Archive for February, 2012

Signs of the Times (2/28/12)

February 28, 2012

Canadian Homeschoolers Can’t be Taught ‘Gay’ Sex Sinful

Homeschooling families will soon be forbidden from teaching that homosexual sex is sinful as part of their schooling program, according to the government of Alberta, Canada. Under the province’s Education Act, homeschoolers and religious schools will be banned from “disrespecting” people’s differences. “Whatever the nature of schooling – homeschool, private school, Catholic school – we do not tolerate disrespect for differences,” said Donna McColl, Lukaszuk’s assistant director of communications. “

  • Serial killers are different, so let’s not disrespect them either. Idiotic.

US Bolsters Defenses in Strait of Hormuz

The Pentagon has notified US lawmakers of plans to bolster US defenses in and around the Strait of Hormuz to be prepared for a military response against Iran, a report said Friday. New mine-detection and clearing equipment as well as improved surveillance capabilities are part of the planned build-up, said the Wall Street Journal. The Pentagon also wants to modify ship weapons systems to best deal with Iranian attack boats in the Strait. The moves highlight efforts to boost US military capabilities amid heightened tension with Iran and rising speculation of a strike from Israel over Iran’s nuclear program.

G-20 Pressure Europe to Increase Stabilization Funds

Pressure mounted on Europe Saturday to build an even bigger financial stabilization fund to head off sovereign debt concerns, with the United States, Brazil, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development all urging an increase. While the advice coming out of a meeting of G-20 finance ministers, senior officials and central bank heads seemed overwhelming, Germany — Europe’s main financial engine — appeared loath to fund yet another increase to stabilization funds that already have about 500 billion euros. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner added to the pressure, saying ” I expect that we’ll see continued efforts by the Europeans … to put in place a stronger, more credible firewall,” though he didn’t mention any amount.

Officers Injured in Clash with ‘Occupy’ Sacramento Protesters

At least two law enforcement officers were injured during a clash with members of the Occupy movement who were at the state Capitol to protest a rally by a pro-white group. The clash erupted about 3 p.m. Monday as California Highway Patrol and Sacramento city police officers were escorting about 35 members of the South Africa Project to a parking garage following their protest outside the Capitol building. An Associated Press photographer says roughly 50 members of Occupy Oakland began throwing cans and bottles at the South Africa group and at the officers. The Occupy members then rushed the officers as people with the pro-whites group rushed into the parking garage. At least two Occupy members were arrested.

Police Dismantle Occupy London Encampment

Authorities dismantled Occupy London’s camp outside the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral in a dramatic early hours raid Tuesday, clearing away one of the longest-surviving encampments inspired by the New York protest against capitalist excess. The City of London police said 20 people had been arrested as officers removed tents and equipment from outside the 300-year-old church, where demonstrators had camped since mid-October. As riot police surrounded the encampment, bailiffs in fluorescent jackets hauled camping equipment into waiting trucks and refuse bins — though there was little sign of the violence that has accompanied the clearance of several Occupy sites in the U.S. Britain’s High Court last Wednesday rejected the protesters’ legal challenge to an eviction order. Local authorities claimed the camp had harmed nearby businesses, caused waste and hygiene problems, and attracted crime and disorder.

Bird Flu, Pig Flu, Now Bat Flu?

For the first time, scientists have found evidence of flu in bats, reporting a never-before-seen virus whose risk to humans is unclear. The surprising discovery of genetic fragments of a flu virus is the first well-documented report of it in the winged mammals. So far, scientists haven’t been able to grow it, and it’s not clear if — or how well — it spreads. Flu bugs are common in humans, birds and pigs and have even been seen in dogs, horses, seals and whales, among others – but not bats. But it still could pose a threat to humans. For example, if it mingled with more common forms of influenza, it could swap genes and mutate into something more dangerous, a scenario at the heart of the global flu epidemic movie “Contagion.”

  • The Bible prophesies extreme pestilence in the last days, but the source will remain a mystery until after it actually happens

TransCanada to Complete Portion of Pipeline

To capitalize on the boom in U.S. oil production, a Canadian company announced Monday that it will split a controversial pipeline rejected by President Obama and start building the Oklahoma-to-Texas portion. Calgary-based TransCanada said the southern half of the $7 billion Keystone XL project will ensure that the glut of oil produced in the upper Midwest gets to Gulf Coast refineries. It said this portion, which won’t need a presidential permit because it does not cross a U.S. border, will cost about $2.3 billion and be completed next year. “Gulf Coast refineries can then access lower-cost domestic production and avoid paying a premium to foreign oil producers,” Russ Girling, the company’s chief executive officer said in the announcement. Citing rising gas prices and the need to create U.S. jobs, Republicans have criticized Obama for denying a permit last month and siding with environmentalists who say the crude’s development would exacerbate climate change.

Billions Spent on Duplicate Federal Programs

Some agencies perform their own security assessments for federally owned buildings, even though they’re already paying the Federal Protective Service $236 million a year for the same work. Thirteen agencies fund 209 different science, technology, engineering and math education programs — and 173 of those programs overlap with at least one other program. And the government has at least 15 major financial literacy programs. A report delivered to Congress Tuesday lays out those examples among 32 areas where multiple government programs do similar work. The Government Accountability Office says the government might save tens of billions of dollars simply by eliminating duplicate and overlapping federal programs.

  • Waste ‘R Us is the mantra of the bloated, inefficient and ineffective federal government

Economic News

Businesses slashed spending on machinery and equipment in January after a tax break expired, pushing orders for long-lasting manufacturing goods down by the largest amount in three years. Orders for durable goods fell 4% last month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Durable goods are products expected to last at least three years. In January, orders totaled $206.1 billion, still 16% below their peak in December 2007. About 9% of the nation’s jobs are in manufacturing. But last year, factories added 13% of new jobs. And in January, about one-fifth of the 243,000 net jobs the economy created were in manufacturing.

Home prices fell in December for a fourth straight month in most major U.S. cities, as modest sales gains in the depressed housing market have yet to lift prices. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home-price index shows prices dropped in December from November in 18 of the 20 cities tracked. The steepest declines were in Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. Miami and Phoenix were the only cities to show an increase.

Gasoline prices leaped more than a thirteen cents a gallon over the past week, the Energy Information Administration reported Tuesday. The average now stands at $3.72 a gallon nationally, up from $3.59 a gallon in the past week. In California in particular, prices are up past $4 for the second week straight. Now, gas averages $4.29 a gallon in the Golden State. The lowest gas prices in the country can be found in the Rocky Mountain states, the survey finds. There, they average $3.19 a gallon.

Sales taxes last year took the smallest percentage of consumers’ dollars since 1967 as tax-free Internet sales and untaxed services continued to erode state and local governments’ top source of revenue, a USA TODAY analysis finds. States and cities are being forced to keep their belts tight because sales tax collections rose only 1.2% last year even though consumer spending climbed 4.7%.Americans paid an average 4.27% sales tax rate on purchases in 2011, down from 4.63% five years ago and far below the peak of 5.18% in 1973.

Middle East

Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, an intelligence tells the Associated Press. The pronouncement was delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, with the Israelis saying if a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop it. The United States has been working with the Israelis for months to persuade them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran’s nuclear program.

A “secret report” by a high level Israeli authority documents the Muslim religious authority (The WAQF) continuing its long standing project of destroying evidence of ancient Jewish artifacts on Judaism’s most holy site the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. “An investigative report by Yedioth Ahronoth revealed the ongoing failure of various Israeli authorities in safeguarding the rare archaeological treasures found on Temple Mount. Information elicited by the newspaper showed that the Waqf is consistently erasing any trace of Jewish history at the site.” One Jerusalem helped bring to the public’s attention the destruction of the Temple Mount back in 2007. After the international outcry against this ongoing destruction project Israel’s Antiquities Authority promulgated rules to stop this practice. But it appears that these rules are not being enforced and the destruction continues. The decision by a Knesset committee not to make public the Report raises more questions about what is going on in Jerusalem.


Syrians began voting Sunday on a new draft constitution aimed at quelling the country’s uprising by ending the ruling Baath Party’s five-decade domination of power, but the opposition announced a boycott and clashes were reported across the country. The country has 14.6 million eligible voters who were asked to cast ballots on whether they approve or reject the recently drafted constitution in more than 14,000 polling stations around the country. In regions like the restive central city of Homs, where shelling by government forces has left hundreds dead, or the northwestern province of Idlib and the southern region of Daraa where rebels clash frequently with the security forces, turnout is likely to be minimal. The proposed new constitution allows at least a theoretical opening of the country’s political system as an effort to placate critics and end the 11-month uprising against his rule.

Diplomats say EU foreign ministers are trying to increase the pressure on Syria’s regime to stop its crackdown on opponents by preparing to freeze the assets of seven Syrian government officials, impose sanctions on the country’s central bank and ban Syrian cargo flights from the European Union. The EU has already imposed several rounds of sanctions on Syria, freezing the assets of 100 people and 38 organizations, and trying to cut the country’s supply of equipment for its oil and gas sectors.


A car bomb outside the gate of a presidential compound in southern Yemen killed at least 25 people hours after the country’s new president was formally inaugurated and vowed to fight al-Qaeda. A security official said the attack in the city of Mukalla in Hadramout province was carried out by a suicide bomber, and that it bore the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda operation. The blast came hours after Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was sworn in as president to replace longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, following an election aimed at ending more than a year of political turmoil in Yemen. Hadi was the only candidate in the election.


The shooting deaths of two U.S. military advisers in the Afghan capital and the quick decision to pull coalition personnel from all government ministries injected a sobering measure of doubt about the reliability of the most important U.S. ally in the war. NATO forces have advisers embedded in many Afghan ministries, both as trainers and to help manage the transition to Afghan control as foreign forces prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014. The Afghan Interior Ministry oversees all the country’s police, so has numerous NATO advisers. Even if Saturday’s killer turns out not to be an Afghan, the deaths compound a perception of insecurity in the heart of Kabul after a series of recent security failures and Afghan outrage over U.S. burning of Muslim holy books. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

Seven U.S. military trainers were wounded on Sunday when protesters in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan threw a grenade at their base. A suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into the gates of a NATO base and airport in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, triggering a blast that killed nine Afghans, officials said. The Taliban claimed the attack was revenge for U.S. troops burning copies of the Quran.


Gunmen wearing military uniforms stopped a convoy of buses in northern Pakistan on Tuesday, ordered selected passengers to get off and then killed 16 of them in a grisly sectarian attack. The victims were Shiite Muslims, a minority in Pakistan that is frequently targeted by extremists from the majority Sunni community. A spokesman for a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, a Sunni militant group, claimed responsibility for the killings. The incident in the remote Kohistan region was the latest in a spasm of violence in the country in recent weeks that has demonstrated the resilience of militant networks, including groups allied to al-Qaida. The U.S. has tried to support Pakistani security forces in the fight against the extremists, but strained relations between the two nations hamper cooperation.


A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives Sunday morning outside of a major church in the heart of a restive central Nigerian city that has seen hundreds die in religious and ethnic violence, killing three people and injuring others. The explosion struck the main headquarters of the Church of Christ in Nigeria during its early morning service. The blast killed the bomber and a father and child near the explosion. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram has launched increasingly bloody attacks across Nigeria, including attacks on churches. A Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church claimed by the sect in Madalla, a town just outside the country’s capital Abuja, killed at least 44 people.


