Archive for November, 2011

November 30, 2011

Mystery Christmas Tree on I-17 in Arizona

Once upon a time on a Thanksgiving weekend long ago, an unassuming juniper tree on Arizona Interstate 17 became more than just a tree. Under cover of darkness, parties unknown adorned the evergreen with ribbons and ornaments and tinsel so that motorists between Phoenix and Flagstaff might smile and admire its cheery demeanor. As sometimes happens, the secret trimming became a holiday tradition, and it became a subject of Arizona lore. The spectacle was dubbed “Mystery Christmas Tree.” For about three decades, travelers eagerly awaited a glittering diversion in the median near Milepost 254, just north of the Sunset Point rest area. Investigative journalists tried — and failed — to identify the anonymous decorators.

Then the little tree’s life was imperiled. A wildfire burned along the freeway and right up to the trunk, scorching lower boughs and browning some branches. Yet the intrepid juniper survived, and motorists began referring to it by a new name: “Miracle Christmas Tree.” Glenn Brown, fire chief in Mayer, says first responders were mistakenly credited with saving the tree’s life. “It was a higher power than us,” he says. “We did nothing.” But, as of Monday afternoon, the tree remained unadorned for the first time in memory.

Rhode Island Outraged Over “Holiday Tree”

A Rhode Island lawmaker is calling Gov. Lincoln Chafee “Governor Grinch” after he defied lawmakers and decided that the state would have a “holiday tree” instead of a “Christmas tree.” Rep. Doreen Costa sponsored a resolution last January declaring the tree customarily erected in December be referred to as a “Christmas tree and not as a ‘holiday tree’ or other non-traditional terms.” “He is refusing to honor what’s passed in the House of Representatives,” she said. “That’s more concerning than anything else.” So Costa has decided to erect her own Christmas tree – at the State House. And she plans on lighting it on Dec. 6 – the same day Chafee plans to host the official “holiday” tree lighting event. Costa said her yuletide defiance has generated lots of support in the state.

More Than 700 Unborn Saved in 40 Days

More than 700 unborn children were saved from abortion during pro-life group 40 Days for Life’s fall campaign, according to the Baptist Press. The semi-annual campaign, which focuses on peaceful prayer vigils outside abortion clinics, was held this fall at a record 301 sites in the United States and abroad, and 40 Days staff received reports of 732 unborn babies protected from abortion from Sept. 28 to Nov. 6. More than 5,000 unborn children have been saved since the 40 Days effort began in Texas in 2004; the effort went national in 2007.

‘Arab Spring’ Means ‘Christian Winter’ For Millions of Persecuted Christians

Millions of Christians in the Middle East and Africa are enduring what some are calling a “Christian Winter” in the midst of the “Arab Spring,” a movement of political unrest that has given way to Muslim domination and rising hostility against Christians, according to Christian Freedom International (CFI). Secular regimes are being replaced with Islamic states that have instituted sharia (Islamic) law, which is enforced on citizens of all religions. For the small Christian minorities, it has resulted in increased persecution, discrimination, violence and even death. “The Arab Spring is truly a Christian winter for these persecuted people,” said Robert Sweet of CFI, adding that there was a concerning lack of action on the part of Western Christians to assist and speak out for their Middle Eastern counterparts.

L.A., Philadelphia Police Arrest 250 Occupy Protesters

Los Angeles police dressed in riot gear moved in on protesters camped outside City Hall early Wednesday and arrested more than 200 protesters who refused orders to leave. After a long evening of anticipation, police moved swiftly just after midnight in an effort to evict protesters and retake the park surrounding City Hall that for two months has been the campsite of Occupy L.A. demonstrators. It was the same situation in Philadelphia, as riot-suited officers confronted demonstrators, arresting about 50 who refused to clear a street. Aside from a few isolated cases, there appeared to be little resistance on the part of most protesters.

Feds Shut 62% of Medical-Pot Outlets around San Diego

Following through on a crackdown announced last month, federal authorities have shut 62% of medical marijuana dispensaries in and around San Diego and expect to close more in the next two weeks. The Justice Department says that although California permits marijuana use with a doctor’s prescription, the sale and distribution of pot are still illegal under federal law. Last month, the four U.S. attorneys in the state announced the crackdown, which they said was targeted at the “commercial marijuana industry,” particularly operations near schools, parks and athletic fields. They threatened to prosecute landlords and operators and seize their property if they did not shut down in 45 days. 139 of 222 dispensaries in San Diego and Imperial counties had closed by the end of last week. About 9% more are to shut down in the next two weeks.

Rise in PTSD Cases from Two Wars Strains Military Resources

Ten thousand combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder flooded into VA hospitals every three months this year, pushing the number of patients ill from the disorder above 200,000 and straining resources. The increase is more than 5% per quarter, according to data obtained by USA TODAY, and it occurs as the VA struggles to move veterans quickly into therapy. New mental health patients at about a third of VA hospitals wait longer than the department’s goal of 14 days or less to be seen and treated. “Demand for mental health care is only going to continue to grow as thousands more troops return home,” says Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., head of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Medicare to Pay for Obesity Prevention

Medicare announced Tuesday it will pay for screenings and preventive services to help recipients curb obesity and the medical ailments associated with it, primarily heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Thirty-four percent of U.S. adults are obese. Officials expect that percentage to rise to 50% by 2030. The new Medicare benefits will include face-to-face counseling every week for one month, then one counseling appointment every other week for the following five months for people who screen positive for obesity. If the person continues to lose weight, he or she may continue face-to-face counseling every month for six additional months. However, it doesn’t cover treatment provided by dietitians and psychologists.

Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment Sought

Some supporters of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution are turning to a method last used by the founding fathers: A constitutional convention. And they’re already halfway to their goal. At least 17 of the 34 states necessary have petitioned Congress for a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment, including Alabama, Louisiana, North Dakota, Texas and Utah. The Constitution provides two ways to propose amendments: By a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress, or by a convention that has been requested by two-thirds of the states. Either way, three-fourths of the states (now 38) must ratify the amendment. All 27 amendments to the Constitution have gone the congressional route. But repeated attempts to add a balanced budget amendment have failed in Congress — most recently this month, when it fell 23 votes short in the House. The Senate is scheduled to vote before the end of the year.

Plan to Save Euro on Hold

Under pressure to deliver shock treatment to the ailing euro, European finance ministers failed to come up with a plan for European countries to spend within their means. A comprehensive plan is needed before Europe’s central bank and the International Monetary Fund would consider stepping in to stem an escalating threat to the global economy. The ministers delayed action on major financial issues — such as the concept of a closer fiscal union that would guarantee more budgetary discipline — until the heads of state meet next week in Brussels. Tuesday night, finance ministers for the 17 countries that use the euro did hand Greece a promised $10.7 billion rescue loan to fend off its immediate cash crisis. Nevertheless, stock markets in Europe rallied Wednesday on hopes that the Dec. 9 meeting of leaders will finally deliver a plan.

Economic News

The world’s major central banks made it easier Wednesday for banks to get dollars if they need them, a coordinated move to ease the strains on the global financial system. Stock markets rose sharply on the move. The European Central Bank, U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the central banks of Canada, Japan and Switzerland are all taking part in the operation, which is designed to “provide liquidity support to the global financial system.”

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has lowered its credit ratings for many of the world’s largest financial institutions, including the biggest banks in the U.S. Bank of America and its main subsidiaries are among the institutions whose ratings fell at least one notch Tuesday, along with Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Group, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.

American Airlines and American Eagle’s parent company AMR have filed for Chapter 11 reorganization saying it’s in the best interest of the companies and its shareholders. The decision comes as it tries to “achieve a cost and debt structure that is industry competitive and thereby assure its long-term viability and ability to continue delivering a world-class travel experience for its customers.”

Charitable giving is trickling back up as the economy heals, but it could take years to return to pre-recession levels, non-profit leaders say. Giving totaled $291 billion in 2010, according to the 2011 annual report by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. That’s up 3.8% from 2009 and follows two consecutive years of declines. This year shows little change thus far.

The shopping season’s biggest online holiday was more popular than ever yesterday as consumers rushed to the Web for exclusive Cyber Monday deals. Online traffic was up 43% from last year and online sales were up 18% over Cyber Monday 2010.

For people looking to move up the economic ladder, the worst place in the nation to live is Nevada, according to a report released Monday. Nevada scored 21.3 out of 100 on the Opportunity Index, putting the state in last place in the ranking. The ranking is based on criteria in three general categories: Economy, education and community health and civic life. Nevada had the lowest scores in the nation of the percentage of high school students who graduate on time and the number of preschool-aged children enrolled in school. Plus, the report said 11.2 percent of Nevada teenagers are not in school or working.

Mass strikes began across the United Kingdom Wednesday, with up to 2 million public sector workers walking off jobs in schools, hospitals and police stations to protest proposed pension reforms. The strike appeared to be having a limited impact on many public services, the government said, although more than half of the country’s schools were closed.

Middle East

Rockets fired from Lebanon struck northern Israel early Tuesday for the first time in more than two years, drawing a burst of Israeli artillery fire across the tense border. No casualties or major damage were reported. Israeli guns shelled the area where the fire had originated. The Israeli military said it did not expect Tuesday’s incident to touch off a wider conflict with Lebanon. In a statement, however, it said it regarded the attack as “severe” and held the Lebanese government and army responsible for preventing rocket fire at Israel.

Iran

Hard-line Iranian students stormed British diplomatic sites in Tehran on Tuesday, bringing down the Union Jack flag, burning an embassy vehicle and throwing documents from windows in scenes reminiscent of the seizing of the U.S. Embassy compound in 1979. The mob surged past riot police into the British Embassy complex — which they pelted with petrol bombs and stones — two days after Iran’s parliament approved a bill that reduces diplomatic relations with Britain following London’s support of recently upgraded Western sanctions on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program. The act drew a sharp rebuke from London. British Prime Minister David Cameron called it “outrageous and indefensible” and warned the Iranian government will face “serious consequences” for “its unacceptable failure” to protect diplomats in line with international law. Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague said Wednesday that the UK was ordering the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London, and Britain was shutting down its embassy in Tehran.

Pakistan

NATO forces may have been lured into attacking friendly Pakistani border posts in a calculated maneuver by the Taliban, according to preliminary U.S. military reports on the deadliest friendly fire incident with Pakistan since the Afghanistan war began. The NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers over the weekend in an apparent case of mistaken identity. A joint U.S.-Afghan patrol was attacked by the Taliban early Saturday morning. While pursuing the enemy in the poorly marked border area, the patrol seems to have mistaken one of the Pakistan troop outposts for a militant encampment and called in a NATO gunship and attack helicopters to open fire.

A newly built church in a Karachi slum that can seat as many as 5,000 worshipers is a testament to the resilience and hope of Pakistani Christians amid persecution in the violent, Muslim-majority country, the Washington Post reports. The three-story St. Peter’s of Karachi is the largest yet in Pakistan, and was built on the site of a smaller church in an area that is home to around 15,000 Christians. “There were so many people here it was not possible for us to accommodate them on Sundays,” said Father Saleh Diego. New churches built in Pakistan are typically in poor Christian neighborhoods — ghettos of extreme poverty often separated from their Muslim neighbors by high walls — so there is usually no direct opposition to their construction.

Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood said on Wednesday it was leading in the initial count of results from the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary election. The overall outcome will not be known until January. The election is spread over six weeks with different parts of the country voting separately in three phases, each of which may be followed by run-off votes. Under an elaborate system that makes it difficult to predict the outcome, two-thirds of the 498 elected seats go to political parties and the rest to individuals.

Libya

A U.N. report says former Libyan revolutionaries are still holding about 7,000 people, and some reportedly have been subjected to torture and ill treatment. Many of the inmates have no access to due process in the absence of a functioning police force and judiciary. Sub-Saharan Africans, in come cases accused or suspected of being mercenaries who worked with Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, constitute a large number of those held.

Libya’s civil war is over, but the country is full of independent militias who have not been reintegrated into normal life or absorbed into the new national army. Throughout the capital, there are checkpoints manned by brigades of fighters who use trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weapons even though the city was liberated from government forces in August. Libya’s new leaders admit that it will be difficult asserting authority over these brigades.

Tunisia

Tunisian authorities have extended the North African nation’s state of emergency for the rest of the year. Tunisia has faced intermittent bouts of violence and unrest in recent months. Some of the protests have involved hard-line Muslims or youths angry about high unemployment. Interim President Fouad Mebazza signed the decree extending the state of emergency for the fourth time since it was first enacted during street unrest after the fall of Tunisia’s longtime autocratic leader in January. There has also been some spillover from neighboring Libya’s civil war.

Syria

Christian Today reports of growing concerns for the future of Christians in Syria, including the thousands of Iraqi immigrants seeking refuge there. Christians in Syria fear that if Assad falls, the nation will descend into further chaos as Iraq did post-Saddam Hussein — with militant Islamists rising to power and freely wreaking havoc on the Christian community. Many Syrian Christians have stayed away from the anti-Assad protests because of the reasonable amount of religious freedom they enjoyed under his rule. Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabus Fund says, “Syria has been very much a safe haven for Christians in the Middle East, one of the few Arab countries where they were treated with respect and had equality with the Muslim majority. Syria also has a history of welcoming in persecuted Christians from other countries. But I greatly fear that within the near future we will see a new Iraq developing in Syria.” The U.S. State Department has instructed all U.S. citizens to leave Syria “immediately.”

Kosovo

A German NATO officer and a soldier were shot and wounded and about 23 Austrian and German soldiers injured in clashes with Serb protesters in northern Kosovo throughout Monday after the military alliance’s troops used heavy machinery to remove trucks and buses blocking a main road in the tense region. The violence near the town of Zubin Potok, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Pristina comes after months of tensions, following a decision by Kosovan authorities to extend their authority in areas under de-facto Serb rule. For months Serbs have used soil, rock and concrete barriers to block any such moves. NATO has threatened to remove the barriers because they cut off supply to a military base in the north. NATO has ultimate authority over security in Kosovo.

Myanmar

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has begun a historic visit to the long-isolated Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar to test the country’s first civilian government in decades on its commitment to reform, including severing military and nuclear ties with North Korea. Clinton arrived Wednesday in the capital of Naypyidaw on the first trip by a U.S. secretary of state to the nation (formerly known as Burma) in more than 50 years. She is to meet senior Myanmar officials Thursday before heading to the commercial capital of Yangon, where she will see opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is returning to the political scene after years of detention and harassment.

China

China is taking control of the world’s oil supplies. In Iraq, China’s national petroleum company beat out three U.S. oil giants to win long-term rights to develop a huge 17 billion barrel oil field. In Saudi Arabia, China signed so many new contracts that they now get more Saudi oil than America. China also recently bought a Canadian-based company controlling $1 trillion of oil and natural gas reserves in Kazakhstan. In Brazil, China invested $10 billion in oil giant Petrobras, securing 160,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 10 years.

Earthquakes

An earthquake with a magnitude of 6 shook the capital Manila and other areas of the northern Philippines. There are no immediate reports of damages or injuries. Movement in the Manila Trench off the country’s western coast set off the earthquake Wednesday but it occurred deep under the ocean floor and did not cause any destruction.

Weather

World temperatures keep rising, and are heading for a threshold that could lead to irreversible changes of the Earth, the United Nations weather office said Tuesday. 2011 is tied for the 10th-hottest year since records began in 1850, the office said in its annual assessment of average global temperatures. Arctic sea ice has also shrunk to record-low volumes this year, it said. The 13 hottest years on the books all have occurred in the last 15 years.

  • The problem is records only go back 161 years, whereas natural cycles take thousands of years. However, this is a supernatural, end-time cycle.

Fierce winds up to 80 mph are expected to rake some California areas later this week. The National Weather Service says the fall windstorm is expected to begin early Thursday and continue through Friday. Weather service forecasters in Oxnard are calling it a possible 5- to 10-year Santa Ana wind event in the Los Angeles area. Blowing dust and sand could lower visibilities to near zero in some areas.

In unusual topsy-turvy weather pattern brought rare November snow and cold to the southern USA on Monday. The snow, up to 4 inches in some spots, caused travel trouble Tuesday morning in parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Meanwhile, unusual warmth continued Monday along the Eastern Seaboard and into New England. While Starkville, Miss., shivered at 39 degrees, in Portland, Maine, about 1,200 miles to the northeast, the temperature was a balmy 63 degrees. A record-high temperature of 70 degrees was recorded Sunday and Monday at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

  • Record high of 71 degrees at Prescott Airport too

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November 28, 2011

Personhood Amendment Drives Continue

Upon the release of their plans for a 2012 personhood amendment, a third effort is under way in Colorado among pro-lifers who hope to protect the pre-born. Keith Mason heads Personhood USA and told OneNewsNow that the proposed language will be different this time and respond to the “scare tactics” used by Planned Parenthood in previous campaigns, particularly in Mississippi earlier this month. “We’re listing out that this does not affect miscarriages, that this will not ban contraceptives that don’t kill unique human individuals, and things like that,” Mason explains. “It’s a little bit of a deviation from our normal personhood language, but the way the mainstream media picks on the lies of Planned Parenthood, we want to take that away from them.” The bill will protect a child — born or pre-born — no matter what his or her size or age. And personhood proponents are calling on the church to play a major role in gathering signatures.

A pro-family activist in California says a personhood amendment may stand a chance of passage in The Golden State, despite the recent defeat of a similar initiative in Mississippi. Backers of a California initiative that would define a fetus as a human being at the moment of fertilization have gotten the green light to gather signatures, and they have until April 2012 to collect at least 807,000 signatures to earn a place for the measure on the November 2012 state ballot. The effort comes on the heels of a similar measure that failed in Mississippi. California Civil Rights Foundation President Walter Hoye says the success of this amendment will depend greatly on its language. “It’s important to look at how these personhood amendments are written,”

Billboard Owners Refuse Evangelist’s Ads

It’s the ad for a new movie project that three major billboard companies in Southern California have refused – and all it has is words: “180movie.com – award-winning – free viewing – one million views in 22 days.” The ad is about the new work of world-renowned author and evangelist Ray Comfort of the Living Waters ministry, whose documentary, “180: The Movie,” has gone viral with more than 1.5 million views on YouTube over some six weeks. It’s also sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Other billboard companies haven’t actually refused – they just haven’t returned telephone calls seeking a deal, he said. These are the same companies that advertise atheists’ mockery of God and the Bible, and “promote strip clubs and porn conventions,” Comfort reported. Comfort also has handed out some 180,000 DVDs at 100 top U.S. universities to spread the message, and he’s working on plans to give away hundreds of thousands of copies outside of high schools.

