Monday, February 28, 2011

Last Surviving World War 1 Veteran Dies At 110 Years Old

Frank Buckles, who drove an Army ambulance in France in 1918 and came to symbolize a generation of embattled young Americans as the last of the World War I doughboys, died on Sunday at his home in Charles Town, W. Va. He was 110.

His death was announced by a family spokesman, David DeJonge, The Associated Press said.

He was only a corporal and he never got closer than 30 or so miles from the Western Front trenches, but Mr. Buckles became something of a national treasure as the last living link to the two million men who served in the American Expeditionary Forces in France in “the war to end all wars.”

Frail, stooped and hard of hearing, but sharp of mind, Mr. Buckles was named grand marshal of the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington in 2007. He was a guest at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day 2007 for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He was honored by Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon and met with President George W. Bush at the White House in March 2008.

United States Senators played host to him at the Capitol in June 2008 for the impending 90th anniversary of the World War I armistice. And he appeared before a Senate subcommittee in December 2009 to support legislation named in his honor to bestow federal status on a World War I memorial on the National Mall built in the 1930s.

Sought out for interviews in his final years, Mr. Buckles told of witnessing a ceremony involving British veterans of the Crimean War, fought in the 1850s, when he was stationed in England before heading to France. He remembered chatting with General John J. Pershing, the commander of American troops in World War I, at an event in Oklahoma City soon after the war’s end.

And he proudly held a sepia-toned photograph of himself in his doughboy uniform when he was interviewed by USA Today in 2007. “I was a snappy soldier,” he said. “All gung-ho.”

Frank Woodruff Buckles was born Feb. 1, 1901, on a farm near Bethany, Mo. He was living in Oakwood, Okla., when America entered World War I and he tried to enlist in the Marine Corps at age 16, having been inspired by recruiting posters.

The Marines turned him down as under-age and under the required weight. The Navy didn’t want him either, saying he had flat feet. But the Army took him in August 1917 after he had lied about his age, and he volunteered to be an ambulance driver, hearing that that was the quickest path to service in France.

He sailed for England in December 1917 on the Carpathia, the ship that helped save survivors of the Titanic’s sinking in 1912. He later served in various locations in France, including Bordeaux, and drove military autos and ambulances. He was moved by the war’s impact on the French people.

“The little French children were hungry,” Mr. Buckles recalled in a 2001 interview for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. “We’d feed the children. To me, that was a pretty sad sight.”

Mr. Buckles escorted German prisoners of war back to their homeland after the Armistice, then returned to America and later worked in the Toronto office of the White Star shipping line.

He traveled widely over the years, working for steamship companies, and he was on business in Manila when the Japanese occupied it following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He was imprisoned by the Japanese, losing more than 50 pounds, before being liberated by an American airborne unit in February 1945.

After retiring from steamship work in the mid-1950s, Mr. Buckles ran a cattle farm in Charles Town, and he was still riding a tractor there at age 104.

In April 2007, Mr. Buckles was identified by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as one of the four known survivors among the more than 4.7 million Americans who had served in the armed forces of the Allied nations between April 6, 1917, when the United States entered World War I, and the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.

Two of the four — J. Russell Coffey and Harry Landis — had served stateside in the American Army. Mr. Coffey died in December 2007 at 109; Mr. Landis, in February 2008 at 108. John Babcock, who was Canadian born, served in Canada’s army in Britain in World War I and held dual American and Canadian citizenship, died in Spokane, Wash., in February 2010 at 109.

The last known veterans of the French and German armies in World War I, Lazare Ponticelli and Erich K√§stner, respectively, died a few months apart in 2008; Harry Patch, the last British soldier, died in 2009. Claude Choules, who served in Britain’s Royal Navy and now lives in Australia, and Florence Green, a member of Britain’s Women’s Royal Air Force and who lives in England, are thought to be the only two people still living who served in any capacity in the war.

Mr. Buckles is survived by his daughter, Susannah Flanagan. His wife, Audrey, died in 1999.

Read More from The New York Times

High Gas Prices Putting The Squeeze On Drivers' Wallets

NEW YORK (AP) -- High fuel prices are putting the squeeze on drivers' wallets just as they are starting to feel better about the economy. They're also forcing tough choices on small-business owners who are loathe to charge more for fear of losing cost-conscious customers.

Gasoline prices rose 4 percent last week to a national average of $3.29 per gallon. That's the highest level ever for this time of year, when prices are typically low. And with unrest in the Middle East and North Africa lifting the price of oil to the $100-a-barrel range, analysts say pump prices are likely headed higher.

