Senate passes fiscal cliff deal, 89-8
Hours past a self-imposed deadline for action, the Senate passed legislation early New Year’s Day to neutralize a fiscal cliff combination of across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that kicked in at midnight. The pre-dawn vote was 89-8. Senate passage set the stage for a final showdown in the House, where a vote was expected later Tuesday or perhaps Wednesday. Under the deal, taxes would remain steady for the middle class and rise at incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples — levels higher than President Obama had campaigned for in his successful drive for a second term in office. Spending cuts totaling $24 billion over two months aimed at the Pentagon and domestic programs would be deferred. That would allow the White House and lawmakers time to regroup before plunging very quickly into a new round of budget brinkmanship certain to revolve around Republican calls to rein in the cost of Medicare and other government benefit programs.
One set of taxes is set to go up in 2013: The deal does not address the end of the payroll tax holiday on Tuesday. That tax will rise by 2%, back to its 2010 level. The deal also stops scheduled pay increases for Congress set for spring 2013 and includes a nine-month extension of the farm bill, which had been delayed for months because of differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation that sets U.S. agricultural policy every five years.
Domino’s Wins Temporary Ruling on Contraception Coverage
The billionaire founder of Domino’s Pizza has won a temporary court victory, with a federal judge blocking enforcement of part of the health care reform bill requiring most employers to provide a range of contraception and reproductive health services which many businesses and organizations see as a violation of their religious rights. Federal Judge Lawrence Zatkoff issued his order late Sunday, saying Thomas Monaghan had “shown that abiding by the mandate will substantially burden his exercise of religion.”
Hobby Lobby Won’t Violate Faith Over Abortion Drugs
The Christian owners of Hobby Lobby say they must remain true to their faith despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to block the Obamacare contraception mandate, CBN News reports. Hobby Lobby’s attorney, Kyle Duncan, said the company would not provide the morning-after and week-after pills in its employee insurance plan when the health care mandate takes effect Jan. 1. “The company will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees,” Duncan said in a statement. “To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.” Hobby Lobby faces a fine of $1.3 million per day for ignoring the Obamacare mandate; the company is still fighting the law in court.
Judge Allows Texas Ban on Funding Planned Parenthood
Texas can cut off funding to Planned Parenthood’s family planning programs for poor women, a state judge ruled Monday. Judge Gary Harger said that Texas may exclude otherwise qualified doctors and clinics from receiving state funding if they advocate for abortion rights. Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit to stop the rule will still go forward, but the judge decided Monday that the ban may go into effect for now. In seeking a temporary restraining order, Planned Parenthood’s patients could have continued to see their current doctors until a final decision was made the judge ruled.
Armed Teachers Protect Israeli Students
Americans intent on ensuring a school massacre like the one in Newtown, Conn., never happens again could learn a lot from Israel, where the long menu of precautions includes armed teachers. The Jewish state, which has long faced threats of terrorist strikes in crowded locations including schools, takes an all-of-the-above approach to safety in the classroom. Fences, metal detectors and armed private guards are part of a strategy overseen by the country’s national police. And the idea of armed teachers in the classroom, which stirred much controversy in the wake of the U.S. attack, has long been in practice in Israel. Security consultant Dov Zwerling, an Israeli counter-terror police veteran, believes armed guards are crucial for school security. “From what I know of almost all of the active shooter events in the U.S., almost all of them conclude with the shooter taking his own life the moment he is challenged by the first officer on the scene,” Zwerling said. “Why not challenge him earlier?”
California Crime Drops As Gun Sales Surge
Gun deaths and injuries have dropped sharply in California, even as the number of guns sold in the state has risen, according to new state data…. During that same period, the number of California hospitalizations due to gun injuries declined from about 4,000 annually to 2,800, a roughly 25 percent drop, according to hospital records collected by the California Department of Public Health. Firearm-related deaths fell from about 3,200 annually to about 2,800, an 11 percent drop, state health figures show. Most of the drop in firearm-related injuries and deaths can be explained by a well-documented, nationwide drop in violent crime. The number of California injuries and deaths attributed to accidental discharge of firearms also has fallen. The number of suicide deaths involving firearms has remained roughly constant.