Senate Moves To Allow Military To Intern Americans Without Trial

The Senate is set to vote on a bill next week that would define the whole of the United States as a “battlefield” and allow the U.S. Military to arrest American citizens in their own back yard without charge or trial. The Senate is going to vote on whether Congress will give this president—and every future president — the power to order the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians anywhere in the world. The power is so broad that even U.S. citizens could be swept up by the military and the military could be used far from any battlefield, even within the United States itself. Under the ‘worldwide indefinite detention without charge or trial’ provision of S.1867, the National Defense Authorization Act bill, which is set to be up for a vote on the Senate floor Monday, the legislation will “basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who supports the bill.

Are Automatic Budget Cuts Really Automatic?

President Obama has said he will veto any congressional attempts to sidestep $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that will go into effect next year as a result of the Supercommittee’s failure to come up with its own spending cuts. But Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and a member of the supercommittee, says he thinks there is some space to “change the configuration” of cuts that call for slashing $600 billion in defense and $600 billion in Medicare and domestic spending. Toomey said that there was some common ground between Republicans and moderate Democrats to find cuts without raising taxes— a line that the GOP says it will not cross. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that the automatic budget cuts to defense spending are too extreme.

Occupy Protesters Defy Deadlines to Vacate Encampments

Wall Street protesters in Los Angeles defied the mayor’s early Monday deadline to vacate their encampment near City Hall, with about 1,000 flooding into the area as hundreds of tents remained standing as they have for nearly two months. A celebratory atmosphere filled the night with protesters milling about the park and streets by City Hall. Police presence was slight right after the 12:01 a.m. PT Monday deadline, but it began increasing as the morning wore on. At the same time, the number of protesters dwindled. Elsewhere, a deadline set by the city for Occupy Philadelphia to leave the site where it has camped for nearly two months passed Sunday without any arrests.

Invasive Species are Destroying U.S. landscape

America is under siege — not by a foreign power, but by invasive species slowly working their way across the nation, leaving a sometimes-devastated and often-changed landscape in their wake. Just as Dutch elm disease from Asia removed an iconic tree from the American landscape beginning in the 1940s, the emerald ash borer may conquer the ash tree in coming years. West Nile virus from Africa killed 57 Americans last year. And work crews often encounter giant Burmese pythons in South Florida. The latest addition to the list of non-native creepy-crawlies is the hairy crazy ant. The tiny foragers are believed to have come from South America. They are working their way through Florida and the Southeast. The ants can bite, but the biggest danger is that they’re attracted to circuit boxes. The reason isn’t known, but their sheer numbers can create an ant bridge between connections, shorting out entire electrical systems. “When they get into folks’ homes, it’s like a scene out of a horror movie,” says Jim Fredericks of the National Pest Management Association in Fairfax, Va.

Economic News

Retail sales broke records during the Thanksgiving weekend, giving a needed boost to a long-suffering economy and raising retailers’ hopes for the best holiday shopping season ever. This year’s sales were up to $52 billion from $45 billion last year. A record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 212 million last year. The average holiday shopper spent about $400 over the weekend, up from $365 last year.

Warnings that the debt crisis in Europe could cause credit to dry up across the global banking system, endangering the world economy, multiplied on Monday despite fresh efforts by European leaders to prevent the euro monetary union from fracturing. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development cut its forecasts for wealthy Western countries and warned that growth in Europe could come to a standstill. Europe’s politicians have so far moved too slowly to prevent the crisis from spreading, the organization said. The warning came just hours after Moody’s Investors Service issued its own bleak report on Europe’s rapidly escalating sovereign debt crisis. The credit agency warning that the problems may lead multiple countries to default on their debts.

The number of babies born to Hispanics dropped below 1 million in 2010, a nearly 11% drop since 2007 that reflects the tough times. Fewer people of all backgrounds are having babies because of economic concerns but the sharpest drop is among Hispanics, a booming population that contributes almost a quarter of all U.S. births and half of its population growth. Hispanic birth rates tumbled 17.6% in three years — from 97.4 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 to 80.3 last year.

Italy’s borrowing rates skyrocketed during bond auctions Friday, initially battering stock markets in Europe as the continent’s escalating debt crisis laid siege to the eurozone’s third-largest economy. Italy’s new government, under economist Mario Monti, is struggling to convince investors it has a strategy to reduce the nation’s $2.6 trillion worth of debt. Friday’s auction results are also likely to fuel calls for the European Central Bank to use more monetary firepower to cool a rapidly overheating financial crisis.

Middle East

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters on Wednesday that the natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean were being illegally explored by Israel and Cyprus and that Turkey favors a grand agreement in which the resources would be equally shared among all relevant parties, presumably including the non-recognized Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hizbullah. The internationally recognized government of Cyprus in Nicosia has declared that it will not be intimidated by Turkish threats and that exploratory drilling would continue, apart from long stalled reunification with the north.

Egypt

Voting has begun in Egypt’s first parliamentary elections since the ouster nine month ago of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. The vote is a milestone many Egyptians hope will usher in a democratic age after decades of dictatorship. Voters stood in long lines Monday outside some polling centers in Cairo well before they opened at 8 a.m. local time, a rare sign of interest in political participation after decades of apathy. But the ballot has already has been marred by turmoil in the streets, and the population is sharply polarized and confused over the nation’s direction. Nine months after the popular uprising that pushed Mubarak out, protesters are back in the streets. This time, they are demanding that military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his council of generals step down immediately, accused of bungling the transition. Nine days of clashes that have left more than 40 dead have heightened fears of violence at polling stations. More critically, the political crisis has cast doubt on the legitimacy of the vote, which is expected to be dominated by Islamic parties.

Morocco

The victory of an Islamist Party in Morocco’s parliamentary elections appears to be one more sign that religious-based parties are benefiting the most from the new freedoms brought by the Arab Spring. Across the Middle East, parties referencing Islam have made great strides, offering an alternative to corrupt, long serving dictators, who have often ruled with close Western support. The Islamist Justice and Development Party dominated Morocco’s elections, ensuring that King Mohammed VI must pick the next prime minister from its ranks.

Syria

The Arab League has approved sanctions against Syria to pressure the regime to end its deadly eight-month crackdown on dissent. Damascus slammed the move as a betrayal of Arab solidarity. At a news conference in Cairo, Qatar Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 19 of the League’s 22 member nations approved the sanctions, including cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank and halting Arab government funding for projects in Syria. The League’s step was unprecedented against an Arab nation. Syria is facing mounting international pressure to end its violent suppression of protests against President Bashar Assad, which the U.N. says has killed more than 3,500 people since March.

Pakistan

Afghanistan officials claimed Sunday that Afghan and NATO forces were retaliating for gunfire from two Pakistani army bases when they called in airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, adding a layer of complexity to episode that has further strained Pakistan’s ties with the United States. The account challenged Pakistan’s claim that the strikes were unprovoked. The attack Saturday near the Afghan-Pakistani border aroused popular anger in Pakistan and added tension to the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, which has been under pressure since the secret U.S. raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden in May. Pakistan has closed its western border to trucks delivering supplies to coalition troops in Afghanistan, demanded that the U.S. abandon an air base inside Pakistan suspected of using unmanned drones and said it will review its cooperation with the U.S. and NATO.

Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that the nation’s forces will soon take charge of security in areas of the country that are home to half of Afghanistan’s population. The handover, expected to begin by early next year, is the second step in a transition that Karzai hopes will leave Afghan forces in control of the entire country by the end of 2014, when the U.S.-led coalition’s combat mission is scheduled to end. After that date, a much smaller foreign force will remain to continue training Afghan soldiers and police and battle militancy. Western officials and experts have expressed pessimism about the ability of Karzai and his armed forces to assume command of their country. If they fail, the militant Taliban could stage a comeback.

Iraq

A suicide bomber slammed a car packed with explosives into the gate of a prison north of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 19 people.The attacker struck the main gate of al-Hout prison at 8:00 a.m. local time, when many employees and guards were on their way to work. Ten policemen were among the dead and the rest were civilians. The bombing in the town of Taji, about 12 miles north of the capital, is the third major attack in about a week in Iraq, and raises questions about the ability of the nation’s security forces to protect the country after U.S. troops leave in just over a month. A series of blasts struck an area west of Baghdad on Saturday where day laborers gather to find work, as well as a music and clothes market in the capital, killing at least 15 people

Philippines

A powerful blast killed at least 3 people and wounded 27 others in a budget hotel packed with wedding guests in the southern Philippines late Sunday. The explosion, suspected to have been caused by a bomb, ignited a fire that gutted the two-story Atilano Pension House in downtown Zamboanga. The blast was so powerful it caused much of the second floor to collapse, blew off the hotel roof and shattered glass panes and windows from nearby buildings. Zamboanga, a bustling city where U.S. counterterrorism troops are based, has been hit by deadly bombings blamed on al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants in the past..

Congo

Millions of voters in this vast, turbulent and pivotal country in the lush heart of Africa streamed into the polls on Monday and already many are bracing for serious unrest. Balloting was a bit bumpy, with many polling stations opening late, some missing ballots, countless people unable to find their names on the voting lists and loose ballots inexplicably lying around deserted offices. Joseph Kabila, 40, Congo’s president for the past 10 years, is incredibly unpopular in many parts of the country, especially the innumerable slums that dominate Kinshasa, the capital. But all signs point to him trying to hold onto power, at all costs. His soldiers have already killed several opposition supporters, including up to nine this weekend during an election-related fracas. United Nations officials and other election observers say Mr. Kabila’s men are stuffing ballot boxes, intimidating voters and bribing people to vote for the president.

Weather

As prospects for a major global accord on climate change look dim, the most that a United Nations climate summit will achieve this week may be to simply ensure that negotiations continue. Beginning Monday in Durban, South Africa, the 12-day U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change picks up where last year’s meeting in Cancun left off. What eluded negotiators then, and still does today, is a grand bargain in which 194 nations commit to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions that most scientists contend are contributing to a warmer climate.

  • The number of dissenting scientists is increasing while the impact of human causes on natural cycles appear more dubious. Most significantly, if this is an end-time development, there is nothing we can do to avoid the worsening weather conditions prophesied in Ezekiel 38:22, Rev. 16:21)

Murky floodwaters are receding from Bangkok’s inundated outskirts to reveal some scary swamp dwellers who moved in while flooded residents were moving out — including crocodiles and some of the world’s most poisonous snakes. Special teams from the Thai Fishery Department have responded to numerous reports of reptilian menaces. Thailand has long been a center for the breeding, exporting and trafficking of exotic animals, especially crocodiles. This year’s record monsoon rains, which prompted Thailand’s worst flooding in a half century and killed more than 600 people, also swamped some of the country’s estimated 3,000 crocodile farms.

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November 23, 2011

Obama Blames Republican for Supercommittee Failure

The Obama administration is using Congress’ own leverage against it, signaling it will go through with $55 billion a year in defense cuts if Congress can’t find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction before the next election. President Obama said that Republican opposition to higher taxes on the wealthy led to the collapse of the congressional “supercommittee” assigned to slow the growth of the nation’s $15 trillion debt. Obama urged Congress to keep working at it and sought to pressure lawmakers by saying he would veto any attempt to shut off automatic budget cuts that will take effect in 2013 if Congress is unable to agree on a deficit reduction plan. Obama spoke shortly after the leaders of the supercommittee said they have been unable to agree on a debt plan, an announcement that drew finger-pointing from both parties. The key differences: Democrats wanted to protect Medicare and Social Security from too large a reduction, while Republicans wanted to avoid what could be a major tax increase on the wealthy at the end of 2012.

  • If things aren’t done Obama’s way, he calls it a failure to compromise. It’s no longer partisan politics at fault here but rather an inability of both sides to grasp that draconian measures are needed since we’re now toppling over the tipping point. Worries about getting re-elected are what’s preventing action.

Next Congressional Battle: Payroll Taxes

With the super committee’s failure, lawmakers are now facing a year-end legislative challenge that could have an outsized impact on the economy. At issue: Whether to extend the payroll tax holiday, or let it expire. Employees normally pay 6.2% on the first $106,800 of their wages into Social Security, but this year they’ve only been paying 4.2%. That tax break, however, is set to expire January 1. Failing to extend it would amount to raising taxes during a rough economic patch — something that President Obama would like to avoid. A full 121 million families have benefited from the tax break, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The increase in take home pay was $934 for the average worker.

Obama, GOP Also Prepare to Battle over Bush Tax Cuts

With the debt supercommittee unable to reach agreement on cutting the federal debt, a more familiar issue will suddenly resurface: the George W. Bush tax cuts. Democrats say Republicans’ refusal to end the Bush tax rates for the nation’s wealthiest Americans is blocking an agreement to help cut the nation’s $15 trillion debt. Republicans say the Democrats refuse to end their support for higher taxes, which the GOP says will cost jobs. Obama has long advocated ending the Bush-era rates for individuals who make more than $200,000 a year and couples who make more than $250,000 annually. Rather than face expiration, and a resulting tax increase for all Americas, Obama and the GOP agreed to a two-year extension — to end right after the 2012 elections. Now they will become the center of election-year politics.

Obama & Congress Do Agree on Veterans

After years of arguing over spending and the federal debt, President Obama and Republican foes came together today on new plans to help veterans find jobs. As lawmakers from both parties watched, Obama signed a bill that provides tax credits to businesses that hire veterans; the new law also increases job training and counseling programs for veterans. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised the bipartisan nature of the bill, saying it “shows that by focusing on areas of agreement — rather than partisan stimulus bills — we can pass legislation to help foster job growth.”

  • This small area of compromise is being touted out of proportion with the deeper problems facing Congress

Illegal Immigrants Caused 30 Wildfires

People crossing the southeastern Arizona dessert caused at least 30 wildfires in a five year period, found the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. The U.S. Government Accountability Office report was released by Arizona Senator John McCain’s office Tuesday, and came at the request of the senator and fellow Republican Senators. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jon Kyl of Arizona in July 2010. McCain said earlier this year that fires are sometimes caused by illegal border crossers. The statements quickly drew criticism from activists who jumped on him for “scapegoating.” “I hope this report is a lesson to the activists and public officials that would prefer to engage in partisan character attacks rather than focus the discussion on the vital need to secure our southern border,” McCain said Tuesday.

Occupy Protesters Decry Obama’s ‘Silence’ on Arrests

Followers of the Occupy Wall Street movement began yelling at the president today as he began his speech in Manchester, N.H. After the president’s speech, one of the hecklers handed Obama a note criticizing his “silence” over the arrest of “over 4,000 peaceful protestors” at Occupy Wall Street-type movements across the country. “Mr.. President: Over 4000 peaceful protesters have been arrested. While bankers continue to destroy the American economy. You must stop the assault on our 1st amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”

Terror Plot Shows Al-Awlaki’s Influence Lives On

The day before al-Qaeda’s chief propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last month, New York police say terror suspect Jose Pimentel delivered to a confidential informant a flash drive loaded with six articles from Inspire, the terrorist group’s English-language magazine — including one titled “Making a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” After al-Awlaki was killed on Sept. 30, Pimentel’s desire to carry out an attack on U.S. soil was accelerated and he told New York police investigators after his arrest — announced late Sunday — that he was about an hour away from building a bomb, according to the criminal complaint. Authorities had long been aware of Pimentel, according to the complaint. The Muslim convert operated a website that called on fellow Muslims to carry out attacks against the U.S. government, praised top al-Qaeda operatives who had been killed in U.S. operations and posted articles from Inspire magazine on his website.

In a disturbing side note, the Associated Press reports that the FBI twice rejected requests from New York Police Department investigators to join their undercover operation of a plot to bomb police stations and post offices. saying Pimentel was mentally unstable and not capable of carrying out terror attacks

Real ID Act Blocks Some Americans from Driver’s Licenses

Strict federal rules aimed at keeping terrorists off planes are blocking some Americans from renewing their driver’s licenses or getting other state-issued IDs. The consequences can be staggering. Without an ID, people cannot change jobs, drive legally, collect Social Security or Medicare, get through airport security or open a bank account. The Real ID Act, was passed by Congress in 2006 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when terrorists used easily obtained driver’s licenses to carry out their plans. The law says that by 2013, only IDs from states that require applicants to present proof of citizenship or legal residency will be accepted to board an airplane or enter a federal building. In most states that have begun to comply, that proof means a birth certificate or immigration papers. Many American citizens are finding that their records were lost or damaged in natural disasters, birth certificates were never issued or they were issued with errors, and some people were raised under a different name than what’s on the birth certificate. Proving a person’s identity without a valid birth certificate can mean digging up alternate documentation, such as school records, going to court for a name change and sometimes fingerprinting to avoid fraud.

Millennials Changing Meal Concepts

The USA Today reports that every company that makes or serves food in America has had to digest the same reality: We’ve become a nation of really weird eaters. We eat what we want, when we want. No more of this breakfast, lunch and dinner stuff. We snack all day. We casually skip meals. And we want to customize everything we cram into our mouths. It’s as if our social-media habits are going right to our stomachs. A culture hungry to put its personal stamp on everything it touches is driving some foodmakers and restaurant operators bonkers. Nowhere is this trend more palpable than with Millennials. The numbers are mind-boggling. At least 35% of the meals eaten by Millennials aren’t meals at all, but snacks. Only 5% of all consumers eat three square meals a day. Perhaps that’s why 20% of the cookies and apple pies sold by McDonald’s are at breakfast and why Dunkin’ Donuts sells gobs of Chicken Salad sandwiches at 9 a.m.

  • Not only is the economy tanking, but nutrition as well.

Economic News

Despite the stock market’s woes and a slow job recovery, companies’ profits are on a tear. Companies set another record for quarterly earnings in the third quarter, topping the previous record set in the second quarter. The third quarter marked the eighth-consecutive quarter of double-digit percentage earnings growth.

  • Productivity gains and higher prices have yielded record profits while jobs remain stagnant, further fueling the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

The U.S. economy grew more slowly over the summer than the government had earlier estimated because businesses cut back more sharply on restocking of shelves. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that the economy grew at an annual rate of 2% in the July-September quarter, lower than an initial 2.5% estimate made last month.

The government also said after-tax incomes fell by the largest amount in two years, reflecting high unemployment and lower pay raises. After-tax, inflation-adjusted incomes fell at a 2.1% rate. That’s the biggest drop since the third quarter of 2009, just as the recession was ending. It also marked the second straight quarterly decline.

The number of Americans who bought previously occupied homes rose slightly last month but remained at depressed levels. Home sales rose 1.4% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million. That’s below the 6 million that economists say is consistent with a healthy housing market and slightly ahead of last year’s sales.

Between 2000 and 2010, America’s share “as a destination of the long-haul travel market” fell to 12% from 17%. That equals a loss of 467,000 jobs, $606 billion in spending, and $37 billion in tax revenue. The U.S. is missing out on hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs because we make it difficult for foreigners to visit. Post-9/11, the government requires an in-person interview with consular officers to obtain a visa. In some cases, applicants must wait 100 days for an interview.

