U.S. Passes 50 Million Abortion Mark

Baptist Press reports that at some point during the past two years the United States experienced its 50 millionth legal abortion. The statistic — which spans the 37 years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 — is based on data compiled by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute and tallied by the National Right to Life Committee. The 50 million mark was passed in 2008 and likely approached or reached 52 million in 2009, although data is not yet available for that year. In contrast, the combined number of military deaths in all of America’s wars — from the Revolutionary War to the second Iraq war — is 1.2 million.

Obama Message Turns from Hope to Cope

President Obama‘s speech to a joint session of Congress a year ago was filled with a sense of soaring possibility. On Wednesday night, his State of the Union Address centered instead on hard times and tough choices. The bold promises of last year — a determination to tackle not only a floundering economy but also overhaul health care, limit greenhouse gas emissions and more — have given way to legislative stalls and the electoral jolt of this month’s Republican upset in the Massachusetts Senate race. Now, Obama has narrowed his sights, put his focus squarely on the need to create jobs and added a freeze on domestic spending to reassure independent voters nervous about the billion-dollar bailouts of the past year.

In a nationally televised address, he sought to reframe his presidency as he begins the second year of his tenure. Obama didn’t reverse positions he took a year ago, but he did reorder priorities and recast his message. The health care bill he once demanded be passed last fall is in legislative limbo, and while he called action essential, he didn’t outline a strategy to push it through. In the speech, Obama’s tone was unapologetic and direct, at times almost scolding, warier than before. That was an acknowledgement of a hard political fact: if Obama was unable to push through signature initiatives during the heady first year of his presidency, he is less likely to achieve lofty ambitions during his second year, when members of Congress are focused first on their own re-election battles.

GOP Calls for Limited Government in Its Response

Republicans accused President Obama of long-windedness, hypocrisy and egotism after the State of the Union Address on Wednesday, a night the GOP used to showcase a shift of political momentum in its favor. “It was a needlessly partisan speech at a time when Americans were looking for the president to move to the center and build coalitions,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Party leaders tapped Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, one of three Republicans who have scored statewide victories since Obama’s 2008 election, to deliver the party’s official response. Speaking before a live audience in Virginia’s 318-year-old House of Delegates, McDonnell called for limited government that does not “pile on more taxation, regulation and litigation that kill jobs.”

Obamacare on ‘Life Support’ as Dems Turn to Jobs, Not Healthcare

President Barack Obama’s health care appeal failed to break the congressional gridlock Thursday, dimming hopes for millions of uninsured Americans. Democrats stared down a political nightmare — getting clobbered for voting last year for ambitious, politically risky bills, yet having nothing to show for it in November. Democrats are quickly distancing themselves from President Barack Obama’s signature legislative effort.  “It’s very possible that health care is just a stalemate and you can’t solve it this year,” said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. Obama’s health care overhaul is “on life support,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., “but it still has a pulse.”  If Obama and Democrats fail to pass any legislation this election year, Washington would still face the problem of millions of uninsured, rising medical costs and a dwindling Medicare trust fund forecast to run out of money in 2017.

Little Progress Seen Against Health Insurance Fraud

Two years after the federal government started its latest push to crack down on Medicare fraud, the number of people charged with ripping off health care insurers has barely changed, Justice Department records show. That effort comes at a critical time, because the White House and lawmakers are hoping to use savings from anti-fraud measures in the government-run health plan to help pay for health care legislation. Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion a year, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday. Federal prosecutors charged 803 people with defrauding medical insurers in the fiscal year that ended in September, Justice Department records show. That’s up about 2% since the government began deploying “strike forces” to target fraud in 2007. Nearly all of the charges involved attempts to cheat Medicare. Fraud in the health care system is now “totally out of control,” said Louis Saccoccio, head of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association.

