Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Putin Vows to Fight Terrorists Until Destroyed; Two Terrorist Blasts in Russia This Week Kill 34

Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to fight terrorists until their "total destruction" following two suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd on December 29 and 30 that left 34 people dead, the VOA (Voice of America) website reports today (December 31, 2013).

In his annual New Years address, Putin said that at the country's most trying times, Russia has always been united and consolidated. Russian authorities have deployed more than 5,000 security force personnel in and around Volgograd in the wake of the bombings.

In the December 30 attack, a bomb blast ripped apart a trolleybus, killing 16 people and injuring 30 others. A day earlier, a suicide bomber detonated explosives at the security entrance of the city's main train station in an attack that left 18 dead.

A spokesman for Russia's main investigative agency said today that the bomb in the second explosion was similar to the one used in the first attack, confirming suspicions that they may be linked. The attacks came just weeks before the Winter Olympics open in Sochi, about 650 kilometers southwest of Volgograd. Islamist militants have threatened to attack civilians and disrupt the Winter Games.

Mo. School Holds Rel. Sessions Despite Complaint; American Humanist Assoc. Says Sessions Unconst.

A Missouri high school continues to hold prayer sessions on school grounds, despite a legal complaint that claims the sessions are unconstitutional, the CBN (Christian Broadcast Network) website reports today (December 31, 2013).

Fayette (Missouri) Schools Superintendent Tamara Kimball says district administrators have not considered ending the Friday morning sessions since the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed a complaint in November.

The AHA claims the sessions violate the constitutional prohibition against the government establishing an official religion.

The complaint also alleges the sessions occur during school hours, but district officials say they are held before classes officially begin.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Commis. Proposes Israeli Govt. Fund Abortions; Would Fund Women Aged 20-33, All Women Soon

An Israeli Health Ministry commission has proposed that the government fund all abortions for women aged 20-33, with the intention of eventually extending that to all women, the Newser website reports today (December 30, 2013).

Currently, the Israeli government only subsidizes abortions when it is medically necessary, or in women who are under 20 or over 40.

But the commission observed that this has left "a large group of women" who keep unwanted pregnancies for financial or secrecy reasons.

Abortion is technically illegal in Israel, but there are numerous exceptions -- including benefit to the mother's emotional or financial well-being. There is, however, no anti-abortion movement in Israel, and abortion has never been a major political issue there.

Bullets Rake Athens Home of German Ambass.; Police: It's Work of Leftists Opposing Austerity

A terror investigation is underway in Greece after the German ambassador's residence in Athens was shot at in the early hours of the morning today (December 30, 2013), the Euro News website reports.

Dozens of rounds from a Kalashnikov assault rifle were fired at the building, hitting the walls and steel gates at the entrance.

No one was hurt and little damage was done, but the attack came amid anti-German sentiment during Greece's prolonged economic crisis.

Berlin is blamed by many Greeks for the devastating austerity measures imposed on Greece as part of the all-but-bankrupt country's EU (European Union) bailouts. Germany is the biggest single contributing nation to those bailouts, and some of its austerity requirements have resulted in a plethora of Greeks losing their jobs.

Police believe the shooting -- which occurred at 3:40 a.m. -- was the work of leftists. No one has claimed responsibility.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

French Court OKs a 75% Tax Rate for Millionaires; Many Plan to Leave France for Belgium, UK, Switz.

A top French court has approved a controversial new tax hike that will see those making one million euros ($1.4 million) taxed at a rate of 75 percent, the Global Post website reports today (December 29, 2013).

France's president Francois Hollande's plan includes a proposal that companies will have to pay a 50 percent duty on wages above one million euros, which along with other charges, amounts to about 75 percent in taxes.

The law was announced in February 2012 as part of the Socialist president's campaign.

The law has many of France's wealthy business people and celebrities up in arms and threatening to leave the country for Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

Thousands of African Migrants Protest in Tel Aviv; Seek to Stop Israel from Jailing Asylum Seekers

Thousands of African migrants marched through the streets of Tel Aviv yesterday to protest Israel's policy on asylum seekers, the Big News Network website reports today (December 29, 2013).

Yesterday's demonstration -- which was also attended by activists and others sympathetic to the plight of migrants -- was aimed at changing Israel's policy of detaining and jailing asylum seekers without checking their refugee status. The Israeli government -- in its effort to maintain a unique "Jewish identity" of Israel -- has intensified its actions in recent months to remove some 60,000 Africans from the country, which the United Nations and many human rights organizations consider to be a racist policy.

Dubbed the "March for Freedom," demonstrators chanted slogans against the detention of migrants and called for the recognition of their rights. Israel has a so-called anti-infiltration law which allows the state to jail illegal asylum seekers without charge.

Human Rights Watch has called on Tel Aviv to end its "unlawful detention policy" and release all asylum seekers. This international watchdog organization also claims that Israel often uses the threat of prolonged detention to encourage African migrants to abandon their asylum rights.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Assad Sends a Private Message to Pope Francis; May Want Vatican Backing at Geneva Peace Talks

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said today (December 28, 2013), without disclosing its contents, the Newsmax World website reports.

It was the first known time Assad has sent a direct message to the pontiff since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011. Pope Francis has made numerous appeals to end the conflict, the latest on Christmas day.

Vatican sources said the message likely included the Syrian government's position ahead of peace talks due to start on January 22 under United Nations auspices in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Vatican -- which has permanent observer status at the United Nations -- also has representatives to U.N. organizations in Geneva. Syria's civil war -- between forces loyal to Assad and mostly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to overthrow him -- has killed more than 130,000 people since March 2011.

Saudi Arabian Police Scold Woman for Driving Car; Force Her to Sign a Pledge Not to Drive in Nation

Saudi police today (December 28, 2013) pulled over a woman just minutes after she got behind the wheel in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, after activists called for a new challenge to a driving ban of women in Saudi Arabia, according to the Raw Story website.

"Only 10 minutes after Tamador al-Yami got behind the wheel police stopped her," activist Eman al-Nafjan said, adding that Yami carries an international driving license and was with another woman who was filming her in the car.

Tamador's husband was called to the scene and she was forced to sign a pledge not to drive again without a Saudi license. Women are not allowed into driving schools in the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom and are not granted licenses.

In addition to not being allowed to drive, Saudi women must cover themselves from head to toe when they are out in public. They also need the permission of a male guardian in order to travel, work, and marry.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Woman Hypnotizes Priest,Takes Church Cash; Steals $2,736 in Cloister Area of Italian Church

A woman -- about 35 years old -- stole a Padua, Italy church's Christmas offerings after hypnotizing a 71-year-old priest, the UPI (United Press International) website reports today (December 27, 2013).

