|December 31, 2009
|California Pushes for Federal Help
(Wall Street Journal) Facing a $21 billion shortfall through June 2011, California leaders want billions of dollars in budget relief from Washington that could head off deep cuts expected to state programs.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will ask the White House to waive rules that require the state to spend its own money on certain programs to receive federal funds, according to California officials briefed on the Republican`s coming budget proposal.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, shown in November, is seeking federal relief as part of an effort to close a $21 billion budget gap. If the state doesn`t receive federal aid, health and welfare programs could be eliminated.
Such relief, combined with additional stimulus funds, could save the state as much as $8 billion in the next 18 months, the officials said.
State Senate President Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, will visit Washington in coming months to lobby Obama administration officials and the California congressional delegation for aid. His message: The national economy will depend on California`s recovery.
Messrs. Schwarzenegger and Steinberg will also use a longstanding argument that the state sends more tax dollars to Washington than it receives in return.
"Under President Clinton, we got 94 cents back on every dollar we sent," said gubernatorial spokesman Aaron McLear, citing data compiled by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. "Now it`s 78 cents on every dollar. It makes no sense that California should be subsidizing programs in other states."
The state has a fairly good chance of receiving additional federal assistance, especially from what remains in the stimulus package, said Barbara O`Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. California has "a fairly persuasive case as to why we deserve it now," she said.
Arturo Perez, a fiscal analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said states` requests for waivers on federally mandated spending are common, especially when states face budget deficits. Federal departments usually handle the requests; some are approved, though many are denied, Mr. Perez said.
The governor once dubbed himself the "Collectinator" for his efforts to get more federal money. He has made his case to President Barack Obama and cabinet secretaries this year. "You can expect even more of that this coming year," Mr. McLear said.
The White House said it hadn`t received a formal request from Mr. Schwarzenegger for such assistance.
"We understand the difficult situation that many states, cities and towns face," said Kenneth Baer, spokesman at the White House Office of Management and Budget. He cited $144 billion in state and local fiscal relief included in the stimulus package.
Mr. Schwarzenegger last week sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the California congressional delegation, saying the proposed national health-care overhaul would cost the state $3 billion to $4 billion a year.
Even with federal assistance, state leaders face a formidable task in closing the $21 billion gap in the $85 billion general-fund budget over the next 18 months. Lawmakers struggled to close a cumulative $60 billion budget shortfall this year by raising taxes, cutting spending and using one-time accounting gimmicks and federal stimulus funds.
Mr. Schwarzenegger`s budget proposal will contain no new taxes, the officials briefed on the plan said. Instead, he will propose cutting $1.6 billion from state-worker compensation by continuing furloughs.
The governor will also propose repealing corporate tax breaks passed this year and tapping the coffers of local transit agencies for $1 billion. He also plans to resurrect a proposal to use existing infrastructure to drill for oil off the Santa Barbara coast to generate $200 million in revenue annually.
If the state doesn`t receive federal aid, health and welfare programs could be eliminated, the officials said.
Mr. McLear, the governor`s spokesman, declined to comment on the budget proposal, which is scheduled to be released Jan. 8.
|December 31, 2009
|Vermont judge: Birth mom must give child to ex-partner
(Sacramento Bee) The birth mother of a 7-year-old Virginia girl must transfer custody of the child to the woman`s former lesbian partner, a Vermont judge ruled, adding that it seems the woman has "disappeared" with her daughter.
Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen ordered Lisa Miller of Winchester, Va., to turn over daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven at 1 p.m. Friday at the Virginia home of Jenkins` parents.
But in the Dec. 22 order denying Miller`s request to delay the transfer of Isabella, Cohen wrote: "It appears that Ms. Miller has ceased contact with her attorneys and disappeared with the minor child."
Miller and Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000. Isabella was born to Miller through artificial insemination in 2002. The couple broke up in 2003, and Miller moved to Virginia, renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian.
Cohen awarded custody of the girl to Jenkins on Nov. 20 after finding Miller in contempt of court for denying Jenkins access to the girl.
The judge said the only way to ensure equal access to the child was to switch custody. He also said the benefits to the child of having access to both parents would be worth the difficulties of the change.
Mathew Staver, Miller`s attorney, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the case.
A listing for Lisa Miller in Winchester, Va., says the phone line has been temporarily disconnected at the customer`s request.
Jenkins` attorney, Sarah Star, said she hopes Miller is simply not communicating with her attorneys but plans to comply with the order.
"It is Ms. Jenkins` intent when she has custody of Isabella to allow as liberal contact as is possible with her other mother," Star said Tuesday.
When Cohen dissolved the civil union, he awarded custody to Miller but granted liberal visitation rights to Jenkins.
The supreme courts of Virginia and Vermont ruled in favor of Jenkins, saying the case was the same as a custody dispute between a heterosexual couple. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear arguments on it.
If Miller does not turn over Isabella, the most likely scenerio is that she would be held in contempt of court and a warrant would be issued for her arrest, said Cheryl Hanna, a professor of constitutional law at Vermont Law School.
"I think the underlying thing is the fact that they are a lesbian couple doesn`t mean that the court`s going to treat this any differently than if they were a heterosexual couple," she said.
|December 31, 2009
|Sen. Hatch: Authority for Congress to Mandate Health Insurance ‘Isn’t There’ in the Constitution
(CNSNews.com) Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress the power to compel individuals to buy health insurance.
“It isn’t there. It isn’t there,” Hatch said last week at the U.S. Capitol, when CNSNews.com asked where in the Constitution Congress finds authority to create an individual mandate to purchase health insurance.
CNSNews.com talked to Hatch, a longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, while he was on his way to take part in a series of procedural votes on the Senate’s health-care reform bill last Wednesday that paved the way for its eventual passage. The votes included a constitutional “point of order” that Republicans raised, challenging the constitutionality of an individual mandate.
The Senate bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, contains a historic provision that requires every American to purchase health insurance either individually or through their employer. If they do not, they can be penalized with a surtax ranging from $500 to nearly $1,500 per year.
Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) raised the point of order, essentially forcing Democrats to vote on whether they believed an individual mandate was constitutionally defensible before they could pass their health care bill.
“I am incredibly concerned that the Democrats’ proposed individual mandate provision takes away too much freedom and choice from Americans across the country,” Ensign argued on the Senate floor. “As an American, I felt the obligation to stand up for the individual freedom of every citizen to make their own decision on this issue. I don’t believe Congress has the legal authority to force this mandate on its citizens.”
DeMint, as well, said the provision was outside the constitutional purview of Congress.
“Forcing every American to purchase a product is absolutely inconsistent with our Constitution and the freedoms our Founding Fathers hoped to protect,” the South Carolina senator pointed out.
Hatch, meanwhile, told CNSNews.com there is only one place in the Constitution where the authority could possibly come.
“The only place they could have found it is Article I, Section 8. That’s the only place they could’ve found it, and it’s not there,” Hatch said.
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution enumerates the limited powers of Congress and is the place in the document where some congressional Democratic leaders have pointed to defend the individual mandate. The “Commerce Clause” of Section 8 gives Congress the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”
Last October, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed the constitutionality question when CNSNews.com raised it at a briefing in October, saying, “Are you serious? Are you serious?”
But her press secretary then responded to follow-ups by sending a press release touting the Commerce Clause as giving Congress “essentially unlimited” power to regulate health care.
The document, titled Constitutionality of Health Insurance Reform,” says that “the Constitution gives Congress broad power to regulate activities that have an effect on interstate commerce. Congress has used this authority to regulate many aspects of American life, from labor relations to education to health care to agricultural production. Since virtually every aspect of the health care system has an effect on interstate commerce, the power of Congress to regulate health care is essentially unlimited.”
But Hatch, however, told CNSNews.com in an interview last month, that such a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause was invalid.
“The Commerce Clause effects, quote ‘activities,’ unquote, and the government telling you that you have to buy health insurance, mandating that you have to buy health insurance, is not an activity. I mean, that’s telling you that you’ve got to do something you don’t want to do,” Hatch said.
This would be “the first time that our government would demand that people buy something that they may or may not want,” Hatch said.
Indeed, in 1994, when the Clinton administration tried to pass its own health-care reform legislation, also with an individual mandate included, the Congressional Budget Office reported that it was “unprecedented” in legislative history.
“The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States,” the CBO analysis said. “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.”
While the Clinton-era push for a health-care reform bill ultimately failed, last week Senate Democrats used their 20 vote majority to unanimously reject the point of order on the current bill before voting to end debate on the measure. The Senate subsequently passed the health-care bill on a 60-39 vote early Christmas Eve.
A conference committee, however, must now be appointed to try to fashion a compromise between the radically different versions passed by the House and Senate.
|December 30, 2009
|Obama gives Interpol free hand in U.S.
(Washington Examiner) No presidential statement or White House press briefing was held on it. In fact, all that can be found about it on the official White House Web site is the Dec. 17 announcement and one-paragraph text of President Obama`s Executive Order 12425, with this innocuous headline: "Amending Executive Order 12425 Designating Interpol as a public international organization entitled to enjoy certain privileges, exemptions, and immunities."In fact, this new directive from Obama may be the most destructive blow ever struck against American constitutional civil liberties. No wonder the White House said as little as possible about it.
There are multiple reasons why this Obama decision is so deeply disturbing. First, the Obama order reverses a 1983 Reagan administration decision in order to grant Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, two key privileges. First, Obama has granted Interpol the ability to operate within the territorial limits of the United States without being subject to the same constitutional restraints that apply to all domestic law enforcement agencies such as the FBI. Second, Obama has exempted Interpol`s domestic facilities -- including its office within the U.S. Department of Justice -- from search and seizure by U.S. authorities and from disclosure of archived documents in response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by U.S. citizens. Think very carefully about what you just read: Obama has given an international law enforcement organization that is accountable to no other national authority the ability to operate as it pleases within our own borders, and he has freed it from the most basic measure of official transparency and accountability, the FOIA.
The Examiner has asked for but not yet received from the White House press office an explanation of why the president signed this executive order and who among his advisers was involved in the process leading to his doing so. Unless the White House can provide credible reasons to think otherwise, it seems clear that Executive Order 12425`s consequences could be far-reaching and disastrous. To cite only the most obvious example, giving Interpol free rein to act within this country could subject U.S. military, diplomatic, and intelligence personnel to the prospect of being taken into custody and hauled before the International Criminal Court as "war criminals."
As National Review Online`s Andy McCarthy put it, the White House must answer these questions: Why should we elevate an international police force above American law? Why would we immunize an international police force from the limitations that constrain the FBI and other American law-enforcement agencies? Why is it suddenly necessary to have, within the Justice Department, a repository for stashing government files that will be beyond the scrutiny of Congress, American law enforcement, the media, and the American people?
|December 29, 2009
|Rabbis: Abortion will delay the redemption
(Jerusalem Post) The Chief Rabbis of Israel, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar, announced in a letter sent out Monday to state-employed rabbis that they would "strengthen" the work of an anti-abortion council in the rabbinate, and would take steps to reduce abortions.
They also said that abortions "delay the redemption."
Among the steps to be taken to fight abortion include encouraging local rabbis to devote their Shabbat sermons to speaking against the practice, passing out anti-abortion literature to couples registering for marriage at religious councils and working in coordination with the pro-life organization Efrat to encourage grassroots opposition to abortions.
The letter, which has the full backing of the chief rabbis according to a rabbinate spokesman, was sent out to all city, neighborhood, settlement and local council rabbis on the state payroll throughout the nation.
These rabbis are urged to devote their Shabbat sermon next week, January 9, when the reading of the book of Exodus begins, to emphasizing the severe halachic prohibition against abortions.
In the first chapter of Exodus the story of the Hebrew midwives - Pu`ah and Shifra - who refused to listen to the king of Egypt`s order to kill all male babies.
"But the midwives feared God and did not as the king of Egypt commanded."
Traditionally, the chief rabbinate sees this biblical verse, read in public every year, as an opportunity to speak out to the faithful against performing abortions, a rabbinate spokesman said.
Reference made in the letter to the connection between abortions and the final redemption is based on the Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Niddah which states that each baby that is born brings closerthe redemption.
"The redemption does not take place until all the souls are brought out of their storing place," states the Talmud.
The letter announces that an anti-abortion council set up two years ago, headed by Chief Rabbi of Beersheba Yehuda Deri, would be "strengthened". But no details are mentioned of how this will be done.
Local religious councils are requested to continue to pass out anti-abortion literature to couples who register for marriage. This literature has been distributed for the past 25 years, according to the letter.
In addition, local rabbis are advised to consult with Dr. Eli J. Schussheim head of Efrat, if they plan anti-abortion rallies in their respective towns.
The country`s rabbis were notified that "the vast majority of abortions are unnecessary and Halacha severely prohibits them."
Figures provided by Efrat`s Schussheim during a presentation before the chief rabbinate two years ago showed that a total of 50,000 abortions are performed annually in Israel, 20,000 of which are legal while the rest are performed illegally.
One women`s rights activist who has been involved in fighting the Rabbinical Courts on the issue of agonot (chained women) for many years told the Jerusalem Post that she was not shocked by this announcement.
"Israel is becoming more and more fundamentalist and this is just another step to further control women`s rights and sexuality," she said. "We are moving backwards and I think it`s about time that women`s rights groups get together and take note of what is really happening here."
"This step is in sync with what is happening in the rabbinic courts," she added.
|December 29, 2009
|Lieberman, Specter open to pre-emptive Yemen attacks
(Politico) Senators Joe Lieberman and Arlen Specter were on Fox News Sunday describing Yemen as an emerging hotbed of terrorist threats — and calling for pre-emptive action against the failing Islamic state on the Saudi peninsula if necessary.
Lieberman: "Somebody in our government said to me in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, Iraq was yesterday’s war. ... Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act pre-emptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war. That’s the danger we face."
Specter said an attack against targets in Yemen should be "something we should consider."
The 23-year-old Nigerian accused of the unsuccessful Christmas Day attack on a Lagos-to-Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight initially claimed to have been trained in Yemen.
|December 28, 2009
|Extending Federal Benefits to Same-Sex Couples Will Cost $898M, CBO Says
Extending Federal Benefits to Same-Sex Couples Will Cost $898M, CBO Says
(FOXNews) Extending federal benefits to same-sex couples will cost taxpayers $898 million over the next nine years, according to an analysis of "domestic partnership" legislation released last by the Congressional Budget Office.
The CBO said in its Dec. 17 report that the House version of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act -- H.R. 2517 -- would cost $596 million in direct spending and $302 million in discretionary spending through 2019.
The independent nonpartisan agency found that "providing additional health insurance benefits through the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program" -- for active and retired gay federal workers with spouses -- "causes the largest increase in both mandatory and discretionary spending -- $590 million and $266 million, respectively."
The analysis notes, however, that enacting the legislation "would not have any direct impact on federal revenues."
A 2004 analysis by CBO projected that federal outlays for domestic partners receiving federal benefits would cost about $100 million per year in 2010-2014 if the federal government approved same-sex marriage. Of the total, coverage for same-sex spouses of retired enrollees in the FEHB program would cost the government less than $50 million a year through 2014.
The 2004 report was written at the request of then-Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, an opponent of same sex marriage.
This year`s legislation, sponsored by Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., an openly gay lawmaker, and with 138 cosponsors, would allow for homosexual partners of federal employees to receive the same benefits as married spouses, which include health insurance, survivor annuities, compensation for work-related injuries and travel and relocation benefits.
President Obama has indicated his support for the measure, which is still awaiting a vote in both the House and Senate. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee voted Dec. 16 to forward the legislation on to the full Senate. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved it in November.
|December 28, 2009
|Israel to Build 700 Apartments in East Jerusalem
(CNSNews) Israel plans to build nearly 700 new apartments in east Jerusalem, the Housing Ministry said Monday, drawing tough criticism from both the Palestinians and the United States.
The dispute over east Jerusalem is the most intractable -- and explosive -- in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and consider Jewish neighborhoods there to be settlements. Israel claims all of the city as its eternal capital.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a slowdown in West Bank settlement construction several weeks ago in hopes of bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. But the order did not include construction in east Jerusalem.
"We make a distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is our capital and remains such," said government spokesman Mark Regev.
The Housing Ministry said it had approved a total of 692 new apartments in three existing Jewish neighborhoods already inhabited by tens of thousands of people.
Israel does not consider its east Jerusalem neighborhoods to be settlements. It captured the city`s eastern sector in the 1967 Mideast war and immediately annexed the area. The international community does not recognize the annexation.
"We condemn this Israeli policy of continuing settlement activities, and we hope this will be an eye opener for the U.S. administration and other members" of the international community, said Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.
The Palestinians have refused to reopen peace talks, which broke down a year ago, until Netanyahu halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. For months, the United States has been trying to bring the sides together.
An Israeli official said the government had informed the Obama administration about the latest planned construction. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
However, a U.S. official said the construction was another blow to peace efforts.
"We feel that unilateral actions make it harder for people to get back together at the table, and that`s what our goals are," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity pending a formal reaction from Washington.
"We also have mentioned in the past, and Secretary Clinton has mentioned, that we consider all the Israeli settlements to be beyond the pale of what we wish to see going on, and are not helpful, again, to getting the two sides back to the table," he said.
Netanyahu announced the settlement slowdown last month in a bid to rekindle peace talks with the Palestinians. But the Palestinians have rebuffed that overture because the order does not affect east Jerusalem and or block construction that is already under way on 3,000 settlement apartments.
Settlement construction became the key sticking point in resuming negotiations after U.S. President Barack Obama demanded a total cessation shortly after taking office. He has since softened his stance, but the Palestinians have not.
|December 28, 2009
|Taxpayer-Funded Wind Farms Prompt Concern from Democrats and Republicans; Jobs for China?
(CNSNews) Wind-power projects funded in part by the $787-billion Recovery Act (stimulus law) are coming under scrutiny at a time when President Obama and other Democrats have promoted alternative forms of energy production.
Two New York Democrats – Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Eric Massa – are among the lawmakers criticizing specific wind-power projects that are getting hundreds of millions in taxpayer subsidies.
A “definitive agreement” was reached on one of those projects two weeks ago, according to a Dec. 20 news release from the Austin, Texas-based Cielo Wind Power. The deal is between Cielo, U.S. Renewable Energy Group and China-based Shenyang Power Group.
The $1.5 billion project – which is getting $450 million in stimulus funds – is supposed to create 2,000 to 3,000 jobs. The problem is, most of those jobs will be in China, Sen. Schumer said, because that’s where the wind turbines will be constructed. Another 300 temporary jobs will be created in Texas.
“I’m all for investing in clean energy, but we should be investing in the United States, not China,” Schumer wrote in a Nov. 5 letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The goal of the stimulus was to spur job creation here, not overseas. This project should not receive a dime of stimulus funds unless it relies on U.S.-manufactured products,” the senator wrote.
The Cielo wind farm in West Texas is supposed to cover 36,000 acres and generate enough electricity to power up to 180,000 American homes each year.
Cielo Wind Power President Walt Hornaday, in a Nov. 10 statement, insisted that the project will grow the U.S. economy and would not be possible without federal assistance.
“A project of this scale will not only create hundreds of on-site construction and operational jobs, but it will also benefit a network of engineers, suppliers, and contractors all around the U.S. who will see hundreds of millions of dollars in additional work,” Hornaday said.
“Cielo plans to draw on the same American contractors from North Dakota to New York and New Mexico to California who have contributed to its past 10 wind projects. This planned project is an economic development lifeline to the wind industry during tough economic times.”
Hornaday did not deny Schumer’s assertions that most of the jobs would be created in China. However, a Cielo staff member told CNSNews.com last week that none of the stimulus funds (taxpayer money) would be used to pay workers in China. However, the spokesman declined to say any more about the project than has already been discussed in news releases.
Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) also wrote a letter to Energy Secretary Chu: “There is bipartisan concern that the Obama administration is using U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund green jobs in China and other foreign countries,” Bond wrote on Nov. 12. “As U.S. unemployment tops 10% during this time of economic distress for America’s families and workers, we must ensure that our government is not using American taxpayer dollars to create more green jobs in China than in the U.S.”
On another front, a Newton, Mass.-based company called First Wind reportedly is getting $115 million in stimulus funds to build wind farms in Cohocton, N.Y. and near Danforth, Maine.
Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) whose district includes Cohocton, had problems with U.S. tax dollars going to what he called “shell companies” for First Wind.
In a September letter to President Obama, Massa noted that First Wind is under investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office for alleged corruption. The actual appropriation is going to Canandaigua Power Partners and Canandaigua Power Partners II, subsidiaries of First Wind.
“This is one of the most volatile issues in Western New York, and the award of $74.6 million dollars to corrupt companies that have changed names time and again, forming new LLCs and new Inc.s but maintaining their business model of lie, cheat, and corrupt at the expense of taxpayers, has stirred great unrest in New York’s 29th
Massa spokesman Jared Smith did not return phone calls last week.
On July 15, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced an investigation into the wind power industry. He cited First Wind as one of the two companies from which he had subpoenaed documents.
The other was the Essex, Conn.-based Noble Environmental Power. The investigation was to determine “whether companies developing wind farms improperly sought or obtained land-use agreements with citizens and public officials; whether improper benefits were given to public officials to influence their actions, and whether they entered into anti-competitive agreements or practices.”
“The use of wind power, like all renewable energy sources, should be encouraged to help clean our air and end our reliance on fossil fuels,” Cuomo said when he announced the probe. “However, public integrity remains a top priority of my office and if dirty tricks are used to facilitate even clean-energy projects, my office will put a stop to it.”
The First Wind projects already are up and running. The Cohocton plant began operating in late January, and by the end of September it had produced 133,370 megawatt hours of electricity for the region, First Wind Chief Executive Officer Paul Gaynor said in October.
Gaynor also said the New York attorney general is not currently investigating the company. “In fact, we have been advised by the attorney general’s office that we are not under investigation,” Gaynor wrote. “First Wind is proud to be one of the first two companies in New York to have signed a code of conduct with the New York Attorney General that establishes for the first time an industry-wide framework for wind development in New York.”
In October, Cuomo announced a new “Wind Industry Ethics Code” and established a multi-agency task force to enforce the rules.
An Oct. 30 release from Cuomo’s office said, “Both Noble and First Wind fully cooperated in the inquiry, and their assistance was instrumental in developing the Code of Conduct that is being announced today.” Congressional District,” Massa wrote to the president.
|December 28, 2009
|Immigration Reform Advocates Make Push as Health Care Debate Winds Down
(Christian Post) Though Congress still has to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of legislation to revamp the nation’s health care system, the next issue in line is already stepping forward in Washington and at the grassroots.
