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Charitable deductions: Battle rages between White House and non-profit groups

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© economonitor.com
The White House and the nation's most prominent charities are embroiled in a tense behind-the-scenes debate over President Obama's push to scale back the nearly century-old tax deduction on donations that the charities say is crucial for their financial health.

In a series of recent meetings and calls, top White House aides have pressed nonprofit groups to line up behind the president's plan for reducing the federal deficit and averting the year-end "fiscal cliff," according to people familiar with the talks.

In part, the White House is seeking to win the support of nonprofit groups for Obama's central demand that income tax rates rise for upper-end taxpayers. There are early signs that several charities, whose boards often include the wealthy, are willing to endorse this change.

But the White House is also looking to limit the charitable deduction for high-income earners, and that has prompted frustration and resistance, with leaders of major nonprofit organizations, such as the United Way, the American Red Cross and Lutheran Services in America, closing ranks in opposing any change to the deduction.

"It's all castor oil," said Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, an umbrella group representing many nonprofits. "And the members of the nonprofit sector I represent don't want any part of it. It's a medicine we're not willing to drink."

The dispute is the latest in a long-standing struggle over the popular tax provision, which allows people to deduct charitable donations from their taxable income. The battle is playing out at the highest levels of government and in the corridors of K Street.

Comment: Why not reduce the Pentagon budget?
A New Record is Set for Military Spending: The Shame of Nations
Why is the Most Wasteful US Government Agency Not Part of the Deficit Discussion?


Blackbox

Mandela - dead or alive?

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© en.wikipedia.org
Nelson Mandela
Johannesburg, December 14, 2012 - South Africans seemed satisfied this week that Nelson Mandela's health was taking a turn for the better - until it emerged the government had lied.

Despite a long hospital stay, South Africa was relatively calm after receiving news about the health of Nelson Mandela this week - until it emerged the government had lied (at best, by omission), again. At which point the conspiracy theories broke out, again.

It was a statement remarkable in its sophistry.

"President Mandela is being treated at a Pretoria hospital as said from the first statement we issued," the presidency said on Monday night. "We have refrained from disclosing the hospital in order to ensure privacy and also to allow doctors space to do their work of caring for Madiba without interruptions or undue pressure."

That followed what the presidency called "media speculation"; hours before Eyewitness News reported that Mandela was not, in fact, at 1 Military Hospital, but at another institution - which it declined to name - in the city.

Eyewitness News editor Katy Katopodis said it had confirmed the location with at least four different people, and were confident the report was accurate. Afrikaans daily Beeld also on Thursday uncovered the true location where the former president was being treated.

It remains unclear whether Mandela was transferred to the private hospital during the course of the week, or was there all along, although Beeld cited unconfirmed information that he was admitted under a pseudonym on Saturday.

Heart - Black

Teenager commits suicide in response to Ask.fm online bullying

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Jessica Laney, 16, hung herself after being bullied online by some internet trolls, one of whom said: "Can you kill yourself already?"

Laney (pictured with her boyfriend) was found dead at her home in Hudson, Florida, on Sunday night, reports the Daily Mail.

Laney created a profile on Ask.fm, where people can post questions anonymously. Some website bullies wrote that she was "fat" and a "slut."

Valeria Canales told ABC News: "My friend Jessica Laney took her life. She was constantly bullied and bullied. And she was pushed and pushed to the point where she couldn't handle it anymore."

"Ask.fm is a website where people can ask anonymous questions to anyone they want. And that's how Jessica was constantly put down and bullied... It needs to be shut down. She was a beautiful girl & everyone loved her. She's gonna be missed. We have to put an end to bullying. Please help."

Comment: Mark Terebin is ducking responsibility - how difficult would it be to have the site monitored and have vicious posters banned and their comments deleted?


Vader

White House to respond to Death Star petition

Death Star
© Del Ray
The Obama administration will have to respond to a petition to begin construction of a Death Star by 2016, now that the appeal has gathered a critical number of signatures.

The Star Wars-inspired petition was posted on the White House's "We the People" site on Nov. 14, and today it passed the 25,000-signature threshold required for an official reply.

"Those who sign here petition the United States government to secure funding and resources, and begin construction on a Death Star by 2016," reads the tongue-in-cheek request, written by a man identified only as John D. of Longmont, Colo.

"By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense."

This isn't the first time that the White House has been forced to respond to some strange requests concerning space. Last year, one petition on the site asked the administration to "formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race," while another requested that it "immediately disclose the government's knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings."

In a blow for those who want to believe, government officials said that they are not in contact with any extraterrestrials from other worlds, nor has any confirmed proof of alien life been found.

It might be worth noting that while no feasible plans have surfaced for a real-life Death Star, one engineer popularized a concept to build a real-life Starship Enterprise.

Pocket Knife

Man slashes 22 children near school & another slashes women on the subway in China

china knife attack
© Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images
Security staff at a school in Beijing: guards have been posted in schools across China after a spate of attacks
A man with a knife slashed 22 children and one adult outside an elementary school in Henan province Friday morning, the worst such incident in more than a year.

The attack was reminiscent of a spate of knife attacks on schoolchildren that took place across China in 2010. In most cases, the attackers were unemployed middle-aged men, leading to speculation that the assaults stemmed from economic and social discontent.

