Military Chaplains Nix Same-Sex Ceremonies

Several thousand evangelical Christian chaplains in the military will have no part of performing same-sex marriage ceremonies, despite the Pentagon’s mandate to do so. That’s according to an announcement Wednesday from the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, whose members are various Christian church denominations or groups that “endorse” chaplains for the United States military. Chaplains must have those endorsers, or outside groups that affirm that the individual chaplain is qualified for the leadership post as chaplain in the military. The organization’s statement today came in response to last week’s announcement by the Department of Defense that chaplains now can participate in same-sex ceremonies and will be allowed to use federal facilities for such purposes. “While the memorandum acknowledges a chaplain’s right to not participate in same-sex ‘marriage’ ceremonies, the new policy makes it clear that the Pentagon has placed the military in the midst of a deeply controversial issue during a time of ongoing war,” the organization said. Spokesman Dr. Ron Crews, the executive director of the alliance, explained, “By dishonestly sanctioning the use of federal facilities for ‘marriage counterfeits’ that federal law and the vast majority of Americans have rejected, the Pentagon has launched a direct assault on the fundamental unit of society – husband and wife.”

Christian Persecution

Nigerian Muslim extremists killed five Christians in the state of Niger and three Christians in the state of Kaduna last week, including a 13-year-old girl, Compass Direct News reports. In Niger, militant Muslims went to shops owned by Christians at a market, ordering them to recite verses from the Quran. If the Christians were unable to recite the verses, the gunmen shot and killed them. In Kaduna, about 15 Muslims armed with guns and machetes attacked a Christian community around midnight and stormed three houses, killing three and wounding eight.

In the state of South Kordofan, failure by the Sudanese Armed Forces and allied Islamic militia to distinguish between combatants and civilians in territorial battles is in part because of a desire to rid the area of Christianity, Compass Direct News reports. One Christian called it a “planned persecution by the Islamic government,” and many who have fled the area report Christians being killed and church buildings being burned. A man who was detained for being a Christian but later escaped on the day he was scheduled to be put to death said he watched six other Christian detainees be taken away for execution. He said SAF intelligence agents told the Christians, “This land is an Islamic land, and [Christians] are not allowed to be [here].”

A recent report from the small African country of Eritrea indicates that thousands of Christians have been arrested for practicing their faith, according to OneNewsNow.com. Many Christians have been tortured, some to the point of death, and others have been imprisoned in shipping containers in hot weather with little ventilation, unsanitary conditions and limited food and water. Religious freedom is extremely restricted in Eritrea, said International Christian Concern spokesman Jonathan Racho, and the U.S. State Department has labeled it one of the worst countries in the world for persecution.

A mob of several thousand Muslims demolished and torched a church in Cairo that was under renovation, ASSIST News Service reports. After wrecking the dome, walls and columns of St. George’s church, the mob went to the church depot and set fire to lumber that was being stored for future construction. Eyewitnesses say the mob also burned a large depot of electrical goods owned by a Coptic Christian, a supermarket and four Christian homes while security forces “stood there watching.”

A 14-year-old Coptic Christian girl in Egypt has been banned from entering her school for eight days because she refused to wear a Muslim headdress, ASSIST News Service reports. Ferial Habib’s father protested the decision, but the school filed a police complaint against him on charges of libel and defamation because the administration had previously sent a warning to Christian students telling them they would be refused entry if they didn’t cover their hair.

The Christian Post reports that a high-school student in Vacaville, Calif., was punished by a teacher who claimed the student disrupted the classroom with the words “Bless you.” Health teacher Steve Cuckovich took 25 points off the student’s grade and explained: “When you sneezed in the old days, they thought you were dispelling evil spirits out of your body, so they were saying ‘God bless you.’ … But today, [the blessing] really doesn’t make sense.” Following outrage from some parents, the school principal agreed that Cuckovich went overboard.

Wall Street Protests Spread Across U.S.

A budding protest movement began last month in New York with a vague sense of grievance over the widening gap between the rich and poor in America. But in less than three full weeks, it has provided fuel for a broader national anti-corporate message, drawing inspiration from the Arab Spring but struggling to define its goals beyond a general feeling that power needs to be restored to ordinary people. Now similar protests are springing up in Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., and Chicago, and organizers in Washington, D.C., plan a march at Freedom Plaza on Thursday to “denounce the systems and institutions that support endless war and unrestrained corporate greed.” Despite having no single leader and no organized agenda, the protesters insist they are on the verge of translating their broad expression of grievance into a durable national cause.