The week before Christmas, a coalition of lawmakers unveiled a new reform bill that seeks to legalize undocumented immigrants by requiring them to register with the federal government, pay a $500 fine for each adult, learn English, pass background checks and meet other requirements before becoming eligible for a six-year visa that can eventually lead to a green card.
Though there is some skepticism over whether Congress will be willing to take up immigration reform early next year so soon after a tough health care debate, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who has become a leader of a multiethnic coalition of immigration reform backers, said the plan right now is to get ready “so when they are done with their work, we can quickly act."
"[T]he patience, and the tolerance, and the dignity of our immigrant community has brought us to this moment - to this bill, to this final push for comprehensive reform," commented Gutierrez at a press conference introducing the bill.
"This bill is the right way to allow these people to reach their dreams," he added. "We’ve waited too long."
President Obama has said he expects to take up the immigration issue after the health care debate is over and Congress finishes work on energy reforms and regulating financial markets – potentially driving the debate close to midterm elections in November.
During the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in June, Obama committed to providing a way for millions of undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens while also strengthening border security.
He specifically noted that the "fair, practical and promising way forward" on the immigration issue is to require illegal immigrants to pay a penalty, pay taxes, learn English and "go to the back of the line behind those who played by the rules."
"The American people believe in immigration," he said. "But they also believe that we can`t tolerate a situation where people come to the United States in violation of the law nor can we tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers in order to drive down wages."
Though Obama’s vow was welcomed by members of the Hispanic Christian community, Obama has yet to lay out a timeline for overhauling immigration.
Furthermore, with the U.S. economy still weak and recovery still slow, some say it might be premature to bring up immigration reform.
Supporters of the new bill, however, argue otherwise.
"For those who say that given the state of our economy, given the unemployment rate, this is not the time, I would say to you there is no wrong or right time. There is a moral obligation," commented Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, according to The Associated Press.
The newly unveiled legislation, sponsored so far by more than 80 House Democrats, is the culmination of months of discussions with community organizations, unions and other groups around the country in hopes of gaining enough momentum to get reforms passed.
A more moderate immigration bill, meanwhile, is expected to be introduced in the Senate next month, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saying he hopes to launch a debate there during the first half of next year.
|December 28, 2009
|Pastor Chuck Smith Hospitalized After `Mini Stroke`
(Christian Post) Southern California megachurch pastor Chuck Smith was taken to the hospital over the weekend after having what doctors described as a “mini stroke.”
Close friend and fellow pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., reported Sunday that Smith, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa in Santa Ana, Calif., was taken to the hospital late Saturday night and urged prayers for the 82-year-old minister.
“Please be in prayer for Pastor Chuck Smith,” Laurie announced Sunday morning.
“[L]et’s remember this beloved man of God in prayer, that the Lord would touch, bless and heal him,” he added.
Smith, who discipled church leaders such as Laurie and Skip Heitzig of Calvary of Albuquerque in New Mexico, is a recognized speaker at pastors conferences and has authored and co-authored several books.
Ordained as a pastor for the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Smith started pastoring Calvary Chapel in 1965, when the congregation was only 25-large.
Calvary Chapel has since grown to have a weekly attendance of 9,500, making it the 67th largest church in America, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
It has also been responsible for more than 1,500 church plants.
Though Smith was Calvary Chapel’s second pastor, he is widely credited as founding the church.
|December 25, 2009
|As deadline looms, Iran nuclear program poses challenge to Obama, Congress
(The Hill) Iran`s refusal to accept a nuclear deal by the end of the year is setting up a major foreign policy test for both President Barack Obama and Congress.
Just after passing the historic healthcare reform legislation that has consumed the Senate`s attention, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stressed Thursday that he wants to bring sanctions legislation to a vote when lawmakers return from the Christmas and New Year`s break in January.
"This important piece of legislation...would impose new sanctions on Iran`s refined petroleum sector and tighten existing U.S. sanctions in an effort to create new pressure on the Iranian regime and help stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Reid said in a colloquy with Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.).
The House passed a sanctions measure 412-12 last week that would enable Obama to bar foreign companies that supply Iran with refined petroleum from doing business in the U.S.
"We must use all the tools at our disposal, from diplomacy to sanctions, to stop Iran`s march toward nuclear capability," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after the bill was approved.
The renewed sense of urgency comes as the year ends with Iran snubbing the latest demands from Washington.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stressed this week that the Islamic Republic does not recognize, and has no intention to meet, the year-end deadline to accept a P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) deal to ship enriched uranium out of the country to be returned as nuclear fuel rods. This would not only allow for supervision of the nuclear program, but alleviate fears that Iran was producing nuclear warheads.
"Who are they to set us a deadline?" Ahmadinejad said of the U.S. demand in a Tuesday televised speech. "We set them a deadline that if they do not correct their attitude and behavior and literature we will demand from them the Iranian nation`s historic rights."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mihman-Parast told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Wednesday that Iran might come forward with a new proposal, but Ahmadinejad made clear that Iran will press its right to develop the nuclear program that he claims is for energy and medical research.
"We told you that we are not afraid of sanctions against us, and we are not intimidated," Ahmadinejad also said, adding that Iran was "10 times stronger" now than a year ago.
"Mr. Ahmadinejad may not recognize, for whatever reason, the deadline that looms, but that is a very real deadline for the international community," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.
"The offer that was put forward by the P5+1 and by the IAEA that, I think, clarified for the world what Iran`s intentions were, now they have to live up to those responsibilities," Gibbs said. "And if they fail to do so, the international community will act accordingly."
Gibbs, without elaborating, said that the White House "began making plans weeks ago" regarding the next course of action should Iran not abide by the deadline.
There has been no indication that the administration would use force against Iran`s nuclear facilities as the White House has clearly favored the diplomatic route from Day One. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated that this week when he said military action would be of limited use in stopping Iran`s "determined pursuit of nuclear weapons."
"My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results," Mullen wrote to staff in an annual risk assessment. "However, should the president call for military options, we must have them ready."
Israel, however, has hinted at preemptive airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities as a last resort, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made the Iranian threat a priority in his talks with Washington. Vice President Joe Biden even said in a July interview on ABC`s "This Week" that Israel had the right to deal with Iran as it saw fit.
"If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice," Biden said.
War games recently conducted at Tel Aviv University`s Institute for National Security Studies, which included the participation of undisclosed Israeli government figures and with the results passed along to Netanyahu, concluded in Iran continuing to enrich uranium as Obama persisted with negotiations to Israel`s disappointment.
A Rasmussen Reports survey released Wednesday found 67 percent of respondents saying that the U.N. has not been aggressive enough in response to Iran`s nuclear program, with half of all those polled saying the U.S. should help Israel if it decides to attack Iran.
Officials from the P5+1 nations discussed on a conference call this week potential steps that can be taken against Iran after the beginning of the new year.
"The decision for them to live up to their responsibilities is their decision," Gibbs said. "We have offered them a different path. If they decide not to take it, then the American -- our delegation, with the P5+1, will move accordingly."
Meanwhile, the Senate is poised to move on the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2009 cosponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Dodd and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
"It is now clearer than ever that tougher sanctions must be a key element of our comprehensive Iran strategy going forward," Dodd said Thursday. "My primary goal with this bill is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability."
Dodd said he would have liked to move toward conference on the bill before the holidays. "While I would have strongly preferred that, I recognize that given the delays on healthcare reform, we will not now have time to do that," he said.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Kerry, who this week floated the idea of visiting Tehran, a move that would be unopposed by the White House, added that senators "share the goal of creating maximum leverage in our efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."
As in the House, the Senate sanctions are likely to have heavy bipartisan support, even as Republicans have expressed frustration with what they view as too-light pressure by the administration on the Islamic Republic.
"We`ve wasted a year," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday on ABC`s "Good Morning America." "Sanctions have to be tried before we explore the last option. The worst option is a military action."
|December 25, 2009
|D.C. Mayor Signs Gay Marriage Bill
(Christian Post) A bill legalizing gay marriage in the nation`s capital was signed by the mayor Friday but won`t go into effect until it clears one more hurdle.
Though the bill was signed by Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in a public ceremony following an 11-2 vote by the city’s council just days earlier, it must past a 30-day period of Congressional review to become law.
Traditional marriage supporters, who tried but failed to bring the issue to the ballot for a vote by the people, have vowed to try to get Congress to overturn it.
In its present state, the same-sex marriage bill would make Washington the first city to give same-sex couples both the option to marry or enter a domestic partnership.
Though the legislation includes a provision stating that a religious society or organization is not required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods for the purpose of the solemnization or celebration of same-sex marriage, some D.C. churches are not satisfied with it.
Furthermore, the bill does not exempt a group from liability if it discriminates in such areas as health care benefits for the same-sex spouse of an employee.
Despite protests and calls for changes to the legislation, the bill is expected to pass Congress without a scratch and its supporters say gay couples may be able to wed in the district as early as March.
Since 1992, the District of Columbia has recognized domestic partnerships and, earlier this year, the D.C. Council unanimously voted to recognize gay and lesbian marriages performed elsewhere.
Last month, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics decided not to take same-sex marriage to the ballot for a vote by the people as traditional marriage advocates petitioned it to be.
In their ruling, the board determined that allowing residents of the District of Columbia to vote on the divisive issue would violate the Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians.
|December 25, 2009
|Senate Passes Health Care Overhaul 60-39
(LifeSiteNews.com) Slightly after 7 a.m. the morning of Christmas Eve, the U.S. Senate voted to pass President Obama`s health care overhaul, paving the way for the House and Senate bills to be reconciled before a final vote in both chambers early next year.
The body of lawmakers burst into applause after voting to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 along a strict party line divide, 60-39.
The Senate parliamentarian required only a simple majority for the final passage. However, a significant question as to whether the measure should have required 66 votes remained unanswered by Senate leaders.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) argued Tuesday that, because the newly-revised bill contains explicit changes to the Senate rules, it should only be passable with a 2/3 majority - or 66 votes - according to the regular procedure. Presiding officer Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) denied the charge, however, claiming that the changes were to Senate procedure, not rules.
One change in question renders it illegal for a section governing the controversial Independent Medicare Advisory Board, once called the "death panels," to be repealed or changed by any future Congress.
GOP leaders had a foretaste of Democrats` willingness to break procedure last week when parliamentarian Alan Frumin illegally cut off a Republican stall tactic. "We don`t want to be obstructionists on any policy they`re willing to deal with fairly, but no one can say that this is a fair process, when they basically have a parliamentarian in their back pocket," Sen. DeMint told the Washington Times.
Just before the final vote Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned the Democrats` tactics in passing a bill when "they know there is widespread opposition ot this monstrosity" among the American public. Polls have consistently shown steady majority opposition to the health care overhaul - usually with nearly twice as many strongly opposed as strongly in favor.
"It`s also clear that even many people on this side who are going to soupport this bill don`t like it," said McConnell. "Otherwise, Democratic leaders wouldn`t have had such a tough time rounding up the votes. Otherwise, Democrat leadership wouldn`t have had to have votes in the middle of the night, or at the crack of dawn, or over the weekend, or even during a blizzard. Otherwise, they wouldn`t be rushing it through Christmas Eve."
"I guarantee you, the people voting for this bill are going to get an earful when they finally get home for the first time since Thanksgiving," he said. "This fight is long from over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law. That`s the clear will of the American people, and we`re going to continue to fight on their behalf."
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid responded by saying that Democrats arriving home would, instead, get "an earful of wonderment and happiness."
"I`m going to hear from young Caleb. Of a boy, Mr. President, who was born with legs that stopped here, right above his knees, who needed a set of new prosthetic devices because the rest of his body`s growing," said Reid. "But the insurance company says no because he has a pre-existing disability. I`ll get an earful from Caleb and especially his parents, an earful of joy and happiness."
|December 23, 2009
|Who benefits from Senate healthcare? ACORN!
(OneNewsNow) A legal scholar says the Senate healthcare bill is not only stuffed full of racial quotas and preferences, but it also gives the disgraced liberal activist group ACORN opportunities to receive funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Harry Reid`s (D-Nevada) "manager`s amendment" in the Senate healthcare bill requires that six federal agencies each establish an "Office of Minority Health." Under that requirement, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is supposed to award grants and contracts to organizations that are "indigenous human resource providers in communities of color" and engage in "community outreach activities" -- the type of work ACORN says it has been doing for years.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, says scandal-plagued ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now -- is exactly the kind of organization that will be applying for and receiving these federal funds.
"It illustrates this wrong assumption that`s all throughout this huge bill, and that is there are all these racial preferences and racial quotas everywhere in it," he explains. "There`s this whole assumption by the left that the disparities in healthcare have to do with the racial background of doctors -- something that is completely untrue -- and it`s these kinds of things that in fact may worsen healthcare across the country."
Senator Roland Burris (D-Illinois) said earlier this month that he would filibuster the healthcare bill if it did not contain a public option. However, Burris now tells The Weekly Standard he was willing to support the Senate bill once the "disparity" provision was included in the manager`s amendment (pages 240-248).
According to The Weekly Standard, ACORN also stands to qualify for funding on page 150 of the amendment, which states that "community and consumer-focused nonprofit groups" may receive grants to "conduct public education activities to raise awareness of the availability of qualified health plans."
|December 23, 2009
|Senator Feinstein `Assumes` Commerce Clause Gives Congress Unlimited Authority to Mandate Health Insurance
(CNSNews.com) Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that Congress has the authority to mandate that people buy health insurance and that there is no constitutional limit on Congress’ power to enact such mandates, adding that this unlimited authority stemmed from the Commerce clause of the Constitution.
The health care bills in both the House and Senate require that every American purchase a health insurance policy. At the Capitol on Tuesday, CNSNews.com asked Sen. Feinstein: “Where in the Constitution does Congress get the authority for an individual health insurance mandate?”
Feinstein said: “Well, I would assume it would be in the Commerce clause of the Constitution. That’s how Congress legislates all kinds of various programs.”
CNSNews.com followed up by asking Sen. Feinstein whether this broad power had any limits: “If there’s a health insurance mandate, is there a limit to that authority? Is there something that can’t be mandated?”
Feinstein responded: “My own view is that there is not, within health insurance.”
The Commerce clause is found in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. It states the numerous powers authorized to Congress, including the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among several States, and with the Indian tribes.”
The Senate version of health reform imposes an historic mandate on all Americans, requiring them to have government-approved health insurance, either through an employer or individually. The mandate also can penalize people with a surtax ranging from $500 to nearly $1,500 per year if they do not have a health insurance policy.
The bill, which looks certain to pass the Senate sometime on Christmas Eve, is unpopular with the public, garnering the support of barely 40 percent of Americans, according to recent national polls. Those numbers led Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele to accuse Congress of “flipping the bird” to the American people.
“This is a bad bill, it is bad, certainly for individuals and enough is enough,” Steele said in a conference call on Monday. “I am tired of Congress thumbing its nose and flipping a bird to the American people. I’m tired of this Congress thinking it knows better than me and my family how to provide for our health care now and in the future. I’m tired of this Congress not listening to me and to the American people – to all of us.”
In 1994, when the Clinton administration attempted to push a health care reform plan through a Democratic Congress that also mandated every American buy health insurance, the Congressional Budget Office determined that the government had never ordered Americans to buy anything.
“The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States,” the CBO analysis said. “An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.”
|December 22, 2009
|Policy shift could put Prop. 8 suit on TV
(SF Gate) Television cameras will be allowed for the first time in federal trials under an experimental program approved by the San Francisco-based appeals court Thursday that could lead to TV coverage of a lawsuit challenging California`s same-sex marriage ban.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, presiding over the case on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, has said he may approve TV coverage of the trial, scheduled to start Jan. 11 in San Francisco.
On Thursday, the Judicial Council of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would allow experimental use of cameras throughout the nine-state circuit.
Appeals court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said the idea is to improve "public understanding of our judicial processes and (enhance) confidence in the rule of law."
The chief judge of each district court, in consultation with Kozinski, will choose cases in which cameras will be admitted. They will not be allowed in criminal cases or in jury trials.
Prop. 8 amended the state Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The lawsuit by two same-sex couples, a gay-rights group and San Francisco claims the 2008 measure discriminates unconstitutionally on the basis of sexual orientation and gender.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs told Walker in October that they would not object to television coverage. But sponsors of Prop. 8 protested that allowing cameras was contrary to national court policy and a potential threat to trial participants.
The appeals court`s new policy does not require the trial judge to obtain consent from both sides for television coverage, said court spokesman David Madden.
Courts in California and many other states allow cameras with the judge`s consent, but federal courts have historically prohibited them in trials.
|December 22, 2009
|Yahoo is spying on you
Allegedly acting as proxy for law enforcement, intel agencies
(WorldNetDaily) Yahoo.com is allegedly spying on its customers and acting as a proxy for U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
According to Wired.com, Yahoo also charges the agencies for the information. That means U.S. citizens` tax dollars are being used by federal agencies to pay for information gathered in Yahoo`s spying.
A Yahoo customer who asked not to be identified became suspicious of Yahoo`s operations when the image below appeared on his screen while downloading his e-mail.
John Young, who runs the website Cryptome.org, believes the Internet giant is gathering data from customer e-mails for possible disclosure to U. S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Young says Yahoo has a standard operating procedure for e-mail data mining spelled out in the Yahoo Law Enforcement Compliance Manual. Young has posted a copy of Yahoo`s manual on his Cryptome.com website.
Yahoo and its Washington, D.C.-based legal counsel, Steptoe and Johnson, have not responded to WND requests for comment.
The manual says Yahoo records the IP address of any computer involved in a Yahoo e-mail exchange.
"Every message sent by a Yahoo! mail user contains the originating IP address in the header," the Yahoo manual says. "That is, Yahoo! records the IP address of the computer that was used to send the email, and Yahoo! inserts that IP address in the header of the message. Accordingly, if law enforcement is seeking to determine the IP address from which a Yahoo! e-mail was sent, Yahoo! will have no additional information other than what is visible in the message itself."
The manual continues.
"The relevant line from the header will generally look like this: Received: from [126.96.36.199] by web41705.mail.yahoo.com via HTTP; Fri, 05 Sep 2003 07:30:05 PDT
"In this example, the IP address in brackets corresponds to the computer from which the message was sent," the manual states.
Section V of the Yahoo compliance guide says:
"Yahoo! generally will accept service of court orders, search warrants, and criminal grand jury or administrative subpoenas for the production of documents by fax from government entities."
Then there`s this paragraph a few lines later in the same section:
"Yahoo! will ask law enforcement to certify that the prior or delayed notice provisions have been satisfied if contents are sought with legal process other than a Search Warrant."
"…with legal process other than a Search Warrant."
An intelligence analyst and private terrorism investigator who asked not to be named, believes this phrase is key in Yahoo`s willingness to turn over e-mail contents to U.S. intelligence agencies.
Young stands by his actions and what he has written about Yahoo`s surveillance. He believes the public material may be a diversion for deeper surveillance.
"What remains unclear is what are other arrangements between Yahoo and law enforcement and intelligence agencies that are not covered by publicly available material. It is more than probable that the publicly available material diverts attention from these other shenanigans," Young observes.
He adds that other Internet providers are also involved in surveillance.
"Yahoo is not alone in these customer transgressions, the deceptive practices are widespread among telecommunications and IP providers," Young asserts.
A story on Mathaba.net states, "Cox Communications, SBC, Cingular, Nextel, GTE and other telecoms and Internet service providers," or ISPs, are involved in federally sanction data collection.
Young also believes media haven`t done a good job reporting the abuses.
"There`s an abysmal neglect of what the ISPs, OS (operating system) producers, network operators, data farmers and search engines are up to with customer data displayed on the computer screen."
Yahoo`s legal counsel, Steptoe and Johnson, has contacted Young, acknowledging the compliance guide`s existence and how it facilitates Yahoo`s participation in intelligence and law enforcement investigations.
|December 22, 2009
|Stupak Knocks Senate Abortion Health Care Compromise, Would Defeat It in House
Stupak Knocks Senate Abortion Health Care Compromise, Would Defeat It in House
(LifeNews.com) -- Rep. Bart Stupak, the pro-life Michigan congressman who led the fight against the abortion funding in the House, says he doesn`t approve of the new abortion funding compromise in the Senate. The Democrat made it clear he would work to defeat the proposal if it makes it to the House.
Stupak, in an interview with Politico, called the deal Harry Reid and Ben Nelson struck on abortion funding "unacceptable."
He joined pro-life groups in saying the compromise marked "a dramatic shift in federal policy,” by undermining the Hyde amendment that has prohibited taxpayer funding of abortions since the 1970s.
Stupak also talked with Politico about a dustup that occurred Saturday morning, whereby one of his staffers sent out an email to pr-life Senate Republicans and pro-life organizations urging opposition to the Nelson amendment.
Somehow, Political got ahold of the email and a response and used them to write an article on how Stupak was reportedly working behind the scenes with Senate Republican Leader and pro-life Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell to scuttle the pro-abortion health care bill in the Senate.
“I never talked to McConnell about the health care bill,” said Stupak.
However, Stupak will likely talk with his pro-life colleagues in the House about the Reid-Nelson language. He has repeatedly promised that if his authentic amendment to ban abortion funding is removed from the bill, he will oppose the health care bill.
His promise is important as the Senate moves forward to what are expected to be final votes on the filibuster and the government-run health care bill itself.
If the Senate approves the bill with the compromise intact, it will have approved different language than the House-backed bill and a conference committee will have to work out a final version.
If the conference committee removes the Stupak amendment and leaves the Reid-Nelson language in place, then pro-life Democrats in the House will likely vote against the conference committee bill and it could be defeated.
If the committee keeps the Stupak amendment in place,then pro-abortion House members have said they will vote to defeat the bill and their Senate colleagues may join them.
Either way, the battle over abortion and health care is far from over and pro-life advocates have several ways in which they can still defeat the pro-abortion, pro-rationing, pro-assisted suicide health care bill.
|December 22, 2009
|A four-year degree from a two-year school? It could happen
(Contra Costa Times) With tens of thousands being turned away from state universities, California lawmakers likely will consider granting community colleges the right to offer a limited number of bachelor`s degrees.
The shift, which has occurred in 17 other states in the past decade or so, would represent a major philosophical change in California, where the three state higher-education systems have clearly defined roles.
