D.C. Council Votes to Legalize Gay Marriage

The City Council voted Tuesday to legalize gay marriage, giving supporters a victory after a string of recent defeats elsewhere and sending the issue to Congress, which has final say over laws in the nation’s capital. Mayor Adrian Fenty has promised to sign the bill, which passed 11-2, and gay couples could begin marrying as early as March. Congress, however, must also approve any D.C. legislation. Federal lawmakers declined to weigh in the last time they had a chance, after the council voted in May to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. Congress let that bill become law without taking any action, avoiding what could have amounted to a referendum on gay marriage. Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs for Liberty Counsel, says, “It’s very unfortunate that they would choose to brazenly circumvent the will of the people in order to push something on Washington, D.C. that the people reject.” The city’s Election Board refused to put the issue on a future ballot to allow the people to decide.

Climate Summit

Developing countries, including China and India, brought the negotiations to a halt earlier Monday with their demand that rich countries offer much deeper cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions. A showdown between the world’s two largest polluters loomed over the U.N. climate talks Tuesday as China accused the United States and other rich nations of backsliding on their commitments to fight global warming. The 27-nation European Union, meanwhile, called on both the U.S. and China to increase their commitments on emissions cuts. Pope Benedict XVI called for urgent action to protect the environment, saying Tuesday that climate change and natural catastrophes threaten the rights to life, food, health — and ultimately peace.

Within the chaos of the Copenhagen environmental summit, where negotiations among 192 countries nearly broke down Monday, there’s at least one oasis of apparent calm and progress. The U.S. booth in the conference hall — an elaborate, two-room complex with a giant, rotating computer screen shaped like the planet Earth— has been used for scientific lectures, business meetings and the announcement of several “green” initiatives by the Obama administration. The U.S. presence in Copenhagen is dramatically larger than at environmental conferences under President George W. Bush, when the booth often consisted of a lone U.S. official handing out pamphlets.

Danish police fired pepper spray and beat protesters with batons outside the U.N. climate conference on Wednesday, as disputes inside left major issues unresolved just two days before world leaders hope to sign a historic agreement to fight global warming. Hundreds of protesters were trying to disrupt the 193-nation conference, the latest action in days of demonstrations to demand “climate justice” — firm action to combat global warming. Police said 230 protesters were detained.

Poll: Majority of U.S. Favor Global Treaty

A solid majority of Americans support the idea of a global treaty that would require the United States to reduce significantly greenhouse gas emissions, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, although many also express concern about the potential impact on the economy. By 55%-38%, those surveyed endorse a binding accord to limit the gases tied to global warming. By a lopsided 7-1, however, Americans say the administration should put a higher priority on improving the economy than reducing global warming. And they are split on the likely economic impact of enacting new environmental and energy laws to address climate change: 42% say they will hurt the economy; 36% say they will help.

Gore Finds His Own ‘Truth’ Inconvenient

Al Gore has had to backtrack on his prediction of arctic ice loss as the “evidence” behind the theory has fallen through. While speaking at the Copenhagen climate conference, Gore stated that according to the latest science, the Arctic icecap will disappear completely over the next five years. However, the scientist who supposedly put the report together says he does not know how Gore came to that conclusion.

Record Levels of Toxic Algae

Large swaths of toxic algae have punished U.S. coastal towns at record levels this year, shutting down shellfish harvests and sickening swimmers from Maine to Texas to Seattle. The algal blooms stretch for hundreds of miles in some areas in a phenomenon known as “red tides” and give off toxins that sicken fish and birds and can cause paralysis in humans. The blooms have been getting increasingly larger and more toxic since 2004, causing an estimated $100 million a year in damage to the country’s seafood and tourism industries.

  • Perhaps this is the mechanism in Revelation that causes one-third of the oceans and fish to die off

Democrats May Drop Medicare Buy-In

Senate Democrats said Monday they are prepared to drop a proposal to let people under 65 buy into the Medicare program if that’s what it takes to pass President Obama‘s health care initiative. Talk of dropping the Medicare idea — which would have let people between 55 and 64 buy into the program — underscores the lengths Democratic leaders are going in their quest to hold their 60-member caucus together to pass some form of legislation by the end of the year.

Gitmo Detainees to be Transferred to Illinois Prison

Administration officials as well as Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, both Democrats, announced Tuesday afternoon at the White House that the government will acquire the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Ill., an underutilized 1,600-cell prison in a sleepy town near the Mississippi River, to house detainees currently held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo. Republicans were lining up to criticize the Obama administration Tuesday over its decision to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a prison in Illinois, accusing President Obama of increasing the threat to America’s security by making the U.S. home to suspected terrorists, saying the transfer to U.S. soil will give terrorists constitutional rights and could pose a grave threat to the state’s security.

