Obama Administration Cuts Off Aid To Countries Unfriendly To Gays

The Administration of President Barack Obama warned the world against gay and lesbian discrimination Tuesday, saying the United States will use foreign assistance as well as diplomacy to back the Administration’s belief that it is a basic human right to be a homosexual.

At the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared the struggle for gay equality to difficult passages toward women’s rights and racial equality, and she said a country’s cultural or religious traditions are no excuse for discrimination.

“Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” she said. “It should never be a crime to be gay.”

According to The Associated Press, Clinton’s audience included diplomats from Arab, African and other nations where homosexuality is criminalized and where discrimination against homosexuals is tolerated or encouraged.

The announcement that the United States will no longer send foreign aid to countries that do not support gay rights reportedly did not sit well with many of the U.N. leaders, as many of the ambassadors in the audience rushed out of the room as soon as Clinton finished speaking.

Republican Presidential primary candidate Rick Perry has spoken out against Clinton’s announcement, saying in a statement: “Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money.”

Florida Lawmakers Allow Guns In Capitol, Install Panic Buttons

Since the Republican-dominated Legislature in Florida made it easier to carry guns in the State’s Capitol, Democrats are noting that every Senator and staffer has now had a panic button installed on his or her phone.

The new law says that local governments may not regulate guns, except in those places specified by Florida law. Although the State bans guns in legislative chambers and committee rooms, they can now be carried in other parts of the Capitol complex located in Tallahassee. Previously, entrants to the complex had been asked to leave their firearms at the door or be followed around the building by a guard.

Mike Haridopolos, the Republican Senate president, said the panic buttons were not a response to the new gun law, but a long-planned feature that was supposedly “just finally getting instituted.” But Democratic legislators in the State say that it is an odd coincidence, according to St. Petersburg Times.

A safety course recently offered to State employees by Capitol Police included an update on the law’s “impact on the Capitol” and “how to respond to an active shooter situation.”

“Instead of reversing what we did, we’re resorting to panic buttons,” said Florida Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich of Weston, who opposed the new gun law. “It’s unnerving. My staff is very nervous.”

Fewer Illegal Border Crossers Reported

Arrests of illegal immigrants along the U.S. border with Mexico are at the lowest level since the 1970s, indicating that fewer people are attempting to cross the border to live or work in the United States.

During the 2011 fiscal year, Border Patrol arrested 327,577 people trying to cross the Southern U.S. border. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials deported a record 396,906 people in the same period. This is the first time in decades that more people were deported than entered the country, according to The Associated Press

The number of arrests of people trying to sneak across the border has been steadily declining since 2006, after an all-time high of more than 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000. Reports indicate that more immigrants now seek citizenship.

“This is all part of a larger picture that we’re not seeing very many new undocumented immigrants coming in, so the share of new undocumented immigrants is smaller,” said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. “A lot of people are staying. They’ve put down roots. There clearly hasn’t been a large-scale departure of people who have been here awhile.”

Some officials believe that the lower number of individuals attempting to illegally enter the United States is related to the slow economy and that, if conditions improve, illegal immigration will spike.

Blagojevich Gets 14 Years

Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who fought for three years against criminal Federal corruption charges, was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday.

Among his 18 convictions is the charge that he tried to use his power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat in exchange for favors.

According to The Associated Press, Blagojevich has received the harshest sentence among the four Illinois governors sent to prison in the past four decades.

While the defense argued that Blagojevich’s schemes had not cost the state a penny, Judge James B. Zagel said the real cost was “the erosion in trust for the government.”

Blagojevich is expected to appeal his conviction, but is ordered to begin serving his sentence on Feb. 16.

“I’m here convicted of crimes. The jury decided that I was guilty and I am accepting of it. I acknowledge it and, of course, am unbelievably sorry for it,” Blagojevich said before his sentence was handed down.

The judge, however, was not moved to be lenient on the former Illinois governor.

“Whatever good things you did for people as governor, and you did some, I am more concerned with the occasions when you wanted to use your powers to do things that were only good for yourself,” said Zagel.

Saudi Religious Leaders: Female Drivers Would Result In Lack Of Virgins

The results of a so-called “scientific” report written by scholars of Saudi Arabia’s highest religious council, in collaboration with a former King Fahd University professor, said allowing Saudi women to drive would lead to a scarcity of virgins.

