linked militants at a sports stadium in the country’s increasingly lawless south, a new setback for a weakened regime already facing an array of opponents. Meanwhile, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been treated in a Saudi hospital since an attack on his palace a month ago, remains bedridden and has difficulty breathing and talking. Saudi Arabia has been pressing Saleh to step down within 30 days and hand power to his vice president, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. However, despite his ill health, Saleh has refused to sign the deal.

Somalia

The clandestine American military campaign to combat Al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen is expanding to fight the Islamist militancy in Somalia, as new evidence indicates that insurgents in the two countries are forging closer ties and possibly plotting attacks against the United States, American officials say. An American military drone aircraft attacked several Somalis in the militant group the Shabab late last month, the officials said, killing at least one of its midlevel operatives and wounding others. The strike was carried out by the same Special Operations Command unit now battling militants in Yemen, and it represented an intensification of an American military campaign in a mostly lawless region where weak governments have allowed groups with links to Al Qaeda to flourish.

Lebanon

Hezbollah’s leader vowed Saturday never to turn over four members of his Shiite militant group who have been indicted in the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In his first comments since the indictments were announced Thursday, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah also delivered a warning that peace in Lebanon depends on the government bowing to Hezbollah’s power and not pushing ahead with arrests. Nasrallah also denounced the six-year investigation as a plot by Israel and the United States and said it was “an aggression against us and our holy warriors.”

Nigeria

A Nigerian official says suspected members of a radical Muslim sect have killed five people in the country’s restive northeast. Three gunmen from the Boko Haram sect shot and killed four people in the city of Maiduguri late on Saturday. A fifth person was shot dead Sunday. Boko Haramis responsible for a rash of killings which have targeted police officers, soldiers, politicians and clerics in Nigeria’s north over the last year. They have also attacked churches and engineered a massive prison break and claimed responsibility for a bombing at the nation’s police headquarters killed two last month.

  • Odd how we don’t hear about Christian radicals killing anyone, always Muslim, but nonetheless Islam is touted as a peaceful religion

Thailand

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded Sunday that Yingluck Shinawatra had won the nation’s election. “Congratulations to Thailand’s first female prime minister,” he said. Thailand’s military eased concerns of renewed turmoil Monday by accepting the sweeping electoral win. Tensions between the Democratic Party and the Pheu Thai party, which reflect deep divisions within Thai society, erupted last year, with protests against Abhisit’s government leading to a military crackdown. More than 90 people were killed and hundreds were injured.

Volcanoes

A volcano in central Indonesia has erupted in clouds of smoke and searing gas that shot up nearly 20,000 feet into the air. No one was injured when Mount Soputan, located on Sulawesi island, exploded early Sunday. The nearest villages are well outside the danger zone and there are no immediate evacuation plans. Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is located on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

Wildfires

A smattering of summer rain gave a boost to firefighters battling a huge forest fire near Los Alamos, giving authorities enough confidence Sunday to allow about 12,000 people to return home for the first time in nearly a week. The fire erupted June 26 in northern New Mexico when a tree fell onto power lines. It mushroomed to 189 square miles, destroyed 95 structures and was 27 percent contained as of Monday night. The wildfire that had forced federal employees to flee the desert birthplace of the atomic bomb neared the sacred sites of several Native American tribes on Saturday, raising fears that tribal lands passed down for generations would be destroyed. More than 1,600 firefighters were working to stop the fire in northern New Mexico as it burned through a canyon on the Santa Clara Pueblo reservation and threatened other pueblos on the Pajarito Plateau. The area, a stretch of mesas that run more than 15 miles west of Santa Fe, N.M., includes the town of Los Alamos and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s premier nuclear weapons laboratory. Nine other wildfires were burning in drought-stricken New Mexico, having consumed over 117,000 acres.

All entrances to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida are closed through the holiday weekend as firefighters continue to battle a 10-week-old blaze that has burned well over half the 400,000-acre preserve. The preserve will be shuttered to the public indefinitely — at least until authorities, likely with major help from the weather, get it under control. The group is trying to corral what is being called the Honey Prairie Complex Fire. Lightning first sparked a fire on April 28 and it has been burning, in some form, ever since — consuming about 268,000 of the refuge’s 402,000 acres.

From Arizona to Florida, there will be fewer oohs and aahs at the rockets’ red glare this Fourth of July: Many cities and counties across the nation’s drought-stricken southern tier are banning fireworks because of the risk of wildfires. New Mexico’s governor prohibited fireworks on state and private wildlands and pleaded with people not to buy or set off pyrotechnics. Dozens of Texas cities have canceled shows, from large events in Austin and San Antonio to small-town celebrations where folks usually sit on blankets at parks and lakes.

Weather

As Fourth of July weekend kicks off, people across the West donned shorts, bikini tops and Hawaiian shirts — and then hit the slopes. Ski resorts from California to Colorado opened for the weekend to take advantage of an unusual combination of dense lingering snow from late-season storms in the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies and a high-pressure system that ushered in warm air from the east. Resort operators Saturday reported large crowds, balmy temperatures and plenty of bare skin.

A fierce thunderstorm swept through a normally rural Wisconsin county that was packed with holiday campers, toppling trees that killed an 11-year-old girl, blowing boats ashore and injuring more than three dozen people. The storm moved across Minnesota and Wisconsin on Friday, packing winds approaching 80 mph and hail as large as softballs.

Phoenix hit a high temperature of 118 degrees on Saturday, topping a 10-year-old record of 116 degrees for the date. Clouds from monsoon activity likely kept the area from reaching 120 degrees, but they say it’s still the city’s hottest day so far this year. The monsoon brought wind gusts that toppled power lines and knocked out electricity to homes in Phoenix suburbs.

Mexican authorities have confirmed 11 deaths from Tropical Storm Arlene and the aftermath of floods, mudslides and overflowing rivers in central Mexico and Gulf Coast states. Most died after being buried alive in their homes by mudslides or drowning in heavy currents while trying to cross swollen streams.

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U.S. Warns Terrorists Might Try to Plant Bombs Inside of People

The U.S. government has warned domestic and international airlines that some terrorists are considering surgically implanting explosives into humans to carry out attacks. There is no intelligence pointing to a specific plot, but the U.S. shared its concerns last week with executives at domestic and international carriers. People traveling to the U.S. from overseas may experience additional screening at airports because of the threat, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Measures may include greater interaction with passengers, in addition to the use of other screening methods such as pat-downs and the use of enhanced tools and technologies.

Appeals Court Orders End to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has barred further enforcement of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which has barred gays from serving openly in the military. The Pentagon says it will comply with the court order and is “taking immediately steps to inform the field of this order.” The Pentagon and the Justice Department are reviewing the order, he said, adding that the certification required to fully lift DADT is “proceeding smoothly” and is just weeks away.

Fate of ‘Gay Glorification’ Bill Up to Gov. Brown

A California pro-family leader is calling on Governor Jerry Brown to veto a bill that would force public schools to promote the homosexual agenda and impact schools throughout the country. State lawmakers approved S.B. 48 in a 49-25 vote, with the approval of just one Republican. The measure would mandate the state’s public schools to teach on the accomplishments of lesbian, “gay,” bisexual and transgender (LGBT) figures, and it will force teachers to present those individuals in a positive light. With lawmakers’ approval, the bill now heads to the desk of the governor, who has 12 days to sign or veto it. California Republicans argue that the bill will force an agenda onto students rather than teach facts.

