Arrests at U.S.-Mexican Border Continue to Drop

Arrests of illegal immigrants along the U.S. border with Mexico are at the lowest level since the Nixon administration, indicating that fewer people are attempting to cross the border to live or work in the United States. The development could change the debate on illegal immigration from securing the border to handling the people who are already here. It’s the sixth straight year apprehensions have dropped. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Border Patrol arrested 327,577 people trying to cross the southern U.S. border. Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials deported a record 396,906 people over the same period. That marks the first time in decades that formal removals from the U.S. outpaced arrests at the border. The number of arrests of people trying to sneak across the border has been steadily declining since 2006, after an all-time high of more than 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000.

Attempts to pass immigration reform legislation have repeatedly failed, with Republicans saying they will not support any bill that provides a path to legalization for illegal immigrants who are here and won’t consider other reforms until the border is secure. Some Republican presidential candidates, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have signed a pledge to build a fence along the length of the southern border — there is already more than 600 miles of towering steel fencing in place. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, nearly two-thirds of the country’s estimated 10.2 million adult illegal immigrants have been living in the United States for at least 10 years. A decade ago, fewer than half had been in the U.S. that long.

U.S. on Pace to Become Net Fuel Exporter

The U.S. is on track to be a net exporter of petroleum products this year for the first time in 62 years — and yet, domestic gas prices remain at or close to record highs for this time of year, Fox News reports. Data released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that the U.S. sent abroad 753.4 million barrels of gasoline, diesel and other oil-based fuels in the first nine months of 2011, while taking in only 689.4 million barrels. Americans are relying on less oil, while emerging markets are demanding more. But so far, that decreased domestic demand hasn’t translated into decreased domestic prices at the pump. Domestic prices at the pump are at record highs for this time of year, but are actually falling now that we’ve hit the holiday season. The average price of a gallon of gas is now at $3.27, according to AAA, down 11 cents from two weeks ago and down 20 cents since Halloween.

Occupy Protests Dwindling, Change Direction

Police chief Ronal Serpas said most protesters at the Occupy New Orleans camp are leaving peacefully after officers formed around the park and began telling people encamped there they were violating the law. While most are leaving, Serpas said a small group is staying behind. He gave no details on how police would deal with those who are staying. The move came ahead of a hearing Tuesday during which a federal judge was to consider a request by protesters to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the city from evicting them and an injunction that would allow them to continue their around-the-clock occupation of Duncan Plaza.

With some of its urban encampments closed by police and others under siege, the Occupy movement says it’s opening a new front in its battle against big banks by moving poor people into empty, bank-owned foreclosed homes. The group staged what it termed “a national day of action” Tuesday to fight fraudulent lending practices and “illegal evictions by banks” — the institutions Occupiers blame for the nation’s economic predicament. The group said its Occupy Our Homes effort also would try to disrupt auctions at which foreclosed properties are sold.

Senate Republicans Block Obama Judge Pick

Arguing that she is too activist for a position on the federal circuit court, Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked President Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals seat previously held by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. The vote Tuesday, 54-45, was far short of the 60 votes needed under Senate rules. Republicans said they were troubled by Halligan’s record arguing against trying enemy combatants in military tribunals as well as her support for “nuisance” lawsuits like suing gun manufacturers for crimes committed with weapons and her overall activism against gun ownership. As solicitor general for former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Halligan also took “activists positions” like supporting NOW’s claim that pro-life groups had engaged in extortion; the use of race in college and law school admissions is constitutional; illegal immigrants should be awarded back pay in labor disputes in the United States; and the Clean Air Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases.

  • This was a major victory against socialistic judicial activism

Number of Students Attending Charter Schools Soars

The number of students attending charter schools has soared to more than 2 million as states pass laws lifting caps and encouraging their expansion. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released new figures Wednesday showing a 13 percent growth in enrollment. That’s the equivalent of about 200,000 students. More than 500 new charter schools opened for the 2011-12 school year. Overall, about 4.5 percent of all public school students now attend a charter. Charter schools are publicly funded but have more independence from many laws and regulations than traditional public schools.

  • Best of all, many charter schools are Christian

U.S. Well on the Way to Christian Persecution, Cardinal Says

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Archbishop of St. Louis and now the head of the Vatican’s highest court, said the United States is “well on the way” to the persecution of Christians, International Christian Concern reports. Burke said he could envision a time when the church in America, would be accused of “engaging in illegal activity” just for preaching biblical doctrine. Pope Benedict XVI also made a similar warning last week: The “seriousness of the challenges which the church in America … is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated. The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers.” Burke declared it a war, and added that it was critical at this time that Christians “stand up” for their faith.