The religious scholars, in their report, evaluated the possible impact of repealing the ban in Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world where women are not allowed behind the wheel, reported the FARS News Agency.

The “research” contends that allowing women to drive leads to “moral decline,” saying that in other Muslim countries where women are allowed to drive the decline is already visible. The report also says that the resultant blight of virgins would lead to the proliferation of homosexuality, pornography, prostitution and divorce in the country.

The report was presented to the Shura Council, Saudi Arabia’s legislative body, soon after Shaima Jastaina, a 34-year-old woman was sentenced to 10 lashes after being caught driving.

Paul Says No Way To Trump Debate

Republican Presidential hopeful Ron Paul says that he will not attend the GOP debate in Iowa to be hosted by Donald Trump on Dec. 27 because he says the reality star’s presence undermines the Nation’s highest office.

“The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the Presidency and flies in the face of that office’s history and dignity,” read a statement from the campaign. “Mr. Trump’s participation as moderator will distract from questions and answers concerning important issues such as the national economy, crushing federal government debt, the role of the federal government, foreign policy, and the like. To be sure, Mr. Trump’s participation will contribute to an unwanted circus-like atmosphere.”

The statement goes on to say that Trump made a mockery of the Presidency at a time when the Nation needs a strong leader more than ever, by “toying with the serious decision of whether to compete for our Nation’s highest office, a decision he appeared to make frivolous.”

Jon Huntsman has also declined publicly to participate in what his campaign called “Presidential Apprentice.”

Trump responded on TODAY Monday by calling the two “junk candidates” and vowing to run as an independent if he does not like the GOP selection.

Coburn: Gingrich Lacks Leadership Skills

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said on Sunday that he cannot support GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich because the former House speaker lacks leadership skills.

“I am not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich’s having served under him for four years and experienced his leadership. Because I found it lacking often times [sic],” Coburn said on Fox News. “There’s all kind of leaders, leaders that instill confidence and leaders that are somewhat abrupt, leaders that have one standard for the people that they are leading and a different standard for themselves. I will have difficulty supporting him for president of the United States.”

Coburn, who served in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001, said in March that he was looking for a President that would unite the country and raised questions about Gingrich’s confrontational style, according to The Hill.

With less than a month before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, Gingrich is drawing 25 percent support from likely Republican caucus-goers, a new Des Moines Register poll reports. He has enjoyed an 18 percentage point jump since the same poll in October.

GAO: Foster Children Prescribed Psych Drugs At Alarming Rates

The Federal government is failing to protect children in foster care from the devastating effects of potent, psychiatric medications that alter the mind, according to a new report.

A report filed in the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that thousands of foster children across the Nation are being prescribed powerful psychiatric medications at doses that exceed the maximum levels approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Within that number there is a subgroup that’s taking five or more psychiatric drugs simultaneously despite potential safety issues. Some of the drugs are not even approved for psychiatric use by the FDA.

The report’s findings are the result of a two-year probe featuring five States: Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon and Texas. Of the approximately 100,000 foster kids studied, investigators found that about one-third were prescribed at least one psychiatric drug.

The States spent more than $375 million for prescriptions provided through fee-for-service programs to foster and non-foster children. The report says that while the high cost does not necessarily show that doctors prescribe the drugs inappropriately for financial gain, there is no evidence that it was safe to take five or more psychiatric drugs in adults or children; yet hundreds of both foster and non-foster children were prescribed such a medication regimen.

Lawmakers: Child Farm Rules, Urban Assault On Rural Life

New child labor rules proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) last month that would prevent children under the age of 16 from performing certain farm work have raised concerns among many lawmakers.

The first new child labor regulations issued by the DOL in 40 years propose barring children under the age of 16 from performing tasks such as driving tractors, handling pesticides and branding cattle on farms that have grown to the point of commercialization. The rules do not apply to small, family-owned farms.

A group of more than 70 lawmakers in the House, led by Representative Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), sent a recent letter to the DOL that said the rule “challenges the conventional wisdom of what defines a family farm in the United States,” according to The Hill. The lawmakers believe that the rules are also an assault on a deeply rural-American way of life by urban lawmakers.

“You’ve got a president of the United States … from Chicago, you’ve got a director for secretary of Labor who’s pushing this from Los Angeles, and you have to think to yourself, do you have any idea what it’s like not just to run an agricultural business in a rural state … but to raise a family in one?” asked Rehberg.

