Saturday, May 31, 2008

Iraq Improvements

BAGHDAD — This May has been one of the least violent months of the Iraq war. The relative calm follows a cease-fire agreement by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia in the face of steady pressure from U.S. and Iraqi forces. Eighteen U.S. servicemembers have been identified as having died in Iraq so far in May, according to the Pentagon. To date, the least deadly month of the five-year war was February 2004, when 21 U.S. troops were killed in a 29-day period. The number of wounded also has fallen. Overall, militant attacks in Iraq have dropped to levels not seen since spring 2004, U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll said this week. Attacks are down 70% since President Bush ordered a U.S. troop increase, or "surge," early last year.

Iraq's prime minister says economic and security progress shows that reconciliation between the nation's feuding factions is close to being completed. His Shiite-dominated government is under pressure to show progress in reconciliation among the country's Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds. Iraq's Sunni Arab minority has long felt it is being sidelined by the majority Shiites and the Kurds, who dominate the Iraqi parliament and al-Maliki's government.

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda's allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group's core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents.

No Nuke Attack?

LONDON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff dismissed concerns Friday that al-Qaeda inspired terrorists could launch a nuclear attack against the West, saying the U.S. was more concerned about their use of conventional arms. Chertoff told students and journalists at London's Oxford Union that while some Islamic militants appear interested in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, they don't yet pose a serious threat. Chertoff's remarks followed a recent series of anonymous postings on al-Qaeda-affliated websites, including a 39-minute video, that exhorts militants to pursue nuclear and biological weapons for use against the U.S. Although none of the postings is known to be authentic, taken together they raise questions about whether jihadists have such capabilities and whether they can launch some kind of attack
  • JJ Commentary: I hope he’s right but fear he’s not. What’s that the Bible says about a haughty spirit? Let’s not be tunnel-visioned and prepare for all possibilities. That being said, with open borders we’re at high risk for all these eventualities.

Border Security

After two years spent supporting the Border Patrol, performing jobs that have included surveillance, air transportation, building and fixing border fence and repairing roads, the National Guard begins pulling out Sunday, with the last of the personnel leaving in July. Their work was part of a Bush administration project dubbed Operation Jump Start, begun with the idea that the National Guard's assistance with nonenforcement jobs would allow the Border Patrol to use more of its agents for patrol while it went about boosting its staff to 18,000. As many as 6,000 guardsmen, some just back home from overseas deployment, volunteered along the southern border the first year, with about 1,200 of those in California. Their numbers were halved last year as the operation wound down.
  • JJ Commentary: Just what we need – reduced border security. The bad gets even worse.

Global Warming Impact

WASHINGTON — Under a court order and four years late, the White House Thursday produced what it called a science-based "one-stop shop" of specific threats to the USA from man-made global warming. While the report has no new science in it, it pulls together different U.S. studies and localizes international reports into one comprehensive document required by law. The 271-page report is notable because it is something the Bush administration has fought in the past. Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist who chaired the group of scientists who reviewed the report for the federal government said: "It basically says the America we've known we can no longer count on. It's a pretty dramatic picture of all kinds of change rippling through natural systems across the country. And all of that has implications for people." That includes:

Increased heat deaths and deaths from climate-worsened smog. In Los Angeles alone yearly heat fatalities could increase by more than 1,000 by 2080, and the Midwest and Northeast are most vulnerable to increased heat deaths.

• Worsening water shortages for agriculture and urban users. From California to New York, lack of water will be an issue.

• A need for billions of dollars in more power plants (one major cause of global warming gases) to cool a hotter country. The report says summer cooling will mean Seattle's energy consumption would increase by 146% with the warming that could come by the end of the century.

• More death and damage from wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters and extreme weather. In the last three decades, wildfire season in the West has increased by 78 days.

• Increased insect infestations and food- and waterborne microbes and diseases. Insect and pathogen outbreaks to the forests are causing $1.5 billion in annual losses.

"Finally, climate change is very likely to accentuate the disparities already evident in the American health care system," the report said. "Many of the expected health effects are likely to fall disproportionately on the poor, the elderly, the disabled and the uninsured."

  • JJ Commentary: Regardless of whether global warming is human-induced or not, this is an end-time scenario that’s going to affect us all

Burmese Atrocities Continue

RANGOON, Burma (AP) — Burma's military government is forcing cyclone victims out of refugee camps and "dumping" them near their devastated villages with virtually no aid supplies, the United Nations said Friday. Eight camps set up earlier by the government for homeless victims in the Irrawaddy delta town of Bogale were "totally empty" as the clear-out continued, UNICEF official Teh Tai Ring told a meeting of aid groups. "The government is moving people unannounced," he said, adding that authorities were "dumping people in the approximate location of the villages, basically with nothing." Camps were also being closed in Labutta, another town in the delta, a low-lying area that took the brunt of Cyclone Nargis nearly a month ago. Centralizing stricken people in the centers had made it easier for aid agencies to deliver emergency relief since many villages in the delta can only be reached by boat or over very rough roads.

's obstruction of international efforts to help cyclone victims cost "tens of thousands of lives," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday, reflecting the widespread frustration with the military government there. With U.S. ships off the coast of Burma poised to leave because they have been blocked from delivering assistance to the ravaged country, Gates said the U.S. will continue to try to get aid in.

Arizona Budget Shortfall Widens

The state's budget hole may deepen further, to $2.2 billion, analysts reported Friday in delivering another grim account of Arizona's fiscal state. Compounding the somber financial news, tax collections for the past two months are below projections, creating the possibility that the Legislature may have to make further fixes to the current year's budget, which they just adjusted late last month. The news from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee comes as lawmakers have a month left to craft a budget for the year starting July 1. "It just makes it more difficult," Senate Appropriations Chairman Bob Burns said about the 2008-09 deficit growing to $2.2 billion. The current budget is $10.5 billion. "I think we need to start planning for the worst, instead of this 'everything is rosy' outlook," Burns said.