Russian and Ukrainian special services have arrested a group of suspects accused of attempting to assassinate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia’s state television said Monday. The suspects were plotting to kill Putin in Moscow immediately after the March 4 presidential election, in which he is all but certain to reclaim the presidency. The station said the suspects had been arrested in Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odessa, but didn’t give any further details.


A bomb exploded in front of the headquarters of Nepal’s monopoly oil importer Monday, killing three people and injuring five in the capital’s first major attack in four years, police said. The government increased security in response. A little-known group calling itself United Ethnic Liberation Front took responsibility for the bombing. Several ethnic groups from southern Nepal have called for more autonomy in their regions, and some claim to be armed and threaten violence.


A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 shook southwestern Siberia on Sunday afternoon, the second to hit the area in two months. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Residents of multistory apartment buildings said objects tumbled off of shelves, windows rattled and chandeliers swayed during the quake. The earthquake hit about 60 miles east of Kyzyl, the capital of the Russian republic of Tuva, which borders Mongolia.


As a balmy early winter draws to a close, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin are bracing for more late-February snow, and forecasters say the expected storm could be the worst of the season in many areas. The National Weather Service has posted a number of watches and warnings for winter storm and blizzard conditions in parts of North Dakota and South Dakota Tuesday into Wednesday. The weather service also issued a winter storm watch for northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday.

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Signs of the Times (2/25/12)

February 25, 2012

State Can’t Make Pharmacies Sell Plan B

Washington state cannot force pharmacies to sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying the state’s true goal was to suppress religious objections by druggists — not to promote timely access to the medicines for people who need them. The state requires pharmacies to dispense any medication for which there is a community need and to stock a representative assortment of drugs needed by their patients. Two licensed Washington pharmacists sued in 2007, saying that dispensing Plan B would infringe on their religious beliefs because it can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, an act they equate with taking human life.

7 States Sue over Obama’s Birth Control Mandate

Seven states asked a federal judge Thursday to block an Obama administration mandate that requires birth control coverage for employees of religious-affiliated hospitals, schools and outreach programs. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of Nebraska, alleges that the new rule violates the First Amendment rights of groups that object to the use of contraceptives. It marks the first legal challenge filed by states. The rule, announced as part of the federal health care law, has come under fire from religious groups that object to the use of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. In response to the criticism, Obama administration officials have said they will shift the requirement from the employers to health insurers themselves.

Virginia Scraps Invasive Pre-Abortion Procedure

A Virginia bill that would have required women to undergo an invasive ultrasound before having an abortion failed Wednesday after Gov. Bob McDonnell withdrew his support. McDonnell, a Republican who opposes abortion and is mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, came out against the measure. Requiring women to have an ultrasound in which a wand is inserted into the vagina “is not a proper role for the state,” McDonnell said. “No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.”

Iranian Court Gives Death Penalty to Pastor

Ignoring an avalanche of international approbation, an Iranian court sentenced Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to hang till dead for the crime of questioning the compulsory Islamic education of his children and for seeking to register a home-based church. “It is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order,” said Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel for the Washington-based American Center for Law & Justice. “We know that the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, must approve publicly held executions, but only a small percentage of executions are held in public – most executions in Iran are conducted in secret.”

‘Occupy’ to Hold National Conference in Philly

A group of protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement plans to elect 876 “delegates” from around the country and hold a national “general assembly” in Philadelphia over the Fourth of July as part of ongoing protests over corporate excess and economic inequality. The group, dubbed the 99% Declaration Working Group, said Wednesday delegates would be selected during a secure online election in early June from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who is 18 years of age or older may run as a nonpartisan candidate for delegate.

More Kids Getting Sex-Change Treatments

According to a new study in the medical journal Pediatrics, sex-change treatments for teens and young children are on the rise at clinics in the United States, although still a small number, CBN News reports. The treatments, which include taking drugs to stop puberty, often start around age 11. Dr. Norman Spack, who wrote the report, said pediatricians “need to know there are children who think they were born the wrong sex.” Spack is the director of one of America’s first gender identity medical clinics at Children’s Hospital Boston, which averages about 19 sex-change procedures on kids every year.

  • A sad commentary on parents who go along with such atrocities

Federal Government Fails Audit

Failing an audit can result in major ramifications, both economic and legal, for a public corporation. And yet, the federal government – by its own admission – has failed to account for some $2 trillion of taxpayers’ dollars over the past decade, say watchdog agencies who point out that the total could be much higher. No one knows for sure because some agencies’ books are impenetrable. Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton calls the accounting lapse “a scandal of the highest order… If they were running a public company, the CEO and the entire board would be out on their ear.” The problems are worst in the Department of Defense, which has severe financial management problems according to the Government Accountability Office.

  • The federal government is so poorly run and waste so rampant that they are the problem, not the solution.

1.4 Million U.S. Families Live on $2 a Day per Person

The number of families living on $2 or less per person per day for at least a month in the USA has more than doubled in 15 years to 1.46 million. That’s up from 636,000 households in 1996, says a new study released by researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard University. Government benefits blunt the impact of such extreme poverty, but not completely, says the report. When food stamps are included as income, the number of households in extreme poverty, defined as living on $2 a day, drops to 800,000. That’s up from 475,000 in 1996. “This seems to be a group that has fallen through the cracks,” says Kathryn Edin, a Harvard researcher and professor of public policy.

Obama’s Tax Plan Triples Dividend Rate

Hidden in the details of Obama’s new tax bill, next year the dividend tax rate would increase to the higher personal income tax rate of 39.6%. Including the phasing out of certain deductions and exemptions, the rate is 41%. Finally, if you add the 3.8% investment tax surcharge in ObamaCare, the 2013 dividend tax rate would be 44.8% – nearly triple today’s 15% rate. But dividends are paid after the corporation pays taxes on its profits. If you assume a maximum 35% corporate tax rate and a 44.8% dividend tax, the total tax on earnings paid as dividends would be 64.1%.

America’s Per Capita Government Debt Worse Than Greece

The office of Senator Jeff Sessions, ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, released data showing that America’s per capita government debt is worse Than Greece, as well as Ireland, Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain. The U.S. debt load averages $44,215 for every single person, including children. That’s $156,860 for a household of four. Greece, with all its economic miseries, is only at $38,937 per person, with Italy averaging $40,475. Other EU countries experiencing economic difficulties are much lower: Spain’s per capita debt is just $18,395 with Portugal at $19,989.

  • Foreign lenders have kept the USA afloat (including China and OPEC nations), but can just as easily sink our ship of state

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid was unchanged last week, and the four-week average of applications fell to its lowest point in four years. Applications stayed last week at a seasonally adjusted 351,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the fewest since March 2008, when the country was just a few months into the recession. When applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

The Commerce Department said Friday that new-home sales fell 0.9% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 321,000 homes. That followed four straight months of gains in which home sales rose 10%. Only 304,000 new homes were sold in 2011 — fewest on records dating back to 1963, and well below the 700,000-per-year rate that economists equate with a healthy real estate market.

Sales of existing homes increased 4.3% in January from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.57 million. While still weak, that was the highest level in 20 months, the third gain in four months and a 0.7% increase over January 2011. As demand tightens, prices typically rise. But not this time, as foreclosed homes coming to market are keeping prices down.

The spike in crud oil prices, now at nine-month highs, has driven regular gas to a record February high of $3.65 a gallon — up 42 cents over a year ago. Motorists along both coasts are paying more: an average $4.20 in California and $3.91 a gallon in New York.

The USA is at a critical juncture in how it pays for roads, bridges and transit. That’s because the federal tax on gasoline, the primary method since 1956, has lost one-third of its buying power since it was last raised in 1993. The federal gas tax — 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline, 24.4 cents for diesel —accounts for about 45%-50% of capital spending for transportation. However, it is growing anemic because of inflation, more fuel-efficient vehicles, Americans driving fewer miles and the growth of electric and alternative-fuel vehicles.

Middle East

The UN and several nations, including the US, joined in condemning Israel on Wednesday over plans to retroactively legalize the previously unauthorized settlement of Shvut Rachel and authorize the construction of 180 new homes in Shiloh. “We don’t believe [settlement activity is] in any way constructive to getting both sides back to the negotiating table,” US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said. “We want to see, clearly, a comprehensive settlement that delineates borders and resolves many of these issues.” UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry issued a similar statement.

Israel’s Interior Ministry announced this week that a 5,000 square meter tourist complex in Silwan, the neighborhood directly south of Jerusalem’s Old City predominantly populated by Arabs, will be built. The park, with a Biblical theme highlighting the archeological evidence that the area was the site of the city King David built, is part of a proposed project called the ‘King’s Garden.’ The move is likely to cause further tensions in Jerusalem as Arab residents refuse to move out of their homes to make way for the construction despite promises of compensation, and Muslim groups in the city and regional governments accuse Israel of attempting to “Judaize Jerusalem.”


Iran has rapidly ramped up production of higher-grade enriched uranium over the last few months, the U.N. nuclear agency said Friday, in a confidential report that feeds concerns about how quickly the Islamic republic could produce an atomic bomb. The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency also said Iran had failed to give a convincing explanation about a quantity of missing uranium metal. Diplomats say the amount unaccounted for is large enough to be used for experiments in arming a nuclear missile. The agency continues to have “serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.”

Sources in Iran have reported that an execution order for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been issued. Pastor Youcef has been illegally imprisoned and separated from his wife and two boys since 2009; and each time the Iranian regime has demanded that he recant his Christian faith, he has responded, “I cannot.” Now, this Christian Pastor’s life literally hangs in the balance. Congress is taking action, considering a resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations and calling for Pastor Youcef’s release.


A rapid series of attacks spread over a wide swath of Iraqi territory killed at least 50 people on Thursday, targeting mostly security forces in what appeared to be another strike by al-Qaeda militants bent on destabilizing the country. The apparently coordinated bombings and shootings unfolded over four hours in the capital Baghdad — where most of the deaths were — and 11 other cities. They struck government offices, restaurants and one in the town of Musayyib hit close to a primary school. At least 225 people were wounded. It was the latest of a series of large-scale attacks that insurgents have launched every few weeks since the last U.S. troops left Iraq in mid-December at the end of a nearly 10-year war.


Thousands of Afghan protesters are out on the streets in two eastern provinces in new rallies over the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. At least 25  people were killed and dozens wounded in protests Friday, mostly in Herat province. Apologies by President Obama and Afghan and U.S. officials have failed so far to quiet the Afghan people’s outrage over the incident. The U.S.-led military coalition says the Qurans and other Islamic texts were sent to a burn pit by mistake. Afghan police in Khost, the provincial capital of Khost province, say an estimated 4,000 protesters are marching toward the governor’s compound. And in the eastern part of Nangarhar province, thousands are shouting “Death to America!” and burning a cardboard picture of Obama.

At least two American officers were killed inside the interior ministry in Kabul. Initial reports indicated that “an individual” turned his weapon against NATO service members. The gunman was likely an outsider who had infiltrated the ministry. It was uncertain whether the attack was connected to the recent violence across the country over the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base.


Suicide bombers armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked a large police station in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar early Friday, killing four officers in an assault authorities said was likely in revenge for offensives against nearby strongholds. The attack was the latest in a spasm of violence in or close to Peshawar, showing that local militants retain the capacity to strike. The army has claimed success in its fight against militants behind five years of violence in the country, but the insurgents have proved resilient.


