Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Signs of the Times

Lower Cancer Death Rate

USA TODAY — The number of new cancer cases and deaths are falling for both men and women for the first time since the government began compiling a report on long-term trends, researchers announced Tuesday. Overall cancer death rates decreased an average of 1.8% a year from 2002 to 2005. Researchers say they were particularly encouraged that the number of new cases also fell, by an average of 0.8% a year, from 1999 to 2005. From 1995 to 1999, the overall number of new cases in both sexes grew by 0.9% a year. Declining cancer rates are particularly impressive, given that the nation is aging. Researchers credit declines in smoking for much of this progress.

Miami Judge Rules against Florida Gay Adoption Ban

MIAMI (AP) — A Miami judge has struck a blow against a Florida law banning adoptions of children by gay people. Miami Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman ruled Tuesday there was "no rational basis" for prohibiting gays from adopting children. Florida has one of the strictest bans on gay adoptions in the country. A judge in Key West ruled in September that the ban was unconstitutional, but that ruling has had limited legal impact.

  • Commentary: “No rational basis” will continue to be the mantra used to justify violating God’s absolute law. A world that exalts man’s reason above God’s wisdom will give rise to the end-time “lawlessness” the Bible prophesizes.

Big Easy has Highest Crime Rate

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans ranks as the most violent U.S. city, with more than 19,000 reported crimes and 208 murders in 2007, according to a study released Monday. The study published by CQ Press, the book publishing arm of Congressional Quarterly, examined six categories — homicide, rape, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault and motor vehicle theft. The rankings include all cities of at least 75,000 residents that reported crime data to the FBI in those crime categories for 2007. New Orleans was well ahead of second-place Camden, N.J., and third-place Detroit, according to the study. St. Louis and Oakland, Calif., rounded out the top five.

  • JJ Commentary: Most immoral, highest crime rate. Seems like cause and effect to me.

More Tunnels Found on Border

ARIZONA REPUBLIC — Authorities are finding record numbers of tunnels on the U.S.-Mexican border, which signals that Mexican drug cartels are increasingly desperate to circumvent the hundreds of miles of new border barriers. The majority of tunnels have been discovered along the border in Arizona, a state that has seen many new border barriers. Since 2006, the year that Congress passed the Secure Border Fence Act, smugglers have bored 32 known tunnels into Arizona, more than all the tunnels discovered in the state before. Only four other border tunnels have been found outside Arizona since 2006. As the U.S. government plans and builds more fences and vehicle blockades, law-enforcement agents expect to find more excavations. They say tunneling, a tricky and sometimes expensive undertaking, reflects smugglers' growing frustration with the security buildup along the border. The tunnels range from large concrete-reinforced ones allowing smugglers to pass through to tubes a foot or two wide that are designed to transfer drug bundles. Almost all the 90 known tunnels found along the border since 1990 were built for drug running.

Billions Coming for Mortgages, Credit Cards, Student, Car Loans

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve on Tuesday unveiled $800 billion in programs designed to relieve severe pressures in financial markets, and ensure that mortgages, student loans, car loans and other forms of consumer credit remain available at reasonable prices. In the latest in a series of increasingly dramatic announcements, the Fed said it would purchase up to $600 billion in mortgage-related assets, including $100 billion in bonds or other debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks, and $500 billion in other mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by the government entities, including Ginnie Mae, which oversees Federal Housing Administration mortgages. The Fed and the Treasury Department also unveiled a program to lend up to $200 billion to securities dealers and other financial firms that hold Triple-A rated securities backed by "newly and recently originated" consumer loans, such as credit cards and auto loans. The program will also cover loans originated by the government's Small Business Administration. The Treasury will provide $20 billion from the recently enacted $700 billion financial rescue package to cover potential losses from the program. The first losses will be borne by borrowers under criteria yet to be determined.

A main goal of the sweeping initiatives is to reduce market risk so investors will be more willing to buy securities and consumers will have access to loans at levels closer to those in effect before the financial crisis took hold. The Fed noted that the level of asset-backed securities being issued "declined precipitously in September and came to a halt in October." At the same time, the interest-rate risk premiums for the products soared. A secondary effect of the programs is that they will pump more cash into the financial system, including increasing bank reserves. That could help inflate the economy at a time when officials are increasingly worried about possible deflation — a widespread fall in prices that can cripple economic activity. Officials said the larger reserves were a side effect of the program, however, not a central aim. The program will essentially be financed by having the government increase the money supply. The government issued revised data showed the economy contracted at a deeper-than-first-thought rate in the third quarter of the year, while a key measure of housing in 20 major markets found prices was down a sharper-than-expected 17.4% from last year.

