Abstinence Education ‘Outperforms’ Sex Ed

According to a research analyst, comprehensive sex education does not outperform abstinence education. Irene Ericksen of the Institute for Research and Evaluation says that media reports continually claim that abstinence education is a failure and that comprehensive sex ed is the only way to reduce teen pregnancies and promote safe-sex practices. She adds that they continually site a federal study that is riddled with myths. “These same people aren’t aware that there are 16 studies of comprehensive sex education programs in the schools,” Ericksen points out. “Actually 64 percent of the studies that have been done of comprehensive sex ed in the schools have found that they have not been effective.”

Stem Cell Research May Decline

Human embryonic stem cell research rules unveiled by the Obama Administration may prevent federal funding of more cells than the old rules, suggests one report. In April, the National Institutes of Health unveiled draft rules allowing federal funding of stem cell research on tissues derived from fertility clinic embryos freely donated for research with extensive “informed consent” notification of the donors. “Few existing cell lines would meet,” those informed consent rules, says attorney Patrick Taylor of Harvard Medical School, in the current Cell Stem Cell journal, including many cell lines, or families, among those previously approved for funding by the Bush administration. “As currently outlined, it’s as if the last 8 years of cell line creation and ethical self-regulation have just vanished.”

  • The law of unintended consequences strikes again. Or, maybe God and prayer had something to do with it?

DOMA, Prop. 8 Under Legal Attack in Calif.

Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has been granted permission to intervene in a federal marriage case in California. A same-gender pair has filed suit in federal court challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage, alleging that passage of both violates the U.S. Constitution. The two men are asking the court to issue a broad injunction “mandating the use of gender-neutral terms in all legislation affecting marriage.” ADF has intervened on behalf of the group ProtectMarriage.com. Attorney Jim Campbell says the importance of the case is enormous. “If the court finds that federal DOMA, for instance, violates the federal Constitution, then it will strike down federal DOMA and federal law will no longer define marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” he explains. “If they strike down Proposition 8, then — under the federal Constitution — …all of the work and the voice of [more than seven million] California citizens in defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman will be nullified.”

Protestant Clergy Support Gay Rights, Not Marriage

Most mainline Protestant clergy do not support legalizing gay marriage, even if they’re not required to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. It was the only point on which the majority did not support gay rights, according to a survey of clergy from the seven historic mainline Protestant denominations to which 18% of Americans belong. The Clergy Voices Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research, is based on 2,658 responses. It finds overall support for hate crimes legislation (67%), for workplace protections for gay and lesbian people (66%), and for adoption rights (55%). Only 33% say gay couples should be allowed to marry, 32% would allow civil unions, and 35% call for “no legal recognition” for same-sex couples. Jones said clergy were asked to estimate how their views on gay and lesbian issues had changed in 10 years: 45% called themselves more liberal now, 40% unchanged, and 14% more conservative.

  • At the rate mainline denominations are capitulating to ungodly secular forces, it’s only a matter of time before they also support gay marriage.

Calif. Voters Say No to New Taxes

Voters in California on Tuesday slapped down a slew of tax hikes and borrowing measures that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said were needed to solve the state’s fiscal dilemma. Four out of five measures dealing with higher taxes had failed by nearly 2-to-1, and the fifth was trailing badly. The only measure to pass was one that banned pay raises for elected officials in deficit years. The defeat of the measures might indicate trouble for other states considering taxes to fill budget gaps, experts said. Forty-four states predict 2010 budget shortfalls of at least $121 billion, the National Conference of State Legislatures says.

Senators Reject Closing Gitmo

President Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison suffered a blow Tuesday when his allies in the Senate said they would refuse to finance the move until the administration delivers a satisfactory plan for what to do with the detainees there. As the Senate took up Obama’s request for money for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Democrats reversed course and said they would deny the request for $80 million for the Justice and Defense departments to relocate the 240 detainees at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Congress Passes Anti-Foreclosure Bill

Congress on Tuesday sent the president legislation that encourages banks to spare homeowners from foreclosure, after the industry helped scuttle a tougher measure that would have forced lenders to reduce monthly payments of owners in bankruptcy. The House voted 367-54 to pass the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act. The Senate had voted 91-5 in favor of the bill and approved the final version by unanimous consent. The bill would expand an existing $300 billion program that encourages lenders to write down an individual’s mortgage if the homeowner agrees to pay an insurance premium. The program, set to expire in 2011, would swap out a homeowner’s high-interest rate for a 30-year fixed loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration. Because of strict eligibility requirements, only 50-some homeowners are refinancing through the program compared to the 400,000 people it was estimated to help.

