Two Canadian schoolgirls described as Palestinian-Syrians received an apparently warm embrace from strangers in downtown Toronto recently when they held out a simple sign which said, “HUG A TERRORIST.”

The simple 2:27 video was produced by social media activist group Like For Syria and created by 18-year-old York University student Omar Albach in an attempt to call attention to civilian victims in Gaza.

It has drawn almost 240,000 views since Saturday, as well as dramatically opposing views on social media.

At the start of the clip, Albach gestures to the two young girls and says: “For the past two weeks, Israel has been killing terrorists just like the ones standing next to me.”

According to Palestinian health officials, most of the 1,030 Palestinian victims are civilian. There have been 43 Israeli soldiers killed, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker, according to the Associated Press.

The film has alternately been called disgusting propaganda and a wonderful job of raising awareness to civilian deaths.

For his part, Albach said in an interview that the girls strongly supported the making of the video and were supported by their families.

He said they were also concerned they might meet a negative reaction.

“They were really happy to realize that people were actually really friendly and understanding,” Albach said.

None of the passersby seemed even a little surprised when the girls explain that the sign is meant to be ironic.

“We’re not actually terrorists,” one of them says.

“I’m sure you’re not a terrorist,” a passerby says.

“Thank you,” one of the girls replies.

There is also criticism that it would have been far stronger if it left out criticism of Israel at the start, and simply focused on innocent victims.


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Disappointing results at Visa, Amazon hurt stocks

NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market is ending lower after Visa and Amazon posted disappointing results.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 123 points, 0.7 percent, to close at 16,960 Friday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell nine points, or 0.5 percent, to end at 1,978. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite dropped 22 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,449.

Amazon’s stock slumped $34.60, or 9.6 percent, to $324.01 after the online retail giant posted a wider loss than analysts had forecast. The stock slid the most in the S&P 500 index.

The Dow was dragged down by Visa, which fell $7.97, or 3.6 percent, to $214.77. The credit card processing giant reported an 11 percent rise in quarterly profit but cut its full-year forecast on concerns about overseas growth.


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House votes to boost child tax credit for some

WASHINGTON (AP) — More families with higher incomes could claim the popular child tax credit under a bill that won approval Friday in the House. But in a dispute that divides Republicans and Democrats, millions of the poorest low-income families would still lose the credit in 2018, when enhancements championed by President Barack Obama are set to expire.

The bill would gradually boost the amount of the $1,000-per-child tax credit by tying it to inflation, so it would go up as consumer prices rise. It also aims to make a dent in illegal immigration by prohibiting people without Social Security numbers from claiming a portion of the credit reserved for low-income families.

With nearly all Republicans voting in favor and most Democrats opposed, the bill cleared the House by a vote of 237-173. The White House threatened to veto the bill, though the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass it.

About 37 million taxpayers claimed the credit in 2012, reducing their tax bills by nearly $57 billion.

House Republicans say the bill would strengthen the tax credit by increasing it as inflation rises, and by making it available to even more middle-income families. “It is time we make some simple improvements to the child tax credit, so it keeps up with the cost of raising children,” said Rep. Dave Camp R-Mich., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

The White House said the bill favors high-income taxpayers over the poor, while adding $90 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade.

Five million of the poorest low-income families would lose the credit in 2018, the White House said. An additional 6 million low-income families would see the amount of their tax credits reduced.

“The new Republican rhetoric on poverty is no match for the deeply troubling actions they have repeatedly taken, and continue to take, with this legislation today,” said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. “This bill leads to harm for millions of low- and middle-income families and their children.”

House Republicans dispute the Democrats’ argument, saying the bill is silent on low-income families. Current law calls for Obama’s enhancement for low-income income families to expire. The bill simply lets it happen. “The opponents make a false claim, that somehow this bill eliminates benefits for millions of low-income families,” Camp said. “That’s just wrong.”

Under current law, the child tax credit is gradually reduced and phased out for individuals making more than $75,000 a year and married couples making more than $110,000 a year.

