Death Panels Begin: FDA Rations Cancer Drug

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announced yesterday that it would ration the late-stage cancer drug Avastin for breast cancer patients. The reaction to the FDA’s decision has been fierce: Rep. Kay Granger:  “For the 17,500 women across the country who rely on Avastin to survive, I am extremely disappointed the FDA has chosen to take away one of the very few options for the treatment of late-stage breast cancer…” Rep. Rodney Alexander:  “As expected, the Obama administration has begun its process of rationing health care with its announcement to remove Avastin from the market for women suffering from metastatic breast cancer. Today’s decision to limit women’s access to a lifesaving treatment is amiss, and indicative of the frightful direction our health care system is headed.

 For the government to deny access to such a viable treatment is a severe intrusion into personal health care decisions that should be left between the patient and the doctor.”

Six ‘Megathemes’ Emerge from Barna Research in 2010

The Barna Group’s research in 2010 pointed to several major trends in American faith, none of them particularly encouraging. Overall, the survey and research found that Christians in America are increasingly looking like the culture at large. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are going into all the world and making disciples. The six “megathemes” are as follows:

  1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
  2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
  3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
  4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
  5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
  6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.

Feds Order Christian Signs and Symbols Removed from Bank

The Federal Reserve has ordered a small-town bank in Oklahoma to remove religious signs and symbols on display. Federal Reserve examiners come every four years to make sure banks are complying with a long list of regulations. The examiners came to Payne County Bank in Oklahoma last week. And the team from Kansas City deemed a Bible verse of the day, crosses on the teller’s counter and buttons that say “Merry Christmas, God With Us” were inappropriate. The Bible verse of the day on the bank’s Internet site also had to be taken down, along with Thomas Kinkade paintings hanging in the bank’s lobby. The bank is quietly fighting for a clearer interpretation of the clause. Officials have contacted their two U.S. legislators, Rep. Frank Lucas and Sen. Jim Inhofe, and the Oklahoma Bankers Association to help.

  • · That’s a mighty big stick wielded against a small bank, but that’s the cowardly progression of the New World Order, pick on the little guy first. However, it does reveal the ultimate goal and that’s the elimination of all things Christian.

Pope: Christians Are Most Persecuted Religious Group

The Associated Press reports that Pope Benedict XVI yesterday called Christians “the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of [their] faith.” In a letter released ahead of World Peace Day on Jan. 1, the pontiff pointed to multiple attacks on Christians in the Middle East. He commented specifically on the “reprehensible attack” on a Baghdad church on Oct. 31 that left almost 60 people dead, and lack of religious tolerance in Asia and Africa. “This situation is intolerable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity” as well as “a threat to security and peace,” Benedict wrote in one of the 17-page-long message’s strongest passages. He appealed to authorities to “act promptly to end every injustice” against Christians.

  • · Christians are the most persecuted and Muslim extremists perpetrate the most terrorism. Seems clear which is of God and which is of Satan

Pastors Flocking to Facebook, Twitter

Religious social media use is flourishing, as much in smaller, more conservative worship centers as in the megachurches, says Sarah Pulliam Bailey, online editor of Christianity Today. Concern that social media media will detract from people gathering for worship together is vanishing, she says. Social media use hasn’t won universal blessings from religious leaders. Last month  however, a New Jersey minister called Facebook a marriage killer. A group of New York rabbis blogged about whether people should “fast from Facebook” during Passover. And last year, Pope Benedict XVI warned Roman Catholics not to allow virtual connections to overshadow real ones. Religious leaders throughout history have seized on new technology, from the printing press to TV and radio, says Professor Dell deChant, senior instructor and associate chairman of religious studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

  • · Social networks are neither inherently good or evil, it’s what’s just another tool that can be used either way like TV. It is, however, the best way to reach our youth

House Passes Tax Deal

A sweeping plan to extend expiring tax cuts and jobless benefits for millions of Americans was signed by President Obama after the House of Representatives voted late Thursday night to pass the bill despite opposition from liberal Democrats. House Democrats, navigating an attempted revolt within their own party that threatened to derail the measure, joined Republicans in turning back proposed last-minute changes to the estate tax that would have sent the bill back to the Senate for more work. The legislation passed 277-148 just before midnight. Obama is expected to sign the measure. The proposal, which the Congressional Budget Office says will cost $858 billion over 10 years, extends income tax cuts for two years at all income levels, creates a 2-percentage-point cut in payroll taxes for one year and continues benefits for the long-term unemployed for 13 months.

  • · Is the increased federal debt worth more economic stimulation? Time will tell, but the risks are troublesome.

Senate Abandons $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill

Democrats controlling the Senate abandoned on Thursday a huge catchall spending measure combining nearly $1.3 trillion worth of unfinished budget work, including $158 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 1,924-page bill collapsed of its own weight after an outcry from conservatives who complained it was stuffed with more than $8 billion in homestate pet projects known as earmarks. Facing a midnight Saturday deadline when a stopgap funding measure expires, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would work with Republican leader Mitch McConnell to produce a bill to keep the federal government running into early next year.