Bachelor`s and higher degrees are offered by University of California and California State University campuses, while community colleges offer two-year associate degrees and certificates for a variety of professions.
However, major reforms must be considered in the age of severe budget problems, said Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, who raised the idea at a Dec. 7 hearing on the future of California`s Master Plan for Higher Education.
Block said he began considering community college baccalaureates after San Diego State recently closed admissions to local applicants. The decision left many qualified San Diego-area students without a local university option, he said.
"We have a lot of well-respected community colleges down in San Diego, and they think they could do a fine job offering those next two years to students, at least in certain disciplines," said Block, who is considering introducing a related bill early next year. "I think moving in that direction is a good plan."
Others have broached the subject, including Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who this year proposed a bachelor`s program at the San Mateo Community College District. The bill died before it could come to a vote.
Florida has offered bachelor`s degrees at community colleges since 2001, mostly to serve specific industries — such as nursing and teaching — and communities far from university campuses. The four-year programs cost slightly more than the colleges` two-year programs, but are still significantly cheaper than university classes, said Kenneth Walker, president of Edison State College, which offers both two-year and four-year degrees.
State legislators agreed to the changes, in part, because Florida had a shortage of college-educated residents, said Walker, also president of the Community College Baccalaureate Association. California is facing a similar shortage, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
"The population needs to get access to baccalaureate degrees at a price they can afford," Walker said. "It avoids all the problems associated with transfer, and it doesn`t hurt the universities because they have more students than they can take anyway."
In California, such a proposal would face numerous obstacles, such as pricing and capacity. The 110-school community college system, with nearly 3 million students per year, already is overflowing, and its $26-per-unit fees likely would not be enough to pay for more advanced four-year programs.
Some experts warned that California should exhaust other options before expanding community colleges` mission, including opening more university branch campuses, such as Cal State East Bay`s Concord site.
"I`m not at all sure in Florida that all avenues were explored," said Beverly Bower, a professor and director of the Bill J. Priest Center for Community College Education at the University of North Texas.
"It`s a huge cultural change for the institution. And it is an expensive proposition to add these degrees to a two-year institution."
State community college leaders could not be reached for comment.
Baccalaureate programs could work well in small doses, said Reid Milburn, president of the statewide Student Senate for California Community Colleges and a student at Sacramento City College. The nursing industry in particular could use more trained workers, she said.
"Maybe that is a solution for getting people trained and back into the work force," Milburn said. But, she warned, budget problems and a lack of college readiness among most community college students could prove challenging.
"With what we`re struggling with now," she said, "trying to tackle something like that for several programs might be overwhelming."
The warning was echoed by Paul Steenhausen, a community college specialist with the state Legislative Analyst`s Office. Lawmakers should heed studies that have shown that as few as one in four students who intend to transfer from community colleges to universities actually do so within six years, he said.
"The Legislature would have to think very carefully about the ramifications," he said. "It might be more to the benefit of students if the community colleges focused more on success rates."
|December 22, 2009
|Hate Crimes and a Tale of Two "Shephards"
Many violent assaults of heterosexuals by homosexuals ignored in hate crime discussions
(LifeSiteNews.com) - Both Matthew Shephard and Jason Shephard are alleged to have been victims of hate crimes. Both are alleged to have been targeted by their respective assailants over their sexual orientation. But unlike the former Shephard, Jason Shephard was murdered for his heterosexuality by a homosexual assailant, and one pro-family group wants to know whether the new federal hate crimes law would be applied in both cases.
The American Family Association of Pennsylvania argues that heterosexuals targeted by homosexuals over their sexual orientation should receive the same charges as heterosexuals targeting homosexuals. The new federal hate crimes law, "Matthew Shephard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act," applies special federal protections for victims of crimes who are targeted by their assailants over their "actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.`
Homosexual activists fought for passage of the bill, which Congress passed as an amendment to a must-pass defense bill and President Obama signed in October.
But what about heterosexuals targeted by homosexuals over their sexual orientation? The AFA of Pennsylvania says that if the law were taken at face value, then homosexuals should also face prosecution for brutally assailing victims targeted for their heterosexuality. However these names get little recognition, especially in the national media.
Unlike Matthew Shephard - whose attackers confessed to brutally murdering over drugs and not his sexual orientation - Jason Shephard of Philadelphia was strangled to death in 2006 by William Smithson, 44, for resisting his homosexual advances and rape. Smithson worked at the firm where Shephard was interning, and premeditated the sexual assault on Shephard, slipping a date-rape drug into Shephard`s drink during a dinner. To cover-up the crime, Smithson personally filed a missing person`s report, and even introduced himself to Shephard`s family, before police finally caught him red-handed trying to dispose of the decomposing corpse.
On Friday, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld Smithson`s first-degree murder conviction and life sentence.
And unlike Matthew Shephard, the murder of the heterosexual Jason Shephard by a homosexual has little recognition beyond Pennsylvania and no major legislation or public initiatives invoking the tragedy of his death. The young man who described himself as "a kid from Cavalier going to see what the world had to offer" has a simple Facebook page dedicated to his memory for the sake of those who knew him.
"Who in America recognizes their names or now the name of Amanda Collette?" asked Diane Gramley, president of the AFA of PA, demanding to know whether the cases of heterosexual victims would also get the same special protections accorded to homosexuals targeted for sexual orientation under the hate crimes law.
Collete, a fifteen-year old student at a Miami high school, was murdered by a sixteen-year old lesbian classmate for rebuffing her homosexual advances. The Miami Herald reported that Teah Wimberly, 16, confessed to police that she shot Collete in November 2008 "so she would feel pain too."
In Prairie Grove, Arkansas, Joshua Brown and David Carpenter tied up 13-year old Jesse Dirkhising and sodomized him to death. WorldNetDaily reports that Dirkhising died in his own vomit while Brown and Carpenter took a lunch break from their savage sexual assault.
Nicholas Gutierrez of Chicago raped, battered, stabbed and strangled Mary Stachowicz, 51, before stashing her body under the floorboards of his apartment, for the simple reason that Stachowicz had asked him to leave his homosexual lifestyle.
For Gramley, those brutal cases - no less brutal than Matthew Shephard`s murder - seem well-qualified for hate crimes charges. But as AFA of PA points out, only homosexuals as "hate crimes" victims need apply for national attention: Matthew Shephard`s murder generated over 3,000 stories in the month after his death, while only forty stories developed in the month after Dirkhising`s brutal rape and murder.
"Just the fact that the hate crime bill signed by the President in October is named after homosexual Matthew Shepherd reveals the true intent of its advocates - give special protections to homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender individuals," commented Gramley. "I predict the murders of heterosexuals by homosexuals will continue to be ignored."
Many pro-family groups suspected that the Matthew Shephard Act was intended to make homosexuals and transgenders a protected class under federal law. But other serious concerns remained.
Opponents of the hate crimes legislation in general have charged that the law violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution by making an individual`s thought as much a factor as the nature of his act in prosecuting a crime.
The US Commissioners on Civil Rights wrote letters to US House and Senate leaders condemning the legislation, saying they "regard the broad federalization of crime as a menace to civil liberties." The commissioners also pointed out that the law creates a legal loophole to the Constitution`s prohibitions to double jeopardy, because it allows the federal government to try an individual for a second time, who has already been acquitted in a state trial, for the same crime.
|December 22, 2009
|Prominent Evangelicals Support Sen. Casey`s Abortion Language
(Christian Post Reporter) Several prominent evangelical leaders joined more than two dozen other pro-life Christian pastors, leaders and theologians to sign a statement Friday expressing support for alternative abortion language in the health care bill as proposed by Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.).
“As Christian leaders moved by our faith to protect life at all stages, we applaud Sen. Robert Casey’s efforts to ensure that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act prohibits federal funding of abortion, ensures conscience protections, and provides funding for long-needed support for pregnant women and children,” stated the leaders, which include Florida megachurch pastor Joel C. Hunter, Christianity Today editor David Neff, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez, New Evangelicals founder Richard Cizik, and Evangelicals for Social Action president Ron Sider.
Casey’s proposal, in addition to preventing government funding for abortion, also would expand economic support for individuals who want to adopt as well as for low-income women and children.
“Given that 73 percent of women who have an abortion cite the fact that they cannot afford to have a child as a contributing factor, these economic support measures are critical to reducing the number of abortions in America, a goal we wholeheartedly support,” the faith leaders expressed in their statement of support.
“Expanding health insurance coverage to uninsured women and making it more affordable for millions more will very likely reduce the number of abortions in America as well,” they added.
According to reports, Casey crafted the compromise language on abortion coverage in the Senate health care reform bill in order to get social conservative Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to support the bill.
Nelson, who has stated that he will not support the health care bill if it includes government funding of abortions, said Saturday that he will support the reform bill with Casey’s language, resulting in the Democrats having the needed 60 votes to avoid a Republican filibuster that would prevent a Senate vote.
"Change is never easy, but change is what`s necessary in America today. That`s why I intend to vote for cloture and for health care reform," the Nebraska Democrat told reporters on Saturday.
The Nebraska senator warned, however, that if the health bill changes in regards to abortion funding when the House and Senate leaders come together to resolve their differences, then he will withdraw his support.
Despite the strong support Casey’s proposal has garnered, not every pro-life leader is happy with it. Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee said the Casey proposal is “entirely unacceptable” and that it is a “far cry” from the Stupak Amendment, which banned government funding of abortions in the House version of the health care bill.
The Casey proposal allows individuals to “opt out” of abortion coverage, while the Stupak amendment completely bans federal funding of abortion on demand.
“It is particularly offensive that the proposal apparently would make it the default position for the federal government to subsidize plans that cover abortion on demand, and then permit individuals citizens to apply for conscientious objector,” Johnson said.
“This is an exercise in cosmetics – like putting lipstick on a legislative warthog.”
Likewise, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found the Casey proposal unacceptable.
“Excluding elective abortions from overall health plans is not a privilege that individuals should have to seek as the exception to the norm,” said Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the Conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “In all other federal health programs, excluding abortion coverage is the norm.”
DiNardo added, “We continue to oppose and urge others to oppose the Senate bill unless and until this fundamental failure is remedied. And whatever the immediate outcome in the Senate, we will continue to work for health care reform which truly protects the life, dignity, conscience and health of all.”
The Senate will start voting on parts of the health care bill on Monday, and could vote for the entire bill before Christmas.
The first and most critical test was set for about 1 a.m. Monday. Under Senate rules, Democrats needed 60 votes on three separate occasions to pass the measure.
|December 21, 2009
|`Czar` Jennings must go
(OneNewsNow) An Iowa congressman is again calling on President Obama to fire his controversial "safe schools czar" Kevin Jennings.
In October, Republican Steve King became the first member of Congress to call for the ouster of Jennings as head of the Education Department`s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.The Iowa lawmaker, along with 52 other House Republicans, sent a letter to the president saying that Jennings was unfit to serve in the position because of his lack of appropriate qualifications and ethical standards. But King reports that they have received no response from the White House to date.
"For some reason, even when 53 members of the United States Congress send a letter to the president of the United States, he doesn`t see that he has an obligation to respond to such a letter," the congressman notes. "So we`ve mounted a new effort to do that, and I am participating and cooperating in that."
King says Jennings` record is very narrow in its scope as "it`s all about promoting homosexuality, and much of it [is done] within the schools, and a lot of it within our elementary schools. In fact, Governor [Mitt] Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, spoke out against Kevin Jennings and his tactics, and some of the material that he was distributing to kids was unfit for students of any age," he regards.
Congressman King says he has sent a follow-up letter to the White House, again calling on the president to fire Jennings. In it he tells Obama that his colleague, Congressman Michael Burgess of Texas, has introduced a House resolution calling for Jennings` dismissal.
Related: `Czar` promotes explicit school reading lists
|December 21, 2009
|OIC Slams ‘Demonic’ Portrayal of Islam, But Support for Religious ‘Defamation’ Measures Continues to Erode
At the General Assesmbly on Friday, December 18, 2009, the number of countries voting against this year’s religious “defamation” resolution exceeded 60 for the first time.
(CNSNews.com) – An Islamic-led campaign against religious “defamation” has taken another blow the United Nations, where support among member states has dropped to a new low amid escalating concerns that defamation resolutions endanger non-Muslims in Islamic societies and harm freedom of expression.
While much of the world’s attention was focused on Copenhagen late last week, the U.N. General Assembly passed a range of human rights-related resolutions. For critics of the world body and its Human Rights Council, the results were mixed.
The latest in a string of religious defamation resolutions considered by the General Assembly and human rights bodies over the past decade saw more countries than ever oppose the measure.
The resolution passed by 80 votes to 61 against, with 42 countries abstaining. The result is the worst ever for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) member states and their allies, many of them not free democracies. It marks a continuing decline since 2007, when in the wake of the Mohammed newspaper cartoon furor a similar resolution passed by a vote of 108-51, with 25 abstentions.
Not only has the number of countries opposing the move climbed (see graph), but several member states in the developing world have moved from supporting the resolutions to abstaining.
Ten countries in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific moved from abstaining in 2008 to opposing the OIC resolution this year – Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, Panama, St. Lucia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Vanuatu, Nauru and Tonga.
Another five states which supported the resolution last year abstained this time – Honduras, Jamaica, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda and Lesotho.
Moving in the other direction, Liberia, Cape Verde and Belize abstained this year, having opposed the OIC resolution in 2008; and Congo moved from abstaining last year, to supporting the resolution this time.
The OIC argues that Islam and its teachings, symbols and prophetic figures are being denigrated by non-Muslims as a result of ignorance, fear and prejudice.
But critics charge that the OIC is trying to shield Islam, Islamic practices and clerics from legitimate examination, noting that it is in some Islamic countries themselves that non-Muslim beliefs and activities are proscribed.
The drive to have defamation of religion outlawed has triggered a growing counter-campaign by freedom of expression groups, humanist organizations, and advocates for the rights of Christians and other non-Muslim minorities in the Islamic world, including coverts from Islam who are considered “apostates.”
Although the resolutions are non-binding, they are taking place in conjunction with a separate OIC-led push to have an existing, legally-binding anti-racism treaty, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), amended to cover speech deemed as religiously defamatory.
In a letter written to member states ahead of the vote, Angela Wu, international law director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – a leading opponent of the resolutions – argued that the measures “provide international support for domestic blasphemy laws that have been used by oppressive regimes to silence, rather than protect, vulnerable minorities and dissenters.”
Wu contested the very concept of religious defamation, saying the human rights law systems is meant to protect individuals, not ideas or religions.
|December 18, 2009
|Web Site Invites Churches to Engage in Online Mission
(Christian Post) Churches are invited to involve their congregants in online mission work through a recently launched Web site that brings spiritual seekers to them.
The GmoAlwaysReady Web site is an online missions program available to all churches. Congregants can volunteer to receive e-mails from seekers that are found through the multiple Web sites of the internet outreach ministry Global Media Outreach.
“Our online presence shows us daily – moment by moment – that the fields are indeed ripe to harvest, yet the laborers are few,” said Walt Wilson, GMO founder and chair. “More online missionaries are needed. GmoAlwaysReady.com is the portal for churches to begin their online missions program and answer the call of the Great Commission.”
Churches that join the program will receive accountability reports on the number of people reached. They can also have live, up-to-the-minute statistics on people indicating decisions for Christ and the number of e-mails coming in through GMO Web sites.
"Through GMO Always Ready, I have access to a system that gives unbelievable resources. It comes every single day, it has great flexibility and it gives me the capability of getting my congregation involved in making disciples of all nations," said Rob Jackson, pastor of Forestville Baptist in Greenville, S.C.
He added, "It will very quickly ramp your energy level, your commitment level and your giving level up to a place you`ve never seen before with regard to reaching the world.”
Due to high volumes of e-mails, GMO has asked Northland, A Church Distributed, a well-known megachurch in Florida, to recruit and train 5,000 online missionaries by 2010.
But even with the help of Northland, the Internet ministry says it needs an additional 3,000, or a total of 10,000, online missionaries to meet the demand.
GMO has more than 90 Web sites and over 3,000 online missionaries. The ministry says the Internet and other technologies are effective tools in sharing the love of Christ and plan of salvation around the world.
Since its founding in 2004, GMO has seen the number of decisions for Christ increase from 21,066 people annually to more than 3 million people in 2008. In the months of June, July and August, there were more than 1 million people who indicated decisions for Christ in each of those months.
The ministry, which is the media arm of Campus Crusade for Christ, projects around 5 million decisions this year.
|December 18, 2009
|Celebs to kids: America stinks!
`55 rich white men drafted Constitution to protect their class – slaveholders`
Hollywood celebrities and education gurus have teamed together to distribute to schools across the country a dramatic new curriculum that casts American history as an epic march of victims seeking to shrug off the shackles of the warmongering, racist, capitalist, imperialist United States.
The History Channel`s airing of the "The People Speak" last night marks the public coming-out party of a movement that has been in place since last year to teach America`s school children a "social justice" brand of history that rails against war, oppression, capitalism and popular patriotism. The television special featuring performances by Matt Damon, Benjamin Bratt, Marisa Tomei, Don Cheadle, Bruce Springsteen and others condemns the nation`s past of oppression by the wealthy, powerful and imperialist and instead trumpets the voices of America`s labor unions, minorities and protesters of various stripes.
The accompanying curriculum guide for schools that show "The People Speak" in classrooms, for example, highlights an 1852 reading from abolitionist Frederick Douglass:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
The program and discussion guide is the most ambitious resource among many offered to America`s schools by the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration of Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, as part of a push to encourage history instruction based on educator Howard Zinn`s 1980 tome exposing the abuses of America`s past, "A People`s History of the United States."
The project states its goal is to "introduce students to a more accurate, complex and engaging understanding of United States history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula. … Zinn`s `A People`s History of the United States` emphasizes the role of working people, women, people of color and organized social movements in shaping history. Students learn that history is made not by a few heroic individuals, but instead by people`s choices and actions, thereby also learning that their own choices and actions matter."
The History Channel, furthermore, touts "The People Speak" as a program that "gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history, forging a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice. … `The People Speak` illustrates the relevance of these passionate historical moments to our society today and reminds us never to take liberty for granted."
The celebrities featured in "The People Speak" claim the stories of bold protesters and oppressed minorities and workers are "inspiring," while Zinn himself has stated that casting history as a people`s movement toward change offers hope.
Critics of the Zinn Project, however, warn that the curriculum is more about pushing Zinn`s admitted pacifist and socialist agenda on the next generation.
Michelle Malkin blasts "The People Speak" as an effort to promote "Marxist academic Howard Zinn`s capitalism-bashing, America-dissing, grievance-mongering history textbook, `A People`s History of the United States.` … Zinn`s work is a self-proclaimed `biased account` of American history that rails against white oppressors, the free market and the military."
The first two pages of Zinn`s book demonstrate why Malkin and other critics might judge "A People`s History of the United States" as inherently socialist propaganda:
"These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like the Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable … for their hospitality, their belief in sharing," Zinn writes. "These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus."
"The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold?" Zinn writes, before pointing out of 1492 Spain, "Its population, mostly poor peasants, worked for the nobility, who were two percent of the population and owned 95 percent of the land."
The curriculum accompanying Zinn`s book also contains questions and activities that recast American history in a victim vs. oppressor light:
"In one article included at the Zinn Education Project website, I describe how I introduce my classes to the problematic notion of Columbus` `discovery of America,`" writes Bill Bigelow, curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and author of an article the project recommends reading to understand its goals, "A People`s History, A People`s Pedagogy."
"I steal a student`s purse," Bigelow continues. "I do everything I can to get students to agree with me that `Nomika`s` purse is in fact my purse: I demonstrate that I control it; I take items out and claim them (Nomika has been alerted in advance, but other students don`t know that), and I insist that it is my purse.
"When I lose this argument with the class, I offer to `recast the act of purse acquisition,` and tell students that I didn`t steal Nomika`s purse, I discovered it. Now it`s mine, right?" he explains.
He continues: "`So,` I ask them, `if I didn`t discover Nomika`s purse, then why do some people say that Columbus discovered America? What are some other terms that we could use to describe his actions?` He stole America; he took it; he ripped it off; he invaded it.
"In a five- or ten-minute simulation," Bigelow concludes, "students can begin to see what Howard Zinn argues throughout his work: that how we frame the past invariably takes sides. And when we use terms like `discovery` – or even the seemingly more neutral `encounter` – our language sides with the ones who came out on top."
Zinn himself explains his approach, "I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican War as seen by the deserting soldiers of Scott`s army, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills, of the Spanish-American war as seen by the Cubans, the conquest of the Philippines as seen by the black soldiers on Luzon, the Gilded Age as seen by southern farmers, the First World War as seen by socialists, the Second World War as seen by pacifists, the New Deal as seen by blacks in Harlem, the postwar American empire as seen by peons in Latin America."
A new approach to patriotism
While critics have alleged Zinn`s education plan tears down America and its famous founders, a lesson plan titled "Unsung Heroes" begins with "an essay by Zinn defending his philosophy of education.
Zinn writes, "A high school student recently confronted me: `I read in your book "A People`s History of the United States" about the massacres of Indians, the long history of racism, the persistence of poverty in the richest country in the world, the senseless wars. How can I keep from being thoroughly alienated and depressed?`
"It`s a question I`ve heard many times before," Zinn writes. "Another question often put to me by students is: `Don`t we need our national idols? You are taking down all our national heroes – the Founding Fathers, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy.` Granted, it is good to have historical figures we can admire and emulate. But why hold up as models the 55 rich white men who drafted the Constitution as a way of establishing a government that would protect the interests of their class – slaveholders, merchants, bondholders, land speculators?"
Curriculum writer Bill Bigelow further explains of the popular perception of what it means to be patriotic, "There is a lot of `us,` and `we,` and `our,` as if the texts are trying to dissolve race, class and gender realities into the melting pot of `the nation.`"
But Bigelow rejects the idea of identifying America as one, solid union.
"A people`s history and pedagogy ought to allow students to recognize that `we` were not necessarily the ones stealing land, dropping bombs or breaking strikes," he concludes. "`We` were ending slavery, fighting for women`s rights, organizing unions, marching against wars, and trying to create a society premised on the Golden Rule."
His point is crystallized in a lesson plan he created for the Zinn project about the Pledge of Allegiance called "One Country! One Language! One Flag!"