  • JJ Commentary: “Billions coming” but from where? From you and me, that’s who. And from the “air” as the government prints more money not backed by anything but debt obligations which theoretically would also be paid by us. This mountain of debt is already sliding downhill and will soon bury us.

Bailout Grows to $7 Trillion with Latest Pledges

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rolling out powerful new weapons against the financial meltdown, the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve pledged $800 billion Tuesday to blast through blockades on credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and other borrowing. Total bailout commitments, loans and pledges of backing neared a staggering $7 trillion. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who has been criticized for constantly revising the original $700 billion rescue program, said the administration is considering even more changes in its final two months in office.

FDIC Adds 54 more Banks to its 'Problem List'

NEW YORK (AP) — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Tuesday the list of banks it considers to be in trouble shot up nearly 50% to 171 during the third quarter — yet another sign of escalating troubles among the institutions controlling Americans' deposits. Total assets held by troubled institutions climbed from $78.3 billion to $115.6 billion — a figure that suggests that the nation's top 20 banks aren't on the list, even though they are getting slammed, too, by the growing credit crisis. The FDIC does not reveal the institutions it deems troubled. On average, about 13% of institutions on the FDIC's list end up failing.

Economic Indicators Point Down

WASHINGTON (AP) — A raft of economic reports Wednesday all pointed to a slowing economy. Consumer spending plunged 1% last month, the largest amount since the 2001 terrorist attacks and even worse than the 0.9% decline that had been expected. Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods plunged in October by the largest amount in two years as manufacturing was battered by the overall economic weakness. The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods dropped 6.2% last month, more than double the 3% decline economists expected. Demand for autos fell 4.5% last month, reflecting the hard times facing U.S. automakers, who are appealing to Washington for a sizable bailout package. The government reported that the gross domestic product shrank 0.5% in the third quarter, which was worse than expected. It was the worst showing since the economy contracted 1.4% in the third quarter of 2001, during the last recession. Jobless claims fell more than expected last week from a 16-year high, the Labor Department said, but claims remain at elevated levels.

Home Prices off 21.8% since Peak

USA TODAY — Home prices continued their free fall nationwide in September, and economists say foreclosures and tight credit will continue to keep the market down. The median price of a single-family home in September was down 17.4% from September 2007 and down 21.8% from the peak in July 2006, according to the widely followed Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index of 20 metropolitan areas. Prices dropped 1.8% from August. The cities with the biggest annual declines were Phoenix, down 31.9%; Las Vegas, down 31.3%; and San Francisco, down 29.5%. Los Angeles, Miami and San Diego followed with prices down 25% or more. Moderate annual drops were reported for cities such as New York, down 7.3%; Boston, down 5.7%; Charlotte, down 3.5%; and Dallas, down 2.7%.

Oil Futures Tumble and Gasoline Prices Keep Falling

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Oil prices fell nearly 7% Tuesday as a raft of lousy news about the economy, housing and the consumer state of mind suggested the U.S. economy is slowing sharply. Consumers and businesses have pulled back on energy spending, with massive layoffs and cost-cutting across almost every sector. That means less money will go toward powering everything from industrial plants to automobiles. Gasoline prices nationwide continued to decline, falling 2.3 cents overnight to $1.885, their lowest levels since September 2004 when the average price for three days was $1.886, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. The current price is $1.20 below where it was a year ago and down $2.225 from the peak in July when prices hit $4.11 per gallon.

Food Banks Can't Meet Growing Demand

USA TODAY — Donations to many of the USA's food banks are not keeping pace with growing demand as the sour economy forces more people to seek help, charitable organizations say. "We have seen a 100% increase in demand in the last year … and food donations have dropped precipitously," says Dana Wilkie, CEO of the Community Food Bank in Fresno, Calif. Nationally, donations are up about 18%, but demand has grown 25%-40%, says Vicki Escarra of Feeding America, the USA's largest hunger-relief charity. Feeding America, formerly America's Second Harvest, has a network of 206 food banks. About 70% of new clients are making their first visit to a food bank, Escarra says.

