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Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama Sworn In for Second Term

U.S. President Barack Obama began his second term today with a speech that promises a progressive agenda in which equality and climate change will take center stage. Doing away with the understated tone of this first inaugural address four years ago, Obama forcefully called for unity and “collective action” to “care for the vulnerable,” and embraced equal rights for women and gays. He also affirmed “that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class,” hinting at a growing gap between the extremely wealthy and the rest. Speaking of climate change, he vowed to address the problem for future generations. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” Obama said. The speech marks a shift from the sober, compromising stance of his first term, and his conservative opponents responded with worry.

48 Dead in Algerian Gas Field Raid

At least 37 foreign and 11 Algerian hostages died in the raid carried out on Southern Algeria’s gas field of In Amenas after Islamic militants attacked the facility and held its employees, Algeria’s Prime Minister Abdelmalik Sellal said today.  He added the 32 soldiers who freed the other hostages came from Mali, where French and African forces are fighting the advance of Islamists in the North. The attackers were Tunisian, Egyptian, Malian, Nigerian, Canadian and Mauritanian. The group responsible, an Al Qaeda affiliate, threatened more attacks. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called it an “act of war.”

Israel Prepares for Elections

With less than 24 hours left for the general election in Israel, polls predicted a re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though his conservative majority may shrink in parliament. Despite hardening his right-wing stance, Netanyahu’s party is still likely to lose ground to far-right groups that show even less of a willingness to compromise than his ultranationalist allies. Netanyahu may also lose the votes of those who are affected by the worsening economy, for which they hold him responsible. Meanwhile, the Arab League called for “Arab citizens of Israel to turn out in droves for the elections so they are represented (in parliament) and can oppose racist laws.”

Elections in Lower Saxony Presages Uphill Battle for Merkel’s Party

The party of Germany conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel lost to center-left Social Democrats and pro-environmental Green Party in Lower Saxony, ousting the incumbents by one seat. While the margin was slim, the result is the 13th loss for Merkel’s allies in as many regional elections, lowering even more her chances at re-election in the fall. Merkel and her government have steered Europe through the worst of the sovereign debt crisis and Germany is now feeling its effects as lower exports due to lower demand in the euro area have delayed recovery. Today’s news forecasts a difficult battle for the months ahead for Merkel and her party.

Self-Help Books Actually Help, Study Shows

Prescribing self-help books to patients with depression helped more than standard medical care in the U.K., new research shows. A paper published in Plos One outlines possible new strategies for the treatment of depression, besides medication. The study, which followed over 200 people after their diagnosis, provided some with books on how to deal with their illness and as many as three sessions with someone who guided them through their books, allowing them to make the most of it. Four months later, those who’d received this course of treatment did significantly better than those who hadn’t. “We found this had a really significant clinical impact and the findings are very encouraging,” said Christopher Williams, a professor at the University of Glasgow who led the study. “Depression saps people’s motivation and makes it hard to believe change is possible.” This new method could save the National Health Service (NHS) £272 million ($430.44 million), and the public sector in general up to £700 million ($1.1 billion).

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