The mood was somber Thursday as Cottonwood City Council members mulled how to plug the dike gushing red ink. They sat at the dais unsmiling as their finance director read a litany of cuts, reductions and eliminations his office and department heads have put into place to get ahead of the leakage and balance the ledger. Sales taxes to the city declined by 10.4 percent this year with another 3-percent loss expected in 2009. State revenues to the city have declined by 5 to 6 percent. There are three fewer police officers on the street. Those that are patrolling are driving fewer miles to save fuel costs. Departments have cut back on vehicle and equipment maintenance and janitorial cleaning. The fire department cannot meet OSHA requirements for a complete engine crew. The city is withdrawing funds to outside entities, including support for the Senior and Youth Commissions and Verde Valley Veterans.

Gas Price Ramifications

High gas prices are pushing more people onto buses and subways, straining transit agencies trying to meet the demand. Like other consumers, the agencies are also paying more for fuel — 44% more this year than last, according to a survey of 96 transit agencies to be released Friday by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). That double hit means bus and train operators are raising fares, cutting services and delaying improvements. Almost half of bus operators and more than two-thirds of rail operators have increased fares. About a fifth are cutting service. "The difficulty of high gas prices is that it is a dual-edged sword," association President William Millar says. "It is bringing more ridership. … Unfortunately, transit agencies are huge users of petroleum-based fuel."

More Tornadoes

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (AP) — Tornado warning sirens chased lawmakers to the statehouse basement, a semitrailer was blown from a roadway and homes and an airport building were damaged as severe storms battered parts of Illinois and Indiana. High winds were estimated at upward of 70 mph (112 kph) downed trees and power lines throughout the state, leaving tens of thousands without electricity. The National Weather Service had not confirmed several reports of tornado touchdowns in central Illinois. In Indiana, high winds caused heavy damage to an Indianapolis apartment complex. Rescue workers combed through the apartment building on the city's east side early Saturday looking for residents who might be trapped. Television reports showed injured residents being helped onto stretchers.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Balkans at Peace

BELGRADE, Serbia — A United Nations report released Thursday says the Balkans, a region once known as a hotbed of crime and violence, has become one of the safest zones in Europe. "The vicious circle of political instability leading to crime, and vice versa, that plagued the Balkans in the 1990s has been broken," said Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which compiled the report. However, Costa warned in the report's summary that the region remains vulnerable because of enduring connections between business, politics and organized crime. The region includes 10 countries: Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in January. The bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia -- the worst carnage in Europe since World War II -- left the entire region in turmoil throughout the 1990s.

Gay “Rights”

ALBANY — Gov. David A. Paterson has directed all state agencies to begin to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, like Massachusetts, California and Canada. In a directive issued on May 14, the governor’s legal counsel, David Nocenti, instructed the agencies that gay couples married elsewhere “should be afforded the same recognition as any other legally performed union.” The revisions are most likely to involve as many as 1,300 statutes and regulations in New York governing everything from joint filing of income tax returns to transferring fishing licenses between spouses.

CROSSWALK: A new "transgender nondiscrimination" bill pending in Colorado, which would make it illegal to deny a person access to public accommodations including restrooms and locker rooms based on gender identity or the "perception" of gender identity, is one signature away from becoming law. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, has one week to sign or veto Senate Bill 200, recently passed by both the House and the Senate. The bill, titled "Expanded Discrimination Prohibitions," holds this definition: "'Sexual orientation' means a person's orientation toward heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgender status or another person's perception thereof." According to the bill, business owners and managers of restaurants, gyms, barber shops, massage parlors, etc., and managers of "public [facilities] of any kind whether indoor or outdoor" cannot deny a person employment or access to a facility based on gender identity or that "perception." The bill also makes it illegal to discriminate based on "sexual orientation" when renting, selling or leasing housing or when selecting members for jury duty. Penalties for those who discriminate against others based on gender identity include fines and/or time in jail.

Chinese Persecution of House Churches Intensifies

ASSIST News Service and the Institute on Religion and Democracy report that the Ministry of Public Security has received funding from the Chinese Central Government to increase their campaign of eradicating house churches throughout China. While the amount of funds allocated for this campaign is unknown, the steady increase of persecution against house churches continues to rise substantially across China, says the China Aid Association (CAA). The IRD said a sudden increase of incidents involving both the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) and the Public Security Bureau (PSB) is indicative of a crackdown. Whether or not the government is beginning a comprehensive effort to clear out house churches, local authorities of the government's enforcement apparatus are bearing down on Christians. In Xinjiang Province, officials have posted signs asking citizens to report any "evil cult activity," in this case meaning house churches, and two Christians in Xinjiang have been charged with the serious crime of being "separatists."

Prep for North Amercan Union

WND — A group supporting North American integration is holding its fourth annual "North American Model Parliament" for 100 university students from the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The North American Forum on Integration, or NAFI, began is "Triumvirate" sessions Monday in Montreal's City Hall with a plan to conclude Friday. According to the NAFI website, "Triumvirate 2008" brings together the students "to participate in an international negotiation exercise in which they will simulate a parliamentary meeting between North American political actors." A major goal of the model parliament, according to the NAFI Triumvirate website, is to "develop the participants' sense of belonging to North America."

Tornadoes on the Increase

WASHINGTON (AP) — Another week, another rumbling train of tornadoes that obliterates entire city blocks, smashing homes to their foundations and killing people even as they cower in their basements. With the year not even half done, 2008 is already the deadliest tornado year in the United States since 1998 and seems on track to break the U.S. record for the number of twisters in a year, according to the National Weather Service. Also, this year's storms seem to be unusually powerful. Nearly 90 tornadoes were reported in Kansas as of Monday, in a rough weather week that also included storms with large hail and record rainfall. "It's been kind of overwhelming," said Larry Ruthi, meteorologist in charge of the Dodge City branch of the National Weather Service. "On Friday evening, we had five (large tornadoes) on the ground at the same time. ... It's pretty amazing."