The woman -- described as a Roma, or gypsy -- made off with 1,800 euros ($2,736) collected by Padua's Santa Giustina abbey during the Christmas period.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported that she entered the cloister area of the church, where the presence of women is strictly forbidden.

The priest learned of the theft and alerted police after he came out of the hypnosis-induced trance, ANSA said.

Powerful Car Bomb Blast Rocks Downtown Beirut; Former Lebanese Ambass. to US, 4 Others Killed

A powerful car bomb flung glass and heavy strips of metal across a wide intersection in downtown Beirut -- the capital of Lebanon -- today (December 27, 2013), killing a former cabinet minister and underscoring Lebanon's growing instability as it absorbs the impact of neighboring Syria's increasingly bloody civil war, the Washington Post reports.

Mohamad Chatah -- a senior aide to former prime minister Saad Hariri and member of Lebanon's Future Movement party -- was killed in the blast. Chatah, a Sunni Muslim, served as Hariri's finance minister and was Lebanon's ambassador to the United States from 1997 to 2000. At least four other people were also killed in today's explosion and 75 were injured.

Chatah's assassination fueled fears that Lebanon may soon be forced to revisit its own brutal civil war some 40 years ago. The country so far has been unable to free itself from the powerful sway of a Syrian conflict that is fast engulfing this turbulent region.

"You now have a Lebanon that will be engaged in a tit-for-tat to the extreme," said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center. "Whether that takes it into civil war, God only knows." But Chatah's killing marks "a dangerous forebear for how 2014 can unfold," he added.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ohio Teacher Sacked for Insulting Black Student; Said "We Do Not Need Another Black President"

A teacher in Ohio was suspended this week for allegedly telling an ambitious young African-American student that the country does "not need another black president," the Syndicated News Services website reports today (December 26, 2013).

Gil Voigt was suspended without pay from Fairfield Freshman School on December 23 -- the first step necessary for termination. He has 10 days to ask for a hearing before the school board or a referee.

Superintendent Paul Otten said that the incident occurred while Voigt was speaking to an African-American student who had presidential aspirations. "We do not need another black president," Voigt reportedly said.

"He was talking to some students and said some things that were racially insensitive," Fairfield City Schools Board President Dan Murray explained. "We just felt this teacher had 'crossed the line,'" he added.

Four "Santa Clauses" Rob Jeweler in Albania Mall; Hid Automatic Weapons, Escaped with Jewelry

Four men dressed as Santa Claus and carrying automatic rifles danced and sang their way through a shopping mall in Tirana, Albania on Christmas Eve, and then robbed a jewelry store, the Balkan Insight website reports today (December 26, 2013).

An eyewitness said that the robbers had entered the mall dancing and singing -- with their guns hidden -- but once inside the store they took the weapons out and pointed them at the shopkeeper.

The jeweler first resisted, but one of the men hit her on the head with the butt of a rifle before they made their way out with the loot, he said.

"The suspects robbed a quantity of jewelry and escaped in a Mercedes Benz," police said in a statement. "A few minutes later the authors of the robbery abandoned the car on a country road and set it on fire," the statement added.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Outrage in Romania Over Anti-Semitic Xmas Carol; Lyrics Call for Jews to Be Burned in a Chimney

Romania faced mounting outrage on December 20 after a choir performed a Christmas carol on public television that glorified the Holocaust and said Jews should be burned in a chimney, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (December 25, 2013).

The carol -- performed by a folk group in the northwestern Cluj region -- features lyrics that use the pejorative term "jidovi" for Jews and includes a line that says Jews are good "only in the chimney, only in smoke."

Romanian foreign minister Titus objected to the song. "I strongly condemn any form of anti-Semitism, even more when it happens to be spread through a public media," he said.

The U.S. embassy called the broadcast "an unacceptable display of anti-Semitism that must be condemned in the strongest, most unequivocal terms."

Pope Backs Universal Brotherhood in Xmas Mass; Says We Must Love God, Our Brothers, Sisters

Pope Francis celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass since becoming pontiff with a gesture of humility and a call for universal brotherhood, the New York Post website reports today (December 25, 2013).

Francis walked briskly up the main aisle of a packed St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican and placed a statue of the baby Jesus into a manger scene.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the reason for the season.

"If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light," he said. "But if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Israeli Mil. Carries Out an Airstrike in Gaza Strip; Response to Fatal Shooting of an Israeli Civilian

The Israeli military says it carried out an airstrike in the Gaza Strip today (December 24, 2013) in response to the deadly shooting of an Israeli civilian who was working on a border fence, according to the CBN (Christian Broadcast Network) website.

The military gave no immediate details on the target of today's airstrike, and there was no word on casualties.

It did say that the Israeli man was shot while he was doing maintenance work on the border fence. Hospital officials later pronounced him dead.

This incident was the latest in a string of Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets in recent days.

COMMENTARY: NY Board of Ed. Must Fire Music Teacher, Principal for Insulting Jesus

Last week, a school choir at Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate School in Long Island, New York sang "Silent Night" by omitting several references to Jesus.

The Board of Education of the Kings Park Central School District -- which was not asked for permission to omit Jesus' name -- has apologized to community members after several parents complained about the missing words at the fifth grade concert.

One parent described the omission of Jesus by saying, "What was performed was inappropriate and disrespectful to the Christian faith."

We agree with this parent. In fact, we will take this situation to the next level by saying that the music teacher and the principal of this school must be fired by the New York Board of Education for insulting Jesus -- the music teacher for encouraging such an omission and the principal for allowing it to occur.

Indeed, we find it incredible that the music teacher and principal at this school could be so anti-Christian as to even think of omitting Jesus' name in "Silent Night."

Consequently, it is our sincere belief that the music teacher and principal of this school must be terminated by the New York Board of Education for allowing such an insulting, hateful, and anti-Christian phenomenon towards the Lord to occur.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Lesbian United Methodist Clerics Wed in Seattle; Could Be Defrocked for Violating Church Doctrine

Two United Methodist ministers recently "wed" each other in a ceremony in Seattle, Washington despite the possibility that they could face disciplinary action for violating church law, the Christian News website reports today (December 23, 2013).

Joanne Carlson Brown, 60, of Tibbetts United Methodist Church and Christie Newbill, 65, of Woodland Park United Methodist Church tied the knot at a ceremony at Brown's church on December 7th. District Superintendent Patricia Simpson officiated the ceremony, which was attended by approximately 300 supporters.

"Our marriage is our statement for declaring to our friends and family, in the presence of God, our love and commitment for one another," Brown told the United Methodist News Service.

The Church's Book of Discipline outlines that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" and that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" may not be ordained as ministers in the denomination. Consequently, Brown and Newbill -- as well as Simpson -- could be disciplined or defrocked for violating Church doctrine.

