Signs of the Times (1/2/12)

Charter School Rejected Because of Applicant’s Faith

A California attorney says one city’s move to stop a pastor from starting a charter school is another method to prevent people of faith from getting involved. School officials in Compton have denied two charter school applications filed by Pastor Charles Patrick of Sunago Christian Fellowship Church, who wanted  to start a school in Los Angeles. However, even though he was not applying on behalf of a religious institution, the Compton Unified School District declined his applications because he is a church leader. In response, Frontier Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit against California, charging The Golden State with violating Patrick’s First Amendment rights. “A pastor is entitled to as much right under the First Amendment as any individual is,” contends Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith & Freedom.

  • Anti-Christian bias (a hate crime?) will be rearing its ugly head in more and more different ways in 2012

Addressing Abortion in the Church

Operation Rescue is encouraging pastors to preach life in 2012, as Christian women are failing to see that abortion “is something that defies God’s law.” Organization President Troy Newman tells OneNewsNow he felt led to do so after his group of pro-lifers encountered Christian women who said they were “quite confident” and “happy” with their decisions to abort her unborn children. At the Stockton Pregnancy Control Medical Clinic in California, a young woman sported a Christian fish symbol on her car and espoused Christian beliefs as she walked into the facility to kill her unborn baby. “It’s so sad that women of Christian faith somehow don’t have any moral foundation that’s taught to them from behind the pulpit that abortion is really wrong, that children are created in the image and likeness of God, and to have an abortion is something that defies God’s law,” the Operation Rescue president notes.

  • Secular, even New Age beliefs, have increasingly been penetrating the church world as many pastors remain silent on controversial issues

A Roller-Coaster Year for Pro-Life Movement

The pro-life movement saw many ups and downs in 2011, from successful investigations into Planned Parenthood practices to vandalism directed toward supporters of the Personhood Amendment in Mississippi. In 2012, Planned Parenthood will face an investigation by a U.S. House committee over alleged abuses that have come to light as the result of undercover investigations by the pro-life groups Live Action and Life Dynamics over the past dozen years. The nation’s largest abortion provider topped $1 billion in total net assets in 2009-2010, its first time reaching that mark, according to Planned Parenthood’s latest annual report. Five of the GOP presidential candidates have also signed a pledge to defund Planned Parenthood. Almost half of the group’s annual revenue — 46 percent — comes from taxpayers in the form of grants, contracts and Medicaid payments.

In one of the 2011 cases in which pro-lifers were actually attacked for their views, vandals took aim at Mississippi’s November vote on a personhood amendment. Mississippi voters rejected the amendment, although the legislature will consider implementing a form of it in the next session. In Pennsylvania this year, questions were raised about some of the state’s abortion clinics after the arrest of an abortionist and nine employees. The abortionist and four of those employees now face murder charges. Also in Texas this year, a dozen abortionists faced the Texas Medical Board to answer complaints filed against them following a three-month undercover investigation conducted by Operation Rescue and Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust.

U.N. chief to Focus on Sustaining Arab Spring

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his second term as chief of the United Nations, wants to help people who rose up in the Arab Spring attain and sustain freedom and democracy. As he embarks on a new five-year term starting New Year’s Day, Ban said one of his top priorities is to help Arab countries sustain their moves toward democracy. He also said he intended to do more for young people and women, and address frustrations over the growing gap between the rich and poor expressed by the Occupy movement. Ban’s ability to influence what happens is limited because the U.N. secretary-general has no independent power over international affairs. It is up to the U.N.’s 193 member states to take action, and only the actions of the powerful 15-member Security Council are legally binding. But the position is a powerful megaphone, and following his unanimous reelection by the U.N. General Assembly in June to a second and final five-year term, diplomats say Ban may feel less constrained on the need to satisfy all U.N. members, and may become more outspoken and perhaps more influential on global issues.

U.S. Largest Exporter of Fuel, Largest Importer of Crude Oil

For the first time, the top export of the United States, the world’s biggest gas guzzler, is — wait for it — fuel. Measured in dollars, the nation is on pace this year to ship more gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel than any other single export. It will also be the first year in more than 60 that America has been a net exporter of these fuels. A decade ago, fuel wasn’t even among the top 25 exports. And for the last five years, America’s top export was aircraft. The trend is significant because for decades the U.S. has relied on huge imports of fuel from Europe in order to meet demand. Still, the U.S. is nowhere close to energy independence. America is still the world’s largest importer of crude oil. From January to October, the country imported 2.7 billion barrels of oil worth roughly $280 billion.

2012 Medicare Debate Is All About the Baby Boomers

Baby boomers take note: Medicare as your parents have known it is headed for big changes no matter who wins the White House in 2012. Dial down the partisan rhetoric and surprising similarities emerge from competing policy prescriptions by President Barack Obama and leading Republicans such as Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Limit the overall growth of Medicare spending? It’s in both approaches. Squeeze more money from upper-income retirees and some in the middle-class? Ditto. Raise the eligibility age? That too, if the deal is right. With more than 1.5 million baby boomers a year signing up for Medicare, the program’s future is one of the most important economic issues for anyone now 50 or older. Health care costs are the most unpredictable part of retirement, and Medicare remains an exceptional deal for retirees, who can reap benefits worth far more than the payroll taxes they paid in during their careers.