Italy

Few Italians are willing to make personal sacrifices though they believe cutting the country’s public debt is a top priority, according to an AP-GfK poll. A full 93 percent of Italians said reducing the public debt was either an “extremely” or “very important” goal for the government to tackle. Yet, only about a quarter of Italians favor reforming labor laws to make it easier to fire workers, or raising the retirement age — considered critical to curb Italy’s public spending and boost economic growth.

  • While it is convenient to blame the government, corporations or Wall Street, it is ultimately the people who want whatever they can get from the government and are unwilling to sacrifice to ameliorate the resultant debt crisis.

South Korea

South Korea’s ruling party today rammed through parliament a long-stalled free trade deal with the United States in a chaotic parliamentary session that included an opposition lawmaker dousing his rivals with tear gas. The National Assembly passed the measure 151 to 7 in a surprise legislative session called by the ruling Grand National party. Shouts and screams filled the National Assembly as ruling party lawmakers forced their way onto the parliamentary floor. The pact is America’s biggest free-trade agreement since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Opposition lawmakers argued that the agreement favors U.S. over South Korean workers. The U.S. Congress passed the agreement during South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s trip to Washington last month.

Pakistan

A senior Pakistani Taliban commander says the movement has declared a cease-fire and halted attacks around the country in support of nascent peace talks with the government. The Pakistan Taliban are behind much of the violence in Pakistan. The group is believed to be divided, with some factions still committed to war with the state. There have been several insurgent attacks over the last month.

Iran

The Obama administration announced a new round of sanctions against Iran on Monday, just days after the United Nations nuclear watchdog released a report critical of Tehran. The new sanctions are intended to add pressure on Iran’s oil industry and designate Iran as a “primary money-laundering concern.” The sanctions were announced as Britain and Canada also announced their own set of stringent sanctions on Monday in response to the last week’s International Atomic Energy Agency report, which concluded that Tehran continues to work to develop nuclear weapons.

Egypt

Egyptian police clashed with anti-government protesters for a fifth day in central Cairo Wednesday as a rights group raised the overall death toll from the ongoing unrest to 38. The clashes came one day after tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square rejected a promise by Egypt’s military ruler to speed up a presidential election to the first half of next year. The Tahrir crowd, along with protesters in a string of other cities across the nation, want military ruler Hussein Tantawi to step down immediately in favor of an interim civilian council to run the nation’s affairs until elections for a new parliament and president are held. The military-led government began leading the country after protesters ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.

The Egyptian military has been using a banned chemical agent to deal with hundreds of thousands of protesters, according to several news sources. The International Business Times reports that demonstrators have been struck with “dangerous levels of CR gas over the past two days of protests” and Australia’s The Age said Wednesday that the canisters are marked “Made in the USA.” CR gas is an intense and lethal version of CS gas, called “tear gas,” widely used by police for crowd control. Wikipedia notes that CR gas has effects that are “are approximately 6 to 10 times more powerful than those of CS gas.” More than 1,700 protesters have been affected during the past four days in clashes in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Yemen

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh arrived unexpectedly in the Saudi capital Riyadh early Wednesday for the signing of a Gulf-sponsored power transfer deal. Along with representatives who brokered the agreement, European and American envoys were expected to attend the signing. The deal aimed at ending months of political deadlock had been approved both by the opposition and by the president. The plan submitted by the six-nation GCC will effectively bring an end to Saleh’s 33-year rule. The plan offers Saleh and his relatives immunity from prosecution if he hands over power to his deputy, vice president Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

Somalia

Four months after the U.N. declared famine in much of Somalia, some regions are beginning a slow recovery from a disaster that has killed tens of thousands of people. But many Somalis — women, mostly — living in a stick-hut camp in this border town say they won’t return home because they’re afraid of hard-line Islamist militants stalking the country. The U.N. last week reduced the number of famine zones in Somalia from six to three and said the number of people at risk of starvation has dropped from 750,000 to 250,000. Since the July 20 famine declaration, the U.N. has received $800 million in aid for Somalia, and the U.S. has provided $650 million to drought-stricken Horn of Africa nations, including Somalia. Still, the fate of 13 million people affected by East Africa’s worst drought in decades remains in doubt.

Weather

Thanksgiving Day looks balmy for much of the country, but travelers in some parts could face weather delays Wednesday as they’re heading out and over the weekend as they return home. Travel delays could hit New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports, Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International as heavy rain, wind and low clouds are forecast. Coastal rain and mountain snow will continue over the Pacific Northwest.

Forecasters say Hurricane Kenneth has strengthened even more into a Category 4 storm in the eastern Pacific, although there is no current threat to land. It is the strongest late-season hurricane in that area on record. Kenneth has maximum sustained winds near 145 mph. The storm was centered about 750 miles south-southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, but was moving away from the coast.

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November 21, 2011

House Rejects Balanced Budget Amendment

Rejecting the idea Congress can’t control its spending impulses, the House turned back a Republican proposal Friday to amend the Constitution to dam the rising flood of federal red ink. Democrats — and a few GOP lawmakers — said damage from the balanced-budget mandate would outweigh any benefits. The first House vote in 16 years on making federal deficits unconstitutional came as the separate bipartisan “supercommittee” appeared to be sputtering in its attempt to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions to head off major automatic cuts. The lead Republican on that panel said members were “painfully, painfully aware” of its Wednesday deadline for action and would work through the weekend.

Debt Panel Poised to Admit Failure

A special deficit-reduction supercommittee appears likely to admit failure on Monday, unable or unwilling to compromise on a mix of spending cuts and tax increases required to meet its assignment of saving taxpayers at least $1.2 trillion over the coming decade. The panel is sputtering to a close after two months of talks in which the members were never able to get close to bridging a fundamental divide over how much to raise taxes to address a budget deficit that forced the government to borrow 36 cents of every dollar it spent last year. Members of the bipartisan panel, formed during the summer crisis over raising the government’s borrowing limit, spent their time on Sunday in testy performances on television talk shows, blaming each other for the impasse. Not a single panelist seemed optimistic about any last-minute breakthrough. And it was clear that the two sides had never gotten particularly close.

  • A second, deeper recession is coming with Europe collapsing and the U.S. not far behind

Congress May Try Blocking Cuts if Debt Panel Fails

Failure by Congress’ debt-cutting Super Committee to recommend $1.2 trillion in savings by Wednesday is supposed to automatically trigger spending cuts in the same amount to accomplish that job. But the same legislators who concocted that budgetary booby trap just four months ago could end up spending the 2012 election year and beyond battling over defusing it. Senators. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say they are writing legislation to prevent what they say would be devastating cuts to the military. House Republicans are exploring a similar move. Democrats maintain they won’t let domestic programs be the sole source of savings.

  • The debt committee was always a ruse, designed to buy more time while partisan politics continues to prevent any real progress

Numbers of ‘Near Poor’ Rise Dramatically

Down but not quite out, a diverse group of Americans are called the  “near poor” and sometimes simply ‘overlooked’ — and a new count suggests they are far more numerous than previously understood, the New York Times reports. They drive cars, but seldom new ones. They earn paychecks, but not big ones. Many own homes. Most pay taxes. Half are married, and nearly half live in the suburbs. None are poor, but many describe themselves as barely scraping by. Census data shows 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line – 76 percent higher than the previous official count. All told, that places 100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it. The size of the near-poor population took even the bureau’s number crunchers by surprise.

2/3 of Arizona Corporations Pay No Income Tax

Every year, about two of every three Arizona corporations pay almost no state income tax. The Arizona Republic examined 15 years of state corporate income tax data, legislative tax records, tax court cases, committee reports and figures on state business tax credits. Among the key findings: Each year, anywhere from just under two-thirds to nearly three-fourths of Arizona businesses that file state income tax returns pay only a token amount, the $50 minimum. Arizona’s corporate income tax rate is set to fall by 30 percent from 2014 to 2017 and could end up one of the lowest in the nation. The decrease will save businesses an estimated $270 million in taxes over the four years. That’s greater than the amount cut by lawmakers from K-12 education and Arizona State University in this year’s budget.

California Bleeding Badly

California’s revenues last month were $811 million below projections. Nearly a billion dollars in just one month. Fiscal year to date, state income is running $1.5 billion below projections while state expenditures are $1.7 billion above — a $3.2 billion gap – adding to an already huge debt load.

  • California will be the first state to become officially bankrupt – unofficially, they already are

Occupy Protests Continue Despite Crackdowns

District of Columbia police on Saturday evening arrested 11 protesters and planned to charge them with unlawful entry after officers entered and cleared an abandoned city-owned building that had been occupied by a group inspired by Occupy D.C. The group Free Franklin began occupying the four-story Franklin School on Saturday, protesting the lack of housing for homeless people. The historic building served as a homeless shelter until 2008. More than 60 supporters gathered in a park near the red-brick building and cheered the protesters. The building is two blocks from Occupy D.C.’s encampment.

Some of the country’s most powerful unions are providing the infrastructure and amenities to keep the Occupy D.C. encampment fortified going into the winter. The camp’s portable toilets are being provided by the Service Employees International Union, the 2.1-million-member organization that helped Barack Obama win the presidency and recently backed his re-election bid. The estimated 100 demonstrators staying each night in McPherson Square, just blocks from the White House, take a hot shower at the AFL-CIO headquarters on 16th Street Northwest

Half of Congress Enjoys Millionaire Status

Who are the 1%? A new study shows about half the lawmakers in Congress are millionaires, and that their net worth has risen steadily since 2008 despite the financial crash. The analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics found that 250 members of Congress have an estimated net worth of at least $1 million. Though some members of Congress have tried to cozy up to the Occupy Wall Street protests and their message of representing 99 percent of America, assets of more than $1 million would easily put those lawmakers in the top 1 percent. And as it turns out, wealth knows no party. According to the report, 37 Senate Democrats and 30 Senate Republicans are worth more than $1 million. In the House, 110 Republicans and 73 Democrats enjoy the same status. The Senate is more flush with funds than the House. In the upper chamber, the median net worth of a senator is $2.63 million. For a House member, it’s about $757,000. Those figures are up 16 and 17 percent, respectively, from 2008.

Economic News

The Conference Board reported Friday that its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.9% last month, significantly faster than the revised 0.1% rise in September and the 0.3% increase in August. The economy, after growing at an anemic pace of just 0.9% in the first six months of the year, grew at a 2.5% rate in the July-September quarter.

The government’s mortgage insurer is coming dangerously close to holding no excess cash reserves for loan losses. An annual independent actuarial report puts the FHA’s loan loss reserves at 0.24% of its $1.1 trillion dollars in insured mortgages. Congress mandates that the FHA’s reserves must be at least 2% of its total insurance in force, but it hasn’t been at that level for a few years now. The FHA’s estimated reserves stand at $2.6 billion as of September 30th, according to the report, down 45% from $4.7 billion last year. The FHA, which does not originate loans, but insures them, has gone from less than 5% market share at the height of the housing boom to now more than 30 percent.

A $1 billion federal program to help distressed homeowners in much of the country mainly helped people in just three states. Almost half the homeowners aided by the Emergency Homeowners’ Loan Program are in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut. As previously reported, the program closed to applicants on Sept. 30 with more than half of its $1 billion unspent. Leftover funds return to the U.S. Treasury  Fewer than 12,000 applicants were approved before the program expired, short of the 30,000 target..

Stansberry’s Digest reports that, “Most of Europe’s major banks are insolvent. But only in the last week have they lost most of their access to additional funding. Their key source of funding has been U.S. money-market funds. But these funds are bailing out of Europe as quickly as they can. The result is a run on Europe’s banks. This crisis is now past the point where the authorities can hope to control the situation. We are now days (not weeks or months) away from the first major bank failures.”

Spain

Spanish voters kicked out the Socialist government Sunday in elections seen as a referendum on the handling of the European debt crisis, which has left Spain buckling under soaring unemployment, burgeoning debt and cuts in public benefits. It was the fifth European government – after Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Italy – to be brought down in the past year because of the debt crisis and the Socialists’ worst result since Spain held its first democratic election in 1977 after a 40-year-long dictatorship. Mariano Rajoy, the conservative leader of Spain’s opposition People’s Party, won 44% of the vote with just over half the total votes counted. President Rodriguez Zapatero’s handpicked Socialist Party candidate, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, garnered 29%.

Middle East

Hamas terrorists continue to launch dozens of missiles and rockets from Gaza, the land that Israel gave up for peace – including one missile earlier this week that demolished a kindergarten for Jewish students. Thankfully the children had already left for the day, but the evil of this attack is not lessened because there were no victims. The Qassam rockets favored by Hamas are unguided missiles; they are not aimed at specific targets but just launched in a general direction in hopes of killing or injuring Jewish people living in southern Israel.

Iran

North Korean nuclear and missile experts have been sent to Iran to help Tehran’s nuclear weapons development program, according to a diplomatic source. “Hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile engineers have been working at more than 10 sites [in Iran], including Natanz and Qom,” the source told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. The North Korean experts are from the country’s so-called Room 99, which is directly supervised by the North’s ruling Workers’ Party Munitions Industry Department.” Room 99 “is widely believed to be engaged in exports of weapons and military technology.”

Intelligence sources have reported that according to a closed meeting of Jewish leaders, the window of opportunity to stop Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon will close by late March 2012. The intelligence reaching President Obama is that by April, Iran will have five nuclear bombs or warheads and military action would generate a dangerous level of radioactive contamination across the region. After meeting with Russian and Chinese leaders, President Obama said that both leaders share the goal of keeping a bomb out of Iran’s hands.

Iraq

Despite the Obama Administration’s “rose-colored glasses” assessment of Iraq’s future as a democratic haven in a sea of radical Islamist despots, political thugs and monarchs, Iraq appears open to befriending its neighbor Iran. The Iraqi military and their Iranian counterparts are already meeting in anticipation of the December withdrawal of all U.S. forces in an effort to thwart Iraq’s internal enemies. General Babaker Zebari Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces, during his visit to Iran, has called for the military cooperation between Tehran and Baghdad, Iran’s government-controlled news service reported. The Iraqi general told his Iranian counterpart that Iraq continues to endure security threats from elements such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, radical clergy al-Sadr’s followers, etc., and Baghdad needs the help of a powerful country such as Iran, especially in the area of national security.

  • While difficult to overcome the Shia’ Sunni divide, Iran seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East, a dangerous sign for Israel

Afghanistan

A traditional Afghan national assembly on Saturday endorsed President Hamid Karzai’s decision to negotiate a long-term security pact with the U.S. but imposed some conditions, including an end to unpopular night raids by military forces searching for insurgents. The nonbinding resolution backed an initiative from the president to negotiate a pact that will govern the presence of U.S. troops after 2014, when most international forces are to have left or moved into support roles. More than 1,000 university students blocked a main highway in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday as they protested against any agreement that would allow U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan after a planned transfer of authority in 2014.

Syria

Residents in the Syrian capital awoke to two loud explosions Sunday amid reports from activists that the Damascus headquarters of the ruling Baath party had been hit by several rocket-propelled grenades. Assad, meanwhile, vowed to continue with a security crackdown to crush “militants” who he says are massacring Syrians on a daily basis. Syrian troops stormed a central town and a northwestern region Saturday in search of opponents of the government as pressure on Damascus intensified to end an eight-month crisis that has left thousands of people dead. The attacks on the town of Shezar in the central province of Hama and the restive Jabal al-Zawiya region near the Turkish border came a day after Syria agreed in principle to allow Arab observers into the country to oversee a peace plan proposed by the 22-member Arab League.

Russian warships entered Syrian territorial waters Friday in an aggressive move designed to prevent any NATO-led attack on the country under the guise of a “humanitarian intervention,” according to a Syrian news agency. Russia has stepped up efforts to defend Syria in recent days, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov keen to frame the violence in the country as a civil war in defiance of claims by western powers that President Bashar al-Assad has overseen a bloody crackdown on innocent protesters.

Egypt

Police are clashing for a third day Monday in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square with stone-throwing protesters demanding the country’s military rulers quickly transfer power to a civilian government. About 3,000 protesters are still on the square, facing off with hundreds of black-clad riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Egyptian soldiers and police set fire to protest tents and fired tear gas and rubber bullets in a major assault Sunday. At least 20 protesters have been killed since Saturday. Tens of thousands of Islamists and young activists massed in Tahrir Square on Friday, confronting Egypt’s ruling military council’s ‘dictatorship.’The  rally represented the beginning of a new battle between Egypt’s two most powerful political forces, the military and the once-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Lebanon

The CIA’s operations in Lebanon have been badly damaged after Hezbollah identified and captured a number of U.S. spies recently. The intelligence debacle is particularly troubling because the CIA saw it coming. Hezbollah’s longtime leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, boasted on television in June that he had rooted out at least two CIA spies who had infiltrated the ranks of Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group closely allied with Iran. Though the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon officially denied the accusation, current and former officials concede that it happened and the damage has spread even further. In recent months, CIA officials have secretly been scrambling to protect their remaining spies — foreign assets or agents working for the agency — before Hezbollah can find them.

Brazil

More than 2,600 barrels of oil may have spilled into the Atlantic ocean because of a leak at an offshore Chevron drilling site, Brazil’s environmental protection agency said Friday. Officials think 200 to 330 barrels of oil leaked each day from Nov. 8 through Tuesday. Officials are still investigating the exact cause of the leak, which has been almost entirely contained.

Wildfires

The estimated number of homes destroyed in a wind-fueled wildfire reached at least 32, but Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said it’s a miracle scores more weren’t lost. The unusual, out-of-season blaze spread by gale-force winds ripped through the Sierra foothills early Friday, forcing the evacuation of nearly 10,000 people. Most started returning to their homes Saturday afternoon. “This was not only a wild land, urban-interface type fire, it was also a metro fire where we had homes that were actively burning in densely populated areas,” Reno Fire Chief MikeHernandez said.

Weather

Remarkable temperature contrasts – from bitter cold in the Northwest and northern Plains to spring-like warmth in the southern Plains and the Southeast – was the main weather story across the USA this past weekend.

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Signs of the Times (11/16/11)

November 18, 2011

Court Rules in Favor of Marriage Defenders

The California Supreme Court declared Thursday that proponents of the Proposition 8 marriage referendum had sufficient legal grounds to defend the ban on same-sex marriage after state officials refused. After Proposition 8 was challenged by gay couples seeking to marry, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled the ballot measure a violation of the Constitution’s equality guarantee. The California Supreme Court became involved in the pending appeal when the 9th Circuit asked it to determine whether ProtectMarriage.com, the group that started the ballot-initiative process and appealed Walker’s decision, had legal “standing” to defend the law when the state refused. The ruling, though not addressing the merits of the nationally watched case, lifts a cloud of uncertainty about the ability of ballot-initiative sponsors to intervene in disputes over the validity of an initiative. The broader dispute — testing the constitutionality of the California measure against same-sex unions — is pending in the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and is likely to play out over several more months, if not years.