Judge Rules Ohio's Gay Marriage Ban Is Unconst.; It Must Recognize Gays Married in Another State

Ohio's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a federal judge declared today (December 23, 2013), although he did so in a narrow ruling that will not in itself strike down the ban, according to the Newser website.

Judge Timothy Black ordered only that state officials recognize gay marriages when filling out death certificates.

But Black's decision contained broad language that others are almost certain to use as the basis for a broader challenge to the Ohio ban.

"Once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away," Black wrote.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Judaism Declines from 3 to 2 Percent of US Pop.; Young Jews Intermarry, Don't Join a Synagogue

A new major survey by the Pew Research Center -- titled "A Portrait of Jewish Americans" -- indicates Jews have declined as a share of U.S. population from about 3 percent in the 1950s to less than 2 percent today, the WWRN (World Wide Religious News) website reports today (December 22, 2013).

It also suggests Jews are becoming less observant, with 32 percent of young Jewish adults describing themselves as having "no religion" and instead identifying themselves on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity, or culture.

Survey director Alan Cooperman acknowledges that the findings have triggered alarm. "The level of interest in this from the Jewish community is greater than I've seen in any previous survey that we've done," he said, adding that there is particular concern that young Jews are less likely than their parents to join a synagogue or support Israel.

Around 58 percent of Jews are now marrying out of the faith and, Cooperman noted, "intermarriage is correlated with lower religiosity." Heidi Lamar grew up in the liberal Reform Jewish movement and later changed to Orthodox Judaism. She believes the liberal branches of her faith -- that is, Reform and Conservative Judaism -- are in the process of dying out because of intermarriage and low birth rates.

French Soldier Wears Nazi Slogan on His Uniform; "My Honor Is Loyalty" Was Slogan of Hitler's SS

A French soldier -- deployed as a peace-keeper in the Central African Republic (CAR) -- was photographed wearing a Nazi slogan on his uniform, the Big News Network website reports today (December 22, 2013).

The patch -- written in German -- reads "My Honor Is Loyalty," the former slogan of Hitler's SS (storm trooper bodyguards) during World War II.

"This is an unacceptable attitude that doesn't reflect the reality of the armed forces," said army spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron.

The French army has some 1,600 soldiers deployed in the CAR as part of an international peace-keeping force.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ukrainian Greek Cath. Church Rips Police Cruelty; Denounces Police Action Against Peaceful Protests

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) has strongly denounced police action against protesters in Kiev's "Independence Square" after police stormed the area which has been occupied by protesters for over a week, the EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) website reports today (December 21, 2013).

"We are profoundly disturbed by the actions of the state security forces on the Maydan Square in the heart of Kiev conducted under cover of night," the permanent synod of the UGCC said in a statement.

The permanent synod also expressed its support for "the peaceful character of this civic gathering" and declared its "rejection of any type of violence."

For several weeks, Ukrainians have been protesting President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to scrap key trade and political agreements with the EU (European Union). This week, Yanukovych angered a plethora of Ukrainians even more -- many are now demanding the end of his presidency -- as a result of his signing a trade agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, instead of with the EU.

School Choir Singing "Silent Night" Snubs Jesus; Parent:"Was Disrespectful to the Christian Faith"

A school choir at Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate School in Long Island, New York sang "Silent Night" this week by omitting references to Jesus in the song, The Blaze website reports today (December 21, 2013).

The Kings Park Central School District has since apologized after parents complained about the missing words during the fifth grade concert. "Christ the Savior is born," "Holy infant so tender and mild," "round yon virgin, mother and child," and "Jesus, Lord at thy birth" were all removed from the student rendition.

"The Board of Education sincerely apologizes to our community members who were offended by the change of lyrics to the song 'Silent Night' and we share in your sentiment," read the statement of the district.

One parent, Kevin McDonald, said, "'Silent Night' is a sacred Christian hymn that tells the story about the birth of Jesus." He added, "What was performed was inappropriate and disrespectful to the Christian faith."

Switz. to Vote on a Basic Income for Its Residents; All Swiss to Receive Income If Referendum Passes

Switzerland -- one of the richest countries in the world -- will soon vote on a referendum that would provide a basic income for all persons legally residing in that nation whether they are working or not, the Spero News website reports today (December 21, 2013).

A universal basic income was once proposed by St. Thomas More -- the British philosopher and author of "Utopia" -- who was beheaded by England's Henry VIII in 1535.

Swiss leftists consider a universal basic income as an act of justice, while the right sees in it the possibility of eliminating social welfare schemes entirely.

In order to propose a national referendum in Switzerland, only 100,000 signatures are required to put it to a vote. A vote is then taken, and if the referendum is passed, it must be put into effect.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Court OKs Saudi Compensation for 9/11 Victims; Says Saudi Arabia Aided Al-Qaida, Liable for 9/11

Lawsuits claiming Saudi Arabia aided al-Qaida and should be held liable for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack were revived by a U.S. appeals court in a decision that allows victims and their families another chance to seek compensation from the wealthy kingdom, the Newsmax World website reports today (December 20, 2013).

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York yesterday said a lower-court judge "rested on an error of law" in rejecting a request to reopen the cases against the country's government and an affiliated charity.

Jerry Goldman -- a lawyer for the plaintiffs -- said in a statement that the appeals court decision is "soundly grounded and restores this case to the proper procedural posture."

He added: "This is a big step forward in the process of obtaining fair justice for the victims of this tragedy."

Israeli-American Gets 25 Years for Weapons Plot; Oded Orbach Tried to Supply Taliban with Missiles

An Israeli-American man -- caught in a sting operation trying to sell weapons to Taliban terrorists -- was sentenced on December 18 to 25 years in prison, the Jewish Press website reports today (December 20, 2013).

Oded Orbach, 55, of Highland Park, Illinois, was convicted in April of conspiring to provide material support to the Taliban and conspiring to acquire anti-aircraft missiles.

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency undercover operation caught Orbach and six other men, who agreed to provide military weapons to an individual they believed to represent the Taliban. The weapons included heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles.

The men traveled to Africa, Ukraine, and Romania to arrange a sale of $25 million in weapons, ammunition, and training to the man they believed to be a Taliban official. Instead, the men were arrested in February 2011 in Romania and extradited to the United States to face trial.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Many Cath. Churches in Vienna Given to Orth.; Due to Drop in Cath. Worshipers, Rise in Orth.

Austria's Vienna Archdiocese has defended its gifts of several Catholic Churches to Greek Orthodox Christian communities, as part of a current reorganization, the Catholic News website reports today (December 19, 2013).

