Obama Admin. Won’t Defend Defense of Marriage Act

The Obama administration will no longer defend a law that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage — a major legal reversal that reinvigorates a national debate over gay rights. The decision, outlined Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Holder, represents the administration’s strongest legal advocacy for the rights of gay men and lesbians, who have strongly opposed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The law defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. “This is huge,” said Northwestern University law professor Andrew Koppelman, an expert on gays’ legal rights. “For the first time, the president of the United States has taken the position that laws that discriminate against gays are unconstitutional.”

  • It’s huge all right and it’s not all right – a major step away from God’s and nature’s natural order and a steep decline into the pit of immorality

A coalition of 34,000 black churches is blasting President Barack Obama’s decision to stop defending the federal law that bans recognition of gay marriage. The Rev. Anthony Evans, who heads the National Black Church Initiative, says Obama “has violated the Christian faith” by failing to uphold Jesus’ teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Matthew Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, says, “President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are acting as judge and jury in determining that a federal law passed by Congress in 1996 is indefensible!  The sheer arrogance of Obama and Holder is stunning. While they fully commit the staggering resources of the Department of Justice to defend ObamaCare and its clearly unconstitutional mandates…they then choose NOT to defend the  DOMA law that has been in place since 1996! The President and his Attorney General have a duty to defend lawfully passed legislation, especially when the essence of the law has been upheld by many courts.  THIRTY STATES have passed marriage amendments affirming marriage as the union of one man and one woman!”

A conservative military watchdog says a recent announcement from the Justice Department reveals that the administration misled Congress about the effects of repealing the ban on homosexual military service. The administration’s decision did not sit well with pro-family advocates who believe the Justice Department is obligated to enforce the statutes passed by Congress, regardless of whether the administration agrees with them politically. Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR), says the declaration contradicts Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ pledge to Congress and the military service chiefs last year, when he said DOMA’s existence would prevent the military from providing housing and benefits for same-sex couples who live together as “married” or “committed partners” on military bases. The CMR president concludes that Congress should call for immediate hearings to reconsider the rash action taken during the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress late last year.

Wisconsin Assembly Approves Plan to Curb Unions

The Wisconsin state Assembly approved a Republican proposal early Friday to strip public sector unions of most collective-bargaining rights despite fierce objections from Democrats and labor unions. The vote sets the stage for a showdown with state Senate Democrats who left Wisconsin last week to prevent a vote in that chamber, which also must approve the measure if it is to go into effect. After two all-night sessions and a Democratic bid for a compromise, the Republican-dominated Assembly abruptly ended debate early on Friday and approved the bill by a vote of 51 to 17. The plan has generated widespread protests among Wisconsin teachers and other union members. More than 50,000 demonstrators poured into the state capital of Madison over the weekend to protest against the plan. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has said the measure is critical to restoring Wisconsin’s financial health, and closing a budget deficit of $137 million for this fiscal year and $3.6 billion in the next two years.

FBI Says Muslim Brotherhood Already “Deeply Rooted” in US

News reports published this week revealed that both House and Senate investigators are looking into links between the radical Muslim Brotherhood and various Muslim organizations inside the United States. The report revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood is already “deeply rooted” within the United States. Veteran FBI agent John Guandolo said, “The most prominent Islamic organizations in the United States are all controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood.” The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes that, “Despite efforts by the mainstream press and some government officials to portray them as moderates and even secular, the Muslim Brotherhood is in fact a deeply radical organization, committed to the destruction of Israel and the institution of Islamic sharia law over all the world. Their motto reads: “Allah is our goal; the Prophet is our guide; the Koran is our constitution; jihad is our way; and death for the glory of Allah is our greatest ambition.” The potential rise to power of this extremist group in Egypt poses a grave threat to Israel, America, and the rest of the free world.”

IRS to be More Lenient on Liens

The IRS announced Thursday that it’s significantly reducing the number of liens it will place on property owned by delinquent taxpayers and will make it easier for taxpayers to get existing liens withdrawn. The use of tax liens has soared more than 60% since the start of the recession, according to IRS Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. Olson has called on the IRS to moderate the use of this collection tool, which can make it difficult for an individual to find a job, obtain affordable housing or buy insurance. IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said the IRS will impose a lien when a taxpayer owes back taxes of $10,000, up from the previous threshold of $5,000. As a result of the higher threshold, “Tens of thousands of people won’t be burdened by liens,” Shulman said.