Religion, Faith Still Important to Most People

A new Ipsos MORI poll has found that religion still matters to most people in the world. The global survey looked at the views of over 18,000 people across 24 countries, including the U.K. and U.S. Seven in 10 of those surveyed said they had a religion but there was a marked difference between Christians and Muslims when it came to the importance they placed on their faith. The Christian Post reports that, in Muslim-majority countries, 94 percent of those with a religion agreed that their faith was important in their lives, compared to 66 percent in Christian-majority countries. Muslims were far more likely to believe that their religion was the only true path to salvation, liberation or paradise – 61 percent compared to 19 percent in Christian-majority countries. In the U.S., 32 percent said their faith or religion was the only true path.

  • Jesus asked whether He would find faith when he returns (Luke 18:8). Apparently not.

School Choice Thriving, Expanding

2011 is turning into a “banner year” for school-choice advocates, as more states have passed school voucher and scholarship tax credit legislation than ever before. In the first six months of this year, 27 states passed legislation that created, expanded, or strengthened school-choice programs. Andrew Campanella, director of communications for the American Federation for Children, is pleased with the progress. “It took 20 years for the school-choice movement to pass 20 [private] school-choice programs into law. And this year, seven new programs were enacted,” he reports. “So this is a banner year for the school choice movement, and parents across the country are experiencing educational freedom like never before.” New programs were launched in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Wisconsin — most of which have been challenged in court by teachers’ unions and other opponents. But those lawsuits have not been successful.

America’s Biggest Teacher Cheating Scandal Unfolds in Atlanta

Award-winning gains by Atlanta students were based on widespread cheating by 178 named teachers and principals, said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday. His office released a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that names 178 teachers and principals – 82 of whom confessed – in what’s likely the biggest cheating scandal in U.S. history. This appears to be the largest of dozens of major cheating scandals, unearthed across the country. The allegations point an ongoing problem for US education, which has developed an ever-increasing dependence on standardized tests. The report on the Atlanta Public Schools, released Tuesday, indicates a “widespread” conspiracy by teachers, principals and administrators to fix answers on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), punish whistle-blowers, and hide improprieties.

  • The end-time spirit of lawlessness (2Thess. 2:1-7) is at work in all facets of society

Pilots Refuse to Help Atheists

The American Atheists hoped to use Independence Day to spread their message calling for an America without God. The atheists had contracted to fly banners over ballparks and large Fourth of July gatherings but they had one big problem – 80% of the pilots hired refused to fly their “God-LESS” message. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice says he applauds the pilots “for knowing their rights and for having the courage to stand for what they believe in.”

CIA: U.S. finances at Bottom of Planet

The United States ranks last among all nations in the world when it comes to its current account balance, astronomically lower than every other economy, the CIA reports. According to the most recent figures in the CIA World Factbook, America sits at the bottom of 191 nations, with a listed account balance of an astonishing negative $561 billion. The next lowest nation is Spain, and though it’s ranked at No. 190, its account balance is negative $66 billion, far less than the American figure. China is first on the list with a positive account balance of $272 billion while Japan is second with $166 billion. The CIA defines current account balance as “a country’s net trade in goods and services, plus net earnings from rents, interest, profits, and dividends, and net transfer payments (such as pension funds and worker remittances) to and from the rest of the world during the period specified.”

Debt Talks Headed for Rare Sunday Session

President Obama and congressional leaders have agreed to seek about $4trillion in savings from the spiraling national debt over the next decade. But with just 23 days to reach a deal, there’s little else they agree on. That was the upshot Thursday from a White House meeting in which negotiators decided to try for the biggest possible deal by Aug. 2, when the government faces a possible default on its $14.3 trillion debt. They will meet again Sunday. Republicans went into the meeting vowing not to increase taxes, and Democrats came out vowing to protect Social Security and Medicare from cuts in benefits.

Federal Wiretaps Nearly Double Under Obama

According to the U.S. courts systems’ annual report on law enforcement wiretaps, federal law enforcement requested 1,207 intercepts placed on phones and electronic communications last year, nearly double the 663 requested in 2009. The steady rise in legal snooping over the last decade has been driven largely by the war on drugs, according to the report. Drug cases comprised 84% of the wiretaps requested in 2010, compared with 75% in 2000. Even as wiretaps have risen steadily for the last decade, however, federal wiretaps have only grown marginally until the last year, from 479 in 2000 to 663 in 2009. The subsequent doubling between 2009 and 2010 is an unprecedented spike.

  • Is this the same Obama who accused the Bush administration of overuse of wiretaps and other violations of the right to privacy?

Administration to Propose Steps on Gun Safety

Six months after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, the White House is preparing to propose some new steps on gun safety, though they’re likely to fall short of the bold measures activists would like to see. Anti-gun groups have been disappointed to see no action so far from President Barack Obama, who supported tough gun control measures earlier in his career but fell largely silent upon becoming president. Some activists were using the opportunity of the six-month anniversary of the Giffords shooting on Friday to speak up.

Triangle of Hunger Batters Millions in East Africa

Thousands of families are walking for days in search of food in a triangle of hunger where the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet. Hundreds already have died, and images of children with skinny, malnourished bodies are becoming commonplace in this corner of Africa. An estimated 12 million people are affected by hunger. Even Somalia’s top militant group is asking the aid agencies it once banned from its territories to return. Thirsty livestock are dying by the thousands, and food prices have risen beyond what many families can afford. Aid agencies are appealing for tens of millions of dollars in emergency funding.

Illegal Immigrant Deaths Rise in Arizona’s Deserts

Arizona Call to Prayer reports that “Arizona’s searing summer heat has begun to take its annual toll on illegal border crossers. The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office has handled the bodies of 15 suspected illegal immigrants in the last nine days. Nine bodies were brought to the office June 29-30, a two-day period that followed eight straight days with temperatures of 107 or higher.  The Arizona Daily Star’s border-death database shows 28 total border deaths registered since June 1st.”

Montana Residents Frustrated Over Lack of Oil Spill Info

Residents along portions of the oil-contaminated Yellowstone River are expressing frustration over the lack of information flowing from ExxonMobil, state and federal officials following last weekend’s pipeline burst. An ExxonMobil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Mont. ruptured near midnight Friday and leaked hundreds of barrels of oil into the river, contaminating riverbanks and flooding fields for miles. Affected landowners are wondering what the short- and long-term effects of the contamination could mean for their families, livestock and wildlife along the river corridor.

Senate Postpones Libya Vote Amid Budget Dispute

Senate Democratic leaders abandoned plans for a test vote Tuesday on authorizing the U.S. military operation against Libya as Republicans insisted they should instead focus on government spending and the nation’s borrowing limit. Just hours before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced the change in plans, leaving the fate of the resolution in doubt.

Vandals Strike During Minn. Shutdown

Vandals hit dozens of state parks in Minnesota and ransacked buildings left unattended by a budget deadlock that shut government services six days ago. Twelve people were taken into custody, east of the Twin Cities, following a burglary and vandalism spree at Afton State Park that caused thousands of dollars in damage. The reality of the shutdown, which began Friday, started to set in this week for about 22,000 state workers who have been laid off.

Men Gaining More Jobs Than Women in Recovery

Since the end of the recession in June 2009, men have gained 768,000 jobs while women have lost 218,000, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Labor Department data released Wednesday. That’s the first time men have fared better than women in the first two years of a recovery since the late 1960s, said Pew, which compared six rebounds in that period. Economists at least partly blame a resurgence in manufacturing and other male-oriented industries and layoffs in government and other jobs largely populated by women. The trends “are reopening the gender gap in employment,” the report says.

CEOs Reap Huge Payouts in 2011

Wall Street’s 2½-year bull market is fueling mega-paydays across a swath of corporate America, from aging industrial giants to young dotcom firms. Yet it also is highlighting the growing wage divide between executive suites and rank-and-file employees. U.S. workers averaged $46,742 in 2010, up 2.6% from 2009. A Governance Metrics analysis found average compensation among S&P 500 CEOs rose to $12 million in 2010, up 18% from 2009 — and that’s not counting the potential multimillion-dollar value of stock or stock options, which are granted at set prices and provide holders profits as stock values rise.