"Our own church is receding in Vienna, whereas the other Christian confessions are on the rise because of immigration," Michael Pruller, the archdiocese spokesman, said.

"Many large churches were built in the 19th century for parishes numbering tens of thousands. As in other countries, we're now having to get rid of churches, which can't be maintained by their small congregations," Puller added.

No money is given by the Orthodox Christians to the Catholic Archdiocese for the churches.

UMC Sets a Record Global Membership of 12.5M; Sees Growth in Dev. Countries Despite US Decline

Global membership in the United Methodist Church (UMC) passed the 12.5 million mark in 2012, reaching a record number for the denomination, the Christian Post website reports today (December 19, 2013).

Despite continuing its decline in the United States, the UMC maintained a trend of growth in developing countries, which greatly contributed to reaching the record number.

Scott Brewer -- associate general secretary of the UMC General Council for Finance and Administration (GCFA) said: "In 2012, the United Methodist Church continued to see its greatest growth centered in Africa and the Philippines."

American membership continued its years-long downward trend, as the GCFA reported that the number of UMC members in the United States went from 7,481,383 by the end of 2011 to 7,390,691 members at the end of 2012.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Egypt's Ousted Pres. Morsi May Get Death Penalty; New Charges Include Conspiracy, Terrorist Acts

Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi is to stand trial on new charges, including conspiring with foreign organizations to commit terrorist acts, the BBC (British Broadcast Company) website reports today (December 18, 2013).

Prosecutors said Morsi had formed an alliance with the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Thirty-five others -- including former aides and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood -- have also been charged.

Since being deposed by the military last July, Morsi has already gone on trial for inciting murder and violence. These charges have been continued to a later court date trial.

The new charges carry the death penalty. Prosecutors describe the new charges as "the biggest case of conspiracy in the country's history."

Federal Judge Rules Utah Polygamy Ban Unconst.; Decides It Violates Both 1st and 14th Amendments

A federal judge in Utah has struck down a key portion of that state's marriage law that makes polygamy illegal, thus raising concerns among pro-family leaders that the nation may be entering a new phase in an all-out attack on marriage, The New American website reports today (December 18, 2013).

On December 13, Judge Clark Waddoups of the U.S. District Court of Utah struck down a portion of the state law that prohibits polygamous cohabitation, ruling that it violated both the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit by Kody Brown and his four "wives," who are the subjects of the reality show "Sister Wives" on the TLC network.

Brown is legally married to only one of the women, but the religious sect to which the five belong -- called the Apostolic United Brethren -- embraces polygamy and holds that Brown and the other three women are married in a "spiritual" union.

Harvard Student May Get 5 Years for Bomb Threat; Eldo Kim, 20, Said He Did It to Avoid a Final Exam

Harvard College sophomore Eldo Kim, 20 -- who could be sentenced to five years in prison for notifying the university of a bomb threat against four Harvard buildings on December 16 because he had not prepared to take a final exam -- is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court for a preliminary hearing today (December 18, 2013), The (Harvard) Crimson website reports.

The public defender's office is currently representing Kim. U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Dein will oversee the hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin is handling the case for the government, according to The Crimson.

In an affidavit filed with the Boston U.S. District Attorney's office, Kim told authorities he was "motivated by a desire to avoid a final exam scheduled to be held on Monday." Kim was present for that exam which was held in Emerson Hall at 9 a.m. on December 16, when the fire alarm went off, the affidavit says. "According to Kim, upon hearing the alarm, he knew his plan had worked," the affidavit reads. Kim's final exam was canceled.

At approximately 8:30 that morning, Kim sent emails to two Harvard officials, an affiliate of Harvard University Police Department, and the President of The Crimson (the student daily newspaper), saying that bombs had been placed in two of four buildings: the Science Center, Sever Hall, Emerson Hall, and Thayer Hall. In those emails, Kim wrote, "be quick for they will go off soon," according to the affidavit.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Putin Sways Ukrainian Pres. to Sign Trade Deal; Cuts Cost of Gas to Ukraine, Buys Bill. of Bonds

Russian President Vladimir Putin has slashed the cost of gas sold to Ukraine and agreed to buy billions of Ukrainian government bonds, thus convincing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to sign a trade agreement favoring a new alliance with Russia -- rather than with the European Union (EU) which the vast majority of Ukrainians prefer -- the Europe News website reports today (December 17, 2013).

Putin sealed the deal after talks in Moscow with Yanukovych.

The deal sees Russian state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom cutting the price of gas deliveries from January 2014. Putin also said Russia would buy some 11 billion euro of Ukraine's government bonds.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian protesters have been camping on the main square of Kiev -- the capital of Ukraine -- for nearly a month, because they are angry at the prospect of being drawn back under the influence of the Kremlin. Opposition leaders have warned Yanukovych not to bother coming back to Ukraine if he "sells out" to Russia.

Snowden Sends Letter to Brazil Asking for Asylum; Says in Return, He'll Inform Brazil of US Spying

Edward Snowden -- who was granted political asylum in Russia until next summer after he revealed secret and illegal NSA (National Security Agency) spying operations -- has written "an open letter to the people of Brazil" offering to help Brazil's government investigate allegations of U.S. spying, but on the condition that he be granted permanent political asylum, the USA Today website reports today (December 17, 2013).

"I've expressed my willingness to assist where it's appropriate and legal, but, unfortunately, the U.S. government has been working hard to limit my ability to do so," his letter says.

"Until a country grants me permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak out," Snowden writes in the letter. He adds that, "Many Brazilian senators agree and asked me to help their investigations into suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens."

Snowden said that he felt vindicated by a federal judge's ruling yesterday that the collection of data by the NSA was most likely unconstitutional. What Snowden fails to indicate, however, is that he took a federal government oath in which he pledged never to reveal any U.S. classified information to anyone without a need to know -- and he has violated that oath. Conclusion: Two wrongs don't make a right.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Judge Rules NSA's Phone Spying Violates Const.; Says Author of Const. Would Be "Aghast" at Action

A Federal District Court judge ruled today (December 16, 2013) that the National Security Agency (NSA) program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans' phone calls violates the Constitution, and he ordered the government to stop collecting data on two plaintiffs' personal calls and destroy the records of their calling history, the NY Times website reports.

The 68-page ruling of Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia called the program's technology "almost Orwellian" and suggested that James Madison, the author of the Constitution, would be "aghast" to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way.

"I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary' invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval," Judge Leon wrote. "Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment."

Judge Leon stayed his injunction "in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues," allowing the government to appeal it -- a matter that he said could take some six months.