War on Terror

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of troops with new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder jumped by roughly 50% in 2007 amid the military buildup in Iraq and increased violence there and in Afghanistan. Records show roughly 40,000 troops have been diagnosed with the illness, also known as PTSD, since 2003. Officials believe that many more are likely keeping their illness a secret.
  • JJ Commentary: It would seem that much of the terror is being felt by our own troops.

Inflation Woes Heighten

PARIS (AP) — World food prices are set to fall from current peaks in the coming years but will remain "substantially above" average levels from the past decade, a report said Thursday. The world's poorest nations are most vulnerable — particularly the urban poor in food-importing countries — and will require increased humanitarian aid to stave off hunger and undernourishment, a joint agricultural outlook by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said. High oil prices, changing diets, urbanization, expanding populations, flawed trade policies, extreme weather, growth in biofuel production and speculation have sent food prices soaring worldwide, trigging protests from Africa to Asia and raising fears that millions more will suffer malnutrition.

MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) — Dow Chemical says it's raising product prices as much as 20% to offset the soaring cost of energy and raw materials. The chemical giant said Wednesday that the increases take effect Sunday and will be based on a product's exposure to those cost increases. "For years, Washington has failed to address the issue of rising energy costs and, as a result, the country now faces a true energy crisis, one that is causing serious harm to America's manufacturing sector and all consumers of energy," Chairman and Chief Executive Andrew Liveris says in the company's press release. "The government's failure to develop a comprehensive energy policy is causing U.S. industry to lose ground when it comes to global competitiveness, and our own domestic markets are now starting to see demand destruction throughout the U.S.," Liveris said. Dow says it spent $8 billion on energy and raw materials in 2002. It says that could climb fourfold to $32 billion this year. Dow Chemical makes a broad range of chemical, plastic and agricultural products that are sold in 160 countries.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Creationism Backlash

According to a recent national survey, 16 percent of U.S. science teachers are creationists, the Christian Post reports. The study, conducted by faculty at Pennsylvania State University, found that creationism continues to be taught in many classrooms despite judicial blocks. A majority of the almost 1,000 teachers surveyed said that they spent at least three to 10 hours of class time covering evolution, while a quarter those surveyed said they also taught creationism and intelligent design - about half of whom said they believed these to be "valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species." Four states have passed "Academic Freedom" bills protecting teachers' and students' rights to challenge Darwinism without fear of backlash.

Port Security

WASHINGTON — A Department of Homeland Security program to strengthen port security has gaps that terrorists could exploit to smuggle weapons of mass destruction in cargo containers, congressional investigators have found. The report by the Government Accountability Office, being released Tuesday, assesses the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), a federal program established after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to deter a potential terrorist strike via cargo passing through 326 of the nation's airports, seaports and designated land borders. Under the program, roughly 8,000 importers, port authorities and air, sea and land carriers are granted benefits such as reduced scrutiny of their cargo. In exchange, the companies submit a security plan that must meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection's minimum standards and allow officials to verify their measures are being followed. A 2005 GAO report found many of the companies were receiving the reduced cargo scrutiny without the required full vetting by U.S. Customs, a division of DHS. The agency has since made some improvements, but the new report found that Customs officials still couldn't provide guarantees that companies were in compliance.
  • JJ Commentary: Securing our ports and borders is a monumental task, but no matter how much we do so, there will always be cracks for the crackpots and terrorists.

Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

PARIS (NYT) — The International Atomic Energy Agency, in an unusually blunt and detailed report, said Monday that Iran’s suspected research into the development of nuclear weapons remained “a matter of serious concern” and that Iran continued to owe the agency “substantial explanations.” The nine-page report accused the Iranians of a willful lack of cooperation, particularly in answering allegations that its nuclear program may be intended more for military use than for energy generation. Part of the agency’s case hinges on 18 documents listed in the report and presented to Iran that, according to Western intelligence agencies, indicate the Iranians have ventured into explosives, uranium processing and a missile warhead design — activities that could be associated with constructing nuclear weapons.


Warren Buffett, whose business and investment acumen has made him one of the world's wealthiest men, said in an interview published Sunday he believes the U.S. economy is already in a recession. Asked by Germany's Der Spiegel weekly whether he thinks the U.S. could still avoid a recession, he said that as far as the average person is concerned, it's already here. "I believe that we are already in a recession," Buffett was quoted by Spiegel as saying. "Perhaps not in the sense as defined by economists. ... But people are already feeling the effects of a recession." "It will be deeper and longer than what many think," he added.

A key measure of consumer confidence dropped in May to the lowest level in 16 years, as Americans grew more concerned about their jobs and more pessimistic about business conditions. The New York-based Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index dropped to 57.2, the lowest level since October 1992, from a revised 62.8 in April. The index has now declined for five months in a row.

A closely watched housing index shows U.S. home prices dropped at the sharpest rate in two decades during the first quarter. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller said Tuesday its U.S. National Home Price index fell 14.1% in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, the lowest since its inception in 1988. During the 1990-91 housing recession the annual rate's worst was a loss of 2.8%, S&P said.

New home sales rose unexpectedly in April but remained near historically low levels, according to a key government report on the battered housing market. April sales came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 526,000, a Census Bureau report showed, up 3.3% from a revised 509,000 in March. Home sales were down 42% from a year earlier. April's reading was the second-lowest annual rate since October 1991, behind March of this year.

Inflation Woes

Food inflation is the highest in almost two decades, driven by record prices for oil, gas and mounting global demand for staples such as wheat and corn, and for proteins such as chicken. The consumer price index for food rose 4% last year, compared with an average 2.5% annual rise for the last 15 years. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture raised its forecast for next year by half a percentage point, to a range of 4.5 to 5.5%. Kimberly-Clark, maker of Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers and a host of other consumer products, said Friday it would raise prices 6% to 8% in the third quarter to offset higher raw material and energy costs.