Congress Renews Warrantless Wire Tapping
Congress approved a measure Friday that would renew expansive U.S. surveillance authority for five more years, rejecting objections from senators who are concerned the legislation does not adequately protect Americans’ privacy. The bill passed the Senate, 73 to 23. The House approved it in September, and President Obama is expected to sign it before the current authority expires Jan 1st. The lopsided Senate vote authorized a continuation of the government’s ability to eavesdrop on communications inside the United States involving foreign citizens without obtaining a specific warrant for each case. The surveillance has been credited with exposing several plots against U.S. targets but also has drawn fire from civil liberties advocates. The e-mails and phone calls of Americans who communicate with the foreigners are also being swept up. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee said that about 100 arrests have occurred in terrorism-related plots over the past four years — 16 in the past year — and that electronic surveillance played a role in some of them.
- Balancing privacy issues vs. terrorism deterrence is a difficult problem. The potential abuse of such powers is a real concern, especially if used to quench homeland dissent.
Iranians Planning an EMP Attack?
An Iranian military journal published an article titled “Electronics to Determine Fate of Future Wars,” and it detailed how an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, attack on the electronic infrastructure of the United States caused by the detonation of a nuclear bomb over the U.S. would be crippling. “Once you confuse the enemy communication network you can also disrupt the work of the enemy command- and decision-making center,” the journal said. “Even worse today when you disable a country’s military high command through disruption of communications, you will, in effect, disrupt all the affairs of that country. If the world’s industrial countries fail to devise effective ways to defend themselves against dangerous electronic assaults then they will disintegrate within a few years,” the Iranian journal added. “American soldiers would not be able to find food to eat nor would they be able to fire a single shot.” The Iranians do not yet have nuclear weapons but are working on it, with some experts saying they are very close.
26 Percent of American Children Grow Up in Single-Parent Homes
A newly released study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 25.8 percent of American children live in single-parent homes, WORLD Magazine reports. That number is particularly troubling when considering that of the 26 other countries surveyed, the average was 14.9 percent. Among African-Americans, the rate was much worse: 72 percent of black children grow up in single-parent homes. No-fault divorce and social welfare policies are among the possible explanations for the high rates of single-parent homes in the U.S.
- The real culprit is Satan’s ongoing attack against the tradition, Biblical family structure, aided and abetted by liberals who support the gay agenda
It’s official: U.S. debt will reached its legal borrowing limit on Monday, giving Congress about two months before it must raise the debt ceiling or risk causing the government to default on its bills and financial obligations. As expected, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner submitted a letter to Congress on Monday saying he had begun a “debt issuance suspension period” that would last through Feb. 28. That means Treasury will employ a series of “extraordinary measures” so it does not exceed the debt limit, currently set at $16.394 trillion. Such measures include suspending the reinvestment of federal workers’ retirement account contributions in short-term government bonds.
A total of 464 banks with combined assets of $680.3 billion have failed in the U.S. since 2008. Another 202 global banks — with assets of $43.6 trillion — are at risk, with ratings in the two lowest tiers.
France’s highest court on Saturday blocked President Francois Hollande’s plan to tax the ultrawealthy at a 75 percent rate, saying it was unfair. In a stinging rebuke to one of Socialist Hollande’s flagship campaign promises, the constitutional council ruled Saturday that the way the highly contentious tax was designed was unconstitutional. It was intended to hit annual incomes of more than 1 million euros, or $1.3 million.