Obama Vows to Slash Wasteful Federal Spending

USA TODAY — Faced with an unprecedented federal budget deficit of $1 trillion or more next year, President-elect Barack Obama vowed Tuesday to do what most presidents before him have tried: cut wasteful spending. Like President Bush, Obama promised to target wealthy farmers who receive federal aid. Like Bill Clinton, he stressed the importance of reducing health care spending. Like Ronald Reagan, he pledged to go line by line through the federal budget in search of reductions. Like Jimmy Carter, he pledged to target programs that have outlived their usefulness. "Every president-elect has promised spending cuts, but they rarely happen," said Brian Riedl, budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "Every federal dollar spent, no matter how wasteful, will be defended by whoever receives it."

  • JJ Commentary: Any organization comprised of people behaves like a living organism which not only seeks to survive but to grow and flourish. The bureaucracy wants to keep their manpower and budget while recipients of service have a sense of entitlement, a deadly combination.

Phoenix Slashing 1200 Jobs

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said today the city is eliminating 1,200 positions next fiscal year, part of its effort to slash the budget by $250 million because of the ailing economy and a drop off in tax collections. The mayor also said he and staffers in his office will be voluntarily working one day each month without pay - and he will be asking every city employee to do the same. And Gordon will be meeting with labor unions to request that employees forego pay raises for one year to avoid layoffs.

U.S. 'Falling Behind' in Afghanistan, panel says

WASHINGTON — A congressional panel has warned that the U.S. is "falling behind" in Afghanistan in the fight against makeshift bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops there, after the attacks reached an all-time high this summer. Improvised explosive device (IED) attacks have increased every year since 2005, according to Pentagon data. The attacks peaked at 329 in August before declining to 264 last month upon the arrival of colder weather, which usually hinders fighting in Afghanistan. The increased deployment of IEDs has come amid a broad offensive by the Taliban and warnings from U.S. commanders that violence could worsen. The bombs have contributed to an increase in casualties among coalition forces: 129 U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan through October this year, compared with 83 combat deaths in all of 2007.

Iran Says it Now Runs more than 5,000 Centrifuges

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's nuclear chief says Iran now has more than 5,000 centrifuges operating at its uranium enrichment plant. The announcement Wednesday is Iran's latest defiance of U.N. demands that Tehran halt the controversial program. The Iranian official, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, says Iran will continue to install centrifuges and enrich uranium in order to produce nuclear fuel for the country's future nuclear power plants. Uranium enriched to low level is used to produce nuclear fuel. Further enrichment makes it suitable for use in nuclear weapons The new number of working centrifuges is a significant increase from the 4,000 Iran said were up and running in August at the plant in the central Iranian city of Natanz.

Egypt's Suez Canal Traffic Declines as Piracy Spikes

CAIRO (AP) — For nearly 140 years it's been a vital shortcut between East and West, cutting days off the time ships must travel from Asia to Europe or America. But the Suez Canal now faces an enormous challenge, as the scourge of Somali piracy prompts major shipping companies to seek another route. Egypt, which is heavily dependent on the fees it charges ships to go through the Canal, has expressed concern over a possible drop in income — though it says it's hopeful an international flotilla patrolling the pirate infested waters will be able to ensure safe passage. At least two shipping companies have announced their vessels will take the long route around the southern tip of Africa rather than go through the canal, which requires crossing through the Gulf of Aden, scene of most pirate attacks.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Shipping officials from around the world called Monday for a military blockade along Somalia's coast to intercept pirate vessels heading out to sea. Yemen's government said Somali pirates have seized another ship. Peter Swift, managing director of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, said stronger naval action — including aerial and aviation support — is necessary to battle rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia. But NATO, which has four warships off the coast of Somalia, rejected a blockade. The association, whose members own 2,900 tankers or 75% of the world's fleet, opposes attempts to arm merchant ships because it could escalate the violence and put crewmembers at even greater risk.

Brazil Flood Death Toll Rises to 79

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) — The death toll from rain-spawned floods and mudslides in southern Brazil has risen to 79 people, with 30 or more still missing, civil defense authorities said Tuesday. Most died in mudslides that swept away homes and businesses, and officials from Santa Catarina state say they fear more mudslides because the earth is still saturated with water. Eight cities remained isolated because of weekend rains that caused rivers to overflow their banks, civil defense officials said in a statement. A pipeline rupture cut off the state's sole source of natural gas from Bolivia, prompting shortages of cooking gas and fuel for cars. Six large textile mills also shut down because they had no natural gas to generate electricity. Seventeen highways are blocked by mudslides. Authorities say that more than 52,000 people were forced to leave their homes. More than 150,000 people in the city of Blumenau had no electricity.

