"Am I therefore become your enemy,because I TELL YOU THE TRUTH...?"
(Galatians 4:16)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Atheism advances

DALLAS-Early in December, I visited my daughter at college. Spread across her floor was a project she was working on for an elementary education class. The assignment was to prepare a holiday unit for the public school classroom. The project was supposed to include room decorations, a game, songs and stories. And in order to "fit into" the public school requirements, religious references-including references to Christmas-were forbidden. I was proud of her exquisite, sparkling work, featuring snowflakes and icicles in shades of silver, white and blue. But there was something very sad about it. It seemed cold and empty compared to the cheery reds, greens and golds of Christmas. The songs were unfamiliar to me. Even "Frosty the Snowman" was taboo-I guess because it mentions Christmas. Perhaps I should not be surprised at the way things have progressed. The religious aspects of Christmas have been taboo for awhile. Now even the childhood fun of the Christmas celebration is being stripped from the nation's public schools.Yes, Christmas is over. But it's worth one last look at what has become an annual legal and political battle against Christianity that actually takes place throughout the year. Legally, the acknowledgement and discussion of Christmas is not forbidden in schools or the public square. But city officials and school administrators across the country downplayed it for fear of being sued by the ACLU and their "offended" clients. Christmas vacation is now universally referred to as "winter break." The Christmas program is now the "winter concert." The courts pretty much agree that, in public schools and on government property, manger scenes are required to be combined with secular symbols like reindeer and Christmas trees, or Santas and Frostys. Christians have kind of come to grips with that. But the secularizers are not satisfied. In recent years, even the non-religious but traditional aspects of Christmas are being challenged.Town officials are finding themselves in the peculiar position of having to decide whether Christmas-I mean "holiday"-parades can include the presence of Santa Claus. This year, in Fort Collins, Colo., there was a fight over red and green Christmas lights. A city-appointed task force, which included a member of the Northern Colorado ACLU, proposed the colors be banned. (An overwhelming outcry by citizens convinced the city council not to "mess with tradition.") This year, the Seattle airport took its Christmas trees down, and, after a chorus of disapproval, put the trees back up. In the name of inclusiveness, symbols that have nothing to do with the Christian aspects of Christmas are banned from the public square. You have to wonder, do people other than ACLU lawyers really want these changes? The answer to that question appeared last month in the form of a survey released by Rasmussen Reports. One thousand adults were polled and 67 percent said they preferred that retailers use the words "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays" in their seasonal advertising. Most people are weary of this politically correct nonsense.As if it were not depressing enough to observe the secularization of Christmas, we also get to live through another attempt by atheist Michael Newdow to strip God from the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow was back in federal court in early December, demanding "under God" be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance and the currency. The case is the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court that affirmed Newdow's challenge to the pledge in 2002.Hollywood is cooperating with the outright promotion of atheism to kids. Just in time for the Christmas movie-going season was the epic fantasy film, "The Golden Compass." The film has the look of the Chronicles of Narnia movie that was so successful a couple of years ago. But it's the anti-Narnia. The Golden Compass is based on the first in the "His Dark Materials" book trilogy written by British atheist Philip Pullman. At the end of the trilogy, God dies.Several recent bestselling books by atheists have become weapons in this secular war on Christians and their beliefs. Conservative author Dinesh D'Souza describes the struggle and counters their arguments in his new book, "What's So Great About Christianity?" He argues that atheists have developed a strategy to win the minds of the next generation. Involved, believing parents are the counter to this and the atheists know it. Atheist Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion," calls faith a mental illness, and raises the question as to whether or not parents should "be free to impose their beliefs on their children." Atheist Christopher Hitchens, author of "God is Not Great," asks. "How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?" Free nations should welcome religion, specifically Christianity, because it preserves freedom. Totalitarian regimes benefit when the culture is stripped of religion, or religious celebrations. In the former Soviet Union, Communists feared Christianity and gradually secularized the Christmas holiday. They wrote Jesus out of Christmas carols, banned St. Nicholas, and banned Christmas trees. Not willing to let go, the people moved these traditions to New Years. Our nation is still overwhelmingly Christian. We pride ourselves on our tolerance of all religions-or no religion. But Christians should remain vigilant and winsomely seek to remain the primary drivers and influencers of culture in America.
By Penna Dexter
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BIG BROTHER WATCH:Australia's controversial national ID program hits the dumpster

Opponents of Australia's controversial Access Card received an early Christmas present earlier this month when the incoming Rudd Labor Government finally axed the controversial ID program. Had it been implemented, the Access Card program would have required Australians to present the smart card anytime they dealt with certain federal departments, including Medicare, Centrelink, the Child Support Agency, or Veterans' Affairs.For reference, Medicare is the government agency responsible for the maintenance of Australia's universal health care system, Centrelink is responsible for the dispersement of social security payments, the Child Support Agency is responsible for the collection of child support from each parent in the event of a separation or divorce. Veterans' Affairs appears to be at least somewhat analogous to its US counterpart, minus the provisions for medical treatment.Although the Australian government attempted to paint the Access Card system as a "Human Services Access Card," there's little doubt that it would've doubled as an effective national ID system. Information printed on the card was to include one's name, photo, signature, card, and DVA entitlements.Those particular requirements aren't any more onerous than what the US requires for a driver's license, but the Access Card didn't stop there. Each card would have been tied to an individual user via a specific card number and a corresponding PIN required to access the card's more detailed information .
Encrypted information contained within the card's RFID chip would have included a person's legal name, date of birth, gender, address, signature, card number, card expiration date, and Medicare number. Provisions were also included that would allow additional information deemed to be necessary for either "the administration or purposes of the Act."Australians were unhappy about being forced to carry a unique ID card merely for the purpose of interacting with basic human and health services, and the proposal faced opposition from its very inception. The defeat of John Howard in the Australian polls was the last gasp of the Access Card program, which was killed off as one of the very first acts of the new Labor government, lead by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Australia's battle against the Access Card system echoes the active opposition in America to the REAL ID act. Although the two plans differ substantially in scope and implementation, critics of both argued against them on the same privacy- and civil-liberties-oriented grounds.
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Kingdom of Bhutan gets first vote as royal rule ends

THE Himalayan outpost of Bhutan stages its first parliamentary polls this week as the kingdom steers away from royal rule, but officials worry many voters will stay away.The December 31 elections represent a dramatic shift of power in Bhutan orchestrated by former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck to end absolute royal authority for a more ceremonial role.The monarch abdicated in December 2006 in favour of Oxford-educated son King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as part of plans to introduce a constitution and hold direct elections – a direct break with 100-year-old royal rule.But many Bhutanese view the looming changes with trepidation, as seen in practice polls in April and May which saw about 40 percent turnout.Kuensel, the nation's official newspaper, reported that many potential voters in the capital Thimphu have been reluctant to head back to villages as demanded and had not received or applied for postal ballots.Some federal government workers from outside Thimphu "and many other organisations in the capital did not receive postal ballots," Kuensel reported.According to an online poll of 1310 people carried out by the weekly, only 40 percent expect to vote for the upper house National Council of parliament.There are nearly 313,000 registered voters in the isolated kingdom of 600,000 sandwiched between India and China.To quell voter fears of corruption in particular by the new political class, Election Commission guidelines for prospective candidates include a high-school diploma, income and criminal background checks and bans on offering or accepting money.The upper house has 20 seats up for direct election with another five to be selected by the new king. The body is intended as a check to the National Assembly or lower house, which will be directly elected for the first time likely in February or March 2008.Only 15 of the seats will hold polls on December 31, five will be held on January 29 and the remaining seat filled sometime after lower house polls are held, the election commission said in an email.Electronic voting will be used for all seats and results are expected shortly after polls close at 4pm.Candidates for the upper house cannot have political party affiliation.The 47-seat lower house will see at least two main parties-the Virtuous Bhutan Party, an alliance headed by former home minister Jigme Yehse Thinley, and the People's Democratic Party, led by former prime minister Sangay Ngedup. Bhutan, about the size of Switzerland, is widely known for a motto coined by the former king as aiming for "gross national happiness" over gross domestic product.However the one-time Shangri-la also faces serious problems including the wrath of Indian militant groups based on its 275k southern border with Assam state.Last week, Bhutan sealed the border with Assam over fears that the militants might take revenge for a 2003 military crackdown with the help of India that evicted three separatist groups – two from Assam and one from West Bengal."We are worried that militants from Assam might try and create problems during the elections," said Sangey Thinley, district magistrate of Sarpang district of Bhutan.Bhutan also evicted ethnic Nepalese Hindus as part of a campaign by the former king in the 1990s to forge "national identity", which consists of traditional dress and wider use of the Bhutanese language.The refugees, now living in UN camps in Nepal, have demanded the right-of-return but have been rebuffed by Bhutan.Earlier this year, the United States said it may accept at least 60,000 of the refugees and Canada offered to allow 5000 people in, but many who lost property have refused to go and oppose the elections."We do not recognise the elections in Bhutan as the polls are still being held under a dictatorial rule of the king," Anil Gurung, a Nepali refugee leader of Bhutanese origin, said from Siliguri in India's West Bengal state.