Economic News

The Labor Department said today that the jobless rate increased from 9.1% to 9.2% in June, which saw a rise of only 18,000 jobs. Businesses added the fewest jobs in more than a year. Governments cut 39,000 jobs. Over the past eight months, federal, state and local governments have cut a combined 238,000 positions. Hiring has slowed sharply in the past two months, after the economy added an average of 215,000 jobs per month in the previous three months.

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in seven weeks, although applications remain elevated. The Labor Department said Thursday that new claims for unemployment benefits dropped 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 418,000. Applications have topped 400,000 for 13 weeks, evidence the job market has weakened since the beginning of the year. Applications had fallen in February to 375,000, a level that signals sustainable job growth.

Employers in the U.S. announced more job cuts in June than a year earlier, the first increase since February and a sign the labor market is struggling to improve. Planned cuts rose 5.3 percent to 41,432 last month from June 2010, according to figures released today by Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Job-cut announcements were led by government agencies.

American consumers that were enticed by warmer weather and deep discounts of up to 80% on summer merchandise went on a buying binge in June, helping many retailers deliver robust revenue gains for what is typically the second-biggest shopping month of the year.

The Obama administration announced Thursday that two programs providing unemployed homeowners a few months’ forbearance on their mortgages will be extended to 12 months. Thousands of homeowners could benefit from the additional time, although not all jobless homeowners will be eligible. The action is being taken as part of the administration’s effort to help prevent foreclosures.

Foreign buyers are helping to stoke home sales in U.S. vacation hot spots decimated by the real estate crash, especially in southern Florida. For the 12 months ending in March, 31% of Florida’s home sales were to foreign buyers, up from 10% in 2007. In Arizona, 6% of sales in the same period were to foreigners. That was down from 11% last year. Foreign buyers are being enticed by low U.S. home prices, down 30% nationwide since peaking in 2006, and the weakened dollar, which makes their money go further. Since the start of 2006, the Canadian dollar has soared 18% against the U.S. dollar, while the euro has gained 22%.

China raised a key interest rate Wednesday for a third time this year as it tries to cool surging inflation. The benchmark rate for one-year loans will be raised 0.25 percentage points to 6.56%, effective Thursday, the central bank announced. The rate paid on deposits will rise by a similar margin to 3.5%.Inflation hit a 34-month high of 5.5% in May and is believed to have risen further in June.

The European Central Bank raised its key interest rate to 1.5% on Thursday to dampen down inflation, even though the move will add pressure on debt-ridden economies on the fringes of the 17-nation Eurozone. Though higher rates may be necessary for a potentially overheating economy like Germany’s, they are likely to add to the growth concerns of some of the Eurozone’s more indebted nations, such as Greece and Portugal.

Middle East

The UN’s final report on the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident from May 2010 contains harsh criticism of Turkey for failing to prevent the flotilla from sailing, as well as upholding Israel’s legal right to impose a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. The UN investigative committee also criticized Turkey for its highly politicized investigation into the incident and praised Israel for its own investigation which it said was performed to levels consistent with international standards for fairness and integrity.

Afghanistan

Canada formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan on Thursday after years of being on the front lines of the fight against Taliban insurgents in the south. The withdrawal of 2,850 Canadian combat troops comes at a time the Taliban continue to show their resilience, peace talks are in their infancy and governance and development are lagging security gains on the battlefield. Underscoring the persistent dangers, a roadside bomb killed eight Afghan policemen on a patrol in the northern district of Fayz Abad.

Pakistan

A group of conservative Islamic political and religious officials has condemned a meeting by the U.S. Embassy supporting gay rights in Pakistan as “cultural terrorism” against the country. The meeting was hosted by the U.S. deputy ambassador, Richard Hoagland, and was meant to support the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in Pakistan, said the embassy. Homosexual acts are illegal in Pakistan. Under Islamic, or Sharia, laws in Pakistan, homosexual acts are punishable by whipping, imprisonment or death.

Hundreds of militants crossed from Afghanistan and attacked several border villages in Pakistan on Wednesday, triggering shootouts with local militias that killed at least five people. t was the latest in a spate of such cross-border attacks, which have raised tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan and undermined efforts on both sides to crack down on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. A similar attack on the Afghanistan side of the border Tuesday killed at least 12 border policemen.

Iraq

The White House is offering to keep up to 10,000 troops in Iraq next year, U.S. officials say, despite opposition from many Iraqis and key Democratic Party allies who demand that President Barack Obama bring home the American military as promised. Any extension of the military’s presence, however, depends on a formal request from Baghdad — which must weigh questions about the readiness of Iraqi security forces against fears of renewed militant attacks and unrest if U.S. soldiers stay beyond the December pullout deadline. Iraq is not expected to decide until September at the earliest, when the 46,000 U.S. forces left in the country had hoped to start heading home.

Iran

Iran is expanding its support for extremist militias in neighboring Iraq as the United States prepares to withdraw its forces there by year’s end, the top U.S. military officer said Thursday. “Iran is very directly supporting extremist Shiia groups, which are killing our troops,” Adm. Michael Mullen said. Mullen said the flow of weapons from Iran is done with the knowledge of Tehran’s top leadership.  James F. Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said Tuesday that fresh forensic testing on weapons used in the latest deadly attacks in the country bolsters assertions by U.S. officials that Iran is supporting Iraqi insurgents with new weapons and training. ‘We’re seeing more lethal weapons, more accurate weapons, more longer-range weapons,’ Jeffrey said.

Egypt

Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets around the country Friday to demand justice for victims of Hosni Mubarak’s regime and press the new, military rulers for a clear plan of transition to democracy. There is growing frustration among Egyptians that little has changed five months after the 18-day uprising forced the former president to step down on Feb. 11. Riots and protests have been escalating over what many see as the reluctance of the military rulers, who took over after Mubarak, to prosecute police and former regime officials for the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the uprising In a bid to defuse rising anger, the Interior Ministry announced Thursday that hundreds of high-ranking police officers will be sacked for their role in the harsh crackdown on anti-government protests earlier this year. Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawi said in a statement that it will be the largest shake up in the history of his ministry.

Syria

Tens of thousands of Syrians carrying olive branches and shouting for the downfall of President Bashar Assad’s regime streamed Friday into a flashpoint city where the U.S. ambassador traveled to show his solidarity with protesters, Crowds were swelling Friday in Hama, a central city that has become a focal point of the uprising and has drawn the largest crowds since the revolt began nearly four months ago. On Tuesday, Syrian security forces and gunmen loyal to the regime killed 11 people in Hama as residents erected roadblocks to prevent the advance of tanks ringing the city. Amnesty International issued a report Tuesday stating Syrian forces committed atrocities against civilians in Tell Kalakh in May, torturing men and boys . U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford’s trip to Hama on Thursday drew condemnation from the Syrian government, which said the visit was unauthorized and a clear sign that Washington was inciting unrest in the Arab nation. Relations between the U.S. and Syria are chronically strained over Assad’s close ties with Iran.

Libya

Rebel fighters in western Libya seized two mountain towns from government troops Wednesday, while the embattled regime of Moammar Gadhafi said it would set up a special court to try rebel leaders for treason. The rebel advances mark small progress in a largely deadlocked civil war. NATO said Wednesday that its warplanes have destroyed 2,700 military targets, including 600 Libyan tanks and artillery guns and nearly 800 ammunition stores, since the alliance began bombing Gadhafi-linked sites in March, under a U.N. mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

Malaysia

Malaysian police said they will shut major roads and suspend public transportation into Kuala Lumpur’s city center to thwart opposition-backed activists, who vowed Friday to press ahead with a banned rally for electoral reforms. The escalated political tension presents a major challenge for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s long-ruling coalition ahead of general elections widely expected next year. Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Amar Singh announced late Thursday that major roads into the city would be shut for 22 hours starting midnight Friday, affecting bus and rail transit services. He said police have also obtained court orders to bar dozens of opposition and civic group leaders from entering the city’s central business district Saturday.