The Labor Department has been flooded with more than 6,000 comments about the new rules. Rehberg said the next move should be to withdraw the proposed changes.

SOPA Alternative Introduced

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed an alternative to controversial online piracy bills currently pending in both chambers of Congress.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would enable the government and copyright holders to demand third parties delete links to foreign websites deemed rogue or dedicated to copyright infringement, has been labeled by critics as an assault on free speech and an underhanded government attempt to censor the Internet.

The alternate proposal would authorize the International Trade Commission (ITC) to investigate and issue cease-and-desist orders against foreign websites that provide pirated content or sell counterfeit goods. Instead of allowing third parties to sweep in and delete at will, the ITC would be tasked with providing proof that copyright violations occurred, according to The Hill.

As the new proposals are introduced, organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce continue in their vehement support of SOPA. Among those in opposition to the bill are free speech advocates, the Libertarian party, and many GOP and Democratic lawmakers, as well as software and Web-based communications companies.

Branstad: Paul, Gingrich Strong In Iowa

In the opinion of Republican Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa, one month away from the caucus, GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul has the strongest organization in the State.

“Ron Paul has got probably the best organization and has a very loyal following. He’s got more yard signs and bumper stickers than anybody else,” he said. “I don’t think he’ll win, but I think he will get 15 to 18 percent. The person who wins is going to probably get 25 percent plus.”

The Iowa governor believes Newt Gingrich could win the Jan. 3 caucuses depending on his performance in the last two debates, according to POLITICO.

“The debates have had more to do with this than anything else,” he said. “I still think organization matters, and yet more people are watching the debates.”

Branstad said that he believes of the seven potential candidates, none will procure more than 30 percent of his State’s electorate.

Gingrich has not spent a great deal of time in the Iowa and he did not open his Iowa campaign headquarters until last Wednesday, but Branstad believes his voters will be those social conservatives who have not fallen in line with any one candidate.

The Iowa governor has not offered support to any of the GOP candidates in the race.

Lady Gaga Could Soon Be On Postage

In September, the United States Postal Service (USPS) waived a rule that required stamp honorees to be at least five years deceased, the result: The likes of Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Billy Graham, Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga and others may soon adorn your postage stamps.

The decision was made in an effort to boost interest and sagging sales, postal officials asked customers to use social media or mail, to nominate an American or American-related subjects that “made enduring contributions to the United States of America.”

A panel made up of former postal officials, artists, designers and congressional staffers, reviews more than 40,000 suggestions and selects about 50 suggestions for new stamps for consideration each year. The Postal Service then spends about $40,000 to develop and produce each new stamp. Though it does not pay license fees for the images of a character or famous person, it does pay about $5,000 to artists and designers to produce the final image.

USPS has received at least 1,500 submissions by mail and more than 1,000 through social media that fit its new, less restrictive criteria.

Stamps generate between $250 million and $300 million in annual sales, a fraction of total postal revenues, according to The Washington Post.

Senate Passes Indefinite Detention Bill With ‘Meaningless’ Changes

On Thursday evening, the Senate passed a $662 billion Defense bill, which included controversial provisions for the detention of American citizens on U.S. soil.

The bill passed 93-7, after an agreement was reached to add compromise language on the detention of U.S. citizens and terror suspects on U.S. soil. The compromise, proposed by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), states that “nothing in the bill changes current law relating to the detention of U.S. citizens and legal aliens,” but this measure is meaningless according to some opponents of the bill.

Two provisions that would have specifically blocked the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens on American soil and ensured “the military won’t be roaming our streets looking for suspected terrorists” were barred with the passage of the bill.

Many opponents of the legislation say language included in the bill that defines the homeland as a part of the battlefield in the ill-defined War on Terror is in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (18 U.S.C. Section 1385):

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

On Nov. 30, Senator Rand Paul spoke on the Senate floor against the act, saying that even the discussion of ending due process of law for any citizen is a disturbing reaction to an endless war.

Former Reagan Administration official and columnist Paul Craig Roberts said the provisions are the beginnings of the repeal of the U.S. Constitution and that the country is on its way to becoming a police state.

“Only two Republicans in the Senate voted against this amendment, only two, so what do we know? We now have a Republican party that is a Gestapo party,” he said on RTAmerica.

Because the provisions also offer revisions of banned torture policies, the Administration of Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill.

Research: Most Read News By Accident

New research from the University of Missouri finds that Internet users are increasingly less likely to seek out news stories online, but more often read the news serendipitously.