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Explosives found in EU Mideast aid bags

ISRAEL says it has seized a truck carrying chemicals used to make explosives hidden in bags marked as EU aid for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.The army said 6.5 tonnes of potassium nitrate were in bags marked as sugar from the European Union for Palestinians in the coastal enclave.EU officials in Jerusalem had no immediate comment.The cargo in a Palestinian truck was travelling in the occupied West Bank and seized several weeks ago at an Israeli checkpoint, the army said.The EU is the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Israel tightened its military and economic cordon of the Gaza Strip after Islamist Hamas seized the territory in a June war with secular Fatah.
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LAND FULL of VIOLENCE:At least 500 youths murdered in '07: rights group

MORE than 500 children and youths were murdered in Honduras in 2007, a fifth more than last year, victims of gang violence, death squads, drug hit men and even police shootings, a rights group said today.Almost 4,000 children and youths under 22 have been murdered in the poor Central American country over the past decade, said rights group Casa Alianza, which works to protect minors in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru."Hit men, death squads and even police officers are killing the children and young people. State security forces are incapable of stopping these murders,'' said Casa Alianza's Honduran representative, Manuel Capellin.
Many murdered youths, some as young as 12, are members of Honduras' violent gangs and are caught up in rival killings.Some police officers are accused of killing youths after gangs attacked officers, Casa Alianza and other rights groups say.Honduran police deny the charges.Some 40 per cent of the 7.5 million people in Honduras are 14 or younger.

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Cyclones set to hit both coasts

PARKS and wildlife rangers have begun evacuating holidaymakers from Fraser Island as an intense low pressure system packing gale-force winds headed for the popular tourist destination north of Queensland's Sunshine Coast.As the volatile system headed slowly south, threatening to bring huge waves and high winds to much of the Queensland coast, the Bureau of Meteorology said there was a significant risk of a severe tropical cyclone developing on the other side of the country, off Western Australia's northwest coast.Senior forecaster Andrew Burton said people between Exmouth and Broome could be at risk over the next 48 hours, with the low expected to develop into a tropical cyclone overnight.Forecasters are also monitoring a low in the Gulf of Carpentaria, which is expected to develop into a cyclone early next week.As many as 3000 people have been camping on Fraser Island this holiday season, but rangers yesterday began ordering them to leave.Queensland Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said residents and tourists staying at resorts could remain on the island, but all campers should leave as soon as possible.The low, described by one forecaster as akin to a Sydney-Hobart yacht race storm, was already bringing big waves to the east coast of Fraser Island yesterday, but its full force is not expected until tomorrow.Big waves and gale-force winds are also expected on the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast this weekend. The low, which was centred about 250km northeast of Gladstone last night, battered the central Queensland coast yesterday with strong winds and high seas, forcing the closure of the state's largest coal terminal at Dalrymple Bay, south of Mackay.More than 40 coal ships are anchored off the coast but none was allowed to dock. Terminal spokeswoman Cathy Kelly said the order for the ships to stay at sea was a precautionary measure."These ships can go on oceans around the world, so they're suited to this weather, they can handle this weather," Ms Kelly told ABC radio."It's when they come alongside that high seas can cause them to be buffeted up against the wharf and damage either themselves or the wharf, so it's best that they wait at anchor until the seas calm down a little."
The low off the west coast has developed in the Indian Ocean about 600km northwest of Broome and is due to follow the coast southwards in coming days."There is certainly a significant risk it could develop into a severe tropical cyclone impacting the coast," Mr Burton said.
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Australia frees Guantanamo convict

ADELAIDE, Australia-David Hicks, the only person convicted of terrorism charges at a U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, walked free Saturday and said he did not want to do "anything that might result in my return" to the prison in Cuba.The 32-year-old was released from prison in his home town of Adelaide in southern Australia after completing a nine-month sentence struck under a plea deal that followed more than five years' detention without a trial at Guantanamo.Hicks smiled briefly as he was led by guards toward the gate of the Yatala Labor Prison, but did not speak to reporters.In a statement released by his lawyer he thanked supporters including rights activists and anti-torture groups who helped get him out of Guantanamo Bay.
"First and foremost I would like to recognize the huge debt of gratitude that I owe the Australian public for getting me home," Hicks said in the statement."I will not forget, or let you down."Last week, a federal magistrate ruled that Hicks was a security risk because of the training he acknowledged receiving in terrorist camps in Afghanistan.The court was told he met al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at least 20 times, describing him as a "lovely brother" in letters home.The magistrate ordered Hicks to report to police three times a week and obey a curfew by staying indoors at premises to be agreed on by police.The former Muslim convert-he has renounced the faith while in detention-was caught on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan in December 2001 by U.S.-backed local forces and handed to American authorities.During his incarceration at Guantanamo, Hicks became a cause celebre in Australia, where many activists and politicians criticized then-Prime Minister John Howard for allowing an Australian to languish for years in a foreign jail without trial.Howard was defeated by new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in elections last month.Under increasing pressure as a tough election battle approached, Howard raised the issue of Hicks with Vice President Dick Cheney during a visit to Sydney earlier this year, and the tribunal proceedings against Hicks started soon afterward. Hicks became the first person convicted under the military tribunals system set up by President Bush to try terror suspects when he pleaded guilty in March to providing material support to a terrorist organization.He was sentenced to seven years in prison, though all but nine months' prison time was suspended.Under the plea deal, Hicks was returned to Australia to serve out his time, agreed to remain silent about his treatment in custody and forfeited any right to appeal his conviction.He also agreed not to speak with media until March next year.After earlier suggesting Hicks would apologize for his past actions, his father, Terry, said Saturday his son believed there was no need."You've got to realize David's done five and a half years pretty tough," Terry Hicks told reporters. "I think he's done his time for whatever. Nothing's been proved of what he's supposedly done. He's done his time and it's time for him to settle down."
Opposition leader Brendan Nelson said Hicks should make "nothing less than an unqualified apology" for his admissions.In his statement, Hicks pleaded for privacy to allow him to readjust to life outside prison and get "medical care for the consequences of 51/2 years at Guantanamo Bay."He did not elaborate, but his family has said he suffered deep depression and anxiety while in custody.

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QUAKEWATCH:Earthquake shakes NZ Island...