Senate Passes Credit Card Bill

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday to reform much-criticized credit card practices, putting such changes one step closer to being signed into law by President Obama. The bill— which passed the Senate 90-5 — imposes restrictions on late and over-limit fees, and on interest rate increases on existing debt. It also requires issuers to consider consumers’ ability to pay when issuing cards or raising credit limits. Banks say new restrictions, when credit already is tight, will cause them to clamp down even more.

Swine N1H1 Flu

The number of confirmed swine flu cases in Japan soared Monday to more than 130 as the government moved to shut down nearly 2,000 schools and companies discouraged unnecessary travel to quell the spread of the disease. The new wave of infections did not have a clear connection to foreign travel, as the initial one did, and involved primarily teenagers. None of the 135 patients were in serious condition. The new wave would make Japan the fourth-most infected country in the world, after Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Drug manufacturers won’t be able to start making a swine flu vaccine until mid-July at the earliest, weeks later than previous predictions, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. It will then take months to produce a new vaccine. The disclosure that making a swine flu vaccine is proving more difficult than experts first thought came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan met Tuesday with representatives from about 30 pharmaceutical companies to discuss the subject. According to vaccine experts convened by WHO, swine flu virus is not growing very fast in laboratories, making it difficult for scientists to get the key ingredient they need for a vaccine, the “seed stock” from the virus, the agency reported. Experts also found no evidence that regular flu vaccines offer any protection against swine flu.

U.S. Students Lag in Biosciences

Middle and high school students across the country are generally falling behind in life sciences, and the nation is at risk of producing a dearth of qualified workers for the fast-growing bioscience industry, according to a report released Monday. Students are showing less interest in taking life sciences and science courses, and high schools are doing a poor job of preparing students for college-level science, says the report, funded and researched by Battelle, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Biotechnology Institute. The deficiencies will hurt the country’s competitiveness with the rest of the world in the knowledge-based economy, the report concludes. Biosciences cut across the pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, and research and medical laboratories. Average scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 12th graders in the sciences and life sciences declined from 1996 to 2005. Only 28% of high school students taking the ACT reached a score indicating college readiness for biology.

Obama to Drive Up MPG Requirements

The Obama administration announced Tuesday a sweeping revision to auto-emission and fuel-economy standards, putting them in the same package for the first time. It would require cars and trucks to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. That would be up from 35 mpg in 2020 under the standard set by the 2007 Energy Act. It also would boost the average price of a new vehicle $600 on top of the $700 price boost already envisioned in the 2007 law, for a total of $1,300. Carol Browner, the White House energy and climate director, called it a “truly historic” occasion and saying that such tougher environmental standards have been “long overdue.” The plan also would effectively end a feud between automakers and states over emission standards — with the states getting tougher standards, but automakers getting the single national standard they’ve been seeking, and more time to make the changes. To streamline the rulemaking process, the two agencies mainly responsible — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation — would work jointly, almost unheard of, an administration official said.

Economic News

Housing construction plunged to a record low in April as a steep drop in apartment building offset a rebound in single-family construction. The Commerce Department says construction of new homes and apartments fell 12.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000 units, slowest pace on records going back a half-century. Compared to the same period last year, housing starts were down 54.2%. Single-family homes were started in April at a 368,000-unit annual rate, 2.8% higher than March.

Homebuilder sentiment jumped to its highest level in eight months in May, a private survey showed Monday, supporting views that the three-year housing slump might be close to an end. While still near an historic low, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index rose to 16 from 14 in April. The NAHB attributed the second straight monthly increase in the gauge — which measures builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes — to “the best home buying conditions of a lifetime.”

News outlets are reporting that several of the nation’s biggest banking firms will be allowed to repay early the billions of dollars in federal bailout funds they have received. The banks claim they are healthier, and they want a competitive advantage by freeing themselves of federal scrutiny and constraints on compensation. Goldman Sachs Group, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley have applied to repay the combined $45 billion they received in October from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The Financial Times writes that the federal government “would allow five or six big financial groups to return taxpayers’ money before the rest of the industry. Treasury SecretaryTimothy Geithner expects financial institutions to repay $25 billion of their government rescue loans in the coming year.

