Senate Republicans Blast Pentagon Study of ‘DACT’

Senate Republicans drew up several lines of attack Thursday against allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and anticipated getting help today from the testimony of chiefs of staff for the military services who may harbor similar concerns. Led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee criticized a newly released Pentagon study that found that gay troops could serve openly in the military without impairing the nation’s war-fighting ability. Opponents of repealing the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy have argued that wartime is the wrong time for a significant social-policy change and that the issue is one of behavior, not skin color. “You have nearly half of those who have been deployed who say that it would be negative,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “Combat-readiness and effectiveness is really the bottom-line issue.” The chiefs of staff for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have all expressed concerns about repeal.

Apple Pulls Manhattan Declaration iPhone App

Apple removed the Manhattan Declaration iPhone/iPad application from the iTunes Store. This happened some time over the Thanksgiving holiday. The Manhattan Declaration app was accepted by Apple and rated as a 4+, meaning it contained no objectionable material. Yet Apple pulled the app shortly after a small but very vocal protest by those who favor gay marriage and abortion. The Manhattan Declaration is a non-partisan statement of conscience in defense of human life, traditional marriage and religious freedom.

Pro-Family Groups Fight against ‘Hate Group’ Label

The Family Research Council (FRC) is on the defensive after a secular policy organization labeled the FRC a hate group. The Christian Post reports that FRC President Tony Perkins called the move by the Southern Poverty Law Center nothing but “juvenile name calling.” He defended his group’s stance against same-sex parenting, gays in the military, and laws that could criminalize criticism of homosexual behavior. “We think to be silent when it comes to homosexual behavior that’s both harmful to society and, more importantly, to the individuals who engage in it, to be silent, that is in fact hateful,” he said.

  • · Just the beginning of using the so-called Hate Crime law to silence critics of our declining morality

Courts/Jails Overloaded

Courtrooms and jails have become crowded to the bursting point, allowing justice to languish in many locations, legal experts and many working in the judicial system say. They cited three common problems: tougher law enforcement without expansion of jail and court infrastructure; failure to improve court procedures over many years; overworked judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys continually postponing hearings. The California Supreme Court in October upheld the dismissal of 18 criminal cases in Riverside County, including two felonies, because there weren’t enough judges to hear them. The ruling upheld the dismissal of more than 250 other misdemeanor and felony cases also on appeal. In Texas, the Dallas County criminal justice department in July found 423 felony cases — 10% of all felony cases — had no future court dates scheduled, leaving inmates “sitting in no-man’s land,” County Commissioner John Wiley Price said. In North Carolina, the continuance rate in cases involving child abuse and neglect or termination of parental rights topped 40% in nearly a quarter of the state’s 100 counties

WikiLeaks Dropped by Domain Name Provider

Wikileaks was forced Friday to switch over to a Swiss domain name, wikileaks.ch, after a new round of hacker attacks on its system prompted its American domain name provider to withdraw service. WikiLeaks’ U.S. domain name system provider, EveryDNS, withdrew service to the wikileaks.org name late Thursday, saying it took the action because the new hacker attacks threatened the rest of its network. EveryDNS provides access to some 500,000 websites. WikiLeaks has previously claimed that intelligence agencies from the U.S. and elsewhere have been targeting its site, which has spilled thousands of embarrassing U.S. diplomatic cables as well as classified U.S. military documents. On Wednesday, Amazon.com Inc. — which had provided WikiLeaks with use of its servers to distribute embarrassing State Department communications and other documents — evicted it. The site remains on the servers of its Swedish provider. The ouster from Amazon came after congressional staff questioned the company about its relationship with WikiLeaks.

Obama Bans offshore Oil Drilling in Atlantic

In a policy reversal, President Obama’s administration announced Wednesday that it will not allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic coast for at least seven more years. “The changes we’re making are based on the lessons we have learned,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters, citing the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the release of an estimated 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. He said drilling possibilities in the Arctic will proceed “with utmost caution.” In March, less than a month before the spill began April 20, Obama and Salazar said they would open up the eastern Gulf and parts of the Atlantic coast to offshore oil and gas exploration. They kept the ban on drilling off the Pacific coast, which will remain until at least 2017. Salalzar said the new decision should not cause undue economic harm, noting there are 29 million acres under lease in the Gulf that have yet to be developed but still could be.