Bryon Gongaware, an owner of The Floral Trunk and Gifts in White Bear Lake, Minn., didn't raise his $7 flower delivery charge when gas prices spiked in 2008, and he doesn't plan to do so this time, either.

"I don't think the economy is solid enough that you can be careless about raising prices," he said, standing among the flower clippings on the floor of the shop he has run for 21 years.

That means the extra costs that come from driving the store's delivery van 70,000 miles a year come from only one place: "right out of the bottom line," he said.

For drivers such as Robert Wagner, 51, a high school teacher from Thornton, Colo., the higher fuel costs mean cutting back on movies and dinners out for him, his wife and their two children. "We're very, very frugal right now," he said as he trickled enough $3.09-per-gallon gasoline into his Chevrolet Suburban to get him to his next pay day.

Analysts and economists worry that by lowering profits for businesses and reducing disposable income for drivers, high gasoline prices could slow the recovering economy.

Over a year, analysts estimate, oil at $100 a barrel would reduce U.S. economic growth by 0.2 or 0.3 of a percentage point. Rather than grow an estimated 3.7 percent this year, the economy would expand 3.4 percent or 3.5 percent. That would likely mean less hiring and higher unemployment.

Americans are less prepared to absorb the spike in gasoline prices than they were the last time prices rose this high, in 2008, because unemployment is higher and real estate values are lower, says David Portalatin, an analyst for the market research firm NPD Group.

It has been four months since gasoline rose beyond $3 per gallon. During that time, drivers have spent $14 billion more on gasoline than they did a year ago, Portalatin says.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago, says this year's cut in payroll taxes offers consumers a buffer against higher fuel prices. Still, she expects all but the wealthiest Americans to cut back on discretionary spending. And the longer prices stay high, the more damage they do.

Gasoline prices rose throughout last fall as the developing nations of Asia and the recovering economies of the West began using more oil.

In recent weeks, upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa stoked fears that oil supplies would be disrupted, and oil prices exceeded $100 per barrel for only the second time in history.

Much of the most dramatic unrest took place in countries that are not big producers of oil. But when Libya plunged into chaos, there were disruptions in shipments of its high-quality crude, which is well-suited to making gasoline. That sent refiners scrambling to find other sources of high-quality oil. Gasoline prices rose further.

Gasoline prices typically fall in the winter and rise in the spring as refiners switch to more expensive summer blends of gasoline. Since 2000, prices in May have been 52 cents per gallon on average higher than in February, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, believes that the normal seasonal rise in prices has been pulled ahead by events in the Middle East, but he still expects prices to rise further. He predicts prices will reach $3.50 to $3.75 per gallon, barring more chaos in the Middle East.

"When we get over $3.75 we are looking at very serious consequences for the economy," he says.

For every 25-cent increase in the price of gasoline, the nation spends an extra $3 billion filling up its cars and trucks, Kloza says.

Read More From Yahoo News

Gadhafi Denies That There Are Protests In Lybia Saying His People Love Him

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Monday denied the existence of the protests that have threatened his hold on power.

In an interview with ABC News' Christiane Amanpour, Gadhafi also denied using force against his people, Amanpour reported.

"My people love me. They would die for me," he said, according to the network.

Government forces have repeatedly clashed with demonstrators over the past two weeks, fired on crowds and at times fired indiscriminately at people in the streets, numerous witnesses have told CNN. The death toll has topped 1,000, according to an estimate from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Gadhafi's regime has lost control of parts of the country, and with each passing day more Libyan officials around the world have defected, joining calls for his ouster.

Even as Gadhafi sought to project confidence Monday, reports came in that a military jet bombed a military base in an area controlled by protesters.

The base is near Ajdabiya, 90 miles south of Benghazi, a stronghold of government opponents. Some bases in the area have fallen into the hands of protesters as more members of the military have abandoned Gadhafi's regime and joined demonstrations.

Several soldiers told CNN they switched their allegiance after refusing to use weapons against peaceful demonstrators.

CNN saw the military jet fly above and heard the sounds of explosions. Witnesses reported a bombing at the base.

But Libyan state television later denied any such bombing. The Temporary General Committee for Defense denied reports that the Libyan air force conducted strikes on the ammunition depots in the cities of Ajdabiya and Rajima, state TV reported.

