Signs of the Times (1/9/12)

Tax-Funded Planned Parenthood: 329,455 Abortions a Year

The latest annual report from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America reveals that the PPFA received more than $487 million in tax dollars over a 12-month period — and performed 329,455 abortions. The report covers the period from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010, the PPFA’s fiscal year. It states that the organization received “government health services grants and reimbursements” totaling $487.4 million, accounting for 46 percent of its revenue. In 2006, Planned Parenthood did 289,750 abortions; in 2007, it did 305,310; in 2008, 324,008 abortions; and in 2009, 331,796. The PPFA therefore accounts for a major portion of the abortions reported annually to the Centers for Disease Control, which in 2008 — the most recent year for which figures are available — numbered 825,564 “With over a billion in net assets and a business model centered on abortion and government subsidies, it is time for Planned Parenthood to end its reliance on taxpayer dollars,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List — a pro-life organization that lobbies Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.

  • Tax-payer funding of abortions through Planned Parenthood has got to stop or the blood curse of murder will continue to drag America down further and further

‘Gay’ Rights … or Business-Owner Rights?

A bed and breakfast in Illinois that is currently under attack by a homosexual couple is now getting aid from Alliance Defense Fund. Complaints were lodged with the state Human Rights Commission by two men who objected to the owners of the TimberCreek Bed and Breakfast refusing to allow their property to be used for same-gender civil union ceremonies, which are now legal in Illinois. ADF attorney Bryan Beauman says about the owners of the bed and breakfast, “They’re willing to host weddings for marriages, but they decline to host any civil union ceremonies for both same-sex or opposite-sex couples.” The owners rejected the homosexual pair’s request on the basis of their strongly held religious beliefs. “These complaints ignore those basic fundamental freedoms and they’re just further examples of the threat that the homosexual legal agenda poses to every American’s basic rights.”

U.S. Defends Dore of Health Care Overhaul

Defending President Obama’s signature health care overhaul, the administration is urging the Supreme Court to uphold the contentious heart of the law, the requirement that individuals buy insurance or pay a penalty. The administration filed a written submission with the court Friday describing the 2010 law as an appropriate response to a “crisis in the national health care market.” The justices will hear arguments in the high court’s biggest case this term over three days in late March. The outcome, expected in late June, has the potential to affect President Obama’s bid for re-election. One federal appeals court struck down the so-called individual mandate as exceeding Congress’ power under the Constitution. But two other federal appeals courts upheld the law and agreed with the administration’s argument that Congress was well within its power to adopt that requirement.

Shift in Illegal-Immigrant Policy

Illegal immigrants closely related to U.S. citizens would no longer have to leave the country to try to obtain legal status under a proposed change in immigration policy announced Friday by President Barack Obama’s administration. The change, which would greatly reduce the amount of time U.S. citizens are separated from undocumented family members seeking legal status, is the latest attempt by the Obama administration to use its authority to implement some immigration reforms without congressional approval. Immigrant advocates praised the proposed change as a practical and long-overdue step that would help preserve family unity by speeding up reunification. But critics attacked the change as one more example of the administration backing off from enforcing immigration laws.

‘No Child Left Behind’ Falls Short after 10 Years

The No Child Left Behind education law was cast as a symbol of possibility, offering the promise of improved schools for the nation’s poor and minority children and better prepared students in a competitive world. Yet after a decade on the books, President George W. Bush’s most hyped domestic accomplishment has become a symbol to many of federal overreach and Congress’ inability to fix something that’s clearly flawed. As the 2014 deadline draws closer, more schools are failing to meet federal standards, with nearly half not doing so last year. The law forced schools to confront the uncomfortable reality that many kids simply weren’t learning, but it’s primarily known for its emphasis on standardized tests and the labeling of thousands of schools as “failures.” Critics say the law carries rigid and unrealistic expectations that put too much of an emphasis on tests for reading and math at the expense of a more well-rounded education. Frustrated by the congressional inaction, President Obama told states last fall they could seek a waiver around unpopular proficiency requirements in exchange for actions his administration favors. A vast majority of states have said they will go that route, seen as a temporary fix until lawmakers do act.