The biggest factor in the skyrocketing price of gasoline is the historic ascent of crude oil, which has surged from $45 per barrel in 2004 to more than $135 this past week, setting new record highs all the while. s consumers began hitting the road Friday for the Memorial Day weekend, they faced the sobering reality that it costs $72 to fill a midsize Honda Accord, up $12 from last year, and in a sign that Americans are curbing their driving, data released Friday showed highway miles driven in March fell 4.3% from a year earlier, the first March decline since the late 1970s. On average, drivers in Alaska, Connecticut, California, New York and Illinois are already paying more than $4 for gas. The average nationwide price Tuesday morning was $3.94.
  • At a time when gas prices are at an all-time high, Americans have curtailed their driving at a historic rate. The Department of Transportation said figures from March show the steepest decrease in driving ever recorded. Compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less -- that's 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT's Federal Highway Administration said Monday, calling it "the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history." Records have been kept since 1942.
Airlines ratcheted up the pressure on fliers ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, significantly raising ticket prices to offset the runaway cost of fuel. The three biggest carriers each boosted most domestic fares by up to $60 roundtrip. Travelers will pay the biggest increase on routes of 750 miles or more — less than the distance from New York to Chicago — that low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines Co. do not serve.

Series of Tornadoes Batters Midwest

Emergency workers were picking through debris after tornadoes rampaged in western and central Kansas and northern Oklahoma for a second night in a row. A slow-moving storm packing tornadoes and hail battered rural Oklahoma on Saturday, destroying several buildings, tearing up trees and tossing a mobile home onto a highway. The bodies of two storm victims were found in Kansas. Powerful storms packing large hail, heavy rain and tornadoes made for a deadly Memorial Day weekend across the nation's midsection, killing at least seven people in Iowa and a 2-year-old child in Minneapolis. At least 20 people were unaccounted for after a swift storm blew through the St. Paul suburb of Hugo, damaging about four dozen homes. In northern Colorado, meanwhile, officials were thankful the tornado that damaged 596 homes in Windsor on Thursday hadn't caused more casualties. One man died -- at a campground outside neighboring Greeley. About 100 people were treated for broken bones, cuts, scrapes and bruises, and three were hospitalized for stress.

China Earthqhake Weakens Dams

CHENGDU, China (AP) — Nearly 70 dams scarred by the force of China's most powerful earthquake in three decades were in danger of bursting, rattled again Sunday by one of the strongest aftershocks since the initial disaster. The confirmed death toll from the May 12 quake rose to 65,080, with another 23,150 people missing, the Cabinet said. Premier Wen Jiabao has said the number of dead could surpass 80,000. One of the most powerful aftershocks to hit quake-ravaged central China leveled many more homes and killed a person, leaving dozens more injured Sunday. China grappled with backed-up rivers and reservoirs in danger of collapse, along with looming storms heralding the start of rainy season that threatened Monday to compound damage from the country's worst earthquake in three decades.

MIANYANG, China (AP) — Chinese officials rushed Tuesday to evacuate another 80,000 people in the path of potential floodwaters building up behind a quake-spawned dam as soldiers carved a channel to try to drain away the threat. The official Xinhua News Agency reported emergency workers would try to complete the evacuation by midnight Tuesday, taking the number of people moved out of the threatened valley to almost 160,000, from more than 30 townships, The Tangjiashan lake in northern Sichuan province, formed when a massive landslide blocked a river, is one of dozens of fragile dams created during the earthquake that pose a new destructive threat in the disaster zone.

Pope Recognizes Food Crisis

ROME (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday said Christians must help to ease the global food crisis which has seen soaring prices increase hunger in many poor countries. "Those who nourish themselves with the bread of Christ cannot remain indifferent in the face of those who, even in our days, lack daily bread," the pontiff said. Catholics believe that they receive the body and blood of Christ when taking the Eucharist bread and wine. The Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in June is hosting a three-day, international summit on the food crisis, which has triggered riots and other protests in some poor nations. Benedict said the Catholic Church, which operates charities worldwide, was committed to initiatives aimed at ensuring that no one lacks life's necessities.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Homeschooling Defended

Christian Newswire reports that the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the nation's top conservative public interest law firm, is leading a diverse team of organizations to urge the California Court of Appeals to protect the rights of homeschooling families. The appeals court has agreed to rehear a February case in which the Court found that compulsory attendance laws allows only "private tutors" to educate, barring many parents because they do not hold valid state teaching certificates for every grade.The ACLJ, along with its affiliates, have filed an amicus briefing arguing that the parental right to homeschool flows from the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, thereby allowing homeschooling under both private school and private tutor exemptions.

Gay Marriage A Close Call in California

By bare majorities, Californians reject the state Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex marriages and back a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at the November ballot that would outlaw such unions, a Los Angeles Times/KTLA Poll has found. But the survey also suggested that the state is moving closer to accepting nontraditional marriages, which could create openings for supporters of same-sex marriage as the campaign unfolds. More than half of Californians said gay relationships were not morally wrong, that they would not degrade heterosexual marriages and that all that mattered was that a relationship be loving and committed, regardless of gender. Overall, the proportion of Californians who back either gay marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples has remained fairly constant over the years. But the generational schism is pronounced. Those under 45 were less likely to favor a constitutional amendment than their elders and were more supportive of the court's decision to overturn the state's current ban on gay marriage. They also disagreed more strongly than their elders with the notion that gay relationships threatened traditional marriage.

McCain and Hagee Break Up

UNION CITY, California (AP) — Republican presidential candidate John McCain has rejected the endorsement of an influential Texas televangelist criticized for his anti-Catholic views. John Hagee, the Texas preacher, withdrew his endorsement at the same time. McCain issued a statement after audio surfaced in which Hagee said God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land. McCain said in a statement: "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well."