The plan points out that the lesson`s title was actually a chant that followed the original Pledge – written in 1892 – as schoolchildren saluted with an extended arm, palm downward. The traditional gesture was replaced by a hand to the heart, the lesson points out, after Germany`s Nazis began using the same salute to shout "Heil Hitler!" in the 1930s.
"It seems to me that teachers ought to know something about the history of the Pledge before we ask our students to repeat it," Bigelow writes. "How has it been used, and by whom? Why not lead kids in the original Pledge to the Flag, including the `One Language!` chant and the Nazi-like salute, and then lead a discussion about the politics of the Pledge."
The curriculum itself instructs students: "Read over the original words of the Pledge. In 1892, who did and did not have liberty and justice in the United States? (In the 1880s in the South, over 100 African Americans were lynched yearly; segregation was the norm and would soon be ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. Women could not vote. In the previous 50 years, Mexicans had been stripped of land and property in what had been their country. Discrimination and violence against Chinese immigrants had grown increasingly severe. In the summer of 1892, 8,000 Pennsylvania National Guardsmen had helped Henry Clay Frick break the union at the Carnegie Steel Co. in Homestead, Pa.) How about in the 1920s, when the Pledge was introduced more widely into the schools?"
The spread of the Zinn Educational Project
According to a Zinn Educational Project report, in April 2008, with support from an anonymous donor, ZEP partnered with 32 organizations to offer 31,000 teachers and teacher educators free packets for instilling the "people`s history" in schools across the country. The ZEP reports it quickly received requests for its available 4,000 free packets, nearly half of which were sent to schools in California, New York and Illinois.
The ZEP website boasts many of the teachers have begun implementing the curriculum and has published the following testimonials:
"These resources are an asset," reportedly responded Meaghan Martin, an elementary school teacher in Manassas, Va. "We are always looking for ways to offer students a critical perspective. The unsung heroes unit is outstanding! I have tailored it to meet the needs of my 2nd graders when we study American biographies."
Lara Emerling, a middle school teacher in Baltimore, Md., reportedly replied, "Knowing that resources like the Zinn Education Project exist make me feel so hopeful about the network of people who are engaged in this kind of dialogue with their students. I am a young, white female living in Baltimore and teaching at an all black middle school. These resources are so valuable to me personally and to the relationships being built between the students and the faculty. Thank you to everyone involved in keeping this collaboration evolving!"
Zinn himself has testified of his hope that the project will continue to spread.
"We`re dreamers," writes Zinn. "We want it all. We want a peaceful world. We want an egalitarian world. We don`t want war. We don`t want capitalism. We want a decent society."
|December 18, 2009
|Hot Christmas gift: Suicide pills
(Warning: This story contains content that may offend some readers.)
Elderly people are now buying their loved ones suicide kits as Christmas gifts, according to a prominent euthanasia physician nicknamed "Dr. Death."
Dr. Philip Nitschke, founder of Exit International and author of "The Peaceful Pill Handbook," has explained the use of legal drugs, inert gases, plastic bags and other methods for committing suicide to audiences all over the world, including in U.S. cities such as San Francisco, Calif., and Anaheim, Calif.
He told Australia`s Herald-Sun a so-called "peaceful pill" is being developed from Nembutal, the favored drug for ending life. Nembutal is the same drug that killed famous actress Marilyn Monroe. It`s mostly used by veterinarians as an anesthetic and euthanasia drug for animals.
The drug is widely available in Mexico for around $30 a bottle, and Nitschke told ABC News in September he has accompanied terminally ill patients to buy the drug.
"You pour it into a glass. You drink it. You follow that with your whiskey, and I`ve never seen anyone finish their whiskey," he said. "They put the glass down, and they`re gone – gone to sleep, and death follows shortly thereafter. To the outside observer, nothing looks more peaceful."
Nitschke conducts closed workshops around the world, open to people older than 50 who pay $40 and are of "sound mind." He also sells testing kits that detect levels of Nembutal.
According to his biography, in 1996, Nitschke "became the first physician to administer a legal, lethal voluntary injection, under the world`s first assisted-suicide law – the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act of Australia."
Nitschke told ABC News, "I bought a machine. They pressed a button on the machine. The machine delivered the drugs, and they died in the arms of the persons they loved. … I knew I was doing the right thing."
He helped four people kill themselves before the law was overturned. Nitschke argued that if he weren`t providing the information, people "would probably go out and hang themselves."
"This is peaceful. It`s quick. It works," he said of one suggested inert gas method.
Asked why he was promoting the "peaceful pill" for Christmas, Nitschke told the Herald-Sun his methods would always attract criticism.
"Our main opposition is from religious groups who would still be getting outraged at Easter, or any other time of year for that matter," he said in a "peaceful pill" seminar Dec. 16. "There are people here in this room who I know have bought that (euthanasia medication) for their loved ones as Christmas presents."
Right to Life Australia Queensland coordinator Graham Preston said, "A pill to kill yourself and your loved one as a Christmas present is absolutely reprehensible."
Nitschke`s "The Peaceful Pill Handbook" also includes information on the use of an "exit bag." His website features a video called "Doing it with Betty," in which a nurse explains how to assemble a plastic hood used to place over a suicidal person`s head.
She even suggests people get their hair done if they "want to look nice."
"At Exit International, we believe that with knowledge comes self-determination," Nitschke`s website states, "and that means a good life and good death."
|December 18, 2009
|Efforts to Boost Birth Rate Failing in China
(LifeSiteNews.com) - The city of Shanghai`s efforts to reverse more than 30 years of anti-child government propaganda, and boost the city`s flagging birth rate are not being well received by the public, a report in the Washington Post says.
The Chinese government is allowing couples to have second children and are considering more easing of the country`s one-child policy. But the results of the new permissions, some officials say, have been disappointing.
In Shanghai, posters and leaflets telling people how to apply for permits to have more children have replaced anti-child propaganda, but, officials complain, the number of births in the city in 2010 is not expected to rise significantly.
Despite these efforts, in Huinan township, with a population of 115,000, officials only receive four to five applications for children a month and in Shanghai the number of births in the city in 2010 is still expected to be only about 165,000, lower than 2008.
The Post quoted Shanghai residents Wang Weijia and her husband who said that they had no intention of having another child. "We have already given all our time and energy for just one child. We have none left for a second," said Wang.
According to UN reports, since the implementation of the policy in 1979, the birth rate in China has plummeted from an average of six children per woman to the current rate of 1.8. The number of people over 60 is expected to grow from 16.7 per cent of the population in 2020 to 31.1 per cent by 2050. Last year, people 60 and older accounted for almost 22 per cent of Shanghai`s registered residents.
The Post quotes Xie Lingli, director of the Shanghai Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission, who said that fertile couples need to have babies to "help reduce the proportion of the aging population and alleviate a workforce shortage in the future."
Shanghai will become "as old, though not as rich, as developed countries such as Japan and Sweden," she said.
At the same time, Chinese delegates to the UN conference on climate change currently underway in Copenhagen, have defended their country`s policy saying it has helped them to reduce carbon emissions. The Copenhagen conference opened at the same time as the UN Population Fund released a report calling for the reduction of the human population in the interest of the environment.
|December 18, 2009
|Evangelicals in Canada Fight to Preserve Hiring Policy
(Christian Post) The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada began on Tuesday defending in court the rights of religious organizations to hire people based on their religious beliefs.
In the landmark religious freedom case Heintz v. Christian Horizons, the Superior Court of Ontario will consider whether to uphold an earlier ruling that a faith-based organization involved in social work cannot require an employee to share its same religious beliefs and service commitment.
If the Superior Court does uphold the ruling, then it will significantly impact the operations and identities of churches, Christian public service organizations, denominations and higher education institutions across Canada, the EFC warned.
“Canada has a long history of accepting religious differences and allowing them to exist peacefully,” said EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel Don Hutchinson, who noted that Canada, unlike the United States, has no constitutional concept of separation of church and state.
Federal and provincial governments have historically funded activities conducted by religious organizations that benefit the public such as ones related to education, health services and care for special-needs individuals.
“There are a variety of public service organizations, both religious and non-religious, that are selective in their employment to ensure a common motivation and to maximize the use of charitable and public dollars,” Hutchinson asserted.
The current case was sparked when a former employee of faith-based ministry Christian Horizons resigned because she felt she could no longer live according to the commitment of the group’s Statement of Faith and Lifestyle Policy that she was required to sign. After resigning, she filed a human rights complaint.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Christian Horizons, which cares for and supports over 1,400 developmentally disabled Canadians, cannot discriminate against employees because of their religious beliefs.
“This decision was shocking,” said Faye Sonier, EFC legal counsel. “It’s inconsistent with long-standing Supreme Court jurisprudence that clearly sets out that people of faith can choose to gather for ministry works and service – this has been confirmed as an extension of their right to freedom of religion.”
For more than 40 years, Christian Horizons has cared for thousands of disabled individuals in Canada. The government of Canada has repeatedly recognized the ministry’s work, which helped move the provincial-wide model of care from institutional care in favor of residential care.
As a result of its success, the ministry expanded significantly to meet the need. Christian Horizons employs over 2,500 people to provide housing, care and support to developmentally disabled individuals.
Hutchinson, who also directs the EFC’s Center for Faith and Public Life, said that if the lower court’s decision stands then religious ministries “will have the very foundation for their public service stripped from beneath them, forcing them to re-evaluate their ability to provide those services.”
“Christian service is an integral extension and expression of the Evangelical Christian faith,” the EFC legal counsel said. “To attempt to sever that link misunderstands the very ethos and motivation that undergirds the Christian care and compassion for others. What this case comes down to is the ability of a recognized religious community, that’s doing good not harm, to define its own beliefs, practices and standards of membership.”
The court case is scheduled to take place from Dec. 15 to 17.
|December 16, 2009
|Massachusetts father defends claim that boy, 8, was sent home from school for Jesus Drawing
(FoxNews) A Massachusetts father is standing by claims that his 8-year-old son was sent home from school after the boy drew a stick figure of Jesus on a crucifix.
Chester Johnson, 40, said his son did indeed draw the picture circulated to reporters and that Taunton School District that officials later said was not the same drawing discovered by the second-grade student`s teacher earlier this month.
"I swear to God, on my grave, you could kill me if I`m lying," Johnson, 40, told FoxNews.com. "I wouldn`t make nothing up. This is the holiday season — I don`t have time for that."
Johnson, who said he works for the Taunton School District as a part-time custodian, said his hours have been cut since the controversy made headlines locally and nationally.
"It`s put a toll on me," Johnson said. "Now I`m trying to get a transfer."
Taunton School District officials did not immediately respond on Wednesday to Johnson`s claims, including whether he was employed by the district.
In a written statement issued late Tuesday, school officials said the boy was never suspended over the sketch.
"This report is totally inaccurate, and the student was never suspended," the statement read.
The school claims the incident took place nearly two weeks ago and says the incident was handled "appropriately."
School officials also denied Johnson`s claim that students were asked to draw something that reminded them of Christmas or another holiday.
"Contrary to what has been reported, there was no request or assignment by the teacher for students to sketch something that reminded them of Christmas or any religious holiday," the statement continued.
Johnson said his son made the drawing on Dec. 2 after his teacher asked children to sketch something that reminded them of the holiday season.
Johnson, who is African-American, told WBZ-TV that he suspected racism was involved, but revised that assessment when asked by FoxNews.com.
"No, I want to take that out," Johnson said. "I don`t want to use the race card. This is God we`re talking about, we`re past that."
Johnson told the Taunton Daily Gazette. which first reported the story on Tuesday, that his son gets specialized reading and speech instruction and has never been violent in school.
An educational consultant working with the Johnson family said the teacher was also alarmed when the boy drew Xs for Jesus` eyes.
The boy was cleared to return to school on Dec. 7 after the evaluation found nothing to indicate that he posed a threat to himself or others. But his father said the boy was traumatized by the incident and the school district has approved the family`s request to have the child transferred to another school.
"They owe my family an apology and the kid an apology and they need to work with my son (to) the best of their ability to get him back to where he was before all this happened," Johnson told New England Cable News.
Johnson said in the days before the incident the family had gone to the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, which displays crucifixion statues.
"That was fresh on his mind," he told NECN. "And that was a good thing that he saw."
Superintendent Julie Hackett said she could not discuss an individual student and did not address the drawing specifically or the teacher`s reaction to it, but did say the school has safety protocols in place that were followed.
"It is unfortunate that the actions of our district staff have been classified as `religious` in nature when, in fact, they were based solely on the wellbeing of the student," the school said in a statement.
In June 2008, a Taunton fifth-grade student was suspended for a day for a stick figure drawing that appeared to depict him shooting his teacher and a classmate.
|December 15, 2009
|Eye-Witness Teacher Says Safe Schools Czar Present at "Fistgate" Conference
(LifeSiteNews.com) New details on President Barack Obama`s "Safe Schools Czar" Kevin Jennings have emerged, as an eye-witness has finally broken her silence and says that Jennings was present at Tufts University during the infamous "Fistgate" scandal, and says that he bears personal responsibility for the event.
Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit reports that a Massachusetts teacher - who remains anonymous out of concern for herself and her family - told him that she saw Jennings in 2000 at the 10 Year Anniversary Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN)/Boston conference at Tufts University.
At that time Jennings was the executive director of GLSEN, an organization which he founded. The event, cosponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Education, featured a youth workshop on sex, specifically targeting 14-21-year-olds. During that workshop GLSEN presenters taught youth how to perform a dangerous sexual practice known as "fisting" - a practice so obscene that it cannot be described here.
The Massachusetts teacher said that Jennings was the keynote speaker for GLSEN`s conference, and was "touted as this wonderful person who helped children so that they wouldn`t be harassed by parents, and accepted in society."
"It sounds really good, because there`s not a single teacher I know that wants any child to be mistreated," the teacher told Hoft. She said she did not expect the conference would lead into the sexually graphic workshops, which promoted sex between adults and children.
The teacher also snapped a picture of Jennings showing him getting a lunch ticket at the event.
Hoft asked, "There`s no way that Kevin Jennings could have been at this conference and not know that there was this explosive sexual speeches, talks, materials around the conference."
"This whole conference was his dream and his mindset. This was his vision from the very beginning," said the teacher.
Jennings has publically stated that he dreamed of "promoting homosexuality" in schools; he has also come under fire over revelations that GLSEN promoted a pornographic reading list to children grades 7 - 12, both during and after his tenure as executive director.
These books included explicit descriptions of pre-school children engaging in sexual acts; stories portraying child-adult sexual relationships in a positive light, homosexual sex in restrooms, affairs between students and teachers, and other content too extreme to be described here. (See Gateway Pundit coverage: WARNING: Content extremely graphic)
Jennings also is a professed admirer of Harry Hay, a radical homosexual rights activist, ardent promoter of pedophilia and the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).
When news of the seminars at the GLSEN conference broke in the early 2000s, Jennings denied he knew that GLSEN presenters were promoting these activities to youth. He stated: "We need to make our expectations and guidelines to outside facilitators much more clear, because we are surprised and troubled by some of the accounts we`ve heard." Jennings, however, also criticized the Massachusetts parents who taped the event that exposed the scandal.
However, next year`s GLSEN conference at Tufts belied Jennings`s public commitment to eliminating any repetition of the "Fistgate" scandal. Campus police maintained a strict ban on cameras and video-recorders at the 2001 GLSEN event, but the pro-family group "Mass Resistance" - which exposed the previous conference to the Boston media - was able to obtain Planned Parenthood "fisting kits" made available at the conference.
In defense of Jennings, the socially-liberal organization Media Matters commented that "neither Hoft nor the anonymous teacher provide any actual evidence that Jennings knew the specific explicit content that would be discussed at that workshop."
But page eight of the "Teach Out" conference schedule - available from Mass Resistence - describes the "youth-only" workshop called, "What They Didn`t Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class."
A description for this workshop states: "This workshop for youth addresses what is different for glbt [sic] youth when it comes to sex, dating, relationships, HIV, etc. Come and discuss the questions you couldn`t or didn`t ask in health class … What does it mean to identify as queer and still be sexually active with the opposite sex … We will address the information you want about queer sexuality and some of the politics that prevent us from getting our needs met."
"Remember, the buck stops with him. [Jennings] was the head of all of this," the teacher told Hoft.
Jennings` insistence that he bore no responsibility for scandal makes no sense, she said, for the reason that, "He brought in all of the people that would agree with him as any administrator would do. You bring in people who agree with you, who you can work with."
President Barack Obama appointed Jennings as deputy assistant to the Office of Safe Schools in the Department of Education on July 6. According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Jennings is "uniquely qualified for the job."
The Gateway Pundit interview with the Massachusetts Teacher is available here.
|December 15, 2009
|Family says Rancho Cucamonga commits religious discrimination
(Daily Bulletin) A family claims they`re in the crosshairs of city officials for hosting Christian gatherings in their home.
Joe and Diana Johnson say the city has been harassing them for hosting Bible studies in their rented house on Highgate Drive after a code enforcement officer determined the couple is disrupting the neighborhood by running a church there.
"We`re not going anywhere," Diana Johnson said. "The Bible says (Christians) will suffer persecution for Christ. We realize they are not angry with us. They are angry with God."
The situation illustrates the struggle city and county code enforcement officials face in striking a balance between the freedoms and wishes of differing neighbors.
"We want to help people co-exist while not infringing on other people`s rights," said David Wert, spokesman for San Bernardino County. "The emphasis is on creating rules to help everyone get what they want."
The Johnsons said the problem started when a neighbor snapped photographs of them in their home.
"We were sitting in the family room having Bible study," Diana Johnson said. "I see flashes of light. He`s hanging over the fence and taking pictures."
The Johnsons said the incident was followed by a visit in September from a code enforcement officer who told them they were operating a church in violation of city code and would need permits that cost thousands of dollars.
They claim the officer threatened to report them to the District Attorney`s office.
Word of the trouble spread up and down the block.
Neighbors attributed excessive cars on the street to the family`s meetings, they said. The Johnsons received a phone call from their landlord telling them the city wanted them to remove advertisements for their meetings from a Web site designed for their counseling ministry, and from another online page.
The city also told the family to remove a banner from their front yard advertising their Sunday morning gatherings. The Johnsons said the banner was a holdover from when they attempted to start a church at a community center before Joe Johnson became ill in March.
The Johnsons, who have been hosting family Bible studies and prayer meetings for more than 16 years in their current and former homes, said they wanted to use the banner as a marker for relatives coming from outside the region to worship and pray for their sick father.
Holding church in a residential zone is unlawful without a condional use permit, said James L. Markman, an attorney for the city.
"I don`t believe that sign was there because their relatives couldn`t find a house," he said. "That Web site didn`t say only family members admitted."
Markman said the activities conducted by the Johnsons could constitute church meetings.
"Bible study is a typical thing you do with a church activity," he said. "You might notice other things start happening, (such as) taking donations."
The Johnsons said the code enforcement officer told them he had received reports they were singing gospel songs, reading the Bible and taking offerings.
Trang Huynh, the director of building and safety for Rancho Cucamonga, confirmed the city received anonymous complaints.
"I think when people saw the banner in the front yard, the neighbors got nervous about it," he said.
Officials said they want to prevent potential nuisance problems, such as parking and noise if such groups grow unwieldy.
"Can you imagine if everybody turned their house into a church?" Markman asked.
But an attorney for the Johnsons said the city`s position is nothing more than religious discrimination.
"The legal principle is that the government may not treat a religious gathering any differently than a non-religious gathering," said Dean Broyles, president of the Escondido-based Western Center for Law and Policy. "Let`s say 20 people come over to their neighbor`s house and watch Monday Night Football. Our position is if the city allows that, they have to allow 20 Christians to come over for a Bible study."
Broyles earlier this year represented a pastor who was issued a warning from a San Diego County code enforcement officer for holding a Bible study in his home. The county in May issued an apology to the pastor after the incident gained international attention.
Broyles said he was surprised to see a similar issue pop up so soon.
"I would definitely say the city was unnecessarily aggressive and didn`t really understand what was happening at the home," he said.
He commended Rancho Cucamonga`s attorneys for notifying him in a November letter that the city would not require a permit of the Johnsons at this time.
But he is concerned the city may unfairly target the family in the future, because the letter also stated:
"Pleased be advised that the City will continue to monitor the situation. If at any time your clients are again operating a church on their property, the City will have no choice but to require them to obtain a (conditional use permit)."
Markman said the city isn`t trying to tamper with the family`s First Amendment rights.
"If they are reaching out to a general public and it comes to light they are conducting church activities without a permit, we`ll come to odds," he said.
The Johnsons said they won`t raise their banner again, but the gatherings will continue.
The retired California Department of Corrections officers say they don`t fear the city - or much else.
"We`re not going to stop doing what we`re doing and they`re just going to have to do what they have to do," Diana Johnson said.
They do however worry for the safety of their loved ones who live with them and those who visit. They said some of the neighbors have changed from friendly to hostile since the episode with the city, and the Johnsons fear there may be underlying racial issues.
Joe Johnson said he is taking steps to protect his family.
"And I`ll let God deal with the rest of it," he said.
|December 15, 2009
|Pot advocates claim signatures for ballot issue
(SF Gate) Advocates of legalizing marijuana say they`ve collected more than enough signatures to have California voters decide next year whether to tax and regulate the drug.
The signatures in support of the Tax and Regulate Initiative, which would give local governments the authority to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana, will be submitted to state election officials early next year for verification.
Delaying the submission of signatures improves the chances that the measure will be on the ballot in November, said Richard Lee, the measure`s chief supporter.
The petition drive collected more than 680,000 signatures in two months, less than half the time allowed for such a drive, said Lee, who owns two marijuana businesses in Oakland - Oaksterdam University and Coffeeshop Blue Sky.
The signature-gathering effort, which was managed by a professional firm and so far has cost more than $1 million, needs 433,971 valid signatures from registered voters to make the ballot, he said.
"It`s long overdue," Lee said. "It was very easy. People were eager to sign. We heard they were ripping the petitions out of people`s hands to do it."
He said supporters hope to raise $7 million to $20 million to pass the measure. Law enforcement groups, including a group of narcotics officers, are expected to oppose the measure if the initiative qualifies for the ballot.
Proponents of the initiative say it is similar to the regulation of alcohol and tobacco products. It would give local governments the power to tax and regulate sales of small amounts of marijuana to adults 21 and older.
The measure also calls for increasing penalties for providing marijuana to a minor and prohibits consumption of marijuana in public, smoking marijuana while minors are present and possession of marijuana on school grounds.