US Navy Rescues Iranians Held by Somali Pirates

The same U.S. aircraft carrier group that Iran warned not to return to the Persian Gulf region has rescued 13 Iranians held hostage for weeks by pirates in the Arabian Sea, the Pentagon said Friday. The rescue operation took place Thursday, when forces with the USS John C. Stennis carrier strike group received a distress call from the master of the Al Molai, an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel, who said he was being held captive by pirates. At the Pentagon, spokesman Capt. John Kirby said the crew of 15 pirates, all believed to be Somalis, were now being detained aboard the Stennis.  Iran’s foreign ministry on Saturday labeled the U.S. Navy’s rescue of 13 Iranians from pirates who had hijacked a fishing vessel a “humanitarian and positive” act. Iran’s hard-line Fars news agency had a different take, calling the rescue operation a Hollywood dramatization of a routine event.

Clean Tech Investments Surged in 2011

Despite a weak global economy, investments in clean technology such as solar power and energy efficiency rose 13% worldwide last year and 30% in North America. North America, which accounted for 76% of global investments, raised $6.81 billion last year. Its total number of deals, 470, was up 25% from 2010, according to preliminary 2011 data released Thursday by Cleantech Group. Globally, mergers and acquisitions reached record highs last year worth $41.2 billion, up 153% from 2010. In North America, California led the way with $3.69 billion in investments (a 54% share), followed by Massachusetts (8% share) and Colorado (5% share). “Based on our historical data, we believe 2012 will be an all-time-record year for global clean-tech investments.”

Supersized Cars Limit MPG Gains

Cars haven’t improved their miles-per-gallon much in recent decades, but fuel efficiency is not to blame. A new study quantifies the real culprit: super-sizing. The average auto, which now gets 27 miles-per-gallon, would have seen its mpg jump from 23 in 1980 to about 37 had it retained the same weight and horsepower. That didn’t happen. Between 1980 and 2006, the average curb weight increased 26% and horsepower soared 107%. So even though fuel economy jumped 60%, the average gas mileage of vehicles sold in the United States rose only about 15%.

Economic News

The soaring national debt has reached a symbolic tipping point: It’s now as big as the entire U.S. economy. The amount of money the federal government owes to its creditors, combined with IOUs to government retirement and other programs, now tops $15.23 trillion. That’s roughly equal to the value of all goods and services the U.S. economy produces in one year: projections show the economy likely grew to about $15.3 trillion by December. President Obama’s 2012 budget shows the debt soaring past $26 trillion a decade from now. Among advanced economies, only Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Portugal have debts larger than their economies.

Data from the end of 2011 suggest that a housing-market recovery has begun in metro Phoenix. The median price of a metro Phoenix home rose to $120,000 in December, its highest level since November 2010. That was the first December since 2005 that the region’s median price didn’t drop. The number of home sales in 2011 climbed to their highest level since the housing market’s peak in 2006. Foreclosures fell to their lowest level since 2008.

People and businesses underpaid their taxes by an estimated 17 percent in the most recent year studied, meaning they failed to send the government $450 billion it was owed, according to an Internal Revenue Service report released Friday. After IRS audits and other enforcement efforts, non-compliance shrank to 14 percent, leaving the final amount of unpaid taxes at $385 billion.

Nevada’s largest casinos suffered a combined $4 billion loss in 2011. Combined, the 256 casinos had total revenue of $22 billion. In 2010, the largest casinos had a net loss of $3.4 billion on total revenues of almost $20.9 billion. Casinos paid $792 million in taxes and fees, equating to 7.8% of gambling revenue.

  • Pray that ongoing, increasing losses will drive many casinos completely out of business

Western powers this week readied a contingency plan to tap a record volume from emergency stockpiles to replace nearly all the Gulf oil that would be lost if Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz. The International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises 28 oil consuming countries, discussed on Thursday a plan to release up to 14 million barrels per day (bpd) of government-owned oil stored in the United States, Europe, Japan and other importers. Action on this scale would be more than five times the size of the biggest release in the agency’s history — made in response to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The maximum release, some 10 million bpd of crude and about 4 million bpd of refined products, could be sustained during the first month of any coordinated action

Iran

Iran has begun uranium enrichment at a new underground site well protected from possible airstrikes, a leading hardline newspaper reported Sunday. Kayhan daily, which is close to Iran’s ruling clerics, said Tehran has begun injecting uranium gas into sophisticated centrifuges at the Fordo facility near the holy city of Qom. Iran is under U.N. sanctions for refusing to stop uranium enrichment — which can produce both nuclear fuel and fissile warhead material — and other suspected activities that the international community fears could be used to make atomic arms. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Iran is laying the groundwork for making nuclear weapons someday, but is not yet building a bomb.