Health Care Providers Promise Less Radiation

Heath care providers are pledging to stop the overuse of radiation on patients during medical exams in a new, nationwide safety effort launched this week in Chicago. The first step in the Image Wisely campaign is a pledge — signed so far by nearly 700 health care providers — to use the least radiation necessary on patients for a procedure. An expert panel at a radiology meeting Thursday said the campaign may lead to more review of protocols, more accreditation of imaging facilities and more widely shared standards on proper radiation doses. Too much radiation can cause cancer. The average American’s total radiation exposure has increased in recent decades because of the increased use of new imaging tests, particularly CT scans, raising questions about possible increased cancer risk. The way most insurers pay doctors, with a fee for each procedure, rewards doctors for doing more procedures. Some doctors order exams on equipment they own, increasing the financial incentive to do more tests. Procedures are performed at times to protect a doctor against malpractice claims.

Universe Holds Billions More Stars Than Previously Estimates

Hidden within ancient, oversized galaxies are enough dwarf stars to triple the estimated number of stars in the universe, astronomers reported Wednesday. Galaxies are the vast islands of stars filling space, such as our own spiral-shaped Milky Way made of hundreds of billions of stars. Study lead author Pieter van Dokkum of Yale says, “The surprising thing is only now are we getting a handle on a fundamental thing like the number of stars in the sky.” Based on a survey of eight nearby elliptical galaxies, he says the universe likely contains some 300 sextillion stars (that’s 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars), triple previous estimates. Essentially, the results suggest that astronomers have misunderstood just how stars formed in the earliest galaxies, and have also mistakenly assumed that stars are distributed similarly throughout all galaxies, regardless of their type.

  • · God’s awesomeness is proclaimed in the heavens, even as humanity continues to find that the more we learn, the less we know

Food Safety Bill Hits Constitutional Snag

A controversial food safety bill that supporters were confident would sail through the House following passage this Tuesday by the U.S. Senate, has been stopped in its tracks by a constitutional provision that revenue-raising measures must originate in the lower chamber. The bill had come under fierce attack for its grant of massive new powers to the Food and Drug Administration, and today’s announcement that the chances for passage during the lame duck session are slim-to-none was hailed by natural food groups, family farming organizations, health freedom advocates and their allies. Critics view it as a highly intrusive measure, the enforcement of which will not lead to greater food safety, but could spell the end of both family farming and the burgeoning local food movement.

Debt Panel Proposes $3.9 Trillion in Federal Deficit Cuts

A bipartisan commission proposed ambitious budget cuts Wednesday to trim $3.9 trillion from federal deficits over the next decade. By laying out the tough choices needed to wipe out deficits by 2035 and stabilize the soaring national debt, the presidential panel left the heavy lifting to lawmakers whose efforts to create jobs and jolt the economy the past two years pushed red ink in the opposite direction. The 18-member commission almost certainly won’t get the 14 needed votes to prompt immediate congressional action on its plan. But with a vote slated for Friday, more than half its members — including both Democrats and Republicans serving in Congress — appear ready to sign a plan that would slash spending, raise taxes and make Medicare and Social Security less generous. The White House and congressional leaders were uniformly silent Wednesday, preferring to wait until the commission votes. At least seven members said they would vote for the plan and one against, and the 10 others are divided about equally in terms of their leanings.

Senate Plans Weekend Votes on Democratic Tax Plans

A proposal to extend expiring income tax cuts for middle-class Americans sailed through the House of Representatives on Thursday, but the vote was largely symbolic and came as a bipartisan group continued to seek a compromise on the issue. A deal to extend expiring tax cuts for all taxpayers is starting to take shape even as Senate Democrats plan weekend votes on bills that would let the tax cuts for the wealthy die. The Obama administration is seeking to expand the tax package to include other measures designed to boost the nation’s sluggish economy. Among them are extending jobless benefits for millions of unemployed workers and continuing tax breaks that were part of President Obama’s massive economic recovery package enacted last year. Without action by Congress, unemployment benefits will run out this month for 2 million people, and several million more will lose them later in the winter.