Economic News

Sales of new homes fell significantly in January, a dismal sign after the worst year for that sector in nearly a half-century. New-home sales dropped to a seasonally adjusted rate of 284,000 homes last month, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That’s down from 325,000 in December and less than half the 600,000-a-year pace economists consider healthy. Last year was the fifth consecutive year that new-home sales have declined.

Fewer people requested unemployment benefits last week, pushing the four-week average of applications to its lowest level in more than two and a half years. The Labor Department says the number of laid-off workers applying for unemployment benefits dropped 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 391,000. It was the third drop in the past four weeks. But the number still needs to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant decline in the unemployment rate.

Oil prices zoomed to nearly $102 a barrel Thursday in Asia as chaos in Libya disrupted crude supplies from the OPEC nation, and traders worried that instability could spread to oil-rich countries in the Middle East. Oil had been trading in the upper 80s to low 90s. Gas prices jumped 6 cents overnight Thursday, as the recent spike in oil prices begins to hit filling stations across America. The national average price for a gallon of regular gas rose to $3.29.

The Washington Post reported this week that President Obama’s budget plan will quadruple the interest owed on the national debt over the next 10 years, by which time every American will pay over $2,500 every year just to cover the interest payments.  By the year 2014 (just 3 years away) the interest payments will surpass the amount we spend on education, transportation, energy, and all other discretionary programs, and by 2018 interest on the debt will surpass Medicare payments.

The Federal Deposit Insurance reported that banks earned $21.7 billion in the fourth quarter. That compared with a net loss of $1.8 billion a year earlier. The agency said bank earnings were buoyed in the latest quarter by reduced charges for soured loans. The FDIC called 2010 a turnaround year for the banking industry, with net income reaching a three-year high of $87.5 billion. It contrasted with a loss of $10.6 billion in 2009.

Middle East

Israeli tank fire wounded 11 people, including at least six militants, in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday following an attack on an Israeli patrol. The Israeli military said its tanks opened fire after the militants detonated a bomb targeting the Israeli patrol near the border and then fired mortars at the soldiers. Gaza health officials say two of the wounded militants were in serious condition. Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas militants say they fired mortars at the troops. No Israeli soldiers were hurt. Israel and Hamas have largely observed an unofficial cease-fire since an Israeli military offensive in Gaza two years ago. But clashes sporadically flare up along the volatile border.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in cities across the Middle East on Friday to protest the unaccountability of their leaders and express solidarity with the uprising in Libya that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is trying to suppress with force.

  • In Iraq, demonstrations for better government services spiraled out of control in many places. Protesters burned buildings and security forces fired on crowds in Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi and in Salahuddin Province, north of the capital, killing at least four people.
  • Large-scale demonstrations in Yemen appeared to proceed more peacefully, even festively. More than 100,000 people poured into the streets on Friday, after Yemen’s embattled president pledged on Wednesday not to crack down on protesters.
  • In Egypt, tens of thousands of people returned to Tahrir Square in central Cairo to celebrate one full month since the start of the popular revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
  • In Bahrain, pro-democracy demonstrations on a scale that appeared to dwarf the largest ever seen in the tiny Persian Gulf nation blocked miles of downtown roads and highways in Manama, the capital, on Friday. The crowds overflowed from Pearl Square in the center of the city for the second time in a week.
  • The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have begun to shift the balance of power in the region, bolstering Iran’s position while weakening and unnerving its rival, Saudi Arabia, regional experts said. While it is far too soon to write the final chapter on the uprisings’ impact, Iran has already benefited from the ouster or undermining of Arab leaders who were its strong adversaries and has begun to project its growing influence, the analysts said. This week Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since its revolution in 1979, and Egypt’s new military leaders allowed them to pass.