  • Medicare and Social Security must be transformed to take into account longer life expectancy and the huge numbers of baby boomers coming of age

68 Occupy Protesters Arrested in NYC

Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested on New Year’s Eve as they tore down barricades surrounding New York City’s Zuccotti Park, the former home of their encampment that was dismantled several weeks ago. About 500 protesters gathered in the park Saturday evening, where they rang in the new year with songs and their now-familiar chant of “We are the 99 percent.” About 11 p.m., after a relatively quiet evening, some protesters began to tear down the barricades that have surrounded the park since New York police officers evicted Occupy Wall Street members on Nov. 15. The New York Police Department said 68 people were arrested, and at least one person was accused of assaulting a police officer.

Real ID Act Takes Effect in January 

Driver’s license renewals will require more proof of your identity in 2012 due to federal guidelines. The Real ID Act takes effect on January 3 and will change how renewals and duplicate licenses are handled. Natalie Harvey, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said residents will now be required to bring in a proof of identify, which could be a certified birth certificate, a valid and unexpired United States passport, or a Department of Homeland Security document for foreign-born residents. Applicants also will need two proof of residency documents, such as a voter registration card, utility bills, tax records or mortgage documents. Applicants will have the option of selecting a Real ID or a regular driver’s license, though the documentation requirements are the same for both. Harvey said the difference between the two IDs will mean those not bearing the Real ID may be asked to present additional proof of identity when getting on an airplane or entering a federal building.

Calif. Financier is 10th Guilty Plea in Muni-Bond Fraud Case

A Beverly Hills financier has become the 10th Wall Street executive to plead guilty to taking kickbacks for rigging bids and auctions for municipal bonds issued by state and local governments. David Rubin and the company he founded, CDR Financial Products Inc. (legally known as Rubin/Chambers, Dunhill Insurance Services), today pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan as part of the government’s investigation of municipal bond fraud between 1998 and 2006. He was scheduled to stand trial next week with two other CDR executives.

  • Corruption on Wall Street, in the Corporate Boardroom, and in Government is rampant and is the biggest impediment to straightening out our sick economy

Economic News

The stock market has ended a tumultuous year . . . right where it started. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed 2011 a tiny fraction of a point below where it started the year, ending up with a 0.00% change. The dullest and most conservative of stocks — utilities — gained 15%, the largest gain of the ten industry sectors in the S&P 500 index. Other winning groups were consumer staples and health care companies, up 11% and 10% in 2011, respectively. McDonald’s was the biggest winner on the Dow this year with a gain of 31%. Bank of America was the worst, down 58%.

European banks hold as much as $10 trillion in claims against their U.S. counterparts, which reflects how vulnerable the North American financial system is to Europe’s debt crisis, Forbes reports. European banks have made direct loans to U.S. businesses but also hold U.S. money-market deposits and U.S. mortgage securities. So while U.S. banks might not hold too much sovereign debt issued by troubled European governments, should a default in Europe take place and banks there go under, they could take U.S. financial institutions with them due to counterparty exposure.

Iraq

Television stations in Baghdad are calling it “Iraq Day,” the Dec. 31 deadline for American troops to completely withdraw from the country under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact. The celebrations in Iraq come nearly two weeks after the last convoy of U.S. troops crossed into Kuwait, ending an almost nine year war that saw more than 4,400 American military personnel and an estimated 115,000 Iraqis killed. TV stations aligned with Sunni and Shiite extremist groups, many of whom attacked U.S. troops, have dubbed it the “Day of Defeating the Occupier” — others have called it the “Day of Fulfillment” or “Day of Evacuation.” It’s a day many Iraqis say they have waited for since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, even as they admit their country is mired in a political crisis that has raised fears of a return of sectarian violence that nearly tore the country apart at the height of the war.

Iran

Iran test-fired a surface-to-surface cruise missile on Monday during a drill that the country’s navy chief said proved Tehran was in complete control of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-sixth of the world’s oil supply. Ten days of Iranian naval drills have coincided with increased tension over Tehran’s nuclear program with Washington and its allies. The European Union said it was considering a ban – already in place in the United States – on imports from the major oil producer. Iran says its scientists have produced the nation’s first nuclear fuel rod, a feat of engineering the West doubted Tehran was capable of. Sunday’s announcement comes after Iran has said it was compelled to manufacture fuel rods on its own since international sanctions banned Tehran from buying them on foreign markets. Nuclear fuel rods contain pellets of enriched uranium that provide fuel for nuclear power plants.