Health Care Law Changing Behavior

More than 2.65 million Medicare recipients have saved more than $1.5 billion on their prescriptions this year, a $569-per-person average, while premiums have remained stable, the government announced Tuesday. That’s because of the provision of the health care law that put a 50% discount on prescription drugs in the “doughnut hole,” the gap between traditional and catastrophic coverage in the drug benefit, also known as Part D. And, as of the end of November, more than 24 million people, or about half of those with traditional Medicare, have gone in for a free annual physical or other screening exam since the rules changed this year because of the health care law.

Scientists Find Monster Black Holes

Scientists have found the biggest black holes known to exist — each one 10 billion times the size of our sun. A team led by astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered the two gigantic black holes in clusters of elliptical galaxies more than 300 million light years away. That’s relatively close on the galactic scale. The scientists used ground-based telescopes as well as the Hubble Space Telescope and Texas supercomputers, observing stars near the black holes and measuring the stellar velocities to uncover these vast, invisible regions.

  • Given the vastness and complexity of the universe, how can people deny a Creator and continue to believe that all this came from nothing with no intelligent causation? Now that takes brain-dead faith!

Economic News

There’s no shortage of shoppers this holiday season — at least online. Consumers spent $18.7 billion online in the first month of the holiday season, Nov. 1 to Dec. 1, a 15% increase over the same time period last year. 92.5% of retailers said they planned to offer free shipping at some point this season, vs. less than 85% last year. Nearly 80% say free shipping is an important component to online shopping, with 36% saying they wouldn’t buy online without it.

Citigroup is eliminating 4,500 jobs in its latest effort to cut costs. Other banks have also been cutting staff. Last month, Swiss lender UBS said it is downsizing its investment bank to 16,000 people by 2016 from the current 18,000 as the bank tries to reduce its exposure to risk. In September, Bank of America said it would cut 30,000 jobs over the next few years.

Standard & Poor’s warned Monday that 15 European countries — some with the highest AAA rating — could face a credit downgrade due to excessive government debt. Lower credit ratings mean those countries would have to pay higher interest on their loans, adding to Europe’s debt woes. A major slowdown in Europe could depress the economy and stock prices in the U.S.

If the European debt crisis infects the global economy, emerging East Asia’s growth could shrink by a quarter next year as exports plunge, according to a report Tuesday by the Asian Development Bank. The ADB predicts that gross domestic product for emerging East Asia will grow 7.2% next year, down from 7.5% in 2011. A global economic crisis could knock 1.8 percentage points off that number..

Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political party says it has won a majority of the seats up for grabs in Egypt’s run-off elections, which would give it at least 40 percent of the seats in parliament decided thus far. The leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said he is prepared to compromise with the ruling military on the formation of a new government, and that fears of the “Islamization” of the country are overblown. The comments appeared to be an attempt to reassure Egyptians and foreign allies that the group remains committed to democracy and does not want to take the country down an extremist path. Egyptians are voting Tuesday in first-round run-offs of parliamentary elections, which have been dominated so far by the fundamentalist Brotherhood and the hard-line Al-Nour bloc. The strong Islamist showing came at the expense of liberal activists who led the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Afghanistan/Pakistan

Afghanistan will need the financial support of other countries for at least another decade beyond the 2014 departure of foreign troops, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said at an international conference. Pakistan boycotted the meeting to protest an apparently errant U.S. air strike last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the rough border with Afghanistan. The strike furthered the perception in Pakistan that NATO and the U.S. are its true enemies, not the Taliban militants that operate on both sides of the border. Pakistan is seen as instrumental to ending the insurgency in Afghanistan because of its links to militant groups and its unwillingness, from the U.S. and NATO perspective, to drive insurgents from safe havens on its soil where they regroup and rearm.

A suicide bomber struck a crowd of Shiite worshippers at a mosque in Kabul on Tuesday, killing at least 54 people in the deadliest of two attacks on a Shiite holy day — the first major sectarian assaults since the fall of the Taliban a decade ago. Four other Shiites were killed in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif when a bomb strapped to a bicycle exploded as a convoy of Afghan Shiites was driving down the road, with another 21 people also wounded in that attack. At least 19 people, including women and children, were killed when their bus hit a roadside mine in Afghanistan Wednesday,

Syria

Senior government officials — including President Bashar al-Assad — and their supporters reel off a strikingly uniform explanation for the uprisings, blaming foreign agents and denying official responsibility for the violence in Syria. “Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa,” Mr. Assad said in an interview with ABC News to be broadcast on Wednesday. In the interview, Mr. Assad denied ordering a crackdown. “We don’t kill our people,” he said. “No government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person.” Virtually none in the Syrian government link the uprisings there to the common sentiment inspiring revolutions across the Arab world, to a public fed up with the status quo. Instead, they say that the United States and Israel, allied with certain quisling Arab governments, are plotting to destroy Syria, to silence its lone, independent Arab voice and to weaken its regional ally, Iran. To achieve this aim, they say, they are arming and financing Muslim fundamentalist mercenaries who enter Syria from abroad.