Al Jazeera Coverage Enrages Dictators, Wins Global Viewers

“Don’t believe those misleading dog stations,” Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said this week. He wasn’t referring to CNN or the BBC. Arab-owned television channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have been denounced by targets of the Middle Eastern revolts, showing they’ve played a pivotal role in the uprisings that have shaken countries from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya and Yemen. Gadhafi called them the “biggest enemy.” In Egypt, Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau was shut down at the start of rallies that led to the ouster of 82-year-old president Hosni Mubarak. Beaming images of the protests and interviewing key participants, Al Jazeera in particular has moved from being perceived as a Middle Eastern talk shop to a catalyst for change. Although the Arabic- and English-language broadcaster has sometimes acted like a participant rather than an observer of the uprisings, it is now winning praise in Europe and the U.S., which may help it extend its global reach.

Libya

Rebels holding Libya’s third- and fourth-largest cities Thursday repulsed tank-backed assaults by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces as the embattled dictator struggled to reclaim areas outside the capital and fresh high-level defections further fractured his regime. The crackdown is widely feared to have killed more than 1,000 people over the nine-day revolt. The U.S. and its NATO allies were actively considering imposing a no-fly zone over Libya to stop regime airstrikes on civilians. In his latest diatribe over state-run television Thursday, Gadhafi claimed that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had instigated the rebellion and admitted that his forces were losing control of Zawiya, 30 miles west of Tripoli. Misrata, the country’s third-largest city, with a population of about 300,000, remained in rebel hands after daylong fighting. The insurrection erupted in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, and spread east to the Egyptian border and west along the coast of the Gulf of Sidra, where most of the country’s 6.4 million people live.

Governments around the world are making a run to get their citizens out of volatile Libya Friday. A United States ferry with at least 275 Americans onboard finally left Libya Friday. The departure has been delayed by bad weather. China has evacuated 12,000, or about one third, of its citizens from turmoil in Libya, many of them workers for Chinese-run projects in the oil-rich nation, official media said on Friday. The mass evacuation, supported by a Chinese naval frigate, is the latest test for a government that has encouraged firms to seek business across the developing world, often in conditions considered too difficult or poorly paid for Western firms. China’s Ministry of Commerce has said 75 Chinese companies have operations in Libya. Vietnam said it had evacuated about 1,300 of its citizens from Libya out of 10,482 living and working there. India plans to evacuate its citizens from Libya by air and sea. Government officials said they have chartered a ferry with the capacity to seat 1,200 people. The HMS Cumberland departed Benghazi carrying 207 passengers, about 68 of them British.

Iraq

Iraqi security forces trying to disperse crowds of demonstrators in northern Iraq killed 5 people Friday as thousands rallied in cities across the country. Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets on Friday to protest against corruption and a lack of basic services in an organized nationwide “Day of Rage” inspired by uprisings around the Arab world. At least five people were killed and 49 wounded in clashes between protesters and security forces in several towns when demonstrators tried to storm government buildings and security personnel fired shots in the air to try to disperse them. The Arab world has erupted in protests aimed at ousting long-standing rulers, holding free elections and improving basic services, but Iraqi rallies have focused more on gripes over essential needs and corruption.

Iran

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that an estimated 45 Christians in various locations were detained overnight by the Iranian authorities on Feb. 13. At least five people were held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. They were all released the next day after questioning. The wave of arrests and temporary detentions by the Iranian government appear to be part of the government’s wider tactic of repression and intimidation of the Christian community. Similar tactics have been deployed against Iran’s Baha’i community. Concern is mounting for seven Baha’i leaders detained since early 2008 after it was revealed that two women have been transferred to the brutal ‘Section 200’ of Gohardasht prison on 12 February.

Egypt

Christian Today reports that two alleged accomplices in a church bombing that killed six Christians in Egypt have been acquitted. The January 2010 drive-by shooting killed six Christians and a Muslim security guard outside a Nag Hammadi church on the orthodox Christmas Eve. A state security court has upheld the death sentence handed to chief suspect Mohamed Ahmed Hussein. The Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Nag Hammadi, Bishop Cyril, condemned the verdict. “The court imposed one death sentence because one Muslim was killed, and the Egyptian judiciary wasted the blood of the six murdered Copts, who are of no value to the society,” he said. The blood of Christians, however, is “worth nothing.” He believes the two acquittals signals the increasingly influence of Sharia law on Christians in Egypt.