American Express said Monday it is eliminating about 4,000 jobs as part of a plan to slash another $800 million in costs for the remainder of the year. The layoffs represent about 6% of the New York-based credit card issuer’s current global work force.

Japan’s economy contracted in the first quarter at the fastest pace (15.2%) since 1955 as exports plunged and companies slashed production.

Britain on Monday began offering cash incentives to buyers of new cars who scrap their old model, a program that has already proved very popular in other parts of Europe as a way to help the struggling auto sector. The government and car manufacturers are sharing the cost of giving a discount of 2,000 pounds ($3,000) to motorists who scrap an old car or van — a “banger” in British slang — when buying a new one. The old car must be roadworthy, have been registered before Aug. 21, 1999.

Obama and Netanyahu Meet for Mideast Talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he is ready to resume peace talks with the Palestinians immediately, but any agreement is contingent on their acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Obama said he expects a positive response from his diplomatic outreach to Iran on stopping its nuclear program by the end of the year. At the same time, Obama said bluntly that it was important that Netanyahu, a hard-liner on peace negotiations with the Palestinians, get back to the negotiating table. While his language was gentle, Obama’s words were notable nonetheless for being made in public. During his meeting with US President Barack Obama on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a commitment that Israel would not attack Iran at least until the end of the year, so as not to disturb Washington’s plans for dialogue with Tehran over its renegade nuclear program

Iran Tests Missile

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran successfully test-fired a new advanced missile Wednesday with a range of about 1,200 miles, far enough to strike Israel and southeastern Europe. The announcement comes two days after President Obama declared a readiness to seek deeper international sanctions against Iran if it shunned U.S. attempts to open negotiations on its nuclear program. Obama said he expected a positive response to his outreach for opening a dialogue with Iran by the end of the year. A U.S. official confirmed the launch.

Pakistan

Pakistan was racing Tuesday to help refugees fleeing a military offensive against the Taliban in a northwestern valley — an exodus of some 1.5 million of a speed and size the U.N. said could rival the displacement caused by Rwanda’s genocide. The humanitarian challenge comes as the military said more than 30 militants and soldiers died as troops tried to re-conquer key towns in the Swat Valley and clashed with insurgents near the Afghan border. Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, who leads a group tasked with dealing with the uprooted Pakistanis, said the government had enough flour and other food for the displaced but said it needed donations of fans and high energy biscuits. He also said the refugees would get money and free transport when it was safe enough to return. The U.S. has praised Pakistan’s military operation in Swat and surrounding districts, which comes amid long-standing American pressure to root out al-Qaeda and Taliban hide-outs along the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan denied Monday it was expanding its nuclear arsenal, a week after the top U.S. military officer said there was evidence it was doing so. “Pakistan does not need to expand its nuclear arsenal but we want to make it clear that we will maintain a minimum nuclear deterrence that is essential for our defense and stability,” he said. “We will not make any compromise.” Pakistan, a desperately poor country of 170 million people, is thought to possess more than 60 nuclear weapons under a program that began when its traditional enemy, India, started producing them. The advance of the Taliban has raised some concerns in the West that the weapons may one day fall into militant hands. A more likely scenario, analysts say, is that Islamists may infiltrate its nuclear facilities and get hold of nuclear knowledge and material.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a $110 million aid package for Pakistan on Tuesday that will support international efforts to relieve a humanitarian crisis in the Swat Valley that has left about 2 million people temporarily homeless. The U.S. military will deliver the aid, which was requested by Pakistan. It will include 30,000 family relief kits, 5,000 tents, water trucks and food. The aid money will also buy locally made products to boost Pakistani merchants.

Official: More than 1M Child Prostitutes in India

CNN reports that more than a million of India’s children are victims of their own country. According to the country’s federal police, about 1.2 million children are caught in prostitution inside the country. Ashwani Kumar, who heads the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), called India a source, transit nation, and destination of the trade all in one. “[S]tudies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimate that there are about three million prostitutes in the country, of which an estimated 40 percent are children,” a CBI statement said. Authorities believe 90 percent of human trafficking in India is “intra-country.”

Earthquakes

A small but widely felt aftershock jolted the Los Angeles region Tuesday, two days after a magnitude-4.7 earthquake struck. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The magnitude-4 temblor hit at 3:49 p.m. and was centered 10 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles, near the Los Angeles International Airport, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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