Flooding and Landslides Kill 5, Force Evacuations in Panama

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Five people died in flooding and landslides in western Panama provoked by heavy rains, authorities said Monday. Hundreds fled the province of Chiriqui and thousands were cut off by washed out roads in Bocas del Toro. The provinces are located along Panama's northern coast. 600 people were evacuated in the province after two rivers overflowed their banks. In neighboring Costa Rica, more than 3,000 people were forced from their homes by flooding. Forecasts call for more rain through Wednesday.

Rain Coming, Some Urged to Leave Calif. Burn Areas

YORBA LINDA, Calif. (AP) — Authorities are urging residents to consider evacuating areas of Southern California that were stripped by wildfires because an approaching storm could set off mudslides. Authorities also warned that the heavy rain on burned-over slopes could cause mudslides and slumping hillsides. Voluntary evacuation warnings were set to go into effect Tuesday in several areas charred by fierce wildfires earlier this month. Property owners in some areas have built sandbag barricades to channel storm runoff away from their homes.

Endangered Sea Turtles Killed by Cold Snap

Every year, endangered sea turtles wash up on the beaches of Massachusetts' Cape Cod Bay, freezing and near death. Most are nursed back to health. This fall, though, an unusually early, long cold snap and lashing winds have caused more Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, the most endangered sea turtles in the world, to wash ashore dead.

  • JJ Commentary: An ironic twist, don’t you think? It was global warming that was supposed to threaten extinction to endangered life forms.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Signs of the Times

Americans Still Giving Despite Economic Downturn

The Associated Press reports that Americans' generosity doesn't seem tied to how the economy is managing, a new World Vision study conducted by Harris Interactive. On the contrary, some are actually giving back more than previous years. The study found that seven in 10 adults plan to spend less money on holiday presents this year, but about half say they are more likely to give a charitable gift than a traditional present such as clothing or an electronic toy. "At a time when people have things and they know that other people don't, Americans' generosity wins out," said Justin Greeves, senior vice president of Harris Interactive, which regularly polls Americans about their charitable giving. World Vision hopes this perspective will motivate Americans to purchase items such as chickens and bicycles from their holiday gift catalogue to donate to poverty-stricken families worldwide.

APEC Leaders Endorse Ban on Protectionist Measures

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Leaders from 21 nations that account for half the world's economy pledged Saturday not to implement protectionist measures for the next 12 months — no matter how punishing the global downturn gets. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Peru, the leaders endorsed a declaration made at last weekend's Group of 20 summit in Washington, which brought together the world's richest economies and major developing nations. They also pledged to reach agreement next month on the outlines of a World Trade Organization pact that collapsed in July after seven years of negotiations. Kazuo Kodama, a Japanese government spokesman, said concern over the global financial crisis revived willingness to push forward on the so-called Doha round of trade talks.

  • JJ Commentary: In other words, don’t interfere with the globalization process leading to the one-world government, not matter what.

Worst of Financial Crisis Yet to Come: IMF Chief Economist

ZURICH, Switzerland (AFP) — The International Money Fund's chief economist has warned that the global financial crisis is set to worsen and that the situation will not improve until 2010, a report said Saturday. Olivier Blanchard also warned that the institution does not have the funds to solve every economic problem. He said economic growth would not kick in until 2010 and it will take another year before the global financial situation became normal again. The International Monetary Fund on Friday promised to help Latvia deal with its economic crisis after it assisted Iceland, Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia and Pakistan. The IMF had spent a fifth of its 250 billion dollar (200 billion euro) fund in the last two weeks, Blanchard added.

Feds Shutter Two Thrifts plus Georgia Bank

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators on Friday shut down two big thrifts based in Southern California, saying they fell victim to the acute distress in the housing market in that state. The failures of Downey Savings and Loan Association, based in Newport Beach, and PFF Bank & Trust of Pomona brought the number of U.S. bank failures this year to 22. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was appointed receiver of the two thrifts. U.S. Bank, based in Minneapolis, is acquiring all the deposits and nearly all the assets of both. The combined 213 branches of the two will reopen as branches of U.S. Bank under their normal business hours. Downey, the 23rd-largest U.S. savings and loan, had assets of $12.8 billion and deposits of $9.7 billion as of Sept. 30. PFF, the 38th-largest, had assets of $3.7 billion and $2.4 billion in deposits. Also Friday, Georgia regulators shuttered The Community Bank, a small bank in Loganville, Ga. The FDIC was made receiver of the bank, which had $681 million in assets and $611.4 million in deposits as of Oct. 17.