Protests on Wall Street turned violent Wednesday when police clashed with demonstrators marching through Lower Manhattan in the largest show of strength yet for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Police said late Wednesday that 28 people were arrested during the march, mostly for disorderly conduct. Unions gave a high-profile boost to the long-running protest against Wall Street and economic inequality Wednesday, with their members joining thousands of protesters in a lower Manhattan march. Across the country, students at several colleges walked out of classes in solidarity. “The middle class is taking the burden but the wealthiest of our state and country are not,” said Sterling W. Roberson, vice president for the United Federation of Teachers. Numerous signs bore slogans including “Tax Wall Street” and “Make Jobs Not Cuts.”

Greece Paralyzed by 24-Hour Strike

A nationwide strike by Greek civil servants to protest ever steeper austerity measures paralyzed the country Wednesday, bringing transport to a halt and grounding all flights. Teachers and lawyers joined the work stoppage and even hospitals were running only on emergency staff. The New York Times reported that the countries two main unions and the Communist party held separate rallies in Athens. Dozens of masked youths, some wearing gas masks, threw chunks of stone at police guarding Parliament, at Athens University and outside luxury hotels on the fringes of the capital’s central Constitution Square. Civil servants are protesting plans to suspend about 30,000 staff on partial pay, part of new cutbacks that come on top of salary and pension cuts. Greece has also seen repeated waves of tax hikes over the past year and a half.

  • As end-time financial distress widens and deepens, protests will also increase and spread across many nations

1 in 3 Vets See Iraq, Afghan Wars as Wastes

One in three U.S. veterans of the post-9/11 military believes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting. Nearly half of post-9/11 veterans said deployments strained their relationship with their spouses and children. And a majority thinks that, after 10 years of combat, America should be focusing less on foreign affairs and more on its own problems, according to an opinion survey released Wednesday. The findings highlight a dilemma for the Obama administration and Congress as they struggle to shrink the government’s huge budget deficits and reconsider defense priorities while trying to keep public support for remaining involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for the longer term. Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops have died in Iraq and nearly 1,700 in Afghanistan. Combined war costs since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have topped $1 trillion.

Napolitano Defends Deportation Policy

The Obama administration is defending an illegal immigrant deportation policy that is being attacked by both conservatives and liberals. Critics on the right who say it is too soft on illegal immigrants and critics on the left who say it is too harsh. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she expects 2011 to be another record year for deportations. In fiscal 2010, the administration deported nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants, an increase of about 3,000 from the previous year. Both 2010 and 2009 broke records for deportations. The administration has focused its efforts on removing illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, have repeatedly violated immigration laws or are recent border-crossers. The policy does not target illegal immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for years with no history of criminal activity. In 2010, 50 percent of those deported — almost 200,000 people — were convicted criminals, Napolitano said. Sen. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, disputed Napolitano’s analysis. “Seven million illegal immigrants work in the U.S. while 14 million Americans are unemployed. Worksite enforcement activities are down 70 percent, allowing illegal workers to take jobs that should go to American workers.”

Migration to Sun Belt Slows

The steady flow of people moving to the Sun Belt that fueled its head-spinning boom for decades now is sputtering — a blow to the region but a boost for Northern states. It’s another sign of the decline in Americans’ penchant for moving, which has been waning since the 1980s and now stands at its lowest rate since the Great Depression. Net population gains from Americans moving to Arizona, Nevada and Florida from other states have been largely wiped out. At the peak of the boom in 2006, Nevada gained a net of more than 40,000 people. In 2009: a net loss of more than 4,000. Florida went from a handsome net gain from other states to a net loss. This migration slowdown has been a windfall of sorts for states in the North. Massachusetts’ loss of people to other states dwindled from 2006 to 2009. New York’s net loss dropped 58%.

Drug Abusers Exploiting Medicare Benefit

Drug abusers are exploiting Medicare prescription’s benefit to score large quantities of painkillers, and taxpayers have to foot most of the bill, congressional investigators say in a report. About 170,000 Medicare recipients received prescriptions from multiple doctors for 14 frequently abused medications in 2008. The cost of the questionable prescriptions amounted to $148 million in 2008. Overall, taxpayers pay three-fourths of the cost of the Medicare prescription drug program, which covers some 28 million seniors and disabled people for about $55 billion a year. A Medicare recipient in Georgia got prescriptions for 3,655 oxycodone pills — more than a four-year supply of the painkiller — from 58 different prescribers.

Economic News

The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, a sign that the job market remains weak. Weekly applications increased by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 401,000. The modest gain comes after applications plummeted by 33,000 in the previous week. They need to fall below 375,000 to signal sustainable job growth.

The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.94 percent this week, the lowest rate ever. For those who can qualify for the historically low rate, it’s an extraordinary opportunity to buy or refinance.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke bluntly warned Congress on Tuesday of what most of America has sensed for some time: The economic recovery, such as it is, “is close to faltering.” Bernanke reiterated Tuesday that Congress should not cut spending sharply while the economy is weak. Bernanke told the Joint Economic Committee that lawmakers face a delicate challenge: They must avoid deep spending cuts that could impede the recovery. But they must also eventually cut spending more deeply than the $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts being sought by a special committee. Fed policymakers voted to shift $400 billion of the Fed’s investment portfolio from short- to longer-term Treasury securities to try to drive down long-term interest rates.