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KNOWLEDGE SHALL INCREASE:i-Snake 'will transform surgery'

Experts are developing a flexible surgical robot, known as the i-Snake, which they say could revolutionise keyhole surgery.It could enable surgeons to do complex procedures previously possible only through more invasive techniques.A team at Imperial College London has been granted £2.1 million for the work.They envisage using the i-Snake-a long tube housing special motors, sensors and imaging tools-for heart bypass surgery.But it could also be used to diagnose problems in the gut and bowel by acting as the surgeon's hands and eyes in hard to reach places inside the body.The Imperial College team, which includes health minister and surgeon Lord Ara Darzi, will test the device initially in the laboratory before it is used on patients. Minimally invasive surgery has obvious advantages - it can mean smaller scars, reduced hospital stays and shorter recovery times.Surgeons are also looking at ways to avoid skin incisions altogether.One approach is Natural Orifice Translumenal Endoscopic Surgery or Notes.This means operating in the peritoneal space through natural orifices or cavities, such as the bowel.Lord Darzi said: "The unrivalled imaging and sensing capabilities coupled with the accessibility and sensitivity of i-Snake will enable more complex diagnostic and therapeutic procedures than are currently possible."The cost benefits that i-Snake will introduce include earlier, cheaper and less invasive treatment, faster recovery and procedure times and intangible benefits through an increase in patient care and quality of life."Dr Ted Bianco, director of technology transfer at the Wellcome Trust, said: "Gone are the days when the surgeon's knife ruled in the operating theatre. The future of surgery is in smart devices like i-Snake."

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Nazi victims' fund pays out £21m

A British scheme to return money belonging to victims of the Nazis has paid out more than £21m, or 10 times its budget, BBC News has learned.The Enemy Property Claims Assessment panel (Epcap) was set up to help people who lived in enemy countries and whose British bank accounts were frozen.It was meant to end three years ago, but is still receiving applications.The monies include a "six-figure sum" paid to a woman whose Jewish grandfather had his savings seized."When my mother died, we cleaned the house and I found some papers that looked very funny," said Yvonne, who does not want her real name used.The mysterious looking documents, found by chance, could only be read when held up against a mirror.
Hidden message
"They were photographed in a mirror, black paper and white letters," Yvonne said of the papers.They dated back to the 1940s and had details of money held in British bank accounts belonging to her grandfather.Yvonne said they explained stories she heard as a child growing up in Israel."My parents didn't get any money when they were getting married. It was all abroad," she said of talk of missing family monies.Yvonne's grandfather was a successful Jewish businessman living in Eastern Europe and before war broke out, he had stowed much of his money in British banks.While he survived the war and later emigrated, he, like many Holocaust survivors, never recovered his savings.Wartime trading-with-the-enemy laws meant the property belonging to anyone living in an enemy country was confiscated and would not be given back.
'Right a wrong'
After the war, assets confiscated from affected countries were shared out among British people whose own assets had been confiscated by the enemy countries.In 1999 the British government set up EPCAP to return the funds to victims of the war and Yvonne made an application for compensation.In 2007, after years of letter writing she received what she described as "a six figure sum".She said the money corrects a mistake of history.Lord Archer of Sandwell, chairman of the Epcap, said the panel went out of its way to compensate the families of Holocaust victims and even extended its own mandate from 1999 to 2004, when it officially ended."We bent over backwards to allow claims," he said. "The government set aside £2m... but we've now compensated people to the extent of just under £22m." The panel is still receiving about 20 new claims a year and continues to consider them on an ad hoc basis. In total, 400 claims were successful.Greville Janner, Lord Janner of Braunstone who campaigned for the scheme to be set up in the first place, said the reparations paid by UK taxpayers are a matter of justice."The average taxpayer would not want the government to have money stolen from murdered people," he said.For Yvonne, regaining some of her grandfather's seized assets was about leaving a legacy."It was my obligation for the future of my children."
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Lebanon delays vote for 11th time

The speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, has postponed for the 11th time the election of a new president.A parliamentary session had been due to take place later on Saturday, but has now been delayed until 12 January.The presidency has been vacant since 23 November, when Emile Lahoud's term ended without a successor being named.The pro-Western ruling majority and pro-Syrian opposition have agreed on a compromise candidate, but are divided on the make-up of the new government.They are also yet to finalise how to amend the constitution to allow the candidate, armed forces chief Gen Michel Suleiman, to be elected.
Under Article 49 of the Lebanese constitution, senior civil servants are barred from becoming president within two years of stepping down.
'Comprehensive agreement'
However, the statement issued by Mr Berri, leader of the Shia opposition Amal movement, said he believed it was not necessary to amend the constitution to elect Gen Suleiman. According to his interpretation, Article 74 of the constitution stipulates that "in case of a presidential vacancy... parliament meets immediately to elect a new president, which excludes the need for amendment".On Thursday, 13 MPs from the ruling majority submitted a petition seeking a "one-off" constitutional amendment to enable the Gen Suleiman's election, as was done in 1998 for Mr Lahoud, his predecessor as military chief.Mr Berri had earlier rejected a draft law on the amendment proposed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, saying he would not accept legislation from a government he considered illegitimate.The parliament has failed to elect a president since 25 September because the opposition has boycotted the sessions, ensuring the vote would not have the two-thirds quorum required.A two-thirds majority is also needed.Hezbollah have said there will not be an election unless the ruling majority agree to a "comprehensive political agreement" with the opposition, including a guarantee of veto power over major decisions. "There is no possibility of holding the presidential election in Lebanon without an agreement on the formation of a national unity government," Hezbollah MP Hussein al-Hajj Hassan said in a statement on Friday.The deadlock over the president is Lebanon's worst political crisis since the country's long civil war ended in 1990.

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Red Cross Distributes Aid to Thousands Displaced by Fighting in Eastern Congo

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the intensity of fighting between Congolese government forces and renegade troops in North Kivu has lessened in recent days. But it says fighting continues and the humanitarian crisis is spilling over into neighboring South Kivu province.In recent weeks, an estimated 500 families - or more than 2,500 people - have taken refuge in South Kivu. Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Schaaf says the new arrivals are even more vulnerable than the previous wave of displaced people.She told VOA these people had to flee in a hurry and were not able to take even the most basic items from their huts."So, they really have just fled with the clothes they were wearing and that is all," she said. "And some of them are really in a bad health state as well because they have been on the road now for a few days. They did not find enough food. Some of them are ill and need medical treatment and lots of them are women and children who are very, very tired now and need some medical assistance."The International Committee of the Red Cross describes the situation as critical. Schaaf says South Kivu is teeming with thousands of people who have fled previous armed clashes in North Kivu.She says local residents, who are overwhelmed by this new influx, are unable to extend a helping hand to the newcomers, many of whom are pregnant women and children."The residents in the area have already taken in lots of other displaced in the last weeks and are now really stretched to the limits and they are not able anymore to take in anyone else." said Schaaf. "So, these recent arrivals are even worse off than those who arrived a few weeks ago because they do not even find a shelter or find a place to stay even for a few days."The International Committee of the Red Cross is distributing basic household items, mats and jerry cans to the displaced. The World Food Program is delivering food parcels.Schaaf says the Red Cross also is supplying the local hospital with kits for the treatment of war-wounded and basic medicines, in particular those required to treat rape victims.

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Nepalese Parliament Votes to Abolish Monarchy

The decision to abolish the monarchy and declare Nepal a "federal, democratic, republican state" was made by an overwhelming majority in the interim parliament.270 members in the 329-member house voted late on Friday in favor of ending the monarchy. Only three votes were cast against the motion. The rest abstained.The vote in the Himalayan country came as no surprise. Days ago, the government had reached an agreement with former Maoist rebels to abolish the monarchy. That agreement came three months after Maoist rebels had walked out of the government, demanding immediate abolition of the centuries old institution. The Maoists have waged a decade long civil war against the monarchy.Friday's vote confirms the earlier agreement and represents a compromise between the rebels and political parties.It will be implemented after elections are held - probably in mid-April.Professor Lok Raj Baral at Nepal's Center for Contemporary Studies says a decision on the elections could come soon."All the parties have now agreed and they are happy. In a couple of days or so the government is going to announce the date of the elections," Baral said.The king has traditionally been considered a reincarnation of a Hindu God, Vishnu. King Gyanendra heads a dynasty that dates back to the 18th century. He became King when much of his family was killed in a palace massacre in 2001.But King Gyanendra fell from favor when he dismissed the government and grabbed absolute power in 2005. He only handed back power to political parties following weeks of bloody protests in April 2006.The king's power-grab helped pave the way for Maoist rebels and political parties to join forces to end his rule, and enter a peace deal.The elections are expected to end restore democracy and end a tumultuous period in the country's history.