The research contends that Internet users often do not make the conscious decision to read news online, but they come across news when they are searching for other information or doing non-news related activities on the Internet, such as shopping or visiting social networking sites.

Researcher Borchuluun Yadamsuren surveyed nearly 150 respondents with further interviews of 20 of those respondents to understand their incidental exposure to online news. She found that respondents experience exposure to online news in three different contexts: They come across interesting news stories while they visit online news sites; they see news stories while doing non-news related activities such as checking email and visiting Facebook and other social networking sites; and they stumble upon “unusual,” “weird,” “interesting,” “bizarre,”  “unexpected,” “outrageous” or “off-the-wall” news stories while doing Internet searches for other topics.

“Incidental exposure to online news is becoming a major way for many people to receive information about news events,” Yadamsuren said. “However, many people don’t realize how their news reading behavior is shifting to more serendipitous discovery.”

The researcher believes that the changing ways in which people discover news are also impacting what is perceived to be reliable reporting as many people now hold a much broader perception of news that goes beyond what is reported by professional journalists.

Climate Activists Call Global Warming ‘Ethical’ Issue

A coalition of civic leaders, elected officials, and labor, environmental and social activists launched a campaign earlier this week aimed at convincing politicians that they should curb greenhouse gas emissions for moral and ethical reasons.

The initiative, called the Climate Ethics Campaign, was launched to coincide with the first week of international climate talks now underway in Durban, South Africa.

“People from all walks of life across the U.S. are extremely concerned about global warming. But progress has stalled because our government keeps debating whether addressing the issue makes economic sense and whether the science is settled,” said Bob Doppelt, executive director of The Resource Innovation Group and coordinator of the Climate Ethics Campaign.

The campaign was launched at an event in Washington, D.C., featuring speakers including Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.); Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.); Virginia State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple; Wood Turner, vice president for Sustainability Innovation at Stonyfield Farm; the Rev. Jim Ball, vice president of the Evangelical Environmental Network; Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy; Robert Pestronk, executive director of National Association of County and City Health Officials; and others.

More than 1,200 current and former elected officials as well as representatives from the business, labor, youth, conservation, academic, racial and social justice, physical and psychological health, development, and faith communities nationwide have pledged support to the campaign.

Paul Accuses Gingrich Of ‘Serial Hypocrisy’

A new Ron Paul Presidential campaign advertisement distributed online uses former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s own statements throughout to paint him as a flip-flopping political opportunist.

Much of the ad is in Gingrich’s own voice. After a few of Gingrich’s statements, the ad shows an image of him sitting on a loveseat beside former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) while the two shared a laugh over their agreement concerning global warming.

The ad also features Gingrich’s assault on the budget proposal presented by Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and it mentions the former Speaker’s lobbying ties to government mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the entities that perpetuated the financial crisis and recession. Also included is commentary on the former Speaker’s lobbying ties to healthcare firms prior to his support of an individual mandate as part of healthcare reform.

“Our campaign is making a bold move to debunk the myth that the Newt we are seeing on the 2012 campaign trail is the conservative he has been touted to be all along. This step we are taking is necessary, as voters are seeking authenticity among conservatives who are able to show a decades-long career of consistently walking the walk of Constitutional principles, limited government, and promoting sound money and economic policy. Ron Paul is the only Republican presidential candidate with that record,” said Ron Paul 2012 National Campaign Chairman Jesse Benton in a press release.

The ad concludes by suggesting voters ask Gingrich: “What will you tell me next time?”

Federal Government: Americans Can Be Killed, Detained If They Threaten Us

Citizens of the United States are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida, top national security lawyers in the Administration of Barack Obama said Thursday.

Asked about the CIA murder of anti-American alleged terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in September, Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy. Administration lawyers also say that U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States.

The Obama Administration lawyers’ remarks come as many Americans are already in panic over what is seen as an assault on personal liberty that Congress is attempting to add to the National Defense Authorization Act S.1867. The new provisions would allow the military to detain American citizens without due process of law and hold them indefinitely if they are perceived to be a threat.

Two new amendments that would attempt to halt the indefinite detention of American citizens on United States soil under a section of the National Defense Authorization Act have been introduced and could be voted on by the end of the day.

Fed Action May Be Global Bailout

The Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank (ECB), the United States Federal Reserve and the Swiss National Bank on Wednesday announced a coordinated attempt to provide liquidity support to the global financial system to avert further global financial distress.

