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.

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