Palestinians say a raid by Israeli soldiers disguised as vegetable vendors to seize members of a militant group has sparked clashes in the northern West Bank. Residents in the town of Tamoun say youths are tossing stones and bottles at Israeli troops, while the soldiers have responded with what appears to be live fire. Resident Faris Bisharat says eight men have been wounded, some by live fire. Bisharat says the wanted men belong to Islamic Jihad, a violent group sworn to Israel’s destruction. Bisharat says the clashes began early Tuesday after Israeli forces dressed as merchants arrested one man. He says regular forces then entered the town, and men began hurling rocks at them to prevent other arrests.
The Israeli military says tons of building materials will start crossing daily into the Gaza Strip from Israel if the quiet along their border holds. It’s the first significant easing of a near-ban Israel had imposed on such shipments after Hamas militants seized the Palestinian territory five years ago. The new policy is also the first key concession to Hamas since an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ended eight days of fighting last month. Israel says that construction materials like cement, gravel and metal rods have been used to make fortifications and weapons in the past.
Egypt has approved a new, pro-Islamist constitution, and Christians and other minorities foresee bleak and repressive days ahead, Patheos.com reports. Voter turnout in the two-stage nationwide referendum was reportedly limited, and Christians were particularly underrepresented — as low as 7 percent in some areas. Intimidation from Islamists kept many away from the polls, and in one instance, an estimated 50,000 pro-constitution Egyptians marched through Christian areas of the city of Assiut before the election. Men on horseback with swords led the way — evoking the seventh-century Muslim conquest — as marchers chanted that Egypt would be “Islamic, Islamic, despite the Christians.” Under the new charter, the rights of Christians and other religious minorities are “undermined beyond salvage,” says Hudson Institute scholar Samuel Tadros.
An explosion at an Egyptian Coptic Christian church in Libya’s third largest city, Misrata, has killed two people and wounded two others. Sunday’s explosion killed two Egyptian citizens working at the church in preparation for traditional New Year’s Eve mass. Tens of thousands of Egyptian workers have returned to work in Libya following last year’s civil war, despite security dangers.
Violence in Afghanistan fell in 2012, but more Afghan troops and police who now shoulder most of the combat were killed. Insider killings by uniformed Afghans against their foreign allies rose dramatically, eroding confidence between the two sides at a crucial turning point in the war and when NATO troops and Afghan counterparts are in more intimate contact. Afghan forces were now charged with 80 percent of security missions but were less equipped to face the most lethal weapon of the militants — roadside bombs. U.S. troop deaths, overall NATO fatalities and Afghan civilian deaths all dropped as insurgent attacks fell off in their traditional strongholds in the country’s south and east. However, insurgent activity was up in the north and west, where the Taliban and other groups have been less active than in the past, and overall levels of violence were higher than before a U.S. troop surge two years ago.
At least 397 people were killed across the country Saturday. The dead includes more than 200 people who were captured and “field executed” by Syrian soldiers in the Homs suburb of Deir Baalbeh after Syrian forces won a battle there. Syrian rebels stepped up their siege of a government helicopter base and clashed with soldiers near Aleppo’s international airport on Friday, part of an effort to chip away at the air power that poses the biggest challenge to their advances against the regime of President Bashar Assad. That airborne threat came into stark relief the same day, when a government airstrike on a northern town killed 14 people — most of them women and children, activists said. More than 21-months into Syria’s conflict, the Assad regime is counting more than ever on its air force to block rebel gains.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunnis angry over perceived second-class treatment by the Shiite-led government massed along a major western highway and elsewhere in the country Friday for the largest protests yet in a week of demonstrations. The well-organized rallies, which took place after traditional Friday prayers, underscore the strength of a tenacious protest movement that appears to be gathering support among Sunnis, whose sense of grievance has been increased by arrests and prosecutions that they feel underscore Shiite political dominance. At least five people were injured when bodyguards for a top Iraqi official opened fire on stone-throwing Sunni demonstrators Sunday.
A car bomb targeting a bus carrying Shiite Muslim pilgrims killed 19 people in southwest Pakistan on Sunday. Pakistan has experienced a spike in killings over the last year by radical Sunni Muslims targeting Shiites, whom they consider heretics. Earlier Sunday, 21 tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban were found shot dead in Pakistan’s troubled northwest tribal region.