Israeli Troops Shoot Two Lebanese Soldiers Today; As a Payback for Lebanese Sniper Killing an Israeli

Israeli troops shot two Lebanese soldiers early today (December 16, 2013), just hours after a Lebanese army sniper killed an Israeli soldier as he drove along the volatile border late last night, according to the Washington Post website.

The shooting raised the possibility of renewed fighting in the area, which has remained mostly quiet since a month-long war in the summer of 2006.

Relations between Lebanon and Israel are so fraught with tensions that any incident risks sparking a major conflagration. The two have been officially at war since Israel became an independent nation in 1948. Each country bans its citizens from visiting the other, and there are no direct trade ties between the two.

In the incident yesterday, Israeli soldier Shlomi Cohen, 31, was fatally shot by a Lebanese army sniper near the tourist site of Rosh Hanikra on the Mediterranean Sea, the Israeli military said.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Police in Rome Nab 11 Anti-Austerity Protesters; Crowds Protest Spending Cuts, Unemployment

Italian police yesterday arrested 11 people in Rome, after demonstrators set ablaze garbage bins outside the Finance Ministry building as a protest against austerity, the Europe Sun website reports today (December 15, 2013).

As clashes with police became worse, demonstrators hurled eggs and fireworks at the building, which has been a prime location for angry anti-austerity demonstrators.

The so-called "pitchfork" protests -- which were originally organized by a group of Sicilian farmers -- began early last week, when crowds in Rome called for the government's resignation for its failure to contain rising unemployment.

It has been estimated that tens of thousands of anti-austerity protesters have been in Rome -- as well as several other Italian cities -- to protest against the harsh spending cuts the government has implemented to meet its deficit target. Austerity policies are unpopular in Italy where citizens are facing falling incomes, higher unemployment, tax hikes, and inflation.

Five Philly Priests Are Fired for Sexual Misconduct; Abp. Chaput Has No Tolerance for Abusive Priests

The Philadelphia Archdiocese revealed today (December 15, 2013) that five priests were removed from the Roman Catholic ministry due to allegations of sexual misconduct, according to the UPI (United Press International) website.

One of the priests banished by Archbishop Charles Chaput -- who has no tolerance at all for abusive priests -- had been cleared by an archdiocese review board, the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper said today.

The Rev. Michael Chapman had been accused of sexual abuse involving a minor. Within months of being cleared by the review board, a new accuser came forward, the newspaper said.

The details of the allegations against the other four priests were not revealed by the archdiocese.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bishop Demands Kidnappers Release Syrian Nuns; Says Abductors Want to Show They Have No Mercy

Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama in Syria has repeated an appeal for the release of 12 women religious kidnapped in Syria on December 2, the Ekklesia (British) website reports today (December 14, 2013).

The nuns are Sisters from the Convent of St. Tekla in Maalaoula -- a largely Christian town north of Damascus.

Speaking in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Syrian Orthodox Bishop Alnemeh said that he had not heard from the Sisters since their disappearance over 10 days ago. He said he believes that the women are now being held in Yabrud, which is 12 miles from Maaloula.

The bishop declared: "I demand the immediate release of the nuns, who have done no harm to anyone. We've reached the point where even nuns are being abducted. What have they done wrong? It's a crime. The abductors want to demonstrate that they know no mercy."

Huckabee to Let God Decide If He'll Run for Pres.; Says Non-Backers in 2008 Bid Favor Him for 2016

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- a Southern Baptist minister -- told a group of pastors he'd let the Lord decide if he should run for president in 2016. The 2008 Republican presidential candidate is also said to be praying about it, and has had several groups from Iowa and South Carolina come to meet him, the Christian Post website reports today (December 14, 2013).

"The first question he was asked was whether or not he was running for president and he said he'd let the Lord decide," ABC quoted Warren Watkins -- pastor of Westside Baptist Church -- as saying, of pastors' interaction with Huckabee at a meeting at the Convention Center in Little Rock, Ark., on December 12.

Speaking to CBN (Christian Broadcast Network) on "The Brody File" show, Huckabee said top evangelical and financial figures who did not back him in 2008 now want him to make another bid.

"I'm not even close to being ready to saying yeah I'm going to run, but I think that there's an openness now," Huckabee told CBN on the sidelines of the pastors' conference on December 12. "A lot of it has to do with the fact that I've had some incredible encouragement from people that I wasn't expecting to get it from. I think even from people who didn't support me before.... These are people who look me square in the eye and say it with conviction."

Friday, December 13, 2013

US Drone Strikes Yemen Wedding Convoy,Kills 14; Intel Identified Vehicles as Carrying Terrorists

A U.S. drone mistakenly targeted a wedding convoy in Yemen's al-Baitha province after intelligence reports identified the vehicles as carrying al Qaeda militants, the CNN website reports today (December 13, 2013).

Two Yemeni national security officials told CNN that 14 people were killed and 22 others injured, with nine in critical condition. The wedding vehicles were traveling near the town of Radda when they were attacked.

"This was a tragic mistake and comes at a very critical time. None of the killed was a wanted suspect by the Yemeni government," said a top Yemeni security official.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the report.

New Bride of 8 Days Admits Murdering Husband; Pushed Him Off Cliff,Had 2nd Thoughts on Union

A newly-wed bride has pleaded guilty to pushing her husband off a cliff and killing him eight days after their wedding, during an argument over her having second thoughts about being married, the Independent (British) website reports today (December 13, 2013).

Jordan Graham, 22, had previously denied murder, claiming that the death had been an accident, after first denying that she had even been present when he died.

In accepting the last-minute guilty plea, US District Judge Donald Molloy told Graham she must recount what happened when her husband Cody Johnson, 25, fell to his death in Glacier National Park, Montana last July.

In exchange for the last-minute guilty plea to second-degree murder, prosecutors agreed to drop a first-degree murder charge and a count of making a false statement to authorities. Graham could face a maximum sentence of life in prison when she is sentenced on March 27, 2014.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Uruguay Is World's First Country to Legalize Pot; Law Takes Control of Marijuana from Traffickers

The South American nation of Uruguay has become the first country in the world to legalize the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of marijuana, the Euro News website reports today (December 12, 2013).

The new law aims to take business and control of the drug away from drug traffickers.

A crowd gathered outside Congress to support the new law. The Senate approved the bill by a 16 to 13 vote.

From April 2014, users will be able to buy marijuana over the counter from licensed pharmacies. They must be at least 18 years old and registered on a government database that will monitor their purchases.

Pat Robertson Warns a Viewer on Lesbian Friend; Advises "You Don't Want Your Kids to Be Lesbians"

Televangelist Pat Robertson warned a viewer today (December 12, 2013) that she should be careful when allowing lesbian friends into her home, because "you don't want your children to grow up as lesbians," the Raw Story website reports.

