Fox apologizes for ‘Who killed Jesus’ poll

NEW YORK, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Fox Latin America says it has pulled and apologized for an online poll that asked who was responsible for Jesus’ death and included Jews as a possible answer.

The poll was posted on a Facebook page for National Geographic Cable TV in Latin America as part of a promotional campaign for a Christmas special on the channel, CNN reported.

“Christmas Special is coming to Nat Geo … Who do you think responsible for the death of Jesus?” the Spanish-language poll asked.

The multiple-choice possible answers were “Pontius Pilate; The Jewish People; the High Priests.”

The National Geographic Channel in Latin America had removed the poll and apologized for it Wednesday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center — a Jewish human rights organization headquartered in Los Angeles — announced.

“We sincerely apologize for the publication of a poll on our Web site that might have unintentionally given place to interpretations, opinions or expressions of intolerance that might affect the Jewish community,” Guadalupe Lucero, Fox Latin America’s vice president for corporate communications and PR, said in a statement.

The National Geographic Channel in Latin America is a member of Fox International Channels, part of News Corp.

Egypt says it will halt raids on NGOs

CAIRO, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Egyptian authorities say they’ve agreed to return all equipment and documents seized during a series of raids this week on non-governmental organizations.

Egypt’s military government told U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson it would end the raids on NGOs, CNN reported Friday.

Egyptian police raided the offices of 10 non-governmental organizations across the country Thursday, offering no clear explanation for the actions.

Police seized laptops and desktop computers, video conferencing equipment, cellphones and 15 to 20 boxes of documents in a raid on the offices of the National Democratic Institute.

“We asked them if there was something specific we could help them find,” Julie Hughes, Egypt country director for NDI, told CNN. “They refused to answer.”

Adel Saeed, spokesman for the Egyptian general prosecutor’s office, said the raids were in support of an investigation into allegations that NGOs may have received illegal foreign funding and have been operating without licenses from the Foreign Ministry.

The explanation did not satisfy leaders of organizations based in the United States, CNN said.

“I don’t know that we fully understand what is behind this,” Hughes said.

Calif. kayaker missing after calling 911

MALIBU, Calif., Dec. 30 (UPI) — Authorities were searching for a kayaker off the Malibu, Calif., coastline after he called 911 complaining of chest pains.

The man, whose name was not released, called the Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department at 3 p.m. Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

A Los Angeles County Fire Department lifeguard boat found an empty kayak and a life vest about 2 miles offshore about 30 minutes after the call. The missing man’s car was found parked in a nearby parking lot.

The lifeguard boat and the U.S. Coast Guard searched the waters, but have been unable to find the man.

Sarkozy to honor Joan of Arc’s birthday

PARIS, Dec. 30 (UPI) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy has planned a trip to eastern France to observe what is thought to be the 600th birthday of national heroine Joan of Arc.

Sarkozy will spend about 20 minutes next week in Domremy, the village said to have been the birthplace of Joan of Arc, Radio France Internationale reported Friday. He will unveil a plaque in the home where she is thought to have been born.

Sarkozy will also visit Vaucouleurs, the town where Joan of Arc began her campaign to push the English out of France and put Charles VII on the throne.

There, along with Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand and Defense Minister Gerard Longuet, Sarkozy will visit a museum dedicated to the heroine.

A roundtable with historians will follow the museum visit, though a majority of experts do not agree Joan of Arc was born in the house Sarkozy plans to visit in Domremy.

Obama, Gingrich agree on boosting research

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — President Barack Obama and GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich agree research to improve health is part of the solution to rising healthcare costs.

Research!America, non-profit group working to make research a higher national priority, said Obama, a

Democrat, and Gingrich, running for the Republican nomination, have both returned questionnaires. All

presidential candidates were invited to participate.

Both Obama and Gingrich agree boosting investment in medical research creates jobs that benefit a wide variety of industries.

However, their positions on embryonic stem cell research differ.

“For too long, patients and families have suffered from debilitating, incurable diseases and we know that stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans across the country. I am committed to supporting responsible stem cell research now, and in the future,” Obama said in his response to the questionnaire.

“I strongly support adult stem cell research,” Gingrich said in his questionnaire. “I will oppose at every turn any process of destroying embryos.”

In the area of global competitiveness, Gingrich said: “Considering today’s American tax and regulatory systems, it is increasingly likely that the full implementation of the new (scientific) knowledge will first occur outside the United States and be imported by us. This will be tragic for Americans.”