The Red Cross negotiated with Syrian authorities and opposition members Saturday for daily breaks in fighting so wounded people can be evacuated from the besieged city of Homs, an agency spokesman said. The calls for a cessation of violence come amid increasingly dire reports in Homs from the opposition and humanitarian organizations, who describe a lack of medical supplies, food and water shortages and an increasing body count. At least 17 of the 36 people killed across Syria on Saturday died in Homs. It is unclear how quickly massive humanitarian aid efforts proposed at the Friends of Syria meeting Friday can begin to make its way into Syria. The Friends of Syria group consists of dozens of nations, including the United States and members of the European Union and the Arab League. It formed to deal with the Syrian crisis after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution this month addressing the Syrian crisis.


Yemen’s new president Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi took the oath of office before the country’s parliament Saturday. He replaces Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years before leaving office in a power transfer deal aimed at ending over a year of political turmoil. Hadi, who was Saleh’s vice president, was formally inaugurated following a single-candidate presidential election earlier in the week. Hadi swore to keep up Yemen’s fight against al-Qaeda-linked militants, who took advantage of the country’s upheaval to seize control of several parts of the country.


World leaders pledged new help to tackle terrorism and piracy in Somalia, but insisted Thursday that the troubled East African nation must quickly form a stable government and threatened penalties against those who hamper its progress. Nations pledged new funding, additional training for soldiers and coast guards, increased cooperation over terrorism and a new drive to root out those who finance and profit from piracy, after the shipping industry paid out $135 million in ransoms last year. For two decades Somalia has been torn apart by famine, bloodshed and some of the worst poverty on earth. British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that Somalia’s al-Qaeda linked militant group al-Shabab could export terrorism to Europe and the United States, with dozens of British and American citizens traveling to Somalia to train and fight with the Islamists.


Chilly temperatures on this final weekend of February will put a temporary end to the recent stretch of springlike weather across much of the country. After several days of mild weather, much of the eastern half of the nation will get a rude reminder that February is still here. The South will also be cool. Snow is likely Saturday in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies. The heaviest snow should fall in the Cascades of Washington and Oregon, where up to two feet is possible. Drenching rain is expected along the Northwest Coast Saturday, where Seattle and Portland will have a very wet day. Sunday, snow will continue in the northern Rockies and in the northern Plains. The snow will be accompanied by strong winds and bitterly cold temperatures, especially in the Dakotas.

A winter weather storm closed major highways, knocked out power to thousands of customers and raised avalanche dangers across Colorado on Thursday. The Colorado Department of Transportation said parts of Interstate 25 that runs north and south near of Denver were closed, along with portions of Interstate 70 west of the Front Range following a slew of traffic accidents that kept authorities and snowplows busy. More than 500 power outages affected about 18,000 customers, most in the Denver area.

One of the USA’s warmest winters in years could lead to a bug bonanza over the next few weeks, with insects like beetles, ants, termites and wasps all coming out much earlier than average. Even things like mosquitoes might come out earlier than usual. In some places, the onslaught has already begun: “We’re seeing insects out there that we don’t usually see this time of year,” says Missy Henriksen of the National Pest Management Association. Several states have even reported early tick sightings. Many insects hibernate during the cold winter months, but they are emerging from their hiding places much earlier.than typical.

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Signs of the Times (2/22/12)

February 22, 2012

Evangelicals Join Catholics in Opposing Birth Control Rule

A group of evangelical pastors on Monday joined Roman Catholic clergy who oppose an Obama administration requirement that employees of religiously affiliated businesses receive birth control coverage. More than 2,500 pastors and evangelical leaders have signed a letter to President Obama asking him to reverse the mandate. While most Protestants do not oppose contraception per se, the letter calls the mandate a violation of religious freedoms. “This is not a Catholic issue,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said. “We will not tolerate any denomination having their religious freedom impinged upon by the government.”

  • This issue opens the door to mandated abortion coverage, at first through the so-called ‘morning-after’ pill which secularists are trying to define as a birth control measure, but it is far different than contraception

Obama Budget Proposal Eliminates Family-Friendly Education Programs

Education advocates cried foul after the Obama administration this month revealed its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013 — one that cancels all federal funding for a popular school choice program in D.C. and abstinence education programs nationwide, WORLD News Service reports. Since 2003, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has given low-income children the opportunity to escape failing public schools in order to attend the private school of their parents’ choice. The nation’s first federally funded school choice program, it boasts a 91 percent high school graduation rate, compared to only 70 percent citywide among children with similar backgrounds. Meanwhile, the president took a 20:1 funding disparity between condom-based sex education programs and abstinence education programs and made it 100:0. “Why would the president want to censor information that helps teens make healthy choices?” said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. “It just doesn’t make sense!” Virginia Walden Ford, former executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, said Obama had “chosen to stand with special interest groups and not with the children who need him to stand for them.”

U.K. to Monitor all Phone Calls & Emails

The British government has dusted off previously shelved plans to create huge databases, enabling spy agencies to monitor every phone call, email and text message as well as websites visited by everyone in the country.The Telegraph reports that under the plans, the government will force every communications network to store the data for one year. The plans also extend to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and gaming sites. The records would allow the spy agencies to monitor the “who, when and where” of every phone call, text message and email sent, while also allowing for internet browsing histories to be matched to IP addresses. Critics and civil liberties advocates are calling for mass opposition to the plans, noting that the scheme is open to abuse not only by spy agencies and communications companies themselves, but also by hackers and online criminals.

  • The U.S. has been doing this to some extent for years. Privacy is a vestige of the past as Big Brother ramps up.

Israeli Sites in America on High Alert

After numerous attacks and bombing attempts around the world last week, Jewish sites in the U.S.—synagogues, schools and embassy buildings—have been placed on a greatly heightened alert status. Visibly heightened security measures are also being taken when Israeli officials travel to public events. Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University in D.C., said, “The recent [planned] attack on a Saudi official in Washington shows a willingness to attack in the United States. This could be an indicator of a much broader campaign and it is right to take precautionary measures.” The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “This is not a far-off problem that affects only people in other lands; the war against Israel has come right to our own doorsteps.”

Alabama Law Leaves Immigrants on Edge

When Alabama’s immigration law went into effect in September, it sent shock waves throughout Hispanic communities within the state. Whole families left overnight, parents pulled their children out of school, and city centers became ghost towns as legal and illegal immigrants alike hid from police. In the months since, a number of illegal immigrants who fled have returned. But with an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on portions of the law set for March 1, Hispanics are still living with one foot out of the state, ready to flee for good. Alabama followed Arizona’s lead by passing a law last year aimed at making everyday life difficult for the state’s estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants. The Alabama law allowed local police to check the immigration status of people stopped for other crimes, required public school officials to collect data on the number of illegal immigrants enrolling, and forbade illegal immigrants from entering into private contracts or conducting any business with the state. Federal courts blocked some portions of the law, including the immigration checks at schools. But unlike judges in Arizona and other states who have barred police from checking immigration status during routine stops, judges allowed the police enforcement provision to go into effect in September.

  • Gee, what a shame that illegal immigrants are living on edge. Strengthen the laws even more so that they go over the edge and deport themselves.

What’s a ‘Fair Share’ of Tax Burden?

President Obama’s catch-phrase that everyone should “pay our fair share of taxes” has become something of a political mantra. He has used the expression in dozens of speeches, beginning back in his State of Union address in January. He is using this sound-bite to push for more taxes on the wealthy. However, the top 10 percent income earners pay about 70 percent of all federal income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent of tax filers pay only 3 percent of federal income taxes. For many of the people who pay no taxes, the government also allows tax credits, which end up providing refunds. About 70 percent of Americans take more out of the tax system than they put into it, according to the Tax Foundation.

  • Obama is so out of touch with reality that the only explanation is subjugation to the globalist, socialistic objectives of the New World Order that seek to rein in wealthy entrepreneurs who espouse free-market, capitalistic policies

Greece Secures Bailout to Avoid Debt Default

Greece won a second massive financial bailout in the early hours of Tuesday morning when its partners in the 17-country eurozone finally stitched together a $170 billion rescue, meant to avoid a potentially disastrous default and secure the euro currency. On top of the new rescue loans, banks and other investment funds will also be asked to forgive $142 billion in debt, while the European Central Bank and national central banks in the eurozone will forgo profits on their holdings. But the patchwork of measures, including the implementation of more austerity in Greece and approval by skeptical German and Dutch Parliaments, mean that it’s unlikely to be the end of the continent’s debt crisis. The eurozone and the International Monetary Fund, which will be providing the money for the new bailout, hope the new program will eventually put Greece back into a position where it can survive without external support and secure its place in the euro currency union.

More Women, Girls Taking Up Guns

There are pink guns. Pink ear protection. Pink shell pouches. For your car, don’t miss the pink “Pistol Packing Princess” sticker. And if you want to pack heat while lunching at your favorite tea room, a purse with a special pistol holster is de rigueur, notes the Des Moines Register. All of this is aimed at women who want to own a gun — for protection, for hunting or for sport shooting — a rapidly growing demographic. Research by the National Sporting Goods Association shows female participation in target shooting grew by 46.5% between 2001 and 2010. And an October 2011 Gallup Poll found that 23% of women now own a gun.

  • The need for self-protection has shifted from fears of crime to concern about social unrest and government imposition of draconian control measures

Wireless Airwaves Full

The U.S. mobile phone industry is running out of the airwaves necessary to provide voice, text and Internet services to its customers. The problem, known as the “spectrum crunch,” threatens to increase the number of dropped calls, slow down data speeds and raise customers’ prices. It will also whittle down the nation’s number of wireless carriers and create a deeper financial divide between those companies that have capacity and those that don’t. Wireless spectrum — the invisible infrastructure over which all wireless transmissions travel — is a finite resource. When, exactly, we’ll hit the wall is the subject of intense debate, but almost everyone in the industry agrees that a crunch is coming. There are potential solutions, but none are inexpensive, easy to implement, or comprehensive. The U.S. still has a slight spectrum surplus. But at the current growth rate, the surplus turns into a deficit as early as next year, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Russians Revive Ice Age Flower

It was an Ice Age squirrel’s treasure chamber, a burrow containing fruit and seeds that had been stuck in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years. From the fruit tissues, a team of Russian scientists managed to resurrect an entire plant in a pioneering experiment that paves the way for the revival of other species. The Silene stenophylla is the oldest plant ever to be regenerated, the researchers said, and it is fertile, producing white flowers and viable seeds. “We consider it essential to continue permafrost studies in search of an ancient genetic pool, that of pre-existing life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the earth’s surface,” the scientists said in the article.

  • Exciting and potentially dangerous. What kind of microbes and viruses might also get coincidentally revived for which our immune systems have no defense?

Economic News

Laying down an election-year marker in the debate over taxes, the Obama administration is proposing to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, and to seek an even lower effective rate for manufacturers. In turn, corporations would have to give up dozens of loopholes and subsidies that they now enjoy. Corporations with overseas operations would also face a minimum tax on their foreign earnings. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday was to detail aspects of President Barack Obama’s proposed overhaul of the corporate tax system

The Dow Jones industrial average briefly broke through the 13,000 barrier for the first time since May 2008 in early trading Tuesday, extending its gains since the bear market low to nearly 100%.The Dow, the best-known and most closely followed stock barometer in the USA, has now nearly doubled since hitting rock bottom on March 9, 2009, in what was the worst bear market since the 1930s. It is up about 98% since its low.

Lenders are allowing more short sales by financially strapped homeowners and a few people are even getting cash to complete the sale. Short sales are when lenders allow borrowers to sell homes for less than their unpaid mortgages. They are an alternative to foreclosures. Short sales have been increasing for months, but the financial incentives are a newer wrinkle. JPMorgan Chase went national with short-sale incentive offers last year, paying up to $35,000 in some cases. When a loan modification isn’t possible, a short sale may be a better and faster solution than foreclosure, says JPMorgan. “It’s a lot cheaper to shell out $10,000 or $20,000 to someone than it is to go through a long foreclosure,” says Jim Gillespie, chief executive of Coldwell Banker.