Calif. Regulators OK Greenhouse Gas Rules

California regulators on Thursday approved the first system in the nation to give polluting companies such as utilities and refineries financial incentives to emit fewer greenhouse gases. The Air Resources Board voted 9-1 to pass the ‘cap and trade’ bill with the hope that other states will follow the lead of the world’s eighth largest economy. State officials also are discussing plans to link the new system with similar ones underway or being planned in Canada, Europe and Asia. A company that produces pollution, such as a utility or a refinery, buys a permit from the state that allows it to send a specified amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air each year. Those permits could then be bought and sold by the polluters in a marketplace. Polluters can even make a profit, if the marketplace sets a price above the initial cost of the permit. Some businesses that would fall under the new rules say the system could dampen California’s already flagging economy, complicate lawmakers’ efforts to close a $28.1 billion revenue shortfall and lead to an increase in the price of electricity. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger argued that many of the new jobs being created under the system are in the clean technology industry.

  • · Cap and Trade is an artificial, bureaucratic system that will cause more problems than it solves

Death Rate from Heart Disease, Stroke Drops

The death rate from cardiovascular disease in the United States has declined 28% since the late 1990s, but heart disease and stroke still account for one-third of all deaths, a new study finds. And the cost of preventing and treating heart disease is higher than for cancer or any other diagnostic group, an estimated $286 billion in 2007, according to the annual update from the American Heart Association. Comparing data from 1997 to 2007, the researchers found the number of inpatient cardiovascular operations and procedures grew by almost 30%.These procedures helped to extend the average age of death from cardiovascular disease to 75 years, but that is still well before the average life expectancy of 77.9 years in the United States.

More States Let Students Opt Out of P.E. Classes

Despite growing concerns about obesity among young people, the number of states that allow students to waive or substitute physical education classes has grown from 27 to 32 since 2006, according to Paula Kun, a spokeswoman for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). According to an association report in June, students in those states can skip physical education if they enroll in interscholastic sports, marching band, cheerleading or other activities. The number of states that allow waivers for health issues, disabilities or religious reasons has risen from 18 to 30 since 2006, according to the report. NASPE opposes waivers or exemptions from physical education classes, Kun says. The increase in waivers stems from a push for students to take more courses and efforts within school districts to save money.

  • · In the sedentary digital age, lack of physical exercise is a major factor in the astronomical rise of obesity among our youth

Arizona Medical Marijuana Rules Released

The state health department released its first draft of medical-marijuana rules late Thursday, providing a glimpse at how the program may work in Arizona. The rules spell out who may qualify for medical marijuana, establish operating criteria for dispensaries and provide strict guidelines for doctors who may recommend marijuana. The release kicks off a three-week public-comment period, but the Arizona Department of Health Services will have final say on how to implement a medical-marijuana program in the state. In November, voters passed Proposition 203, which will allow qualifying patients with certain debilitating medical conditions to receive up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from dispensaries or cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants if they live 25 miles or farther from a dispensary. The state health department must finish drafting the rules by April 13. The agency will then review applications from people who want to use medical marijuana or operate a dispensary. The program should be fully functioning by summer 2011, when dispensaries have had time to grow the plants.

Economic News

A private research group said its gauge of future economic activity rose in November at the fastest rate since March, suggesting the U.S. economy will strengthen early next year. The Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators rose 1.1% last month. The leading indicators rose 0.4% in October. The index had stalled this summer as U.S. economic growth slowed.

Unemployment rates rose in 21 states in November, the most to report an increase since August. The report is a reminder of the job market’s struggle to rebound even as the economy is improving. The Labor Department says unemployment rates fell in 15 states last month and remained the same in 14 states.

Attorneys general in Arizona and Nevada filed civil lawsuits Friday against Bank of America, alleging that the lender is misleading and deceiving homeowners who have tried to modify mortgages in two of the nation’s most foreclosure-damaged states. Hundreds of homeowners kept making their mortgage payments because Bank of America repeatedly assured them that their loans were being modified,  Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said. Instead, many lost their homes anyway.

Korea

South Korean troops geared up Saturday for artillery drills on a border island shelled by North Korea last month despite Pyongyang’s threat to retaliate again, as Russia and China expressed concerns over rising tensions on the divided peninsula. The North warned Friday that it would strike even harder than before if the South went ahead with its planned drills. Four people died last month in the North’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island near the tense sea border.