Supporters say studies from the Board of Equalization, California`s tax regulator, suggest that taxing and regulating of marijuana could raise as much as $1.4 billion in annual revenue.
The possibility of raising such revenue in cash-strapped California, which faces a $22 billion budget deficit in the coming year, has sparked support from some surprising sources.
"This initiative is moral, sensible and the right thing to do," Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, an effort by religious groups to ease drug laws, said Monday. "Regulating cannabis is a common-sense solution that puts our priorities in order and reflects our values."
A recent California Field Poll suggested that a majority of California voters, 56 percent, support the idea of legalizing and taxing cannabis.
|December 14, 2009
|Gay Activists Target Signers Of The Manhattan Declaration
(Philadelphia Bulletin) Same-sex marriage proponents are threatening to cause disruptions in the diocese of every bishop who signed the Manhattan Declaration, a statement calling on Christians to stand up for their belief in the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.
A post appearing on GayBuzz.blogspot on Nov. 28 calls upon gay activists to punish Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland, Ca., for signing the declaration.
“It is time we let Bishop Cordileone know there are consequences for his actions,” the blogger states. “Is anyone up for a rally in front of the Oakland Diocese or a disruption of services? Let me know and I’m happy to help organize.”
After listing an address where people could write to the bishop, the blogger goes on to say: “By the way, here are the other Catholic cardinals and bishops who signed the Manhattan Declaration.” Listed are the names of the 17 bishops who signed the Declaration to date.
The blogger goes on to cite Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate who refers to the 152 framers of the document as “zealots” who “drafted, approved and signed their Declaration of War on full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans last week. They threw in some other societal beefs, just to try and mask the overriding issue, their fervent opposition to same-sex marriage.”
The Manhattan Declaration is a 4,700 word declaration crafted by a coalition of prominent Christian clergy, ministry leaders, and scholars addressing the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. The declaration issues “a clarion call” to Christians to adhere to their convictions and informs civil authorities that the signers will not “under any circumstance abandon their Christian consciences.”
The most controversial remarks in the Manhattan Declaration concern the pledge to refuse to comply with any laws that compel any citizen to do something they believe to be unjust or immoral.
“…We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act,” the document states, “nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriage or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”
The Manhattan Declaration can be found at http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/
|December 12, 2009
|Fast-Growing Christian Churches Crushed in China
(AP) Towering eight stories over wheat fields, the Golden Lamp Church was built to serve nearly 50,000 worshippers in the gritty heart of China`s coal country.
But that was before hundreds of police and hired thugs descended on the mega-church, smashing doors and windows, seizing Bibles and sending dozens of worshippers to hospitals with serious injuries, members and activists say.
Today, the church`s co-pastors are in jail. The gates to the church complex in the northern province of Shanxi are locked and a police armored personnel vehicle sits outside.
The closure of what may be China`s first mega-church is the most visible sign that the communist government is determined to rein in the rapid spread of Christianity, with a crackdown in recent months that church leaders call the harshest in years.
Authorities describe the actions against churches as stemming from land disputes, but the congregations under attack are among the most successful in China`s growing "house church" movement, which rejects the state-controlled church in favor of liturgical independence and a more passionate, evangelical outlook.
While the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Christians are required to worship in churches run by state-controlled organizations: The Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestants and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association for Roman Catholics.
But more and more Chinese are opting to choose their own churches, despite them being technically illegal and subject to police harassment. Christians worshipping in China`s independent churches are believed to number upwards of 60 million, compared to about 20 million who worship in the state church, according to numbers provided by scholars and church activists.
House churches have been around for decades, but their growth has accelerated in recent decades, producing larger and larger congregations that are far more conspicuous than the small groups of friends and neighbors that used to worship in private homes, giving the movement its name.
Their expansion and growing influence has deeply unsettled China`s rulers, always suspicious of any independent social group that could challenge communist authority. Fears that Tibetan Buddhism and Islam promote separatism among Tibetans and Uighurs also drive restrictions on those religions.
"They are so afraid of rallying points developing for gathering of elements of civil society," said Daniel Bays, who follows Chinese Christianity at Calvin College, a religious school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
While house churches have faced varying degrees of repression depending on the region and political climate, the latest crackdown appears to specifically target the largest congregations.
Authorities want to dismantle large churches "before they grow out of total control," said Bob Fu, a former Communist Party researcher in Beijing who now heads the China Aid Association, a Texas-based church monitoring group.
At least two other large churches have recently faced similar crackdowns.
In Beijing in October, authorities locked parishioners of Shouwang house church out of the space they had rented to worship in. In Shanghai, the Wangbang congregation faced a similar lockout. Both congregations had grown to more than 1,000 members.
Shouwang and Wangbang church leaders have not been detained, but activists fear further arrests are coming.
In a brief phone conversation, Wangbang`s pastor Cui Quan said worship continued in small groups while he fought to have their lease restored. He declined to give other details.
Christianity was long associated with foreign interference in traditionally Buddhist and Taoist China, and came under heavy attack after the 1949 Communist revolution.
The most onerous restrictions were lifted after the death of communist leader Mao Zedong in 1976. Although Christians still account for a less than 10 percent of China`s 1.3 billion people, recent years have seen rapid growth in house churches in both cities and rural areas,
Adding to official concerns about their numbers, house-church Christians also emphasize missionary work — illegal in China — and some have even operated an underground network to help smuggle North Korean refugees and Uighurs out of China in defiance of the security forces.
The Golden Lamp Church was built by husband and wife evangelists Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli as a permanent home for their followers, whose numbers had soared to more than 50,000.
The couple, administrators at the provincial teachers` college, had been preaching in the region around the city of Linfen since 1992, establishing a network of three dozen communities meeting in improvised spaces such as factory dormitories and greenhouses. They also attracted thousands to tent revival meetings.
According to Bob Fu, Shanxi authorities grumbled as the church was being built last year, but did not try to stop work and offered few, if any, signs that an impending crackdown.
On a rainy Sunday in mid-September, some 400 police officers and hired thugs descended on more than a dozen church properties around Linfen, smashing doors and windows and hauling off computers, Bibles, and church funds, according to accounts posted online by church members and their allies.
Those accounts said worshippers who resisted were beaten, with dozens hospitalized with serious injuries.
Wang, Yang, and three other church leaders were convicted on Nov. 25 on charges including illegally occupying agricultural land and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic. Yang, 51, received a seven-year sentence, while Wang, 56, and the others received terms of three to four years. Five others were sentenced without trial to two years in a labor camp.
Other church leaders have gone into hiding.
Courts, police and government officials in Linfen refused to comment on the claims of violence and persecution. A local Communist Party spokesman said only that the case centered on the mega-church`s lack of planning approval.
"We have always supported and allowed everybody to believe in religion. But the church itself is an illegally constructed building," said the spokesman, who would give only his surname, Wang.
A lawyer for Wang and Yang, Li Fangping, said the church had applied for permits to build the church from the local religious affairs bureau and the land use authority, but received no reply.
Almost three months after the crackdown, people in and around Linfen refuse to discuss the church, and police vehicles remain parked on virtually every corner of the neighborhood where the Golden Lamp is located.
|December 12, 2009
|Loophole would allow health coverage limits
Insurance companies could place annual dollar limits on care
(AP) A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurance companies place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer.
Adding to the confusion, the language is tucked away in a clause of the bill captioned "No lifetime or annual limits." Advocates for patients say it fails to deliver on that promise.
"The primary purpose of insurance is to protect people against catastrophic loss," said Stephen Finan, a policy expert with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. "If you put a limit on benefits, by definition it`s going to affect people who are dealing with catastrophic loss."
Democrats on two key committees disagree on the issue of annual limits, and it hasn`t been fully resolved as the Senate presses ahead on President Barack Obama`s health care overhaul.
The legislation that originally passed the Senate health committee last summer would have banned dollar limits on medical coverage, but a second panel — the Finance Committee — disagreed. Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and others feared that an outright ban could drive insurance premiums higher for everyone, and sought to strike a balance.
As currently written, the Senate Democratic health care bill would permit insurance companies to place annual limits on the dollar value of medical care, as long as those limits are not "unreasonable." The bill does not define what level of limits would be allowable, delegating that task to administration officials.
"An important goal of reform is to ensure health insurance premiums are affordable," said Erin Shields, a spokeswoman for Baucus. "Senators want to ensure this provision provides as much consumer protection as possible while keeping premiums affordable, and they`ll continue to review this policy closely as the process moves forward."
The 2,074-page bill would carry out Obama`s plan to revamp the health care system, expanding coverage to millions now uninsured and trying to slow budget-busting cost increases. A tentative deal among Senate Democrats to back away from creating a new government program to compete with private insurers appears to have overcome a major obstacle to passage.
Under both health care bills in Congress, most of the expansion of health insurance coverage won`t take place until three to four years after enactment. Democrats have touted a series of consumer protections as immediate benefits Americans will secure through the legislation. Both the Senate and House bills, for example, ban lifetime limits on the dollar value of coverage.
But Finan said the change in the Senate bill essentially invalidates the legislation`s ban on lifetime limits.
"If you can have annual limits, saying there`s no lifetime limits becomes meaningless," he said. The cost of cancer treatment can exceed $100,000 a year. A patient battling aggressive disease in its later stages could exhaust insurance benefits.
"If you are a cancer patient you could be faced with a situation where you either have to terminate your care, or face a financial catastrophe," said Finan. "We see this kind of situation with some regularity."
It`s unclear how widespread such coverage limits are in the current insurance marketplace. Large employers have moved away from limits, but insurers have wide discretion in designing plans for small businesses and individual customers.
|December 12, 2009
|Copenhagen Anti-Population Push Coming from UN
(LifeSiteNews.com) - Leading up to this month`s conference on "climate change" in Copenhagen, Denmark, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) issued their annual State of World Population 2009 report, in which they called for reducing population in the interest of the environment. The report is further confirmation of the claims made by pro-life leaders that the current environmentalist effort is being used to advance an anti-life agenda.
"Rapid population growth and industrialization have led to a rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions," states UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid. "We have now reached a point where humanity is approaching the brink of disaster."
The UNFPA report, entitled Facing a Changing World: Women, Population, and Climate, was released on November 18th, only weeks prior to the worldwide gathering in Copenhagen. According to C-FAM`s Piero A. Tozzi, the UNFPA used the report to connect current concerns over climate with the organization`s focus on "reproductive rights."
"Critics see the report as a thinly-veiled attempt to harness popular environmental concerns in service of population control," Tozzi stated.
Achieving "universal access to reproductive health," states the report, "would help achieve health and development objectives while also contributing to declines in fertility, which would in turn help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run" (9).
Tozzi points out that the report gives a "favorable citation" to Obama`s science czar, John Holdren, which critics, he says, have seen "as signaling openness to coercive measures." Holdren is a self-described "neo-Malthusian," who has expressed openness to radical population control policies, such as forced abortion and mixing sterilizing agents into drinking water.
Nevertheless, the report explicitly criticizes government-imposed population control, calling instead for greater "access" to "reproductive health" services, which they say ultimately leads to lower fertility rates.
Population control, the report says, "in the sense of Government edicts and targets on fertility levels, has no ethical place in contemporary rights-based policymaking" (67). They advocate, on the other hand, policies that allow women to "decide for themselves if and when to have children and to do so in good health."
"Demographic research has demonstrated for decades that when women and their partners can take advantage of client-focused family planning services, fertility falls," it states.
The UNFPA`s version of allowing women to "decide for themselves," however, would seem to involve indoctrination into their abortive and contraceptive mentality. The report notes that such "family planning" services are especially successful at reducing fertility when combined with "education for girls."
Indeed, in June, the UNFPA released a new document along with UNESCO calling for explicit sexual education, which would deal with sex, "reproductive," and "gender" issues, for all the world`s children over five years old. The document purported to take a "rights-based approach," including "sexual and reproductive rights," and the "right and access to safe abortion."
The report notes that the connection between climate and population have been raised leading up to Copenhagen, pointing specifically to a proposal from the European Union "that population trends be among the factors that should be taken into consideration when setting greenhouse-gas mitigation targets" (20).
Population control has, in fact, become a key issue at the Copenhagen conference, after delegates from China raised the issue. According to Zhao Baige, vice-minister of the country`s National Population and Family Planning Commission, "Population and climate change are intertwined, but the population issue has remained a blind spot when countries discuss ways to mitigate climate change and slow down global warming."
The UNFPA has, in fact, been complicit in China`s population control regime. New evidence released this summer documented the continuing coercive practices taking place in the UNFPA`s six Chinese "model counties," which include forced abortions and arrests of pregnant women.
See the UNFPA`s State of World Population 2009 report.
|December 11, 2009
|Fontana ACORN rep to run for mayor
(The Sun) The next mayor here might rise from the ranks of one of the most polarizing activist groups in the nation.
Bobbi Jo Chavarria, an organizing committee member of the ACORN chapter in Fontana, filed paperwork Thursday with the city clerk announcing her intention to seek the mayoral seat in the 2010 election.
"The people of Fontana deserve to be listened to and addressed in a thorough manner," Chavarria said. "My experience in the last few months with the(City Council) has gone nowhere."
Chavarria at recent council meetings has called for local officials to denounce the federal 287g Program, which allows designated law enforcement officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions.
She also has spoken against alleged acts of racial profiling by the Police Department here.
Officials have denied the allegations, and Mayor Mark Nuaimi in an online forum has referred to the charges as "race baiting."
"One of the typical things that happens when somebody runs for office is to conjure up controversy then (act) as the anointed one to deal with the controversy they helped to establish," he said. Nuaimi hasn`t decided if he will run for re-election, though he said he thinks there is more work for him to do in the city.
Regardless, Chavarria said she is running because officials here are not engaged in local equality issues, such as improving poorer neighborhoods.
ACORN, a left-leaning group whose name is an acronym for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, came under fire this year after a conservative Web site posted undercover videos of the group`s employees apparently helping two young people posing as a pimp and prostitute looking to set up brothels.
|December 11, 2009
|Gay "Marriage" Vote Killed in NJ Senate
(LifeSiteNews.com) - Homosexual advocates in New Jersey snatched a same-sex "marriage" bill from the jaws of defeat on Wednesday, cancelling Thursday`s scheduled vote in the state Senate after realizing that they lacked the votes for the measure`s successful passage.
The bill`s Senate sponsors, Sens. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-NJ 20) and Loretta Weinberg (D-NJ 37) revoked the bill from the Senate`s agenda late Wednesday night, and stated that they wanted the General Assembly to examine the bill first before the Senate votes.
Democrats firmly control the N.J. Senate by a 23-17 margin, but a number of Democrats count themselves as opponents of same-sex "marriage." According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-NJ 39) said he was aware of nine Senate Democrats who were intending to vote against the bill and would have doomed its passage.
The maneuver allows same-sex "marriage" activists to lobby the General Assembly heavily, where the passage of a homosexual "marriage" bill stands to have a better chance at passing. Both Sens. Lesniak and Weinberg hope that the Assembly Judiciary Committee will take up the measure, but that committee is not scheduled to return to Trenton until January 7.
A delay that long is risky for same-sex "marriage" activists, as it leaves little more than a week for both state houses to schedule votes before Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine leaves office on January 19. Corzine has promised to sign the bill, while his replacement, Gov.-elect Chris Christie, has promised a veto.
Despite having more potential backers in the Assembly, Democrats show little enthusiasm for acting on the measure.
An affirmative vote in the Senate on same-sex "marriage" would have politically eased the way for the Assembly`s members still on the fence over the political consequences of voting for the bill. But the resounding defeat of same-sex "marriage" in the more socially "progressive" states of Maine and New York has not provided incentive for legislators to stake their political fortunes on the issue.
Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. (D-NJ 5) in a statement said that he was "disappointed that the sponsors have decided to delay the Senate vote" and further indicated that he did not yet have enough members in the Assembly to pass same-sex "marriage" legislation.
Roberts added, "I must emphasize that no hearing has been scheduled and that I am continuing to discuss this issue with our caucus to gauge whether there is enough support for it."
The latest available New Jersey polls show that support for same-sex "marriage" has dropped among state voters, adding to the political liability state legislators risk by enacting unpopular legislation within a "lame-duck" session.
A Quinnipiac poll conducted between November 17-22 found that 49 percent of New Jersey adults oppose same-sex "marriage," while just 46 percent are in favor, with six percent remaining undecided. The poll is a reversal of an earlier Quinnipiac trend that in April showed residents favoring such legislation 49 percent to 43 percent.
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll taken November 6-10 showed that while the New Jersey Catholic bishops are fighting against same-sex "marriage," Christians identifying themselves to pollsters as "Protestant" were far more in line with the bishops` position than Catholics themselves.
A plurality of New Jersey residents who self-describe as Catholics support legalizing homosexual nuptials in the state: 48 percent support same-sex "marriage," while 40 percent are opposed, and 12 percent say they are undecided.
Christians identifying themselves as "Protestant" fared much better when it came to supporting natural marriage: 55 percent oppose same-sex "marriage," with 34 percent in favor, and 11 percent undecided.
The poll, however, does not reveal what impact the bishops` higher profile campaign against same-sex "marriage" has had on Catholic minds. Last Sunday, New Jersey`s six bishops ordered a pastoral letter explaining the nature of marriage with an unequivocal condemnation of same-sex "marriage" read at parish pulpits.
Thirty-two states in the United States have rejected same-sex "marriage" with 30 states banning the practice through constitutional amendment. In three states, same-sex "marriage" was legislated through judicial fiat, and in only two states - Vermont and New Hampshire - is same-sex "marriage" legal through legislative action.
|December 10, 2009
|ACLU Loses Donor, One-Fourth of Yearly Donations
(FoxNews) The American Civil Liberties Union has lost a quarter of its yearly donations after a major donor cut off $19 million in annual donations because of economic difficulties.
David Gelbaum, a wealthy California conservationist, said he was indefinitely stopping the donations that had made him the New York-based group`s largest anonymous donor.
"For a number of years, your organization has received very substantial charitable contributions from me," Gelbaum said in a statement. "My investments in alternative, clean energy companies have placed me in a highly illiquid position as a result of the general credit crisis in the American and world financial systems."
Gelbaum also announced he was halting some $12 million in yearly gifts to the Sierra Club Foundation and about $50 million a year that he`s been giving to an organization serving veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gelbaum has given a total of $389 million to the groups from 2005 to 2009.
The New York Times named Gelbaum in a story published in the newspaper Wednesday. Gelbaum had previously funded those organizations anonymously.
"While we`re clearly disappointed that his desire to remain anonymous was breached, we remain eternally grateful for everything he and his family have done to advance the cause of civil liberties for all Americans," ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said.
Romero also called Gelbaum an American hero, "an unassuming man with a spectacularly generous spirit."
Gelbaum says he hopes others will step forward and replace his donations.
Gelbaum, a native of Minnesota, once chaired the math department at the University of California, Irvine. He made his fortune working for hedge funds, where he used mathematical formulas to pick stocks and bonds.
He runs an investment firm called Quercus Trust, based in Newport Beach, Calif.
|December 10, 2009
|Supreme Court to Decide If Christian Group Must Allow Gays
(NewsMax) The Supreme Court will decide whether a California law school must force a Christian group to admit gays, lesbians and nonbelievers to gain stature as an official campus organization.
The high court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from a chapter of the Christian Legal Society at the University of California`s Hastings College of the Law. A federal judge had turned aside the group`s attempt to force the school to give it campus funding and other benefits without opening its membership to gays, lesbians and nonbelievers a requirement of the San Francisco school.
The 30-member Hastings group was told in 2004 that it was being denied recognition, including university funding and benefits, because of its policy of exclusion.
|December 10, 2009
|Report: Two-Thirds of Abortion Clinics Closed Since 1991
(Christian Post Reporter) More than two-thirds of the abortion clinics in the United States have closed since 1991, according to a new report by a pro-life activist organization.
There were nearly 2,200 abortion clinics in 1991, estimates Operation Rescue. Today, there are just 713 clinics.
“The pro-life movement has made significant strides exposing and closing abortion clinics and shifting public opinion toward the pro-life position,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement Tuesday. “This has resulted in lower abortion rates."
Kansas-based Operation Rescue has created a map that shows all the abortion clinics in America and their location. The group claims a general relationship between access to abortion clinics and the abortion rate in each state, with states with greater access having higher abortion rates.
The release of the research project on abortion clinics coincides with the launch of Operation Rescue’s latest campaign, “Project Daniel 5:25.” The campaign is named after the story in the Book of Daniel of the writing on the wall that predicted the fall of a kingdom that turned away from God.
"The days of legal abortion in this nation are numbered,” Newman said. “Pro-life sentiment continues to gain ground as abortion support slips. Abortion clinics continue to close as demand decreases and as abortionists are increasingly exposed and reported to the authorities by pro-life groups.”
Newman encouraged pro-life activists to work within the law and monitor clinics for criminal violations and other “suspicious acts” and report it to law enforcement officers.
"We can do more than simply protest abortion clinics,” he said. “We can document their illegal and dangerous behavior and work within the law to close them down.
"With a pro-life watchdog group at every clinic reporting what they see to the authorities, we will certainly see more abortionists criminally charged and abortion clinics closed.”
The report was released as the U.S. Senate wrangled over adding language to the health care bill that clearly bans federal funding of abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or to save a woman’s life. On Tuesday, however, the Senate defeated the Nelson-Hatch amendment that would have barred funding of elective abortions.
Pro-life groups lamented the loss and vowed to expand their grassroots campaign to oppose the health care bill. For the past few months, pro-life activist groups have waged media campaigns and urged their members to flood senate offices with phone calls and e-mails asking lawmakers to support an amendment that would ban funding of the procedure.
“As it stands today, there should be no question about opposing the Senate health care bill,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, after the defeat of the Nelson-Hatch amendment. “If you call yourself pro-life and genuinely care about preserving true common ground, you cannot possibly vote for this bill. Pro-Life senators – the sponsors of Nelson`s amendment included – must oppose this legislation."
On the Web: www.operationrescue.org
|December 09, 2009
|Senate ‘Ignored the Concerns of the American People’ in Rejecting Amendment to Restrict Abortion Funding, Conservatives Say
(CNSNews.com) - “I am disappointed,” said Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) after the Senate voted 54-45 to table his amendment barring the use of taxpayer funds for any part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion.
“Our proposal to ensure that the Senate health care bill doesn’t open the door to public funding of abortion was reasonable,” Nelson said in a statement on his Web site. “It was rational because it followed established federal policy. And it was right because taxpayers shouldn’t be required to pay for abortions.”