Greeks greeted uneasily the news on Tuesday that their country will likely avoid defaulting on its debts next month and the euro should remain their currency — but at the cost of years of economic hardship. The relief created by the 17-nation eurozone’s approval of a new €130 billion ($170 billion) rescue package was offset by a grim reality: Greece faces many more years of sacrifice, on top of a grueling 24 months of austerity measures that have contributed to record high unemployment and a rapidly contracting economy. The deal in Brussels gives Greece its second financial lifeline in less than two years and the hope is that it will grant the country the breathing space to enact widespread reforms and set it back on a path to growth.

  • EU bailouts (better called printing money out of thin air) will only postpone an inevitable demise under the soaring debt load


For nearly 600 years, Portugal had one of the greatest colonial empires in Europe, commanding trade centers in Africa, South America and China. Now, laid low by recession, Portugal is telling citizens to head to former colonies where Portuguese is spoken, such as Brazil and Macau, to find work. The Portuguese government has admitted it is unable to provide job opportunities to the country’s 700,000 unemployed, especially teachers and recent graduates. Many of them have lost jobs, or been unable to find employment at all, as a result of austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank when they bailed out the country to the tune of $115 billion last May. Portugal’s unemployment rate reached its highest level ever in December, 14%. Talk of a second bailout has led to fears that there might be more austerity to come. The credit ratings agency Fitch predicts Portugal’s economy will shrink by 3% in 2012. In contrast, Brazil’s economy grew by 7.5% last year.


The U.N. nuclear agency acknowledged renewed failure Wednesday after a trip to probe suspicions of covert Iranian nuclear weapons work, in a statement issued just hours after an Iranian general warned of a pre-emptive strike against any foe threatening the country. The double signs of defiance reflected Tehran’s continued resistance to demands that it defuse suspicions about its nuclear activities despite a growing list of international sanctions. As the two-day trip was winding down, Iranian officials sought to cast it in a positive light, with foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast telling reporters that “cooperation with the agency continues and is at its best level.”

  • What a joke. It’s been a ludicrous charade all along and the U.N. is complicit in keeping the illusion going that Iran might cooperate when all they’re doing is stalling for more time

North Korea

The U.S. and North Korea reopen nuclear talks Thursday that will provide a glimpse into where Pyongyang’s opaque government is heading after Kim Jong Il’s death and test its readiness to dismantle nuclear programs for much-needed aid. The two countries were on the verge of a deal to have Washington provide food in return for Pyongyang suspending uranium enrichment when it was upended by the longtime leader’s death on Dec. 17. That North Korea has agreed to re-enter talks so soon afterward could signal a measure of cohesion and a continuation of Kim Jong Il’s policies as it transfers power to his young son and a coterie of advisers. However, stonewalling could point to disagreement within the new leadership or unpredictable directions in policy for a government that has long sought to develop nuclear weapons and already has detonated two nuclear test blasts.

  • Stalling has been the modus operandi of both North Korea and Iran, simply buying more time to get their nuclear capabilities firmly in place.


When Islamic activists joined with pro-democracy demonstrators in Tahrir Square and cities across the country to bring Mubarak’s 30-year tyranny to an end, may Egyptians were excited and enthusiastic about a true revolution. Not any more. The newly politically empowered Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic organization that supports religious law and opposes Western influence, has supported a crackdown on those who disagree with them, including the very activists who helped bring about the free elections that the Brotherhood dominated. A year after the revolution, many Egyptians — already suffering under the weight of a wretched economy — see an undemocratic society where the military and Islamic ideologues are hoarding power while changing nothing. Though some are pleased that a form of law shaped by the Quran is coming to Egypt, others wonder whether they have swapped one corrupt and suppressing dictatorship for another.


Four months after the death of Moammar Gadhafi, the people of Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, were frustrated by stalled reforms. They played a key role in overthrowing the Libyan dictator of 42 years, and were impatient to see the changes they shed blood for. They staged a sit-in on the council’s steps, got the members to resign and call new elections, which were held on Monday. The vote was the first experiment in real democracy anywhere in Libya. It was also another example of how Libya is splintering into largely autonomous city-states, with powerful local militias and emerging local governments. So far, cities like Misrata are pushing ahead even faster with the transition to democracy than the national government is. Libya’s leader acknowledged Tuesday that his transitional government is powerless to control militias that are refusing to lay down their arms as it struggles to impose control over the oil-rich North African nation.


Anti-American demonstrations erupted on the outskirts of Kabul for a second day Wednesday and in another Afghan city over an incident that the U.S. said was inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books at a military base in Afghanistan. The U.S. embassy in Kabul was on lockdown as protests raged in multiple cities, with police killing at least five. More than 2,000 Afghans rallied Tuesday against the inadvertent burning of Qurans and other Islamic religious materials during trash disposal at an American air base. U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, apologized and ordered an investigation into the incident, which he was “not intentional in any way.” The incident stoked anti-foreign sentiment that already is on the rise after nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan and fueled the arguments of Afghans who believe foreign troops are not respectful of their culture or Islamic religion.


Government troops heavily shelled rebellious districts in the resistance stronghold of Homs Tuesday, killing at least 12 people and compounding fears of a new round of bloody urban combat in a country careening toward all-out civil war. In the northern province of Aleppo, the government said a Syrian businessman was shot dead in front of his home in what appears to be the latest in a series of targeted that suggest armed factions are growing bolder and more coordinated in their uprising against President Bashar Assad. A French photojournalist and an American working for a British newspaper were killed Wednesday by Syrian government shelling of the opposition stronghold of Homs, France’s government said.


As Yemenis voted Tuesday to replace their dictator of 34 years, analysts say Yemen must address the legitimate grievances of the country’s factions rather than continue a military crackdown that has cost hundreds of lives. Even if the election goes well, there’s intense trouble ahead say CIA analysts. The United States has been working with Yemen’s government to target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has expanded into one of the most menacing terror franchises in the Middle East, according to the Pentagon. The Obama administration supported the easing aside of dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose family-controlled military has been pounding an uprising in the south. In voting Tuesday, Yemenis cast ballots for his replacement, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Hadi inherits leadership of the Arab world’s poorest country during a conflict that has destroyed the economy, set security forces fighting against each other and allowed al-Qaeda to seize towns.

Burma: Continuing Human Rights Violations Against Christian Civilians

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports ongoing and continuous grave human rights violations being committed by the Burma Army against Christian civilians in Kachin State and other ethnic states. The Burma Army has been waging an offensive against ethnic civilians since breaking a 17-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independent Organization/Army in June. In a recent three-week fact-finding visit to the area, CSW heard first-hand testimonies from internally displaced people from Kachin and Shan states of killings, torture, rape and the destruction of churches, homes and villages by the Burma Army. “These were unarmed civilians, in their paddy fields or homes, who were not engaged in armed combat in any form,” said Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia team leader. “The accounts of torture and other abuses are a cause for very grave concern and … require an urgent and sustained response from the international community.”

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Signs of the Times (12/20/12)

February 20, 2012

NJ Governor Vetoes Gay Marriage Bill

Governor Chris Christie’s veto of New Jersey’s homosexual “marriage” bill will stand — for now. The New Jersey Assembly passed the bill with a 42-vote margin, needing 41 to pass, but is far short of the 54 that would be needed to override Christie’s Friday veto. Len Deo of the New Jersey Family Policy Council warns that similar legislation could be approved at a later time and signed by a different governor. But with the current makeup of the legislature, Deo says that is not likely to happen because the majority of current legislators support same-gender marriage.

For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage

It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage. Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education. “The surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change,” notes the New York Times.

  • This transformation is the direct result of rebellion against God’s natural order and the attendant curses will eventually reap the complete devastation of society

‘The Vow’ Tops Times Best-Seller List

The Vow, Kim and Krickitt Carpenter’s amazing, true story of faith and commitment and the inspiration behind the No. 1 movie in the country, topped the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list in its first week of re-release. From B&H Publishing Group, The Vow joins three other film-related, faith-based books as national best sellers, including The Resolution for Men, The Resolution for Women and The Love Dare, Nos. 10, 12 and 13, respectively on the Times paperback advice list. “The phenomenal success of these books — each dealing with the importance of faith and commitment in the family — shows the great hunger for encouraging and inspiring messages today,” said Selma Wilson, B&H Publishing Group president.

Obama Bypasses Congress Again on Climate Change

President Obama, who said last month that divisions in Congress are “too deep” to tackle climate change, bypassed Capitol Hill again this week with another effort to reduce climate-warming emissions. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Thursday, accompanied by officials from Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden, a joint effort to curb the short-lived emissions of pollutants including soot (also called black carbon), methane and hydrofluorocarbons that account for 30% to 40% of global warming. The United States plans to contribute $12 million and Canada $3 million over two years to begin the project, which will be run by the United Nations Environment Program. Scientists estimate that cutting these emissions can help prevent millions of deaths from pollution and lower global temperatures 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

  • Climate scientists have proven to be wrong as often as economists and meteorologists, and Obama/Clinton have proved to be globalists intent on promoting the one-world government agenda using climate as an excuse

Voter ID laws Challenges Increasing

Challenges to voter ID laws are building as voters cast ballots in primaries and gear up for the general election this fall. Thirty-one states have voter identification laws, including that were enacted or toughened last year. Of the 31 laws, 27 are expected to be in effect for the general election this year. One has been blocked by federal action; three have later effective dates. Laws requiring voters to show identification at the polls have been around since 1970, but they are becoming more numerous and stringent. Once a voter registration card or utility bill sufficed. Now a growing number of laws require voters to show picture IDs. Most of the new laws have been passed by Republican legislatures. Opponents say they keep the poor, minorities and seniors — who often back Democrats — from voting because those groups are less likely than the general population to have government-issued IDs.

  • Voting is a critical function in a democracy, so minimal protections against fraud are more than warranted.

Economic Crisis Slows U.S. Population Growth

The U.S. population is growing at the slowest rate since the Great Depression after two decades of robust increases. For two consecutive years since 2009, the population has grown just 0.7% a year, down from annual increases around 1% in previous years and the lowest since the late 1930s. The U.S. gained 2.2 million people from 2010 to 2011 — fewer than the 2.8 million added a decade earlier — reaching a total of 311.6 million. Although the economy has improved, the downturn’s effect on birth and immigration lingers. The number of babies born from July 1, 2010, to July 2011 dropped 200,000 from the same period in 2008-09. The number of additional immigrants fell 150,000. The U.S. fertility rate had been close to the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman, but is now estimated to have fallen to 1.9.

Jobless File for Disability when Unemployment Benefits Run Out

Being unemployed for too long reportedly is driving people mad and costing taxpayers billions of dollars in mental illness and other disability claims. As unemployment checks run out, many jobless are trying to gain government benefits by declaring themselves unhealthy. More than 10.5 million people — about 5.3 percent of the population aged 25 and 64 — received disability checks in January from the federal government, the New York Post reported, an 18 percent jump from before the recession. Among those claiming disability, 43 percent are asking for benefits because of mental illness. Disability payments come from the Social Security Trust Fund, which is set to go broke in 2018.