Iran

Iran has begun secret negotiations on proposals to surrender a substantial part of its uranium stockpile and suspend enriching nuclear fuel in return for an end to sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy. The Turkish-led deal calls on Iran to ship about 1,000 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium, as well as its entire 30 kilogram stockpile of 20-per cent enriched uranium, to a safe location. In return, France and Russia will supply ready-made fuel rods for the medical isotope reactor for which Iran says it has been enriching uranium to 20 per cent – a level which halves the time needed to manufacture weapons-grade material. ‘We think the deal is doable,’ an official involved in the negotiations said, ‘but there’s still a lot of detail to be worked through.’ Turkish and Iranian negotiators, diplomatic sources say, have met several times to discuss the contours of the deal, which they hope to bring to the table next month at a meeting with an international consortium called the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany.

Iraq

The centuries-old Christian community in Iraq is on the verge of extinction. Since 2003, the estimated number of Christians in Iraq has been halved to around 350,000 today. Thousands have fled the country while others have taken refuge in northern Iraq. In the last two months, a total of 70 to 80 Christians have been targeted and killed by Muslim extremists, including the massacre of 58 at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad on Oct. 31. “The ‘religicide’ of Christians holds disturbing parallels to a previous effort to eliminate Iraqi Jews in 1941,” says Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller. “Many Jews fled and today virtually nothing remains of the once-vibrant community. People of all faiths must unite to prevent this from happening again. We must fight for freedom of religion for all imperiled faith groups in Iraq.”

Pakistan

The CIA ordered its station chief out of Pakistan because his life was threatened after a Pakistani lawsuit revealed his name. His recall comes at a delicate time, as the White House presses Islamabad to rid its lawless tribal regions of safe havens for militants fighting in Afghanistan, where the U.S. is grappling with an exit strategy. The station chief’s name was revealed by a Pakistani man threatening to sue the CIA over the deaths of his son and brother in a 2009 U.S. missile strike. The attorney involved with the legal complaint said he learned the name from Pakistani journalists. Pakistan’s spy agencies have kept ties to a number of Pakistani journalists as a way to influence coverage. Pakistan’s top spy agency denied speculation Saturday that it helped unmask the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, dismissing speculation it was retaliating for a U.S. lawsuit linking Pakistan’s intelligence chief to the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, India.

Ivory Coast

Forces loyal to the two men claiming Ivory Coast’s presidency clashed in the streets of the commercial capital Thursday, killing at least 20 people and bolstering fears that the world’s top cocoa producer is on the verge of another civil war. Explosions and gunfire were heard throughout Abidjan— once known as the “Paris of Africa” for its cosmopolitan nightlife and chic boutiques. An errant rocket-propelled grenade struck an outer perimeter wall of the U.S. Embassy, but no injuries were reported and the damage was minor. Ivory Coast has been operating with two presidents and two governments since a disputed Nov. 28 runoff election. Alassan Ouattara was declared the winner by the country’s electoral commission and was recognized by the U.N., U.S., France and the African Union as having beaten incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. The next day, however, the constitutional council overturned the results after invalidating a half-million votes from Ouattara strongholds.

United Arab Emirates

Residents of the United Arab Emirates are being urged to register for the new national identity cards as soon as possible, because it will become increasingly important for accessing essential government and commercial services. The Emirates Identity Authority (Eida) reports that the number of card registrations has gone up to about 8,000 a day. Eida says it is essential that all residents of the UAE register for the new cards as soon as possible. That this process is now well under way has been confirmed by a report from the Emirates Identity Authority (Eida), that the number of card registrations in October and November increased by more than 100 per cent compared to the same period last year.

  • · More and more countries are gearing up for national ID cards. When it goes global, the threat increases that these will become the prophesied ‘mark of the beast’

Weather

Heavy overnight snowfall disrupted air travel across western Europe Friday, forcing more than 800 flight cancellations and leading to major delays in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Germany appeared the hardest hit by the snow, with more than 600 flights canceled, schools forced to close and highways clogged with traffic after scores of accidents that killed at least three people and injured dozens. Dutch weather agency KNMI issued a “weather alarm” warning of heavy snowfall and lethal driving conditions in large parts of the western Netherlands as traffic jams grew around major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.

Even in a place known for its hefty snowfall totals, December is already a record-breaker in Syracuse with two weeks still left in the month. Syracuse has received 70.8 inches of snow — almost six feet — this month as of early Friday afternoon, breaking the old record for December, 70.3, set in 2000. More snow is expected over the next few days, putting the city’s all-time snowfall record for any month — 78.1 inches set in January 2004 — within reach.

Snow, sleet and freezing rain wreaked havoc across the South on Thursday, causing hundreds of accidents, three fatal, and forcing schools to start late, close early, or cancel classes altogether. Three people died in separate weather-related crashes in North Carolina. Thousands of people there and in Virginia lost power. In metro Atlanta and north Georgia, icy conditions Thursday morning prompted road closures a day after slick surfaces caused hundreds of accidents. Ice also covered roads early Thursday in Louisville, and parts of Tennessee. Those who ventured out had to allow time to clear ice that coated nearly everything, from cars to walkways to the sides of buildings.

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