House Republicans say the income limit for married couples amounts to a marriage penalty because it’s less than double the limit for single tax filers cash advance loan.

The bill would increase the income threshold for married couples to $150,000, allowing more families with higher incomes to claim it. The bill would index the income limits to inflation, meaning they would increase over time as consumer prices rise.

The amount of the credit would also increase with inflation, rising above $1,000 as consumer prices go up.

These changes would increase savings for taxpayers by $115 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which analyzes tax bills for Congress.

At the other end of the income spectrum, the child tax credit is also available to families that don’t make enough money to pay any federal income taxes. These families get payments similar to tax refunds when they file their tax returns.

In 2009, Obama signed a law that made the payments available to more low-income families — the poorest of the working poor. That provision, which has since been extended, is scheduled to expire at the end of 2017.

Democrats see these types of payments as an important tool to fight poverty — and as a way for low-income families to benefit from the tax code.

Some Republicans say these provisions are simply government expenditures disguised as tax breaks. “This is basically a benefit check handed out by the IRS,” said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas.

The bill would require taxpayers claiming these payments to provide a Social Security number, making it harder for immigrants to claim them, whether they are in the country legally or not. Noting the recent flood of unaccompanied minors showing up at the southern border, House Republicans said the provision would reduce the incentive for people to enter the U.S. illegally.

The requirement would save the Treasury $24.5 billion over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

In general, noncitizens must be authorized to work in the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security in order to get a Social Security number. However, many immigrants can still file a tax return using a tax identification number provided by the IRS.

In 2010, 2.3 million filers used tax identification numbers to claim a total of $4.2 billion in payments under the child tax credit, according to a 2011 report by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

“The last thing we need is to continue to encourage folks from Central America to make the dangerous and life-threatening trek to Texas,” said Johnson, who sponsored the provision.


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Jobs Hold Sway Over Yellen and Carney as Central Banks Splinter

Before the Federal Reserve and fellow central banks go to work raising interest rates, they first need others to go to work.


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Oil prices rise above $104; natural gas sinks

The price of oil rose more than a $1 for the third time in the last four trading days, and closed above $104 for the first time since July 3.

Benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery rose $1.46 to $104.59 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Friday, the Nymex contract fell 6 cents to $103.13. Oil has gained 4.6 percent over the past four trading sessions.

Brent crude for September delivery, a benchmark for international oils, gained 44 cents to $107.68 on the ICE exchange in London.

Meanwhile, natural gas prices sank further below $4 on forecasts for cooler temperatures in parts of the U.S. Natural gas supplies haven’t been dropping as quickly this summer, as milder temperatures compared with last year reduce the need for homeowners to run the air conditioning full tilt low fee cash advance.

Natural gas fell 10 cents to $3.85 per 1,000 cubic feet.

At the pump, gasoline prices inched lower to an average of $3.57. That’s down 4 cents from a week ago and 11 cents cheaper than at this time last year.

In other Nymex trading:

— Wholesale gasoline rose 3 cents to $2.89 a gallon.

— Heating oil gained 1 cent to $2.86 a gallon.


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Second chamber has seen far worse

“The Senate, like sin and poverty, has always been with us.”

— Larry Zolf, Survival of the Fattest, 1984.

There is, in that pithy appraisal of Canada’s Senate by the singular and (in these lamentable times) deeply missed Larry Zolf, something almost biblical and entirely fitting.

The Senate is this country’s unreformable Rock of Ages, our national Trials of Job, an ongoing illustration of the perennial allure and inevitable cost of the Seven Deadly Sins (“pride,” not for nothing, foremost among them, “greed” hard on its haughty heels.)

What more can really be said about a legislative chamber that has had not one but two senators sit until they were past 100?

Quite a lot, actually.

In our freshest Senate fooferaw, the charges laid this week against suspended senator Mike Duffy, that erstwhile Upper House-man from Prince Edward Island, there is, as always, a satisfyingly Canadian flavour.

First, the charges themselves focus on amounts so comparatively trivial as not to threaten our growing national sense of superiority.