New Orleans, Haiti Linked by History and Tragedy

The USA Today reports that Haiti and New Orleans have shared deep cultural and historical ties, dating to when several shiploads of 19th-century Haitian refugees fleeing the Caribbean island’s slave revolts relocated to New Orleans, forever stamping their culture on the city. Now the two places share another, less-desirable commonality: near-total destruction of their cities. French colonists from Saint-Domingue — later renamed Haiti — had traveled to New Orleans since the early 1700s, says Emily Clark, an associate professor of history at Tulane University. That connection flourished in 1809 and 1810, when 10,000 refugees arrived in New Orleans from Saint-Domingue, she says. The refugees were a combination of French colonists, their slaves and free people of color who had fled the slave uprisings. Another thing the Saint-Domingue refugees brought to New Orleans: voodoo. “Our whole culture is steeped in Haiti and steeped in voodoo,” says Sallie Ann Glassman, a leading New Orleans voodoo priestess. “That mix of African slaves and European Catholics — it certainly left its footprint all over.”

  • As the end-times continue to unfold, unGodly abominations such as voodoo will bring destruction raining down on the perpetrators.

German Evangelical Homeschoolers granted Asylum in Tennessee

A German couple who fled to Tennessee so they could homeschool their children was granted political asylum Tuesday by a U.S. immigration judge. The decision clears the way for Uwe Romeike, his wife and five children to stay in Morristown, Tennessee, where they have been living since 2008. Romeike says his family was persecuted for their evangelical Christian beliefs and for homeschooling their children in Germany, where school attendance is compulsory. Parents can face fines or prison time if they don’t comply.

  • Since homeschoolers are mostly Christian, the New World Order will be pushing for compulsory attendance in their public school indoctrination centers worldwide, including the U.S.

Federal Government to Cut its Emissions 28%

The federal government, the nation’s largest energy consumer, will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 28% over the next decade, the White House announced Friday. The council says the reduction in energy use in the government’s 500,000 buildings and 600,000 vehicles will be equal to taking 17 million cars off the road for a year or not consuming 205 million barrels of oil.  The 28% overall goal was reached after 35 agencies, complying with an executive order issued by President Obama in October, set targets for reducing the gases that scientific data suggest cause the Earth to warm.  “It’s a real opportunity to lead by example,” says Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). “And not just for the environment but to spur innovation and create jobs and savings.”

Cold Snap Killed Florida Coral

A cold snap earlier this month killed or bleached significant amounts of coral in the waters off South Florida and the Florida Keys, according to an analysis this week by Nature Conservancy scientists. “About 50 to 70 percent of the entire coral reef is dead in the upper Keys,” said Meaghan Johnson, marine science coordinator with the Nature Conservancy. The culprit was the 12 consecutive days of extremely cold weather from Jan. 2-14 in Florida. Although coral bleaching and death is most frequently associated with unusually warm water temperatures, coral also can’t withstand water temperatures below 60 degrees.

  • Global warming, where are you?

Cell Phone Bans Have No Impact on Drivers

A national crackdown on distracted driving takes an unexpected turn today. A new study shows that the number of traffic crashes did not drop in three states and the District of Columbia after they banned drivers from using handheld cellphones. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), examined insurance claims for crash damage in New York, Connecticut, California and Washington, D.C., before and after handheld bans took effect and found no reduction in crashes. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and auto club AAA said the study’s implications were unclear. Both also said the findings should not be interpreted to suggest that banning texting while driving would be ineffective.

$5,000 Tax Credit for Each New Job

President Obama will promote tax cuts for small businesses Friday as he continues his renewed focus on job creation, but some of the nation’s job creators are dubious. One sentence from his State of the Union address Wednesday night will become the focus of his visit to Baltimore: a $5,000 tax credit for each job created on a net basis in 2010, up to $500,000 per company. The idea is to prod companies to hire more workers. Small companies also can raise wages or hours and be reimbursed for the Social Security payroll taxes. Either way, the White House says, tax cuts for small business should lower the cost of hiring workers. There’s only one problem: Business groups say the credit won’t do much to boost hiring. “I really don’t think it’s going to be much of an incentive,” says Bill Rys, tax counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business. “Mostly it is going to be used by businesses that would have been hiring anyway.”

Economic News

The U.S. economy grew for a second straight quarter from October through December, posting a 5.7% annual growth rate, the fastest pace since the third quarter of 2003. The Commerce Department report Friday is the strongest evidence to date that the worst recession since the 1930s ended last year. The two straight quarters of growth last year followed a record four quarters of economic decline. Still, the growth at the end of last year was primarily fueled by companies refilling depleted stockpiles, a trend that will soon fade. The country’s economy declined 2.4% in 2009, the largest drop since 1946.