  • While politicians continue to print and spend money, the entitlement generation continues to bleed government of every dime they can get, a disastrous combination pushing us toward economic oblivion

Businesses Flee California

Newsmax reports that “California is reeling. People and businesses are leaving, entire industries are threatening to disappear,” with “municipalities on the verge of insolvency.” The state faces a $13 billion shortfall over the next 18 months. High taxes, burdensome regulations and oppressive business practices have forced many businesses to flee the state for greener pastures. A 2001 survey by Development Counselors International ranked California as having the worst business climate of any state in the nation. The Pollina Corporation’s Pro-Business States study also ranked California last. In addition, Chief Executive magazine found California to be the worst state in the nation for business and the Tax Foundation ranks it 49th. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s solution? More taxes on high-income earners and an increase in the sales tax, that will only drive more businesses and more leaders out of the failing state.

Economic News

Oil prices jumped to a nine-month high above $105 a barrel on Monday after Iran said it halted crude exports to Britain and France in an escalation of a dispute over the Middle Eastern country’s nuclear program.

Gasoline prices have never been higher this time of the year. At $3.53 a gallon, prices are already up 25 cents since Jan. 1. And experts say they could reach a record $4.25 a gallon by late April. The surge in gas prices follows an increase in the price of oil due to tensions with Iran, a cold snap in Europe and rising demand from developing nations.

Global demand for gold hit 4,067.1 tons last year, the highest since 1997. The increase came in large part from a 5% increase in investment demand, largely from Asia. And as global central banks continue losing faith in paper money, they’ve continued to stockpile gold. Central banks were net buyers of gold in 2011. They bought 439.7 tons, a sixfold increase in demand year over year. That’s the most gold since the end of the gold standard in 1971.

Middle East

At least five more rockets fired from Gaza (the land Israel gave up for peace in 2005) struck southern Israel this week. No one was injured, although there was some property damage. The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “This is just one more reminder that the enemies of Israel will never rest while one Jew still lives. The campaign against Israel is not because of settlements or water rights or land swaps or the right of return or any of the other excuses routinely trotted out by the adversaries of the Jewish state. The drive to destroy Israel is fueled by a demonic hatred of [Jews].” Despite the fact that there are more than 200,000 missiles aimed at Israel today, President Obama’s new budget proposal cuts funding for Israel’s missile defense program by nearly 7%.

  • Obama is Israel’s least-supportive President in history


China said Saturday it favored a solution to Syria’s violence within the Arab League framework and based on the group’s proposals, a striking show of support just two weeks after Beijing vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution backing the league’s plans. The seemingly contradictory stances on the Arab League’s proposals appear to reflect Beijing’s desire for mediation but aversion to U.N. involvement that could lead to authorizing force as happened with Libya. China said they were willing to work with the Syrian government and opposition, the Arab League, and Arab countries to find a solution.

Syria’s state-run news agency reports that gunmen have assassinated a senior prosecutor and a judge in a restive northwestern province. SANA says gunmen opened fire Sunday morning on a car carrying Idlib provincial state prosecutor Nidal Ghazal and judge Mohammed Ziadeh. Syrian rebels control parts of Idlib province, which borders Turkey. It has been one of the regions hardest hit by a government crackdown on an uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime.


A financial clearinghouse used by virtually every country and major corporation in the world agreed Friday to shut out Iran from its respected network, an unprecedented escalation of global economic pressure to halt Iran’s suspected drive for nuclear weapons. Expelling Iran from the SWIFT banking hub could put a sudden choke hold on its oil-dependent economy. The move was made under strong pressure from the United States and the European Union, which are looking for ways to derail Iran’s nuclear program quickly without a military strike. The EU has already imposed the first embargo on Iranian oil, to take effect this summer. The strongest-yet U.S. sanctions on Iran’s lifeblood oil sector are due later this year.

A senior U.N. nuclear official said Sunday he hoped for progress in upcoming talks with Iran about suspected secret work on atomic arms, but his careful choice of words suggested little expectation that the meeting will be successful. A previous International Atomic Energy Agency mission returned from Tehran on Feb. 1 without managing to dent Iran’s wall of denial. Iran is now fueling its test reactors with nuclear fuel rods that they have produced themselves. Previously, Iran had been dependent on importing these advanced rods from other countries.  Officials in key parts of the Obama administration are increasingly convinced that sanctions will not deter Tehran from pursuing its nuclear program, and believe that the US will be left with no option but to launch an attack on Iran or watch Israel do so.


A suicide bomber detonated his car Sunday as a group of police recruits left their academy in Baghdad, killing 18 in the latest strike on Iraqi security officials by insurgents who are apparently seeking to underscore how vulnerable the country remains. Police recruits have been attacked time and time again in spectacular attacks where suicide bombers have infiltrated protection barriers and other checkpoints. Iraq’s police are generally considered to be the weakest element of the country’s security forces. Iraqi and U.S. officials acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a potent threat in Iraq.


A campaign of high-profile kidnappings has provided the Pakistani Taliban and its allies with new resources, arming insurgents with millions of dollars, threatening foreign aid programs and galvanizing a sophisticated network of jihadi and criminal gangs whose reach spans the country. Wealthy industrialists, academics, Western aid workers and relatives of military officers have been targets in a spree that, since it started three years ago, has spread to every major city, reaching the wealthiest neighborhoods. Kidnapping is a centuries-old scourge in parts of Pakistan, from the tribesmen who snatched British colonists in the 19th century to the slum gangs that have preyed on Karachi business families since the 1980s. What has changed is the level of Taliban involvement. The Pakistani Taliban are unapologetic, saying the kidnappings earn valuable funds, offer leverage to free imprisoned fighters and are a political statement against longstanding American efforts to drive Al Qaeda from the tribal belt.


A Yemeni security official says gunmen have blown up a voting station in the southern city of Aden one day before the country is to go to the polls to rubber stamp the vice president as the new head of state. The gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the station on Monday, then fled. No one was hurt, and police are searching for suspects. The attack underlines the security vacuum in Yemen after a one-year-old popular uprising seeking to oust longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Under a U.S.-backed deal brokered by Yemen’s Arab Gulf neighbors, Saleh’s deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is to become president after elections Tuesday in which he is the only candidate.


South Korea conducted live-fire military drills near its disputed sea boundary with North Korea on Monday despite Pyongyang’s threat to respond with a “merciless” attack. North Korea did not carry out the threat as it focuses on internal stability two months after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il and prepares for nuclear disarmament talks with the United States later this week. But with American forces scheduled to conduct additional military exercises with ally South Korea over the next few months, tensions are expected to remain high in the region.


Officials say members of the hyper-violent Zetas drug cartel stabbed and bludgeoned 44 members of the rival Gulf cartel to death and then staged a mass escape, apparently with the help of prison authorities. Thirty inmates escaped during the Sunday riot, all of them Zetas. The two gangs were former allies, but split in 2010 and have been fighting turf battles in Monterrey and elsewhere.The governor of the northern state of Nuevo Leon says the prison’s director and three other officials have been fired and are under investigation for purportedly helping in the escape.


A winter storm that dumped several inches of snow across parts of the South, causing power outages, slippery roads and numerous accidents during the Presidents Day holiday weekend, moved out to sea Monday. Crews were working to restore power to tens of thousands of households that lost electricity as a result of the storm which brought as much as 9 inches of snow to some areas on Sunday as it powered its way from Kentucky and Tennessee to West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Meanwhile, Miami saw a record temperature of 87 degrees Sunday, which beat the record of 86 degrees set in 1957. Fort Lauderdale also reached 87 Sunday.

Last year’s most devastating tropical system — Hurricane Irene — was considered by some experts to be a “100-year-event,” a storm that comes around only once a century. Irene lashed the East Coast in August, killing at least 45 people and leading to $7.6 billion in damages. But a study out this week in Nature Climate Change says that these monster storms could now make landfall more frequently due to ongoing climate changes, causing destructive storm surges every 3 to 20 years instead of once a century.

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Signs of the Times (2/17/12)

February 17, 2012

NYC Church Evictions Temporarily Lifted

Churches facing eviction from New York City public schools won a brief reprieve Thursday as a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order to allow congregations to meet in school buildings for 10 more days, reports. “The court’s order is a message of hope for fundamental freedoms in New York City because it means that, for the time being, the city must welcome churches as it does other groups,” said Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund. The ruling gives the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York more time to consider arguments about the constitutionality of the city’s ban on religious groups to rent vacant public school space on weekends — the only such ban in the nation. State lawmakers now also have the opportunity to pass a bill to overturn the ban; a bill that would compel the city’s education department to allow the worship services passed the state senate earlier this month and awaits action by the state assembly.

Egypt: 20,000 Muslims Attempt to Kill Pastor and Torch Church

A mob of nearly 20,000 radical Muslims attempted to break into and torch the Church of St. Mary and St. Abram in the village of Meet Bashar, Egypt, ASSIST News Service reports. The mob was demanding the death of the church’s pastor, Rev. Guirgis Gameel, on false accusations of abducting a 15-year-old Muslim girl who disappeared after her father arranged a marriage for her. Nearly 100 terrorized Coptic Christians sought refuge inside the church as Muslim rioters threw stones in an attempt to break in, assault the Copts and set the building on fire. A home of a Copt living nearby and the residence of a church staff member were torched, as well as three cars, before security forces arrived. A Coptic member of parliament contacted Egypt’s Prime Minister, who ordered security officials to the village to disperse Muslims from the church and Gameel’s home after the crisis and remain as peacekeeping forces in the area for at least two weeks.

Syria: Islamic ‘Thugs’ Killing Christians

As fighting escalated in the Syrian city of Homs as citizens protest the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, area pastors are also reporting a significant increase in the number of Christian deaths, targeted killings and kidnappings, reports. Sources say Islamic militants have killed more than 200 Christians in Homs in recent days, including entire families and young children. “What we are hearing firsthand is the exact opposite of what’s being reported in Western media,” said Victor Atallah, director of Middle East Reformed Fellowship of Cyprus. “Most Syrians are most frightened of an Islamic takeover in Syria and are fleeing not from the government, but from Islamic thugs from all over.” Atallah said there were Islamic militants in the Homs area from Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia — many backed by al Qaeda — and added that those fighters were largely helping to sustain the conflict and uprisings that first began in the country 11 months ago.

Less Poverty for Seniors, More for Young

A national trend over the past three decades reveals that as child poverty has been steadily rising, poverty among seniors, aided by social programs, has steadily dropped. The ratio of senior-to-child poverty was close in 1980: Now, national Census numbers show 9% of seniors living in poverty while 22% of children — 15.6 million — subsist in poverty. Geographically, counties in the South and Southwest show the highest concentrations of poor children. The recession has added to the numbers of poor children as parents lost jobs and families lost homes to foreclosures. Social Security and Medicare are keeping seniors out of poverty. Overall, 15% of the USA— one in six Americans — are considered poor, the highest rate of poverty since 1993.

Child Homelessness up 33% in 3 Years

One in 45 children in the USA — 1.6 million children — were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families last year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. The numbers represent a 33% increase from 2007, when there were 1.2 million homeless children. The Department of Housing and Urban Development reports a 28% increase in homeless families, from 131,000 in 2007 to 168,000 in 2010. The worst states for homeless children are Southern states where poverty is high, including Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, and states decimated by foreclosures and job losses, such as Arizona, California and Nevada.