Group’s Census Promo Called ‘Blasphemous’

A push to spread the gospel about the 2010 Census this Christmas is stoking controversy with a campaign that links the government count to events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials is leading the distribution to churches and clergy of thousands of posters that depict the arrival of Joseph and a pregnant Mary in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. “This is how Jesus was born,” the poster states. “Joseph and Mary participated in the Census.” The posters are promoting the Census, used to help allocate $400 billion a year in federal dollars, redraw state and local political districts and determine the number of seats each state gets in Congress. “Our challenge is a full Latino count,” says Cruz, who designed the poster. For people who fear government — especially those here illegally — the plea to fill out the Census has to come from someone they trust, he says. The campaign may counter efforts by one Latino evangelical group to get Hispanics to boycott the Census unless Congress changes immigration laws. The Rev. Miguel Rivera, chairman of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, says invoking the name of Jesus to promote the 2010 Census is “blasphemous.”

Radiation from CT Scans Linked to Cancers

CT scans deliver far more radiation than has been believed and may contribute to 29,000 new cancers each year, along with 14,500 deaths, suggest two studies in Monday’s Archives of Internal Medicine. One study, led by the National Cancer Institute, used existing exposure data to estimate how many cancers might be caused by CT scans. Another study in the journal suggests the problem may even be worse. In that study, researchers found that people may be exposed to up to four times as much radiation as estimated by earlier studies. Not all doctors agree about those risks. Scientists have not yet determined whether low doses of radiation actually increase cancer risk or whether the risk rises only after exposure levels reach a certain threshhold, says James Thrall, chairman of the American College of Radiology.

Pot, Painkiller Use Up, Meth Use Down in Teens

Smoking marijuana is becoming even more popular among U.S. teens and they have cut down on smoking cigarettes, binge drinking and using methamphetamine, according to a federal survey released Monday. More teens also are getting high on prescription pain pills and attention-deficit drugs, according to eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders surveyed by the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The increase of teens smoking pot is partly because the national debate over medical use of marijuana can make the drugs seem safer to teenagers, researchers said. In addition to marijuana, fewer teens also view prescription drugs and Ecstasy as dangerous, which often means more could use them in the future, said White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.

Malaria Down by Half

Malaria cases appear to have been slashed by half in more than a third of countries battling the disease following a renewed push by the United Nations to eradicate it, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. In a new global report on malaria, the U.N. health agency said it was cautiously optimistic the mosquito-borne disease’s spread is slowing. Malaria infected more than 240 million people last year and killed an estimated 863,000 people, mostly in Africa. Repeated attempts to eradicate the disease have flopped and until recently, the number of cases has been rising.

Obama Urges Banks to Lend

President Obama vowed to “recover every last dime” of taxpayer funds that went to rescue Wall Street, as banking giants Citigroup and Wells Fargo announced plans Monday to repay Uncle Sam. Obama met with top bankers at the White House Monday, urging them to help the economy by extending loans to good borrowers, chiding them for lobbying against tougher regulations and reminding them that “the American people” saved them from “a predicament largely of their own making.” Since Congress passed a bailout bill last year, the government has handed out $370 billion (of a maximum $700 billion) in aid to troubled financial institutions and auto companies. But the money came with strings attached, including pay restrictions. Banks, returning to profitability, had paid back $116 billion before Monday’s announcements.

Economic News

Inflation at the wholesale level surged in November, reflecting price jumps in energy and other products while industrial production rose a better-than-expected 0.8% for the month, a sign of recovery taking root in some parts of the economy. Wholesale prices jumped 1.8% in November, more than double the 0.8% gain analysts expected. Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, rose 0.5%, biggest increase in more than a year. The Labor Department said consumer prices moved higher last month, but they mostly reflected higher energy costs. Stripping out energy and food, all other consumer prices were flat last month.

Construction of new homes, helped by better weather, rebounded in the U.S. in November following a setback in the previous month. The Commerce Department said construction of new homes and apartments rose 8.9% in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 574,000 units. Applications for new building permits were also up, rising 6% to an annual rate of 584,000 units.

General Motors plans to pay all of its $6.7 billion in government loans by the end of June, Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre Jr. said Tuesday. The automaker plans to make quarterly installments starting this month with a $1.2 billion payment, Whitacre said. GM has received $52 billion total in aid from the government as it navigated bankruptcy protection earlier this year. Of that total, $45.3 billion was converted into equity, giving the government a 61% stake in the automaker. Whitacre said GM has no timetable yet for an initial public offering of stock, which would be necessary for the government to recoup the rest of its investment in the company.