While CNN has staff in some cities, the network can not independently confirm reports for many areas in Libya. CNN has also compiled information through telephone interviews with witnesses.

Pro-Gadhafi forces have tried to attack a radio station in Misrata, a city controlled by protesters, a witness said. A military chopper has tried to land a couple of times in the past three days with soldiers on board, but the opposition fired at the soldiers and kept them away, the witness said.

The international community launched new efforts Monday to pressure Gadhafi to halt the violence.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, said, "Col. Gadhafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency. Through their actions, they have lost the legitimacy to govern. And the people of Libya have made themselves clear: It is time for Gadhafi to go, now, without further violence or delay."

Clinton said the United States is exploring "all possible options," and that "nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens."

Asked at a news conference Monday whether the U.S. planned an imminent military response, Clinton said "no."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that "exile is certainly one option" for Gadhafi. Carney also said the U.S. government is considering the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.

The Obama administration is "actively reaching out to those in Libya who are working to bring about a government" that respects the rights and reflects the aspirations of the Libyan people, Carney said. "Col. Gadhafi needs to step aside."

Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said the United States is "repositioning" naval and air forces in the region to be prepared for any option that it may need to exercise. He would not comment on whether any ground forces are being put on alert or having leaves cancelled because of Libya.

The United States became the latest country to announce it had frozen Gadhafi-related assets. The U.S. government froze at least $30 billion in Libyan government assets under U.S jurisdiction after enacting sanctions on Friday, a Treasury official said Monday. It marked the largest amount ever blocked under a sanctions program, according to Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen.

Read More From CNN

Boehner Tells Christian Media Leaders National Debt is A "Moral Threat" to the Country

NASHVILLE - House Speaker John Boehner told Christian media leaders Sunday that the national debt is a moral threat to the country.

Boehner national religious broadcaster
(Photo: AP /Mark Humphrey)
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks at the National Religious Broadcasters convention on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. In his speech, Boehner made his case for the GOP plan to prevent a shutdown of the federal government.

Speaking at the Media Leadership Dinner at this year's National Religious Broadcasters Convention, Boehner referred to the nation's $14.1 trillion debt as America's “Sputnik moment” - the moment that shocks the nation.

"Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country. It is also a moral threat," said the Ohio Republican.

"It is immoral to bind our children to as leeching and destructive a force as debt. It is immoral to rob our children’s future and make them beholden to China. No society is worthy that treats its children so shabbily."

In addition to citing statistics that show a child born today in the United States inherits $45,000 in debt to make his case, Boenher, a Christian, also cited the Bible.

"A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children, as Proverbs reminds us."


Read More at The Christian Post

Wisconsin Govenor To AWOL Democrats "You Have 24 Hours To Return"

(Reuters) - Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker said on Monday that absent senate Democrats have 24 hours to return and vote on a measure to reduce the power of public sector unions or the state will miss out on opportunity to refinance its debt.

"Now they have one day to return to work before the state loses out on the chance to refinance debt, saving taxpayers $165 million this fiscal year," Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said in a statement.

"Failure to return to work and cast their votes will lead to more painful and aggressive spending cuts in the very near future," the statement said.

Walker's budget proposal has sparked nationwide protests from labor unions who fear it could be a harbinger of things to come in other states. To balance the state's budget, Walker wants to require public sector employees to pay more for pensions and health care, and to strip their unions of bargaining rights except for wages up to the rate of inflation.

The measure has passed the state Assembly but is stalled in the Senate because the 14 Democrats have fled the state to avoid a vote.

Under Walker's proposal, Wisconsin's general obligation bonds would be restructured and that would push debt service payments due by March 15 into future years to save the current state budget $165 million. The deadline is because it takes a couple of weeks for the state to prepare to go to the bond market and implement the refinancing before the payment is due on March 15.

Read More from Reuters

4.7 Earthquake Hits Arkansas Largest To Hit Since 1969

Residents across the entire state were awoken by the strongest earthquake yet Sunday night.

According the the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a preliminary magnitude 4.7 hit 4 miles northeast of Greenbrier just after 11:00 p.m.

It was felt across the state as well as into Missouri and Mississippi. Two aftershocks where reported afterwards, a 3.8 magnitude then a 3.6 magnitude.

So far, there have been no reports of damage or injuries.

"We probably wouldn't see structural damage until a 5 or 5.5," says Bekki White, Director of the Arkansas Geological Survey. "What you're going to see now is pictures sway, things fall off the wall, shaking, maybe some windows break."