Gunmen killed five female teachers and two other people on Tuesday in an ambush on a van carrying workers home from their jobs at a community center in northwest PakistanThe van was transporting teachers and aid workers from the center in conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Two health workers, one man and one woman, were also killed and the driver was wounded. The attack was a reminder of the risks faced by educators and aid workers, especially women, in an area where Islamic militants often target women and girls trying to get an education. Many militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province oppose female education and have blown up schools and killed female educators as a way to discourage girls from getting an education.
- Islam is such a wonderful, peaceful religion, isn’t it?
Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has announced that it will pay tens of thousands of dollars to anyone who kills the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa or an American soldier in the country. An audio produced by the group’s media arm, the al-Malahem Foundation, and posted on militant websites Saturday said it offered three kilograms of gold, worth $160,000, for killing the ambassador. The group said it will pay 5 million Yemeni riyals ($23,000) for anyone who kills an American soldier inside Yemen. The bounties were set to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad,” the statement said.
Indian police charged six men with murder on Saturday, hours after a woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi nearly two weeks ago died in a Singapore hospital. New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said the six face the death penalty if convicted, in a case that has triggered protests across India for greater protection for women from sexual violence, and raised questions about lax attitudes by police toward sexual crimes. The frightening nature of the crime shocked Indians, who have come out in the thousands for almost daily demonstrations.
Deep inside caves, in remote desert bases, in the escarpments and cliff faces of northern Mali, Islamic fighters are burrowing into the earth, erecting a formidable set of defenses to protect what has essentially become Al Qaeda’s new country. They have used the bulldozers, earth movers and Caterpillar machines left behind by fleeing construction crews to dig what residents and local officials describe as an elaborate network of tunnels, trenches, shafts and ramparts. Northern Mali is now the biggest territory held by Al Qaeda and its allies. And as the world hesitates, delaying a military intervention, the extremists who seized control of the area earlier this year are preparing for a war they boast will be worse than the decade-old struggle in Afghanistan. The catalyst for the Islamic fighters was a military coup nine months ago that transformed Mali from a once-stable nation to the failed state it is today.
Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a bill on Friday banning American families from adopting Russian orphans, apparently in retaliation for U.S. criticism of his nation’s human rights record, Fox News reports. The law will block dozens of Russian children expected to be adopted by American families from leaving the country and cut off one of the main international routes for Russian children to leave orphanages. Russia is the single biggest source of adopted children in the U.S., with more than 60,000 Russian children being taken in by Americans over the past two decades. According to UNICEF estimates, there are more than 700,000 Russian orphans but only 18,000 Russians waiting to adopt a child. The U.S. State Department previously expressed deep concern about the Russian measure. “The welfare of children is simply too important to be linked to political aspects of our relationship,” said spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
The State Department has issued a revised Haiti travel advisory, warning Americans planning to travel to the Caribbean island nation about robbery, lawlessness, infectious disease and poor medical facilities. “U.S. citizens have been victims of violent crime, including murder and kidnapping, predominantly in the Port-au-Prince area. No one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age,” the department said.
Authorities say that at least 61 people were killed in a stampede when New Year’s revels turned into a panicked stampede in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial center. Many more people were injured in the incident at about 2 a.m. after a fireworks display in the Plateau district of Abidjan.
Up to a foot of snow fell in parts of southern New England with the latest winter storm to move through the Northeast, national weather forecasters said Sunday. The storm began Saturday afternoon and ended by Sunday morning, with some power outages but no reports of critical injuries or major property damage. The snowpack’s extent in the Lower 48 States (63.1% as of Sunday morning) exceeds that at any time last season.
A fresh supply of cold Arctic air will plunge into the Midwest Monday, then slide south and eastward into the Plains, Ohio Valley and Northeast over the next several days.