Economic News

The unemployment rate has jumped to 9.8%. Job growth slowed to just 39,000 last month, a sharp drop from the 172,000 jobs created in October. The 9.8% unemployment rate — up from 9.6% in October — is the highest since April. It has been above 9% for 19 straight months, the longest such streak on record.

More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, but the broader trend in layoffs points to a slowly healing job market. The average of weekly claims over the past month fell to a two-year low. New claims for unemployment benefits rose last week by a seasonally adjusted 26,000 to 436,000, but the four-week moving average of claims, which smooths volatility, fell to 431,000 last week — a two-year low. Claims peaked last year at 651,000 in March 2009. For most of this year, new claims largely fluctuated around 450,000.

The U.S. economy improved in most parts of the country this fall as factories produced more and shoppers spent more money. The latest periodic survey by the Federal Reserve finds that 10 of the Fed’s 12 districts reported economic growth picking up. Stronger production at factories helped propel growth in most parts of the country, the new survey says. Retailers also reported better sales in most parts of the country, the Fed said.

Ford Motor, General Motors and Chrysler all reported double-digit sales increases for November as the auto industry’s slow-motion recovery continued to gain traction. Ford Motor reported the largest increase of the Detroit Three on Wednesday — up 20% from November of last year. GM sales rose 11% and Chrysler showed a 17% increase. Industry analysts say the numbers, combined with a strong October, show that consumers who have kept their jobs through the economic downturn are now feeling confident enough to spend money and replace older vehicles.

Spain

The Spanish government has approved a package of new austerity measures and economic stimulus it hopes will ease investor fear about its debt. The moves include plans to sell off a 30% stake in the government-owned national lottery, partial privatization of airports, the elimination of an extended unemployment benefit and tax cuts for small businesses. Spain, which has soaring unemployment and a swollen deficit, is battling to convince markets it can handle its debt and won’t need a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund like Ireland and Greece. The latest measures, announced Wednesday by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, were welcomed by both markets and the European Union after weeks of speculation that first neighboring Portugal and then Spain would need financial help.

Iran

Iran is finding it increasingly difficult to access the financial services it needs to run its economy and may lose up to $60 billion in energy investments due to global sanctions, U.S. officials said on Wednesday. The officials told U.S. lawmakers that United Nations-backed sanctions imposed over the summer are inflicting economic pain on Tehran and hampering its drive to develop nuclear weapons. ‘With great regularity, major companies are announcing that they have curtailed or completely pulled out of business dealings with Iran,’ Stuart Levey, U.S. Treasury undersecretary undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. ‘And, as has been widely reported, Iran’s leadership appears to have underestimated the severity and effects of the global financial measures, giving rise to internal Iranian criticism and finger-pointing,’ Levey added. Levey said the sanctions were restricting Iran’s access to dollars and were the likey cause of a nearly 20 percent plunge in Iran’s rial currency in September, prompting weeks of intervention from Iran’s central bank to stabilize it.

Afghanistan

U.S. diplomatic cables revealed on Friday portray Afghanistan as rife with graft to the highest levels of government, with tens of millions of dollars flowing out of the country and a cash transfer network that facilitates bribes for corrupt Afghan officials, drug traffickers and insurgents. The corruption is portrayed as coming directly from the top. Details from a vast tranche of cables released by the WikiLeaks website could further erode support for the nine-year war. After applying heavy public pressure on President Hamid Karzai to fight corruption, U.S. and NATO officials have switched to nudging him quietly so as not to undermine the very government the international community is trying to strengthen as an alternative to the Taliban. The leaked cables also could bolster the concerns of U.S. lawmakers who have threatened to hold back aid until they are convinced the money will not end up lining the pockets of the political elite.