“To compete for the jobs and industries of our time, we have to make America the best place on earth to do

business and out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” Obama said. “I have called for a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.”

Moore pleads guilty in Colorado bomb scare

DENVER, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Earl Albert Moore pleaded guilty in Denver federal court Friday to a charge of arson in the April 20 bomb scare at the Southwest Plaza Mall in Littleton, Colo.

Moore, 65, is scheduled to be sentenced in March to at least 30 years in prison for the bomb scare that came on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, The Denver Post reported.

“I didn’t have any intention of hurting anybody,” Moore said in court. “I really don’t have an explanation.”

Moore placed an explosive device in the mall one week after he was released from prison on a bank robbery conviction, the Post said. The device failed to detonate.

Egypt asks U.S. to freeze Mubarak assets

CAIRO, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Egypt has asked the United States to freeze assets of about 100 officials connected to the ousted regime on charges of corruption, profiteering and power abuse.

“Our embassy in Washington has received several requests concerning from the Egyptian judicial authorities asking for support and assistance from legal services of the United States to freeze any assets which belong to Mubarak, his family and some of the symbols of the former regime,” said Sameh Shoukri, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States.

A decision to freeze assets of deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s family and his associates was issued Oct. 16 by Egypt’s Illicit Gains Authority, Ahram Online and Middle East News Agency reported Friday.

The decision came after Switzerland revealed Mubarak’s two sons hid $340 million in Swiss banks.

Mass. has first rabies case in 75 years

BOSTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Health officials in Massachusetts say they’ve confirmed the state’s first human case of rabies in 75 years, and a man is hospitalized in critical condition.

Authorities said the infection was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a Barnstable County man who was likely infected by a bat in his home, The Boston Globe reported Thursday.

It’s the sixth case this year in the United States but the first in Massachusetts since 1935, the newspaper said.

Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach said there is no reason to believe there are any more rabid animals in the state than in recent years.

“This is not a reason for people to panic,” he said. “There is no elevated risk here.”

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system and can be fatal.

Fukushima hospitals face financial crisis

FUKUSHIMA, Japan, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Hospitals in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture have reported financial stain in the wake of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster.

The prefecture’s hospital association, to which 90 percent of its hospitals belong, estimated the hospitals’ combined losses would reach at least $164 million for the first year after the nuclear crisis in March, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Thursday.

The hospitals demanded Tepco pay compensation for the first six months following the disaster. They received about 70 percent of their request, though retirement bonuses for doctors and other expenses, such as the cost of medicine, where not covered.

Due to financial shortfalls, hospitals have been forced to reduce staff and cut services.

“Many of the hospitals had to limit the number of inpatients they accept due to the declining number of medical staff,” said Kazuhira Maehara, head of the prefecture’s hospital association. “Compensation payments didn’t start until nine months after the accident. Unless something is done, it will be a long time before hospitals [in the prefecture] can resume operation.”

Onoda Hospital in Minami-Soma reported the number of doctors dropped from eight to six, while the number of nurses working in the hospital decreased from 80 to 46.

The hospital also said it was forced to close its inpatient wards, which reduced its revenues to one-third of pre-crisis levels, Yomiuri said.

“We don’t know how long we’ll be able to continue operating under the current circumstances,” a hospital administrator said.

Lack of snow hitting ski resort businesses

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif., Dec. 30 (UPI) — An unseasonably warm and dry December in Northern California has ski resort operators worried about a lack of snow, but they say they’re staying optimistic.

While last year’s snowfall brought huge totals — 65 feet fell on the mountains around Lake Tahoe resorts, well above the typical 50 feet — the snow so far this year is being measured in inches, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

It’s had an impact on the holiday season business, ski resorts say.

“It’s certainly having an effect on us now,” Joani Lynch, a spokeswoman for Mammoth Mountain, said.

The resort, which had so much snow last year it stayed open until July 5, has had just 2 inches of snow in December.

“Visitor numbers are down 18 percent behind last year,” Lynch said.

Many of the mountainsides in Mammoth are brown, and only 46 of 150 available ski trails are open.

The problem is not just in California, as ski resorts across the country are struggling with a lack of snow and falling business, in contrast to last year when resorts had record snowfalls and attendance.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 47.5 percent of the continental United States was covered in snow this time last year, about double the coverage this year, USA Today reported.

Still, ski operators say they remain optimistic the rest of the winter will bring plenty of snow — and plenty of ski buffs.