Arizona Planned Parenthood Gives Up Dispute

Planned Parenthood has ended its legal attack on Arizona’s “Abortion Consent Act,” which had been held up in court since signed into law in September 2009. The law, argued before the Arizona Court of Appeals in mid-June, prohibits non-physicians from performing surgical abortions and provides for women to be fully informed with accurate information on abortion including possible consequences 24 hours in advance. In addition, it protects health workers who object to participate on religious or ethical grounds and requires notarized parental consent for minors seeking abortions. The law also ensures that women receive information on abortion alternatives, long-term medical risks, and the probable gestational age of the preborn child at the time of the requested abortion.

Healthcare Politics Hits Supreme Court

The intense politics surrounding President Obama’s health care law is now hitting the Supreme Court. Conservative groups are calling for Justice Elena Kagan to recuse herself because she worked for the Obama administration during the crafting of the health care bill. Liberal groups, meanwhile, have called for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself because his wife has worked for Tea Party organizations that are seeking repeal of the health care law. The high court is expected to rule on health care by the end of June.

A slight plurality of Americans favor repeal of President Obama’s health care law, the Gallup Poll reports, though opinions are very much split along party lines — and very intense. “Views on this issue are highly partisan, with Republicans strongly in favor of repeal and the large majority of Democrats wanting the law kept in place,” Gallup says. Overall, 47% of Americans favor repeal of the health care law, while 42% want to maintain it; the remainder are undecided. Among Republicans, however, 80% favor repeal, while only 10% support the law. Democrats, meanwhile, support the health care plan by 64%-21%.

NY Occupy Protesters Seek New Encampment

The future of the New York City Occupy movement was in doubt Wednesday after police in riot gear dismantled the Occupy Wall Street encampment — the global movement’s original settlement — and left its occupants, like those in some other cities, looking for someplace else to occupy. A judge late Tuesday refused to give protesters permission to return with the tents, bedding, generators and other paraphernalia needed to endure a winter on a wind-swept plaza in Lower Manhattan. A crowd of several hundred protesters marched from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan toward the New York Stock Exchange a few blocks away on Thursday as Occupy Wall Street demonstrators across the country promised mass gatherings to mark the movement’s two month anniversary. Dozens were arrested as protesters attempted to block traders from entering the New York Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan. Police said four officers were injured when demonstrators threw liquid — possibly vinegar — in their faces.

Police in Los Angeles declared an unlawful assembly at an Occupy rally in the city’s financial district. In Portland, Ore., more than a dozen protesters were led away in handcuffs after attempting to barricade an entrance to the Steel Bridge, an important link for mass transit in the region. Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said Thursday that three Occupy Denver activists have been charged with felonies — including inciting a riot and second-degree assault on an officer. Meanwhile, protesters camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London said Thursday they are staying put as a deadline passed for them to take down their tents or face legal action. London officials attached eviction notices to the tents Wednesday, demanding they be removed from the churchyard by 1 p.m. ET Thursday. The Occupy London group said no one had left by the deadline, and marked its passing with a rally and a minute of silence outside the cathedral. More than 200 tents have been pitched outside the famous domed church since Oct. 15th.

U.S. Still Struggling with Air Cargo Screening

More than a year after the deadline Congress set for screening all air cargo on passenger planes, the Transportation Security Administration still isn’t checking all the cargo arriving aboard international flights. The gap in screening increasingly alarms lawmakers because bombs have been smuggled aboard planes, including explosives found a year ago in printer cartridges heading for Chicago synagogues in two air shipments from Yemen. . The Yemen printer cartridges were screened found through an intelligence tip. “America’s aviation system is at the top of the terrorist target list,” says Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who wrote the law with the cargo-screening deadline. TSA Administrator John Pistole says all domestic cargo is being screened and that TSA is negotiating screening agreements with 20 countries that send 80% of the cargo heading to the USA. The complexity of dealing with other governments and their security systems, caused TSA to miss the deadline.

Funding for NASA Cut

Congress is set to approve $406 million for the program that will replace the space shuttle — less than half what NASA originally requested. The compromise legislation was brokered by House and Senate negotiators and is expected to pass later this week. The allocation is for the commercial crew program, which will team the space agency with private companies to develop a new vehicle for taking astronauts to the International Space Station. Overall, the bill would provide $17.8 billion for the space agency — $648 million below the fiscal 2011 level and $924 million less than President Barack Obama requested.

Teen Births, Premature Deliveries and Cesareans All Decline

Rates of teen births, premature deliveries and cesareans all are going down, a new report says. Overall birth rates also fell in 2010 for the third year in a row, according to the report, released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen birth rates fell three years in a row, decreasing 9% from 2009 to 2010, to the lowest rate in nearly 70 years. Premature birth rates— which rose steadily for three decades — have fallen for the past four years, from a high of 12.8% in 2006 to 12.0% in 2010. The rate of C-sections fell for the first time in a decade. The slight decline — dropping from 32.9% of deliveries in 2009 to 32.8% in 2010.

Number of 90-Plus People Triples

The number of people living to age 90 and beyond has tripled in the past three decades to almost 2 million and is likely to quadruple by 2050. This burst in the number of the oldest old puts extra pressure on elderly care programs, health care costs, retirement savings and Baby Boomers with the dual responsibility of caring for aging parents and unemployed adult children. The research, commissioned by the National Institute on Aging, shows that most 90-plus people have one or more disabilities, challenges that affect even more people after 95. Nearly all 90-somethings who live in nursing homes have a disability, and about 80% of those not in nursing homes have one. People plan for retirement but not always for care into their 90s and beyond, says Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Nursing home costs run about $72,000 a year, most of it not covered by Medicare.

Boomer Migration to Sun Belt Decline

The number of Americans ages 55 to 64 who moved to Sun Belt states since the economy began to tank has declined dramatically, The slowdown is part of a continued drop in the mobility of all Americans. Only 11.6% — 35 million — changed residence from 2010 to 2011, the lowest rate since the Census Bureau began collecting the statistics in 1948. In the mid-1980s, more than 20% were moving each year. The oldest of 77 million Boomers who had fueled a rush to “active adult” communities throughout the Sun Belt are staying put because they can’t sell their homes or can’t afford to retire.

More Recycling Could Create More Jobs

Wednesday, on America Recycles Day, a new report says that increasing the nation’s recycling rate from 33% to 75% by 2030 would reduce pollution and create an extra 1.5 million jobs. With the U.S. unemployment rate remaining stubbornly high at 9%, more special interest groups are promoting their causes by trying to quantify their likely job creation. Recycling proponents have joined this fray by sponsoring the “Less Pollution, More Jobs” report. The report finds that waste diversion, unlike disposal, is more labor intensive and that new jobs would result from collecting, processing, and composting trash as well as making new products with recycled materials. It says a 75% recycling or diversion rate would generate 2.3 million jobs by 2030 — 1.1 million more jobs than would occur if the United States kept on it current recycling pace and nearly 1.5 million more jobs than existed in 2008.

Bank Branch Offices Withering Away

In the past year, the number of bank customers who prefer to bank online has jumped sharply, according to a survey conducted in August by the American Bankers Association. Sixty-two percent of bank customers said they prefer banking online to all other methods, up from 36% in 2010. Only 20% of customers said they preferred using a branch, down from 25% last year. The trend isn’t limited to younger consumers. Fifty-seven percent of bank customers age 55 and older said they prefer banking online to all other methods, up from 20% last year. Bank branches aren’t in imminent danger of extinction, but there are too many branches to serve the shrinking number of customers who use them.

Obama announces trade deals

The White House announced trade deals worth more than $25 billion with East Asian partners as President Obama caps a burst of diplomacy to the region. The new pacts include the sale of Boeing 737s and General Electric engines to Indonesia, Boeing 777s to Singapore and Sikorsky helicopters to Brunei. The White House estimated the moves would support 127,000 jobs, and timed the news to coincide with Obama’s trip to Indonesia so he could point to progress on his American jobs mission while traveling to Asia. Obama’s nine-day trip has focused on both expanding economic ties with the soaring Asia-Pacific market and boosting the U.S. military posture in the region.

Economic News

The federal debt has hit $15 trillion, the U.S. Treasury Department reported Wednesday. Republicans quickly pounced on President Obama for the red ink, while Democrats pointed out that Obama inherited a $10.6 trillion public debt from predecessor George W. Bush. The public debt will soon be 100% of the Gross Domestic Product, which currently stands at $15.2 trillion. A week from now, the special congressional “supercommittee” is scheduled to unveil a budget deficit-cutting plan.

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since early April, a sign that layoffs are easing and hiring may pick up. The Labor Department says weekly applications dropped by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000. It was the fourth decline in five weeks. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 396,750. That’s the first time the average been below 400,000 in seven months. Applications need to consistently drop below 375,000 to signal sustained job gains.

U.S. builders started slightly fewer homes in October but submitted plans for a wave of apartments, a mixed sign for the struggling housing market. Builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 628,000 homes last month, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That’s down 0.3% from September and roughly half the 1.2 million that economists say must be built to sustain a healthy housing market. But building permits, a gauge of future construction, rose nearly 11%. The increase was spurred by a 30% increase in apartment permits, which reached its highest level in three years. Renting has become a preferred option for many Americans who lost their jobs during the recession and were forced to leave their homes.

U.S. consumers paid less for gas, cars and computers in October, as overall prices dropped for the first time since June. Inflation is easing after prices rose sharply this spring. The Labor Department says the Consumer Price Index dropped 0.1% in October. It rose 0.3% the previous month. A steep drop in gas prices led the decline. Food prices rose, but at the slowest pace this year. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, so-called “core” prices rose 0.1%.

Oil prices have hit $100 per barrel for the first time in nearly four months, portending a rise in gasoline prices in the months to come. The price of benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude rose as high as $100.30 in electronic trading on Wednesday. The price has rebounded from summer lows in the $80s since peaking at $113.93 at the end of April. Regular gas is likely to average $3.37 a gallon next week — up a whopping 51 cents over last Thanksgiving

Businesses kept their stockpiles steady in September, marking the first time in nearly two years that they have not boosted their inventories. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that business inventories were unchanged in September after 20 consecutive monthly gains that stretched back to December 2009. Business sales rose 0.6% in September, the fourth consecutive gain.

What would you expect government-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to do after receiving nearly $200 billion in taxpayer bailouts? Pay huge executive bonuses, of course. Since accepting government money, Fannie and Freddie spent nearly $100 million for top executive compensation. The top five executives at Fannie received a combined $33.3 million in 2009 and 2010. The top five at Freddie received $28.1 million.

Eurozone

Fear, that contagious emotion, spread from country to country in Europe on Thursday as panicky investors worried the euro currency union could be heading toward an ugly breakup. Spain and even France, one of the continent’s core economic engines, were forced to pay sharply higher interest rates to raise cash to fund government spending. While the European Central Bank was suspected of intervening in bond markets to fight the rise in the borrowing rates, many analysts say it needs to act more aggressively to contain the crisis. But Germany, Europe’s paymaster, once again blocked any such a move on concerns it would let profligate governments off the hook. Uncertainty is now even eroding the appeal of top AAA-rated government bonds from countries such as France as investors prepare for worst-case scenarios like the deconstruction of the Eurozone.

Greece

Masked youths clashed with riot police outside Greece’s parliament and the U.S. embassy Thursday as thousands of austerity-weary Greeks marched through Athens in an annual commemoration of a bloody student uprising in the 1970s. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the rioters, and some 60 people were detained for questioning but no injuries were reported. Some 28,000 people took part in the march, according to police estimates, making it one of the biggest Nov. 17 protests in years. Seven thousand officers were monitoring the crowd.

Italy

Economist Mario Monti says he has succeeded in forming a government tasked with helping Italy escape financial disaster and will hold the posts both of premier and economic minister. Italy’s new premier vowed Thursday to spur economic growth while also trying to be fair in imposing reforms urgently needed to save his country — and the euro — from financial disaster. He said his new government’s policies would fight tax evasion, lower costs for companies so they can hire more and help women and young people find jobs. He said he would quickly work on lowering Italy’s staggering public debt, which now stands at 120% of GDP

Australia

The United States announced an agreement with Australia Wednesday that will expand military cooperation between the long-time allies and boost America’s presence in the region. The agreement was revealed during a joint news conference between U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the nation’s capital, Canberra. Under the agreement, up to 250 U.S. Marines will be sent to Darwin and the northern region of Australia for military exercises and training. Over the next several years their numbers are expected to climb to 2,500 — a full Marine ground task force. While U.S. officials cited the need to respond to regional natural disasters as a reason for the agreement, concern over China’s military expansion is widely acknowledged as a driving factor.

Middle East

While the protests in Tunisia — and elsewhere in the Arab world — were largely leaderless, secular mass movements, it is Islamist parties that are set to triumph in the first round of post-revolution elections. The winner in Tunisia’s first free elections held last month was Ennahda, an Islamist group that had been banned under the former regime. It won 89 out of the 217 seats, more than three times its closest rival. Egypt, which shed its dictator Hosni Mubarak in February, will hold its first free elections starting Nov. 28 and polls show the Islamist parties are ahead. In Libya, which ended the regime of Moammar Gadhafi in October, Islamist groups are organizing for elections that may be held as early as June. Tunisia’s new leaders have assured international observers and their own people that they will not call for stricter religious laws in the country. But some here say that as time passes, the Islamists will push for stricter laws and that a more socially conservative culture will emerge.

Israel

A report released on Thursday by the Central Bureau of Statistics says that 20 percent of Israeli families – some 1.7 million people – live in poverty, including 873,000 children, about a third of the country’s population under the age of 18. Although the numbers are distressingly high, they represent a significant improvement over previous years and actually show that the poverty rate is at its lowest point since 2003.

Iran

The massive blast that struck at what was described as either an Iranian missile base or a military arms depot (conflicting reports appeared in the Iranian press) is being linked by many Western intelligence officials to Israel’s Mossad (intelligence service.) Gen. Hasan Moghaddam, one of Iran’s top missile commanders, was killed together with 16 other Guard members Saturday at a military site outside Bidganeh village, 40 kilometers southwest of Tehran. The Iranians claimed the “accidental explosion” occurred while military personnel were transporting munitions.

International sanctions aimed at Iran’s nuclear program have hurt the country’s middle class and caused factories to shut down while low-quality goods flood the country, say foreign policy analysts. But the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the military unit that protects the Islamic regime and drives the nuclear program that sanctions are meant to impede, has profited and grown stronger under the sanctions. The State Department regularly adds companies owned by the Revolutionary Guards to the list of sanctioned companies. But the Guards, with its network of shell companies, border outposts and foreign operations, is largely unaffected. Sanctions have slowed the Iranian nuclear program, impeding its access to components and nuclear materials, but have not stopped Iran from maintaining “a secret, well-structured nuclear weapons program” since before 2004, or from establishing “a hidden (weapons) program disguised in its civil programs.”

Afghanistan

Many of the hundreds of tribal elders convening here for an annual loya jirga conference say they have grown weary of foreign troops on their soil but are worried the troops will withdraw too soon and leave them at the mercy of the Taliban. Wednesday, more than 2,000 Afghan leaders from around the country will begin a four-day meeting on the future of the nation’s relationship with the United States and talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Though not an official body like the elected parliament, the jirga is a traditional gathering used to gauge the feelings of tribal leaders whose authority is widespread outside the capital. Afghanistan – Tribal leaders on Wednesday backed calls by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for close long-term ties to the United States as long as the relationship respects Afghan sovereignty.

Iraq

Two Iranian pilgrims visiting Shiite shrines in Iraq were killed when a bomb went off next to a minibus they were traveling in. Nine other Iranians were wounded in Wednesday’s explosion, as well as eight Iraqis who were nearby. The Iranians were traveling from the northern city of Samarra, which is home to a holy Shiite shrine, to another Shiite shrine in the Kazimiyah neighborhood in Baghdad. Religious pilgrims are often targeted by Sunni extremists who claim that Shiites are not true Muslims.

Syria

Syrian troops made sweeping arrests Thursday in the restive Hama province as President Bashar Assad faces a growing challenge to his iron rule. On Wednesday, a fledgling force of Syrian military deserters struck an important government security complex on the outskirts of the capital, a bold strike reflecting the resolve and confidence of the regime’s opposition. The defector group, called the Free Syrian Army, said it attacked an air intelligence base in Harasta and planted “powerful explosions inside and around the compound that shook its foundations.” The Free Syrian Army said it “carried out special operations in various areas in Damascus in order to spoil the plan that the regime is preparing against our people and our homeland,” the group said.

Yemen

Yemeni troops killed seven al-Qaeda-linked militants — including an Iranian, a Pakistani and two Somali nationals — in the latest fighting in a southern province. The military has been shelling two key government buildings in Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, after they were overrun by dozens of militants. Security has collapsed across Yemen during a nine-month popular uprising seeking to topple the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who’s been in power for 30 years. The embattled president’s critics accuse Saleh of allowing the militants to take advantage of the security vacuum to support his argument that without him, al-Qaeda would take control of the country.

Nigeria

Of the 150 Nigerians that were killed Nov. 4 when the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram stormed Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State, 130 were Christians, Compass Direct News reports. Hundreds of people are still missing, and the destruction during the four-hour rampage included the bombing of at least 10 church buildings. More than 200 Boko Haram members blocked all four major highways leading into town, dislodged security agencies after a series of gun battles and the detonation of explosives, then led other area Muslims to the only Christian area of town, called New Jerusalem, which is home to more than 15,000 Christians. Any Christian who could not recite the Islamic creed was instantly killed.

Weather

At least six people have been killed by a storm system that spawned several possible tornadoes as it moved across the Southeast. Suspected tornadoes were reported Wednesday in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina. Dozens of homes and buildings were damaged, and thousands of people were without power as trees and power lines were downed.

Building debris was left piled up on the streets of a southern Indiana town’s courthouse square after a line of thunderstorms moved across the state. Monday night’s storm damaged numerous buildings in the Orange County town of Paoli about 40 miles northwest of Louisville, Ky. The town also had widespread power outages from the storm, but no injuries were immediately reported. The building housing the town’s police and fire departments was among those damaged and several homes and businesses had roofs torn off.

The National Weather Service has determined that two tornadoes touched down in western New York 15 minutes apart Monday evening. The severe weather in Chautauqua County brought down trees and power lines, ripped the roof from a garage and damaged a barn and other buildings. No injuries were reported. Power had been restored by Tuesday.

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November 15, 2011

Supreme Court Agrees to Review Health Care Law

The Supreme Court’s announcement Monday that it will hear challenges to the Obama-sponsored health care law opens the most important chapter in the legal battle over the law, amid the tumult of election-year politics. A ruling could determine the federal government’s power to address the most pressing social problems, specifically how to ensure medical coverage nationwide. The decision is likely to be handed down in late June, right before the Republican and Democratic conventions for the 2012 presidential election. The main question in the dispute that’s expected to be heard over two days in March is whether in requiring most Americans to buy insurance by 2014 or face a tax penalty, Congress exceeded its power to regulate interstate commerce.