Government Unveils Plan to Rescue Citigroup

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators late Sunday agreed to backstop about $306 billion of Citicorp's riskiest assets to bolster the staggering banking giant, in yet another in a growing list of radical efforts to shore up confidence in troubled financial markets. Under the agreement announced by the Treasury Department, the FDIC and the Federal Reserve, the government will protect Citi securities backed by residential and commercial real estate. The assets will remain on Citigroup's balance sheet. As a fee for the government protection, Citi will issue $7 billion in preferred stock to the Treasury and FDIC. In addition, the Treasury Department will inject another $20 billion into Citigroup, in exchange for preferred stock, with the money coming from the recently approved $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. The government has previously invested $25 billion into Citigroup under the program. The federal guarantees will be in place for 10 years for residential assets, and five years for the other securities.

Pressure intensified on Citigroup to sell part or all of itself as its stock fell below $4 a share on Friday and fears escalated about future loan losses. What investors are worried about is that all the risky debt sitting on Citigroup's balance sheet will eventually turn into losses as the economy worsens and the markets stay turbulent — losses that could be nearly impossible to reverse. Investors were also fearful that the government might orchestrate a takeover of Citigroup that could wipe out common shareholders. The government was instrumental in JPMorgan Chase's buyout of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, deals that left shareholders with little or no payouts.

  • JJ Commentary: Please note that these measures continue to give government more direct ownership of banking assets, a further step toward socialism and the New World (Dis)Order.

FDIC Approves Backing for U.S. Bank Debt, Deposits

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators will guarantee as much as $1.4 trillion in U.S. banks' debt in a bid to get the distressed financial system pumping again. They also took steps Friday to make it easier for private investors to buy failed banks seized by the government. Directors of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. voted to approve the bank-debt guarantee program, which is part of the government's financial rescue package. The FDIC program is meant to break the crippling logjam in bank-to-bank lending by guaranteeing the new debt in the event of payment default by the borrowing bank. Some analysts have said that freeing up bank-to-bank lending with the guarantees won't necessarily translate into a thaw in broader lending as banks are still wary of making loans to businesses and consumers.

Obama Outlines Plan to Create 2.5M Jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday outlined his plan to create 2.5 million jobs in coming years to rebuild roads and bridges and modernize schools while developing alternative energy sources and more efficient cars. These aren't just steps to pull ourselves out of this immediate crisis; these are the long-term investments in our economic future that have been ignored for far too long," Obama said in the weekly Democratic radio address. A trio of crises — housing, credit and financial — have badly damaged the economy, and financial analysts have projected the country's economic hardships will continue through much of 2009. Obama acknowledged Saturday that evidence is growing the country is "facing an economic crisis of historic proportions."

Spasm of 'Hate-Related Incidents' since Election Day

With Barack Obama set to become the nation's first black president, the Chicago Tribune says "a spasm of noose hangings, racist graffiti, vandalism and death threats is convulsing dozens of towns across the country as white extremists lash out at the new political order." The paper relies on anecdotal evidence from activists and law-enforcement agencies who say they have recorded more than 200 "hate-related incidents" since Election Day. In addition to the outcome of the presidential election, the paper says "white supremacist anxieties" are being driven by the nation's changing demographics and the economy's continued decline.

Strong Quake Hits Indonesia Coast

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The U.S. geological agency says a strong earthquake has struck in the waters off western Indonesia. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The U.S. Geological Survey put Saturday's preliminary magnitude of the quake at 6.8. It says the quake was centered 100 miles southwest of Bengkulu, a city on Sumatra island, and that it was 16 miles beneath the ocean floor. Indonesia is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. In December 2004, a massive earthquake off Sumatra triggered a tsunami that battered much of the Indian Ocean coastline and killed more than 230,000 people.