Iranian Persecution

Compass Direct News reports that police in the southern Iran city of Shiraz cracked down against known Muslim converts to Christianity, arresting members of three Christian families and confiscating their books and computers. Two couples were arrested on May 11. All four were subjected to hours of interrogation, questioning them solely "just about their faith and house church activities," an Iranian source told Compass.The detained Christians were identified as Homayon Shokohie Gholamzadeh, 48, and his wife Fariba Nazemiyan Pur, 40; and Amir Hussein Bab Anari, 25, and his wife Fatemeh Shenasa, 25. Although three have been released, Gholamzadeh remains jailed. That same day police authorities also invaded the home of Hamid Allaedin Hussein, 58, arresting him and his three adult children. Over the past two years, Iran's harsh Shiite Muslim regime has stepped up its efforts against mushrooming house church movements, routinely subjecting converts from Islam to both physical and psychological mistreatment.

Food Price Fallout

The current global food crisis, dubbed by some as the "silent tsunami," has some relief angecies worrying that they will have to turn away those desperate for help, the Christian Post reports. In late April, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) warned that "the steep and persistent rise in international food prices is hitting particularly hard on the poorest in Latin America and the Caribbean." In Haiti, "Hunger continues to grow and the people are becoming increasingly desperate," said Angel Aloma, executive director of Food for the Poor, one of the largest relief organizations in Haiti. "Last year we sent an average of 880,000 pounds of rice to Haiti every month... This year, we're sending 1,763,000 pounds and it is a real challenge to keep up with the increased demand," he said. The food crisis as even led to violence and protests that left at least six people dead. WorldVision and the Salvation Army have reported similar problems of lower donations and increased need.

Gas Price Fallout

More than a third of Americans are rethinking vacation plans because of record-high gas prices, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows, and some destinations are feeling the squeeze as the summer travel season officially begins this holiday weekend. Of those altering travel plans, 37% are scrapping trips and one in four won't go as far or stay as long, the poll finds. "It's looking very bad. People just aren't coming," says Jackie Gentry, manager of the Seashore Inn in Seaside, Ore. The hotel isn't sold out for Memorial Day weekend, she says, "and we have hardly any reservations for June." The average price of a gallon of gas nationwide is $3.87. Some analysts predict gas will break past $4 as early as next week

Home Sales Continue Plunge

WASHINGTON — The government says U.S. home prices posted a first-quarter decline bigger than any in the 17-year history of the data. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) says home prices fell 3.1% in the first quarter compared with a year ago. The index also fell 1.7% from fourth quarter 2007 to the first quarrter of 2008, largest quarterly price drop on record. "The large overhang of real estate inventory awaiting sale continues to force price declines in many areas, but particularly in places that had seen very sharp appreciation," Patrick Lawler, the agency's chief economist, said.

Sales of existing homes fell for the eighth time in nine months, with the backlog of unsold single-family homes rising to the highest level in more than two decades. The National Association of Realtors said Friday that single-family home sales dropped 1% to 4.89 million units, matching the all-time low set in January. Inventories of unsold homes surged 10.5% to 4.55 million units at the end of April. At the current sales pace that would put the supply of homes at 11.2 months' worth, highest since the association began tracking single family and condo properties together in 1999. For single family homes, at the current sales pace there were 10.7 months' worth, the biggest supply since June 1985 when it stood at 11.4 months.

Darfur Ambush

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Dozens of men on horseback armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades ambushed Nigerian peacekeepers serving with the joint U.N.-African Union force in Darfur, though no casualties were reported, the U.N. said. About 50 to 60 armed men dressed in military camouflage on Wednesday afternoon ambushed the peacekeepers along the new airport road near El Geneina in West Darfur state, the U.N.-AU mission known as UNAMID said in a statement Thursday. They stole rifles, ammunition, telephones and cash. The United Nations peacekeeping chief warned last week of an alarming increase in violence in Darfur that has spread to the Sudanese capital Khartoum and could escalate further. The conflict that began in 2003 has already killed as many as 300,000 people, the U.N. says. The U.N.-AU force took over peacekeeping duties in the western Sudanese region of Darfur in January from a beleaguered AU force. It only has about 7,500 troops and fewer than 2,000 police on the ground, although a total of 26,000 have been authorized.

At Last!

YANGON, Myanmar — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Myanmar's junta agreed Friday to allow all aid workers into the country after weeks of refusing access to foreign relief experts seeking to help cyclone survivors. Ban said the government also agreed to let in aid "via civilian ships and small boats," wording suggesting that U.S., British and French warships waiting off Myanmar's coast with relief supplies would not be allowed to dock. Myanmar's military government did not immediately confirm the agreement and there was no indication how quickly it would be take effect.

Not Again?

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Despite more than $22 million in repairs, a levee that broke with catastrophic effect during Hurricane Katrina is leaking again because of the mushy ground on which New Orleans was built, raising serious questions about the reliability of the city's flood defenses. Outside engineering experts who have studied the project told The Associated Press that the type of seepage spotted at the 17th Street Canal in the Lakeview neighborhood afflicts other New Orleans levees, too, and could cause some of them to collapse during a storm. The Army Corps of Engineers has spent about $4 billion so far of the $14 billion set aside by Congress to repair and upgrade the metropolitan area's hundreds of miles of levees by 2011. Some outside experts said the leak could mean that billions more will be needed and that some of the work already completed may need to be redone.

"It is all based on a 30-year-old defunct model of thinking, and it means that when they wake up to this one — really — our cost is going to increase significantly," said Bob Bea, a civil engineer at the University of California at Berkeley. The Army Corps of Engineers disputed the experts' dire assessment. The agency said it is taking the risk of seepage into account and rebuilding the levees with an adequate margin of safety.