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A Bhutto Successor?

A senior official of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) told TIME late Saturday that the slain former prime minister's 19-year-old son, Bilawal, will likely be named as her political heir and the new party leader on Sunday. PPP members are due to meet to discuss the party's future and to give Bilawal, a student at Oxford, a chance to read his mother's last will and testament.A Pakistani television news channel also carried reports that Bilawal(picture left second from left) will be made the new leader, which the channel said accorded with Benazir Bhutto's wishes. If confirmed, the teenager will become the third leader of the 40-year-old center-left party, one of Pakistan's most powerful. Bilawal will follow his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who founded the PPP in 1967, led Pakistan as Prime Minister for four years in the mid 1970s and was hanged in 1979 by a military government, and Benazir, who took over from her father and was killed in a shooting and suicide bomb attack two days ago.The quick anointment of a Bhutto to head the PPP will help rally party members devastated by the assassination of their tough but beloved leader.The party hopes to ride a wave of sympathy in parliamentary elections that are set for Jan. 8 but may yet be postponed in the face of widespread violence around the country. Rival opposition parties have called for a boycott of the polls but PPP officials say their party intends to participate.Bilawal was born in September 1988, nearly three months before his mother was elected Prime Minister for the first time. After Benazir and her children went into self-imposed exile in the late 1990s, the family split their time between London and Dubai, where Bilawal attended the Rashid School for Boys, serving as vice president of the school's student council. In Fall 2007 he enrolled at Oxford, where both his grandfather and his mother studied. A 2004 profile of Bilawal in the respected Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn said the teenager liked target-shooting, swimming, horseback riding and squash, and regretted being away from Pakistan in part because it meant he played less cricket. His grandfather, he said, "was a very courageous man and I consider myself very lucky because I have three powerful role models that will obviously influence my career choices when I am older."As PPP members have begun to contemplate who should take over as party leader, a consensus has emerged that the person needs to be a Bhutto, a name that retains incredible power and vote-winning influence in secular Pakistan despite - or perhaps because of - the tragedies and controversies the family has faced. It is not the first time a young Bhutto has taken over from a dead parent. "This was also the situation when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was murdered," says Babar Awan, a PPP Senator and close ally of Benazir. "Benazir was a teenager, she was a student at Harvard in 1979 [when Zulfikar Ali was hanged]. It is basically the hard core of the PPP that rallies around their great hope and that they attach to the House of Bhutto."Many people had tipped Benazir's husband Asif Ali Zardari for the top spot, and in the unpredictable world of Pakistani politics that could still happen. An experienced politician, Zardari served as Environment Minister in his wife's second administration. But he is also a controversial figure in Pakistan, and has spent a total of 11 years in prison on various charges including blackmail and corruption, for which he earned the nickname "Mr. 10%." Supporters dismiss these charges, most of which have been thrown out of Pakistani courts (a few are still pending), as politically related mischief. "He's a strong man," says PPP Senator Awan. "All of us are controversial. Wasn't Benazir Bhutto? Wasn't Zulfikar Ali Bhutto? All those who don't accept the military role in politics are controversial. The charges are 100% unfounded and fake."Other possible runners include Benazir's sister Sanam, though she seems incredibly reluctant to join the family firm, or Fatima Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfikar Ali's eldest son Murtaza. Fatima, however, had split with her aunt Benazir, whom she once described as "the most dangerous woman in Pakistan." The decision to go with Bilawal appears to have come after his father turned down the job in deference to the slain Benazir's expressed wishes. The senior PPP official, who requested anonymity to allow him to speak more openly, told TIME that Bilawal will head the party, and that the party's deputy leader and longtime Benazir loyalist, Mukhdoom Amin Fahim, is likely to become the prime minister, assuming the party wins a majority in parliament. Bilawal would take over as the parliamentary leader once he finishes his studies and once he has more experience, the official said. Earlier in the day PPP Senator Awan told TIME that Bilawal was a natural future leader. "Yes, of course," he said. "he has to be groomed and trained but that will happen."The young Bhutto, Benazir's only son, knows the dangers of the job he might be about to take on. Last year Benazir told a reporter that she hoped her three children would choose a different career. "My children have told me they are very worried about my safety," she said. "I understand those fears. But they are Bhuttos and we have to face the future with courage, whatever it brings."

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Ford Motor Company offers sex change benefits

The December 18 edition of The Advocate, a magazine for homosexuals, featured the transgender issue. A transgender is a person appearing or attempting to be a member of the opposite sex, as a transsexual or habitual cross-dresser. The Advocate article showed numerous pictures of people who had sex operations to change from male to female, and vice-versus (I'll spare you the details). Ford Motor Company placed a full page ad for its Volvo brand in the publication. Ford offers medical benefits to help pay expenses of those who choose to undergo sex change operations. Ford pays for mental health counseling, hormone therapy, medical visits, and short-term disability after surgical procedures for employees who desire to change their sex. Click Here and scroll down to see Ford's report card on how it spends profits to help support homosexuality. To learn more about Ford's promotion of the homosexual agenda, click here. AFA has asked Ford to remain neutral in the culture war but Ford has refused.Ask your Ford dealer to read the link ";A word to dealers of Ford branded automobiles." To find your dealer, click here, then click on the brand icon on the top of the page.

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The shoes that survived a Nazi escape

The extraordinary story of a war hero's flight to freedom from the Nazis has been revealed by his daughters, after they retraced his steps and reclaimed the shoes he wore on the epic 200-mile trek.Sven Somme was pursued by 900 German soldiers with sniffer dogs across the mountains of occupied Norway before he reaching safety, having being arrested for spying for the Allies.Sixty years on his daughter Ellie Targett, a radio presenter in Herefordshire, and her sister Yule, who lives in Devon, set out on foot to retrace their father's daring escape, meeting some of the people who helped him along the way.Mrs Targett recalled the emotional moment when his battered lace-up shoes were returned to her in a brown paper bag by a family who had sheltered him. They had kept the shoes as a reminder of the young man they had found hiding in a frozen mountain hut."There wasn't a dry eye in the house," said Mrs Targett. "The whole lot of us wept, we never said a word." Mr Somme, a Norwegian, had been caught photographing a strategic German torpedo station during one of his many spying missions for the Allies in 1944.He was arrested and put on a passenger ship to take him to a German camp but before the vessel could sail, he escaped his bonds and crept past his sleeping guard.The marine biologist wore the brown shoes as he walked past his captors guarding the harbourside, giving them a cheeky wave goodbye to allay suspicion.He continued to wear them on the first part of the 200-mile escape through the mountains.He avoided leaving footprints in the deep snow drifts by walking through icy streams and leaping from tree to tree, a trick he learned as a child.But as he faced climbing the perilous mountains to freedom, the shoes could take him no further and a 19-year-old named Andre who had helped shelter him from the Germans, offered to swap them for his new boots.It was the teenager's sister, Selma, who kept the shoes and returned them to the daughters when they retraced their father's footsteps in 2004.Mr Somme's daughters learned the details of their father's journey when he wrote a record of his escape from the Germans, who tortured and executed his brother Iacob, a leading member of the resistance.The children, who were born after the war, read their father's memoirs and decided to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his trek by following his eight-week journey.Their father braved bears and wolves during his route over ancient reindeer paths thousands of feet up in the mountains.After escaping to Sweden the scientist met and married their English mother Primrose, but he died of cancer in 1961 when the children were still young. His family then moved from Norway to Dartmouth, Devon.The daughters have published their father's story in his own words, and now show off the shoes during their presentations."They go everywhere with me," said Mrs Targett."People are very moved when they hear the story but it really hits home when they see papa's shoes because they know we are talking about a real man."Mrs Targett and her sister were the only members of a party of five who managed to finish the trip in 2004 and a year later they published their father's tale, together with details of their own journey.Since then demand for the sisters to tell the story has grown and there are suggestions of a television documentary being made about their adventure. "It is a fascinating story and everywhere I go people say it should be made into a film," said Mrs Targett."I do not think the family would like to see papa's shoes getting the Hollywood treatment but it would be nice to see a factual documentary made."Another Man's Shoes by Sven Somme is published by Polperro Heritage Press.

