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WASHINGTON (AP) -- As President Barack Obama and lawmakers spar over huge federal deficits, they're confronted by a classic contradiction: Most Americans want government austerity, a survey shows, but they also want increased spending on a host of popular programs: education, crime fighting, health care, Social Security, the environment and more. Less for defense, space and foreign aid. The newly released General Social Survey asked people whether they believe spending in specific categories is "too much," "too little" or "about right." It covers the public's shifting priorities from 1973, when Richard Nixon was president, through 2012 with Obama in the White House. "Despite a dislike of taxes, more people have always favored increases in spending than cuts," wrote the survey's director, Tom W. Smith, of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. While people's priorities shift over the years, they've not changed on one category. Foreign aid has been stuck firmly in last place since the survey began. Last year, 65 percent of those surveyed thought there was "too much," 25 percent checked "about right" and a slim 11 percent said "too little." The numbers are not much changed from 1973 - when 73 percent said too much on foreign aid, 22 percent just right and 5 percent too little. Various polls have consistently shown the public believes foreign aid is a far bigger slice of the spending pie than it actually is. Foreign aid amounts to loose change, hovering for years at 1 percent or less of the federal budget, compared with defense spending and "entitlement" programs like Social Security and Medicare. Those are among the biggest deficit drivers and a focal point in Washington's recent budget debates. The survey shows the public is largely opposed to cuts in entitlement programs but tilts toward cuts in the defense budget. To reach all these conclusions, Smith devised an index that boils down his findings to a single number for each category. If everyone favored more spending for a given program area, the maximum score would be +100; and if everyone wanted less spending, the score would be a negative number, -100. On this scale, top-ranked "improving education" in 2012 scored +68.4 while bottom-rated foreign aid scored a -60.4. Support for defense spending has swung back and forth between negative and positive over four decades. It posted a -28.4 in 1973 near the end of the politically divisive Vietnam War, turned positive in 1978 and peaked at +48.9 in 1980. It returned to negative territory from 1983 to 2000. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks and the start of the war in Afghanistan, support for more defense spending again went positive - through 2004. But it turned negative again as U.S. military involvement in Iraq increased and has been negative ever since. Conversely, Social Security has always been in positive territory. Most people have favored increased spending on this program since the mid-80s, with the exception of 1993 and 1994. On other issues: Most Americans in the poll favored increased spending for assistance to the poor (64 percent), improving the nation's health (61 percent) and Social Security (56 percent). Most also favored greater spending on domestic and social issues including education (76 percent), developing alternative energy sources (62 percent), reducing the crime rate (59 percent), improving the environment (57 percent) and dealing with drug addiction (56 percent). Despite all this support for increasing spending, the survey found that 52 percent believed their own federal income taxes last year were too high, 46 percent said about right and just 3 percent said too low. Taxes are a sore point in efforts to strike a deficit-reduction deal on Capitol Hill. The president insists any new package must contain a mix of spending cuts and new revenues from limiting tax deductions benefiting the wealthy. Republicans, especially those who control the House, adamantly oppose new taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Of the 23 categories in the survey, only five received negative scores - foreign aid (-60.4), welfare (-28.5), assistance to big cities (-23.4), space exploration (-9.0) and defense spending (-6.3) If the people participating in the survey were to make federal budget decisions, those five programs presumably would be the only ones to see their spending slashed. The other 18 would get more money. Those surveyed last year also wanted more government spending on: nonwelfare assistance to the poor (+53.8), fighting crime (+51.9), Social Security (+47.6), health programs (+46.3), protecting the environment (+45.9), drug rehabilitation (+43.5), highways and bridges (+29.9), solving problems of big cities (+24.1) and improving the condition of blacks (+21). "The net numbers have always been positive, meaning they want to spend more on things. And the vast majority of them are things that are pretty good: education, health, highways," Smith said in an interview. "The average - when asked about specific programs - is pro-government spending and always has been. It's gone up and down as to how pro they are. The pro-spending edge is a little weaker now than it was at its peak." Some changes in national priorities are generationally driven and the aging of baby boomers is an important factor as more and more retire. "The retirees generally think things are about right. Pre-retirees are the group most likely to say (spending on Social Security) is too low. And the youngest generation is the least concerned about putting money into Social Security," Smith said. In other findings: - Now in second place for more spending, assistance to the poor has rebounded from its 10th place finish in 1996. - After a first-place rank in 2004, spending on health programs slipped to sixth place in 2012. - Halting crime was a top favorite for increased government spending from 1974 to 1988 and regained first place in 1993 and 1994. But after 1994, it dropped from +71.4 to +50.6 in 2002 - still a strong positive but the lowest for the category ever posted in the survey. In 2012, crime-fighting finished in third place at +51.6. The General Social Survey is conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago with principal funding from the National Science Foundation. Data were collected between March and early September 2012 in face-to-face interviews with 1,974 randomly selected U.S. adults. The margin of sampling error varies for questions within the survey, but for most, it is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Militants staged two suicide attacks that killed at least 19 people on Saturday, the first full day of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to Afghanistan. They were a fresh reminder of the challenges posed by insurgents to the U.S.