Second, coming as they do as the party of the second part (Duffy) to a transaction in which the party of the first part (the former PMO chief of staff) has been cleared, they seem as confusing to most Canadians as is our constitutional amending formula.

Third, in Mike Duffy, the disgrace really couldn’t happen to a chap more illustrative of the grasping sensibility that so many citizens find so very off-putting about the Red Chamber.

All things considered, the nation could be forgiven a brief smirk at the torments of a fellow who, long before tawdry Toronto Mayor Rob Ford began referring to himself as Rob Ford, had taken to calling himself “the Old Duff.”

Whatever the outcome of the charges against him, and the entertaining political machinations they will inevitably unleash, the Old Duff has for all time entered the pantheon of senators who left the reek of something unpleasant in their wake.

The granddaddy of them all was the Beauharnois Affair in the 1920s, when Senator Wilfrid Laurier McDougald became what Larry Zolf called “a walking conflict of interest” as both a sitting senator and chairman of the board for a corporation seeking the government nod to divert the St. Lawrence to build a dam and generate power.

More typically, and deliciously, the Senate has been characterized less by nation-shaking scandal in millions and billions than by fiddles petty, picayune and rather pathetic. Where else but Canada’s Senate could the explosive trinity of politics, religion and money come together to such unholy purpose?

As Claire Hoy chronicled in his 1999 book Nice Work: The Continuing Scandal of Canada’s Senate, Nova Scotia’s Sister Peggy Butts was chosen for the Senate by Jean Chr

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Oil rises past $103 on geopolitical turmoil

The price of oil rose 2 percent Thursday on lower U.S. inventories and concerns that geopolitical tensions could disrupt global supplies.

Benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery rose $1.99 to close at $103.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, the Nymex contract added $1.24 to close at $101.20.

Brent crude for September delivery, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 72 cents to close at $107.89 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

A series of geopolitical events pushed prices higher by raising concern that oil supplies could be disrupted, even though no disruptions were imminent. The Obama Administration announced new sanctions against Russian energy firms after the market closed on Wednesday, including against Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil producer. While analysts say it is unlikely to cause any dip in production or exports in the short term, it could prevent or delay future exploration and production.

The crash of a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane over Ukraine — which Ukrainian officials said was shot down — raised the risk of a sharper conflict between Ukraine and Russia that could lead to even tighter sanctions against Russia. And fighting in the Gaza strip intensified after a shaky cease-fire expired, yet another source of turmoil in the Middle East, the world’s most important oil-producing region.

“Although oil balances will not be impacted, it gives the oil complex another reason to inject some geopolitical risk premium,” wrote energy analyst Jim Ritterbusch in a research note to investors.

The jitters about potential disruptions came on the heels of a surprisingly large decline in supplies in the U.S. On Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude oil inventories fell by 7.5 million barrels to 375 million barrels in the week of July 11. The fall was more than double what analysts had expected, and reversed what had been a three-week slide in prices.

In other Nymex trading:

— Wholesale gasoline closed unchanged at $2.882 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 16.5 cents to close at $3.954 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil rose 0.1 cent to close at $2.859 a gallon.

AP Writer Pablo Gorondi contributed to this story from Budapest.


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US stock index futures point to lower open

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock futures pointed to a slightly lower open on Thursday after mixed news about the economy and a batch of corporate earnings.

KEEPING SCORE: Dow Jones industrial average futures slipped 33 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,024 as of 8:54 a.m. Eastern time. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures fell seven points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,967. Nasdaq 100 futures lost 12 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,909.

MIXED PICTURE: Government reports showed a mixed picture for the economy. While the number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week, home construction fell in June to the slowest pace in nine months, a setback to hopes that housing will boost economic growth.

MICROSOFT LAYOFFS: Microsoft said early Thursday it will eliminate up to 18,000 jobs over the next year as it works to integrate the Nokia business it bought in April. The company has about 127,000 employees now. Microsoft’s stock jumped $1.27, or 3 percent, to $45.35 in premarket trading.

BANK WIN: Morgan Stanley’s quarterly profit more than doubled, thanks to strong results from its investment banking and money-management units. Its stock rose 40 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $32.90 in premarket trading.