Nelson said the vote to table his amendment “makes it harder" for him to support the overall Senate health care bill. But according to press reports, Nelson has backed away from his earlier threat to support a Republican filibuster of the bill.
CatholicVoteAction.org, a Catholic lobby group, praised Nelson’s “valiant leadership” and said the vote to table the Nelson-Hatch amendment shows how hard it is to be a pro-life Democrat in the U.S. Senate.
“Nelson’s fellow Democrats, including many Catholics, bowed to the pressure of the abortion lobby and approved this massive taxpayer handout to Planned Parenthood and the billion-dollar abortion industry,” said Brian Burch, president of CatholicVoteAction.org.
“Catholic voters who may have disagreed on whether this legislation was a good idea to begin with have no choice but to collectively oppose this health care bill.”
The vote to table the amendment will result in the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade, the group warned:
“Americans firmly believe that abortion is not healthcare,” Burch said. “The United States Senate ignored the will of the people and instead forged ahead with a pro-abortion healthcare bill that will now face even weaker public support.”
A conservative civil liberties group said the vote to table the Nelson-Hatch amendment “reflects a callous disregard for the protection of innocent human life.”
“It is clear most Americans do not want abortion classified as a mandatory health care benefit,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
“The House understood this in passing the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. Sadly, the Senate chose to ignore the concerns of the American people and refused to approve an amendment that would have put into place much-needed pro-life protections in the Senate`s version of health care reform.”
ACLJ is calling on pro-life Democrats – including Sen. Nelson – to follow through with their promise to reject a Senate health care bill that fails to exclude abortion funding.
|December 08, 2009
|How Chinese products are stealing Christmas
(WorldNetDaily) Zhu Zhu Pets, furry robotic hamsters, are the hottest Christmas craze of 2009 – with millions being flown into the U.S. from China on 747s to keep up with the demand.
But, like so many other toys, clothes, appliances and even baby strollers and pacifiers on the market for holiday shoppers this season, they may be unsafe, say consumer watchdogs.
While Zhu Zhu pets have not faced a Consumer Product Safety Commission recall, a report from GoodGuide.com says they contain antimony, a toxic metal known as a carcinogen. The federal limt for antimony in products is 60 parts per million, while the Zhu Zhu has 93 parts per million in the fur and 103 in the nose.
"If ingested in high enough levels, antimony can lead to cancer, reproductive health and other human health hazards," said Dara O`Rourke, an associate professor of environmental science at U.C.-Berkeley and co-founder of GoodGuide.com. "If these toys aren`t even meeting the legal standards in the U.S., then I would say that it isn`t worth the risk for me to bring it into my household."
Sources in Washington say a recall of the toys is unlikely because of the sheer volume already sold – millions throughout the U.S. The Los Angeles Times also reported later that a review by the Consumer Product Safety Commission said the Zhu Zhu toys were "not out of compliance" with toy standards for antimony. And GoodGuide later updated its report explaining that it used a methodology for its testing that is different from federal testing methods.
But other items imported from China just in time for Christmas are the subjects of recalls. Of the 28 products recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission so far in November and December, 16 were manufactured in China.
U.S. distributors of these products are increasingly paying big fines.
This month, for instance, Excelligence Learning Corp. of Monterey, Calif., agreed to pay $25,000 in civil penalties for selling Chinese-made toy shaving brushes violating federal lead paint bans.
Also recalled by the CPSC for lead exposure were children`s metal pendants sold by Team Work Trading of Los Angeles, Calif.
Bicycles are always a favorite Christmas gift for kids. But 6,400 distributed by Easton Sports of Scotts Valley, Calif., and manufactured in China were recalled this season because of stem failure that cause the rider to lose control.
About 10,000 children`s art easels distributed by MacPherson`s of Emeryville, Calif., and manufactured in China were recalled in the last 30 days for containing levels of lead that exceed federal limits.
But it`s not just children`s toys from China that are getting recalled and posing safety hazards. Kids` clothing has also been a target of the CPSC this holiday season. Various kinds of hooded sweatshirts have been targeted as strangulation hazards because of unsafe drawstrings. Some of these items are sold in upper-end department stores like Macy`s and Dillards – not just Walmart.
Only one major recall this season was highly publicized. That was Maclaren USA`s voluntary action to pull from stores baby strollers that resulted in at least 12 finger amputations. About 1 million of them were in circulation – manufactured, of course, in China. They sold for between $100 and $350.
Thinking about giving someone a kitchen appliance this year? Be warned.
Haier America Trading of New York, N.Y., voluntarily recalled nearly 54,000 blenders made in China when it was learned the blade assemblies came apart or broke, posing laceration risks.
Or maybe you were thinking about getting Dad a gas grill. About 663,000 Perfect Flame grills made in China and sold in Lowe`s were voluntarily recalled because they posed burn hazards to users. They caused at least 40 fires resulting in burns to hands, arms and faces and at least one eye injury requiring surgery.
Power adapters used with IBM back-up disk hard drives, also made in China, were recalled when it was found they were failing and exposing live electrical contacts that posed shock hazards to consumers.
Maybe you thought a travel mug made in China was a safe gift. Think again. About 15,000 had to be recalled by the "Life Is Good" company when it was found they posed burn hazards.
And before you get that new baby a pacifier for the stocking this Christmas, be sure to check it out. Some 641,000 "Bobby Chupete" pacifiers had to be recalled this season because they pose a choking hazard.
Not even that Christmas tree stand is necessarily safe. About 13,000 manufactured in China had to be recalled after causing users to fall and sustain serious injuries.
WND has reported previously on frozen catfish from China found to have been laced with banned antibiotics and scallops and sardines coated with bacteria.
Chinese toothpaste also has been found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to have contained a deadly chemical used in antifreeze. In one case, four defendants pleaded guilty to importing from China more than a half million tubes of toothpaste falsely labeled as the popular brand Colgate that contained the toxic antifreeze ingredient.
According to a U.S. Department of Justice statement, the defendants were responsible for 518,028 tubes of toothpaste worth an estimated $730,419 that were shipped into the country and distributed to bargain retail stores in several states.
Chinese imports have been blamed for poisoning America`s pets, risking America`s human food supply and reintroducing lead poisoning to America`s children.
For years, Washington has claimed to be working on the problem of defective consumer products being delivered from China to the United States. But it appears that the only permanent solution will be for the Chinese to have a higher level of concern about what they are exporting, U.S. government leaders have said.
|December 08, 2009
|Two issues threaten to divide Senate Dems on healthcare reform
(The Hill) Two issues threaten to divide Senate Democrats as they struggle with the higher-profile question of whether to create a government-run health insurance plan.
Amendments that would forbid taxpayer-funded abortions and allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs are complicating Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) efforts to gather the 60 votes he needs to advance the bill.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) introduced an amendment Monday to strengthen the prohibitions against federal funding of abortions in the healthcare reform bill.
“As written, the Senate healthcare bill allows taxpayer dollars, directly and indirectly, to pay for insurance plans that cover abortion,” Nelson said.
The amendment is scheduled to be voted on Tuesday.
Not only is abortion a perennially explosive political issue, Nelson — who does not appear to have the votes to prevail — has threatened to join a Republican filibuster of the whole bill if he does not get his way. Because Reid needs to hold his entire 60-member Democratic caucus together, a defection by Nelson would force Reid to seek at least one GOP supporter.
Nelson’s amendment is co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and six other GOP senators. Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.) also co-sponsored the amendment but has assured Reid he would not filibuster a healthcare bill without the abortion language.
The Nelson amendment is based on language authored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and attached to the House-passed healthcare reform bill over the objections of abortion-rights supporters, who have vowed to fight a healthcare bill that includes the Stupak amendment or similar provisions.
Nelson would not rule out the possibility of putting together 60 votes for his amendment, noting that senators who support abortion rights have supported previous legislation prohibiting taxpayer dollars from paying for abortions.
“We’ll have to see. We’re still working and it could be possible to get that. I don’t know,” he said.
However, Republican Sens. John Thune (S.D.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.), both of whom co-sponsored Nelson’s amendment, said they do not expect it to pass.
“A lot of us on the Republican side will support that,” Thune said. “The question is whether or not you can get 60, which I think is very much in doubt.”
Meanwhile, Reid has agreed to allow Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) to bring an amendment to a vote this week that would allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from abroad despite the fact that it could blow up a truce between the White House, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) on healthcare reform.
What’s more, Dorgan has the support of co-sponsor Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and other Republicans. And he could assemble a bipartisan coalition of more than 60 votes to disregard the agreement to limit PhRMA’s financial exposure in exchange for its support of reform, which would risk a battle with a powerful industry that has fought healthcare reform in the past.
“I think we’ve got a decent shot at winning,” Dorgan said. “I don’t think we can pass healthcare reform without trying to put the brakes on the steep increases in prescription drug prices.”
In addition to Snowe — a critical swing vote whose support for the healthcare bill is being ardently sought by President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic leaders — Dorgan said that Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), David Vitter (La.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) have also pledged to support the amendment.
Asked about the White House deal with the drug companies, Dorgan noted that then-Sen. Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a former House Democrat, supported the legislation in 2008.
“The only thing I know about the White House is the president was a co-sponsor of the bill last year and Rahm Emanuel was one of the lead sponsors in the House, so my hope would be they’d be supportive,” Dorgan said.
As these floor battles loomed, Democratic senators and White House aides continued to try to find a way to bridge the impasse dividing the party over whether to create a form of government-sponsored health insurance known as a public option. A handful of centrist Democratic holdouts who continue to reject the public option are forcing Reid to scramble for a way around the problem that does not anger the party’s liberal wing.
As the Senate worked during a rare weekend session, talks between liberal and centrist senators began to turn in the direction of establishing a network of not-for-profit insurance plans organized by the federal Office of Personnel Management, which runs the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), as alternatives to traditional insurance.
While not a public option, the proposal would give the government more direct control over these insurance products without erecting a government-run program itself.
Talks continued into Monday evening and the state of play remained highly tentative, but Democratic senators from both the centrist and liberal camps hinted that progress was being made.
“The discussions are going in the right direction in moving away from the government-run plan.” Nelson said. “To the extent that they continue to go in that direction, it’s obviously very positive.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a liberal public option supporter and member of the Senate Democratic leadership who has been a central player on the issue all year, also described the talks as productive.
“There’s [a] very good feeling in the room. We’re not there yet, but, you know, we’re getting there,” Schumer said. “There’s push and pull and we have to find the right balance that satisfies the party as to how much government involvement there should be and how much private-sector involvement there should be.
“Each side realizes to get something, they’re going to have to give something.”
Schumer confirmed that liberals are looking for concessions of their own, particularly related to the Medicaid program for the low-income and the Medicare program for retirees.
One proposal would allow people between 55 and 65 years old to enroll in Medicare, currently available only to those over 65 or with a disability, by paying the full, unsubsidized cost of the premiums. Another would raise the income limit for Medicaid benefits in the bill from 133 percent of poverty to 150 percent of poverty.
The Medicare proposal, Schumer said, is not favored only by the liberal wing of the party. “The Medicare buy-in is something that has broader appeal than just progressives,” he said. “I think people like Medicare and would like to see it more available.”
|December 07, 2009
|Christian group vs. Hastings - court to decide
(San Francisco Gate) The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco can refuse to recognize and fund a Christian student group because it excludes gays, lesbians and non-Christians, the justices said Monday.
The case could affect public universities around the country. It puts the Supreme Court in the middle of a long fight by conservative Christian activists, who say their constitutional rights are violated when they are forced to tolerate views that run counter to their religious beliefs.
Hastings was sued in October 2004 by the Christian Legal Society, which requires voting members to sign a statement committing to "orthodox" evangelical Protestant or Catholic beliefs.
A student is ineligible, the group says, if he or she "advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman."
Hastings cited a campus policy barring discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion and sexual orientation when it refused to recognize a chapter of the Christian Legal Society in 2004. The group then sued in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled in the law school`s favor in 2006, and his opinion was upheld earlier this year by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The court said the school could require organizations to "accept all comers as members."
On Monday, attorneys for the Virginia-based Christian Legal Society said they hoped the Supreme Court would find that Hastings was forcing members of the school`s chapter into an unreasonable choice: abandon their identity or shut down.
The case is likely to be heard in March, and a ruling is due by June.
"Religious groups have a right to require their officers to share their religious faith," said Kim Colby, an attorney with the group, which has chapters at 165 law schools around the country and encourages lawyers to apply biblical principles. "If, at every meeting, the president of the group said, `Today we`re going to discuss whether Jesus was the son of God,` that`s going to bog the group down."
But Ethan Schulman, an attorney for Hastings, said the issue in the case is whether public universities are obligated to subsidize discriminatory groups.
"This is about a blanket exclusion of gay and lesbian students and students who don`t hold what the Christian Legal Society describes as orthodox Christian beliefs," Schulman said. "If they`re going to use public money and public facilities, they have to be open to all interested students."
Hastings recognized the society`s chapter for about a decade, Schulman said, when the group was open to all students. When the society restricted who could join, Hastings withheld $250 that had been set aside to help officers travel to their organization`s national conference, and the group sued.
The Supreme Court, attorneys said, may have noted a split between lower court rulings in the Hastings case and in a similar lawsuit brought by Christian Legal Society against Southern Illinois University. Under a 2007 settlement in that case, the university said it would recognize the group and its policies.
The court waded into a similar issue in 2000 when it upheld the Boy Scouts` right to exclude gays and atheists, citing the private organization`s right of free association.
But in 2006, the California Supreme Court struck a blow in the other direction, ruling that Berkeley could deny a rent subsidy to the Sea Scouts, a Boy Scouts affiliate, because the group did not allow gay members or leaders. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Scouts` appeal.
|December 07, 2009
|U.S. sees homegrown Muslim extremism as rising threat
This may have been the most dangerous year since 9/11, anti-terrorism experts say.
(Los Angeles Times) The Obama administration, grappling with a spate of recent Islamic terrorism cases on U.S. soil, has concluded that the country confronts a rising threat from homegrown extremism.
Anti-terrorism officials and experts see signs of accelerated radicalization among American Muslims, driven by a wave of English-language online propaganda and reflected in aspiring fighters` trips to hot spots such as Pakistan and Somalia.
Europe had been the front line, the target of successive attacks and major plots, while the U.S. remained relatively calm. But the number, variety and scale of recent U.S. cases suggest 2009 has been the most dangerous year domestically since 2001, anti-terrorism experts said:
* There were major arrests of Americans accused of plotting with Al Qaeda and its allies, including an Afghan American charged in a New York bomb plot described as the most serious threat in this country since the Sept. 11 attacks.
* Authorities tracked other extremism suspects joining foreign networks, including Somali Americans going to the battlegrounds of their ancestral homeland and an Albanian American from Brooklyn who was arrested in Kosovo.
* The FBI rounded up homegrown terrorism suspects in Dallas, Detroit and Raleigh, N.C., saying that it had broken up plots targeting a synagogue, government buildings and military facilities.
Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued her strongest public comments yet on the homegrown threat.
"We`ve seen an increased number of arrests here in the U.S. of individuals suspected of plotting terrorist attacks, or supporting terror groups abroad such as Al Qaeda," Napolitano said in a speech in New York. "Home-based terrorism is here. And, like violent extremism abroad, it will be part of the threat picture that we must now confront."
Officials acknowledged that her tone had changed, though they said terrorism has been her focus since becoming Homeland Security chief.
In some of the 2009 cases, extremist leanings are suspected but motives are not known.
Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan -- accused of killing 13 people in a Ft. Hood, Texas, shooting rampage last month -- has apparently suffered emotional problems. But in interviews, officials and experts have also raised his Muslim beliefs as an alleged motive.
A previous attack on the U.S. military, a shooting in June by an American convert who killed a soldier and wounded another at an Arkansas recruiting center, was apparently a case of a lone wolf radicalized in Yemen, according to Homeland Security officials.
"You are seeing the full spectrum of the threats you face in terrorism," former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.
"Radicalization is clearly happening in the U.S.," said Mitchell Silber, director of analysis for the Intelligence Division of the New York Police Department. "In years past, you couldn`t say that about the U.S. You could say it about Europe."
Europe has suffered a militant onslaught: transport bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, an assassination in the Netherlands in 2004, and close calls such as the fiery failed attack on the Glasgow airport in 2007.
Hard borders have helped the U.S. ward off the threat. But experts also said that Islamic radicalization is more widespread in Europe. Crime, alienation and extremism roil Muslim immigrant communities in places like tiny Denmark and the vast slums of France.
In contrast, American Muslims are wealthier, better educated and better integrated because the United States does a good job of absorbing immigrants and fostering tolerance, experts said. During the last decade, Americans have been a rare presence in the Al Qaeda-connected camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan that have trained hundreds of Westerners and thousands of recruits from Muslim-majority nations.
Nonetheless, recent investigations have run across Americans suspected of being operatives of Al Qaeda and its allies who were trained overseas and, in several cases, allegedly conspired with top terrorism bosses. They include a convert from Long Island, N.Y, who was captured in Pakistan late last year; a Chicago businessman accused of scouting foreign targets for a Pakistani network; and at least 15 Somali American youths from Minneapolis who returned to fight in their ancestral homeland.
"A larger trend has emerged that is not surprising, but is disturbing," Chertoff said. "You are beginning to see the fruits of the pipeline that Al Qaeda built to train Westerners and send them back to their homelands. . . . This underscores the central significance of disrupting the pipeline at its source."
A campaign of U.S. airstrikes launched last year has pounded Al Qaeda hide-outs in Pakistan. But the flow of trainees gathered momentum in 2007 when Pakistani security forces ceded turf to militant groups, officials said. The suspect in the New York plot, Najibullah Zazi, and the Long Island convert, Bryant Neal Vinas, allegedly met in Pakistan in 2008 and discussed attacks on U.S. targets with Al Qaeda chiefs.
Vinas and Zazi are the first Americans to be accused of joining Al Qaeda in several years.
Meanwhile, Silber said in recent congressional testimony: "There have been a half-dozen cases of individuals who, instead of traveling abroad to carry out violence, have elected to attempt to do it here. This is substantially greater than what we have seen in the past, and may reflect an emerging pattern."
Some feel radicalization in the United States has been worse than authorities thought for some time.
"People focused on the idea that we`re different, we`re better at integrating Muslims than Europe is," said Zeyno Baran, a scholar at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington. "But there`s radicalization -- especially among converts [and] newcomers, such as the Somali case shows. I think young U.S. Muslims today are as prone to radicalization as Muslims in Europe."
In proportion to population, extremism still appears less intense in the United States. But the Internet functions as the global engine of extremism. Websites expose Americans to a wave of slick, English-language propaganda from ideologues such as Anwar Awlaki, the Yemeni American described as a spiritual guide for the accused Ft. Hood shooter and other Westerners.
And socioeconomic success will not necessarily prevent Americans` radicalization. Studies suggest that a quest for identity and the bonding process among small groups often drive militants more than personal hardship does.
"The profile in Europe is in general quite different [from U.S. extremists]: more working-class or even underclass," said a European intelligence official who requested anonymity for security reasons. "But it`s a bit simplistic to make assumptions. We have seen everything in Europe -- educated people, doctors involved in terrorism. The underclass argument is not enough."
The Obama administration began the year with gestures to the Muslim world. President Obama promised to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and made a historic speech in Cairo.
The Homeland Security Department leads the administration`s counter-radicalization effort. The Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which works with Muslim leaders, held summit meetings with Somali communities this year in Minnesota and Ohio, said David Heyman, assistant Homeland Security secretary for policy.
But that office still lacks a director, critics point out, and the department has yet to fill other key posts as well.
"We don`t do enough about fostering a counter-narrative," said Matthew Levitt, a former anti-terrorism official for the Treasury Department now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Competing for space with the radicalizers and challenging their radical ideologies is the key."
In contrast to the heightened extremist activity in the United States, Europe has remained relatively calm this year. But the West needs to keep up its guard on both sides of the Atlantic, said Farhad Khosrokhavar, an Iranian French scholar who interviewed jailed extremists for his book "Inside Jihadism."
"You can be middle-class and have bright prospects but become a jihadist," he said. "We have to broaden the analysis. This idea of American exceptionalism, the comparison with Europe, should not blind us to the fact that we are going toward a broader participation in jihad."
|December 07, 2009
|Part-time Legislature initiative generating buzz
(Inland Valley Daily Bulletin) A projected $21 billion deficit over the next 18 months and failure to prepare the budget on time have caused some to contend it is time for the state Legislature to be demoted.
An initiative to reduce the state legislature to part time - meeting no more than 95 days out of the year - has been gaining much attention.
Citizens for California Reform have been collecting signatures for nearly a month to get the initiative, called "The Citizen Legislature Act," on the November 2010 ballot.
"We`re a very very different state and I think ideally you want to try to get in representatives who are truly representatives of the area they represent and that they`re accessible to their constituents - that they can be a trusted citizen Legislature that lives and works under the rules they make," said Gabriella Holt, president of Citizens for California Reform.
The signatures of nearly 700,000 registered voters must be obtained by March.
To avoid the 30 percent failure rate that plagues the petitioning process, Holt said the group set a target of 1 million signatures.
On Thursday, 1,400 signatures were collected during a KFI radio broadcast of "The John and Ken Show" at the Ayres Hotel in Anaheim.
The total number of signatures collected so far has yet to be determined, Holt said.
"We haven`t done an original count, but it`s looking really good," Holt said. "There`s a lot of interest."
The group Californians For an Effective Legislature filed paperwork with the California Secretary of State in opposition to "The Citizen Legislature Act."
The group is led by Democrats John Laird, member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board, and Dario Frommer, former state Assembly majority leader, and Republican Bob Naylor, a former Assembly Republican leader and chairman of the California Republican Party.
"While we understand that many Californians are frustrated with their government, turning back the clock and making the Legislature part time will make matters worse," Laird said in a Californians For An Effective Legislature news release. "The seventh largest economy in the world with a $131 billion budget needs committed legislators, not amateurs who will have only 90 days a year on the job before they make decisions affecting millions of Californians."
California voters passed Proposition 1A in 1966 to expand the Legislature to full time. Now, California is one of only seven states to have a full-time legislature.
Proposition 1A also included a salary increase, creating a professional Legislature.
"Most of our Legislature now, that`s their job. That`s their main source of income," said Cal Poly Pomona political science professor John Korey.