Friday's attack occurred at about 7:40 a.m. as children were arriving outside the gate of Chenpeng Village's Wanquan Elementary School. The suspect, Min Yingjun, 36, allegedly slashed an elderly woman as well as the children. Local propaganda officials said later that Min had a psychological illness.

Comment: There were a spate of similar incidents in China in the spring of 2010:

8 school children stabbed to death by doctor in China

Another man stabs more children at another Chinese nursery school

Chinese city goes on defense after school attack

China: Man Hacked 7 Children and 2 Adults in Latest Attack at School

13 students wounded in pre-dawn knife rampage at Chinese university


Smoking

Nicotine - The Zombie Antidote

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"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes." - Sherlock Holmes
I'm sick and tired of the anti-smoking culture that has taken over the entire world. I have had enough of hearing "don't smoke, it's bad for you!!" The ignorance that betrays such remarks is utterly abysmal, especially coming from people who should know better. So for all those who have asked me why do I actually smoke, I'm going to explain my reasons in this article.

I have found anti-smoking activists to be intolerant, judgmental Authoritarian Follower types. They believe and parrot emotionally charged catchphrases taken straight from government anti-smoking propaganda. Doctors and non-smokers alike are guilty of this. They feel righteous when providing such 'advice' yet fail to take notice of how ill they themselves look, and forget that, in many cases, their own health issues went downhill when they stopped smoking. Thanks to some pretty convoluted thinking, if they are some day diagnosed with a serious disease, they will later blame their 'smoking years', while overlooking the real culprits of today's modern diseases: junk diets high in carbohydrates and the industrial-scale toxicity that has choked our environment.

Yes, the changes in our diet, particularly since the introduction of mechanised agriculture, the Industrial Revolution and arrival in the 'enlightened' Modern Age, have systemically destroyed our health. The mismatch between our ancient physiology - which thrived with little or no edible plant food - and our current diet, is at the root of many so-called diseases of civilization: coronary heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, etc. But I'm not here to talk about that. You can read more about it here. My aim here is to defend the rights of people who choose to smoke. It may surprise you to know that, while the percentage of the population that smokes has declined in recent years (due to government propaganda), the incidence of heart disease has not declined. The reason, shock! horror! is that smoking is not the real problem to begin with!

Pistol

27 dead in Connecticut school shooting: reports

Newton Shooting
© ABC News Stream
Police sweep through the scene of a deadly school shooting in Newton, Conn. The police are treating the incident as an ongoing school shooting.
A horrific shooting at a Connecticut elementary school Friday has left as many as 27 people dead, including 18 children, the Associated Press reports.

CBS News says 26 people have died. Other news outlets put the death toll at 20. If those numbers are confirmed, it would mark one of the worst mass school shootings in U.S. history, behind the Virginia Tech university massacre in 2007, which left 32 dead.

Police in the town of Newtown, Conn, a quiet town about an hour's drive north of New York City, were alerted to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School around 9:40 a.m. ET. They contacted Connecticut State Police and surrounding police departments. A SWAT team was among the throngs of police to respond and enter the building.

Cut

Justin Bieber kidnap plot gang wanted $2,500 per testicle; killer planned to 'castrate and strangle star'

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© Splash News/News Group Newspapers
Target ... gang aimed to castrate star Justin Bieber with garden shears, inset.
A kidnap gang plotted to strangle and Castrate teen heart-throb Justin Bieber, court papers claim.

Obsessed killer Dana Martin allegedly put a $2,500 bounty on each of Justin Bieber's testicles as he outlined a plot to kidnap, castrate and strangle the teen pin-up.

Jailed Martin - who sports a Bieber tattoo on his leg - is accused of arranging for two other men to abduct and murder the singer, his bodyguard and two more unrelated victims.

According to court papers, he recruited Mark Staake to execute his plan after becoming convinced Bieber had snubbed his efforts to contact him. Staake's nephew Tanner Ruane was later drafted in on the plot.

Having declared the bounty - worth £1,550 - on the 18-year-old's private parts, Martin then ordered his accomplices to strangle the Baby singer with a paisley tie, it is claimed.

The gang were allegedly poised to strike as Bieber played sold-out concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden on November 28 and 29.

But the star was spared after Martin told jail wardens about the plot.

UFO

UFO Hacker Gary McKinnon will not face UK charges

Gary McKinnon
© PA
British computer hacker Gary McKinnon fought extradition to the US for years
Computer hacker Gary McKinnon, whose extradition to the US was blocked, will not face charges in the UK, bringing to an end a 10-year legal battle.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said the chances of a successful conviction were "not high".

Janis Sharp, Mr McKinnon's mother, said the news was "amazing" and she was grateful the case was "all over now".

Mr McKinnon, 46, admits accessing US government computers but says he was looking for evidence of UFOs.

Pistol

Another Mass Shooting: 27 Dead, Including 14 Children in U.S. Elementary School Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut

Newtown shooting
© CBS 2
Authorities respond to a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012.
Gunman Opens Fire Inside Sandy Hook Elementary School Early Friday

Twenty-seven people are dead including 14 children after a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, CBS News reports.

Officials say the gunman was also killed and apparently had two guns. It happened around 9:40 a.m. Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

At least three people were injured, two children and an adult. All three were taken to Danbury Hospital.