As in the days of Noah....

CULTURE of DEATH:Doctors say no to abortions in their surgeries

Family doctors are threatening a revolt against Government plans to allow them to perform abortions in their surgeries, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.Four out of five GPs do not want to carry out terminations even though the idea is being tested in NHS pilot schemes, a survey has revealed.The findings will throw doubt on Government trials to provide medical abortions - using drugs in the early stage of pregnancy - outside hospitals.In a survey for The Daily Telegraph that was carried out by Doctors.Net, an online organisation representing GPs in England and Wales, only 14 per cent of the 2,175 GPs who responded were willing to undertake the procedure.More than three quarters said they were not willing to carry out abortions and 54 per cent of these strongly objected to the idea.They said the plan just "lumped" another problem on family doctors and could damage their relationship with patients.Most objections appeared to be on safety and workload grounds rather than from a moral standpoint, although other surveys had suggested that one in five GPs described themselves as anti-abortion and one in four had refused to sign the required paperwork.Under current laws, the procedure can be carried out only by a qualified doctor in an NHS hospital or approved private clinic.One third of the 200,000 abortions in England and Wales are carried out medically, with the rest done surgically. A surgical abortion can be done under local anaesthetic after the first seven weeks of pregnancy.A medical abortion can be induced in the first nine weeks of pregnancy by two doses of drugs administered two days apart and carrying it out in GP surgeries fits in with Government policy to provide care closer to people's homes.The powerful House of Commons science and technology select committee said there was no reason why women could not take the second dose of drugs at home or why nurses could not prescribe the medication.Nigel Dickson, a GP practising in Southampton, said: "The Government is just lumping another problem on to GPs."GPs would be happy to carry out terminations if they could ensure that a proper service would be carried out before, during and after the terminations."As it stands they know that if anything went wrong and the woman started to haemorrhage she would be calling NHS Direct and getting through to an answerphone. Any proposals could be potentially damaging to GPs and an insult to the ladies concerned."Dr Tim Ringrose, a medical director at Doctors.Net, said many GPs felt that by carrying out terminations they would be compromising their relationships with patients.He said: "GPs often advise women on whether they should have an abortion and they feel that they would be able to offer less support if they were undertaking the termination themselves. It's a complex issue - it's not just about a woman taking a pill and then leaving with the problem cured."Two pilot studies - at St Mary's Hospital in central London and at a community hospital in the south of England - are almost finished and will be evaluated in the new year. Early results from a study in which 172 women had medical abortions under the supervision of nurses found that there were no serious problems.A spokesman for the British Medical Association said: "The BMA supports safe and improved access to abortion services. However, we would need to look at the Government's proposals in detail before commenting on whether GP surgeries could provide the level of care needed."A Department of Health spokesman said: "A final decision in allowing GPs to carry out the procedure in surgeries has not been made."

As in the days of Noah....

Committed atheist concerned about direction of Christian churches

Brendan O'Neill, an avowed atheist, is asking the church to bring back God, this after listening to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the titular head of the world's Anglicans, Christmas sermon:
They say we get the leaders we deserve. We also get the bishops we deserve. And in an age of petty piety, where relativistic non-judgementalism coexists with new codes of personal morality, giving rise to a Mary Poppins State more than a Nanny State, it’s fitting that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a trendy schoolteacher type who dispenses hectoring ethical advice with a smarmy grin rather than with fire-and-brimstone relish.
In his Christmas sermon, delivered at Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Williams finally completed his journey from old-world Christianity to trendy New Ageism. His sermon was indistinguishable from those delivered (not just at Christmas but for life) by the heads of Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Williams did not speak about Christian morality; in fact, he didn’t utter the m-word at all. He said little about men’s responsibility to love one another and God, the two Commandments Jesus Christ said we should live by. Instead he talked about our role as janitors on planet Earth, who must stop plundering the ‘warehouse of natural resources’ and ensure that we clean up after ourselves.
Williams has clearly been reading the Good Books – not the Bible, but those Carbon Calculator tomes that are clogging up bookshop shelves around the country, and which instruct people on how to live so meekly that they leave no imprint whatsoever on the planet or human history. He said that Earth does not exist only for ‘humanity’s sake’; it also exists ‘in its own independence and beauty… not as a warehouse of resources to serve humanity’s selfishness’.
Williams warned that our greed – presumably our insatiable lust for warm homes, cars, cookers and other outrageous luxuries – is killing the planet. He welcomed the fact that mankind is ‘growing in awareness of how fragile [the planet] is, how fragile is the balance of species and environments in the world and how easily our greed distorts it’. In 2008, we must take more seriously our ‘guardianship’ of the Earth, he declared (1).
Williams isn’t the only leading Christian who has sold his soul to Gaia and traded in Christian morality for the pieties of environmentalism. The Reverend John Owen, leader of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, said in his Christmas sermon that everyone should remember his or her ‘duty to the planet’. He urged people to recycle leftover food, and ‘redouble [your] efforts to take action and campaign against climate change’ in the coming year (2). Meanwhile, the Vatican is taking steps to become the world’s first carbon-neutral sovereign state by planting trees in a Hungarian national park to offset the CO2 emissions of the Holy See. Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, says that in 2008 there should be the ‘dawn of a new culture, of new attitudes and a new mode of living that makes man aware of his place as caretaker of the earth’ (3).
The reduction of man to an eco-janitor, a being who creates waste and thus must clear it up, is more than a cynical attempt by isolated Christian leaders to connect with the public. Yes, Williams, Owen, the Holy See and Co. no doubt hope and believe (mistakenly, I’m sure) that adopting trendy Greenspeak will entice people to return to the church. But the move from focusing on love for God and one’s neighbour to focusing on ‘respect for the planet’ represents more than a rebranding exercise: it signals a complete abandonment by the Christian churches of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. And in this sense, it is not only God that is being downgraded by the new nature-worshipping priests; so is humanity itself. And that’s enough to make even a committed atheist like me worry about the current direction of the Christian churches.
There's more and the man makes salient points worth pondering.