Infrastructure Underfunded

ST. PAUL (AP) — Transportation officials' concerns that fixing or replacing a Minneapolis bridge would be a "budget buster" may have led to bad maintenance decisions before its deadly collapse last August, a report released Wednesday concluded. The report, commissioned by the Legislature, also criticized the Minnesota Department of Transportation for bridge inspections that were mishandled or not acted upon over the years, even when they called for immediate repairs. The department has come under sharp criticism for its upkeep of the 40-year-old Interstate 35W bridge.
  • JJ Commentary: The nation’s infrastructure (i.e. roads, bridges, sewers, etc.) is rapidly aging and in need of many billions of dollars of maintenance. Now that we are in recession, the likelihood of spending money for maintenance becomes even less.

Child Custody Chaos

SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) — An appellate court decision upended the custody case that sent more than 440 children from a polygamist sect's ranch into foster care, but it's not clear whether the children might soon return home. The Third Court of Appeals in Austin said the state failed to show the youngsters were in any immediate danger, the only grounds under Texas law for taking children from their parents without court action. Texas District Judge Barbara Walther now has 10 days to release the youngsters from custody, but the state could appeal to the Texas Supreme Court and keep the children from immediately going back to their parents.

Government Malfeasance

WASHINGTON (AP) — An internal audit of some $8 billion paid to U.S. and Iraqi contractors found that nearly every transaction failed to comply with federal laws or regulations aimed at preventing fraud, in some cases lacking even basic invoices explaining how the money was spent. Of the money paid during a five-year period — from 2001 through 2006 — $7.8 billion in payments skirted billing rules with some violations egregious enough to invite potential fraud, warned the Defense Department's inspector general. The findings provided fresh fodder for anti-war Democrats, who say the Bush administration has turned a blind eye to the problem of corruption and fraud by relying too heavily on contractors to manage the war. "There is something very wrong when our wounded troops have to fill out forms in triplicate for meal money while billions of dollars in cash are handed out in Iraq with no accountability," said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

War Funding Confusion

WASHINGTON — In a stunning vote that illustrated President Bush's diminished standing, the Senate on Thursday ignored his veto threat and added tens of billions of dollars for veterans and the unemployed to his Iraq war spending bill. A majority of Republicans broke ranks with Bush on a veto-proof 75-22 vote while adding more than $10 billion for various other domestic programs, including heating subsidies for the poor, wildfire fighting, road and bridge repair, and health research. Democrats crowed about their victory. But the developments meant more confusion about when the must-pass measure might actually become law and what the final version will contain. Senators voted 70-26 to approve $165 billion to fulfill Bush's request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring, when Bush's successor will set war policy. Overall, the measure contains $212 billion over the coming two years -- $28 billion more than the administration sought -- plus about $50 billion more through 2017 for veterans' education benefits. Bush has promised to veto the Iraq spending if it exceeds his request. He has enough GOP support in the House to sustain a veto.

Genetic Discrimination Banned

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush on Wednesday signed legislation to protect people from losing their jobs or health insurance when genetic testing reveals they are susceptible to costly diseases. Broadly embraced in Congress, the anti-discrimination measure aims to ensure that advances in DNA testing won't end up being used against people. The new law forbids employers and insurance companies from denying employment, promotions or health coverage to people when genetic tests show they have a predisposition to cancer, heart disease or other ailments.

Backlash In Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) — Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land. Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon said missionaries recently entered a neighborhood in the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, distributing hundreds of New Testaments and missionary material. After receiving complaints, Aharon said, he got into a loudspeaker car last Thursday and drove through the neighborhood, urging people to turn over the material to Jewish religious students who went door to door to collect it. The books were dumped into a pile and set afire in a lot near a synagogue, he said.

Earthquake Toll Continues to Rise

BEICHUAN, China (AP) — China said the toll of dead and missing from last week's powerful earthquake jumped to more than 80,000, while the government appealed Thursday for millions of tents to shelter homeless survivors. The confirmed number of dead rose nearly 10,000 from the day before to 51,151, Cabinet spokesman Guo Weimin told a news conference. Another 29,328 people remained missing and nearly 300,000 were hurt in the May 12 quake centered in Sichuan province, he said. The disaster left 5 million people homeless and leveled more than 80% of the buildings in some remote towns and villages areas near the epicenter. In bigger cities whole apartment blocks collapsed or are now too dangerous to live in because of damage and worries about aftershocks.

China Virus Slows

BEIJING (AP) — The spread of a virus that has sickened more than 24,000 people and killed dozens across China is slowing in the province where the outbreak was first reported, a state-run news agency said Friday. The health department in eastern Anhui province said no deaths from the hand, foot and mouth disease virus had occurred there in the past 12 days, Xinhua News Agency reported. The virus has killed at least 43 people across China, but the state health ministry hasn't updated that number since May 16. The report by Anhui's health department said the number of new cases reported daily had dropped from a high of 1,160 on May 1 to 153 on May 21. It said 10 people were still in serious or critical condition, Xinhua reported.

Freakish Weather

LOS ANGELES — A severe-weather system that brought hail storms, tornadoes and heavy rains to much of Southern California on Thursday, flooded streets in Moreno Valley, unleashed mudslides in the fire-scarred canyons of the Santa Ana Mountains and transformed some neighborhoods with a dusting of snow and hail. California Highway Patrol Officer Alex Santos watched twin twisters bear down on Interstate 215 in Riverside County. Santos, 40, said he saw one of the tornadoes topple a tractor-trailer and overturn several boxcars on the train tracks nearby in a cloud of dust and debris. The truck driver had to be cut out of the cab and suffered lacerations and a back injury.