U.S. Rate of Interracial Marriage Hits Record High

Interracial marriage in the USA reached an all-time high in 2010: 8.4% of all marriages, compared with 3.2% in 1980, finds a Pew Research Center study, released Thursday, that analyzes unions between spouses of different races or ethnic groups. Among marriages in 2010, 15% of couples married outside their race or ethnicity. In addition, another Pew survey found 43% agree that “more people of different races marrying each other has been a change for the better in our society.” Another 44% say it made no difference; 11% say it’s been a change for the worse. Pew found that minorities, younger adults, the college-educated, those who say they’re “liberal” and those who live in the Northeast and the West are more likely to view intermarriage positively.

Air Cargo Not Well Screened

While much airport security is concentrated on screening passengers and their checked bags, about half the hold on a typical passenger flight is filled with cargo. In fact, over a third of cargo by volume that entered the United States in 2010 was shipped on passenger jets, according to the Department of Transportation. That is 3.7 billion tons. Another 7.2 billion tons of air cargo came in on all-cargo aircraft, according to the DOT. And the screening requirements for such cargo are not as strict as they are for passengers and their checked bags. While the Transportation Security Administration has been able to ensure the screening of all domestic cargo, it has fallen short when it comes to screening all inbound international cargo, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Audit Uncovers Extensive Flaws in Foreclosures

An audit by San Francisco county officials of about 400 recent foreclosures there determined that almost all involved either legal violations or suspicious documentation, according to a report released Wednesday. The detailed and comprehensive nature of the San Francisco findings suggest how pervasive foreclosure irregularities may be across the nation. About 84 percent of the cases contained what appear to be clear violations of law, the report said, and fully two-thirds had at least four violations or irregularities. The improprieties range from the basic — a failure to warn borrowers that they were in default on their loans as required by law — to the arcane. For example, transfers of many loans in the foreclosure files were made by entities that had no right to assign them and institutions took back properties in auctions even though they had not proved ownership.

  • Our financial system has grown so corrupt that the underpinnings of the entire economy are at stake

Economic News

The 17-nation eurozone has one foot in recession, according to official figures showing the economy contracted 0.3% in the final three months of 2011. The decline was the first since the second quarter 2009 and followed a meager 0.1% increase in the previous three-month period.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell to the lowest point in almost four years last week, the latest signal that the job market is steadily improving. Weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. It was the fourth drop in five weeks. When applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

The Congressional Budget Office is projecting unemployment of more than 8% throughout this election year and into 2014. The CBO also notes that the percentage of unemployed people who have been looking for work for more than six months — referred to as the long-term unemployed — topped 40 percent in December 2009 and has remained above that level since.

A surge in apartment building offset a drop in starts of single-family homes, pushing housing starts up 1.5% in January from December. Meanwhile, the producer price index, which tracks price changes before they reach the consumer, rose 0.1 percent in January. Wholesale prices fell by the same amount in December. In the past 12 months, they have increased 4.1 percent, the smallest rise in a year.

American motorists have seen the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline rise above $3.50 a gallon on just three occasions, but it has never happened this early in the year. Analysts say it’s likely a sign that pain at the pump will rise to some of the highest levels ever seen later this year. $3.50 a gallon gasoline is already here in 2012, weeks before refineries typically shut down for springtime maintenance, and weeks before the states switch from their less expensive winter blends of gasoline to more complicated and pricier summer blends.

General Motors earned its highest profit ever last year. The 103-year-old company made $7.6 billion in 2011, up 62% from 2010. Annual  revenue rose 11% to $105 billion. The company says union workers will get $7,000 profit-sharing checks.


Patrick Wood of the August Review writes, “Greece was the birth­place of the Western world. It is now shaping up to be its deathbed as well. Greece has lost its democ­racy, being ruled instead by appointed global elites. The man­dated aus­terity pro­grams are imposed by unelected tech­nocrats. Greek cit­i­zens see this as eco­nomic enslave­ment to pay for the polit­ical and eco­nomic mis­deeds of the elite. They feel the dic­ta­to­rial pres­sure. Their country has been method­i­cally pil­laged and plun­dered by this elite, to the extent that the economy is shrinking at 7 per­cent per year. The death spiral cannot be stopped. With a con­tracting economy, how can an increased debt burden be paid back? Of course, it can’t. There is no pos­si­bility for a long-term solu­tion short of bank­ruptcy and revolution.”

  • The so-called elites who have taken over global finance and the media are creating a technocracy to replace democracy, using financial distress as the means to gain control. A technocracy is essentially a totalitarian form of government based on scientific principles and secular humanistic morality that says man is god.

Middle East

Iran has established an “operational relationship” with al-Qaida’s core leadership amid fears the terror organization is planning a spectacular attack against the West, according to a troubling new report. Sky News reports that the attack could come in retaliation for the killing of Osama bin-Laden last year, or as retaliation for any strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. And a likely target of the terrorist attack would be the Olympic Games to be held this summer in London. Iran has been supplying al-Qaida with training in the use of advanced explosives, funding, and a safe haven “as part of a deal first worked out in 2009 which has now led to ‘operational capacity,’” the Sky News website disclosed.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported on Thursday that police in Singapore cooperated with Israel’s Mossad to break up an Iranian plot to assassinate Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during his recent visit to the Asian city-state. The report added that three alleged assassins were in custody including operatives from Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says sanctions imposed on Iran are important but so far haven’t been effective. Netanyahu said Thursday that the Iranian president’s guided tour of centrifuges at a Tehran research reactor on Wednesday was proof that sanctions have not properly crippled Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear capabilities.


The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “The United States has provided billions of dollars to prop up Egypt’s struggling economy since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed. Now the new Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government is warning Washington not to stop the handouts…or else.  The decision by an Egyptian court to bring criminal charges against more than a dozen Americans (including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood) who were in Egypt to train candidates for the elections has sparked outrage in Congress. Leaders of both parties have threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt in response. The Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t just hate Israel, they hate America too…but they still want our money! They have sent a message to Washington that if U.S. aid is stopped, they will repudiate the peace treaty with Israel. This poses a grave threat to the Jewish state. Egypt’s massive military capacity—much of which was funded with our tax dollars—is sophisticated and poised like a dagger at Israel’s throat. Coupled with the threats from Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, this is grave news indeed.”


Syrian forces attacked the city of Daraa on Thursday, carrying out arrests and shooting randomly in the city where the uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted 11 months ago The push into Daraa follows sieges on the rebellious cities of Homs and Hama and appears to be part of an effort by the regime to extinguish major pockets of dissent. On Wednesday, Assad ordered a Feb. 26 referendum on a new constitution that would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the same family dynasty for 40 years. Such a change would have been unheard of a year ago. But after almost a year of bloodshed, with well over 5,000 dead in the regime’s crackdown on protesters and rebels, Assad’s opponents say the referendum and other promises of reform are not enough and that the country’s strongman must go.

The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Thursday for a resolution backing an Arab League plan calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and strongly condemning human rights violations by his regime. Russia and China, who vetoed a similar resolution in the Security Council, voted against the General Assembly measure along with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba. There are no vetoes in the General Assembly and while their resolutions are not legally binding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues.


More than six months since Muammar Qaddafi was killed near his hometown, the torture and murder of former Qaddafi loyalists (or suspected loyalists) remain widespread. The militias that toppled Qaddafi’s dictatorship remain outside of any central authority and, according to Amnesty International, are increasingly behaving like ferocious regional mafias. Amnesty says “hundreds of armed militias … are largely out control,” that armed clashes between rival militias are “frequent,” and that “thousands” of people remain illegally detained by the militias.


Pakistani officials say a bomb that went off close to a mosque in the country’s northwest has killed eight people. Friday’s blast took place in the town of Parachinar close to the Afghan border. Many thousands of Pakistanis have died in bombings over the last five years, most of them carried out by Sunni Islamist militants. The militants routinely kill civilians opposed to them or those belonging to different Islamic denominations.


Protesters defied a government ban Wednesday and made their way to a square only blocks from the presidential palace, the closest that the opposition movement has come to the seat of power in two weeks of demonstrations ahead of next week’s election. The country’s opposition had vowed to march on the palace in protest over 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term in the Feb. 26 ballot. Besides his age, many are angered by what they see as a violation of the constitution, because the electoral code was revised after Wade came to office to impose a two-term maximum.


Tunisia’s defense minister has called for increased cooperation with the United States to help guard his country’s borders. Tunisian forces have recently clashed with armed groups with links to militants in neighboring Libya. There also have been clashes with groups believed to have ties to al-Qaeda militants active in the desert south of Tunisia. Violence from the civil war in Libya and the battles with al-Qaeda in neighboring Algeria has sometimes spilled over into Tunisia.


Violent and deadly weather events have affected more than 240 million Americans — about 80% of the nation’s population — over the past six years, says a report out Friday from an environmental advocacy group. Environment America’s report looks broadly at county-level weather-related disaster declarations from FEMA for 2006 through 2011 to find out how many Americans live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. Whether directly tied to climate change or not, the number of Americans impacted by weather calamities in recent years is sobering: From 2006 to 2011, federally declared weather-related disasters have occurred in 2,466 of the 3,068 counties, parishes or boroughs across the USA. During that time, weather-related disasters have been declared in every state except South Carolina. The group says that the onslaught of catastrophes could become the norm in decades to come.

In the last month, 177 dolphins have been stranded on Cape Cod beaches, but researchers are at a loss to explain what’s driving the dolphins into shallow muddy waters in record numbers. So far, 124 dolphins have died. Researchers are mystified as to why five times as many dolphins as usual have been stranded on Cape Cod this year. Theories range from changes in weather, water temperature or behavior of the dolphins’ prey.

A cyclone has left 16 people dead in Madagascar, and 65 were injured. Among the dead were six killed when a building collapsed in Alaotra Mangoro. Cyclone Giovanna struck land about 1 a.m. Tuesday in Brickaville, 160 miles east of the capital, Antananarivo. It brought heavy rain and high winds and some neighborhoods in the capital and elsewhere were flooded.

Through most of the last decade, mountain glaciers and ice caps around the globe collectively lost 148 billion tons of ice a year, according to new satellite measurements. Although significant, the rate is some 30 percent lower than previous studies predicted. Mountain glaciers and ice caps represent a major source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The losses coincide with the global average temperatures that turned the first decade of the 21st century into the warmest decade in the instrument record.

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Signs of the Times (2/15/12)

February 15, 2012

Planned Parenthood Hooks Kids on Sex

As Planned Parenthood kicks off National Condom Week, it will also be actively engaged in selling sex to children as young as those in grade school with graphic videos and books. The American Life League has compiled a video exposing some of Planned Parenthood’s disturbing materials that are presented to school-age children across the country. “Any parent that sees the video of Planned Parenthood’s material for school children will be horrified,” said Jim Sedlak, vice president of the American Life League. In one section the video, “Hooking Kids on Sex,” talks about a book for 10-year-olds with graphic images about how to masturbate, put on a condom and have sexual intercourse. “If a dirty old man showed this book to kids in a park, he’d be arrested,” said Sedlak. “Why does Planned Parenthood, a taxpayer-funded organization, get to distribute these books to our children and get more government money?’

Va. House GOP Enacts Abortion Curbs

A Republican supermajority has muscled two of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in years through the Virginia House, including one that would all but outlaw the procedure in the state by declaring that the rights of persons apply from the moment sperm and egg unite. House Bill 1 on personhood at conception passed on a 66-32 vote. And on a 63-36 vote, the House passed a bill that requires women to have a “transvaginal ultrasound” before undergoing abortions. The House bill stands to survive in the Senate which is under new conservative control after last fall’s election. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, a socially conservative Roman Catholic, has said he will sign the ultrasound bill, but has taken no position as yet on the personhood bill.