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, but less than expected, fresh evidence the job market remains a weak spot in the economy. And in a second report Thursday, the government said orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods posted a modest increase in December, but the gain wasn’t enough to keep orders from plunging a record amount for the entire year. For all 2009, durable goods orders plunged 20.2%.

New-home sales unexpectedly fell 7.6% last month, capping the industry’s weakest year on record. The results were the weakest since March and indicated demand remains sluggish despite newly expanded tax incentives to spur sales. Only 374,000 homes were sold last year, down 23% from a year earlier and the weakest year on record, dating back to 1963. December’s sales pace was up 4% from the bottom in January 2009, but down 75% from the peak in July 2005.

Phoenix’s budget troubles came into sharper focus Thursday as City Manager David Cavazos proposed shutting down senior centers, libraries and sports complexes, and laying off hundreds of police officers and firefighters for the first time in decades. The plan would help close Phoenix’s $242 million deficit, balancing the general-fund budget through fiscal year 2011. Cavazos’ proposal would eliminate 1,379 of the city’s 16,000 positions, including 353 police officers and 144 fire fighters.

Ford said today it earned a profit of $2.7 billion in 2009, a stunning improvement over its historic, $14.7-billion loss in 2008, especially for a year that saw industry sales drop to their lowest level since 1982. It also marks the company’s first full-year profit since 2005. Ford was the only U.S. automaker to refuse government bailout money.

Average college endowment returns plummeted 18.7% last year, the worst decline for higher education since the Great Depression. Overall, higher education endowments fared better than other indexes; the widely used S&P 500 was down 26.2% over the same period, the 12 months ending last June 30.

Christians Celebrate Victory on UK Equality Bill

Christianity Today reports that Christians in the United Kingdom are breathing a sigh of relief after an amendment protecting religious groups was tacked onto the controversial Equality Bill. The bill would have prevented churches and other religious groups from discriminating against potential hires for reasons of sexuality, religion or belief. Lady O’Cathain’s amendment, which passed the House of Lords on Jan. 25, allows churches to pick job candidates according to their values. “Surely churches should be free to employ people whose conduct is consistent with church teaching,” said the Christian Institute’s Mike Judge. “Surely that’s not asking too much. It’s called freedom of association, and it’s a key liberty in any democratic society. The fact that the Government couldn’t see this will concern many Christians.”

Haiti

There are 160 aid agencies and governments registered in Haiti, providing hundreds of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to the relief effort. There are 43 hospitals and 12 field hospitals operating from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel, a coastal city southwest of the capital, the U.N. says. About 200,000 people have been injured; the latest estimates from the Haitian government say at least 111,500 are dead. Medical care is moving from triage care to post-operative care, particularly for the thousands that have received amputations. The need for emergency surgical care has declined significantly, but there is a worrisome development. Cases of tetanus have been reported, as well as suspected cases of measles. An outbreak would be another major challenge to doctors here.

Bandits in Haiti are preying on vulnerable earthquake survivors, even raping women, in makeshift camps which were set up in the capital of Port-au-Prince after the disaster. “We have more than 7,000 detainees in the streets who escaped from the National Penitentiary the evening of the earthquake… It took us five years to apprehend them. Today they are running wild,” Haiti’s national police chief Mario Andresol said Thursday.

Iran

Iran on Thursday executed two men accused of involvement in an armed anti-government group, as the public prosecutor announced that new death sentences have been issued against opposition activists involved in protests over June’s disputed presidential election. The media’s depiction of the executions may aim to intimidate the opposition ahead of new street demonstrations expected in February. In a further move likely aimed at cowing protesters, Tehran‘s prosecutor announced that five people have been sentenced to death for involvement in the most recent major demonstrations, on Dec. 27.

Afghanistan

World leaders meeting in London on Thursday agreed on a timetable for the handover of security duties in Afghan provinces starting in late 2010 or early 2011 n their final communique, the leaders also pledged funds for a plan aimed at persuading Taliban fighters to renounce violence — but offered no specific figures. The meeting backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai‘s plan to reintegrate Taliban willing to “cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and pursue their political goals peacefully.”