  • Individual and state rights have been so trampled by the federal government as to become virtually unrecognizable. This is a good opportunity to reverse the socialist trend killing our country

Detroit Prayer Rally Draws Protests

Speaking to thousands inside Ford Field, the controversial leader of a 24-hour prayer rally in Detroit called for Jesus to rule over Detroit, Dearborn and America. Otherwise, he warned, the U.S. will fall into ruin. “We need Jesus’ face to appear all across America,” Lou Engle thundered to a cheering crowd Friday night at TheCall, a movement that has drawn much criticism. Before the rally began, about 150 people protested against Engle, who is with a movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. They say Dearborn is under demonic control because of its Muslim population. Organizers for Engle’s prayer event were expecting 50,000 to 70,000 people to show up, but the crowd size was markedly smaller than that, with much of the stadium unfilled. The protest against Engle featured Catholic, Baptist and Methodist pastors from Detroit, as well as gay rights and women’s activists.

More Occupy Defiance, Violence

Police say Occupy San Francisco protesters attacked two officers in separate incidents during a march. Police officers were trying to keep marchers out of the middle of an intersection where trains were running when a woman came out of the crowd, slashed an officer’s hand with a pen knife or razor blade, then disappeared back into the crowd. Later at the same location, police say a man came out of the crowd and grabbed an officer’s radio, and when the officer chased him another protester pushed the officer, cut his face and tore his uniform. Police could not find the attackers and no one has been arrested.

Anti-Wall Street protesters and their supporters flooded a city park area in Portland early Sunday in defiance of an eviction order, and authorities elsewhere stepped up pressure against the demonstrators, arresting nearly two dozen. Crowds converged on two adjacent downtown Portland parks where protesters are camped after city officials set a midnight Saturday deadline to disperse. But hours later, the protesters were still there, backed by many supporters who spilled out into the streets next to their camp, tying up traffic. They finally obeyed police orders to clear the street early Sunday.

Hundreds of police officers in riot gear evicted dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters early Tuesday from the park that has become the epicenter of the worldwide movement protesting corporate greed. At least 150 were arrested after NYPD issued eviction notices to ‘Occupy’ protesters at Zuccotti Park. The debate between public safety and First Amendment rights is reaching a breaking point in the protests in New York City and elsewhere, as police and government officials clear out camps in response to reports of violence, vandalism, death and illness. Protesters say they fear individual incidents will be used as leverage to deny their freedom of speech and displace them with curfew ordinances. City officials say public safety needs to be balanced with those rights.

Schuller’s Ex-Megachurch in Bankruptcy Bidding War

A federal bankruptcy court hearing aimed at settling the future of the financially ailing Crystal Cathedral turned into a bidding match Monday with a university and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange competing to buy the church’s sprawling grounds. The daylong hearing also highlighted a deepening rift between the Rev. Robert Schuller and the ministry he created more than 50 years ago over intellectual property rights and lifetime payments to the founder of the megachurch. The Diocese — which wants to use the gleaming 3,000-seat sanctuary for a countywide cathedral — boosted its bid for the property to $57.5 million from $55.4 million. In response, Orange County’s Chapman University — which wants to expand its health services offerings and possibly start a medical school on the site — offered to alter its $51.5 million bid to include a 15-year lease of key buildings on the 40-acre campus – such as the Crystal Cathedral, bell tower and cemetery – for $1 a month.

Economic News

Americans spent more on autos, electronics and building supplies in October, pushing retail sales up for a fifth straight month. Retail sales increased 0.5%, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Sales increased even though department stores and specialty clothing store sales fell in October.

The federal government is going to lose billions more on its automotive bailout than it planned. The Treasury Department now expects to lose $9 billion more on the automotive bailout, increasing the total loss to an estimated $23.6 billion. The increase is largely due to a slide in General Motors’ stock price. The full cost of the bailout of GM, Chrysler Group and the auto finance companies totaled $79.6 billion. The two automakers restructured through bankruptcy. Ford Motor didn’t take a bailout. The government has gotten back $23.2 billion of its $49.5 billion bailout of GM.

Economists are growing more worried that Congress will not extend this year’s payroll-tax cut past Dec. 31, pulling up to $120 billion out of consumers’ pockets and cutting into already tepid forecasts for household spending in the first half of 2012. The tax cut was approved as a temporary measure last fall. The law cut the tax paid by employees, which supports the Social Security program, to 4.2% of the first $106,800 of a worker’s income from 6.2%. That cut gave $1,000 back to a worker earning $50,000 a year.

Greek, Italian Plans Bypass Voters

More democracy or less? That’s the question Europe faces as it wrangles with a spiraling debt crisis that has cost the Italian and Greek leaders their jobs. Monday, the new prime minister for Greece presented his plans to parliament for a new “technical” government. Italy’s new prime minister nominee was in talks to create what he called a “non-political” Cabinet of experts to deal with its financial instability. Greek political leaders appointed former European Central Bank vice president Lucas Papademos as prime minster last week to shepherd a European rescue plan and impose steeper spending cuts to prevent the country’s default. Sunday, political leaders in Italy nominated former European commissioner Mario Monti to replace Silvio Berlusconi.

  • The New World Order folks have no desire to include voters in their plans to use this crisis to tighten up their control over European nations by appointing their own leaders

Italy

Economist Mario Monti has accepted the monumental task of trying to form a new government that can rescue Italy from financial ruin. His selection Sunday came a day after Silvio Berlusconi reluctantly resigned as premier, bowing out after world markets pummeled Italy’s borrowing ability, reflecting a loss of faith in the 75-year-old media mogul’s leadership. Berlusconi quit after Parliament approved new reform measures demanded by the European Union and central bank officials — but even those are not considered enough to right Italy’s ailing economy. Monti must now draw up a Cabinet, lay out his priorities, and see if he has enough support in Parliament to govern. Monti faces a daunting challenge — preventing an Italian default that could tear apart the 17-nation Eurozone and send Europe and the U.S. into new recessions.

Asian/Pacific Economic Zone

A U.S.-backed initiative to forge a Pacific free trade bloc got a big boost Sunday when leaders of Canada and Mexico said their countries are interested in joining. President Obama had made progress on the pact one of his top priorities for the annual summit of Asia-Pacific leaders being held in his home state of Hawaii. It comes after Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, said it would join the nine nations already involved in talks on what has been dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With Europe again on the brink of recession, Asia’s vital role as a driver of global growth has gained even greater urgency.

A further step toward a U.S.-backed free trade bloc handed Asia-Pacific leaders a rare tangible achievement from their annual summit, but highlighted growing competition with China for influence in the fast rising region. Asia’s increasingly vital role as a driver of global growth has added urgency to the campaign to remove barriers and bottlenecks that slow trade and business — the original mission of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, whose 21 members include economies huge and tiny, rich and poor. President Barack Obama, flanked by leaders of eight other nations involved in negotiations on setting up the trading bloc, said he was optimistic the Trans-Pacific Partnership could draft a legal framework by next year.

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program was not reflected in a recent U.N. report, which said that Tehran appeared to have worked on designing an atomic bomb. “Iran is closer to getting an (atomic) bomb than is thought,” Netanyahu said in remarks to cabinet ministers. “Only things that could be proven were written (in the U.N. report), but in reality there are many other things that we see,” Netanyahu said. At the start of meeting, Netanyahu made a broadcast repeating his call for the world “to stop Iran’s race to arm itself with a nuclear weapon before it is too late.”

With only eight nations committed to support Palestinian statehood rather than the nine needed for approval, the UN Security Council has deferred voting on the resolution indefinitely. The Palestinian leaders continue to insist that they will seek an up-or-down vote, but it is unclear when or if such a vote will be held. Some sources indicate that the Palestinians may try to obtain upgraded status from the General Assembly, but Palestinian President Abbas insists that he will continue to seek full member status from the Security Council.

Libya

Rival militias clashed on the outskirts of the Libyan capital for a fourth day Sunday in the most sustained violence since the capture and killing of Moammar Gadhafi last month. The fighting, which has killed at least six people since late last week, raised new concerns about the ability of Libya’s transitional government to disarm thousands of fighters and restore order after an eight-month civil war. Heavy gunfire and explosions of rocket-propelled grenades were heard over hours Sunday in the area between the Warshefana lands, about 18 miles west of Tripoli, and Zawiya, another 10 miles to the west.

Syria

Tens of thousands of Syrian government supporters poured into the streets Sunday to protest an Arab League vote to suspend the country’s membership, as Turkey sent planes to evacuate diplomatic staff and their families after a night of attacks on embassies. In a significant concession, the government said the Arab officials could bring any civilian or military observers they deem appropriate to oversee implementation of an Arab League plan for ending the violence. The 22-member bloc’s vote on Saturday was a stinging rebuke to a regime that prides itself as a bastion of Arab nationalism and left it increasingly isolated over its crackdown on an eight-month uprising that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 3,500 people since mid-March.

Dozens of soldiers and security forces were gunned down by suspected army defectors in southern Syria, a deadly ambush that comes as President Bashar Assad increasingly appears unable to manage the crisis. Monday’s hours-long clash in the southern province of Daraa came on a particularly bloody day in Syria, with as many as 90 people killed across the country. The brazen attack by the army defectors suggested a new confidence among troops who have sided with the protesters and highlighted the potential for an armed confrontation to escalate.

Yemen

Yemeni government forces and allied tribesmen killed ten militants in attacks around the country Sunday, as a visiting United Nations envoy met with embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to push for a solution to the country’s political crisis. Security has collapsed across the Arab world’s poorest nation during the nine-month popular uprising seeking to oust Saleh, who has been in power for 30 years. Pro-Saleh forces regularly engage in deadly clashes with armed tribesmen and military defectors who support the protesters in Yemen’s largest cities, and al-Qaeda-linked militants have overrun entire towns in the country’s restive south. Meanwhile, international diplomacy has failed to stop the crisis. Saleh has refused numerous times to follow through with a U.S.-backed proposal crafted by Yemen’s powerful Gulf Arab neighbors under which he would transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Egypt

In a report regarding the Oct. 9 massacre of 27 Coptic Christians, the fact-finding commission of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights absolved the army of any responsibility of firing ammunition and provided evidence for its innocence. The report, which put the blame of the massacre on “unidentified” citizens and accused the protesters of inciting violence, drew angry responses from Copts and was blasted by NGOs and human rights activists as a whitewash of the military’s role in the massacre. The report acknowledged that 12 Copts were run over by armored vehicles but asserted that those deaths were not intentional and due only to the attempts of police to disperse the crowd. Copts maintain that all 27 deaths were the responsibility of the government.

Pakistan

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a study showing that textbooks in Pakistani schools foster prejudice and intolerance of religious minorities and that most teachers view non-Muslims as “enemies of Islam,” the Washington Post reports. The study reviewed more than 100 textbooks from grades 1-10 in Pakistan’s four provinces, and researchers visited more than 50 schools and interviewed nearly 500 students. Researchers found systematic negative portrayals of religious minorities, specifically Hindus and Christians (which make up 1 and 2 percent, respectively, of the population), as “inferior or second-class citizens,” as well as instances of historic revisionism designed to denigrate non-Muslims and foster the sense that Pakistan’s Islamic identity was under threat.

India

Police in India’s Kashmir Valley detained and beat seven converts from Islam and were expected to arrest Christian workers after Muslim leaders alleged that Muslim youth were being “lured” to Christianity, Compass Direct News reports. Police got the names of the converts, as well as the names of their pastors, from a video recording of their baptisms that was posted on YouTube, and, in addition to beating them, asked them if Christians had given them money for their conversion. One of the pastors, Chander Mani Khanna, has been summoned by the mufti, the head of the sharia (Islamic law) court, to appear in court next week, and the converts have all agreed to sign affidavits saying there was no duress or allurement to convert. Khanna said the Muslims had been coming to the church on their own initiative: “I can’t convert anyone; it’s the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said. India’s constitution provides for religious freedom, including the right to propagate and the right to change one’s religion. Christians have generally had good relations with the Muslims in the region, but recent tensions have been brewing as a result of thousands of young Muslims converting to Christianity.

Ethiopia

The Ethiopian government recently announced the discovery of plans by the extremist Wahhabi Muslims to turn Ethiopia into an Islamic country governed by Sharia law, and expressed concern over the growing violence against moderate Muslims and Christians by Wahhabi radicals, Mission Network News reports. “We have found evidences and pamphlets [which] were publicly distributed during the month of Ramadan calling on the Muslim community to stand up against all non-Wahhabi Muslims and followers of other religions,” said Mersessa Reda, the director general of the Ministry of Federal Affairs of Ethiopia. International Christian Concern reports that the radical teachings of the Wahhabi have been spreading among Muslims in Ethiopia, promoting intolerance of other religions.

Sudan

The presidents of Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan are both predicting the possibility of a new war in an oil-rich region that has seen a spike in cross-border attacks. Troop build-ups are being reported on both sides of the Sudan-South Sudan border, the world’s newest international boundary, and rebels in Sudan announced a new alliance with the aim of overthrowing their own government, which is seated in the capital, Khartoum. After two long wars that spanned decades, South Sudan formally declared independence from Sudan in July following a successful independence referendum in January that was guaranteed in a 2005 peace deal. The world celebrated the peaceful break-up of Sudan. But big disputes that have long lurked in the background are now festering, and flaring into violence.

  • Sudan is largely Muslim while South Sudan is mostly Christian, adding to the border pressures

Brazil

Elite police units backed by armored military vehicles and helicopters invaded Rio’s largest slum before dawn Sunday, the most ambitious operation yet in an offensive that seeks to bring security to a seaside city long known for violence. The action is part of a policing campaign to drive heavily armed drug gangs out of the city’s slums, where the drug traffickers have ruled for decades. Authorities vow to continue the crackdown and stabilize Rio’s security before it hosts the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Officials are counting on those events to signal Brazil’s arrival as a global economic, political and cultural power.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-5.2 quake early Tuesday shook eastern Turkey — already devastated by two powerful tremors. The latest quake hit Van province but there was no immediate report of damage or injuries. Its epicenter was in the village of Mollakasim. Previous quakes have turned Van, the provincial capital of half a million, into a virtual ghost town. Last month’s magnitude-7.2 quake and a magnitude-5.7 quake last week flattened some 2,000 buildings, killed 644 people and left thousands homeless. Very few state-owned buildings in the capital survived the quake.

Geological agencies say a strong earthquake has hit waters off eastern Indonesia, but that there was no threat of a tsunami. The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.6, struck off the Moluccas islands on Monday. It was centered 30 miles beneath the ocean floor around 140 miles (223 kilometers) from Ternate, the capital of North Maluku province.

Weather

The problems that arose in Connecticut after the freak October snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene in August are similar to ones that cropped up after other major storms dating to Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, legislators and other state officials say it’s time to finally fix long-standing problems such as utilities not being quick enough in bringing in out-of-state crews, inadequate tree trimming and poor communication with government officials after storms. They also want to hold utilities more responsible for performance troubles, possibly by issuing fines.

Thailand’s prime minister is urging people in flooded areas to be patient, saying the government is working as hard as it can to drain the water. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Monday that the flooding situation that has plagued the country since late July is improving as waters recede. The national death toll from Thailand’s worst floods in more than half a century has reached 562. The floods are still affecting 22 of the country’s 77 provinces.

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November 12, 2011

New World Order Planning WWIII?

According to an independent national newspaper in Canada, starting a war with Iran will result in a “planned” World War III. According to the article, the elite have apparently timed World War III to emulate Biblical Prophecy in order to make World War III appear to be the fulfillment of God’s warning to the world. The Political elite will then offer their “solution” in the aftermath ushering in a New World Order, with one army, complete with Orwellian Totalitarian control, with the anti-Christ beast at the head.

British intelligence chiefs have warned that Israel will launch military action to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons development efforts as early as Christmas, according to a report inThe Telegraph. The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency this week confirmed that Iran is developing a nuclear warhead that could fit on an existing missile. British ministers have reportedly been told to expect Israeli military action. “Sources say the understanding at the top of the British government is that Israel will attempt to strike against the nuclear sites ‘sooner rather than later’ — with logistical support from the U.S.,” The Telegraph reports.

Israel and the US are planning the “largest” and “most significant” joint exercise in the allies’ history. The exercise will involve more than 5,000 US and Israeli forces, and will simulate Israel’s ballistic missile defense. The German Air Force put its F-16 and Tornado warplanes into intensive training for a possible attack on targets in Iran. Germany recently took part in a joint drill with the Israeli Air Force and other NATO members.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has forged an alliance with Iran against any military action by the West and pledged to complete the controversial Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr. Mr. Putin, the first Kremlin leader to visit Iran since the Second World War, insisted that the use of force was unacceptable. Mr. Putin and Iran’s President Ahmadinejad met for private talks and state television in Tehran quoted Mr. Putin as saying that Russia would continue to assist Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.

  • This is the end-time alliance prophesied in Ezekiel 37 between Rosh and Persia for the Middle East war that will usher in the one-world government (Rev. 13) and the 7-year Tribulation (Daniel 9)

Senate Committee Passes Marriage “Death Sentence” Bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the deliberately misnamed “Respect for Marriage Act” on Thursday by a 10-8 vote, moving the radical left’s effort to destroy natural marriage one step closer to reality. Mathew Staver, Chairman of Liberty Council notes, “This bill would amount to a death sentence for marriage as we know it and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The vote comes at a time when the White House has publicly announced that the Obama Administration will not defend the current DOMA law – an outrageous disregard of their duty in order to promote the radical homosexual agenda. what we are seeing is a full-scale assault on marriage from both Congress and the White House. And the next steps in this high-stakes political battle over the legal definition of marriage will be crucial! Our sources notified us that Democrats may try to insert the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act 2011” into the DOD authorization bill, a cynical strategy Harry Reid has used before to move legislation unlikely to pass as a stand-alone bill.“

  • Please go here now to sign Liberty Counsel’s petition defending marriage from the Obama/Reid assault:

http://www.lcaction.cc/r.asp?u=56291&RID=32600308

Vatican Hosts Adult Stem Cell Conference

An international conference opens in Rome Wednesday devoted to medical applications of adult stem cells. The Vatican Pontifical Council had earlier announced a 5-year, $1 million partnership with adult stem cell biopharmaceutical firm NeoStem and its educational foundation to research adult stem cells, examine their use and promote the cells as medical treatments. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops has been a prominent critic of embryonic stem cell research in the United States. The Vatican conference will feature well-known critics of embryonic stem cell research. Researchers have shown the potential for adult “induced” stem cells to display properties associated with embryonic stem cells.