The USGS is asking anyone who felt the earthquake to report it at their Did You Feel It? website.

According to White, this 4.7 magnitude quake was felt more prominently than last week's quakes because it was at a more shallow depth. Previous quakes were reported at 6 kilometers while last night's quake was at 3 kilometers.

Scott Ausbrooks with the Arkansas Geological Survey says this is the largest quake we've had outside of the New Madrid Fault System since 1969.

Read More from Todays THV.com

Christians Deprived of Food, Water in Laos at ‘Critical Stage’

A total of 62 Christians forced from their village to crude shelters at the edge of the jungle in Saravan Province, Laos, are at a “critical stage” from lack of food and water, an advocacy group warned.

“The wells are drying up as they are going into the dry season, and their food supplies are exhausted” after villagers thwarted their attempts to plant new crops, a source from Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) told Compass. “The authorities have successfully gotten them into a situation where they feel defeated.”

Officials marched 11 Christian families, totaling 48 people, out of Katin village in Ta-Oih Province at gunpoint in January 2010 after they repeatedly refused to give up their faith. The officials left them to find shelter about six kilometers (nearly four miles) outside the village and confiscated the Christians’ homes, livestock, and essential registration documents.

Read more at Compass Direct News

UK: Judge Rules That Christian Couple Cannot Be Foster Parents Due To Religious Beliefs On Homosexuality

United Kingdom: Eunice and Owen Johns, aged 62 and 65, from Oakwood, Derby, went to court after a social worker expressed concerns when they said they could not tell a child a "homosexual lifestyle" was acceptable.

The Pentecostal Christian couple had applied to Derby City Council to be respite carers but withdrew their application, believing they would never be approved because of the social worker's attitude to their religious beliefs.

Today they asked judges to rule that their faith should not be a bar to them becoming carers, and the law should protect their Christian values.

But Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson ruled that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation "should take precedence" over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where the decision was given, Mrs Johns stood alongside her husband as she said: "We are extremely distressed at what the judges have ruled today.

"All we wanted was to offer a loving home to a child in need. We have a good track record as foster parents.

"But because we are Christians, with mainstream Christian views on sexual ethics, we are apparently unsuitable as foster parents.

"We are unsure how we can continue the application process following the court's ruling today.

"We have been excluded because we have moral opinions based on our faith and we feel sidelined because we are Christians with normal, mainstream, Christian views on sexual ethics.

"The judges have suggested that our views might harm children.

"We have been told by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that our moral views may 'infect' a child.

"We do not believe that this is so. We are prepared to love and accept any child. All we were not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing.

"Worst of all, a vulnerable child has now likely missed the chance of finding a safe and caring home at a time when there are so few people willing to foster or adopt.

"We feel excluded and that there is no place for us in society.

"We have not received justice. We believe that an independent inquiry is needed to look into this."

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, said: 'We're delighted that the High Court's landmark decision has favoured 21st-century decency above 19th-century prejudice.

"In any fostering case the interests of the 60,000 children in care should override the bias of any prospective parent."

"Thankfully, Mr and Mrs Johns's out-dated views aren't just out of step with the majority of people in modern Britain, but those of many Christians too. If you wish to be involved in the delivery of a public service, you should be prepared to provide it fairly to anyone."

The Christian Legal Centre reacted to today's ruling with dismay and warned "fostering by Christians is now in doubt".

The organisation said the judges had effectively ruled "homosexual 'rights' trump freedom of conscience in the UK".

The judges had stated that "biblical Christian beliefs may be 'inimical' to children, and implicitly upheld an Equalities and Human Rights Commission (ECHC) submission that children risk being 'infected' by Christian moral beliefs".

The CLC said the judgment summary "sends out the clear message that orthodox Christian ethical beliefs are potentially harmful to children and that Christian parents with mainstream Christian views are not suitable to be considered as potential foster parents".

Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern and the CLC, said: "The judges have claimed that there was no discrimination against the Johns as Christians because they were being excluded from fostering due to their sexual ethics and not their Christian beliefs.

"This claim that their moral beliefs on sex have nothing to do with their Christian faith is a clear falsehood made in order to justify their ruling.

"How can judges get away with this?

"What has happened to the Johns is part of a wider trend seen in recent years.

"The law has been increasingly interpreted by judges in a way which favours homosexual rights over freedom of conscience.

"Britain is now leading Europe in intolerance to religious belief."

Read More From The Telegraph