South Sudan

After five decades of guerrilla struggle and two million lives lost, the flags are flapping proudly in Juba, the capital of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. The new national anthem is blasting all over town. People are toasting oversize bottles of White Bull beer (the local brew), and children are boogieing in the streets. “Free at Last,” reads a countdown clock. But from the moment it declares independence on Saturday, the Republic of South Sudan, Africa’s 54th state, will take its place at the bottom of the developing world. A majority of its people live on less than a dollar a day. A 15-year-old girl has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than she does of finishing primary school. More than 10 percent of children do not make it to their fifth birthday. About three-quarters of adults cannot read. Only 1 percent of households have a bank account.

Earthquakes

A powerful magnitude-7.6 earthquake rattled the remote Kermadec Islands in the Pacific Ocean. It triggered a small tsunami that had New Zealand bracing for high waves. The quake was felt as far away as Christchurch, New Zealand, said New Zealand’s Geological and Nuclear Sciences agency. The volcanic Kermadec Island peaks are a remote outpost that are generally uninhabited aside from a weather station and a hostel for visiting New Zealand scientists. No one was hurt and no damage has been detected.

Wildfires

Smoke still hung in the air from a northern New Mexico wildfire that came dangerously close to the nation’s premier nuclear weapons laboratory, but life was returning to normal Wednesday as thousands of employees showed up for their first day of work in more than a week. Although the threat to Los Alamos National Laboratory and the town that surrounds it has passed, the largest fire in New Mexico’s history continued to burn in remote areas. The fire had chewed through more than 204 square miles by Thursday. Firefighters have managed to contain 40 percent of the blaze by Wednesday night, and only five injuries have been reported among those working on the fire lines. No civilians were injured by the flames.

Weather

Arizonans are calling it the mother of all haboobs — a mile-high wall of ominous, billowing dust that appeared to swallow Phoenix and its suburbs. The massive dust storm descended on the Phoenix area on Tuesday night, drastically reducing visibility and delaying flights as strong winds toppled trees and caused power outages for thousands of residents in the valley. Radar data showed the storm’s wall of dust had reached as high as 8,000 to 10,000 feet. Phoenix reported the storm appeared to be roughly 50 miles wide in some spots, and it briefly blanketed the city’s downtown at around nightfall. Strong winds with gusts of more than 60 mph rapidly moved the dust cloud northwest through Phoenix and the surrounding cities of Avondale, Tempe and Scottsdale. More than a dozen communities in the area also were placed under a severe thunderstorm watch. Some 8,000 homes were left without power. The storm left so much dirt behind on the ground and in the air that it didn’t just coat cars and clog up pools, it prevented pilots approaching Sky Harbor International Airport from seeing the runways a day later.

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Majority of Americans Now Favor Same-Sex Marriage

A Gallup Poll this summer found that for the first time most Americans (53%) support gay marriage. That’s up from 42% in 2004 when Massachusetts first legalized the shift. In Iowa, where more than 3,377 gay couples have wed since April 2009, a Des Moines Register statewide poll found 92% said gay marriage has “brought no real change to their lives.”

  • Immorality and lawlessness will continue to increase as the end-tines roll forward, just as the Bible has foretold. (2Timothy 3:1:5)

No Gay Weddings by Military Chaplains?

Can military chaplains officiate at same sex marriage ceremonies in states where such marriages are legal? Yes? No? Not yet? The answer is unclear. The courts, the Pentagon and the Obama Administration are tossing out Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the law that blocked LBGT military from serving openly. But the House of Representatives holds to the traditional definition of marriage for service personnel. According to the Associated Press, when the House passed a $649 billion defense spending bill today, it blocked any of those dollars to be used to train military chaplains on how to deal with the ending DADT policy. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., sponsor of the amendment, said its purpose was to prohibit chaplains from performing same-sex marriages on Navy bases regardless of a state’s law.

U.S. Chaplains Vetted by Muslim Who Condemns Jews

A man portrayed as a prominent Islamic scholar who has run a program to vet Muslim chaplains for the U.S. military has written an anti-Semitic column that condemns Jews for trying to make the rest of the world “subservient” and explaining that he is able to see this “trickery” because of his understanding of the Quran. Taha Jaber al-Alwani, who graduated from al-Azhar University in Cairo and later taught at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University in Saudi Arabia, moved to the United States in 1983 and has served as chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America and as part of the Islamic Cordova University and its Graduate School of Islamic and Society Sciences program, through which Muslims who want to be chaplains in the U.S. military are accredited. He decried the “Great Haughtiness” of the Jews and accused them of using “an intellectual, psychological and mental ability, which they can employ with great efficiency to take advantage of real and objective situations.”

  • The age of ‘tolerance’ does not extend to Jews or Christians

Poverty Fuels HIV Growth

Nearly all U.S. counties stricken with both high rates of HIV infection and poverty are located in Southern states. Researchers have found that HIV growth is tightly entwined with poverty. Southern USA counties that have the greatest rates of HIV infection are among the poorest in the nation, USA TODAY’s analysis shows. Elsewhere in the USA, counties with the highest rates of HIV-infected people had, on average, one in seven people living in poverty, earning roughly $22,350 for a family of four. In the South’s most HIV-stricken counties, about one of every five people live below the federal poverty line. Jonathan Mermin, director of HIV/AIDS prevention at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the agency’s research supports the link between HIV and poverty. “People with household incomes of less than $10,000 a year were 10 times more likely to have HIV than people whose household incomes are greater than $50,000.” The South’s HIV-infection rates were statistically higher than the rest of the nation, and the epidemic disproportionately affects minorities. In Mississippi, blacks account for 37% of the population but 76% of new cases of HIV.

Economic Gains for Blacks Reversed in Great Recession

Millions of Americans endured financial calamities in the recession. But in the black community, where unemployment has risen since the end of the recession, job loss has knocked many out of the middle class and back into poverty. Some even see a historic reversal of hard-won economic gains that took black people decades to achieve. The median net worth of white households prior to the recession was $134,280, compared with $13,450 for black households, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Economic Policy Institute. By 2009, the median net worth for white households had fallen 24 percent to $97,860; the median black net worth had fallen 83 percent to $2,170, according to the EPI.

Voters Don’t Want Debt Ceiling Raise

According to a Newsmax/Insider Advantage poll, voters oppose raising the debt ceiling by a strong 45 percent to 32 percent margin, with the remainder undecided. But the real eye-opener in the poll is the stiff Republican and swing-voter opposition to a deal. Sixty-seven percent of GOP voters and 51 percent of independents think raising the debt ceiling is a bad idea. Democratic voters, by comparison favored raising the debt ceiling by a 44 to 21 percent margin. Interestingly, 35 percent of Democrats say they are either undecided on the question, or don’t know enough to have an opinion.

Boehner Seeks Smaller $2 Trillion Debt Deal

House Republican budget negotiators have abandoned plans to pursue a massive $4 trillion, 10-year deficit reduction package in the face of stiff GOP opposition to any plan that would increase taxes as part of the deal. House Speaker John Boehner informed President Barack Obama Saturday that a smaller agreement of about $2 trillion was more realistic. President Obama refused to back down Sunday night from seeking a landmark compromise that would slash about $4 trillion over 10 years from budget deficits and raise the government’s $14.3 trillion debt limit. In a rare weekend meeting at the White House, Obama sought to convince recalcitrant lawmakers that tax increases on upper-income Americans and major cuts in popular health care and retirement programs still were within reach — despite Republicans’ pessimism.