  • Adult stem cells have yielded more positive results than embryonic stem cells without the ethical concerns

Protests Continue to Spread Worldwide

Thousands of students marched through central London on Wednesday to protest cuts to public spending and a big increase in university tuition fees. At Trafalgar Square, a group of protesters erected more than 20 tents at the foot of Nelson’s Column in the latest spinoff of the Occupy Wall Street protest camp movement. The tents were quickly cleared away by police. The marchers had planned to link up with an existing protest camp against corporate greed outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, but were stopped by lines of police in riot gear. Police said more than 2,000 people were taking part as the march.

Protest Violence Continues

City leaders across the U.S. are feeling increasing pressure to shut down Occupy protest encampments after two men died in shootings and two others were found dead inside their tents this week. One was found dead Friday inside a tent at the Occupy Salt Lake City encampment, from what police said was a combination of drug use and carbon monoxide from a propane heater. A 53-year-old man was found dead inside a tent at the Occupy New Orleans Police are investigating a fatal shooting just outside the Occupy Oakland encampment in Northern California and the apparent suicide of a military veteran at an Occupy encampment in Burlington, Vermont. The Oakland killing is further straining relations between local officials and anti-Wall Street protesters. A preliminary investigation into the gunfire Thursday that left a man dead suggests it resulted from a fight between two groups of men at or near the camp on a plaza in front of Oakland’s City Hall. In Vermont, police said preliminary investigations show a 35-year-old military veteran fatally shot himself in the head Thursday at an Occupy Wall Street encampment inside a tent in City Hall Park in Burlington.

Gov’t Asks Justices to Stay out of Immigration Case

The Justice Department on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to stay out of a lawsuit involving Arizona’s immigration law, saying lower courts properly blocked tough provisions targeting illegal immigrants. The state law is a challenge to federal policy and is designed to establish Arizona’s own immigration policy, the department’s solicitor general said in a filing with the justices. Arizona says the law is an effort to cooperate with the federal government. One provision requires that police, while enforcing other laws, question a person’s immigration status if officers suspect they are in the country illegally. In April, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal judge’s ruling halting enforcement of that and other key provisions in the Arizona law. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is seeking to overturn the judge’s decision and wants Supreme Court review of the case, arguing that the issues are of compelling, nationwide importance.

  • Several other states have recently adopted new immigration laws that have also been challenged in lower courts. It’s time for the Supremes to step in and affirm the rights of states to enact their own laws to deal with unique immigration situations not prevalent in many other states. That’s why the Constitution intended for states to have much more independent powers than they have today.

Controversial Canada-to-Texas Keystone Pipeline Delayed

The State Department announced on Thursday that it will explore a new route for the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, pushing a final decision on the controversial project past the 2012 election. President Obama was under intense political pressure from environmentalists as well as Republicans over the $7 billion pipeline project that would cut through six U.S. states. Republicans, who said the Canada-to-Texas pipeline would have created thousands of jobs and would reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East oil, immediately slammed the decision and said Obama was caving to his political base.

More Heat from Wood = More Pollution

As the recession continues and energy prices rise, more Americans are turning to wood to heat their homes, some hurrying to cash in on tax credits for efficient stoves that expire next month. The number of U.S. households heating with wood rose 34% nationwide from 1.8 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2010 — faster than any other heating fuel, according to Census data. This upswing is prompting federal officials, concerned about the health and environmental impact of burning wood, to update 23-year-old certification criteria for stoves and set the first requirements for outdoor wood boilers, which heat water that’s piped into homes. U.S. shipments of pellet stoves, considered the most efficient way to burn wood, jumped 59% in the second quarter of this year, compared to the same time last year, and pellet fireplace inserts rose 72%. The problem is that most Americans burn wood in old, dirty devices. Traditional fireplaces are so inefficient they don’t heat a room unless they’ve been retrofitted with a wood or pellet insert. Of the 10 million wood stoves being used in the U.S., 70% to 80% are not EPA-certified and emit 70% more pollution than those that are. Most of the 500,000 outdoor wood boilers don’t meet EPA’s voluntary standards.

Retailers Blur Line Between Thanksgiving, Black Friday

Shoppers used to eagerly await the doors opening at 6 a.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving. Then, the frenzy crept a few hours earlier, to 4 a.m. Now, shoppers are most likely going to forgo the post-meal catnap and head out to the stores soon after digesting Thanksgiving dinner. Midnight is the new 4 a.m. for Black Friday this year. Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Old Navy and most major Phoenix-area malls have announced openings just after the stroke of midnight on Nov. 25, making Black Friday an extension of Thanksgiving rather than the stand-alone extravaganza it has been in the past. As in previous years, a few retailers are opening on Thursday, as well.

  • Greed and materialism are not just manifest in Wall Street brokers and the rich

Obama’s Asia Trip to Tout U.S. Trade, Security

As he began a nine-day trip to the Asia-Pacific region on Friday, President Barack Obama was aiming to reassure jittery U.S. allies and emerging nations that they have another avenue to prosperity at a time when an increasingly aggressive China is extending its sphere of influence. At each stop, Obama is expected to send a clear signal that the United States is a “Pacific power” eager to help build economic success and security in the fast-developing region. In doing so at a pair of regional summits in Honolulu and in Bali, Indonesia, the president will make clear that the Chinese must “follow the rules of the road.” High on the list of U.S. priorities is getting commitments from China to enact more flexible currency-rate standards to help balance trade; respect intellectual-property rights; and adopt a less aggressive military posture in the disputed South China Sea.

Jefferson Count, Ala, Declares Bankruptcy

The elected leaders of Jefferson County, Ala., have voted to file the nation’s largest bankruptcy because of more than $3 billion debt from sewer bonds. County officials have been trying to negotiate with creditors, primarily Wall Street banks, since the nation’s financial crisis began in 2008. Reflecting a smaller version of the Eurozone’s debt crisis, interest rates spiked and the county couldn’t pay bondholders. A provisional settlement in September included $1.1 billion in concessions and called for sewer-rate increases of up to 8.2% for the first three years.

Economic News

Fewer Americans filed for initial unemployment benefits last week, marking continued — but still slow — improvement in the job market. About 390,000 people filed for their first week of unemployment claims in the week ended Nov. 5, the Labor Department said Thursday. The number of claims fell 10,000 from the revised 400,000 in the prior week. Since April, claims have been stuck above or around 400,000, a level economists often say is too high to signal the unemployment rate will come down. Meanwhile, the number of Americans filing for their second week of claims or more fell to 3,615,000, down 92,000, in the week ended Oct. 29, the most recent week available.

Home prices dropped in nearly three-quarters of U.S. cities over the summer, dragged down by a decline in buyer interest and a high number of foreclosures. And the worst is yet to come, analysts say. The median price for previously occupied homes fell in the July-September period compared to the same three months last year in 111 out of 150 metropolitan areas tracked by the group. The national median home price was $169,500 in the third quarter, down 4.7% from the same period last year. Most analysts say they expect prices to sink further because unemployment remains high and many more millions of foreclosures are anticipated over the next few years.

The government-controlled mortgage zombie Fannie Mae announced a third-quarter loss of $5.1 billion Wednesday. And it requested another $7.8 billion in federal aid to stay afloat. The “walking dead” has now “borrowed” $112.6 billion from the U.S. Treasury. Despite the massive injection of taxpayer funds to date.

The price of oil is closing in on $100 per barrel for the first time since summer. Prices have soared since October as two of the market’s biggest fears — an unraveling of the 17-nation Eurozone and another recession in the U.S.— appear to have eased, at least for now. On Friday, the price of a barrel of benchmark crude rose $1.17 to $98.95 per barrel, portending a future rise in gasoline prices. At the pump, the national average for gasoline remained at about $3.44 per gallon.

A meal with turkey and all the trimmings will cost about 13% more this holiday compared to last year, the American Farm Bureau Federation reported Thursday. The AFBF estimates the average cost to make a meal for 10 people is $49.20. That’s $5.73 more than last year’s average of $43.47. A pricier Thanksgiving feast is the result of soaring costs for commodities that has raised prices for food makers, grocers and consumers.

A sagging economy and high beef prices have stock thefts on the rise from the Beef Belt in Texas and Oklahoma to other beef producing states in the Midwest and South. These modern rustlers won’t fit the typical Hollywood image of mounted desperados wearing 10-gallon hats with bandannas covering their faces. Most of them use stock trailers pulled by pickups, or even 18-wheelers, to haul the animals away. They use four-wheelers or motorcycles to round them up, and then haul them to stock yards to sell. Grown animals will sell for $2,000 to $2,500 a head on the market, depending on their age, condition and weight.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported Wednesday that gambling revenues were down 6.6 percent in Clark County in September compared with a year ago. Nevada had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate. RealtyTrac said foreclosures were filed on one of every 180 Nevada housing units in October, while the national rate was one in every 563 units.

Greece

Senior banker Lucas Papademos has been officially named as Greece’s new prime minister, after four days of intense talks to form a coalition government. The interim government aims to approve a new euro130 billion financial aid deal and cement the debt-strapped country’s position in the 17-nation Eurozone. The 64-year-old former vice president of the European Central Bank was named Thursday to head a coalition backed by the governing Socialists and the opposition conservatives that is expected to operate until early elections in February.

Italy

Italy’s Senate approved crucial economic reforms demanded by the European Union on Friday, the first step in paving the way for Premier Silvio Berlusconi to resign as early as this weekend and a transitional government to be formed. The 156-12 vote took place after respected economist Mario Monti — widely expected to become the interim prime minister — was welcomed with applause in the Senate chamber, where he was officially designated senator for life. Italy’s president bestowed the title on Monti two days earlier to signal to roiling financial markets that he intended to ask the 68-year-old former European commissioner to try to form a transitional government after Berlusconi leaves office.

Middle East

Officials from the Palestinian Authority admitted on Wednesday that their effort to bypass negotiations with Israel and attain recognition of statehood at the United Nations has failed, and that they are unlikely to call for a vote on the matter in the Security Council. Instead, the strategy going forward will be to shift to the General Assembly, where it has an automatic majority, and ask that its status be upgraded to that of an observer nation, which would give the PA de facto international recognition as a sovereign state, even if it does not guarantee the PA full-state rights in the international arena. The move is widely seen as a reaction to a subcommittee report leaked to Reuters on Tuesday, saying that the necessary consensus on the issue had not been reached, and thus passage in an open vote was highly unlikely.

Syria

November is shaping up to be the bloodiest month yet in Syria’s 8-month-old uprising. More than 250 Syrian civilians have been killed in the past 11 days as the regime besieges the renegade city of Homs and the conflict takes a dangerous turn, stoking fears of civil war. The U.N. estimates some 3,500 people have been killed in the crackdown since mid-March, when the uprising began. The bloodshed has spiked dramatically in recent weeks amid signs that more protesters are taking up arms to protect themselves, changing the face of what has been a largely peaceful movement. Many fear the change plays directly into the hands of the regime by giving the military a pretext to crack down with increasing force. The Arab League announced Saturday that it is suspending Syria’s membership after its failure to stop the violence against its people. Of the 21 nations voting, only two — Lebanon and Yemen — voted against the suspension. Iraq abstained.

Libya

Weapons smuggled from Libya after the collapse of Muammar Qaddafi’s government are flowing through the surrounding region, the president of neighboring Niger said, a development that threatens to destabilize a swath of the continent already struggling against ethnic unrest and a regional branch of Al Qaeda. “Arms were stolen in Libya and are being disseminated all over the region,” Niger’s president Mahamadou Issoufou said following a meeting with South African president Jacob Zuma. “Saharan countries are facing terrorist threats, arms and criminal trafficking. The Libya crisis is amplifying those crises.” Issoufou’s remarks came days after Niger’s military

Turkey

A ferry with 18 passengers was hijacked off a northwestern Turkish port on Friday and several coast guard boats and helicopters followed the vessel as it approached Istanbul. Transport Minister Binali Yildirim initially said “four or five” hijackers claiming to act on behalf of rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK, seized the ship after it set sail from the northwestern port of Izmit. The Kurdish rebels are fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast and have stepped up attacks on Turkish forces in that region in recent months, killing dozens of Turkish soldiers and civilians. The Turkish military responded by staging an air and ground offensive against rebel hideouts in neighboring Iraq. Turkish police have also detained hundreds of Kurdish activists on suspicion of ties to the rebels.

Iran

At least 15 people have been killed and scores more injured in two massive explosions at a Revolutionary Guard ammunition depot west of the capital Tehran. The incident took place when a munitions depot accidentally caught fire at the IRGC military base in Bidgeneh during an operation to “move some munitions and equipment needed for IRGC’s current operations. The explosion took place far from residential areas. Casualties are expected to increase as rescue operations continue.

Kazakhstan

Media in Kazakhstan cite authorities as saying that seven people, including five police officers, have been killed in an attack by radical Islamists on a police station in the southern city of Taraz. The reported bombing and shootout on Saturday is the latest in a recent string of Islamist-related attacks in Kazakhstan and will deepen worries of a mounting terrorist threat in the former Soviet Central Asian nation. Kazakhstan had been largely untroubled by Islamist-related violence, but the last few months have seen an anomalous spike in attacks that authorities have tied to radical Islamists.

Earthquakes

Rescue workers have pulled out 23 survivors from the rubble of three buildings, collapsed by an earthquake in eastern Turkey. Wednesday’s quake toppled 25 buildings in the city of Van but only three of them were occupied since the others have been evacuated after suffering damages in last month’s powerful temblor. The magnitude-5.7 quake was a grim replay of the previous magnitude-7.2 earthquake that hit Oct. 23, killing more than 600 people. The death toll rose to 19 on Friday as several rescue teams clawed through heaps of concrete to search for two journalists believed trapped in the rubble of a collapsed hotel.

Weather

One of the most powerful storms to hit western Alaska in nearly 40 years battered coastal communities Wednesday with snow and hurricane-force winds, forcing some residents to seek higher ground as it knocked out power and ripped up roofs.As the storm churned the Bering Sea, residents and emergency responders braced for a possible surge of sea water into coastal communities. “People out there are used to extreme weather, but this is not a normal storm,” said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the state’s emergency management agency. “This is of a magnitude that can be a storm of record, extremely dangerous.”

The drought across the South has already cost the USA $10 billion — it’s the nation’s costliest natural disaster of the year, and it appears to be expanding its reach. Even with all the weather catastrophes the USA has endured this year, including blizzards, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, the drought has been by far the costliest: So far in 2011, the National Climatic Data Center reports that the “total direct losses to agriculture, cattle and structures are over $10 billion; both direct and total economic losses will rise as the event continues.” The dry conditions have spread now into parts of the Southeast and Midwest, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. More than 33% of the USA (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) is now in a drought, the nation’s highest percentage in almost four years. drought now extends all the way from western Arizona to central North Carolina, a distance of more than 2,000 miles. From north to south in the central USA, the drought reaches from southern Minnesota to South Texas. While some slight improvement has occurred the past few weeks in Texas and Oklahoma due to recent rainfall, little relief is in sight for the winter.

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November 9, 2011

2011 Voters Give a Glimpse into 2012

The off-year elections offered a glimpse of voter attitudes a year before the presidential election. Ohio voters rejected a new law sharply restricting public workers’ right to collective bargaining Tuesday. Voters in Mississippi rejected an anti-abortion proposal that would have defined life as beginning at conception. Voters in Mississippi and Kentucky kept their governorships in the same party’s hands despite worries over a sluggish economy. In Arizona, state Sen. Russell Pearce, author of the state’s tough immigration law, was ousted in a recall led by a fellow Republican. Georgia voters approved Sunday alcohol sales.

  • The ‘glimpse’ is not good for conservative, Christian values. Unions, abortion, booze, amnesty for immigrants and more of the same were the big winners. America’s decline continues unabated.

Mississippi Rejects Personhood Amendment

Mississippi voters Tuesday defeated a ballot initiative that would have declared life begins at conception, a proposal that supporters sought in the Bible Belt state as a way to prompt a legal challenge to abortion rights nationwide. The so-called “personhood” initiative was rejected by more than 55 percent of voters, falling far short of the threshold needed for it to be enacted. If it had passed, it was virtually assured of drawing legal challenges because it conflicts with the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a legal right to abortion. Supporters of the initiative wanted to provoke a lawsuit to challenge the landmark ruling. Pro-life advocates say they’re still pursuing life-at-fertilization ballot initiatives in six other states.

Ohio Voters Reject Republican-Backed Union Limits

The state’s new collective bargaining law was defeated Tuesday after an expensive union-backed campaign that pitted firefighters, police officers and teachers against the Republican establishment. In a political blow to GOP Gov. John Kasich, voters handily rejected the law, which would have limited the bargaining abilities of 350,000 unionized public workers. Labor and business interests poured more than $30 million into the nationally watched campaign, and turnout was high for an off-year election. The law hadn’t taken effect yet. Tuesday’s result means the state’s current union rules will stand, at least until the GOP-controlled Legislature determines its next move.

Russell Pearce on Verge of Historic Loss in Recall

Russell Pearce, one of the most influential state politicians in the nation and a powerful voice on illegal immigration, was on the verge of losing his Senate seat in Tuesday’s unprecedented recall election. Pearce appeared resigned to defeat, saying “if being recalled is the price for keeping one’s promises, so be it.” If the vote totals hold, Pearce becomes the first sitting Senate president in the nation and the first Arizona legislator ever to lose a recall election. He would be required to step down immediately once the results become official. Pearce critics gathered more than 10,000 signatures to force the recall, which was seen as a referendum on Pearce’s get-tough posture on immigration issues.

Occupy Protests Plagued by Reports of Sex Attacks, Violent Crime

A rash of reports of sexual assaults at Occupy Wall Street protests across the country has both police and activists raising red flags. Nearly a half-dozen assaults have been reported at Occupy camps, including three at the New York City protests, which have prompted protesters to set up a “women only” tent in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park to provide a safe haven. Reports of sexual abuse also surfaced in Dallas, where a 23-year-old man was accused of having sex with a 14-year-old runaway girl, and in Cleveland, where cops opened an investigation of a sexual assault that allegedly occurred on Oct. 15. The incidents of sex crimes, reports of petty theft, assaults and general outbursts of violence have sprung up not only around Wall Street, but in Occupy camps across the country.

God/Prayer Missing from WWII Memorial

In spite of the objections from the Obama administration, Republican lawmakers and conservative activists are working hard to have prayer added to a memorial in Washington, DC. Before he took to the airways as allied forces were landing on the beaches in Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt prayed with the nation: “Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation this day have set upon the mighty endeavor, have struggled to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.” H.R. 2070 would allow FDR’s prayer to be mounted at the World War II Memorial in DC. Most memorials in the nation’s capital reference God, but there is no such message at the WWII memorial. “That’s not gone without notice to many of the WWII veterans who have gone to the memorial,” Ohio Christian Alliance president Chris Long reports. “In fact, one of the things that they lament [is] that when reading the proclamation of war that FDR gave to the nation when they declared war, it ends with ‘so help us God.’ Well, that’s been omitted from the historical statement.”