The announcement came as another newspaper quoted a senior commander in the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard as saying that Tehran’s leadership has decided to order the closure of the strategic Strait of Hormuz if the country’s oil exports are blocked. The United States will respond if Iran tries to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf,Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday.

An Iranian court has convicted an American man of working for the CIA and sentenced him to death, state radio reported Monday, in a case adding to the accelerating tension between the United States and Iran. Iran charges that as a former U.S. Marine, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission. The 28-year-old former military translator was born in Arizona and graduated from a high school in Michigan. His family is of Iranian origin. His father, a professor at a community college in Flint, Michigan, has said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

Libya

More than 1 million Libyan students returned to school Saturday to start the first year in which the whims, politics and wacky philosophies of Moammar Gadhafi will not drive the curriculum. Gone are the days when history books lauded Gadhafi’s accomplishments while blasting “Fascist” Italy, the “Zionist” United States and the “devilish” West, Libyan officials said. Revamping the curriculum was only one of the tasks the new Education Ministry faced in preparing for the first school year following the eight-month civil war that killed thousands and left parts of some of Libya’s biggest cities in ruins. Many schools were damaged in the fighting and more than a dozen were completely destroyed. Elsewhere, crews had to clear land mines from school yards to make them safe for students.

Syria

Thousands of regime backers massed at a mosque in the Syrian capital Saturday for funeral prayers for policemen killed in a Damascus bombing, as the government vowed to respond with an “iron fist” to security threats. Coffins bearing 11 policemen, covered with Syrian flags, were brought into the Al-Hassan mosque for the prayers, a day after the explosion ripped through a Damascus intersection, killing 26 people and wounding 63. Officials said the attack was a suicide bombing, the second in two weeks to hit the normally quiet Syrian capital. The regime of President Bashar Assad has touted the attacks as proof that it is being targeted by “terrorists.” But the country’s opposition demanded an independent investigation, accusing forces loyal to the Syrian regime of being behind the bombing to tarnish a 10-month-old uprising against Assad. The bombings have coincided with a mission by Arab League observers investigating Syria’s crackdown on the protest. The Arab League repeated its demand Sunday for the Syrian government to immediately stop all violence and allow more monitors in.

Egypt

Poised to dominate the new Parliament, Egypt’s largest Islamist group is putting off an expected confrontation with Egypt’s military rulers, keeping its distance from more radical Islamist parties and hoping that the United States will continue to support the country financially, a top leader of the group’s political arm said Sunday. Essam el-Erian, a senior leader of the political party founded by the group, the Muslim Brotherhood, said the party had decided to support keeping the caretaker prime minister and cabinet appointed by the ruling military council in office for the next six months, until the military’s preferred date for a handover of power, after the new Constitution is approved and a president is elected in June.

The deputy leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has called Israel a “criminal enemy” and threatened to cancel the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Dr. Rashad Bayoumi was asked if the government of Egypt is required to recognize Israel. He responded: “This is not an option. Whatever the circumstances, we do not recognize Israel at all. It’s an occupying criminal enemy.” He said no Muslim Brotherhood member will ever negotiate with Israelis. He also said the Brotherhood would take legal action toward canceling the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that was signed in 1979.

Afghanistan

An Afghan investigative commission accused the American military Saturday of abuse at its main prison in the country, repeating President Hamid Karzai’s demand that the U.S. turn over all detainees to Afghan custody and saying anyone held without evidence should be freed. The demands put the U.S. and the Afghan governments on a collision course in an issue that will decide the fate of hundreds of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida operators captured by American forces. Members of the Afghan investigation said U.S. officials told them that many of those militant suspects were taken based on intelligence that cannot be used in Afghan courts. The escalating controversy and demands by Karzai appeared to be the most recent in a series of exercises in political brinksmanship, as the president tries to bolster his negotiating position ahead of renewed talks for a Strategic Partnership Document with America that will determine the U.S. role in Afghanistan after 2014, when most foreign troops are due to withdraw.

Haiti

Two years after an earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince, Haiti is in the grip of one of the most devastating cholera outbreaks in modern history, health authorities said Friday. More than half a million people have become ill with the disease and at least 7,000 have died since the outbreak began in October 2010. Health providers report about 200 new cases a day, and expect that number to increase when Haiti’s rainy season begins in April. The disease has spread across the island of Hispaniola to Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, which has reported 21,000 cases and 363 deaths from cholera.