Landslides in Southern Brazil kill 20

BRASILIA, Brazil— Flooding and landslides provoked by heavy rains in southern Brazil have killed 20 people and are driving more than 15,000 from their homes. Civil defense officials in Santa Catarina state say floods have cut off access to four towns where residents have no electricity. Rescue efforts are focusing on the Itajai river valley, where waters are 9 meters (30 feet) above normal. The federal government is providing planes to deliver food and medicine to victims.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Signs of the Times

Gay Activists Focusing on Rights Issues other than Marriage

Gay rights advocates are rethinking their political strategy after losing the right to marry in California. Votes in California, Florida and Arizona that bring to 29 the number of states whose constitutions ban same-sex marriage are likely to prompt more focus on passing legislation to include gays in laws covering hate crimes and discrimination, advocates say. "Marriage is just an issue where the public is not there yet," says Clyde Wilcox, co-editor of The Politics of Gay Rights. Many gays welcomed Barack Obama's victory. An Edison-Mitofsky survey at polling places found that 70% of gay voters chose Obama, compared with 53% of voters overall. Obama has voiced support for civil unions and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act so gays could enjoy the federal benefits, such as Social Security survivor payments, that married couples do.

Calif. Supreme Court to Take Up Prop. 8

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California's highest court agreed Wednesday to hear several legal challenges to the state's new ban on same-sex marriage but refused to allow gay couples to resume marrying before it rules. The California Supreme Court accepted three lawsuits seeking to nullify Proposition 8, a voter-approved constitutional amendment that overruled the court's decision in May that legalized gay marriage. All three cases claim the measure abridges the civil rights of a vulnerable minority group. They argue that voters alone did not have the authority to enact such a significant constitutional change.

  • JJ Commentary: Huh? Voters don’t have the authority? What happened to government “of the people, for the people, by the people?”

Americans Don't Know Civics

USA TODAY — From high-school dropouts to college graduates to elected officials, Americans are "alarmingly uninformed" about the USA's history, founding principals and economy — knowledge needed to participate wisely in civic life, says a report released Thursday. The study, the third in a series by the non-profit Intercollegiate Studies Institute, finds that half of U.S. adults can name all three branches of government, and 54% know that the power to declare war belongs to Congress. Almost 40% incorrectly said that it belongs to the president. Those who have held elected office lack civic knowledge; 43% do not know the Electoral College is a constitutionally mandated assembly that elects the president. One in five thinks it "trains those aspiring for higher office" or "was established to supervise the first televised presidential debates."

Among findings: 71% earn an F; the average score was 49%. Ages 25 to 34 had an average score of 46%; ages 45 to 64 had a 52% average. Of 164 respondents who say they have held elected office, 44% was average. Those with bachelor's degrees had an average score of 57% vs. 44% for those with a high-school diploma. The average score for advanced degree-holders inches up to 65%, or a D. Civic knowledge declines in proportion to time spent using passive media, such as TV.

Supreme Court to Review Barack's Citizenship

WORLDNETDAILY A case that challenges President-elect Barack Obama's name on the 2008 election ballot citing questions over his citizenship has been scheduled for a "conference" at the U.S. Supreme Court. Conferences are private meetings of the justices at which they review cases and decide which ones to accept for formal review. This case is set for a conference Dec. 5, just 10 days before the Electoral College is scheduled to meet to make formal the election of Obama as the nation's next president. Some believe that Obama was actually born in Kenya, and the constitution forbids the foreign-born from being President.

Mexican Emigration Drops 42% over last Two Years

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican emigration has dropped 42% over the last two years, a government study released Thursday showed, confirming that America has become less appealing amid an economic downturn and stepped up raids against illegal migrants. About eight of every 1,000 Mexicans emigrated between February and May of this year, according to the survey conducted by the National Statistics and Geography Institute. That's a 42% drop from the same period in 2006. In all of 2007, an estimated 814,000 Mexicans emigrated, compared to 1.2 million in 2006. Experts say America's economic troubles and tighter border security have deterred many Mexicans from risking the journey to the United States, a trip that often means long desert treks, dodging bandits and bribing corrupt police.

Napolitano is Obama's Pick for Homeland Security

ARIZONA REPUBLIC — Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is President-elect Barack Obama's choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, multiple news agencies reported late Wednesday. If appointed, the Democrat in her second term would head the sprawling federal agency, which is responsible for immigration policy and border security as well as emergency response issues. A popular Democratic governor in a red-state, and an early Obama supporter, Napolitano, 51, has been the focus of Cabinet speculation for weeks. Her departure would send ripples through Arizona politics. Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer, next-in-line to the governorship, would serve the remaining two years of Napolitano's term - putting all three branches of state government under GOP control. In making Gov. Janet Napolitano his top pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, President-elect Barack Obama has signaled a moderate approach toward immigration and border policies and laid the path to pursue comprehensive reform later. As the Democratic governor of a border state and a former federal prosecutor, Napolitano would bring to the job years of experience in dealing with border and immigration issues, something previous Homeland Security chiefs have lacked.