Golden Parachutes Surpass $100 Million

The golden parachute is evolving into the platinum kiss. Scores of CEOs depart the corner office with huge exit packages. But recent deals —$100 million (and up) — are raising eyebrows even among those accustomed to oversized payouts. The latest execs who will cash in as they step aside: Nabors Industries’ former CEO, Gene Isenberg, due $126 million when he exits as chairman, and IBM CEO Sam Palmisano, due $170 million. They follow Google’s Eric Schmidt, who received $100 million in stock after leaving as CEO. Worth it or not, the trio underscore the pay inequity that has made Corporate America’s elite ripe targets of populist movements such as Occupy Wall Street. Moreover, their paydays draw fresh wrath from corporate governance experts.

Economic News

The rate at which mortgage holders were late with their payments by 60 days or more rose in the June-to-September period for the first time since the last three months of 2009. 5.88% of homeowners missed two or more payments, an early sign of possible foreclosure. That was up from 5.82% in the second quarter.

Foreclosure sales are moving so slowly in many states that at the current pace, it will take more than eight years on average to clear the 2.1 million homes in foreclosure or with seriously delinquent mortgages, new research shows. The backlogs suggest that the fallout from the nation’s worst housing-market collapse is likely to weigh on real estate prices in many markets for years to come.

Americans borrowed more in September to buy cars and attend college, but they charged less to their credit cards for a third straight month. The figures suggest that consumers are growing more cautious about taking on high-interest debt in a weak economy.

Italian bond yields spiked above 7% Tuesday, a sign that investors are selling the bonds, losing faith in the country’s ability to repay its debt. Analysts say Italy will not be able to refinance its debt at current rates, making it more likely to require international assistance.

Italy

It wasn’t the charges of tax evasion, bribery, influence peddling or even paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl that brought down Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. On Tuesday, Europe’s fast-growing debt crisis claimed its latest victim in Berlusconi, who has led Italy for 11 of the past 17 years. He vowed to resign after shepherding the country’s economic austerity package through Parliament, creating at least some short-term relief for Europe’s fourth-largest economy. If Berlusconi steps down, it will mark the fourth European government felled this year amid costly bailouts and emergency austerity measures.

Greece

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou will hand in his resignation to the country’s president Wednesday, his office has confirmed, following days of talks on forming a new government. Earlier Wednesday, Papandreou updated French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the “imminent” formation of a coalition government. Papandreou told the French leader that the new government would have support from both the majority and the opposition parties. The political turmoil in Greece has shaken international markets, as investors fear a new bailout deal negotiated with European leaders late last month — which has stringent austerity measures attached — may not be implemented.

Iran

Iran won’t retreat “one iota” from its nuclear program, but the world is being misled by claims that it seeks atomic weapons, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday in his first reaction since a U.N. watchdog report that Tehran is on the brink of developing a nuclear warhead. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France would support boosting sanctions against Tehran to an “unprecedented scale” if Iran stonewalls investigations, even as Israel and others say that military options are still possible. Meanwhile, Iran’s chief allies, China and Russia, have issued cautious statements calling for diplomacy and dialogue.

Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons since before 2004, testing detonators and other components that have few uses other than for a nuclear bomb, says a report released Tuesday by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency. The report, sent Tuesday to 35 nations on the IAEA’s board, says Iran, which signed the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), is violating the pact. Congressional leaders called for crippling sanctions on Iran’s financial institutions and oil industry and nations that do business with it.

Liberia

An election that was supposed to solidify peace in this nation emerging from war was marred by dismal turnout Tuesday, after the opposition went ahead with a boycott despite last-minute appeals from the United States and the United Nations Security Council. The move guarantees re-election for the continent’s first and only female president who was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but country experts worry that the low turnout could discredit Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s victory and delegitimize her government. It’s worrisome in the Tennessee-sized nation of 3.9 million that experienced one of Africa’s most horrific civil wars and where a fragile peace is held in place largely by the presence of some 9,000 United Nations peacekeepers.

Burma

While the West is lauding Burma for its reforms, the so-called democratic reforms are little more than a smokescreen behind which the country’s war against the Christian Kachin people continues unabated, according to ASSIST News Service. Burma’s regime is intent on advancing its interests as the country’s geo-strategic value has risen in line with China’s economic and military ascendancy. Some analysts speculate that China might be behind Burma’s intent to ethnically cleanse Kachin State of its 90-percent-Christian population, and it has been reported that China is blocking the delivery of food, emergency shelter and medical aid for the 30,000 displaced Kachin residents. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has downplayed the situation, but the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma reports that more than 15,000 displaced Kachin are confined to a remote mountainous area on the Chinese border in “perilous” conditions. Meanwhile, Burma’s Buddhist-supremacist regime continues to impose severe restrictions on Christianity in many towns in Kachin State, cracking down on the freedoms to hold Bible studies and prayer, as well as burning churches and killing, enslaving and brutalizing Christians.

India

A stampede killed 16 Hindu pilgrims and injured about 50 during a religious ceremony Tuesday on the banks of the Ganges River in northern India. The stampede at Haridwar in Uttrakhand state was triggered when some of the pilgrims tripped and fell while those behind continued to push forward. Thousands of people had converged on the river banks for the prayer ceremony in the temple-filled town in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Ganges enters the sprawling plains of northern India. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit Haridwar every year for bathing in the Ganges, which they believe will cleanse them of sins and free them from the cycle of life and rebirth.

Vietnam

A gang said to be following police orders attacked a Central Vietnam pastor’s family with iron bars and wooden clubs, seriously injuring some, Compass Direct News reports. On the same Sunday that local authorities disrupted pastor Thien An’s house church service, a gang of about 20 men attacked his family — who locked Pastor Thien away in a secure room because they believed the gang wanted to kill him — twice, at 1 p.m. and then again at 8:30 p.m. During both attacks, Pastor Thien called four levels of police and security officials for help, but his calls went unanswered; church members said “even a child” could figure out the connection between the public security police and the gang who attacked them. Police had visited his home the week before to “investigate” his house church, whose application for registration had been denied twice by authorities.

Nigeria

An armed gang opened fire at a church in Nigeria’s Kaduna state last Thursday night during an overnight vigil, killing two people and wounding 11, the Christian Post reports. According to the BBC, the attack was likely connected to a revenge initiative by two Muslim extremist groups, Hasus and Fulanis, fighting back after many were displaced earlier this year when Kaduna’s first-ever Christian governor was elected. Kaduna State is divided among religious and political lines — Christians occupy a large part of the south and Muslims are concentrated in the north, similar to the way Nigeria as a whole is divided — and the situation has led to numerous violent clashes throughout the country.

Earthquakes

A fairly strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 has hit off the shores of Japan’s southern Okinawa Island. The Tuesday quake was about 135 miles away from the island was not expected to cause a tsunami. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Weather

Floodwaters from Thailand’s flood-ravaged central heartland pushed farther into Bangkok on Monday, as residents of long-submerged provinces north of the capital started to rebuild their lives. The water slowly advancing through Bangkok’s northern and western neighborhoods is threatening the city’s subway system, two key industrial estates and the emergency headquarters set up to deal with the flooding that has claimed more than 500 lives nationwide.

A large tornado touched down in southwestern Oklahoma and moved northeast across the state. Some damage was reported from earlier twisters. Wind gusts of 65 mph and golf-ball-size hail were widely reported. Earlier in Tillman County, a funnel cloud destroyed an Oklahoma State University Extension Test Center near Tipton and damaged three other structures. Some buildings have been damaged in the southwestern corner of the state.

Tens of thousands of Connecticut residents awoke Monday as part of an unenviable fraternity: people entering their second week without power after an early-season storm that hammered the Northeast with wet, heavy snow. Power might not be restored to everyone until Wednesday.

An unusual Bering Sea storm packing hurricane-force winds and 35-foot waves — a type of storm not seen for decades in Alaska — moved rapidly Tuesday toward the western Alaska coastline. The storm was traveling at 60 mph and had reached the western Aleutian Islands.

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November 7, 2011

Personhood Referendum Tuesday in Mississippi

While a number of elections throughout the nation are set to take place on Tuesday, a major focus is on Mississippi, where voters will be deciding on the definition of a “person.” Proposition 26, otherwise known as a personhood amendment, declares that a person is a human at the moment of fertilization. And as the vote approaches, Les Riley, the director of Personhood Mississippi who launched the Yes on 26 drive, is encouraging supporters to utilize a major weapon: prayer. He asks believers to request that God would glorify himself and work in a way that is far beyond “what we’ve even got the sense to ask for.We would just ask that God would work in a way that would astonish the whole world and that it would be clear that he was the one working and not us,” Riley says. “This will be the first time in history that a state has recognized the humanity of the unborn and their God-given right to life,” he points out. “It would make abortion illegal within our borders.

Faith is No. 1 Reason for Teens’ Abstinence

A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the most frequent reason teenagers give for abstaining from sex is that the behavior goes against their religion or morals, Baptist Press reports. Among the 57 percent of girls and 58 percent of boys ages 15-19 who said they had never had sex, 41 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys chose “against religion or morals” as their main reason for not being sexually active. The least-chosen option was “don’t want to get a sexually transmitted disease.” Researchers also found that the rate of teenagers having sex has declined slightly from the last report, which was released in 2002; however, the percent of sexually active teen females has decreased dramatically since 1988 — down from 51 percent to 43 percent. Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said the study showed the abstinence movement and message were “not only resonating, but also making a difference in the lives of youth.”

Thousands Protest at White House over Oil Pipeline

Thousands of activists opposed to a plan to build a 1,700-mile oil pipeline that cuts through the heart of the United States descended on the White House on Sunday to ratchet up the pressure on President Obama to scrap the project. The protest of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline came exactly one year before the 2012 election and was designed to send a message to Obama that failure to act will lead to a drop-off in enthusiasm from the environmentalists who backed him in 2008. Backers of the project say the pipeline will create thousands of jobs and help reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Opponents of the project say the pipeline is risky for the environment and public health and runs counter to Obama’s call during his run for the White House to work to end the “tyranny of oil.”

  • The ‘tyranny of oil’ actually lies in the hands of OPEC, largely Muslim, oil-producing nations who can use our dependency on their oil against us

Police Arrest Protesters in Atlanta, Honolulu, Riverside

Police arrested 20 people after an Occupy Atlanta protest rally in a city park spilled onto the streets and officers converged on them on motorcycles, riding horseback and in riot gear. Meanwhile, police in Honolulu arrested a dozen protesters after organizers of the Occupy Honolulu movement attempted to establish an encampment at a local park. Protesters were seeking donations Sunday to recoup $1,700 in bail money after eight people were arrested during a sit-in at Thomas Square, one of Honolulu’s oldest community parks, a day earlier. Riverside California police arrested 11 people Sunday after a group of about 40 demonstrators formed a human chain to prevent officers from pulling down tents near City Hall.

Sexual Harassment a School Epidemic

It can be a malicious rumor whispered in the hallway, a lewd photo arriving by cellphone, hands groping where they shouldn’t. Added up, it’s an epidemic – student-on-student sexual harassment that is pervasive in America’s middle and high schools. During the 2010-11 school year, 48 percent of students in Grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person or electronically via texting, e-mail or social media, according to a major national survey released Monday by the American Association of University Women. The harassers often thought they were being funny, but the consequences for their targets can be wrenching, according to the survey. Nearly a third of the victims said the harassment made them feel sick to their stomach, affected their study habits or fueled reluctance to go to school at all.

  • The sexual liberation launched in the 1950s has spawned an era of perversion that now extends its evil tentacles down to our youngest and most vulnerable. The liberal media is most at fault.

Most U.S. Unemployed No Longer Receive Benefits

The jobs crisis has left so many people out of work for so long that most of America’s unemployed are no longer receiving unemployment benefits. Early last year, 75 percent of the unemployed were receiving checks. The figure is now 48 percent — a shift that points to a growing crisis of long-term unemployment. Nearly one-third of America’s 14 million unemployed have had no job for a year or more. Congress is expected to decide by year’s end whether to continue providing emergency unemployment benefits for up to 99 weeks in the hardest-hit states.

Consumer Debt Down, Government Debt Up

The sharp rise in federal borrowing is overwhelming efforts of consumers to reduce debt, leaving the economy deeper in debt than when the recession began in December 2007. he substitution of government debt for consumer debt helped end the recession and start a recovery, economists say, but it leaves the nation’s long-term economic health in peril. Households have reduced debt by $549 billion (10.6%) since 2007, mostly by cutting mortgages through defaults and paying down credit cards. During that time, the federal government has added more than $4 trillion in debt, pushing the country’s total borrowing to a record $36.5 trillion. Federal debt has risen from 36.9% of the nation’s gross domestic product when the recession began to 67.5% on Sept. 30.

  • Citizens have done their part, now it’s time to drastically reign in a government out of control

Super Committee to Defy Leadership and Go Big?

As the Super Committee butts against a hard and fast deadline for reducing the deficit, a Republican and a Democratic lawmaker on Sunday say they must be willing to buck their leadership and go big on both cutting spending and adding revenues. Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Heath Shuler, D-N.C., are leading a group of 100 representatives who crafted a letter to the Super Committee calling for all options to be laid on the table in the quest to shave the federal debt. They are urging the panel to go past its mandate of $1.2 trillion over 10 years and find $4 trillion in debt reduction. The Super Committee has until Nov. 23 to come up with its recommendations or face automatic cuts in military and entitlement spending. The congressmen said they may have to subvert their party leaders to get a deal done.

Economic News

The wealth gap between younger and older Americans has stretched to the widest on record, worsened by a prolonged economic downturn that has wiped out job opportunities for young adults and saddled them with housing and college debt. The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday. This wealth gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.

Any chance that Toyota and Honda would be able to salvage a horrible 2011 appears to have been dashed by Thailand flooding. The two Japanese automakers had been running their Thai plants flat out in order to try to make up for lost production left over from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in March. Now comes a double dose of bad luck from nature. Plants in Thailand may continue to see significant production delays through December.

Ford, stung by falling quality ratings because of its glitch-prone MyFord Touch system, is planning a major upgrade that it hopes will fix the problems — and repair its own reputation. The current confusing display that will be replaced with a simpler one. Early next year, Ford is sending flash drives with a software upgrade to approximately 250,000 U.S. customers with MyFord Touch systems. Owners can do the upgrade themselves in about 45 minutes, or dealers will do it for free.

Eurozone

In the last few weeks, Italy has become the new focus of the Eurozone debt crisis, as its debts are huge, its growth is slow, and its economy too large to bail out. Investors want the government to quickly pass measures to boost growth and cut debt. The ultimate fear is that Italy might need to ask for an international bailout to handle its enormous ($2.6 trillion) debt. That is too expensive for Europe to do, and could trigger a default that would break up the 17-nation Eurozone and drag down the global economy.

Greece’s prime minister and main opposition leader agreed Sunday to form an interim government to ensure the country’s new European debt deal. Prime Minister George Papandreou agreed to step down halfway through his four-year term The leaders of Greece’s two biggest parties are due to resume talks Monday to agree on who should be the country’s new prime minister, after reaching a historic power-sharing deal to push through a massive financial rescue deal and prevent imminent bankruptcy. Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou and conservative leader Antonis Samaras are to hold fresh talks to hammer out the composition of the new 15-week government, which will be tasked with passing the $179 billion package from the country’s international creditors before elections.

Middle East

Intelligence provided to the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency shows that Iran has mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon, The Washington Post reported Sunday. According to the intelligence, Iran appears to have received crucial technical assistance from foreign experts, the newspaper reported, citing Western diplomats and nuclear experts briefed on the findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency The IAEA report is its most detailed yet. The report sees Iran as gearing to developing atomic bombs and is expected to spur Western powers to press for more sanctions on Iran.

Israeli President Shimon Peres warned on Sunday that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely, days before a report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog on Iran’s nuclear program is officially released. “The possibility of a military attack against Iran is now closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic option,” Peres told the Israel Hayom daily. His comments came after he warned in an interview aired by Israel’s privately-owned Channel Two television on Saturday that an attack on Iran was becoming “more and more likely.” In France meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned that an attack on Iran would be disastrous. “We have imposed sanctions that continue to expand, we can toughen them to put pressure on Iran,” Juppe told Europe 1 radio. “We will continue on this path because a military intervention could create a situation that completely destabilizes the region,” he said.

Specially trained teams of Hezbollah terrorists have been sent to Iran for logistical training to allow them to use the hundreds of millions of dollars in missiles, rockets, and other weapons Iran has provided to them. They boast of being able to fire ten thousand missiles at pre-selected targets inside Israel in one day. In addition to striking military targets like airfields and bases, they are expected to launch attacks against oil refineries and civilian population centers as well. This planned outbreak of violence could be released at any moment on Iran’s command, but even now rocket and missile attacks on Israel are a daily occurrence—and they are growing ever more frequent.

Libya

Some weapons depots in Libya have still not been secured properly, and “much has already gone missing” from unguarded sites, the top U.N. envoy in Libya said in an interview Sunday. Preventing more weapons from being smuggled out of country will be difficult, considering the nature of the vast desert nation’s borders, the envoy, Ian Martin, said. During the chaos of Libya’s 8-month civil war, human rights groups and reporters came across a number of weapons depots that were left unguarded and were looted after Moammar Gadhafi’s fighters fled. The weapons include shoulder-held missiles, land mines and ammunition. Martin noted progress concerning chemical weapons and nuclear material. Last week, Libyan officials said they discovered two new sites with chemical weapons that had not been declared by the Gadhafi regime when it vowed several years ago to stop pursuing non-conventional weapons. Officials also said they found about 7,000 drums of raw uranium.

Syria

Syrian troops stormed a defiant neighborhood of the embattled city of Homs on Monday, kicking in doors and making arrests after nearly a week of violence pitting soldiers against army defectors and protesters demanding the downfall of President Bashar Assad. More than 110 people have been reported killed in the past week in Homs, a city of about 800,000 that has turned into one of the main centers of protest and reprisal during the nearly 8-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad. Security forces killed at least six people in central Syria as thousands of anti-government protesters called for the downfall of the Syrian regime Sunday, the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday. The violence added to fears that a peace plan brokered by the Arab League last week was unraveling only days after Damascus agreed to halt its crackdown on the 7-month old uprising that the U.N. says has left some 3,000 people dead.

Nigeria

Residents fearfully left their homes Saturday to bury their dead in northeast Nigeria following a series of coordinated attacks that killed over 100 people and left a new police headquarters in ruins, government offices burned and symbols of state power destroyed. A radical Muslim sect known locally as Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks in Borno and Yobe states, with the worst damage done in and around the city of Damaturu. The group also promised to continue its bloody sectarian fight against Nigeria’s weak central government, with residents nervously moving through empty streets, waiting for the next attack. After a weekend of violence and fear, U.S. officials warned Sunday that luxury hotels frequented by foreigners and Nigeria’s elite may be bombed by a radical Muslim sect.