Washington Governor Signs Gay Marriage Law

Gov. Chris Gregoire handed gay rights advocates a major victory, singing into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington state, making it the seventh in the nation to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. The law takes effect June 7, but opponents are already mounting challenges on multiple fronts. Opponents planned to file a challenge Monday that could put the law on hold pending the outcome of a November vote. Washington state has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and in 2009 passed an “everything but marriage” expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge. Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

NJ Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill, Veto Coming

In a move that supporters called a civil rights milestone, New Jersey’s state Senate on Monday passed a bill to recognize same-sex marriages, marking the first time state lawmakers officially endorsed the idea — despite the promise of a veto by Gov. Chris Christie. Monday’s vote was 24-16 in favor of the bill, a major swing from January 2010, when the Senate rejected it 20-14. Christie last month said he’d veto the legislation if it passed. Christie said that such a fundamental change should be up to a vote of the people, and he has called for a referendum on the issue.

  • Moral decay continues unabated, much as Biblical prophecy suggests (2Timothy 3:1-5)

NYC Churches No Longer Can Meet in Public Schools

Sunday, Feb. 12, marked the last day some 60 New York City congregations could hold worship services in rented public school space following a new city ban on churches in schools. Yesterday, several representatives from those congregations headed to the state capitol in Albany, imploring legislators to approve a bill that would reverse the policy, CBN News reports. The state Senate passed a bill last week that would trump the city’s ban, but the bill must also be approved by the state assembly to take effect. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called the Senate’s proposal “seriously flawed,” adding that it “would open up the schools to anybody. It might include the Ku Klux Klan,” but sponsors of the bill said it could be amended to remove any such loopholes. Even if the state assembly does pass the bill, the process could take weeks. Meanwhile, the congregations plan to ask a federal judge to issue an injunction to allow them to continue renting public school space.

  • Christian intolerance also continues to rise in these last days

Tentative Payroll Tax Pact Reached

Congress neared a deal late Tuesday to extend the payroll tax break and unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed as well as head off a scheduled Medicare payment drop to doctors who treat seniors through the end of the year as part of a $160 billion legislative package. The anticipated agreement was forged in part by House Republican leaders who backed down from their initial bargaining position that the temporary 2% payroll tax cut be fully offset by spending cuts. Negotiators were discussing paying for the unemployment benefits extension by changing the pension system for federal employees to require them to pay more into the system, as well as auctioning off government-owned wireless spectrum to the private sector.

Obama Mulls 80 Percent Disarmament of Nuclear Arsenal

The Obama administration is weighing options for sharp new cuts to the U.S. nuclear force, including a reduction of up to 80 percent in the number of deployed weapons. Even the most modest option now under consideration would be an historic and politically bold disarmament step in a presidential election year, although the plan is in line with President Barack Obama’s 2009 pledge to pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons. No final decision has been made, but the administration is considering at least three options for lower total numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons. The potential cuts would be from a current treaty limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. The lowest option of 300 deployed strategic nuclear weapons would take the U.S. back to levels not seen since 1950 when the nation was ramping up production in an arms race with the Soviet Union. The U.S. numbers peaked at above 12,000 in the late 1980s and first dropped below 5,000 in 2003.

Many Voter Records Flawed

More than 24 million voter-registration records in the United States— about one in eight — are inaccurate, out-of-date or duplicates. Nearly 2.8 million people are registered in two or more states, and perhaps 1.8 million registered voters are dead. Those estimates, from a report published today by the non-partisan Pew Center on the States, portray a largely paper-based system that is outmoded, expensive and error-prone. Experts say there’s no evidence that the errors lead to fraud on Election Day. But inactive voters do cost money. Inaccurate lists mean wasted money on mailings and extra paper ballots. Unless officials have a death certificate or written confirmation from the voter that they’ve moved, a voter must miss two presidential elections — that’s eight years — before they can be removed.

Pew’s solution: create a multistate data center to give officials voter registrations, motor vehicle records and death certificates from other states, allowing them to spot records that could be removed. That effort is starting this year with Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

  • The potential for fraud is enormous, with anecdotal evidence indicating that many dead people vote regularly.

Hollywood Finally Seeing the Light?

In what may appear to be an extraordinary twist, nearly 50 movie stars and film producers gathered to celebrate faith, family and inspirational films at the Hollywood awards show often hailed as the “Christian Oscars.” Movieguide hosted its 20th Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry on Feb. 10th at the Universal Hilton Hotel near the heart of Hollywood – where a number of popular films won awards for their morally uplifting content. Dr. Ted Baehr, a media critic, founder and publisher of Movieguide and a champion of uplifting Hollywood movies with Christian worldviews, takes on the giants of the industry every year and inspires filmmakers to produce exemplary and clean films.

Globally 1 in 4 Children Malnourished

A new report says that despite advances against hunger around the world, chronic childhood malnutrition remains largely overlooked and almost a half billion children are at risk of permanent damage over the next 15 years. The report released Wednesday by Save the Children says that malnutrition is a largely hidden crisis that affects one in four children globally. The report says that 300 children die every hour of every day because of malnutrition. The 2011 Global Hunger Index found that six countries have higher rates of hunger today than two decades ago. Five of those countries are in Africa. The other is North Korea.

Economic News

The Greek economy remained stuck in a deep recession in the fourth quarter, according to official figures released Tuesday that confirm the painful effects of austerity reforms intended to cut the country’s debt. Gross domestic product dropped at a 7% annual rate in the fourth quarter 2011. The struggling eurozone country has been shut out of long-term debt markets since 2010, and is surviving on rescue loans from European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Moody’s today downgraded the debt ratings of six eurozone countries and put a negative outlook on the United Kingdom, France and Austria, setting up the possibility they might lose their top ratings in the next 18 months. Moody’s lowered the ratings on Italy, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta. Moody’s cited “The uncertainty over the euro area’s prospects for institutional reform of its fiscal and economic framework and the resources that will be made available to deal with the crisis. To a varying degree, these factors are constraining the creditworthiness of all European sovereigns.”

Retail sales rose 0.4% in January from a month earlier as consumers rebounded from weak showing in December. Sales were 5.8% above January 2011. Consumers spent more on electronics, home and garden supplies and sporting goods at department and general merchandise stores and at restaurants and bars.

Middle East

Israel put its foreign missions on high alert Monday following near simultaneous bomb attacks on its diplomats in India and Georgia that it blamed on Iran, adding to already high tensions between the two over Iran’s nuclear program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had already thwarted recent attempts against Israeli targets in Azerbaijan and Thailand. “Iran is behind these attacks and it is the largest terror exporter in the world,” Netanyahu said.


Egypt circulated a U.N. General Assembly resolution Tuesday strongly condemning human rights violations by the Syrian regime and backing an Arab League plan aimed at ending the 11-month conflict in the country. Diplomats said the resolution could be put to a vote in the 193-member assembly as early as Thursday and is likely to be adopted by a wide margin. There are no vetoes in the assembly — unlike the Security Council where Russia and China vetoed a similar, legally binding resolution on Feb. 4. While General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues.

Syrian government forces renewed their assault on the rebellious city of Homs on Tuesday in what activists described as the heaviest shelling in days, as the U.N. human rights chief raised fears of civil war. Troops loyal to President Bashar Assad have been shelling Homs for more than a week to retake parts of the city captured by rebel forces. Hundreds are believed to have been killed since last Saturday. With diplomatic efforts bogged down, the conflict in Syria is taking on the dimensions of a civil war, with army defectors clashing almost daily with loyal soldiers.


Iranian state TV says Tehran has cut oil exports to six European countries in response to European Union sanctions, which include a boycott of new oil contracts with Iran. No further details were immediately made available on the Press TV report Wednesday. The move comes days after Iran’s oil minister, Rostam Qassemi, said Tehran would cut off oil exports to “hostile” European nations as tensions rise over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

The United States and Europe are considering an unprecedented punishment against Iran that could immediately cripple the country’s financial lifeline. But it’s an extreme option in the banking world that would come with its own costs. The Obama administration wants Iran evicted from SWIFT, an independent financial clearinghouse that is crucial to the country’s overseas oil sales. That would leapfrog the current slow-pressure campaign of sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to drop what the U.S. and its allies contend is a drive toward developing and building nuclear weapons. It also perhaps would buy time for the U.S. to persuade Israel not to launch a pre-emptive military strike on Iran this spring. But such a penalty could send oil prices soaring when many of the world’s economies are still frail. It also could hurt ordinary Iranians and undercut the reputation of SWIFT, a banking hub used by virtually every nation and corporation around the world.


The Muslim Brotherhood is demanding that Egypt’s ruling military generals give up their power and appoint a Brotherhood member as the new prime minister to form a new government, CBN News reports. Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said the interim military government had failed to manage Egypt’s deteriorating security and economic situation. “If there is a government in place that is really backed by the choice of the people, it will act without regard for any pressure from anyone,” he said. “It will seek to reassure the people and provide it with security.” The extremist Islamic party controls 50 percent of the seats in the newly elected parliament.


Greek authorities say an earthquake with preliminary magnitude of 5.1 has struck northern Greece. No injuries or damage were immediately reported. The undersea earthquake occurred at 3:34 a.m. Tuesday 151 miles north of the Greek capital, Athens, off the coast of the northern peninsula of the Athos monastic community.


Snow as deep as 15 feet isolated areas in Romania, Moldova and Albania on Tuesday and turned a power plant in Kosovo into a park of dazzling ice sculptures. Energy workers struggled mightily Tuesday to break the ice that has encapsulated Kosovo’s main power station in Obilic. Steam from the plant’s vents coated its pipes and buildings with ice and snow, turning them into unworldly, unrecognizable objects of art.

Military planes flew in tons of emergency food Monday to towns and villages in eastern Romania where thousands have been stranded by blizzards. Some people had to cut tunnels through 15 feet of snow to get out of their homes. Since the end of January, Eastern Europe has been pummeled by a record-breaking cold snap and the heaviest snowfall in recent memory. Hundreds of people, many of them homeless, have died and tens of thousands of others have been trapped inside homes with little heat. In Romania, 6,000 people have been cut off for days.

  • Weather extremes will continue to worsen as the last days roll onward

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Signs of the Times (2/13/12)

February 13, 2012

Americans Evenly Divided on Gay Marriage, Most Evangelicals Opposed

The latest polling on gay marriage by the Pew Research Center in Oct. 2011 found that the public divides almost evenly on the issue, while evangelical Christians express the greatest opposition, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Forty-six percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry, while 44 percent are opposed. Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants express the greatest opposition, with 74 percent. Sixty-two percent of black Protestants also oppose gay marriage, numbers that have not changed since 2010. Compared with evangelicals and black Protestants, white mainline protestants are more in favor of gay marriage, with 54 percent in support. In 2010, Catholics were almost evenly divided on the issue, but now Catholic supporters of gay marriage outnumber opponents 52 to 37 percent. Religiously unaffiliated Americans expressed the highest levels of support for gay marriage, with 72 percent.

  • The Church-at-large has compromised their principles in this and other areas, professing to be wise but losing their power

Obama Tweaks Birth Control Rule

President Obama announced a plan Friday that attempts to accommodate certain religious employers opposed to a rule that would require them to provide access to birth control for women free of charge. Obama announced that the rule would be tweaked so that in cases where non-profit religious organizations have objections, insurance companies would be required to reach out to employees and offer the coverage directly. With that distinction, those organizations won’t have to provide the coverage, pay for it or refer their employees to it. The requirement will rest with insurers — who issued a statement expressing reservations. Obama’s effort to accommodate the Catholic Church by altering his administration’s rule on birth control coverage has not appeased the church, congressional Republicans or GOP candidates trying to take his job next year.