A viewer named Catherine told the TV preacher that she had recently reconnected with a childhood friend, who was a lesbian. She invited the friend to meet her children but became concerned when she asked to bring her same-sex partner.

"I don't want her to think that I'm okay with her ways," the viewer explained. "And I don't feel comfortable having her around my children."

Robertson advised the woman not to "shun" her friend, "but at the same time, you don't want your children to grow up as lesbians." He added, "You don't want to show them that that's an acceptable lifestyle for your family."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

First-Grader Is Suspended for Kissing Girl's Hand; Experts, Boy's Mother Rip School Policy as Absurd

As a result of kissing a fellow first-grade girl's hand during class, 6-year-old Hunter Yelton now has a stigma on his permanent record, the Christian Science Monitor website reports today (December 11, 2013).

His Colorado school district has a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment, which school officials maintain the boy violated with his kiss. The boy was suspended from first grade at Lincoln School of Science and Technology in Canon City, Colorado. His mother -- who may take legal action against  the suspension -- is protesting the school's actions as extreme and not age-appropriate.

The case is gaining national attention through social media, with many suggesting the response is a zero-tolerance policy taken too far. School officials -- who are not responding to media requests -- have told local media that the boy's buss fits district standards for sexual harassment.

"Zero tolerance policies in schools have not been shown to work," said Nadine Block, a child psychologist and author of "Breaking the Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment." She added, "This is just another example of going overboard on rules in schools that need to be more flexible. Rather than a rush to punishment, schools should be looking for ways to teach appropriate behavior instead."

Pope Francis Named Time's Person of the Year; Captured Spirit of Millions Let Down by Vatican

Time magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the Year today (December 11, 2013), crediting him with shifting the message of the Catholic Church while capturing the imagination of millions of people who had become disillusioned with the Vatican, according to the Reuters website.

This is only the third time the magazine has chosen a pope as its Person of the Year. Time gave that honor to Pope John Paul II in 1994 and to Pope John XXIII in 1963.

The Argentine pontiff -- who, as archbishop of Buenos Aires was known as "the slum cardinal" for his visits to the poor and penchant for subway travel -- beat former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and gay rights activist Edith Windsor for the award.

"What makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all," Time said in its cover story.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Israelis Protest in Support of Jailed Orth. Jews; Orth. Jews Jailed for Not Reporting to Mil. Ctr.

Israeli police say more than 1,000 people -- mostly Orthodox Jews --  have demonstrated in Jerusalem in support of ultra-Orthodox Jews who are being detained for failing to report for a mandatory draft assessment, the CBN (Christian Broadcast Network) website reports today (December 10, 2013).

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says yesterday's protest took place outside the jail where the men are being held.

The military said the men are being detained for refusing to report to a military recruitment center. Before a law was recently passed by Israel, ultra-Orthodox Jews were not required to serve in Israel's military.

The protesters also demonstrated against a recently approved plan that would halt automatic draft exemptions to ultra-Orthodox seminary students and require all to register for military service. They say the military would expose the Israeli youth to secularism.

Mass. Teachers at Cath. Academy Terminated; Out-of-Wedlock Pregnancy Violates Contract

Former Lawrence (Massachusetts) Catholic Academy (LCA) teachers Sean Houlihan and Natalie Ferland were terminated after revealing their relationship and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy to school administrators, the UPI (United Press International) website reports today (December 10, 2013).

Houlihan, 34, and Ferland, 26, were let go from LCA on the Monday before Thanksgiving for violating their contracts.

In their termination letters, school principal Jorge Hernandez wrote that the teachers were fired "for good cause in accordance with the terms of the Lay Teacher Agreement you signed for this academic year."

He added, "Based on your disclosures to me during our meeting on November 20, 2013, it was determined you were in violation of the terms of your contract."

Monday, December 9, 2013

Four US Presidents Will Attend Mandela Services; Memorial Tomorrow for S. Africa's 1st Black Pres.

South Africa is preparing to host scores of world leaders who are planning to attend tomorrow's memorial service for Nelson Mandela -- the anti-apartheid leader who died last week at the age of 95 -- the VOA (Voice of America) website reports today (December 9, 2013).

U.S. President Barack Obama -- along with former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter -- are making the trek to Johannesburg where the service will be held in Soccer City stadium. George H.W. Bush, 89, is the only living former U.S. president who will not attend the event, due to his inability to travel long distances.

South Africa's foreign minister says there has been "unprecedented interest" from world leaders who want to attend the event, which will be held under heavy security.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Cuban President Raul Castro, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are among others also expected to attend the service for Mandela, who emerged from 27 years in prison to become South Africa's first black president.

Germany:Nazi Guard at Auschwitz Unfit for Trial; Hans Lipschis Released Due to Having Dementia

Accused Nazi war criminal Hans Lipschis, 94, was released from custody in Germany after being diagnosed with dementia, the Jewish Press website reports today (December 9, 2013).

The arrest warrant against Lipschis was canceled on December 6 due to a psychiatrist's determination that the alleged former SS guard at Auschwitz was suffering from the early stages of the illness and therefore might not sufficiently understand and respond to the charges against him.

Lipschis -- a native of Lithuania -- has been held in the Hohenasperg prison hospital near Stuttgart since May on charges of complicity in hundreds of murders at the Nazi death camp. A court in Germany must decide if a trial should take place, reportedly depending on Lipschis' state of health.

At the time of his arrest, Lipschis was called one of the 10 most wanted Nazis in a report by Zeit Online newspaper. Last April, he told a German newspaper that he was in Auschwitz "as a cook the whole time."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Anti-Feminist Woman Urges Female Host to Quit; Tells Fox News' Kooiman to Marry, Stay Home

Fox News host Anna Kooiman was advised by anti-feminist crusader Suzanne Venker to quit her job and get married, because women should spend more time "thanking men" for the ability to stay home and take care of children, the Raw Story website reports today (December 8, 2013).

In a column in FoxNews.com last week, Venker -- who is a niece of renown anti-feminist Phyllis Schalfly -- argued that today's women had been deluded into thinking that they could live without a husband.

During an interview with Venker today, Kooiman wanted to know how the philosophy applied to a career-driven woman like herself. "I'm single, I'm 29, I'm very career-oriented," Kooiman explained. "What's your advice in just a couple of sentences?"

"My advice is, as the years go on you find that you want, if you do, to get married and settle down, to understand time is going to be your greatest enemy," Venker opined. "So if you learn to embrace that side of yourself that isn't about work," she continued. "In other words, the nurturing side, the motherhood, all of that. It's okay to let your husband bring home that full-time income so you can have more of a balanced life. And we should really be thanking men for this, not saying they're in our way or not doing enough."