EUROPE AND ASIA: Global stock markets were lower. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.6 percent and the CAC-40 in France slipped 0.8 percent. Germany’s DAX eased 0.7 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 edged down 0.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was flat and China’s Shanghai Composite fell 0.6 percent.

BONDS AND OIL: Bond prices rose in the market for U.S. Treasurys. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.51 percent from 2.53 percent late Wednesday. Benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery jumped $1.73 to $102.93 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.


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Drunk driving charge dropped against Raptors

Drinking and driving charges against Toronto Raptor centre Jonas Valanciunas has been dropped, according to reports.

Valanciunas was arrested in April in Wasaga Beach just prior to the start of the Raptors first round playoff series against the Brookly Nets.

Whether Valanciunas faces any further discipline from the team or the NBA wasn’t immediately known.


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Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe reveals he is gay

SYDNEY—Five-time Olympic swimming gold medallist Ian Thorpe for the first time publicly confirmed that he is gay during a television interview on Sunday, ending years of speculation about his sexuality.

Thorpe, who had long denied that he was gay, told British talk show host Michael Parkinson in an interview broadcast on Australia’s Channel 10 that he just recently realized the truth about himself.

“I’m not straight,” Thorpe said. “And this is only something that very recently — we’re talking in the past two weeks — I’ve been comfortable telling the closest people around me exactly that.”

For years, Thorpe took great pains to hide his sexuality. In his 2012 autobiography, This Is Me, Thorpe wrote, “For the record, I am not gay and all of my sexual experiences have been straight. I’m attracted to women, I love children, and aspire to have a family one day.”

Thorpe, 31, said being asked about his sexuality by journalists when he was just a teenager forced him to adopt a defensive attitude toward the issue. He was too young to know whether he was gay or straight, and said he responded that he was straight to avoid teasing from classmates. Things spiraled from there.

“I felt the lie had become so big that I didn’t want people to question my integrity,” he said. “And a little bit of ego comes into this; I didn’t want people to question . . . have I lied about everything?”

Now, he says, he wishes he had come out sooner.

“I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man,” he said. “And I don’t want young people to feel the same way that I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.”

Part of his reluctance to come out, he said, was fear of letting his family and his fans down.

“I wanted to make my family proud. I wanted to make my nation proud of me. And part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay,” he said. “But I’m telling not only Australia, but I’m telling the world, that I am payday loans direct lenders.”

Thorpe added that he is looking forward to living his life openly, without the burden of carrying a secret. He wants to find a partner, he said, and start a family.

Swimming Australia president John Bertrand congratulated Thorpe on his interview and said the former swimmer was “courageous to speak so publicly.”

“His bravery and honesty will inspire many Australians, just like he did in the pool, and our team is really looking forward to catching up with him in Glasgow over the coming weeks at the Commonwealth Games,” Bertrand said Monday.

Thorpe retired from swimming in 2012 after winning five Olympic gold medals, three silvers, and one bronze, and setting 22 world records.

Known to fans as the Thorpedo, he was just 14 when he was first chosen to represent Australia, and became swimming’s youngest world champion at that age when he won the 400-metre freestyle at the 1998 worlds in Perth.

His career peaked at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he won three gold and two silver medals. He retired after the 2004 Athens Olympics, citing a lack of motivation, but made an unsuccessful comeback when he tried to qualify for the 2012 London Games.

In the interview, Thorpe also spoke at length about the often crippling depression he has struggled with since he was a teenager, which led him at one point to contemplate suicide. When antidepressants failed to help, he said, he turned to alcohol to ease his pain.

“I kind of felt that it was unfair, that I was doing the right thing, taking the antidepressant, and I’m still miserable,” he said. “So I tried drinking.”

“How hard?” Parkinson asked.

“Well, I didn’t have to try that hard,” Thorpe responded with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Thorpe said he is still struggling with a broken shoulder. He contracted a serious infection when he underwent surgery earlier this year and said he still faces the prospect of more operations.


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