State of Emergency in Quartzsite, Arizona?

The Arizona town that’s become a YouTube sensation for its police department hauling away a woman speaking at a town-hall meeting allegedly declared a state of emergency this afternoon, leaving many local residents in fear of what officers dressed in full riot gear might do. Jennifer “Jade” Jones, 45, the woman forcibly removed by police from a recent public meeting in Quartzsite, Arizona, despite the vocal objections of the mayor, says an illegal secret meeting was held today with the public locked out of the building. The Arizona Republic reported the emergency meeting was held “to beef up security after receiving death threats.” Jones told WorldNetDaily there’s actually no emergency of any kind, as it’s a peaceful Sunday with people attending church. WND continues to seek comment from the Quartzsite Police Dept., but no one has responded to confirm if a state of emergency has actually been declared, and if so, precisely why.

Shuttle Atlantis Reaches Orbit for Final Time

The space shuttle Atlantis blazed into history with a picture-perfect launch Friday. When the Atlantis touches down in 12 days, NASA’s three decades of manned flight into Earth’s orbit will glide to an end, leaving as its legacy the International Space Station. Nearly a million people crowded the Space Coast’s beaches and parks to watch the last launch. At the Kennedy Space Center, spectators included more than 1,500 journalists from around the world. Atlantis, set to dock at the International Space Station on Sunday, is delivering nearly a year’s worth of food, spare parts and other supplies to sustain the station until rockets and capsules from commercial companies can resupply the station.

Distracted Driving Programs Show Success

The type of high-profile police crackdown and public-education campaign that led to record seat-belt use in the USA has proved highly effective against distracted driving in two pilot programs, the federal agency that tracks road deaths reports today. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says handheld cellphone use and texting while driving dropped sharply in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., during four periods of stepped-up enforcement coupled with media campaigns. Handheld cellphone use fell 57% and texting while driving 72% in Hartford, and both handheld use and texting while driving fell 32% in Syracuse.

Economic News

An extraordinary amount of personal income is coming directly from the government. Close to $2 of every $10 that went into Americans’ wallets last year were payments like jobless benefits, food stamps, Social Security and disability, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics. By the end of this year, however, $37 billion of those dollars are going to disappear, with the expiration of extended benefits intended to help people cope with the lingering effects of the recession.

Last month’s fall in the number of temporary workers could herald continued weakness in the job market. The total number of temporary employees placed by staffing agencies dipped by 12,000 last month and is down 19,000 the past three months, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

European officials are trying to work out a strategy Monday to prevent the eurozone’s debt crisis from spilling over into bigger economies such as Italy and Spain, as they discuss details of a second bailout for Greece. The International Monetary Fund approved on Friday just over $4.2 billion for Greece, the latest installment of a rescue package aimed at helping the country pull back from an impending debt default.

Japan

A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 hit Japan’s northeastern coast on Sunday, prompting a brief tsunami warning for the area still recovering from a devastating quake and killer wave four months ago. Residents in coastal areas were warned to evacuate for about two hours after the quake, but there were no immediate reports of damage. The epicenter of the quake was in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu, at a depth of about 20 miles. Japanese officials predicted the quake could generate tsunami of up to 20 inches, but the initial waves were only about 4 inches high. Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries. Dozens of strong aftershocks have been felt since the March 11 disaster, which measured a 9.0 magnitude and was the strongest in Japanese history.

Australia

Australia will force its 500 worst polluters to pay 23 Australian dollars ($25) for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit, with the government promising to compensate households hit with higher power bills under a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions unveiled Sunday. Prime Minister Julia Gillard sought to reassure wary Australians that the deeply unpopular carbon tax will only cause a minority of households to pay more and insisted it is critical to helping the country lower its massive carbon dioxide emissions. Australia is one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas polluters, due to its heavy reliance on coal for electricity.

Middle East

The United States and other Mideast mediators meet Monday in Washington, with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in shambles and an upcoming U.N. confrontation over whether to admit Palestine as an independent country only likely to make the decades-old deadlock even more intractable. Modest goals have been set by the U.S., the United Nations, Russia and the European Union. Foremost is getting Israeli and Palestinian negotiators back to the table for direct talks after nine months of inaction. Even that seems an unlikely outcome from Monday’s meeting. Despite furious U.S. efforts, officials say neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians appear willing to commit to new discussions based on parameters that President Barack Obama outlined in a May speech: two states based on the territorial boundaries that existed before the 1967 Mideast war, with some territory swaps to account for population shifts and security concerns.

  • Obama’s proposal would severely weaken Israel while further entrenching Palestinian strongholds, but even they are not satisfied, and won’t be until Israel is completely eliminated.

Some 120 foreign activists were being held in Israeli jails Saturday, awaiting possible deportation, after arriving at Tel Aviv’s airport over the weekend as part of a solidarity mission with the Palestinians. Others who managed to get through Israeli border controls traveled to the West Bank where some joined a demonstration against Israel’s separation barrier. Associated Press Television footage showed some foreign activists, along with Palestinians, cutting through the barrier’s barbed wire fence with clippers. Another protester started a small brush fire. The Israeli military said about 150 protesters gathered near the barrier just north of Jerusalem. Some threw rocks at soldiers who fired tear gas to disperse them. There were no reports of serious injuries.

Egypt

Egyptians set up protest tent camps in city squares across the country, vowing Saturday they would not leave until Egypt’s temporary military rulers purge the remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s deposed regime. The demonstrators also demanded that those responsible for killing hundreds during the uprising that ousted Mubarak be brought to justice. Tent cities sprang up in major cities, including Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, as well as outlying provinces, in the most far-flung and organized attempt in recent months to pressure the military council that is to lead Egypt to democracy. Army troops firing in the air clashed Sunday with stone-throwing protesters in the strategic city of Suez after crowds blocked a key highway to push for faster reform efforts.

Libya

Moammar Gadhafi’s regime sought Sunday to show it remains in control of parts of the country’s western mountains and will defend the territory against further rebel advances there. Journalists based in Gadhafi’s stronghold of Tripoli were taken by government officials Sunday to the mountain gateway town of Gharyan and the nearby town of al-Assabaa, where they were shown armed civilians and government troops who vowed to defend their land. Forces loyal to Gadhafi are also battling rebels on two major front lines to the east of the capital, but neither side has been able to mount a major push.

Yemen

President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s supporters opened fire on protesters, killing at least 11 people across Yemen after their leader’s first television appearance since his injury last month. The video on Yemen state TV Thursday showed him rigid and weakened, with darkened skin and casts covering his hands. Saleh has been in treatment in Saudi Arabia since the June 5 attack on his palace.

Pakistan

The United States is suspending $800 million in military aid to Pakistan, White House Chief of Staff William Daley said Sunday. The $800 million suspension represents a little more than one-third of the $2 billion-plus in annual U.S. security assistance to Pakistan. There have been tensions in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship since the early May raid that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani compound. Some U.S. officials said Pakistan had to know bin Laden was hiding in their country; some Pakistanis protested a secret U.S. mission into their country. In more recent days, Pakistan has spend expelled U.S. military trainers; U.S. officials have also accused Pakistan of exposing the names of U.S. informants engaged in counter-terrorism missions.

Afghanistan

A spate of attacks across Afghanistan on Sunday killed three NATO service members, an Afghan government official and three police officers. Meanwhile, officials said that insurgents have killed six Afghans from a group of 32 that was kidnapped last week in the country’s southwest. The group of Afghans was ambushed July 6 while driving to a work site in the province.