Laos

A group of Christians in Laos is facing severe food shortages after authorities forced them from their homes and destroyed their crops. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that the group of about 65 Christians was forced out of Katin village when they refused to give up their faith at gunpoint in 2010. Village officials are now refusing to let them back into the village to farm their land, and have destroyed a makeshift garden outside the village. Families still inside the village have been forbidden to help the Christians. At first 11 families were driven from the village in Saravan province at gunpoint during a worship service in January 2010, before a further seven families of new converts to Christianity were driven out in December 2010. The Laos Constitution provides protection for its people to practice a religion of their choice without discrimination. However, legislative protection is weak and implementation at a local level can be arbitrary.

Somalia

Reports in Somalia indicate that intense fighting between African Union peacekeepers and Islamist militants has resulted in heavy casualties.           A spokesman for the African Union, Maj. Barigye Bahoku, said peacekeepers had killed 14 militants on Wednesday. An al-Shabab spokesman, Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, said that militants had killed five peacekeepers and captured one alive.

Earthquakes

A small earthquake has hit Hawaii, with a jolt felt across Honolulu. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude 3.6 temblor struck at 2:12 p.m. on Thursday in between the islands of Oahu and Molokai. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. No tsunami was generated. The quake that lasted for several seconds shook homes and people throughout Oahu, from high-rise buildings in downtown Honolulu to the tourist district of Waikiki.

This week’s massive earthquake flattened office towers and killed at least 113 people in nearby Christchurch. With 228 people listed as missing, the toll of fatalities was still expected to rise. Water supplies to Lyttelton were cut, and residents gathered Thursday at a fresh water station set up near the town center, filling as many watering cans, plastic buckets and bottles as they could carry home. The pavement under their feet wobbled during relentless aftershocks, but residents said they were nothing compared with Tuesday’s nightmare. The quake unleashed huge boulders from surrounding hills, sending them hurtling toward the village. One monstrous rock, around 16 feet wide and 10 feet tall, bounced twice as it crossed a main road, gouging deep holes in the pavement, then rocketed into the front yard of a one-story white brick home. The boulder smashed into the front door and exited out the back — taking out everything in between.

Weather

A perfect storm of freezing rain at morning rush hour on Wednesday caused numerous wrecks around the St. Louis area, including one 31-vehicle pileup near downtown. Three accidents in the city of St. Louis involved nine vehicles or more. Twenty-one people were hurt. “This is the worst I’ve seen in my years as an emergency responder,’ St. Louis Fire Capt. Dan Sutter, who was on the scene of the 30-car wreck.” I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude.”

Severe storms raced across a stretch of the nation’s midsection on Thursday, pummeling trees and splintering power lines as they pushed to the southeast. Winds between 60 and 70 mph toppled trees there, blocking roads and damaged homes across Arkansas. On Highway 51 near Memphis, sheets of rain fell, tree limbs blew onto the road. Authorities found the bodies of three Amish children early Friday who were swept away in a creek swollen by heavy rains in southwestern Kentucky and continued searching for another child. A married couple along with seven children were trying to cross the creek Thursday on a roadway in their horse-drawn buggy when it overturned knocking them into the water.

Much of the northern and western USA will likely shiver through below-average temperatures the next three months, a new spring forecast says, while the South continues to struggle with severe drought conditions. The unusual cold for the northern and western USA means that natural-gas heating demand from March to May should be 20% more nationwide than it was during the unusually warm spring of 2010. The main driver behind the expected cold in the North and West appears to be the La Niña climate pattern, a periodic cooling of tropical Pacific Ocean water, which affects weather patterns in the USA and around the world. It typically brings warmer and drier conditions to the southern USA and cold air into the northern and western states.

With 2010 tying as the world’s warmest year on record and efforts to slow greenhouse gas emissions looking stymied, calls are rising for research into engineering our way out of global warming — everything from launching solar shade spacecraft to genetically engineering green deserts. An international consortium of 12 universities and research institutes on Tuesday, for example, announced plans to pioneer large-scale “ocean fertilization” experiments aimed at using the sea to pull more greenhouse gases out of the sky.

  • Uh oh, now we’re really in trouble if our scientists start playing around with already unstable weather

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