-led NATO force as it hands over the country's security to the Afghans. "This attack was a message to him," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said of Hagel, in an email to reporters about the bombing outside the country's Defense Ministry in Kabul. Hagel was nowhere near that attack, but heard it across the city. He told reporters traveling with him that he wasn't sure what it was when he heard the explosion. "We're in a war zone. I've been in war, so shouldn't be surprised when a bomb goes off or there's an explosion," said Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran. Asked what his message to the Taliban would be, he said that the U.S. was going to continue to work with its allies to insure that the Afghan people have the ability to develop their own country and democracy. In the first attack, a suicide bomber on a bicycle struck outside the Afghan Defense Ministry early Saturday morning, just as employees were arriving for work. About a half hour later, another suicide bomber hit a joint NATO and Afghan patrol near a police checkpoint in Khost city, the capital of Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, said provincial spokesman Baryalai Wakman. Nine Afghan civilians were killed in the bombing at the ministry and 14 wounded, and two Afghan policemen and eight children died in the blast in Khost while another two Afghan civilians were wounded, according to a statement from President Hamid Karzai's office. Karzai condemned the bombings, calling them un-Islamic. "The perpetrators of such attacks are cowards who are killing innocent children at the orders of foreigners," he said in a statement emailed to reporters. Karzai usually uses the term "foreigners" to refer to Pakistan, which he blames for failing to crack down on Taliban militants who take sanctuary there. Hagel's first visit to Kabul as Pentagon chief comes as the U.S. and Afghanistan grapple with a number of disputes, from the aborted handover of a main detention facility - canceled at the last moment late Friday as a deal for the transfer broke down - to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's demand that U.S. special operations forces withdraw from Wardak province just outside Kabul over allegations of abuse. The prison transfer, originally slated for 2009, has been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between the U.S. and Afghan governments about whether all detainees should have the right to a trial and who will have the ultimate authority over the release of prisoners the U.S. considers a threat. The Afghan government has maintained that it needs full control over which prisoners are released as a matter of national sovereignty. The issue has threatened to undermine ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the current combat mission ends in 2014. U.S. military officials said Saturday's transfer ceremony was canceled because they could not finalize the agreement with the Afghans, but did not provide details. Afghan officials were less forthcoming. "The ceremony is not happening today," Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said, without elaborating. Regarding Wardak, Karzai set a deadline for Monday for the pullout of the U.S. commandos, over allegations that joint U.S. and Afghan patrols engaged in a pattern of torture, kidnappings and summary executions. "Each of those accusations has been answered and we're not involved," said Brigadier Adam Findlay, NATO's deputy chief of staff of operations, in an interview with The Associated Press Saturday. "There are obviously atrocities occurring there, but it's not linked to us, and the kind of atrocities we are seeing, fingers cut off, other mutilations to bodies, is just not the way we work." Findlay said NATO officials have made provisional plans to withdraw special operations forces, if Karzai sticks to his edict after meetings this weekend with Hagel and top military commander in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford. "What we've got to try to do is go to a middle ground that meets the president's frustration," but also keeps insurgents from using Wardak as a staging ground to launch attacks on the capital, Findlay said. "That plan would be that you would put in your more conventional forces into Wardak," to replace the special operators and maintain security, he said. NATO officials see the weekend violence as part of the Taliban's coming campaign for the spring fighting season. "There's a series of attacks that have started as the snow is thawing. We had a potential insider attack yesterday ... and there's been a number of attacks on the border," Findlay explained. The suspected insider attack occurred in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan several hours before Hagel arrived Friday. Three men presumed to be Afghan soldiers forced their way onto a U.S. base and opened fire, killing one U.S. civilian contractor and wounding four U.S. soldiers, according to a senior U.S. military official. The official said investigators were "95 percent certain it was an insider attack," because the three men came from the Afghan side of the joint U.S.-Afghan base, and rammed an Afghan army Humvee through a checkpoint dividing the base, before jumping out and opening fire on the Americans with automatic weapons. All three attackers were killed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The Taliban said it was not behind the Tagab base attack, and has not yet weighed in on the attack in Khost, but the group claimed responsibility for the morning attack at the ministry shortly after it happened. Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel was in a briefing at a U.S.-led military coalition facility in another part of the city when the explosion occurred. He said the briefing continued without interruption. Azimi, the defense ministry spokesman, said the bomber on a bicycle struck just before 9 a.m. local time about 30 meters (yards) from the main gate of the ministry. A man at the scene, Abdul Ghafoor, said the blast rocked the entire area. "I saw dead bodies and wounded victims lying everywhere," Ghafoor told the Associated Press. "Then random shooting started and we escaped from the area." The ministry said at least nine civilians were killed and others were wounded. Reporters traveling with Hagel were in a briefing when they heard the explosion. They were moved to a lower floor of the same building as U.S. facilities in downtown Kabul were locked down as a security precaution.
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ushering in the bloom of spring, it's time to set the clocks forward for daylight saving time. At 2 a.m. local time Sunday, daylight saving time arrives with the promise of many months ahead with an extra hour of evening sunlight. You lose an hour of sleep, but make sure to turn the clock ahead - spring forward - before heading to bed Saturday night to avoid the panic of a late rise. It's also a good time to put new batteries in warning devices such as smoke detectors and hazard warning radios. Some places don't observe daylight saving time. Those include Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas. Daylight saving time ends Nov. 3.
Saturday, 09 March 2013 11:29
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ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The swatch of blue hair and Batman stud earrings call attention to Saint Louis sixth man and free spirit Cody Ellis, the Australian import who's also the team's top 3-point threat.