Iran

The Obama administration has imposed travel bans on more than 50 senior Iranian officials accused of participating in human rights abuses and political repression. The State Department announced on Friday that it, along with Britain, had hit 52 Iranian government ministers, military leaders and law enforcement, judicial and prison officers with visa restrictions that will bar them from entering the United States. Canada is expected to take similar action soon. The Obama administration has been raising pressure on Iran over concerns that it is repressing pro-democracy advocates and abusing the rights of students, religious and ethnic minorities, women’s rights leaders and other groups.

Closing the Strait of Hormuz is on Iran’s agenda in the face of threats, according to Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari. The Strait of Hormuz is the only sea passage to the open ocean for large areas of the petroleum-exporting Persian Gulf. Forty percent of the world’s seaborne oil shipments, and 20 percent of all world oil shipments pass through the strait on average every day.

South Sudan

South Sudan raised the flag of its new nation for the first time Saturday, as thousands of South Sudanese citizens and dozens of international dignitaries swarmed the new country capital of Juba to celebrate the country’s birth. South Sudan became the world’s newest country Saturday with a raucous street party at midnight. At a packed midday ceremony, the speaker of parliament read a proclamation of independence as the flag of Sudan was lowered and the flag of South Sudan was raised, sparking wild cheers from a crowd tens of thousands strong. The U.S. and Britain announced their recognition of South Sudan as a sovereign nation.

Malaysia

Police fired tear gas and detained hundreds of activists as more than 20,000 demonstrators massed Saturday across Malaysia’s main city demanding electoral reforms in the country’s biggest political rally in years. The opposition-backed rally was the culmination of weeks of intense pressure on Prime Minister Najib Razak’s long-ruling coalition to make election laws fairer and more transparent ahead of national polls widely expected by mid-2012. Demonstrators marched in defiance of Najib’s administration, which declared the rally illegal and warned people repeatedly to avoid it.

Eritrea

According to Open Doors, Eritrean military officials have rounded up another group of evangelical Christians this week. Authorities arrested 35 believers on July 3 on suspicion of gathering for worship in Assab, a port city. Mission Network News reports that the group, which included 17 women, was taken to the Adi-Nefase military camp near Assab, a notoriously harsh detention center. Open Doors also reports that 25 Christian students from Mai-Nefhi Educational Institution have been released on bail in order to sit for their final exams. They may have been part of a group of students arrested at the beginning of June for “unpatriotic behavior.” Sources in the country expect the students to be taken back into custody as soon as their exams have been completed. Eritrea ranks 12th on the Open Doors 2011 World Watch List, a compilation of the top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is the worst.

Mexico

Fighting among the Zetas gang and other vicious drug cartels led to the deaths of more than 40 people whose bodies were found in three Mexican cities over a 24-hour span. At least 20 people were killed and five injured when gunmen opened fire in a bar late Friday in the northern city of Monterrey, where the gang is fighting its former ally, the Gulf Cartel. Eleven bodies shot with high-powered rifles were found earlier Friday, piled near a water well on the outskirts of Mexico City, where the gang is fighting the Knights Templar. An additional 10 people were found dead early Saturday in various parts of the northern city of Torreon, where the Zetas are fighting the Sinaloa cartel headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Haiti

A deadly cholera epidemic that swept through Haiti last fall has returned, fueled by weeks of heavy rains that have helped spread the waterborne bacteria that flourishes in the country’s rivers and rice fields. The number of new cases each day spiked to 1,700 day in mid-June, three times as many as sought treatment in March, according to the Health Ministry. The epidemic began in rural Haiti last fall, likely brought by U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal. Cholera has sickened at least 370,000 people and killed more than 5,500 since the outbreak started in October. The disease is relatively easy to treat if people can get help in time.

Wildfires

The Los Conchas wildfire has consumed 146,353 acres as of Monday morning, but is no longer a threat to the Los Alamos Lab. It has destroyed 107 structures but is 50% contained. Recent humidity and rain have dampened the fire’s appetite. A new wildfire in Arizona 24 miles south of Litchfield spread rapidly across 15,000 acres Sunday and is only 20% contained. Meanwhile, the Honey Prairie wildfire in Georgia has burned 295,415 acres but is 80% contained and has destroyed only one structure.

Weather

A heat wave is building and could reach dangerous levels in parts of the Midwest, the Plains and the Southeast this week. Fifteen states are under heat advisories, which means temperatures are expected to exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Kansas City and St. Louis in Missouri are under an excessive heat warning, along with Tulsa, Oklahoma; Memphis, Tennessee; and Evansville, Indiana. In these areas, the heat index, or how hot the body feels due to the combined effects of heat and humidity, will reach between 110 and 115 degrees this week. Wichita, Kansas, hit 111 degrees Sunday. Also on Sunday, the temperature in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri, hit 106 degrees, and in Springfield, Missouri, it topped 102 degrees.

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Atheists: Texas Prayer Day Harmful

A group of atheists and agnostics filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday seeking to stop an evangelical Christian prayer event next month that was proposed by Texas’ governor. The Freedom from Religion Foundation argues in its lawsuit filed in Houston that Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting would violate the constitutional ban on the government endorsing a religion. The event, which is called The Response and is billed as Christian-only, is scheduled for Aug. 6 at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. The complaint alleges Perry violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause by organizing, promoting and participating in the event. The group, which unsuccessfully sued to stop a national day of prayer earlier this year, filed the case on behalf of 700 members in Texas.

Calif. Gov. Signs Law to Teach Gay History

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill making California the first state in the nation to add lessons about gays and lesbians to social studies classes in public schools. Brown, a Democrat, signed the landmark bill requiring public schools to include the contributions of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in social studies curriculum. The Democratic-majority Legislature had passed the bill last week on a largely party-line vote. The bill has drawn criticism from some churches and conservative groups that argue such instruction would expose students to a subject that some parents find objectionable. Some raised concerns that it would indoctrinate children to accept homosexuality.

  • This bill is actually reverse discrimination singling out one group for special attention. So now we need legislation to ensure that heterosexual achievements are also specifically recognized. And what about handicapped people, short people……..?

Judge Halts Implementation of Anti-Life Law in NYC

A federal judge responded to a lawsuit by the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) and stopped an anti-life law from going into effect by issuing a preliminary injunction Wednesday. This is a major victory for life and for our free speech rights. This new law would have effectively shut down pro-life pregnancy centers in New York City – a law that abortion advocates are using as a model for effectively shutting down pro-life pregnancy centers across the country. The law would have required pro-life pregnancy centers to either express views about abortion that go against the very fiber of what these organizations believe or face government fines and lawsuits that would have shut these life-saving centers down.

Federal Court Rules in Favor of Yuma Church

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of religious liberty for an Arizona church today. In 2007, the city of Yuma had unlawfully denied the church a permit to use its building for worship. Attorneys for Center for Arizona Policy and the Alliance Defense Fund worked together to defend the church’s rights in court. In this case, the church purchased a building in downtown Yuma in 2007, but the city denied its permit saying that a church did not “fit in” with the city’s plans for the area. The church filed a lawsuit based on the Constitution and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), both of which prohibit the government from discriminating against religious organizations. A lower court ruled against the church, but Tuesday the Ninth Circuit reversed that decision.

Report Reveals Gaping Holes in Intelligence on Overseas Terrorists

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concludes that gaping holes remain in databases of overseas terrorists as well as in passport security. According to a year-long investigation by the GAO that included travel to Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand, many countries have yet to address the chronic problem of fake documents, such as birth certificates, which are a gateway to a genuine passport. Passport security is described as weak with many countries using no security features, such as biometrics, to prevent fraud. “Some countries do not have their own database systems with terrorist screening information or access to other countries’ terrorist screening information to keep track of biographical and biometric information about individuals who are known or suspected terrorists. Even when countries have terrorist screening information, they may not have reciprocal relationships to share such information or other travel-related information such as airline passenger lists, with other countries, thereby limiting their ability to identify and prevent travel of known or suspected terrorists,” the report states.