Consumers may catch a break on the price of gasoline and baked goods and sweets thanks to a sudden tumble in worldwide commodity markets. The price of regular gasoline dropped Tuesday to a national average of $3.41 a gallon. It is down about 15% since peaking in May near $4 a gallon. Crude oil has fallen from more than $100 a barrel just before Memorial Day to less than $76 Tuesday. Flour prices have risen more than 50% this year, according to Jeremy Reichart, vice president of Orchestrate Management, which operates several restaurants and a food market in Des Moines. But they should fall in coming months, as the price of wheat has tumbled 25% since last summer. The price of cocoa is down about 15% from record levels since midsummer.

Haiti

In the 21 months since the devastating 7.1-magnitude earthquake in Haiti, only 20 percent of the rubble has been cleared and 600,000 remain homeless. However, one private charity has forged ahead with recovery plans and completed construction on a new village with almost 500 homes, the Christian Newswire reports. Fully funded by donors and built by Love A Child, Inc., the houses in “Vilage Mirak” (Miracle Village) are constructed from lumber instead of concrete for safety in future earthquakes and built to withstand hurricane-force winds. Each house was given to its family fully furnished with a small garden area to grow fresh produce. The village contains wells, playgrounds and a medical clinic, and Love A Child plans to build a marketplace to help the community become self-sustainable.

Israel

Making clear what is usually kept hidden a key member of the Fatah Central Committee, Abbas Zaki, said in an Al-Jazeera interview that the proposal to force Israel to give up the so-called West Bank, the Bible lands of Judea and Samaria, would bring Israel to its doom. He described the creation of a Palestinian state as simply the first step toward the overall goal of completely eliminating the nation of Israel. The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “All of the talk about a “two state solution” is just window dressing to disguise the fact that one of those “states” doesn’t want peace. The enemies of Israel want nothing less than the utter destruction of Israel…and they are now brave enough to start saying so in public.”

Arsonists torched a mosque in an Arab village in northern Israel Monday, setting off protests by residents who clashed with police. Graffiti sprayed at the site suggested Jewish radicals, suspected in other recent mosque fires, were involved. Copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, were also burned. Relations between Jews and Arabs in the area have been strained since the chief rabbi in the nearby town of Safed urged followers last year not to rent or sell their homes to Arabs. Security was heightened across northern Israel to prevent further disturbances and police met with village leaders in an effort to defuse tensions.

Libya

NATO’s bombing campaign in Libya, now in its seventh month, will continue despite the collapse of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, alliance officials said Thursday. French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said the airstrikes will not cease until all remaining pockets of resistance are suppressed and the new government asks for them to end. Libya’s transitional leaders named a new Cabinet Monday and vowed to step down after the country is secured, a move designed to show the North African nation is moving on even though fighting persists and Moammar Gadhafi remains at large. The announcement was made following weeks of political infighting and delays over the formation of a new government. The new leaders said they would remain in place until the country is secured and liberation is declared, then a new transitional government would be formed within a month.

Syria

Russia and China vetoed a European-backed U.N. Security Council resolution that threatened sanctions against Syria if it didn’t immediately halt its military crackdown against civilians. Its defeat on Tuesday reflects the deep divisions in the U.N.’s most powerful body over how to address the ongoing violence in Syria, which the U.N. estimates has led to more than 2,700 deaths. The European sponsors of the resolution tried to avoid a veto by watering down the language on sanctions three times, to the point where the word “sanctions” was taken out, but they failed. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that his country did not support the Assad regime or the violence but opposed the resolution because it was “based on a philosophy of confrontation,” contained “an ultimatum of sanctions” and was against a peaceful settlement of a crisis.

Somalia

Islamist militants detonated a truck bomb Tuesday in front of the Ministry of Education in Mogadishu, killing at least 70 people, wounding dozens and shattering a relative calm that had prevailed in the Somali capital for weeks. The bomb blew up after the truck came to a halt at a security checkpoint. The al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab immediately claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack. It was the biggest attack in Somalia’s capital since al-Shabab withdrew most of its forces in August amid an offensive by African Union forces.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia today blamed an unnamed “foreign country” for riots in its eastern province that left 14 people injured, including 11 policemen. A statement by the Interior Ministry was clearly aimed at Iran for interfering in Saudi affairs by allegedly stirring up Shiites in Al-Qatif province, where most of the country’s 2 million Shiites live. The Sunni-ruled kingdom’s Interior Ministry said security forces “managed to deal with those traitors on the spot” but that machine gun fire then erupted from a nearby neighborhood after the crowds had been dispersed.