A fierce gunbattle broke out between security forces and a team of Taliban fighters targeting U.N. and government buildings Friday in a major city in southern Afghanistan. The fighting in Lashkar Gah came nearly two weeks after a similar assault in the Afghan capital, once again showing the ability of insurgents to penetrate heavily secured areas. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said seven men armed with suicide vests and machine guns attacked the U.N. office and a guesthouse used by government officials in Lashkar Gah, capital of volatile Helmand province.

U.S. soldiers shot and killed an Afghan cleric as he drove with his young son near an American base on the eastern edge of Kabul, underscoring the dangers facing civilians despite NATO efforts to minimize casualties. Yunus was struck by four bullets fired at his Toyota Corolla. NATO said the troops fired at “what appeared to be a threatening vehicle” near Camp Phoenix, an area where suicide attacks are not uncommon, but later described the incident as “regrettable” and promised an investigation.

Pakistan

A $46 million American aid program aimed at strengthening the government in Pakistan‘s tribal regions and blunting the appeal of al-Qaeda and the Taliban has achieved little since it began two years ago, a U.S. government audit found. The program is one of several U.S. initiatives in the tribal areas close to the Afghan border and elsewhere in Pakistan, which is set to receive $7.5 billion in humanitarian assistance from American taxpayers over the next five years. The audit shows the difficulties facing the Obama administration as it seeks to boost aid to the violence-stricken region. The strategy is to convince impoverished residents that their interests are best served by the government, not by extremists who have seized control of much of the area. The audit, said “little progress” had been made toward either goal of the program.

Militants staged a rare attack in Karachi against trucks carrying supplies for NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan on Thursday, wounding three people in the latest violence to plague the country’s largest city, said police. Pakistan’s financial hub has a long history of political and sectarian violence but has largely been spared attacks by Taliban fighters waging war against the Pakistani government and coalition forces in Afghanistan. But there are concerns that the Taliban may be expanding their fight to target the city, a worry for the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, which ships up to 75% of its supplies to the landlocked country through the port in Karachi.

Nigeria

ASSIST News Service reports that more than 300 people suspected of being involved in last week’s deadly religious clashes in central Nigeria have been arrested, according to police. Troops have been ordered to remain at their posts to avoid the army being dragged into the conflict, AFP reports. “Although an exact death toll is not known, 300 or more are thought to have died in the Muslim-Christian clashes,” the BBC wrote. “Scores of bodies have been found in wells near Jos, a city straddling the Christian south and Muslim north. Many of those arrested were previously taken into custody during similar violence in November 2008, a state government spokesman said. “We are afraid the same situation will occur again. They were moved to Abuja last time, but they were never prosecuted,” Plateau state government spokesperson Gregory Yenlong said. About 5,000 people fled last weekend’s violence.

Honduras

Hours after his successor was sworn in as president, former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya left his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy and flew into exile Wednesday, ending months of turmoil and his thwarted quest to be restored to power after a June 28 coup that drew international condemnation. Zelaya was going to the Dominican Republic as a private citizen under a deal signed by Lobo and the Caribbean country’s President Leonel Fernandez, who flew to Honduras to accompany the former president. Zelaya has not elaborated on plans for his future. But just before boarding the plane, he shouted: “We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”

Weather

A storm that toppled power lines, shut down major highways and buried parts of the southern Plains in heavy ice and snow began moving into the South early Friday, leaving tens of thousands of people in the dark — possibly for several more days. About 13 inches of snow fell Thursday in the northern Texas Panhandle, where Interstate 40 was closed from the Texas-Oklahoma line to New Mexico. Heavy ice brought down electrical lines and trees limbs, leaving nearly 142,000 homes and businesses in Oklahoma without power early Friday.

It has been an unnaturally cold winter for people living in India. Temperatures have dropped below seasonal norms. In just 24 hours, 22 people living in Uttar Pradesh, India, died because of the bitter chill. Most Indian homes do not have central heating, which causes the cold to be felt much more keenly in the northern regions of the country. News sources indicate that in Uttar Pradesh alone, 506 people have already lost their lives. Most victims are reported as homeless, poor or elderly, with only thin clothing and blankets to protect them against the extreme temperatures.

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