Changes Needed at U.S. Nuclear Plants

An expert task force convened by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called Japan’s nuclear disaster “unacceptable” and concluded that nuclear power plants in the U.S. need better protections for rare, catastrophic events. In a news release issued late Tuesday, the NRC said that the 12 steps recommended in the report would “increase safety and redefine what level of protection to public health is regarded as adequate.” The task force says that there is no imminent risk to public health and the environment from operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. But its members admit that the current patchwork of regulations is not given equal consideration or treatment by power plant operators or by the NRC, during its technical reviews and inspections.

Feds Target Sales of Semi-Auto Rifles on Mexico Border

Hoping to reduce the flow of high-powered weapons into Mexico, the Justice Department today said it would require gun shops in four border states to provide data on frequent buyers of certain semi-automatic rifles. The reporting requirement covers Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas and pertains to “multiple sales” over five days of semi-automatic rifles larger than .22 caliber that accept removable ammunition magazines. The weapons are highly sought after by dangerous drug trafficking organizations and are frequently recovered at violent crime scenes near the Southwest Border.

Cities Move Toward Transgender Health Care

Ten years after San Francisco became the first local government in the nation to offer transgender health care benefits for their employees, other public employers are beginning to follow suit. Last month, city commissioners in Portland, Ore., voted unanimously to offer employees insurance covering gender reassignment surgery. Berkeley, Calif., officials are working with the city’s providers to offer transgender health care. Similar discussions are underway in Seattle and Fort Worth. In 2008, the American Medical Association passed a resolution supporting public and private health insurance coverage for treatment of gender identity disorder as recommended by a physician, but most public-employee insurance plans still exclude that coverage. Opponents say they don’t believe the care is medically necessary,

Jesus’ Baptism Site Now Open Daily

Israel opened the traditional baptism site of Jesus to daily visits Tuesday, a move that required the cooperation of Israel’s military and the removal of nearby mines in the West Bank along the border with Jordan. The location, where many believe John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River, is one of Christianity’s most important sites. Until now, it was opened several times a year in coordination with the Israeli military, but because of its sensitive location, it had not been regularly open to the public since Israel captured the site from Jordan, along with the rest of the West Bank, in the 1967 Mideast war. Today, the baptism site sits among old minefields and near an Israeli military post in the Jordan Valley, where the famous river described in the Bible appears from afar as a dusty green gash of vegetation across a desert moonscape. Israel hopes the opening of the site will help draw Christian tourists, who have been coming to Israel in growing numbers in recent years. Of the 3.45 million tourists who arrived last year, about 69 percent were Christian, and 38 percent defined their visit as a religious pilgrimage.

Crime Risk High Near Airports & Train Stations

The risk of becoming a crime victim is four times greater than the national average in areas outside most of the nation’s big city airports, a new study by a crime-forecasting company reveals. The exclusive study, done for USA TODAY by CAP Index, of Exton, Pa., shows that the likelihood of a crime exceeds the national average outside 28 of 29 airports in the most populous metropolitan regions of the country and all 26 central train stations studied. Thefts, assaults and robberies are the most common crimes. Airports and train stations may feel safe to travelers because of a greater presence of police and security people. However, travelers should be careful not to carry a false sense of security outside with them, criminologists warn. The area outside Philadelphia International Airport has the greatest crime risk of any area outside an airport in the 25 most populous metropolitan regions

Obama Threatens Social Security in Debt Ceiling Gamble

President Barack Obama raised the stakes in the third straight day of budget talks Tuesday by warning that senior citizens and veterans may suffer first if the debt ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2. The comments came as top Republicans toughened their stance in the deficit reduction talks. As politicians sparred, U.S. business leaders pressed Obama and congressional leaders to act swiftly to raise the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling or risk derailing a sputtering economic recovery and endangering the global financial system. Obama said in an interview with CBS that checks to recipients of the Social Security retirement program may not go out in early August if he and congressional leaders do not agree on a debt deal.

McConnell Pitches Balanced Budget Amendment

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said today he wants “to change the conversation altogether” on the debt ceiling debate — a goal he has already accomplished with his complex legislative proposal that would force President Obama to raise the debt ceiling on his own, should current negotiations fail. But with conservative Republicans such as Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., taking shots at McConnell’s proposal — “Republicans weren’t elected last November to make it easier to spend and borrow and add to our debt” — the GOP leader went to the floor Wednesday to throw an old idea into the mix. A balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution — an idea the White House has already rejected.

Minnesota Shutdown Deal Reached

Minnesota’s Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders announced a deal to end the two-week government shutdown. Speaking after a three-hour meeting with GOP leaders, Gov. Mark Dayton said the shutdown would end “within days.” House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said they had the votes to approve the deal. As the longest government shutdown in Minnesota history reaches its 14th day Thursday, an ever-increasing number of state employees, businesses and non-profits were feeling the consequences of the stalemate over how to solve the state’s $5 billion deficit. The shutdown resulted from an impasse between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders over how to erase the deficit. Trash is piling up, supplies are running low, businesses are shutting down and even non-profit organizations are cutting back as crucial government services remained shuttered.

Economic News

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits dropped 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 405,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, the lowest level in almost three months. The government said the total was increased by 11,500 state workers from Minnesota, who have filed applications because of that state’s government shutdown. Even with last week’s decline in new claims for jobless benefits, applications have now topped 400,000 for 14 weeks, evidence that the job market has weakened since earlier this year.

Even though the unemployment rate is technically 9.2%, the employment-population ratio fell to 58.2%. Translation: at the moment, only 58.2% of American adults are employed according to a study published in The Atlantic.. Prior to the recent recession, the ratio was above 63%. Normally, the employment-population ratio moves in opposition to the unemployment rate, but not this year. This phenomenon suggests that more discouraged or otherwise marginally attached workers have temporarily exited the workforce. Unhappy message: the unemployment rate likely understates the problem

Retail sales rose a modest 0.1% last month. That follows a 0.1% decrease in May, the first time in 11 months that sales fell. The Labor Department said Friday that the Consumer Price Index fell 0.2% because of the decline in gasoline prices. After excluding volatile food and gas costs, core prices rose 0.3%.

Corn supplies are projected to be higher than expected this fall. A bigger crop would ease concerns of a grain shortage and could slow food inflation later this year. Higher corn prices led farmers to plant the second biggest corn crop this year since World War II.

Spot gold hit a record high above $1,589 on Thursday, buoyed by a sharp drop in the dollar after Moody’s warned the U.S. may lose its top credit rating, the possibility of more Federal Reserve stimulus and Europe’s deepening debt crisis.

The U.S. trade deficit surged in May to the highest level in more than two and a half years, driven upward by a big increase in oil imports. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that the deficit increased 15.1% to $50.2 billion in May. Exports declined 0.5% to $174.9 billion. Imports rose 2.6% to $225.1 billion.

The deficit with China jumped to $25 billion, the largest monthly gap since November. The deficit with Japan fell 26.4% to $2.6 billion. Japanese imports shrank further because of supply-chain disruptions caused by the March earthquake and tsunami.

China’s rapid economic growth slowed in the latest quarter to a still robust 9.5%, easing fears of an abrupt slowdown and giving Beijing room to tighten controls to fight surging inflation.

Moody’s Investors Service says it has downgraded Ireland’s government bond ratings to junk because of a growing risk the highly indebted country will need a second bailout.