WINDSOR, Colo. — Residents of a devastated neighborhood grabbed what they could from their debris-strewn homes before police imposed an overnight curfew after a tornado swept through northern Colorado, killing one person and injuring 13. The twister skipped through several towns in Weld County on Thursday, damaging or destroying dozens of homes, businesses, dairies and farms. The storm system pelted the region with golf-ball-size hail, swept vehicles off roads and tipped 15 rail cars off the tracks in Windsor, a farm town about 70 miles north of Denver.
  • JJ Commentary: Locally, we went rapidly from record-breaking heat to record cold. This type of extreme weather will continue to worsen as we slide further and further into end-time darkness. Therefore, all the more reason to become more and more dedicated to being a “light of the world."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Drought Relief?

Heavy rainfall in the Southeast and record snowpack in the Rockies have eased dramatically the nation's worst drought in more than a century. Drought conditions are the least severe since January 2006. A quarter of the USA is suffering some form of drought today, down from 65% last summer, federal agencies said. In the Southeast, where drought has been most severe, the area in drought has plummeted from 86% in August to 40% today. "We've had some big improvements because of heavy rainfall over the region" of the Southeast, Ed O'Lenic, senior meteorologist at the federal Climate Prediction Center, said Tuesday. "Going forward, if things are pretty normal or close to that through the growing season, we'll be OK." Much of the Southeast has received 10-20 inches of rain in the past three months, prompting Georgia's governor to permit the filling of swimming pools and hand watering of plants.

  • JJ Commentary: The rains in Georgia started shortly after the governor led the state in public prayer. However, I’ve been tracking the drought for many years, and the rather sudden reclassification of drought conditions in the southwest is quite suspicious. The years’ worth of precipitation deficits have only been very partially replenished, so I find the current classification to be flat out wrong and quite suspicious. The government likes to paint optimistic pictures, as they’ve done with the economy, to keep the public thinking positive so that they won’t hunker down and, God forbid, reduce spending, the linchpin of the economy.

The Iranian Conundrum

As Barack Obama and John McCain thrash it out over how they would deal with Iran, voices from inside Iran are weighing in with an unusual message: If the United States strikes hard and fast, we will support you. Emissaries from inside Iran have been meeting with Iranian exiles in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere in recent weeks to deliver this provocative message, which they claim comes from pro-U.S. dissidents at the upper-most levels of the regime. “U.S. airstrikes must be powerful and sustained enough to break the myth of the regime’s absolute power and reveal the weakness of the leadership,” a former official who traveled outside of Iran recently said.

“The conventional wisdom is that limited strikes will allow the regime to rally the people around the flag,” says Mohebat Ahdiyyih, an Iran media analyst at the office of the director of National Intelligence. “However, if the U.S. launches a major strike that goes after the leadership in Iran, that’s different,” he told Newsmax. “Most Iranians hate the regime. People would be very happy to see a major strike that took out the leadership.” Mr. Ahdiyyih and other Iran analysts speaking at an American Enterprise Institute conference on Monday painted a picture of a bitterly-divided regime in Tehran that is “unstable” and fighting for its survival. “The situation is so bad that former president Mohammad Khatami has said that the hard-liners [close to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] are worse than al-Qaida,” Ahdiyyih said.

'Disaster Fatigue' Leads to Drop in Giving

The Christian Post reports that a condition charities know as "donor fatigue" - but which might be more accurately described as disaster fatigue -- is one reason Americans have contributed relatively little so far to victims of the Myanmar cyclone and China's earthquake. Even sympathetic souls often turn away as death tolls continue to rise and situations grow dire. When tragedy seems never-ending, givers may become overwhelmed. "Hearing about too many disasters makes some people not give at all, when they would have if it had been just one disaster," says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, who teaches marketing at Golden Gate University. Compared with the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, China and Myanmar have generated just a trickle of aid. However, other factors, including a lack of sympathy for the repressive governments involved, doubts about whether aid will get through, and an inclination to save money because of shaky economic times, may also drive down American contributions.

Outrageous Burmese Politics

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Myanmar to focus on saving lives, not on politics, after the military government on Wednesday shunned a U.S. proposal for naval ships to deliver aid to cyclone survivors. The U.N. says up to 2.5 million survivors of Cyclone Nargis face hunger, homelessness and potential outbreaks of deadly diseases. "We must do our utmost for the people of Myanmar" Ban told reporters after arriving in Bangkok, Thailand. "The issues of assistance and aid in Myanmar should not be politicized. Our focus now is on saving lives." Ban was to fly Thursday to Myanmar on a mission to scale up relief efforts and lobby the junta to allow more foreign aid workers into the isolated country. He told reporters his two-day visit would include a trip to areas devastated by the cyclone and talks with officials, including junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe. Before leaving U.N. headquarters, Ban said the world body had finally received permission from the junta to use helicopters to carry aid to stranded victims.

Ø JJ Commentary: It has been outrageously unconscionable for the Burmese rulers to choose political control over humanitarian aid, but that’s what totalitarian governments do.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Global Warming Debunked

WND: More than 31,000 scientists across the U.S. – including more than 9,000 Ph.D.s in fields such as atmospheric science, climatology, Earth science, environment and dozens of other specialties – have signed a petition rejecting "global warming," the assumption that the human production of greenhouse gases is damaging Earth's climate. "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate," the petition states. "Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth."

The Petition Project actually was launched nearly 10 years ago, when the first few thousand signatures were assembled. Then, between 1999 and 2007, the list of signatures grew gradually without any special effort or campaign. But now, a new effort has been conducted because of an "escalation of the claims of 'consensus,' release of the movie 'An Inconvenient Truth' by Mr. Al Gore, and related events," according to officials with the project. "Mr. Gore's movie, asserting a 'consensus' and 'settled science' in agreement about human-caused global warming, conveyed the claims about human-caused global warming to ordinary movie goers and to public school children, to whom the film was widely distributed. Unfortunately, Mr. Gore's movie contains many very serious incorrect claims which no informed, honest scientist could endorse," said project spokesman and founder Art Robinson

  • JJ Commentary: The globe is warming. However, it is either a natural cycle that has occurred many times before, or it is an end-time scenario.