More U.S. Soldiers Seek Substance Abuse Help

USA TODAY — The number of soldiers seeking help for substance abuse has climbed 25% in the past five years, but the Army's counseling program has remained significantly understaffed and struggling to meet the demand, according to Army records. About 13,500 soldiers sought drug counseling this year and 7,200 soldiers were diagnosed with an abuse or dependency issue and enrolled in counseling, Army data show. That compares with 11,170 soldiers reporting to drug counseling in 2003, when 5,727 enrolled. Army records show 2.38% of all soldiers had positive results on routine drug urinalysis screening, a 10-year record. In 2004, when combat troops returned from Iraq in large numbers, 1.72% had positive results. The Army requires one drug counselor for every 2,000 soldiers, yet is currently operating with one for 3,100 soldiers, a chronic shortage exacerbated by the increase in substance abuse cases.

India: Reports of Rewards to Kill Christians

The UK-based Christian Today reports that radical Hindu militants are inciting the general population to act against Christians with various incentives, offering money, food and even liquor. "People are being offered rewards to kill, and to destroy churches and Christian properties," a spokesman for the All India Christian Council (AICC) told Release International. "Different tasks have different rewards," he added. "They are being offered foreign liquor, chicken, mutton and weapons. They are being given petrol and kerosene." According to Good News India, pastors in refugee camps are prime targets, earning $250 US dollars. According to the AICC, violence in India has spread from Orissa into 13 more states.

Iran has Enough Enriched Uranium to Build Nuke

Nuclear experts scanning over reprts from the International Atomic Energy Agency have concluded that Iran now has enough enriched uranium to produce an atomic weapon, though it needs to be further refined, according to The New York Times on Thursday. "They clearly have enough material for a bomb. They know how to do the enrichment. Whether they know how to design a bomb, well, that's another matter," top-physicist Richard Garwin told the newspaper. Recent IAEA reports say that Iran has produced rougly 630 kilograms of enriched uranium, which is enough to produce a single nuclear weapon if purified further. It is unknown whether Iran has enough centrifuges configured to enrich the uranium to weapons-grade material, since there may be hidden facilities besides the Natanz plant.

Jobless claims hit 16-year high

The number of new jobless claims hit 542,000 last week, the highest level in 16 years, according to the Labor Department. "The four-week average of claims, which smooths out fluctuations, was even worse: it rose to 506,500, the highest in more than 25 years," AP says. The worst isn't over, according to projections cited by The Washington Post. "The most pessimistic of 17 Federal officials expects joblessness to rise to 8% at the end of 2009, which would be the highest in a quarter-century," the paper says.

Congress OKs Extension of Jobless Benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jarred by new jobless alarms, Congress hurriedly approved legislation Thursday to keep unemployment checks flowing through the December holidays and into the new year for a million or more laid-off Americans whose benefits were running out. The White House, which had opposed broader legislation containing the benefits extension, urged passage of the new version and said President George W. Bush would quickly sign it. As Congress prepared to leave town — perhaps for the year — there was no such resolution on helping the auto industry, a disaster in the making that could lead to hundreds of thousands if not millions of additional lost jobs.

Mortgage Aid Falls Short

WASHINGTON — Two government programs designed to help hundreds of thousands of delinquent borrowers avoid foreclosure are having negligible effects, a top Bush administration official acknowledged Wednesday. One program will be revamped immediately, and the other possibly in the near future. Steve Preston, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said both private industry and government efforts have fallen short as the foreclosure crisis has exceeded all but the most dire forecasts. "Few lenders have actually signed up, and few borrowers are submitting applications," Preston said. "So clearly we needed to make meaningful changes."

Economy hits Immigrants Harder than Most

USA TODAY — Low-skilled immigrants are taking a hard hit from the faltering economy, losing jobs, sending less money to families overseas and cutting back spending at businesses that cater to them. The effect is most pronounced on immigrants, both legal and illegal, working in struggling sectors such as construction and manufacturing. The Pew Hispanic Center, a non-partisan research organization, estimates there are 11.9 million illegal immigrants in the USA this year. In October, the jobless rate was 6.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the rate for Hispanics was 8.8%. Slightly more than half of the Hispanic labor force is foreign-born. Day laborers may be among the most affected. Revenue at Hispanic-owned businesses was down 15% to 20% from July through September, compared with the same quarter last year.