"In fact most states, other than a few big states like California, find they have a part-time legislature that meets a couple months a year. They typically don`t get paid very much money and they have to keep their day jobs."
The average salary for a state legislator is about $113,000, the highest in the country, but that figure is to be reduced by 18 percent starting today.
The Citizens for California Reform initiative was revised to include a 50 percent salary cut as well as a reduction in the number of days the Legislature meets.
"They`re pretty much part time now," Holt said. "They have to be shown you don`t get $115,000 a year for working 130 days a year. We reintroduced (the initiative) with the cut in pay and put it at a minimum of 50 percent, but the people who set those salaries at the state level can drop it even further."
Should the initiative pass, it would go into effect at the same time as the redistricting initiative that was passed by voters in November 2008.
Holt said she believes redistricting will also cause a significant improvement in the state`s government.
Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, introduced legislation in June that includes an amendment to the state`s constitution to reduce the Legislature to part time.
The legislation also includes other ways to cut and reform state government.
Although the Citizens` petition is a separate effort from Jeffries` legislation, he said they agree on the concept of doing something to change the way the government is currently working.
"It seems fairly clear that the way we`re doing business today is not working and that`s caused by more than just a full-time Legislature," Jeffries said.
Jeffries said he doesn`t believe just changing the amount of time the Legislature works is enough to do the job.
He also favors a two-year budget, changing the hours the Legislature votes on bills and making the bill available in print for several days prior to voting.
Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Claremont, said he has no opinion about the initiative one way or another as long as California gets the kind of leadership it deserves.
"The idea that we`re going to save money is just not true," Adams said. "The question is would we have a better Legislature because it`s part time."
Adams said that even if the Legislature were to go back to part time, the legislators would still need to be meeting year-round.
"California has an incredible number of issues that it faces that are unique to its size and its diversity that you can`t ignore because somebody has this idea that part time is better," Adams said. "It just means part time."
Citizens For Caliofrnia Reform: http://www.reformcal.com/cms/
Californians For An Effective Legislature: http://www.effectivecalifornia.com/
|December 05, 2009
|British Churches told homosexual opt-out illegal
(OneNewsNow) The European Union is telling the British government it is wrong to ban homosexuals from employment in churches.
The decision was initiated by a complaint on the National Secular Society`s behalf as they deemed the church opt-outs demonstrated "illegal discrimination against homosexuals." Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel says this development in Europe is something those in the pro-family movement have long said could be expected.
"Every time new-fangled gay `rights` come into conflict with our enumerated freedoms -- in this country, our constitutional right to freedom of religious expression -- we are seeing that gay rights are trumping freedom of religion and freedom of speech," he reports.
Barber argues the European Union is criminalizing any opposition to homosexuality. "They`ve taken this a step further and have even said, `Churches, you have to affirmatively embrace the homosexual lifestyle,`" he adds.
The Christian attorney further explains that British churches are being told "it is illegal for churches and for religious organizations to tell people involved in the homosexual lifestyle that they cannot take part in the church activities," and that it is even illegal to ban them from church employment.
He contends that the European Union has simply provided the United States with a window into its future because of adoption of hate crimes legislation and perhaps punishing employers who will not hire homosexuals.
|December 05, 2009
|`Safe schools` chief recommends child porn for classroom reading
`Sex acts between preschoolers` among subjects of books backed by openly `gay` Obama adviser
EDITOR`S NOTE: The following includes descriptions of adult themes and objectional subject material.
(WorldNetDaily) A new report is raising alarms that the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, a homosexual advocacy organization founded by Kevin Jennings, now head of the U.S. Office of Safe Schools for the Obama administration, is recommending XXX-rated sexwritings for children as young as preschoolers.
"We were unprepared for what we encountered. Book after book after book contained stories and anecdotes that weren`t merely X-rated and pornographic, but which featured explicit descriptions of sex acts between preschoolers; stories that seemed to promote and recommend child-adult sexual relationships; stories of public masturbation, anal sex in restrooms, affairs between students and teachers, five-year-olds playing sex games, semen flying through the air," said the report.
"One memoir even praised becoming a prostitute as a way to increase one`s self-esteem. Above all, the books seemed to have less to do with promoting tolerance than with an unabashed attempt to indoctrinate students into a hyper-sexualized worldview," it advised.
The report was posted online by Jim Hoft at the Gatetway Pundit blog after it was obtained from Breitbart.tv co-founder Scott Baker, who said the recommended children`s reading assignments need attention.
The team whose members assembled the report said a handful of books from the more than 100 titles on GLSEN`s recommended reading list for school children were picked randomly. Writings were reviewed with titles such as "Queer 13," "Being Different," "The Full Spectrum," "Revolutionary Voices," "Reflections of a Rock Lobster," "Passages of Pride," "Growing Up Gay/Growing Up Lesbian," "The Order of the Poison Oak," "In Your Face," "Mama`s Boy, Preacher`s Son" and "Love & Sex: Ten Stories of Truth."
"What we discovered shocked us. We were flabbergasted. Rendered speechless," the report said.
"Read the passages … and judge for yourself … The language is explicit, the intent is clear," the report said.
WND has reported previously on Jennings` background and agenda, including when it was revealed a publisher of "gay erotica" sought him out to write a book aimed at encouraging homosexuality in high schools and colleges.
The result was "Becoming Visible," which opens with, "Why teach gay and lesbian history? … Indeed, as lesbian and gay studies has emerged as a discipline over the last two decades, its dramatic discoveries have shown it to be one of the most exciting fields in contemporary historical scholarship."
Researchers at Mass Resistance reported Sasha Alyson of Alyson Publications sought out Jennings to do the book.
In Jennings` acknowledgments for the book, he writes, "Writing this part of the book has caused me more anxiety than any other. It simply is not possible to express my gratitude to the many people who have helped make this book possible. ... With apologies to anyone omitted, here we go! The obvious place to begin is with Alyson Publications. First, Sasha Alyson had thevision to conceive of this project, and I had the good luck to be the person he sought out to complete it. I am deeply appreciative of being afforded this opportunity."
WND also has reported concerns by Mission America over subject material in books recommended by GLSEN for school children.
The group`s Linda Harvey warned, "GLSEN believes the early sexualization of children can be beneficial. This means that virtually any sexual activity as well as exposure to graphic sexual images and material, is not just permissible but good for children, as part of the process of discovering their sexuality."
Her report cited one passage from a book recommended for students in grades 7-12: "I released his arms. They glided around my neck, pulling my head down to his. I stretched full length on top of him, our heads touching. Our heavy breathing from the struggle gradually subsided. I felt …"
What follows in "Growing Up Gay/Growing Up Lesbian" by Malcolm Boyd is a "graphic description" of a homosexual encounter.
The new report posted on Gatetway Pundit explained the material is what GLSEN wants children to read and learn about.
"GLSEN`s stated mission is to empower gay youth in the schools and to stop harassment by other students. It encourages the formation of Gay Student Alliances and condemns the use of hateful words. GLSEN also strives to influence the educational curriculum to include materials which the group believes will increase tolerance of gay students and decrease bullying," the report said.
"To that end, GLSEN maintains a recommended reading list of books that it claims `furthers our mission to ensure safe schools for all students,`" the report said. "In other words, these are the books that GLSEN`s directors think all kids should be reading: gay kids should read them to raise their self-esteem, and straight kids should read them in order to become more aware and tolerant and stop bullying gay kids."
The organization also offers online links to buy the books.
"We can only vouch for what`s in these 11 books, since these are the only ones we`ve read through," the report said. "Are there other books on the GLSEN reading list that are similarly outrageous? We can`t say for sure, but it seems very likely."
The review team said the issue isn`t about homosexuality or censorship.
"It`s about deciding what constitutes appropriate reading material for children. We`re perfectly OK with these books existing and being read by adults; we only start to worry when these books are assigned to children," the report said.
"According to Kevin Jennings and GLSEN, books about a 13-year-old getting `my c--- sucked and my a-- f-----` are not just acceptable, they`re highly recommended."
The website notes, "All BookLink items are reviewed by GLSEN staff for quality and appropriateness of content."
Most of the objectionable excerpts cited in the report cannot be included in a WND report. But among the mildest:
- From "Reflections of a Rock Lobster:" "My sexual exploits with my neighborhood playmates continued. I lived a busy homosexual childhood, somehow managing to avoid venereal disease through all my toddler years. By first grade I was sexually active with many friends. In fact, a small group of us regularly met in the grammar school lavatory…"
- An illustration in "Revolutionary Voices," shows two Boy Scouts pointing at and looking at two adult men engaged in sex.
- From "Queer 13:" "Soon I was spending a great deal of time hanging out in shopping malls and cruising the rest rooms for sexual encounters."
The report includes links to the original GLSEN promotions of the various books.
On the blog, a forum page participant wrote, "I can, with all confidence, say that`s pornography and IMHO not fit for adults let alone children. If you want to destroy a society, this is how you would do it."
"Why is this ------- in the position he is in in the Obama Administration? Obama? Explanation needed. Obama? Waiting … waiting … waiting…" said another.
"After scrolling through that rubbish that seemed to go on forever, I actually saw a positive aspect to being illiterate," said another.
It also has been reported Jennings` organization has included in one of its "lesson plans" for school children a recommendation for the film "Gay Pioneers."
The lesson plan describes "Gay Pioneers" as "a documentary focused on the first public protests for equal rights for gay and lesbian people, staged at governmental offices and historic landmarks in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. between 1965 and 1969, through archival footage and interviews with the participants who are still living."
The report suggests many parents might be surprised, however, to have their children being given messages of endorsement for the activities of Franklin Kameny, Jack Nichols, Nancy Tucker or Randolfe Wicker.
Kameny, for example, is "founder and president of National Consumers Association for the Advancement and Protection of Pornography, Inc.," the report said. And the report also cited the movie`s portrayal of Nichols, who edited the pornographic magazine "Screw."
A Catholic leader has questioned why Obama would appoint Jennings to a position of trust over school children.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League wrote, "On September 23, I wrote a news release on the curious moral credentials of Kevin Jennings to be President Obama`s Safe Schools Czar: a former drug user and irresponsible teen counselor, he is also a Christian basher.
"What was not known at the time is that he is also a proud member of Act Up, the homosexual urban terrorist group that broke into St. Patrick`s Cathedral (in New York City) in 1989 and disrupted Mass; the Eucharist was desecrated and obscene depictions of Cardinal O`Connor were posted," he continued.
"Now a group called MassResistance, and the website WorldNetDaily, have exposed Jennings as a member of Act Up. And he is no mere member: Jennings is listed as a donor to a sick display, `Act Up New York: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987-1993,` currently featured at the Harvard Art Museum. Harvard, of course, would never feature a display of Klan paraphernalia and say it was being done for the purpose of `dialogue,`" he said.
"The real story here is not the corruption of Harvard – that`s old hat – the real story is the president of the United States choosing a morally challenged anti-Catholic homosexual to join his team. That Jennings belongs to, and sponsors, an urban terrorist organization, should alone disqualify him from public service at a municipal level. And remember, Obama did not choose him to monitor global cooling – he was chosen to instruct youth on moral matters," Donohue said.
"Catholics deserve to know why Obama likes Jennings."
A YouTube video revealed Jeff Davis, Jennings` "partner," addressing a banquet and saying of Jennings, "He was a member of Act Up. Act Up! So it`s like – you know – here`s a big gay activist. BIG gay activist!"
The video was removed shortly after the WND report appeared, but Mass Resistance makes it available on the Internet.
According to "The Marketing of Evil," by WND`s David Kupelian, Act Up was extreme from its outset:
The defiant, storm-trooper tactics of in-your-face groups like Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) may or may not have been successful in pressuring the federal government to increase its commitment to combating AIDS. But such tactics definitely were successful in giving activist homosexuals a very bad name.
One infamous incident was the assault on New York`s famed St. Patrick`s Cathedral on December 10, 1989. While Cardinal John O`Connor presided over the 10:15 Sunday morning Mass, a multitude of "pro-choice" and "gay rights" activists protested angrily outside. Some, wearing gold-colored robes similar to clerical vestments, hoisted a large portrait of a pornographically altered frontal nude portrait of Jesus.
"You bigot, O`Connor, you`re killing us!" screamed one protester, while signs called the archbishop "Murderer!"
Then it got really ugly. Scores of protesters entered the church, resulting in what many in the packed house of parishioners described as a "nightmare."
"The radical homosexuals turned a celebration of the Holy Eucharist into a screaming babble of sacrilege by standing in the pews, shouting and waving their fists, tossing condoms into the air," recounted the New York Post. One of the invaders grabbed a consecrated wafer and threw it to the ground.
Outside, demonstrators, many of them members of Act Up, carried placards that summed up their sentiments toward the Catholic Church: "Keep your church out of my crotch." "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries." "Eternal life to Cardinal John O`Connor NOW!" "Curb your dogma."
Clearly, the young movement was flirting with oblivion if it persisted in such ugly, indefensible tactics. It needed a new, more civilized direction if it ever hoped to convince Americans that homosexuality was a perfectly normal alternative lifestyle.
According to Mass Resistance research by Amy Contrada, the Act Up organization also:
- Staged a "die in" at Massachusetts General Hospital to protest the unavailability of PCP drug AP.
- Protested Astra Pharmaceutical Products` refusal to release the experimental antiviral drug Foscarnet.
- Disrupted opening night at the San Francisco Opera.
- Protested design of clinical trials planned by Harvard School of Medicine.
- Jammed phone lines of health insurance database company protesting their use of "sexual deviation" classification.
- Halted Boston`s trolley service and traffic in front of Harvard School of Public Health
to press the federal government into approving two new AIDS drugs.
Messages WND has left with Jennings` office during its coverage of these issues never have been returned.
|December 05, 2009
|Santorum: Conservatives Must Battle `Toxic Tide` of Pop Culture more than Politics
(LifeSiteNews.com) - Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum last night urged leaders of the conservative movement to turn their resources towards countering the deluge of liberal pop culture, a front he considers more critical in the long-term than specific political battles.
"I will assure you that the vast majority of the American public has very little idea what is going on in the halls of Congress right now, as far as who`s speaking on the floor of the Senate," said Santorum at the 2009 Paul Weyrich Awards Dinner Thursday evening. "But I can tell you millions are watching TV shows tonight ... hundreds of millions, and we are absent from those screens."
Santorum suggested that influential conservatives have been too focused on political maneuvering, as well as economic issues, giving "short shrift" to the effects of popular culture on America`s conservative roots.
"We have always had this idea that we can shield ourselves from the popular culture, that we can protect our family from the effects of Hollywood, from the effects of the mainstream media, from the effects of the university, we just have to be careful," said Santorum. "Well, the bottom line is media is so pervasive, it is virtually impossible to do so.
"Virtues that we all as Americans honor, like integrity, honesty, courage, perseverance, these are great messages," he continued. "But they`re no longer being passed on in the stories told on the front porch. They`re being told by other people coming into your home, who you wouldn`t let walk in the front door if they knocked, but you let them in every single day when you turn on that television, when you press that button to turn the computer on."
Santorum suggested that more funders should turn their generosity towards organizations that engage the culture directly, rather than beginning with politics. "Culture is upstream from us," he said.
"Coalitions understand the damage being done to our families. The problem is, the conservatives that have the money don`t understand. They`d rather give to a political cause ... But to invest in the culture, somehow they feel dirty when they do that, even when it`s clean," he noted. "Somehow they feel: `Well, that`s just not what I do.`
"It had better be what you do, because if you don`t, you won`t have the opportunity to see generations of Americans raised with the values you believe in," he said.
"At the heart of conservatism, at the heart of any successful conservative government, is a strong family, is a strong faith community. Without those two things, freedom as we know it in America simply cannot exist," he said.
While stressing the cultural battle as more fundamental, Santorum also emphasized the need for a stronger political strategy than what conservatives will rely on in the 2010 election cycle. "If the conservative movement is going to survive, we cannot count on the incompetence of our opponents to win elections," he said.
Following the dinner Santorum stressed to LifeSiteNews.com that conservatives "do a lousy job of financing the cultural movement." "We are an entertainment information culture, and if we just focus on the politics, we focus on just a very small sliver of American life," he said.
"That`s where America is, and if we don`t meet them there, we`re not going to meet America."
|December 04, 2009
|Prop. 8 backers likely to win disclosure fight
(San Francisco Gate) A federal judge probably violated the Constitution when he ordered backers of Proposition 8, the initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California, to give their campaign strategy documents to opponents trying to overturn the measure, an appeals court said Thursday.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco suspended the order that Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker issued in October against backers of Prop. 8, which state voters approved in November 2008.
Walker said lawyers for two same-sex couples and a gay-rights group were entitled to see internal memos and e-mails between Yes on 8 strategists to look for evidence that the campaign had sought to exploit anti-gay bias. Such evidence would strengthen the plaintiffs` claim that the ballot measure was discriminatory and thus unconstitutional.
Prop. 8 sponsors argued that their discussions were constitutionally protected and that orders such as Walker`s would discourage candid communications in political campaigns.
The three-judge appeals court panel said the sponsors "have made a strong showing that they are likely to succeed" in their arguments. The court, which held a hearing on Walker`s order on Tuesday, said it would issue a ruling soon.
The panel members, Judges Kim Wardlaw, Raymond Fisher and Marsha Berzon, were all appointed to the court by former President Bill Clinton.
Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for the Prop. 8 sponsors, said the court`s order was "very encouraging. Free speech requires protection for citizens to engage in campaigns, and that is all we are asking for."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed Prop. 8 and supports the suit to overturn it, filed arguments supporting the Yes on 8 campaign`s challenge to Walker`s order.
It wasn`t clear whether suspending the judge`s order would delay the trial of the lawsuit, scheduled to begin Jan. 11 in San Francisco. But Yusef Robb, a spokesman for the plaintiffs in the case, said they do not expect a delay.
Regardless of the dispute over campaign documents, "we are on track to present a powerful case demonstrating that Prop. 8 violates the U.S. Constitution," Robb said.
Prop. 8 amended the California Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. It overturned a May 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that allowed gays and lesbians to marry in California. The state court upheld Prop. 8 this May while validating 18,000 same-sex marriages performed before the initiative passed.
The couples` lawsuit, joined by the city of San Francisco, contends the initiative violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender.
Backers of Prop. 8 argue that voters were entitled to adopt the traditional definition of marriage and that children are better off with married, biological parents.
|December 03, 2009
|California Junior High Principal Apologizes For Not Warning Parents About Pro-Homosexual Program for 8th Graders
(CNSNews.com) – The principal and a teacher at Goleta Valley Junior High School in Santa Barbara County, California are apologizing to parents for not following school district policy relating to a pro-homosexual workshop given to 8th grade students in a leadership class at the school.
The controversial workshop was presented by “Just Communities Central Coast” in three, 45-minute sessions over three days. It included handouts defining homosexual terminology, including queer and transgender, and listed “heterosexism” as “oppression that ‘pushes down’ people who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning) and ‘pushes up’ people who are straight.”
The handout defines sexual orientation this way: “Refers to who we feel romantically and sexually attracted to and who we fall in love with.”
One page featuring cartoon-like figures and entitled “Gender & Sexuality Definitions: A Visual Map,” depicts a person`s body with the heart area labeled as “sexual orientation” and the genital area labeled as “sex.”
A page entitled “Heterosexism” asks students to answer a three-part question: “How are LGBTQ people discriminated against or mistreated in the United States, in your local community and in your school?”
Betsy Cleary’s 13-year-old daughter was in the class during the workshop. She told Cleary following the second day of the workshop that she no longer liked leadership class because of what she described as a visit by “a sex group.”
“She was very uncomfortable,” Cleary told CNSNews.com. “She said, ‘I sat in the back and wished I could leave, but I couldn’t.’”
Cleary said she was shocked after reviewing the handouts her daughter received in the workshop and decided to share her concerns with other parents by e-mail, which was obtained by CNSNews.com. She also paid a visit to the office of the school’s principal, Veronica Rogers.
Cleary wanted to know why she was not notified about the content of the workshop ahead of time.
“I said, ‘Look, I don’t know my rights right now, all I know is that I have been violated as a parent,” Cleary told Rogers. “She said because [the workshop] falls under a health heading, they don’t need to do an ‘opt out.’ But if it had gone under a sex education heading, they could have an ‘opt out.’ And I said, ‘Clearly, and I showed her the picture, this is sex education. There is a circle around the genitals.’”
Principal Rogers told CNSNews.com that she was not aware of the content of the workshop handouts until they were brought to her attention by parents.
Matt Neal, whose son is an eighth grader at the school but did not attend the workshop, said after reviewing the workshop material that he asked Rogers how the curriculum was approved for the classroom. When he was told by Rogers that she had not seen the handouts prior to the workshop, he said he thought she and the leadership class teacher should make a public apology.
Neal told CNSNews.com that he thinks homosexuality should not be considered a topic for study by students in junior high school.
“I find it confounding that professional educators who have invested their careers in studying various pedagogy, principles, and evaluated the timing of lessons based on content, merit, and student maturity would not ask of themselves, ‘Is this topic merit worthy of our time and energy?’” Neal said. “Educators have grappled with, researched, and written volumes of content on how to teach grammar structures, math skills, history, art, etc., and yet have very little evidence as to the merit and pedagogy of this material for junior high students.”
“Honestly, this is what alarms me the most,” Neal said.
District reacts to controversy
After CNSNews.com contacted the Santa Barbara School District and the principal of the junior high school and asked about the Just Communities workshop--how it was approved and why parents were not notified and offered a way to have their children “opt out”--e-mails sent to parents and CNSNews.com reflected that officials apparently had a change of heart concerning the matter.
Barbara Keyani, coordinator of administrative services and communications with the school district, told CNSNews.com that “protocols” were not followed ahead of the workshop, which she said should have included review of the content under the school board’s “controversial issues” policy and sex education policy, which requires parents to be notified and allows them to keep their children out of the class.
“Please be aware that apologies have been issued by the principal, given the circumstances of this situation, for not having followed appropriate protocols,” Keyani said.
Leadership class teacher Christine Shaw sent an email to parents ahead of the workshop, as part of a weekly schedule she routinely distributes to parents. The e-mail reads as follows:
“Wednesday: Students will host Pumpkin Bowling at lunch. Today starts a 3-day series with a quest speaker from Just Communities, a local NPO (non-profit organization) centered on fostering diversity and tolerance. The speaker will be addressing issues that students here at GV face, and give them tools to handle these situations in positive ways.”