Muslims to Christian Woman:"Deny Christ or Die;" She Agreed to Become a Muslim But Later Escaped

A Christian woman was recently held by Muslim terrorists in Nigeria and ordered to convert to Islam or die, the Christian News website reports today (December 8, 2013).

Hajja, 19, said she was held by the radical group Boko Haram and told to renounce Christianity or perish. Members of Boko Haram threatened to slit her throat if she did not give up her faith in Christ. Hajja's last name has not been released, as she has family in northern Nigeria.

"They told me I must become a Muslim, but I refused again and again," Hajja said. "They were about to slaughter me, and one of them begged me not to resist and just before I had my throat slit, I relented. They put a veil on me and made me read from the Koran."

Boko Haram made Hajja a domestic slave. She was forced to clean and prepare meals for the terrorist militia. Hajja later managed to escape from her captors.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Legal Scholar: Obama Slyly Adopts Unconst. Acts; Avoids Congress in Despotic "Imperial Presidency"

Only the courts can stop President Barack Obama from tweaking the Affordable Care Act without going through Congress, according to Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar and professor at George Washington University Law School, the Newsmax website reports today (December 7, 2013).

"This administration's been very successful in blocking challenges to actions that were viewed as unconstitutional. We have to get over what's called the standing barrier where courts just refuse to hear challenges," Turley said.

Republican lawmakers have complained that Obama's changes to the healthcare law -- including delays and tweaks of certain parts of it that are causing problems -- are unconstitutional because they must be passed through Congress.

"The Framers [of the U.S. Constitution] would have been appalled that you can have very clear violations of the Constitution, but literally no one can actually get a hearing to review them," Turley said. He added, "We have the emergence of what is often called an "Imperial Presidency" -- something that we have resisted for generations."

Ukraine's Pres. Meets with Pres. Putin in Russia; Seek Strategic Partnership Treaty of Two Nations

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych held surprise talks yesterday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on a strategic partnership treaty with Moscow -- a move that faces strong resistance from pro-West Ukrainian demonstrators -- the Big News Network website reports today (December 7, 2013).

Yanukovych flew from China to Sochi in southern Russia for the meeting.

Last month -- due primarily to economic pressure from Putin, including his refusal to sell Russian  heating oil to Ukraine during the winter -- Yanukovych shelved a partnership deal with the EU (European Union), triggering angry protests in Ukraine's capital Kiev.

Yanukovych's unexpected last-minute rejection of the historic EU agreement has resulted in the biggest protests in Ukraine since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Friday, December 6, 2013

200K March in Taiwan Against Gay Marriage; Opposed to Amend. to OK Same-Sex Marriage

A group promoting traditional marriage in Taiwan said that it marshaled some 200,000 people in front of Taiwan's presidential office on November 30 to protest a proposed amendment that would legalize same-sex "marriage" in the country, The New American website reports today (December 6, 2013).

The march -- organized in part by a group calling itself the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation -- brought together individuals, as well as parents and children, who carried signs bearing such messages as, "Defend Marriage," and "Oppose Amendment to Civil Code Article 972," the measure at the center of the debate.

"God created human beings as male and female," explained one woman who joined the protest.

She added, "Only the union of a man and a woman can create the next generation, and the ability to create offspring is an important function of a family."

Syrian Rebels: Assad Has New Poison Gas Attack; Poison Shells Kill 7 in Rebel-Held Town of Nabak

Syrian opposition activists are accusing President Bashar al-Assad of killing at least seven people in a new poison gas attack, despite agreeing not to use chemical weapons, the Global Post website reports today (December 6, 2013).

Two shells filled with poison gas were dropped in a rebel-held area of the town of Nabak, northeast of Damascus, the activists told Reuters.

Several victims of the poison gas have been seen with swollen limbs and foaming mouths.

Assad had recently agreed not to use poison gas and to give up his chemical weapons arsenal under a deal struck by the U.S. and Russia -- a strong supporter of Assad -- that averted a U.S. attack on Syria. However, this week's poison gas attack may revoke that deal -- and result in a U.S. attack on Syria -- as it illustrates that Assad cannot be trusted.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pope Sneaks Out at Night in Disguise for the Poor; Worked as a Bouncer at a Buenos Aires Nightclub

It has been revealed that Pope Francis -- who is justly earning his nickname as "Pope of the Poor" -- has been sneaking out of the Vatican at night in disguise to help those in need, the Yahoo News website reports today (December 5, 2013).

Swiss Guards at the Vatican confirmed that the pope has been venturing out at night -- dressed as a regular priest -- to meet with homeless men and women.

These nightly expeditions are nothing new for the pope, 76, who was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina. When he was a cardinal in Argentina, he would regularly sneak out to buy food for the homeless, and even eat and speak with them on the street. The current leader of 1.3 billion Catholics -- and the first Jesuit pope -- also was a fan of the art of tango, and had a girlfriend he danced with before he became a priest.

In another eyebrow-raising revelation, after celebrating Mass last Sunday (December 1), Pope Francis chatted informally with several followers and indicated some of his former jobs -- including working as a bouncer at a Buenos Aires nightclub when he was a college student.

NYC Pol.:Knockout Attacks Due to Jewish Success; Says Blacks Lack Success, Attack Jews as a Result

Amid an array of "knockout" attacks against a number of Jews in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood recently, a city councilwoman pointed to the success of the Jewish community as triggering the aggression, the National Review website reports today (December 5, 2013).

New York City Councilwoman-elect Laurie Cumbo -- who is black -- emphasized that while she "admires the Jewish community immensely" for its work ethic, black teens may see it differently.

"While I personally regard this level of tenacity, I also recognize that for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success," Cumbo -- who was recently elected -- wrote in a letter.

Chief among the issues causing resentment against Jews could stem from hostility towards Jewish landlords, she added. Cumbo said that she was looking to "offer possible insight as to how young African American/Caribbean teens" think and how it can lead to the attacks.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

French Prison Must Serve Muslims Halal Meals; First French Court Ruling to Require Halal Meals

In a landmark legal ruling, a French court has ordered Saint-Quentin-Fallayier prison -- near Grenoble in southeastern France -- to begin making halal meals (meals allowed under Islamic law) available to Muslim inmates, citing detainees' right to "free exercise of religion," the France 24 website reports today (December 4, 2013).

The administrative tribunal in Grenoble in southeastern France ruled that the nearby Saint-Quentin-Fallavier prison must begin serving halal meals in its canteen, citing French laws guaranteeing "free exercise of religion."

A Muslim inmate at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier made a request to the prison's warden in March this year asking for Muslim detainees to be offered the option of halal meals. The request was denied, prompting the inmate to appeal to the administrative tribunal.