The U.S. government “quietly” agreed not to collect billions of dollars in taxes from Citigroup as part of its deal to allow the bank to repay its taxpayer bailout. The Internal Revenue Service issued a notice that extends the benefit to Citi and other companies in which the government owns a stake, the WashingtonPost reported Tuesday.

  • Preferential treatment for government purposes. Try getting such relief for yourself or your business.

China has outstripped the U.S. in the amount of money raised from stock listings, underscoring the region’s stronger economy and a resurgence in investment. Companies have raised nearly $52 billion from initial public offerings on exchanges in Hong Kong and mainland China so far this year, according to financial research firm Dealogic. That’s about twice as much as the some $26.5 billion in American IPOs.

Harassment Across Arab World Drives Women Inside

The sexual harassment of women in the streets, schools and work places of the Arab World is driving them to cover up and confine themselves to their homes, said activists at the first-ever regional conference addressing the once taboo topic. Activists from 17 countries across the region met in Cairo for a two-day conference ending Monday and concluded that harassment was unchecked across the region because laws don’t punish it, women don’t report it and the authorities ignore it. The harassment, including groping and verbal abuse, appears to be designed to drive women out of public spaces and seems to happen regardless of what they are wearing, they said. As many as 90% of Yemeni women say they have been harassed, while in Egypt, out of a sample of 1,000, 83% reported being verbally or physically abused.

Afghanistan

A suicide car bomber struck a heavily guarded neighborhood Tuesday near the home of a former Afghan vice president and a hotel favored by Westerners, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens. The brazen suicide attack underscored the precarious security situation in the heart of the Afghan capital.

The top U.S. military officer said Tuesday that he’s confident that most of the 30,000 additional troops that are being sent to Afghanistan will be there by August.

Iraq

Car bombs and other explosions ripped through Iraq‘s capital and a major northern city on Tuesday, killing nine people and showing again the ease with which insurgents manage to slip past security. The explosions in Baghdad and Mosul came exactly a week after suicide bombers killed 127 people and wounded more than 500 in a series of five bombings in the Iraqi capital — three of which appeared to target government buildings. The blasts raise fresh questions about the government’s ability to protect itself and its citizens as U.S. forces prepare to leave Iraq. Iraq‘s prime minister said Wednesday that continued violence won’t slow the U.S. military’s withdrawal from his country.

Pakistan

A suicide car bomb exploded in a market close to the home of a politician in Pakistan‘s most populous province Tuesday, killing 22 people and wounding 70 others. The blast in the Punjabi town of Dera Ghazi Khan was the latest in a series of attacks by Taliban militants avenging an army offensive against insurgents in the northwest. More than 500 people have been killed.

Iran

Iran announced Wednesday it has successfully test fired an upgraded version of its longest-range, solid-fuel missile which it said is faster and harder to shoot down. The Sajjil-2 is a two-stage missile with a range of about 1,200 miles. That range places Israel, Iran’s sworn enemy, well within reach and extends as far away as southeastern Europe with greater precision than earlier models.

The U.S. said Tuesday it will investigate a newspaper report that Iran is working on a trigger for a nuclear bomb, adding the “revelation” fueled concerns about the country’s intentions. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley’s remarks appeared to give credence to a report in The Times of London stating it had obtained a secret document describing a four-year plan by Iran to test a neutron initiator, or bomb trigger.

Philippines

The Philippines‘ most active volcano oozed lava and shot up plumes of ash Tuesday, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes and face the possibility of a bleak Christmas in a shelter. Dark orange lava fragments glowed in the dark as they trickled down the mountain slope overnight. More than 20,000 people were evacuated to safety by nightfall Tuesday.

Sudan

At least 2,000 people have died and 250,000 have fled their homes following violence in southern Sudan this year, worsening a humanitarian crisis in a region seeking its independence, officials from a medical aid group said Monday. Officials from Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, said this year’s violence is the worst since the signing of a 2005 peace deal between south Sudan and the north, an agreement that ended two decades of civil war. The group’s operations director in Sudan, Stephan Goetghebuer, said the 2009 killings are different from past violence in the south that was linked to land clashes and cattle rustling. This year, villages have been attacked, and raiders have targeted and killed women and children, he said.

Weather

Streets flooded, schools closed and at least one emergency shelter opened for people whose homes took on water as heavy rains pounded southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday, setting a monthly rainfall record at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, the airport in suburban New Orleans had received 22.26 inches of rain for the month.

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