JIHAD WATCH:Qaeda Network Expands Base in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD,Pakistan-The Qaeda network accused by Pakistan’s government of killing the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is increasingly made up not of foreign fighters but of homegrown Pakistani militants bent on destabilizing the country, analysts and security officials here say. In previous years Pakistani militants directed their energies against American and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan and avoided clashes with the Pakistani Army.But this year they have very clearly expanded their ranks and turned to a direct confrontation with the Pakistani security forces while also aiming at political figures like Ms. Bhutto, the former prime minister who died when a suicide bomb exploded as she left a political rally Thursday.According to American officials in Washington, an already steady stream of threat reports spiked in recent months. Many of concerned possible plots to kill prominent Pakistani leaders, including Ms. Bhutto, President Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif, another opposition leader.“Al Qaeda right now seems to have turned its face toward Pakistan and attacks on the Pakistani government and Pakistani people,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters in Washington on Dec. 21.The expansion of Pakistan’s own militants and their fortified links with Al Qaeda presents deeply troubling developments for the Bush administration and its efforts to stabilize this volatile nuclear-armed country.It is also one that many in Pakistan have been loath to admit, but which Ms. Bhutto had begun to acknowledge in her many public statements that the greatest threat to her country lay in religious extremism and terrorism.Those warnings have now been borne out with her death and in the turmoil that has followed it and shaken Pakistan’s political fault lines. Rioting over the last two days has left at least 38 people dead and 53 injured, and cost millions of dollars of damage to businesses, vehicles and government buildings, according an Interior Ministry spokesman. Protesters have accused the government of failing to protect Ms. Bhutto, or even conspiring to kill her.On Saturday, Mr. Sharif, now the country’s most prominent opposition figure, ventured to the political stronghold of his assassinated rival to lay a wreath on her grave, but also to make common cause against President Musharraf and the Bush administration’s support of him.The government has tried to deflect that anger, blaming militants linked to Al Qaeda, specifically Baitullah Mehsud, as having masterminded the attack. But on Saturday, through a spokesman, Mr. Mehsud denied he was responsible and dismissed the allegations, adding fuel to the notion of a government conspiracy.“Neither Baitullah Mehsud nor any of his associates were involved in the assassination of Benazir, because raising your hand against women is against our tribal values and customs,” the spokesman, Maulavi Omar, said in a telephone call from the tribal region of South Waziristan. “Only those people who stood to gain politically are involved in Benazir’s murder,” he said.One of Pakistan’s leading newspapers, The Daily Times, noted Saturday that such denials were a common tactic used to obscure the origins of the militants’ attacks, and in particular to extend the myth that the bombings are the work of foreign elements, rather than of Pakistanis.Al Qaeda in Pakistan now comprises not just foreigners or even tribesmen from border regions, but also Pakistan’s own Punjabis and Urdu speakers and members of banned sectarian and Sunni extremists groups, Najam Sethi, editor of The Daily Times, wrote in a front-page analysis. “Al Qaeda is now as much a Pakistani phenomenon as it is an Arab or foreign element,” he wrote.The American officials said all credible threat information in recent weeks was passed to Pakistani authorities, mainly through the United States Embassy in Islamabad. But the officials said they were not aware of any specific reports of an attempt on Ms. Bhutto’s life in Rawalpindi.A senior American intelligence official said it was clear from his reading of recent threat reports that “the political process was not going to go untouched,” adding that militants almost surely would go to any length “to create political disarray."And while Ms. Bhutto had perhaps the longest list of enemies among Pakistan’s most prominent politicians, the official said, “It almost didn’t matter which one was attacked-Musharraf, Bhutto or Sharif. The militants were looking for multiple target sets, whether in the capital area, which would carry more weight, or in Karachi or Peshawar.”
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TERROR WATCH:Bin Laden Warns Against Iraq Unity Gov't

CAIRO, Egypt-Osama bin Laden warned Iraq's Sunni Arabs against joining tribal councils fighting al-Qaida or participating in any unity government, in a new Internet audiotape on Saturday."The most evil of the traitors are those who trade away their religion for the sake of their mortal life," bin Laden said in the tape.He denounced Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the leader of the Anbar Awakening Council, a tribal force fighting al-Qaida in western Iraq, who was killed in a bombing in September. Bin Laden said U.S. and Iraqi officials are seeking to set up a "national unity government" joining the country's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds."Our duty is to foil these dangerous schemes, which try to prevent the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, which would be a wall of resistance against American schemes to divide Iraq," he said.
As in the days of Noah...

Bhutto's party to elect new leader, decide on elections Sunday

ISLAMABAD-Benazir Bhutto's party is set to hold a meeting of its central committee Sunday afternoon in Larkana in southwestern Pakistan to elect a new party leader and decide whether to take part in next month's parliamentary elections.Makhdoom Amin Fahim, president of the Pakistan People's Party, told reporters in Larkana on Saturday that the party's central committee would meet at 3 p.m. after Bhutto's soyem-a religious rite for a deceased person held three days after his or her death. The rite will be attended by party workers, relatives and party officials.The party will elect its new leader in place of Bhutto, who was the party's chairperson for life. She was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack after a public meeting in Rawalpindi on Thursday.Media reports have speculated that Bhutto's younger sister Sanam Bhutto would be requested to become the chairperson while Fahim is expected to remain party president.

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LAND FULL of VIOLENCE:Clashes kill dozens on Sudan north-south border

KHARTOUM-Sudan's former southern rebels on Saturday accused their northern partners of attacking them for the second time in a week in clashes which claimed dozens in the volatile north-south border region.A 2005 peace deal ended Africa's longest civil war in Sudan's south but the road of peace has been rocky with both sides accusing the other of violations and slow implementation of the accord which enshrines democratic transformation, power and wealth-sharing and a southern vote on independence by 2011. "There was a massing of militias...and Sudanese armed forces and they attacked (civilian) areas in Bahr el-Ghazal," Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) member of parliament for the area Garang Jiel Akwar told Reuters.He said the attack on Saturday killed 28 civilians, adding the SPLM's military wing, the SPLA, had engaged the militias supported by local elements of the army to protect the citizens.Sudan's Armed Forces denied any role and said they did not have details of the clashes, which they said was between the SPLA and the nomadic Misseriya tribe.A Misseriya leader, Abdel Jalil Reefa, told Reuters tens of thousands of SPLA troops had attacked them, killing up to 27 people and injuring 13. He said they had killed around 90 SPLA soldiers."The situation is very dangerous ... and we are calling for everyone to go to... a reconciliation conference," he added.Clashes earlier this week in the remote area between the Misseriya and the SPLA also killed dozens.The cattle-herding Misseriya were among nomadic tribes armed by various northern governments during the civil war to help the war effort in south Sudan. Many were not disarmed after the peace deal.Sudan's north-south civil war claimed 2 million lives and drove 4 million from their homes. It broadly pit the Islamist Khartoum government against mainly Christian and animist rebels, complicated by issues of oil, ethnicity and ideology.The conflict has been largely overshadowed by a newer conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, sparking the world's largest humanitarian operation giving aid to some 4 million people.In Darfur on Saturday the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said it had taken control of the town of Suleia in West Darfur."Today we have taken control of Suleia town and have defeated the Sudanese army there," JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters from Darfur.The Sudanese army said it had no information on the claim, which could not immediately be confirmed.

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ISLAMIC CRAZE WATCH:Woman Forced to Strip in Egypt 'Torture' Video

CAIRO, Egypt-Egyptian authorities have opened an investigation into a video clip uncovered by an anti-torture activist that allegedly shows a police officer slapping a woman and forcing her to strip, a security official said Saturday.Egypt, where human rights groups say police abuse is pervasive, has seen a series of investigations of police prompted by cell-phone videos showing torture and abuse of suspects.The circumstances of the latest clip are unknown. It shows a woman in blue jeans and a shirt in what appears to be a bedroom, while a man with a gun tucked in his belt-purported to be a police officer-slaps her repeatedly across the face and orders her to take off her clothes.The sobbing woman takes off her top and brassiere, begging the man not to force her to walk outside. She tries to cover her face with hands, but the man orders her to take her hands down so he can slap her on the face. Other young men appeared also in front of the camera. None of those appearing in the video are identified and it is not clear where it was filmed.The video was first uncovered by blogger activist Wael Abbas, whose Web site Misr Digital has posted numerous videos of police torture. Abbas said on his site that he received the video in an anonymous e-mail.Mohsen el-Bahnasi, head of human rights center for Legal Assistance, then filed a lawsuit to the general prosecutor calling for investigation to determine who was in the clip and whether it showed a policeman. Prosecutors began their investigation on Thursday, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.Abbas said on his Web site that the e-mailer who sent him the clip claimed that the man who appears in it was a police officer, but Abbas said it was not confirmed whether that is accurate.Abbas has posted previous video clips showing police brutality and torture of people in police stations, including a high profile case of a video that showed police officers sodomizing a minibus driver with a stick. The officers were sentenced to three years in prison in October.

As in the days of Noah.....