Pakistan

Confidential cables to Washington from the American embassy in Islamabad, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to a number of news organizations, illustrate deep clashes over strategic goals on issues like Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban and tolerance of Al Qaeda, and Washington’s warmer relations with India, Pakistan’s archenemy. One cable, sent less than a month after President Obama assured reporters that Pakistan’s nuclear materials “will remain out of militant hands,” expressed concern that a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, stored for years near an aging research reactor in Pakistan , could be used by militants to build several “dirty bombs” or perhaps an actual nuclear bomb.

Alleged Muslim extremists have killed five Christians in Pakistan in less than a week, Mission News Network reports. Greg Musselman, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs Canada, says the country’s blasphemy laws are to blame. “Christians are always under this kind of law. In recent days, it’s received international attention because of some of the other cases that are happening. The international community is saying, ‘This is ridiculous. You can’t have these kinds of laws.’ There’s a lot of pressure that I believe will be put on Pakistan.” Musselman continued, “This part of the criminal code has come under fire for its vague writing and broad interpretation… These Muslims often use it for convenience to take over businesses or these kinds of things.”

Haiti

Terror over a fast-spreading cholera epidemic has triggered a violent witch-hunt in rural Haiti in which locals have murdered at least 12 neighbors on accusations they used “black magic” to infect people, police said Thursday. The fast-killing infection is new to Haiti and there is widespread confusion and fear about the disease. In less than six weeks since the first-ever case was confirmed in the country’s rural center, nearly 1,900 people have died and more than 84,000 been infected. Rumors are rampant that Vodou practitioners have fashioned a magic powder to spread the infection. Machete-wielding mobs have since lynched and killed a dozen people accused of practicing such witchcraft, burning the bodies of their victims.

World AIDS Day

About 33.3 million children — including 2.5 million children — live with the HIV/AIDS virus around the world, according to UNAIDS. On World AIDS Day earlier this week, activists and humanitarian groups reminded people that the disease still needs global attention. Reuters reports that at one World Aids Day event in Sydney, Australia, U2’s lead singer Bono urged first world nations to continue funding for treatment despite recessionary times. More than 80 landmarks in 13 countries are dressed in red today to mark the occasion, according to The Washington Post. In Africa alone, more than 1,000 children are born each day with HIV, according to UNICEF. Additionally, half of the HIV-positive women in Africa do not have access to proper drugs to prevent transmission to their children. An estimated 1.8 million people died of AIDS last year.

Weather

Hundreds of cold and hungry motorists spent hours Thursday stranded on a western New York highway after an accident caused a backup and the idling trucks and cars got stuck in heavy snow. A storm that began Wednesday and continued overnight buried parts of Buffalo and its suburbs under 2 feet of snow.  Emergency crews on ATVs passed out water and protein bars, and buses picked up motorists and delivered them to a shelter at a senior citizen center.

Wind-whipped rain knocked out power Wednesday to thousands along the East Coast, closed the Statue of Liberty and delayed flights at three major airports. At least three people were killed. Tornado watches were issued for parts of the Virginias, and sandbags were handed out in Washington, D.C., to protect homes from flooding. Thousands were without electricity in the mid-Atlantic region and New York, and some schools delayed openings. Suspected tornadoes have touched down from Louisiana to South Carolina since Monday as part of the storm system, which reached the Northeast late Wednesday, with colder air turning the rain into snow.

Heavy snow and subzero temperatures swept across Europe, killing at least eight homeless people in Poland, closing major airports in Britain and Switzerland and causing hundreds of highway accidents. Gatwick, London‘s second largest airport, and Geneva, a major hub for low-cost carrier Easyjet, were forced to shut down Wednesday as staff struggled to clear runways of snow. Edinburgh airport in Scotland, and Chambery and Grenoble in southeastern France also were closed. Eurocontrol, the central air control agency, reported severe flight delays in Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna and Prague. In Poland, police said eight men died Tuesday night after a bitter cold front roared in, with temperatures falling to around -4 degrees (F). Winter weather caused some 2,000 accidents on German roads Tuesday.

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