Middle East

On July 11, President Barack Obama invited the other members of the Quartet—Russia, the UN, and the EU—as well as representatives from China and the Arab League, to the White House for a summit on Israel. Following the meetings, a dinner was held for the participants. Did you hear a word about it in the media? Why not? The White House had imposed a media ban on the event to avoid questions about why Israel was not included in the talks about its future.

Masked gunmen blew up a terminal of the Egyptian natural gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan in a predawn attack Tuesday. The terminal is located in the city of El-Arish in the northern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the Israeli border. The attackers ordered the guards on duty to leave and then blew up the terminal, starting a huge fire that sent flames shooting into the air that lit up the night sky. It was the second attack on the pipeline in as many weeks and the fourth since an uprising toppled President Hosni Mubarak’s regime on Feb. 11. Islamists opposed to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel are been suspected.

The Iranian backed Shi’ite terror militia Hizbullah, which effectively governs Lebanon, gave a stark warning to Israel this week that it will protect Lebanese territorial waters against “Israeli threats.” The warning is the latest move in the ongoing drama between Lebanon and Israel over drilling rights to massive natural gas deposits recently discovered in the western Mediterranean. Israel and Lebanon never established an internationally recognized maritime border because it would involve Lebanon’s de facto recognition of the Jewish State, but until recently neither side thought the matter to be urgent. Israel recently concluded an agreement with Cyprus which marks the border where Lebanon’s border with Cyprus also is, but Hizbullah has rejected this and wants the border it agrees to with Israel (including drilling rights) to extend further south.

India

There are no immediate suspects in the triple bombing that killed 21 people and wounded 141 in India’s financial capital and the attack came without warning, the country’s top security official said Thursday, while shell-shocked residents lambasted the government for the apparent intelligence breakdown. The bombings, which shook three separate neighborhoods within minutes of each other during Wednesday’s busy evening rush hour, were the country’s worst terror strike since the siege of Mumbai that killed 166 people 31 months ago. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing and Indian officials have so far refused to speculate on who might be behind the attack.

Egypt

Egypt’s security chief fired nearly 700 police officers in a step to cleanse the much-hated force, the latest concession military rulers have made under pressure from protesters holding a sit-in in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the past six days. Widespread abuses by the police under the former regime were a key reason behind the protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February. But the ruling military council that took over from him has been slow to hold ex-regime officials and police accountable for killing nearly 900 protesters during the uprising and other crimes.

Libya

The United States has formally recognized Libyan rebels as the country’s legitimate government. The U.S. decision was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the fourth Libya Contact Group Meeting in Istanbul where more than 30 countries declared the regime of Moammar Gadhafi as no longer legitimate. Diplomatic recognition of the Transitional National Council means that the U.S. will be able to fund the opposition with some of the more than $30 billion in Gadhafi-regime assets that are frozen in American banks.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is facing dramatic shortages of fuel for his soldiers and citizens in Tripoli, and he is running out of cash to pay his forces and what is left of his government, according to the latest U.S. intelligence reports. In France, the foreign minister reported that Gadhafi is prepared to leave power. U.S. intelligence estimates that fuel shortages could occur within as little time as one month. The cash shortage follows Turkey’s move last week to seize hundreds of millions of dollars held in the Arab Turkish Bank. While the Libyan strongman could not access actual cash, he had been issuing letters of credit to pay his debtors.

Syria

Syrian security forces fired on protesters in the capital and several other major cities Friday as tens of thousands gathered for some of the largest anti-government rallies since the uprising began more than four months ago. The protests stretched from the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs to Hasakeh province in the north and Daraa in the south. Thousands converged on the flashpoint cities of Homs and Hama in central Syria, among other areas across the nation of 22 million. Western nations are expressing worries about an international atomic energy agency report that says Syria has violated its nuclear non-proliferation obligations. The IAEA says Syria has refused to cooperate with an investigation of its alleged secret nuclear activities.

Hundreds of Syrian government supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Damascus Monday, smashing windows and spray-painting walls with obscenities and graffiti. Guards at the French Embassy fired in the air to ward off another group of protesters. The sharp escalation in tensions followed a visit last week by the American and French ambassadors to the city of Hama, a stronghold of opposition to authoritarian President Bashar Assad. Syrian authorities were angered by the visit and American Ambassador Robert Ford’s harsh criticism afterward of the government crackdown on a four-month-old uprising. Ford’s residence was also attacked on Monday.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber concealing explosives in his turban blew himself up inside a mosque in southern Afghanistan on Thursday during a memorial service for the president’s assassinated half brother. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s powerful half brother, a lightning rod for criticism of all that is wrong with the Afghan government, was assassinated by a bodyguard Tuesday at his home in the southern province of Kandahar. Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was head of the Kandahar provincial council, had become a political liability for the Karzai government after a series of allegations, including that he was on the CIA payroll and involved in drug trafficking. He denied the charges, and the president repeatedly defended him, denouncing accusations that his brother was involved in criminal activities in the restive south. The assassination highlights the vulnerability of the government as U.S. forces begin to withdraw and turn over more responsibility to the Afghans,

Iran

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iran has completed work on the Fordow bunker complex, built inside a mountain near the Shi’ite holy city of Qom, and is preparing to install centrifuges for higher-grade uranium enrichment there. The, would allow the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium at three times the rate of its current facility located at Natanz. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano retorted that Iran has not made any effort to meet its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Volcanoes

A volcano in central Indonesia spit lava and smoke high into the air early Friday, sending thousands of panicked residents racing down its fiery slopes. One woman died of a heart attack as she fled, but no other casualties were reported. Mount Lokon, located in northern Sulawesi province, unleashed its first powerful eruption at 10:46 p.m. Thursday, Nearly 1,000 residents have fled two villages near the Mount Lukon volcano that has been erupting this week and has a history of violent explosions. Mount Lokon has been at the highest alert level since Sunday and has had small eruptions daily. People were urged to stay up to 2.2 miles away from the 5,741-foot volcano. The mountain in north Sulawesi province is one of about 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia.

Weather

More than 1,000 airline passengers — including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — were forced to spend the night at Denver International Thursday night after a severe storm forced numerous flight cancellations. The storm brought a 15-minute period of golf-ball-sized hail, which damaged some aircraft at the airport. Some of the damaged planes had to be taken out of service, which complicated efforts to accommodate disrupted passengers.

A 15-year-old girl is dead after heavy rains caused a huge sink hole to open on a northeastern Utah highway, swallowing one vehicle and causing her father’s SUV to careen off the road. At about the same time, a second car actually went into the 40-foot-wide, 30-foot-deep hole. The accidents near Tabiona, about 90 miles east of Salt Lake City, came after a heavy storm quickly overflowed a clogged culvert and washed out the two-lane state road

Blistering midsummer heat seared much of the southern, central and eastern USA on Tuesday as temperatures soared above 100 degrees in cities from Kansas to South Carolina. Nearly half of the USA’s population — 150 million people — was affected by the heat Tuesday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Oklahoma City suffered through 13 straight days of 100-degree-or-above heat before ending the streak on Tuesday. (Tuesday’s high was “only” 97.) Dallas has had 100-degree temperatures for 11 days in a row, including Tuesday. Heat is forecast to be an ongoing story right through next week.

East Africa’s drought is battering Somali children, hundreds of whom have been left for dead on the long, dry journey to the world’s largest refugee camp. On Thursday, UNICEF called the Somali drought and resulting refugee crisis “the most severe humanitarian emergency in the world.” Thousands of Somalis are walking days and sometimes weeks to reach the refugee complex in hopes of finding food. The journey is claiming scores of children as victims. At Kenya’s Dadaab camps, more than 380,000 people have crammed into a camp built for 90,000. More than 1,000 people are arriving here every day in search of help.

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