A return to form in the regular-season finale Saturday for Ellis greatly increases the odds for a school that's one win away from its first conference title in more than 40 years.

Ellis was 0 for 15 in an overtime loss Wednesday at Xavier, 11 of the misses from 3-point range. And with his parents right behind the bench after making the arduous, 40-hour globe-hopping trip to see the 6-foot-8 senior off in style, too.

"I'm just going to try to get it out of my head," Ellis said. "Probably next game, the law of averages says I should knock a couple down, eh?"

Ellis has made three or more 3-pointers nine times this season, including six at Fordham to tie his career best. He leads the team with 52 3-pointers and reasoned, "I've just got to stay confident."

Interim coach Jim Crews' advice at Xavier was simple: Fire away.

"I told him probably three times in the game to keep shooting," Crews said. "You're not going to pinch-hit for Pujols or Mantle or Musial or someone who's good, are you? If he's open, I want him shooting it."

Crews has kept the program built by the late Rick Majerus humming with the 16th-ranked Billikens (23-6, 12-3 Atlantic 10) tied for first place in the conference heading into the finale against La Salle (21-7, 11-4), which also has a title shot.

Saint Louis last earned at least a share of a conference regular season title in 1970-71, in the Missouri Valley. The last outright title was in 1956-57.

To accomplish that, the Billikens need a win coupled with a VCU loss against Temple.

Crews won four conference championships at Indiana as a player, including the Hoosiers' unbeaten season in 1976, but coaching has been a reality check. In 24 years at Evansville and Army, he produced four NCAA tournament teams.

"I'd say the majority of players go through college without a championship," Crews said. "This league has 16 teams and that body of work, you've got to earn it."

The opponent is no pushover. La Salle, which has won seven of eight, needs a win on Saturday and a VCU loss against Temple to take the championship.

La Salle has beaten two Top 25 teams and is 2-0 at Saint Louis' Chaifetz Center.

"It's a big game for La Salle, it's a big game for us," Crews said. "It would really be neat and cool for these kids, all the things they've been through, to win a championship."

That Saint Louis is NCAA tournament-bound for the second straight season after ending a 12-year drought last year is a given.

"When I first got here we were on the bottom of the league," senior reserve forward Cory Remekun said. "Now we're fighting for a championship. It's crazy to see how much we've improved."

The Xavier loss ended an 11-game winning streak for Saint Louis, which has had a season of high notes with one of the stingiest defenses in the country and a balanced attack with six players averaging seven or more points.

"Some of the guys I've played with have gone through a lot," said senior guard Kwamain Mitchell, who was suspended for a semester in 2010 and returned as a calming presence on the court. "I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of it and I'm going to leave everything on the court."

The three seniors plus Femi John, who had a career-ending knee injury a few seasons ago, will be honored after the game.

"It is emotional, should be emotional," Crews said. "Personally, I've always had a hard time with senior day. It's hard on the coaches, too."
Saturday, 09 March 2013 11:25
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