Despite the international call for an arms embargo of the brutal Assad regime in Damascus which has killed more than 4,000 of its own people in a desperate attempt to cling to power, Russia has delivered a major shipment of advanced cruise missiles to Syria. These missiles, designed specifically to strike at ships, pose a serious threat to Israel’s Navy. Many people fear that the Assad government will launch an attack on Israel in order to unify the people and divert attention from their brutality and incompetence. Syria not only has a highly advanced military but also massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons as well.

China

Human rights and religious freedom in China have deteriorated to the lowest point since the period after the crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square student-led pro-democracy demonstration, ChinaAid reports. Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, has been invited by the European Parliament to testify on the serious decline of religious freedom, the rule of law and human rights in general. “The grave human rights violations by the Chinese government is a global issue,” Fu said. “We urge [international] leaders to take more concrete steps to encourage the Chinese government to improve its record by building an international coalition founded on an unwavering solidarity with the Chinese rights defenders community.”

Russia

Police clashed with demonstrators protesting vote fraud in Moscow and at least two other major Russian cities for a second day Tuesday, as anger boiled over against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his ruling United Russia party. Several thousand protesters took to the streets Monday night and accused Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s party of rigging this weekend’s parliamentary election in which it won the largest share of the seats. It was perhaps the biggest opposition rally in years and ended with police detaining about 300 activists. A group of several hundred marched toward the Central Elections Commission near the Kremlin, but were stopped by riot police and taken away in buses. In St. Petersburg, police detained about 120 protesters. Putin’s United Russia won about 50 percent of Sunday’s vote, a result that opposition politicians and election monitors said was inflated because of ballot-box stuffing and other vote fraud. It was a significant drop from the last election, when the party took 64 percent.

Japan

Traces of radiation spilled from Japan’s hobbled nuclear plant were detected in baby formula Tuesday in the latest case of contaminated food in the nation. Major food and candy maker Meiji Co. said it was recalling canned powdered milk for infants. The levels of radioactive cesium were well below government-set safety limits, and the company said the amounts were low enough not to have any affect on babies’ health even if they drank the formula every day. However, experts said children are more at risk than are adults of getting cancer and other illnesses from radiation exposure.

Undersea views reveal that Japan’s colossal earthquake ripped deep fissures in the seafloor and raised undersea cliffs hundreds of feet, while spawning waves that destroyed billion-dollar seawalls. In a series of reports on the March 11 earthquake, among the strongest ever recorded at magnitude 9.0, researchers here at the American Geophysical Union meeting described a shattered world on the Japanese seafloor that birthed a killer tsunami responsible for the deaths of at least 20,000 people. Parts of the seafloor on the eastern side of the fault dropped, while the far side popped upward and westward, delivering a double-barreled tsunami. The NASA Jason-1 oceanographic satellite revealed waves merging offshore to heights far exceeding expectations, channeled by undersea ridges. Preventive measures such as planting stands of pine trees on coasts proved useless for stemming waves.

Weather

New Mexico Was slammed Monday by a winter storm, bringing around a foot of snow in some parts, closing schools and causing headache on roads. The National Weather Service in Albuquerque placed most of the state under a winter weather warning into Tuesday due to extremely cold temperatures, heavy snow, and blowing and drifting snow. Las Cruces police reported Monday a handful of crashes caused by fog and black ice around Interstate 25 and Highway 70.

Thousands of Southern Californians who have gone without power for five days are being told it’s almost over, though a new round of high-wind warnings have been issued for some areas hard hit by last week’s ferocious windstorm. The National Weather Service warnings are in effect through Tuesday afternoon for gusts of up to 60 mph below mountain passes and in canyons. Some coastal and inland desert areas could see 50-mph gusts. There also are red-flag wildfire warnings in some areas because of high fire danger from gusty, dry weather.

Hurricanes, heat waves, floods and droughts may grab the headlines when it comes to the effects of end-time climate change, but it’s the subtle stuff that could ultimately wreak the most havoc. Scientists report that over the past 130 years – as the start of spring gets earlier and earlier – several species of North American bees are emerging about 10 days earlier, with most of this shift taking place since 1970. Since bees are the world’s most important pollinators of flowers and plants, any change in this crucial relationship could prove devastating. Other studies have found that various plants and animals are emerging earlier in the spring as the climate warms.

  • Despite overall warming, greater extremes are also increasing. Tucson, Arizona, has experienced its coldest first six days of December in recorded history

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