The Federal Reserve, in a morning press release, said that it will take measures to provide easier access for European banks that hold dollar-denominated currencies for dollar loans to U.S. currency. The banks have agreed to lower the pricing on the existing temporary U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangements by 50 basis points, effective until Feb. 1, 2013.

“The purpose of these actions is to ease strains in financial markets and thereby mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses and so help foster economic activity,” the Federal Reserve said.

The actions of increased liquidity of the dollar are aimed at easing reservations banks have regarding lending to one another and individuals while the United States receives other currencies, including the battered euro, for dollar-denominated loans.

Critics of the measure say that calling the plan “coordinated action” is a farce, because it masks and fails to address address deeply rooted European financial weaknesses. A Market Watch opinion piece by Washington Bureau Chief Steve Goldstein says that the move is little more than global quantitative easing, meaning a global Federal Reserve bailout.

Goldstein writes:

That money printing, called quantitative easing, is old hat at the Fed, as well as at the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan. The results are admittedly debatable, but in ECB circles it’s unthinkable to contemplate, as the ghost of the Weimar Republic continues to haunt German policy makers.

Britain Ends Diplomatic Relations With Iran

Britain has ordered its entire diplomatic staff to be removed from Iran after supporters of Iranian ruling clerics attacked the British Embassy and residential compound in Tehran.

On Wednesday, other European Union member countries were scheduled to meet to decide whether their embassies would remain open in light of the attack that left no doubt that anti-Western sentiment is growing in Iran. Norway closed its embassy for the day on Wednesday, according to The Washington Post.

“The PM and Foreign Secretary have made clear that ensuring the safety of our staff and their families is our immediate priority,” said a statement from British officials. “We do not comment on our contingency plans.”

Iranian officials say that the disruption at the British Embassy is reflective of worsening Iranian national opinion about Western nations.

In addition to bringing diplomats out of Iran, the United Kingdom has ordered the closure of the Iranian embassy in London and the departure from Britain of all Iranian staff, according to The Telegraph.

Criminal Sues Hostages For Emotional Stress

A man who broke into the home of a Kansas couple and took them hostage is suing the couple for breach of contract to cover emotional stress and medical bills.

The criminal, Jesse Dimmick of Denver, is serving an 11-year sentence after breaking into Jared and Lindsay Rowley’s Topeka-area home in September 2009. Authorities were pursuing the man because he was wanted for questioning in the beating death of a Colorado man, according to The Associated Press.

Dimmick says he told the couple he was being chased by someone, most likely the police, who wanted to kill him and that he needed to take refuge in their home. The couple reportedly fed the knife-wielding invader snacks and watched movies with him until he fell asleep. They then escaped their home unharmed.

Dimmick was convicted of four felonies, including two counts of kidnapping. Now, he alleges that he and his captives had an oral contract which they breached by alerting police. In handwritten court documents he stated: “I, the defendant, asked the Rowleys to hide me because I feared for my life. I offered the Rowleys an unspecified amount of money which they agreed upon, therefore forging a legally binding oral contract.”

The criminal wants the couple to pay $235,000, including $160,000 for his hospital bills incurred after he was shot in the back by police and an additional $75,000 for emotional stress.

Huntsman: Cain Scandals Hurting GOP

Republican Presidential primary candidate Jon Huntsman suggested in a recent interview that his sex scandal-ridden fellow candidate, Herman Cain, is hurting the entire Republican field and distracting voters from the real issues.

Speaking of the latest allegation against Cain involving a 13-year extramarital affair, Huntsman said it is time for the former CEO rethink his candidacy.

“Every time another accusation comes up, it diminishes our ability to stay focused on the issues that really do matter for the American people. And I think that’s a disservice to the voters,” Huntsman told The Boston Globe.

Cain has denied that he had any sexual involvement with the latest accuser. He insists he and the woman were involved in a “friendship relationship” and that he helped her financially.

“I have spoken directly to the American people and have been 100% honest with them. My plan is to continue to spread my vision on how I would renew America and keep her safe. I will not fight false claims as it is not what America needs or wants,” Cain said in a statement Monday.

Cain reportedly has decided to “reassess” his candidacy “over the next several days.” But despite some speculation he will drop out of the race, campaign manager Marc Bloc said only Cain’s wife and lack of support could make him give up, according to ABC News.