Syria

In the largest protests Syria has seen in months, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets Friday in a display of defiance to show the Arab League observers the strength of the opposition movement. Despite the monitors’ presence in the country, activists said Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad killed at least 22 people, most of them shot during the anti-government demonstrations. In a further attempt to appeal to the monitors, dissident troops who have broken away from the Syrian army said they have halted attacks on regime forces to reinforce the activists’ contention that the uprising against Assad is a peaceful movement. While opposition activists are deeply skeptical of the observer mission, the outpouring of demonstrators across Syria underscores their wish to make their case to the foreign monitors and take advantage of the small measure of safety they feel they brought with them. A pan-Arab body called Sunday for the immediate withdrawal of the Arab League monitors in Syria because President Bashar Assad’s regime has kept up killings of government opponents even in the presence of the observers.

Yemen

Yemen’s outgoing president has decided to stay in the country, reversing plans to leave, his ruling party said, in an apparent attempt to salvage his control over the regime, which has appeared to unravel in the face of internal revolts and relentless street protests. The son and nephew of President Ali Abdullah Saleh launched a crackdown on suspected dissidents within the ranks of the elite security services they command, officials within the services said. The Republic Guard, led by the son, and Central Security, led by the nephew, have been the main forces used in trying to suppress the uprising against Saleh’s rule the past year. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis marched in the streets of Sanaa and other cities on Saturday, demanding that Saleh be put on trial for the deaths of protesters killed in the crackdown since February. Yemen’s opposition on Sunday accused outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh of trying to torpedo a power transfer deal by sparking a new crisis, as troops loyal to him clashed with opposition forces

Pakistan

Fatigued by a series of diplomatic crises over the past year, the United States and Pakistan are redefining their troubled relationship, stepping back from the assumption that common goals and shared interests can trump mutual suspicion. For Pakistan that means less cooperation with Washington and a newfound willingness to swear off some of the American financial aid that often made Pakistan feel too dependent, and too pushed-around. For the United States it means lower expectations in several areas, including the crucial question of Pakistani help in ending the war in next-door Afghanistan. Overall it could be the biggest change in a decade in a relationship that has been a mainstay of U.S. military and counterterrorism policy since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s president is declaring a state of emergency in parts of the West African nation after a slew of recent attacks blamed on a radical Muslim sect. President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday declared the state of emergency in four states and ordered the closure of international borders near the affected areas. They include parts of Borno state, where the northeastern city of Maiduguri is a stronghold for the Boko Haram sect. The sect claimed responsibility for Christmas Day attacks that have now left at least 42 people dead. Christian leaders in Nigeria have accused Muslims of making a “declaration of war” after the series of recent attacks.

Philippines

More than 200 people have been injured by illegal firecrackers and celebratory gunfire in the Philippines despite a government scare campaign against reckless New Year revelries. Stray bullets wounded eight people and 197 were injured by powerful firecrackers from Dec. 21 to 30. More than half of the victims were children. At least 14 had to undergo amputations, mostly of fingers, because of their injuries. Officials expect the numbers to grow as Filipinos continue to bid goodbye to a year of natural disasters and economic uncertainty.

Fires

An arsonist set numerous vehicle fires early Friday that spread to nearby houses and apartment buildings in Hollywood and neighboring West Hollywood. The four-hour onslaught started shortly after midnight and sent firefighters scrambling to douse the flames. In nearly every case, the fire started in a parked car. Dozens of people were rousted from their homes, power was disrupted in several neighborhoods and Los Angeles police were put on tactical alert in the Hollywood area. One city firefighter was treated and released from a hospital after a fall while battling one blaze. No other injuries have been reported. Four more car fires broke out in the Los Angeles area New Year’s Eve, leaving authorities to probe for any links to the series of arson blazes

Earthquakes

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck under the sea south of Japan on Sunday, shaking buildings in the capital but causing no apparent damage or tsunami. The quake struck near the uninhabited island of Torishima in the Pacific Ocean, about 370 miles south of Tokyo, and its epicenter was about 230 miles below the sea. Buildings in the Tokyo area shook, but no damage or injuries were reported. Express trains in northern and central Japan were suspended temporarily for safety checks but later resumed.

Officials said Saturday they believe the latest earthquake activity in northeast Ohio is related to the injection of wastewater into the ground near a fault line, creating enough pressure to cause seismic activity. The brine wastewater comes from drilling operations that use the so-called fracking process to extract gas from underground shale. But Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer said during a news teleconference that fracking is not causing the quakes. A 4.0 magnitude quake Saturday afternoon in McDonald, outside of Youngstown, was the 11th in a series of minor earthquakes in area, many of which have struck near the Youngstown injection well. The quake caused no serious injuries or property damage.

Weather

Heavy rains and winds unleashed by a cyclone over India’s southeastern coast killed at least 42 people and damaged hundreds of homes Saturday. Cyclone Thane smashed houses and downed power lines in four districts of Tamil Nadu, about 105 miles south of Chennai, the state capital. About 20,000 people were evacuated to state-run relief camps from low-lying coastal areas in Cuddalore.

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