Yemen

A U.S. drone strike killed five al-Qaeda-linked militants in southern Yemen on Wednesday. The dawn strike targeted militant hideouts in the al-Arqoub area east of Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province. Islamic radicals seized control of Zinjibar in May, taking advantage of a wider uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh to establish a militant-ruled enclave. Government forces and mutinous military units who oppose each other but consider al-Qaeda the greater enemy have fought their way back into the city, but continue to suffer casualties to militant attacks.

Pakistan

Suspected Sunni extremists executed 12 Shiite Muslims after ordering them off a bus and lining them up in southwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, ramping up a campaign of sectarian violence gripping the region. Sunni militants with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban have carried out scores of bombings and shootings across the country against minority Shiites in recent years, but the past couple weeks in Baluchistan province have been particularly bloody.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership with India on Tuesday, a move likely to enrage neighboring Pakistan at a time when its relations with the Afghans and the West are sharply strained over alleged links of its spy agency to militants blamed for high-profile attacks across the border. The Pakistanis consider India their chief adversary in the region, and the two countries have fought three major wars since the two were carved out of British India in 1947. The strategic pact is Afghanistan’s first with any country, and its timing sparked speculation of a shift in regional alignments after Afghan President Hamid Karzai chastised Pakistan for failing to act against Taliban-led insurgents based in Pakistan.

Iraq

Gunmen disguised as police officers seized control of a police station in western Iraq Monday morning, killing four people and taking dozens of hostages before Iraqi forces swept in and ended the standoff. Four insurgents wearing explosives vests underneath police uniforms and armed with grenades and pistols with silencers walked into the police compound in al-Baghdadi. The three-hour hostage crisis, as well as another attack nearby on a police officer’s house, demonstrated the vulnerability of the Iraqi security forces at a time when American troops are swiftly drawing down their presence after more than eight years of war. The Obama administration has put Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri. the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq on a terrorism blacklist and is offering a $10 million reward for information on his whereabouts.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.2 earthquake has hit northwestern Argentina Thursday, but there are no immediate reports of damage or injury. The U.S. Geological survey says the quake hit at 8:12 a.m. and was centered in the Jujuy region, about 87 miles east-northeast of Salta.

Washington National Cathedral announced Tuesday that it will need “tens of millions of dollars” over “numerous years” to repair extensive damage to the USA’s second-largest church from the Aug. 23 earthquake. The cathedral, an Episcopal church that advertises itself as “a spiritual home for all,” has been the setting for presidential funerals and other major events, including a Sept. 11 interfaith memorial broadcast nationwide. An estimated 35,000 worshipers and visitors arrive there every month. The cathedral is exceeded in size in the USA only by St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. In the earthquake, the central tower, the highest elevated point in Washington, sustained damage on three of its four corner spires, and three capstones fell off. There are cracks on some of the upper floors and in some of the flying buttresses. A crane used to set repair scaffolding fell Sept. 7, damaging the two other buildings in the complex.

Wildfires

Precipitation over northern Nevada quenched the numerous wildfires, with most now over 90% contained. Eleven structures were destroyed as the wildfires burned over 216,000 acres, about 338 square miles.

Weather

An early fall storm snarled California roadways early Wednesday with gusty winds and heavy snow in the mountains. The storm was expected to dump up to a foot of snow at elevations above 7,000 feet and 6 inches as low as the 5,000-foot level. “It’s unusual for fall. This is more typical of a winter storm,” said Steve Anderson, a meteorologist for the weather service in Monterey.

A blinding dust storm rolled across the Arizona desert Tuesday, causing three pileups involving dozens of vehicles on a major interstate. One man was killed and at least 15 other people were injured. The first two crashes occurred just after noon as a dust storm suddenly covered Interstate 10 near Picacho, about midway between Phoenix and Tucson. Those collisions involved 16 vehicles and led to the fatality. Authorities were unable to transport injured motorists by helicopter because of the heavy dust. A third pileup occurred almost two hours later on I-10 just north of Casa Grande and involved eight vehicles. No one was killed in that collision; two people had serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Of the twelve people being treated at University Medical Center in Tucson. three were listed as critical and the other nine were in serious condition.

The historic drought in Texas is changing the behavior of the stars of one of the state’s natural summer marvels – bats –  raising fears the spectacle next year may be less spectacular. A depleting insect population has forced millions of bats around Texas to emerge before nightfall for food runs, making them more susceptible to natural predators. Some experts have already noticed fewer bats emerging from caves and have seen evidence that more infant bats are showing up dead, hinting at a looming population decline. Mexican free-tailed bats, the most common species in Texas, are targeted by hawks and falcons that dive into the swarm. They’re also hunted by raccoons, owls and snakes that sometimes dangle from the top of the cave entrances, snatching bats as they come out in whirring, corkscrew-like funnels that darkens the sky.

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