Earthquakes  There will be… earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matt 24:7-8)

Oklahomans more accustomed to tornadoes than earthquakes suffered through a weekend of temblors that cracked buildings, buckled a highway and rattled nerves. One quake late Saturday was the state’s strongest ever and was followed early Sunday by a jarring aftershock. The magnitude 5.6 earthquake Saturday night was centered near Sparks, 44 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, and could be felt throughout the state and in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, northern Texas and some parts of Illinois and Wisconsin. A magnitude 4.7 quake early Saturday was felt from Texas to Missouri.

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 3.2 has rattled part of the San Francisco Bay area. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake hit at 2:52 p.m. Saturday about three miles southeast of downtown Berkeley. Police hadn’t received any reports of damage or injuries. The quake follows a series of similar-sized temblors that shook the area in recent weeks. Two quakes on Oct. 20 — one with a magnitude of 3.8 and another a magnitude 4.0 — hit the same day that many Californians took part in an annual earthquake preparedness drill.

Weather

The nationwide death toll from flooding in Thailand has climbed past 500, as the polluted black water continues its march through parts of the capital. Three months of intense rainfall have fueled Thailand’s worst flooding in half a century, swamping much of the country since July. The floods have affected more than a third of the country’s provinces, destroying millions of acres of crops and forcing thousands of factories to close.

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November 5, 2011

House Votes to Reaffirm ‘In God We Trust’ Motto

In a 396-9 vote Tuesday night, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States. The resolution, proposed by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), not only affirms the motto but also encourages its display in public and government buildings. Forbes said the motto had been under attack during the past three years, citing specifically an instance in which President Obama misstated the motto as “E pluribus unum” and refused to correct himself even after 42 members of Congress sent him a letter, as well as the fact that the White House website has the incorrect motto.

Biblical Blunder at White House Briefing

It was a blunder of biblical proportions. White House spokesman Jay Carney invoked scripture yesterday to back up President Barack Obama’s suggestion that God wants policymakers to get busy and create more jobs. Carney said Obama was trying to make the point that “we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people.” Carney said there was a Bible phrase stating “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Someone caught the goof. A White House transcript of Carney’s briefing issued later in the day included the disclaimer: “This common phrase does not appear in the Bible.”

  • Many Christian also believe this Ben Franklin quote is Scriptural, but it’s not. The Bible says in many places that God often helps those who are helpless. He wants us dependent on Him, not on self.

‘Almighty God’ Gets Approval

Now that a court has given its stamp of approval, Kentuckians can legally thank “Almighty God.” A ruling by a three-judge panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals favors two state actions thanking God. One of those actions came in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when state lawmakers issued a finding stating “the safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance on Almighty God.” The other — in legislation that created the state Office of Homeland Security in 2006 — required the executive director of that agency to acknowledge “dependence on Almighty God” in training manuals and on a wall plaque on the door of the operations center. A lower court had ruled against the latter action — specifically, against a plaque saying: “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) There was a lawsuit by some atheists saying that they were trying to establish religion by requiring the plaque. However, the court of appeals ruled it was just a part of the traditional American heritage, and that it’s okay for a government to say such a thing as ‘God Almighty.’

  • The question isn’t whether courts and government approve of Almighty God, but whether He approves of us

Christian Persecution Continues Unabated

Friday’s Barnabas Fund reports:

A Christian teenager was beaten to death by Muslim classmates at their school in Egypt after he refused to conceal his cross tattoo and necklace.

A Christian mother of four was slaughtered by a Muslim colleague in Pakistan after she resisted his attempt to rape her at the factory where they worked.

The Burmese army has attacked churches and fired at worshippers, while severe restrictions have been imposed on Christian activities, as the military continues its offensive in Kachin state.

  • Funny how the media neglects these stories, but would hype any attacks on Muslims

Supporting Israel is Not a Sin

According to some mainstream “theologians” support for Israel is a sin! In a blistering document from the Just Peacemaking Initiative of Fuller Theological Seminary, two professors make the outrageous claim in an “Open Letter to Christian Zionists” that the instability and coming outbreak of violence and war in the Middle East is the fault of those of us who support Israel! They wrote: :American Christian Zionism as it currently stands is sinful and produces sin.” Praying for the peace of Jerusalem is a command of God (Psalm 122:6) and it is never more important or needed than it is right now. The enemies of Israel have no concern about the theological correctness of their position—they know their “holy book” calls for the elimination of Jews…and they mean to obey that evil command.

  • While the secular government has led Israel astray, it is the past and future center of God’s Kingdom on earth and we are commanded Biblically to prayerfully support it through thick and thin

G-20 Summit Ends With a Whimper

The G-20 summit ended in disarray without additional outside money to ease Europe’s debt crisis and new jitters about Italy clouding a plan to prevent Greece from defaulting. In the end, only vague offers to increase the firepower of the International Monetary Fund— at some later date — were all the Eurozone leaders were able to take home Friday after two days of tumultuous talks. With their own finances already stretched from bailing out Greece, Ireland and Portugal — and the United States and other allies wrestling with their own problems — Eurozone countries had been looking to the IMF to help line up more financing to prevent the debt crisis from spreading to larger economies like Italy and Spain. Italy’s fate in particular is crucial to the Eurozone, because its economy — the third-largest in the currency union — would be too expensive to bail out. The implications for the world economy are stark: The debt crisis that has rocked the 17-nation Eurozone threatens to push the world economy into a second recession.

Greece Rescinds Referendum, PM Survives Confidence Vote

Greece’s prime minister George Papandreou survived a confidence vote in parliament early Saturday morning, calming a revolt in his Socialist party with a pledge to seek an interim government that would secure a vital new European debt deal. Under international pressure, Papandreou Thursday gave up his plan for a nationwide vote on a bailout deal for his debt-ridden country that European leaders fretted would cause a financial meltdown. Papandreou also forced his political foes to back down on their opposition to the spending cuts and tax hikes that come with the bailout funded largely by Germany and other European nations. Polls indicate the bailout is unpopular in Greece, where in return for $180 billion in assistance, holders of the Greek debt must agree to take 50% less than they are owed. The deal also forces Greece to cut thousands of state jobs and raise taxes to tackle its budget deficit, and it expands the power of EU inspectors overlooking its finances.

Sun Blasting Massive Solar Flares

After years of quiet, the sun is coming alive with solar storms in a big way. The sun shot off a flare Thursday afternoon from a region that scientists are calling a “benevolent monster.” Thursday’s flare was not aimed at Earth. This active region, however, is now slowly turning toward Earth, and scientists say it will be directly facing Earth in about five days. The region will be facing Earth for about two weeks as it rotates. Solar flares send out bursts of electromagnetic energy that can occasionally disrupt communications and electrical systems. For the past several years, the sun has been at a quiet end of its cycle and only recently has gotten more active. Solar cycles go in an 11-year period. This cycle has had fewer storms than usual for this time in its cycle. But that may be changing.

CIA Monitoring Twitter, Facebook Posts

In an anonymous industrial park in Virginia, in an unassuming brick building, the CIA is following tweets — up to 5 million a day. At the agency’s Open Source Center, a team known affectionately as the “vengeful librarians” also pores over Facebook, newspapers, TV news channels, local radio stations, and Internet chat rooms. From Arabic to Mandarin Chinese, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often in native tongue. They cross-reference it with the local newspaper or a clandestinely intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by the highest levels at the White House, giving a real-time peek, for example, at the mood of a region after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden or perhaps a prediction of which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt. The center predicted that social media in places like Egypt could be a game-changer and a threat to the regime. The CIA facility was set up in response to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission, with its first priority to focus on counter-terrorism.

  • However, this same technology can also be used to spy on American citizens and profile those whom the government deems ‘dangerous’

Tucson Sector Border Arrests Fall 40 Percent

The number of illegal immigrants arrested by the Border Patrol in the Tucson Sector fell by more than 40 percent last year, a significant drop that indicates illegal immigration has slowed considerably in Arizona. Arrests in the Tucson Sector fell to 123,000 last fiscal year. Arrests in the Nogales station, the largest in the Tucson Sector, fell by 43 percent to 18,000. The Obama administration has deployed National Guard troops and has been adding new fencing, technology and agents along the border to make it more difficult to cross illegally. They also have been beefing up immigration enforcement. In fiscal 2011, deportations were at an all-time high. Those factors, coupled with the grim U.S. job market, have driven the number of arrests down.

  • Administration officials are loathe to credit the stiffened Arizona immigration laws which have probably had the biggest impact

U.S.-Born Children Sue for In-State Tuition

A Florida lawsuit is highlighting a rare practice of forbidding U.S.-born students — citizens by birth — from getting in-state tuition because their parents are illegal immigrants. Five students, all born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents, sued the state last month for denying them in-state tuition rates even though they’d lived in Florida, graduated from state high schools and were entering state colleges and universities. They claim the higher out-of-state rates they were charged either forced them to drop out or take fewer classes, delaying their eventual graduation. The lawsuit illustrates a fractured, state-by-state immigration debate that questions how many rights children of illegal immigrants — born in and outside the U.S. — should be given.

In Maryland, which passed a bill granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants two months ago, a taxpayer revolt has produced 132,000 signatures on a petition for a referendum on the November, 2012 ballot to repeal the local version of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). This is twice the number needed to get on the ballot. In Maryland, in-state tuition averages $8,416 compared to $24,831 for out-of-staters. Nearly a third of those who signed the anti-DREAM petition were Democrats, with another fifteen percent unaffiliated.

Police & Protesters Clash

Police and protesters supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement clashed in Oakland Wednesday. The confrontation began after protesters started a large bonfire in the middle of a downtown street. Police in riot gear moved in on hundreds of protesters as the flames shot more than 15 feet in the air. The protesters began hurling rocks, explosives, bottles, and flaming objects at responding officers. Several private and municipal buildings sustained heavy vandalism. Police warned protesters to clear out before firing several rounds of tear gas and “flash bang” grenades to clear the area. In the aftermath of the police actions, protesters with cloth wrapped around their faces to protect them from the stench of the gas marched through the area chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets.” Earlier, Occupy Wall Street protesters declared victory after thousands of demonstrators shut down evening operations at one of the nation’s busiest shipping ports.

Biggest Jump Ever in Greenhouse Gases

The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Thursday. The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago. The world pumped about 564 million more tons (512 million metric tons) of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009. That’s an increase of 6%. Extra pollution in China and the U.S. account for more than half the increase in emissions. India and China are huge users of coal. Burning coal is the biggest carbon source worldwide and emissions from that jumped nearly 8% in 2010.

Recession Drives More Americans to Poverty-Wracked Neighborhoods

The number of Americans living in neighborhoods beset by extreme poverty surged in the last decade, erasing the progress of the 1990s, with the poorest areas growing more than twice as fast in suburbs as in cities. At least 2.2 million more Americans, a 33 percent jump since 2000, live in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is 40 percent or higher, according to a study released today by the Washington-based Brookings Institution. The report, which analyzed Census Bureau data, shows the extent to which the U.S. lost ground in efforts to fight poverty during a decade marked by recessions, including the deepest slump in seven decades. The Midwest and South were hardest hit, suffering from manufacturing job losses and the housing bust. The report follows the release of data by the Census Bureau in September that showed the number of people living in poverty was the highest in the 52 years since the agency began gathering the statistic. U.S. household income fell to its lowest level in more than a decade in 2010 and poverty rose to a 17-year high.

Economic News

Government-controlled mortgage giant Freddie Mac has requested $6 billion in additional aid after posting a wider loss in the third quarter. Freddie Mac said Thursday that it lost $6 billion, or $1.86 per share, in the July-September quarter. That compares with a loss of $4.1 billion, or $1.25 a share, in the same quarter of 2010. Freddie’s losses are increasing mainly for two reasons: Many homeowners are paying less interest because they are able to refinance at lower mortgage rates. In addition, failing and bankrupt mortgage insurers are not paying out as much money when homeowners default. Taxpayers have spent about $169 billion to rescue mortgage siblings Fannie Mae and Freddie, the most expensive bailout of the 2008 financial crisis. The government estimates it will cost at least $51 billion more to support the companies through 2014, and as much as $142 billion in the most extreme case.

The unemployment rate ticked down to 9% from 9.1% last month. It was the first drop in the unemployment rate since July. The Labor Department said the economy added only 80,000 jobs in October. It was the fewest in four months and below September’s revised total of 158,000. October’s modest job growth is barely enough to keep pace with population growth.

The real unemployment rate is actually well above the official level of 9.1 percent, which only measures people who have applied for a job within the previous four weeks. The Department of Labor’s “U-6” number of 16.5% has received increasing attention lately because it includes people who have given up looking for work within the past year, plus people who have been cut back from full-time employees to part-timers.

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a hopeful sign that the job market might be picking up. The Labor Department says weekly applications dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 397,000, lowest level in five weeks. It’s only the third time since April that applications have fallen below 400,000. Weekly unemployment claims need to fall below 375,000 to signal sustained job gains. They haven’t been at that level since February.

The federal workforce appears to be immune to the country’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. While civilian employment has tanked, with 14 million Americans out of work, the number of federal employees has grown 12 percent since the official start of the recession in December 2007.

The Commerce Department says total factory orders increased for a third straight month, edging up 0.3%. Demand for core capital goods, the category that serves as a proxy for business investment spending, jumped 2.5%, largest increase since a 5.4% rise in March. The surge in demand for capital goods reflected significant increases in demand for heavy machinery and computers.

Israel

The past few days have seen a major increase in terrorist violence and attacks against Israel. Dozens of rockets and missiles—more than one per hour for much of that time—have rained down on southern Israeli villages and towns. At least one man—a Jewish father of four—was killed in this latest escalation of violence, and a number have been wounded. Several schools were forced to cancel classes, and one empty school was mostly destroyed by a direct rocket strike.

Gunman in the Gaza Strip opened fire on an Israeli crew working on the security fence separating Israel from the Strip on Thursday. There were no injuries among the Israelis in the incident, which took place near  Kibbutz Zikim in the Western Negev. IDF troops on the scene returned fire and two Palestinians were reportedly killed. The shootout is just the latest act of aggression against Israel carried out by Gaza based terror organizations.

Iran

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledged Tuesday that U.S.-designed financial sanctions are causing serious problems for Iran’s banking sector, as he appealed to lawmakers to keep his government together despite a massive embezzlement scandal. ‘Our banks cannot make international transactions anymore,’ the embattled president said in a speech before parliament to defend his minister of economic affairs and finance against impeachment charges related to the scandal… U.S. sanctions against Iran played an important role in the debate, in which critics sought to blame Ahmadinejad and his team for a lack of oversight in a $2.6 billion fraud case in which most factions seemed to be involved

Syria

Syria accepted an Arab League proposal calling for it to withdraw armored vehicles from the streets and stop violence against protesters in a bid to end the country’s seven-month-old political crisis that has led to the deaths of some 3,000 people. The agreement was announced by Qatar’s Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim, who urged Damascus to follow through with action on the ground. Syria has continued its bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters despite international condemnation and previous promises of reform.

France

The offices of a French satirical newspaper were firebombed today only hours before it published an edition on the Arab Spring featuring a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed. The cover of Charlie Hedbo shows a bearded and turbaned cartoon figure of the prophet saying “100 lashes if you’re not dying of laughter.” Islam generally forbids depictions of its founder. In recent years, other publications and cartoonists, particularly in Europe, who have drawn pictures of the the prophet Mohammed have been attacked.

Japan

Japan has made big strides toward stabilizing its tsunami-crippled nuclear plant but is now facing another crisis — what to do with all the radioactive waste the disaster created. Goshi Hosono, the country’s nuclear crisis minister, said Friday that Japan has yet to come up with a comprehensive plan for how to dispose of the irradiated waste that has been accumulating since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The crisis has spawned a huge amount of irradiated waste that will require new technology and “creative methods” to dispose of safely.

Cuba

Cuba announced Thursday that it will allow real estate to be bought and sold for the first time since the early days of the revolution, the most important reform yet in a series of free-market changes under President Raul Castro. The law, which takes effect Nov. 10, applies to citizens living in Cuba and permanent residents only. Cuban exiles will not be allowed to buy property on the island since they are not residents. The law limits Cubans to owning one home in the city and another in the country, an effort to prevent the accumulation of large real estate holdings. It requires all real estate transactions to be made through Cuban bank accounts so they can be better regulated, and says the transactions will be subject to bank commissions.

Nigeria

A series of bomb and gun attacks targeting police stations, mosques and churches left 63 people dead in northeastern Nigeria, a Red Cross official said Saturday. Attackers left scores injured — probably more than 100 — in the three-hour rampage in the Yobe state city of Damaturu. Gunmen first attacked the police headquarters and the anti-terror office before moving to churches and mosques. Most of the casualties are police officers.. The attack came the same day suicide bombers suspected to belong to a militant Islamist group targeted a military base in nearby Maiduguri. Three suicide bombers drove a stolen black SUV toward a Joint Task Force headquarters, but could not get through the gate.

Earthquakes

Three earthquakes that shook much of central Oklahoma were also felt as far away as Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. The U.S. Geological Survey says that a 4.7 magnitude earthquake struck at 2:12 a.m., with an epicenter about six miles north of Prague in southern Lincoln County. That’s about 50 miles east of Oklahoma City. A 3.4 magnitude aftershock was reported at 2:27 a.m. from the same location. Another 2.7 magnitude quake also was recorded at 2:44 a.m. Lincoln County sheriff officials say there have been no reports of injuries but several people have reported items falling off walls

Weather

Many schools are closed this entire week as crews continue efforts to restore power to about 760,000 utility customers who remain in the dark in several states Thursday. Last weekend’s storm dumped an inch to more than 30 inches of wet, heavy snow across the region and took down thousands of trees and wires, cutting power to more than 3 million homes and businesses. Some residents are still languishing in shelters that provided heat and meals. Connecticut, the hardest-hit state, still had more than a half-million customers without power. New Jersey still had 180,000 homes and businesses without power.

Floodwaters lapped Bangkok’s largest outdoor market Saturday as officials warned that no major barriers now stood in the way to prevent the water from reaching the heart of the Thai capital. Hoping to divert some of the mass of water still piled up in northern Bangkok, workers Friday night completed a 3.7-mile flood wall made from massive, hastily assembled sand bags. Thailand’s record floods swamped a major intersection in the northern edge of the city center and threatening the subway system. The water from the country’s worst flooding in more than half a century started in the country’s north in late July and has killed almost 450 people nationwide, and has been spreading across Bangkok’s north and west for more than a week. The government has asked residents in eight of the city’s 50 districts to evacuate. Residents in several other districts have been warned that they should be ready to leave. The water has yet to reach the city’s central business district.

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