PESTILENCE WATCH:Ga Dept. of Agriculture Orders Hundreds of Exotic Birds to be Quarantined

ATLANTA-The Georgia Department of Agriculture has ordered hundreds of exotic birds across the state to be quarantined. These exotic birds could be carrying Psittacosis, a disease that can spread to humans. Psittacosis is a rare bacterial infection which left untreated can result in pneumonia and even death.Watch the video by clicking the link below.

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Bible studies finally 'free' :County had told 2 groups to buy 2.5 acres or stop their meetings

A lawsuit alleging officials in Miami-Dade County violated the U.S. Constitution and federal law by demanding that members of Bible studies, even if only two or three people were involved, own an least 2.5 acres of land to meet has been dropped after county officials changed their minds.The lawsuit by the Alliance Defense Fund had been filed early in 2007 after authorities issued cease-and-desist orders to two separate Christian organizations, the International Outreach Center and Worldwide Agape Ministries, demanding they purchase enough land to make their properties at least 2.5 acres, or stop meeting.County officials, however, later concluded their demands should be dropped, so the ADF said it was dropping the lawsuit also."County officials agreed that forcing people to purchase 2.5 acres of land in order to meet in a private home is ridiculous," said Joel Oster, senior legal counsel for the ADF. "We commend county officials for standing up for the rights of our clients." The issue arose during the course of 2006, when the International Outreach Center, after meeting for prayer, Bible study, discussion and singing on its small rented property for more than a decade, was given a code violation notice from the county stating the group needed to apply for a "certificate of use."Additionally, the group was told it would have to purchase enough land to comprise at least 2.5 acres, or stop meeting.A similar order went to Worldwide Agape Ministries, a home-based religious ministry that meets for the same purposes as IOC, officials said."County officials stated at the time that the group would have to purchase 2.5 acres of land to continue meetings, even if the regular gathering included two to three people," the ADF confirmed.Its lawsuit was filed in February of 2007, alleging that the county's demand was unreasonable, and worse, illegal and unconstitutional."The limitation placed on these ministries acts as a major roadblock, particularly since land in south Florida is so expensive," Oster said. "County officials cannot be permitted to continue the enforcement of these broad restrictions against those who simply want to exercise their freedom of religion. "The complaint had documented that the IOC had used the property it has since 1994 for various meetings and events, but in 2006 it was told it failed to meet the county's zoning code, which requires that a church be located on at least 2.5 acres.Specifically, that code said, "No church shall be constructed, operated or permitted upon any site that does not contain a minimum of two and one-half (2 ½) acres of land area, including street dedications, and having a minimum contiguous frontage of at least one hundred fifty (150) feet abutting on a public street right-of-way…"Since IOC, with about 70 members, leased a number of units in a commercial building, it was unable to meet the property size demand. Likewise, WW Ministries meets in a home, and was told "by Miami-Dade County Zoning Compliance Officer R. Brunetto that they could not even have 2-3 people come over to their house for prayer. … Officer Brunetto warned the Plaintiffs that if they continued to have others come to their house for prayer, they would be fined and possibly, a lien could be placed on their house."The complaint alleged the zoning code provision violated the U.S. Constitution and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.The lawsuit pointed out that the county allowed other activities on smaller parcels, but not churches."For example, although auditoriums and private clubs are permitted as a matter of right in the IU-1 District, churches are not," the complaint said. "Defendant's Code does not treat churches within the County equally with other public assembly uses."However, changes within the county code prompted the ADF to make the decision to pursue legal action no longer."County officials are now fully supporting the rights of the groups under federal law, making the lawsuit unnecessary," the ADF said in a statement. The dismissal document noted, "the parties have worked collaboratively and expeditiously to proffer proposed legislation to the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners… On Oct. 16, 2007, a proposed ordinance … was preliminarily approved on first reading by the Board."It was planned for final approval early this month, with an effective date 10 days later."The … legislation essentially eliminates the Code's acreage and frontage requirements, which were adopted in the 1950s, for religious facilities. The parties agree that the enactment of the proposed legislation will address the plaintiffs' concerns as alleged," the court "Joint Status Report" said.The city of Lake Elsinore, Calif., earlier had an encounter with a conflict between local zoning regulations and the requirements under RLUIPA, which essentially requires that churches be allowed to exist and expand.Lake Elsinore officials had rejected building plans by Elsinore Christian Center because they preferred having a property tax-paying operation on the property.The city's case lost in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the city ended up settling with the church for $1.205 million for damages sustained by the city's initial rejection of church plans.The appellate ruling found that the city violated RLUIPA, which codifies the First Amendment and provides that governments cannot use land use regulations, such as zoning, to place a "substantial burden" on churches unless there is compelling state interest.
As in the days of Noah....

JIHAD WATCH:US court overturns $156 million award in terrorism suit against Islamic charities

A United States federal appeals court on Friday overturned a $156 million award against US-based Muslim activists for their involvement in the terrorist death of an American teenager in the West Bank more than a decade ago.The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals said the judge in the case had failed to require the parents of 17-year-old David Boim to properly show a link between the boy's shooting death by Hamas-a group designated by the US as a terror organization-and the fundraising activities of the charities. Because of that error, it sent the case back for a possible new trial.The Boims' attorney, Nathan Lewin, said an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible.''This court of appeals decision is wrong, very wrong,'' Lewin said.''It amounts to encouragement of financial contributions to terrorist organizations.''Stanley and Joyce Boim had sued the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development; the American Muslim Society, also known as the Islamic Association for Palestine;the Quranic Literacy Institute, and Mohamed Salah, and an alleged Hamas fundraiser. Their son, a yeshiva student, was gunned down in 1996 while waiting with other students at a bus stop in Beit El, on the West Bank.A federal court jury in 2004 ruled in their favor and awarded them $52 million in damages in one of the first jury awards against US-based institutions accused of supporting terrorism.In accordance with US anti-terrorism law, a federal magistrate subsequently tripled the amount of the damages levied against the defendants, who had all denied financing terrorism.The ruling in 2004 came in addition to a crackdown against a group of US-based Islamic charities and others who saw their assets frozen and, in some cases, faced federal charges for allegedly funding groups deemed by the US as terrorist organizations. The case against the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Muslim charity in the country when it was shut down in 2001, was the government's biggest terror-financing case since the Sept. 11 attacks. Authorities closed it down after accusing it of funneling more than $12 million to Hamas. Several people connected to the group were charged.But, in a blow to the government, the case ended in a mistrial after none of the group's leaders was convicted and many acquittals were tossed out in October after some jurors took the rare step of disputing the verdict. Salah was sentenced in July to 21 months in federal prison.He was convicted of obstruction of justice for lying under oath on a written questionnaire involving David Boim's death, stemming from the civil lawsuit filed by the teen's parents.The jury, however, acquitted Salah of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy aimed at bankrolling Hamas.
As in the days of Noah....

PESTILENCE WATCH:CDC Works to Track Down 44 Passengers Who Flew With TB-Infected Woman

CHICAGO-Health officials are trying to track down American Airlines passengers in 17 states for testing after a California woman flew while sick with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a California woman boarded an American Airlines flight in New Delhi, India, on December 13th.The flight stopped at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport before continuing on to San Francisco.CDC officials are working on tracking down 44 people who sat within two rows of the woman on the flight. She is being treated in isolation at a California hospital.A health official says because the disease is still in its early stages, doctors don't know what her prognosis is.

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UFO CRAZE WATCH:UFO-clone cult spreads atheism

Dec. 29, 2002: A former French magazine sportswriter, wannabe race-car driver and founder of a UFO sect who claimed his company, Clonaid, had helped an anonymous mother clone her child Eve, let it be know that his agenda included strange religion as well as weird science.[[[[[Claude Vorilhon, aka Rael, said there is no God – men were cloned in test tubes 25,000 years ago by space aliens called "Elohim," and it was the mission of his followers, Raelians, to help mankind achieve immortality through cloning.]]]]] "Traditional religions have always been against scientific progress," he said. "They were against the steam engine, electricity, airplanes, cars, radio, television, etc. If we had listened to them, we would still have horses and carts and candles."He robustly defended the cloning experiment that "created" Eve, saying: "We are for peace and love. This is a time of danger for earth. We are spiritually lost. The two most powerful countries on earth – America and Britain – are ready to kill 100,000 civilians in Iraq, yet people are angry over the birth of a beautiful little girl through cloning."
PS:Even though this story is from 2002,these kind of nuts are still around and they have followers......
As in the days of Noah...