In this week’s e-mail to Cleary, Shaw apologized for the vagueness of the notice: “Also, I apologize for not being explicit about the topics covered in the Just Communities presentations.”
But Neal said Shaw’s behavior is what caused the controversy.
“I was incredibly saddened to learn that Ms. Rogers was left in the dark about the content and curriculum of Just Communities, who was invited by GVJH leadership teacher, Christine Shaw,” Neal said. “Just Communities provided every piece of curriculum and subject matter well in advance of the presentation, and Ms. Shaw did not have the respect for parents or the students, that the material being presented could be highly offensive to our families at GVJH.”
“She simply chose not to inform her supervisor of the material, and as a parent I feel like the school does not have the best interests of my son in mind, only their agenda,” Neal said.
Jarodd Schwartz, executive director of Just Communities, says his organization is just promoting "respect and safety" for students.
“We’re not promoting anything beyond respect and safety for all students,” Schwartz told CNSNews.com. “Our perspective is that all students regardless of race, sexual orientation, ability, etcetera, need to be treated with respect and dignity and school should be a safe, supportive learning environment.”
Schwartz said Just Communities staff developed and presented the material at the workshop. He said that the three sessions--Roots of Violence, Gender and Sexism; Homophobia and Heterosexism; and Inequality Based on Race--do not promote homosexuality.
But most of the material in the handouts given to students deals with what Just Communities believes is discrimination against people because they are homosexual and social and parental influence on “gender identity.”
Two exercises in the handouts are called “Act Like A Man Box” and “Act Like a Lady Box.” Students are asked to imagine what their parents or other adults say to them that make them feel they must stay inside the “man” and “lady” box.
“What’s hard about being in this box all the time?” the worksheet asks. “What qualities help us resist the pressure to be ‘in the box?’”
Cleary said she was angry that her daughter was taught about homosexuality in the workshop, including being told by the Just Communities staff member who conducted the workshop that having a very close relationship with someone of the same sex could result in homosexuality or bi-sexuality.
“Whether or not they will fess up to what was said, this is what our daughter heard,” Cleary said. “This is what she interpreted. And this is why I am angry.”
In this Nov. 5, 2008 file photo, Erin Carder, front, and Kerri McCoy participate in a candlelight vigil protesting the passage of Proposition 8 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/George Nikitin, File)
“Because when you are so forceful in what you’re showing, kids can interpret things in different ways,” Cleary said. “So it was introduced into our daughter’s brain that because she has a girlfriend, she could be bi, or gay or straight -- they use straight too -- you know, it could be coming out as your sexuality develops.”
Cleary said it was ironic that an organization that was billed as teaching tolerance uses what she described as “intimidation” in the workshop, including criticizing parents who voted for Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that passed in California in November 2008 that read: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
“One kid asked this authority figure from Just Communities, what about Proposition 8?” Cleary said. “And apparently it was asked, well, whose parents voted for yes or no? And those who voted yes, [they are] prejudiced and discriminatory.”
Just Communities has offered to meet with parents who have complained about the workshop to “explore our presentation materials.”
The Santa Barbara School District has told parents it would make sure protocol is followed for future workshops conducted by outside organizations.
|December 03, 2009
|`Cyber threat` bill a threat in itself
(OneNewsNow) While healthcare reform has held the legislative spotlight for the last several months, Americans are being warned that another piece of legislation that is "very much alive" in Congress constitutes a significant threat to their personal liberties.
It was in early April when Senator John Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S. 773) on the Senate floor. The legislation -- touted as necessary to "ensure the free flow of commerce within the U.S. and its global trading partners through secure cyber communications" -- would establish a new Cybersecurity Advisory Panel within the White House. It would also streamline the government`s cybersecurity efforts and establish a clearinghouse for threat and vulnerability information. (See earlier article)
The American Center for Liberty & Justice (ACLJ) acknowledges that certain sacrifices are necessary in protecting the nation`s communications networks. But it questions the need for another aspect of the bill -- the section that grants new authority for the president to "declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network."
In other words, says the ACLJ, Rockefeller`s bill "would grant the federal government virtually complete control over all electronic communication."
"The devastating potential of this action on commerce is frightening, and pales only when compared to the political suppression that this kind of authority could lead to," states an ACLJ legislative alert posted on Tuesday.
"The President and his administrative bureaucracy would be permitted to shut down all electronic communications with no notice and for any number of vaguely defined reasons," the alert continues.
The ACLJ suggests the potential exists in S. 773 for political suppression similar to that demonstrated a few months ago when citizens in Iran used Twitter to broadcast the truth of post-election protests in that country -- despite a media blackout imposed by the Iranian government.
"If Americans are stripped of the ability to use technology to communicate, our government might very well have the ability to stifle speech just as the Iranian government did," says the ACLJ. "While we are all concerned about national security, we must not stand by while our elected officials use scare tactics to trample our rights and take away our fundamental freedoms."
Rockefeller`s proposed legislation currently has three co-sponsors: Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Bill Nelson (D-Florida), and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
|December 03, 2009
|U.S. set to fund more stem cell study
(Washington Post) The Obama administration has begun approving new lines of human embryonic stem cells that are eligible for federally funded experiments, opening the way for millions of taxpayer dollars to be used to conduct research that was put off-limits by President George W. Bush.
Launching a dramatic expansion of government support for one of the most promising but most contentious fields of biomedical research, the National Institutes of Health on Wednesday authorized the first 13 lines of cells under the administration`s policy and was poised to approve 20 more Friday.
"This is the first down payment on what is going to be a much longer list that will empower the scientific community to explore the potential of embryonic stem cell research," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. "Today`s announcement is the first wave."
An additional 76 stem cell lines are awaiting vetting, and researchers have indicated that they plan to submit at least 254 more for approval.
The NIH has already authorized 31 grants worth about $21 million for research on human embryonic stem cells, money that was contingent on new lines passing government muster. The grants are for a variety of research, including work aimed at developing cells that could be used to treat diseases of the heart and nervous system.
Many other grant requests have been submitted by researchers hoping to use some of the $10 billion the NIH received as part of the economic stimulus, Collins said.
"We`ve been waiting with bated breath to get started," said George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Children`s Hospital in Boston who created 11 of the lines approved Wednesday. "We could do today what we couldn`t do yesterday."
Bush severely restricted federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research because of moral objections to the destruction of human embryos to obtain the cells. Federally funded scientists were limited to studying 21 existing cell lines that many criticized as flawed and inadequate; had to erect cumbersome bureaucratic procedures to separate government-funded research from privately funded work; and were sometimes prevented from sharing ideas.
Now, although embryonic stem cell lines will still have to be created using private funding, federal funding will be permitted for experiments using a much larger array of lines, once those lines have been scrutinized to make sure they were created from embryos obtained ethically. That will vastly expand the number of scientists and types of experiments using taxpayer dollars.
"This is what we`ve been waiting for," said Amy Comstock Rick of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which has been leading the lobbying effort to loosen the federal restrictions. "We`ve very excited."
Opponents see `tragedy`
But the announcement was condemned by opponents of the research, who argued that the work is not only unethical but unnecessary, because of the availability of adult stem cells and other more recently identified alternatives.
"Ethically, we don`t think any taxpayer should have to fund research that relies on destroying early human life at any stage," said Richard M. Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "But the tragedy of this is multiplied by the fact that no one can think what the problem is that can only be solved by these cells."
Collins, a geneticist and evangelical Christian whose appointment raised concern among some scientists, defended the work.
"I think that there is an argument to be made that what is being done is ethically acceptable," Collins said, "even if you believe in the inherent sanctity of the human embryo."
Many scientists believe embryonic stem cells will yield fundamental insights into the underlying causes of a host of diseases and could be used to cure diabetes, Parkinson`s disease, paralysis and other ailments. But extracting the cells destroys days-old embryos. In an effort to prevent tax dollars from encouraging the destruction of more embryos, Bush on Aug. 9, 2001, restricted federal funding to studies involving lines that were already in existence.
Critics have long complained that those cells had shortcomings, such as defects that could make them dangerous to transplant into people.
In the meantime, hundreds of newer lines have been developed that offer a host of opportunities. Many, for example, carry defects for specific diseases and could yield crucial clues into how those illnesses develop and might be cured.
U.S. researchers who wanted to study them have had to use private funds and go through complicated bureaucratic hoops, sometimes essentially creating parallel laboratories with carefully segregated staff and equipment to keep federal funds from being used for the experiments.
President Obama fulfilled a campaign promise in March by signing an executive order lifting the Bush restrictions and ordering the NIH to develop guidelines to decide which lines could be ethically used.
In a political compromise, the guidelines finalized in July limited funding to lines created from excess fertility clinic embryos, as long as they were deemed to have been obtained ethically. The lines have to meet a strict set of criteria, such as making sure couples were not offered any financial incentives, knew the embryos would be destroyed for research and were offered the option of donating them to other couples.
Some proponents of the research criticized the guidelines for not going further and allowing, for example, federal funds to be used to create embryos specifically for research purposes or by cloning techniques. Federal funds are also still barred by Congress from being used to create the cell lines.
The final NIH guidelines created an elaborate process for vetting cell lines. Those that meet the criteria set forth by the guidelines could be approved by the agency`s staff, while those that are more questionable because they were obtained under less stringent requirements will be vetted individually by a special advisory committee to the NIH director.
It was unclear whether any of the 21 lines originally approved by Bush would qualify; so far only one has been submitted for review. The lines approved Wednesday -- 11 at Children`s Hospital and 2 at Rockefeller University in New York -- met the basic requirements.
|December 03, 2009
|Showdown Over Abortion Looms in Senate
(AP) Senators debating health care legislation are headed for a clash over abortion, the issue that threatened to derail the bill in the House.
Anticipating the showdown, hundreds of abortion rights supporters gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday to call on senators to keep new abortion restrictions out of the health care bill. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., plans to unveil an anti-abortion amendment as early as Thursday that abortion rights supporters inside the Senate and out say they can`t support.
Nelson says he won`t vote for the underlying bill without his strong abortion language. But opponents say his amendment doesn`t have the votes to pass. The outcome could be critical in determining the fate of President Barack Obama`s signature health overhaul agenda.
At issue is how abortions would be handled in the health care bills. In the House, a bloc of anti-abortion Democrats forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to accept restrictions that outraged liberals as the price for passing the Democratic health care bill last month.
The language passed by the House would forbid any health plan that receives federal subsidies from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother`s life. A new government insurance plan couldn`t offer abortions, and women would have to purchase separate coverage for abortion services.
Behind the scenes, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who opposes abortions but wants to vote for the overall health care bill, has been working to find language that could satisfy both sides.
"Our goal is to maintain essentially Hyde-like protections that prevent federal funds from being used to pay for and subsidize abortion," Casey`s communications director Larry Smar said Wednesday, referring to the existing law on abortion, though nothing had been finalized.
Efforts to find such a common ground failed in the House.
Women`s rights groups were caught off-guard by the provision that passed the House and are now vowing to keep similar language out of the Senate bill. Hundreds of activists organized by Planned Parenthood and other groups rallied Wednesday, holding signs reading "Listen up senators: Women`s health is not negotiable."
Several House Democrats spoke, vowing to oppose final passage of any health bill with the tough abortion restrictions already approved by the House. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., called it "a devil`s bargain" that she couldn`t accept.
But the House language is just what Nelson wants to include in the Senate bill. He is not satisfied with the language filed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., which would forbid including abortion coverage as a required medical benefit, but would allow a new government insurance plan to cover abortions and let private insurers that receive federal subsidies offer plans that include abortion coverage.
The money to pay for abortions would have to come from premiums paid by beneficiaries themselves, kept strictly separate from federal subsidy dollars. Supporters say that would keep government funds from being used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother as allowed under a current law known as the Hyde amendment.
Abortion opponents say Reid`s bill circumvents Hyde. For example, they say that any funds a government insurance plan would use to pay for abortion would be federal funds by definition -- even if the money comes from premiums paid by beneficiaries.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said after addressing the crowd that she didn`t think Nelson had the votes to prevail, though she stopped short of saying she`d oppose the overall legislation if it included Nelson`s language. Reid controls 60 votes, the exact number needed to advance legislation in the 100-member Senate, so he has no room for error.
Boxer told activists at the rally that the anti-abortion amendment adopted by the House amounted to "the biggest rollback in a woman`s right to choose in three decades."
|December 01, 2009
|After major same sex marriage research, liberal CA org says: "We do not see a path to victory."
(San Francisco Gate) The effort to get same sex marriage on the California ballot in 2010 took a hit Monday. Rick Jacbos, the leader of the 700,000-member Courage Campaign just told us that after spending more than $200,000 on "qualitative research" into the issue in California that "We do not see a path to victory."
So, the Courage Campaign sent a note to its supporters Monday calling for "for more research and time to change hearts and minds before returning to the ballot." Lambda Legal, a LGBT legal organization, said largely the same thing Monday.
Jacobs told us that the research -- led by Obama confidante Steve Hildebrand -- found that "The biggest hangup people have is that right wing has done a very good job of telling people that somehow children will be affected" should same sex marriage become legal. It worked in both Maine and California, even though top public officials in both places said it would not.
"We also must come together as a community to create a broad coalition and governance structure, put in place a strong manager and secure the resources to win. Right now, the pieces are not all in place to do so confidently," Jacobs wrote to supporters.
As of now, the movement doesn`t have a political/governance structure nor a top manager. And major funders are backing off.
The Couragers join Equality California and others who say 2010 ain`t the time for another run.
So what does this mean to the folks at Restore Equality 2010, who are gathering petition sigatures for a ballot run next year?
"Realistically, if you don`t have the larger organizations like Equality California and Courage Campaign on board it becomes next to impossible with such a short time to gather signatures," said Chaz Lowe, a Restore Equality organizer who and founder of Yes on Equality.
But John Henning, a co-founder of Love, Honor, Cherish, who is also at the forefront of the 2010 petition drive said Courage Campaign`s announcements "is not entirely surprising. We`re going to go ahead."
Henning said signature-gathering is "going well. Thousands and thousands are coming," but declined to release a specific figure. He also declined to report on how fundraising was going.
Henning said he`d love to see the Courage Campaign research and Jacobs said he`d be willing to share it with allies.
Even though Jacobs did not see a way forward immediately, he said the research confirmed that "We see a willingness among people to move on this issue." However, as other groups and advocates have stated, much more outreach and telling of how the issue impacts families.
Waiting, Henning said, is hard.
"There are many people who can`t get married for at least two years if we wait," Henning told us. "I can`t get married. Many friends I know can`t get married.”
|December 01, 2009
|Millions of Families Will Pay $2,100 More in Annual Health Insurance Premiums Under Senate Bill
(CSNews.com) For millions of American families, the cost of health insurance premiums will increase $2,100 a year under the Democratic health care bill now being debated in the U.S. Senate.
That’s according to an analysis conducted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JTO).
The CBO-JCT analysis of Sen. Harry Reid’s bill found that people buying their own health insurance policies on government-run exchanges – as they will be required to do if they lack coverage through work -- will see their premiums increase by up to 13 percent in 2016, the year in which the Senate bill takes full effect.
For people purchasing their own insurance on government-run exchanges, "Average premiums per policy …in 2016 would be roughly $5,800 for single policies and $15,200 for family policies under the proposal, compared with roughly $5,500 for single policies and $13,100 for family policies under current law."
Put another way, under Reid’s bill, a family in 2016 would pay $15,200 for an insurance plan, up $2,100 from the $13,100 they currently pay.
Costs would not go up for everyone who buys their own insurance: The CBO analysis says about 57 percent of the individuals purchasing their own insurance “would receive government subsidies that would reduce their costs” below what they’re paying now.
The subsidies, on average, “would cover nearly two-thirds of the total premium,” the analysis said. (The Senate bill would subsidize the purchase of insurance policies for individuals and families with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.)
But the other 43 percent who do not qualify for federal subsidies would end up paying higher premiums.
CBO and JCT estimated that roughly 23 million people would purchase their own coverage through government-run exchanges in the year 2016 -- and roughly 5 million of those people would not receive federal subsidies.
Further, the CBO analysis assumes that employers will continue providing health insurance for their workers rather than pay a government fine for failing to provide coverage.
But what if that doesn’t happen? If people who now have insurance through their employers are forced out of their plans -- because their bosses would rather pay a fine than pay for insurance – many more Americans would have to buy their own individual policies – and many of them presumably would not qualify for federal subsidies.
The CBO-JCT analysis says most people who get their insurance through their jobs would not notice much change in their premiums under the Reid bill, although in many cases the premiums would be slightly lower.
But the CBO-JCT analysis also noted that the Senate bill would impose an excise tax on “high-value” employment-based policies.
Reaction varies by party
Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the CBO analysis “confirm[s] what every American already knows: the D emocrats’ plan for a government takeover of health care will dramatically raise health care costs on working families.”
Pence focused on the 13-percent hike in premiums purchased through government-run insurance exchanges: It means that “every family that refuses the government’s one-size-fits-all plan, will be forced to spend an additional $2,100 a year to keep their current health care.”
During his campaign, Pence noted, Barack Obama promised to deliver health care reform that would lower premiums by $2500. “In light of this new CBO report, I urge the president to call on Democrat leaders to start over or explain to the American people why lowering health care costs isn’t a promise worth keeping.”
Democrats were pleased with the CBO analysis: "Today`s analysis confirms that millions of Americans who lack the necessary coverage to avoid potential financial ruin would have access to more coverage at an affordable price because of our proposal," the Washington Post quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as saying.
|December 01, 2009
|Israel warns EU over east Jerusalem dispute
(AP) Israel sternly warned the European Union on Tuesday against recognizing east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, saying such a move would damage Europe`s credibility as a Mideast mediator.
The warning came as Jewish settlers in the West Bank confronted government inspectors sent to enforce a ban on new construction on territory Palestinians claim for a future state. No major violence was reported, but the images could boost the efforts of conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to portray himself as amenable to international demands for curtailing settlement construction.
Sweden, the current EU president, is floating an initiative to recognize east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Tuesday that Sweden will seek approval at an EU meeting in Brussels next week.
In Stockholm, officials declined to confirm the proposal. But diplomats in Brussels said privately that Sweden has put the issue up for a debate by the EU governments.
The text, quoted by Haaretz, refers to a "two-state solution with an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine, comprising the West Bank and Gaza and with east Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel."
An explicit European endorsement of their claims to east Jerusalem would be a diplomatic victory for the Palestinians, backing the demand by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that an Israeli construction freeze in the West Bank must include east Jerusalem.
It also would mark a significant break with tradition. The Europeans have long said Jerusalem should be a shared capital, but that Israel and the Palestinians must jointly agree on that.
The dispute over east Jerusalem — home to Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites — is the most intractable issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel captured the area in the 1967 Mideast war, immediately annexed it and claims all of Jerusalem as its eternal capital. But the annexation has not been internationally recognized, and the Palestinians want to make east Jerusalem the capital of a future state.
The EU wording would also support the Palestinian claim for a state based on the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.
Although the proposal is unlikely to pass, Israel`s Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement urging the EU not to proceed.
"The move led by Sweden damages the ability of the European Union to take a role and be a significant factor in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," the statement said.
A Dutch diplomat called an EU decision on east Jerusalem "hard to imagine." Major decisions require unanimous approval, and there are divisions among the 27 members over the Jerusalem issue. Other diplomats said the wording of any final proposal would likely change.
Palestinian presidential adviser Rafik Husseini accused Israel of trying to sabotage the Palestinian diplomatic efforts. "They are trying to make sure it never happens," he said.
The Palestinians have refused to restart peace talks, which broke down nearly a year ago, until Israel halts construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Settlers have promised stiff resistance to the building freeze, and on Tuesday, Israeli radio stations reported unrest in at least four settlements where inspectors tried to enforce the government order. There were no reports of injuries, but the reports said inspectors were blocked from entering the settlements.
The Palestinians have called Netanyahu`s offer of a 10-month halt to new West Bank housing insufficient because it excludes east Jerusalem, as well as 3,000 homes already being built in the West Bank.
Even so, Netanyahu, a traditional ally of the settlers, claims he has made a painful and unprecedented gesture to get peace efforts back on track — and Tuesday`s unrest could help back his position.
Some 300,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, in addition to 180,000 Israeli Jews living in east Jerusalem.
In other unrest, a Jewish family took over a house in an Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem, sparking a protest by rock-throwing Palestinians and a few Israeli and foreign activists who joined them, police said. One of the family members was lightly injured in the head when a protester hit him with a metal bar, and police arrested five people. Both sides claim ownership of the building.
|December 01, 2009
|White House Dismisses ‘Climategate’ Because ‘Most People’ Believe in Global Warming
(CNSNews.com) As President Barack Obama prepares to travel to a global climate summit next week in Copenhagen, the White House is dismissing the “climategate” controversy that has arisen over the leak of email communications between top climate-change scientists that some skeptics say cast doubt on the legitimacy of the science behind the theory that human activity is causing global warming.
Obama will be attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference on Dec. 9. The conference in Copenhagen comes soon after the emails released by a computer hacker has led one Republican U.S. senator to call for an investigtation.
Some global warming skeptics have referred to the e-mails--from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit in England--as “climategate.”
But White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs dismissed the controversy on Monday, saying that most people don’t dispute global warming.
“In the order of several thousand scientists have come to the conclusion that climate change is happening,” Gibbs said. “I don’t think that any of that is, quite frankly among most people, in dispute.”
Leading global-warming skeptic Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, wants an investigation into the content of the e-mails. He has asked all government agencies to retain e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.
“It appears that, in an attempt to conceal the manipulation of climate data, information disclosure laws may have been violated,” Inhofe said in a statement last week. “I certainly don`t condone the manner in which these emails were released; however, now that they are in the public domain, lawmakers have an obligation to determine the extent to which the so-called ‘consensus` of global warming, formed with billions of taxpayer dollars, was contrived in the biased minds of the world`s leading climate scientists.”
One of the e-mails said, “If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the U.K., I think I`ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.” It was written by Phil Jones, director of the University of East Anglia`s Climate Research Unit (CRU)
The texts of some of the 3,000 e-mails were posted by the Wall Street Journal last week.
Another e-mail suggested that scientists “hide the decline” in the earth’s temperatures.
Obama will announce plans in Copenhagen that include reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, according to the White House.
“In light of the President’s goal to reduce emissions 83 percent by 2050, the expected pathway set forth in this pending legislation would entail a 30 percent reduction below 2005 levels in 2025 and a 42 percent reduction below 2005 in 2030,” a White House release last week said.
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