Huge Shift for Mega-Church

According to a Christianity Today story, Willow Creek Community Church, after modeling a seeker-sensitive approach to church growth for three decades, now plans to gear its services toward mature believers seeking to grow in their faith. Since 1975, Willow Creek has avoided conventional church approaches, attempting to reach the unchurched through polished music, multimedia, and sermons referencing popular culture. Last summer, executive pastor Greg Hawkins co-authored a book titled, Reveal: Where Are You?, which detailed much of Willow Creek's four-year research effort into whether the church's model had been effective or not. Hawkins declined CT's interview request, and senior pastor Bill Hybels was unavailable for comment. Greg Pritchard, author of Willow Creek Seeker Services, told CT the church "sporadically has recognized it was not teaching a robust enough biblical theology and needed to turn the ship around. It is a huge shift."

Creation Museum a Success

The Creation Museum still a hit after one year of operation. Thousands of visitors have trekked their way to the controversial museum since it officially opened on Memorial Day last year. A year after that opening, the museum continues to draw thousands of visitors. The museum depicts creationists' literal interpretation of the Bible's Book of Genesis on how the Earth and mankind were created. Answers in Genesis, a Christian organization, operates the museum that was years in the making. The museum is approaching its 400,000th visitor, exceeding expectations. Financially, the museum is doing better than breaking even, remarkable for any venture in its first year.

Monday, May 19, 2008

USA's Hidden Debt

USA Today (5/19/08): The federal government's long-term financial obligations grew by $2.5 trillion last year, a reflection of the mushrooming cost of Medicare and Social Security benefits as more baby boomers reach retirement. That's double the red ink of a year earlier. Taxpayers are on the hook for a record $57.3 trillion in federal liabilities to cover the lifetime benefits of everyone eligible for Medicare, Social Security and other government programs, a USA TODAY analysis found. That's nearly $500,000 per household. When obligations of state and local governments are added, the total rises to $61.7 trillion, or $531,472 per household. That is more than four times what Americans owe in personal debt such as mortgages. The $2.5 trillion in federal liabilities dwarfs the $162 billion the government officially announced as last year's deficit, down from $248 billion a year earlier.

"We're running deficits in the trillions of dollars, not the hundreds of billions of dollars we're being told," says Sheila Weinberg, chief executive of the Institute for Truth in Accounting of Chicago. The reason for the discrepancy: Accounting standards require corporations and state governments to count new financial obligations, even if the payments will be made later. The federal government doesn't follow that rule. Instead of counting lifetime benefits for programs such as Social Security, the government counts the cost of benefits for the current year. The deteriorating condition of these programs doesn't show up in the government's bottom line, but the information is released elsewhere — in Medicare's annual report, for example. Since 2004, USA TODAY has collected the information to provide taxpayers with a financial report similar to what a corporation would give shareholders. Big new liabilities taken on in 2007:

• Medicare: $1.2 trillion.

• Social Security: $900 billion.

• Civil servant retirement: $106 billion.

• Veteran benefits: $34 billion.

  • JJ Commentary: With the baby boomers now beginning to hit early retirement age, this humongous debt load will continue to expand at an accelerated rate. And now, with tax revenues down due to the recession, the situation has become critical, perhaps near the tipping point.

Saudi Arabia's Token Increase in Oil Production

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Regular gasoline goes for about 50 cents a gallon here in the capital of the world's largest producer of oil, which pumps out 9 million barrels a day. But, after a visit with the Saudi monarch here, President Bush has found little hope of bringing any significant relief back home, where Americans are paying close to $4 a gallon. The Saudis have agreed to a relatively modest boost in oil production, announced in the midst of meetings Friday with King Abdullah over tea, lunch and dinner and an overnight stay for Bush at the palatial horse farm where the Saudi ruler keeps 150 Arabian stallions in air-conditioned stalls. But, for the second time in five months, the Saudis have rebuffed the Bush administration's request for significantly stepped-up oil production to ease rising oil prices.

Famine in Africa

Somalia (NYT) — and much of the volatile Horn of Africa, for that matter — was about the last place on earth that needed a food crisis. Even before commodity prices started shooting up around the globe, civil war, displacement and imperiled aid operations had pushed many people here to the brink of famine. But now with food costs spiraling out of reach and the livestock that people live off of dropping dead in the sand, villagers across this sun-blasted landscape say hundreds of people are dying of hunger and thirst. This is what happens, economists say, when the global food crisis meets local chaos. “We’re really in the perfect storm,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia economist and top United Nations adviser, who recently visited neighboring Kenya.

There has been a collision of troubles throughout the region: skimpy rainfall, disastrous harvests, soaring food prices, dying livestock, escalating violence, out-of-control inflation, and shrinking food aid because of many of these factors. Across the border in Ethiopia, in the war-racked Ogaden region, the situation sounds just as dire. In Darfur, the United Nations has had to cut food rations because of a rise in banditry that endangers aid deliveries. Kenya is looking vulnerable, too. A recent headline in one of Kenya’s leading newspapers blared, “25,000 villagers risk starving,” referring to a combination of drought, higher fertilizer and fuel costs and postelection violence that displaced thousands of farmers. “These places aren’t on the brink,” Mr. Sachs said. “They’ve gone over the cliff.”

Drought & Fires in Florida

Drought-stricken Florida continued to burn over the weekend as crews battled fires from Everglades National Park to the exposed lake bed of mammoth Lake Okeechobee. With Florida experiencing a drought that has enveloped the entire Southeast, state fire crews were battling 90 active fires Sunday that have burned nearly 40,000 acres, according to the state Division of Forestry. A separate fire in the Everglades, which is administered and maintained by federal officials, had burned through 21,000 acres and was only 20% contained by Sunday night. The combination of the blazes closed roads and highways in Florida and has destroyed 40 buildings and damaged another 60 around the state.