Jordanians Mark 1-Year Anniversary of Saddam Execution

AMMAN, Jordan-About 2,000 Jordanians demonstrated in the capital on Saturday to commemorate former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on the one-year anniversary of his execution.Some supporters in Amman's commercial downtown district waved black, white, green and red flags of Saddam's ruling Baath party and distributed a party newspaper, "al-Wahda," meaning unity, bearing Saddam's picture on the front page.The protestors, including Jordanian Baathists, leftists and other opposition groups, shouted allegiance to the Baath party, which ruled Iraq under Saddam. The demonstration ended peacefully.Saddam, toppled by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, was executed on Dec. 30 after being convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes for the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims in a 1982 crackdown on the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.But he remains revered by sympathizers of his regime and among some, mainly Sunni Arabs, who see his downfall as the start of the chaos in Iraq.More than 700,000 Iraqis have fled to Jordan to escape the turmoil in their homeland, part of a wave of some 2.5 million Iraqi refugees across the region. But Saturday's protest was made up of Jordanian sympathizers.

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KNOWLEDGE SHALL INCREASE:Snorting a Brain Chemical Could Replace Sleep

In what sounds like a dream for millions of tired coffee drinkers, Darpa-funded scientists might have found a drug that will eliminate sleepiness. A nasal spray containing a naturally occurring brain hormone called orexin A reversed the effects of sleep deprivation in monkeys, allowing them to perform like well-rested monkeys on cognitive tests. The discovery's first application will probably be in treatment of the severe sleep disorder narcolepsy.The treatment is "a totally new route for increasing arousal, and the new study shows it to be relatively benign," said Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a co-author of the paper. "It reduces sleepiness without causing edginess."Orexin A is a promising candidate to become a "sleep replacement" drug. For decades, stimulants have been used to combat sleepiness, but they can be addictive and often have side effects, including raising blood pressure or causing mood swings. The military, for example, administers amphetamines to pilots flying long distances, and has funded research into new drugs like the stimulant modafinil (.pdf) and orexin A in an effort to help troops stay awake with the fewest side effects.The monkeys were deprived of sleep for 30 to 36 hours and then given either orexin A or a saline placebo before taking standard cognitive tests. The monkeys given orexin A in a nasal spray scored about the same as alert monkeys, while the saline-control group was severely impaired.The study, published in the Dec. 26 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, found orexin A not only restored monkeys' cognitive abilities but made their brains look "awake" in PET scans.Siegel said that orexin A is unique in that it only had an impact on sleepy monkeys, not alert ones, and that it is "specific in reversing the effects of sleepiness" without other impacts on the brain....
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As in the days of Noah...

2007 a Year of Weather Records in U.S.

WASHINGTON-When the calendar turned to 2007, the heat went on and the weather just got weirder.January was the warmest first month on record worldwide-1.53 degrees above normal. It was the first time since record-keeping began in 1880 that the globe's average temperature has been so far above the norm for any month of the year.And as 2007 drew to a close, it was also shaping up to be the hottest year on record in the Northern Hemisphere.U.S. weather stations broke or tied 263 all-time high temperature records, according to an AP analysis of U.S. weather data. England had the warmest April in 348 years of record-keeping there, shattering the record set in 1865 by more than 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit.It wasn't just the temperature. There were other oddball weather events. A tornado struck New York City in August, inspiring the tabloid headline: "This ain't Kansas!"In the Middle East, an equally rare cyclone spun up in June, hitting Oman and Iran. Major U.S. lakes shrank; Atlanta had to worry about its drinking water supply. South Africa got its first significant snowfall in 25 years. And on Reunion Island, 400 miles east of Africa, nearly 155 inches of rain fell in three days—a world record for the most rain in 72 hours. Individual weather extremes can't be attributed to global warming, scientists always say. However, "it's the run of them and the different locations" that have the mark of man-made climate change, said top European climate expert Phil Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in England. Worst of all—at least according to climate scientists—the Arctic, which serves as the world's refrigerator, dramatically warmed in 2007, shattering records for the amount of melting ice.2007 seemed to be the year that climate change shook the thermometers, and those who warned that it was beginning to happen were suddenly honored. Former Vice President Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar and he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group of thousands of scientists. The climate panel, organized by the United Nations, released four major reports in 2007 saying man-made global warming was incontrovertible and an urgent threat to millions of lives.Through the first 10 months, it was the hottest year recorded on land and the third hottest when ocean temperatures are included.Smashing records was common, especially in August. At U.S. weather stations, more than 8,000 new heat records were set or tied for specific August dates. More remarkably that same month, more than 100 all-time temperature records were tied or broken—regardless of the date—either for the highest reading or the warmest low temperature at night. By comparison only 14 all-time low temperatures were set or tied all year long, as of early December, according to records kept by the National Climatic Data Center.For example, on Aug. 10, the town of Portland, Tenn., reached 102 degrees, tying a record for the hottest it ever had been. On Aug. 16, it hit 103 and Portland had a new all-time record. But that record was broken again the next day when the mercury reached 105.Daily triple-digit temperatures took a toll on everybody, public safety director George West recalled. The state had 15 heat-related deaths in August.Portland was far from alone. In Idaho, Chilly Barton Flat wasn't living up to its name. The weather station in central Idaho tied an all-time high of 100 on July 26, Aug. 7, 14 and 19. During 2007, weather stations in 35 states, from Washington to Florida, set or tied all-time heat records in 2007.Across Europe this past summer, extreme heat waves killed dozens of people.And it wasn't just the heat. It was the rain. There was either too little or too much.More than 60 percent of the United States was either abnormally dry or suffering from drought at one point in August. In November, Atlanta's main water source, Lake Lanier, shrank to an all-time low. Lake Okeechobee, crucial to south Florida, hit its lowest level in recorded history in May, exposing muck and debris not seen for decades. Lake Superior, the biggest and deepest of the Great Lakes, dropped to its lowest August and September levels in history.Los Angeles hit its driest year on record. Lakes fed by the Colorado River and which help supply water for more than 20 million Westerners, were only half full.Australia, already a dry continent, suffered its worst drought in a century, making global warming an election issue. On the other extreme, record rains fell in China, England and Wales.Minnesota got the worst of everything: a devastating June and July drought followed by record August rainfall. In one March day, Southern California got torrential downpours, hail, snow and fierce winds. Then in the fall came devastating fires driven by Santa Ana winds.And yet none of those events worried scientists as much as what was going on in the Arctic in the summer. Sea ice melted not just to record levels, but far beyond the previous melt record. The Northwest Passage was the most navigable it had been in modern times. Russia planted a flag on the seabed under the North Pole, claiming sovereignty.The ice sheets that cover a portion of Greenland retreated to an all- time low and permafrost in Alaska warmed to record levels. Meteorologists have chronicled strange weather years for more than a decade, but nothing like 2007. It was such an extreme weather year that the World Meteorological Organization put out a news release chronicling all the records and unusual developments. That was in August with more than 145 sizzling days to go.Get used to it, scientists said. As man-made climate change continues, the world will experience more extreme weather, bursts of heat, torrential rain and prolonged drought, they said."We're having an increasing trend of odd years," said Michael MacCracken, a former top federal climate scientist, now chief scientist at the Climate Institute in Washington. "Pretty soon odd years are going to become the norm."
On the Net:
U.S. National Climatic Data Center's searchable records web site:
U.S. National Climatic Data Center on August heat wave: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/2007/aug/aug-heat-event.php.records
World Meteorological Organization on 2007 weather extremes:

As in the days of Noah...