Japan

Japan says it will soon require atomic reactors to be shut down after 40 years of use to improve safety following the nuclear crisis set off by last year’s tsunami. Concern about aging reactors has been growing because the three units at the Fukushima plant in northeastern Japan that went into meltdown following the tsunami in March were built starting in 1967. Many more of the 54 reactors in Japan will reach the 40-year mark in the near future, though some were built only a few years ago. The proposal could be similar to the law in the U.S., which grants 40-year licenses and allows for 20-year extensions. Such renewals have been granted to 66 of 104 U.S. nuclear reactors. That process has been so routine that many in the industry are already planning for additional license extensions that could push the plants to operate for 80 years or even 100.

Nigeria

An industrial court in Nigeria ordered unions Friday to stop a planned nationwide strike over spiraling gasoline prices, giving authorities legal power to break up any work stoppages by labor groups. The order by the National Industrial Court came as protests continued in other Nigerian cities over the removal of government-sponsored fuel subsidies. The nation’s House of Representatives said it would meet Sunday to address the concerns of the people, but Nigeria’s president appears unwilling to pull back from eliminating the subsidy. Gas prices have risen from $1.70 per gallon to at least $3.50 per gallon since the subsidy ended Sunday. That’s caused prices to inflate for food and transportation across Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people where most live on less than $2 a day.

Indonesia

Acts of violence and intolerance against Christians in Indonesia almost doubled in 2011, with an Islamist campaign to close down churches symbolizing the plight of the religious minority, Compass Direct News reports. The Indonesian Protestant Church Union counted 54 acts of violence and other violations against Christians in 2011, up from 30 in 2010. The number of such incidents against religious minorities also grew, from 198 in 2010 to 276 in 2011, but the worst is perhaps yet to come if authorities continue to overlook the threat of Muslim extremism — at least 36 regulations to ban religious practices deemed deviant from Islam were drafted or implemented in the country in 2011.

Philippines

More than 3 million Roman Catholic worshippers paraded with a charred Christ statue through the Philippine capital in an annual procession Monday despite a warning from the president that terrorists might target the gathering. Police estimated that more than 3 million people had joined the procession; up to 9 million were expected. The black wooden statue known as the Black Nazarene was displayed at the seaside Rizal Park where Manila’s Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle led a Mass and offered prayers for victims of tropical storms and landslides over the past year. President Benigno Aquino III warned Sunday at a hastily called news conference, along with military and police officials, that several terrorists planned to disrupt the event and had reportedly been seen in the capital.

Weather

Dozens of National Guard troops have arrived to help an Alaska fishing town dig out from massive snows that have collapsed roofs, trapped some people in homes, and triggered avalanches. The town of Cordova is used to snow, but not like this season’s blanketing. The Guard reported more than 18 feet of snow has fallen in the past weeks. Officials said at least three buildings have collapsed or partially collapsed and six homes are deemed severely stressed by heavy wet snow. The town issued a disaster proclamation last week after three weeks of relentless snow overwhelmed local crews working around the clock and filled snow dump sites.

A U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker is cutting a path through icy seas for a Russian tanker carrying much-needed fuel for the iced-in Alaska city of Nome. The city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline normally gets fuel by barge. But it didn’t get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm, and it could run out of crucial supplies before spring. The Russian tanker came upon ice about a foot thick very early Friday. If the mission is successful, it will be the first time petroleum products have been delivered by sea to a Western Alaska community in winter.

The weather in the Plains is cooling, but not before setting another slew of high temperature records. Just about every major city in North Dakota and South Dakota on Thursday set a record for the date, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. The National Weather Service reports that Rapid City, S.D., hit 73 degrees. The agency says that not only were a large number of high temperature records broken, but many records were exceeded “by a tremendous amount” — as much as 17 degrees. After several days of record temps, Friday’s highs in the central and northern Plains were forecast in the 30s and 40s.

It’s a tense time at Florida’s ornamental fish farms. Millions of platies, mollies and guppies in outdoor ponds could die quickly from the drastic drop in temperature — it went from beach weather to below freezing two weeks later — or they could fall sick and linger from stress or a fungus. Almost all the U.S.-raised tropical and ornamental fish come from Florida, and when cold weather strikes the results can be devastating. In 2010, many Florida ornamental fish farmers lost between 80 and 100 percent of their stock because of the cold. Florida’s fish farms are not as well known, or as lucrative, as oranges, strawberries or tomatoes. But the sales figures are still substantial. The state’s tropical fish sales were $32.2 million in 2007, the last year statistics were gathered.

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