In its decision, the court ruled in favor of the inmate and ordered the prison to provide "regular" menus with halal meat options "within three months." It is the first time a French legal institution has ruled that a prison must provide certain food to accommodate inmates' religious beliefs.

Univ. of Va. Dean Pleads Not Guilty of Child Porn; Accused of Sharing Child Porn on Internet Network

Michael Morris -- an associate dean at the University of Virginia -- pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges of distributing child pornography, the Washington Post website reports today (December 4, 2013).

According to federal court records, Morris is accused of sharing pornographic videos on an Internet network. He appeared in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, Virginia to answer the charges.

Morris is a professor at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce.

In November -- when Morris was charged -- a school spokesman said he had been suspended and that the school was working with authorities.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mysterious Tito Statue Rises in Skopje, FYROM; Authorities Unaware Who Erected Yugoslav Pres.

Authorities in Skopje -- capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) -- say they have no idea who put up a statue of former Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito, which they say has no building permit and could pose a safety hazard, the Balkan Insight website reports today (December 3, 2013).

"We have no information about who erected the monument. Our inspectors have been on the ground and determined that the monument has been placed on a spot that is not predicted for that purpose," the Skopje municipality of Centar said. Officials say that, for now, the municipality will not attempt to remove the statue.

"Our inspectors will verify the current condition of the monument," Centar officials said, responding to reports suggesting the statue could fall down in heavy winds, as it is not properly attached to the pedestal.

The bronze statue of the late Yugoslav leader was erected on November 29 in front of the Josip Broz Tito high school in Skopje. "Nobody asked us about anything. The pedestal was erected two weeks ago and the statue was placed there all of a sudden... It is not on our property, so it is not our problem," the school principal, Dragan Danev, said.

Syrian Rebels Abduct 12 Nuns to Town of Yabroud; Mother Superior:Nuns, 3 Other Women Abducted

The mother superior of a Syrian convent says 12 nuns have been abducted by opposition fighters and taken to a rebel-held town, the USA Today website reports.

Febronia Nabhan, Mother Superior at Saidnaya Convent, said today (December 3, 2013) that the nuns and three other women were taken yesterday from another convent in the predominantly Christian village of Maaloula to the nearby town of Yabroud.

Syrian rebels captured large parts of Maaloula -- some 40 miles northeast of Damascus -- yesterday after three days of fighting.

Nabhan said that the Maaloula convent's mother superior, Pelagia Sayaf, called her later yesterday  and said they were all "fine and safe."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Man Banned from Mall for Tossing $1,000 in Bills; MN Mall Said Black Friday Stunt a Safety Threat

A Minnesota man ticketed for disorderly conduct after he flung $1,000 in small bills over a balcony at the nation's largest mall during a heavy holiday shopping day wants to give away more money, he said today (December 2, 2013), according to Reuters website.

Serge Vorobyov was banned from the Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis for a year for the publicity stunt on Black Friday.

Vorobyov, 29, said he hoped You Tube video of the stunt would continue to generate thousands of views so he could potentially earn money from the advertising revenue and spread the wealth. He tossed the cash -- he said it was a mixture of a $100 bill, several $20s, $10s, $5s, and 600 $1-bills -- when a group began to sing "Let it Snow."

Mall of America said it was sympathetic to Vorobyov's personal situation, but the stunt threatened the safety of shoppers and he was banned from mall property for a year. More than 235,000 shoppers went to the mall on Black Friday, it said.

Nearly 126,000 People Have Died in Syria's War; Dead Include 6,627 Children and 4,454 Women

The toll in 33 months of Syria's brutal civil war has left nearly 126,000 people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (December 2, 2013).

The Observatory group -- which relies on a network of activists, lawyers, and doctors on the ground in Syria -- said it has documented 125,835 deaths in the conflict up to yesterday (December 1).

The dead include 44,381 civilians, among them 6,627 children and 4,454 Women.

The group said at least 27,746 opposition fighters had been killed, among them just over 19,000 Syrian civilians who took up arms to battle President Bashar al-Assad's regime. The regime side saw nearly double the overall losses of the opposition, with the Observatory documenting 50,927 dead among those fighting for Assad's government.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Polish Coffin Co. Has Nude Women on Calendars; Cath. Church Rips Co.for Mixing Death and Sex

A Polish coffin manufacturer has caused a stir by publishing a calendar featuring nude women posing with the company's products, the Big News Network website reports today (December 1, 2013).

The company, Lindner coffins, made the calendar as a stunt, but the owner, Zbigniew Lindner, insists people shouldn't be offended by images of nude women and coffins.

"We wanted to show a coffin shouldn't be a sacred object  -- it's furniture, the last bed you'll ever sleep in" -- he said.

Others -- including Catholic Church officials -- disagreed and have called for the calendars being sold for charity, to be pulled. In a statement, the Catholic Church in Poland said: "Human death should be respected and not mixed with sex."

Croatians Vote Today to Ban Same-Sex Marriages; Rejection Is Seen as Key Victory for Cath. Church

A bulk of Croatians voted in a referendum today (December 1, 2013) to ban homosexual marriages in what is a key victory for the Catholic Church-backed conservatives in the European Union's newest member country, the Daily Newsen website reports.

The state -- citing initial final results -- said 65 percent of those who voted answered "of course" to the referendum question: "Do you agree that marriage is matrimony amongst a male and a female?"

The result means that Croatia's structure will be amended to ban same-sex marriage.

The same-sex marriage issue has deeply divided Croatia. Liberal groups have mentioned the referendum's concern infringes on simple legal rights. Almost 90 percent of Croatia's 4.4 million people are Roman Catholics.

Geneva Lawmaker Seeks to Ban Hanukkah Event; Says No Rel. Ceremony Allowed on Public Roads

A city council member from Geneva, Switzerland has warned his municipality against allowing a public Hanukkah event -- which he said would violate Swiss law -- the Jewish Press website reports today (December 1, 2013).

"I'm not afraid of being called anti-Semitic, because my request is not directed at a religious community but at the authorities, which do not comply with the law by issuing an authorization for this event," council member Pierre Gauthier is quoted as telling the Tribune de Geneve daily newspaper.

In a letter to the mayor, Gauthier -- who is the secretary of a not-for-profit organization called "Geneva Secular Coordination" -- cited Switzerland's Law of Foreign Worship, which states that "no celebration of worship, procession or any religious ceremony is allowed on public roads."

He urged the mayor's office to cancel a public candle-lighting event on Mollard Square scheduled for December 3. The organizer of the event, Rabbi Mendel Pevzner of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, told the Tribune, "This is not a religious event but a moment of sharing, open to all faiths. Since 1991, we have never encountered a problem."