Average Gasoline Price Falls Below $2

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) — The national average price for a gallon of gasoline has fallen below $2 for the first timel since March 2005, the Energy Department and AAA say. The price for regular unleaded gasoline fell for the ninth week in a row, sinking to $1.989 a gallon overnight Friday. Thirty states have gasoline prices that average under $2 a gallon. But oil refiners, the chief buyers of crude, aren't celebrating. Gasoline prices are falling even harder and faster than crude oil, so U.S. refiners are losing money on every gallon of gasoline they sell.

Falling gasoline prices are putting extra money in the pockets of consumers, but there is concern some drivers may return to their gas-guzzling vehicles. The chairman of the Senate Energy Committee said Monday the new Congress probably will not approve legislation to raise the federal tax on gasoline. Americans pay an 18.4-cent federal tax on each gallon of gasoline they buy, plus another 29 cents on average in combined state and local taxes.

Fannie, Freddie Halt Foreclosures for the Holidays

USA TODAY — Mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will suspend foreclosures and evictions for owners of occupied homes through the holidays — the latest effort to keep people in their houses. Freddie and Fannie, which were seized by the government in September, announced Thursday that they will contact an estimated 16,000 borrowers who are facing foreclosure or evictions between Wednesday and Jan. 9. Those proceedings will be delayed and the homeowners will have a chance to work with mortgage servicers to modify their home loans into affordable payments.

Bush Promotes Action Plan on Global Financial Crisis in South America

LIMA, Peru (AP) — President George W. Bush, struggling to get ahead of a global financial crisis, hopes to win more converts at a summit here for an action plan aimed at showing governments have the will and the means to halt the turmoil. Bush embarked Friday on what could be his final overseas trip as president, leaving the White House in the early morning to fly to Peru for the annual gathering of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

  • JJ Commentary: Regional organizations in Asia and South America are growing in significance and are following the European Union model. The North American Union is next on tap in the march toward the one-world government prophesied in Revelation 13.

Iceland gets Billions in Aid amid Financial Meltdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday approved a two-year, $2.1 billion support program for Iceland designed to restore confidence and stabilize the country's shattered economy. The approval had been held up because of a British-Icelandic dispute over Britons' accounts in failed Icelandic banks. After the IMF announcement, four Nordic countries agreed to lend Iceland $3.1 billion, Finland's Finance Ministry said. The four countries agreeing to the package were Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Iceland needs the financing to buy imports and support its currency, which has lost around two-thirds of its value since the beginning of the year because of the collapse of its banking system.

Ireland's Economy not Roaring Back

Ireland's fall perhaps is the hardest because it was riding so high. Economic growth since the early 1990s ranged from 4.5% to 10.7% — higher than Europe and the USA. That's why Morgan Stanley analyst Kevin Gardiner dubbed it the Celtic Tiger in 1994. By 2006, Ireland provided full employment and the highest incomes in the eurozone, except for tiny Luxembourg. Now the jobs and high incomes are disappearing as construction projects are postponed, houses remain unsold, and property prices are in free-fall. About 35,000 new houses sit unsold across the country, according to Ireland's Construction Industry Federation. More than 250,000 Irish — 6.7% of the workforce — receive jobless benefits now, a 60% increase over last year.

Post-Earthquake Honesty

BEIJING (AP) — More than 19,000 schoolchildren died in a massive earthquake that struck Sichuan province in May, China acknowledged Friday for the first time. The earthquake left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing, but the government has never before said how many of the casualties were students. Most of them perished when their shoddily built schools collapsed. Their deaths become a sensitive political issue for the government, with parents of dead children staging protests demanding investigations. Many parents says they have been subjected to intimidation and financial inducements to keep them silent. Millions of those displaced in the earthquake still need quilts and repairs to their homes if they are to survive the coming winter, which is expected to be unusually cold.

Weather Signs

BRISBANE, Australia — Two strong storms cut power to tens of thousands of homes and flooded streets along Australia's east coast Thursday, sweeping away one woman in her car amid the worst flooding in decades. The first storm early Thursday dumped almost 8 inches of rain in a matter of hours on Brisbane, Queensland's capital, and surrounding towns. Strong winds lashed coastal areas in the southeast corner of the state. A second storm swept through the region on Thursday night, cutting power to 45,000 premises. Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said police had recovered the body of the woman who was swept away from a town west of Brisbane. Her death brought to two the number of people killed by violent weather in the east of Australia in the past five days.