  • The real issue is abortion drugs and devices, masked under the less controversial ‘birth control’ headlines

ACTA Ignites Protests Over Internet Freedom

Braving subzero temperatures, hundreds of thousands of Europeans across the continent were to take to the streets Saturday, protesting an international trade agreement many say will overrule democratic institutions, jeopardize civil liberties and stifle technological innovation. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is designed to put in place international standards to protect intellectual property rights. But some lawyers say it forces private companies to police cybertraffic — and across the globe the treaty is being seen as a serious threat to Internet freedom. Critics say that the details of ACTA have been decided behind closed doors, a deliberate move to slip the highly controversial agreement through without proper public scrutiny. They add that once they have signed up countries have no say in any subsequent changes to the treaty. The agreement has been signed by 22 of the 27 EU member states, but countries including Germany and the Czech Republic have yet to do so, and some others are now backing off.

  • Another New World Order initiative to gain global control

Latin American Leaders Assail U.S. Drug Market

Latin American leaders have joined together to condemn the U.S. government for soaring drug violence in their countries, blaming the United States for the transnational cartels that have grown rich and powerful smuggling dope north and guns south. Alongside official declarations, Latin American governments have expressed growing disgust for U.S. drug consumers — both the addict and the weekend recreational user heedless of the misery and destruction stemming from their pleasures. “Our region is seriously threatened by organized crime, but there is very little responsibility taken by the drug-consuming countries,” Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said. Colom said the hemisphere was paying the price for drug consumption in the United States with “our blood, our fear and our human sacrifice.”

Poor No Longer Primary Safety Net Recipients

The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year. Politicians have expanded the safety net without a commensurate increase in revenues, a primary reason for the government’s annual deficits and mushrooming debt. In 2000, federal and state governments spent about 37 cents on the safety net from every dollar they collected in revenue, according to a New York Times analysis. A decade later, after one Medicare expansion, two recessions and three rounds of tax cuts, spending on the safety net consumed nearly 66 cents of every dollar of revenue. Over the next 25 years, as the population ages and medical costs climb, the budget office projects that benefits programs will grow faster than any other part of government, driving the federal debt to dangerous heights.

Spending by States & Cities Declines

States, cities and school districts trimmed spending at the end of 2011 by more than any time in a decade. The belt-tightening coincided with a cut in federal stimulus aid and reflects lower spending on health care for the poor, employee compensation and big ticket items, such as roads and college buildings. The lower spending, plus an increase in tax revenue in the past two years, has most states reporting the smallest shortfalls in years — or even small surpluses. State and local spending fell $26 billion in the last three months of 2011 from the same period a year earlier, or 1.2%, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. This reversed a longer trend of spending growth during the recession and recovery, despite cuts by some states and cities.

  • The difference between local and federal government is that only the feds can print money to cover their profligacy. States and cities were forced to cut back. That’s why we need a federal balanced budget amendment or something similar to force politicians to stop heaping debt obligations on taxpayers.

Economic News

President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget forecasts a $901 billion deficit for next year, falling far short of his goal to halve the deficit in four years. The budget, an outline of which was released by the White House Friday night, will show a higher deficit in 2012 than in 2011, up from $1.3 trillion to $1.33 trillion. In addition, the projected decline to $901 billion in 2013 is dependent on enactment of the president’s policies, including spending reductions agreed to last summer and ending George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy at the end of this year.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says declines in home prices have forced many Americans to cut back sharply on spending and warns that the trend could continue to weigh on the economy for years. Consumer spending fuels 70% of economic activity. Bernanke says the broader economy won’t fully recover until the depressed housing market turns around. Home values continue to fall because of foreclosures and tight credit — even in areas with lower unemployment.

Home prices nationally are down 33% from their bubble peak, according to the latest S&P/Case-Shiller report, mortgage rates are hovering near record lows, and housing supply, while falling, is still historically high. In other words, it’s more of a buyer’s market than it’s ever been. And yet the home ownership rate continues to fall, and rental demand, occupancies and rates continue to rise.

There are still 5.6 million fewer jobs than there were when the recession began in late 2007. About 12.8 million people are out of work and what’s especially troubling, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, is the large number of long-term unemployed — more than 40%• have been jobless more than six months. Some become so discouraged, they stop looking for a time or become mid-life college students. Others find temporary jobs, then return to the jobless rolls for long stretches. In 2011, the average length of being out of work was 39 weeks — about nine months.

The overall trade deficit widened to $48.8 billion in December because imports grew at a faster pace than exports, the Commerce Department said Friday. It was the largest imbalance since June. Imports rose 1.3%, largely because the U.S. bought more foreign autos, auto parts and industrial machinery. Exports increased just 0.7%.

The Bank of England announced it will inject another 50 billion pounds ($79 billion) into the British economy to bolster financial institutions. The fresh capital brings the total the Bank of England has printed to $515 billion since beginning the liquidity program in March 2009. The Brits will soon export the resulting inflation across the pond. With global central banks colluding to print more and more money, the dollar will be called on to backstop all these inflationary programs as the world’s reserve currency (for now). And that will eventually cause the dollar to collapse and lead our creditors to abandon our currency as the global reserve, according to Stansberry & Associates.


Greek lawmakers on Monday approved harsh new austerity measures demanded by bailout creditors to save the debt-crippled nation from bankruptcy, after rioters in central Athens torched buildings, looted shops and clashed with riot police. The historic vote paves the way for Greece’s European partners and the International Monetary Fund to release $170 billion (€130 billion) in new rescue loans, without which Greece would default on its mountain of debt next month and likely leave the eurozone — a scenario that would further roil global markets. Sunday’s clashes erupted after more than 100,000 protesters marched to the parliament to rally against the drastic cuts, which will ax one in five civil service jobs and slash the minimum wage by more than a fifth. At least 45 businesses were damaged by fire, including several historic buildings, movie theaters, banks and a cafeteria, in the worst riot damage in Athens in years. Fifty police officers were injured and at least 55 protesters were hospitalized. Forty-five suspected rioters were arrested and a further 40 detained.

Middle East Persecution

An explosion tore through an Israeli diplomat’s car on the streets of New Delhi on Monday, Israeli officials said. The driver and a diplomat’s wife were injured. The explosion took place in the late afternoon close to the embassy. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said an attempted car bombing in Georgia was thwarted. The bomb in Tbilisi was discovered before it went off. The driver noticed a package attached to his car’s undercarriage on Monday and called police. A targeted attack was also suspected in Amsterdam. The Israeli foreign ministry instructed all of its diplomats to stop using their vehicles until they are checked by security officials. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the bombings on Monday that targeted Israeli Embassy personnel in New Delhi and Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and national security expert Judith Miller says Christians and other minorities face a “very grim” future as the radical Muslim Brotherhood inevitably comes to power in Egypt and other Arab countries. According to Newsweek, a largely unrecognized global war on Christians is underway. “Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion,” writes columnist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm.” Ali says that despite the media’s reticence to report on the subject, the fate of Christians — and all religious minorities — in the Muslim world is at stake. In Nigeria, the radical Islamist group Boko Haram aims to establish sharia (Islamic law) and has stated it will kill all Christians in the country. In Sudan, tens of thousands of Christians have been displaced from their homes, subjected to targeted killings, kidnapping and bomb attacks. In Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan, Christians face “incipient genocide or ethnic cleansing,” and in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and other formerly “tolerant” countries, Christian persecution has only increased. “It should be clear … that anti-Christian violence is a major and underreported problem,” Ali writes. “Instead of falling for overblown tales of Western Islamophobia, let’s take a real stand against the Christophobia infecting the Muslim world.”

  • Islamic terrorists target Jews and Christians, but not vice versa. What does that tell us about whose god is the One True God?


Gunmen assassinated an army general in Damascus Saturday in the first killing of a high-ranking military officer in the Syrian capital since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began in March. The attack could be a sign that armed members of the opposition, who have carried out attacks on the military elsewhere in the country, are trying to step up action in the tightly controlled capital, which has been relatively quiet compared to other cities. Syrian rebels also repelled a push by government tanks into a key central town held by forces fighting against President Bashar Assad’s regime. Monday’s attempt to storm Rastan left at least three soldiers dead. Rastan has been held by the rebels since late January.

The head of al-Qaeda is calling on Muslims across the Arab world and beyond to support rebels in Syria who are seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad, and says they cannot depend on the West for help. In a new videotaped statement, Ayman al-Zawahri calls on Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to join the uprising against Assad’s “pernicious, cancerous regime.” A senior Iraqi intelligence official says al-Qaeda-linked fighters already are flowing from Iraq to Syria.

  • Why would the West and al-Qaeda agree on the overthrow of Asad? Because al-Qaeda wants to see the Arab Spring yield another hardline Islamic regime. Western naïveté over encouraging democracy in Muslim countries is woefully ignorant.


Thousands of Japanese people marched against nuclear power Saturday, amid growing worries about the restarting of reactors idled after the March 11 meltdown disaster in northeastern Japan. The protesters marched peacefully through the streets demanding Japan abandon atomic power. Last year’s tsunami in northeastern Japan destroyed backup generators at Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, causing multiple meltdowns and setting off the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.


The U.S. State Department recommends Americans avoid travel to all or parts of 14 of 31 Mexican states in the widest travel advisory since Mexico stepped up its drug war in 2006. The state department advises against any nonessential travel to Chihuahua, Coahuila and Tamaulipas, all bordering the U.S. and the central state of Durango. It advises caution in three other border states, as well as states in central and western Mexico where cartels have been warring. The advisory this week said U.S. citizens have been victims of drug violence, including killings, kidnappings and carjackings.


A 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck Costa Rica on Monday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quake’s epicenter was nearly 50 miles south of the capital city, San Jose. The quake was about 17 miles below the Earth’s surface, and its epicenter was just off the country’s southwestern coast. There were no immediate reports of damages or injuries.


After several weeks of mostly mild weather, the weekend finally felt like winter over most of the USA east of the Rockies. Snow fell in parts of the Northeast and the Rockies both Saturday and Sunday. High temperatures this weekend were about 5 to 20 degrees below average across most of the Midwest, South and Northeast. Highs were be in the 30s as far south as Mississippi Saturday, where overnight lows dipped below the freezing mark. Flurries were reported as far south as the northern areas of metro Atlanta as a cold front crossed the Southeast. Wind chills were in single-digits for northern parts of the state Sunday morning.

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Signs of the Times (2/10/12)

February 10, 2012

$25 Billion Mortgage Fraud Settlement Reached

After nearly a year of negotiations, federal and state officials and five major mortgage servicers have announced a $25 billion settlement over alleged past foreclosure and mortgage loan-servicing abuses. In addition to the federal government, all the states, except Oklahoma. are part of the agreement. Oklahoma reached its own settlement. The five servicers are Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial. Smaller ones are expected to join later. Officials estimate the deal could grow to $30 billion if the next nine largest servicers join the agreement. Servicers will be more restricted in their ability to carry out a foreclosure while someone is pursuing a loan modification. They will also be expected to adhere to more consistent time frames. Nearly two million Americans could benefit from mortgage relief

At least $10 billion will be used to reduce the principal on loans for borrowers who are either delinquent or at imminent risk of default and are underwater — meaning they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth; at least $3 billion will go for refinancing loans for borrowers current on their mortgages and underwater; Up to $7 billion will go toward other kinds of assistance, including forbearance of principal for unemployed borrowers, anti-blight programs and short sales. Conservatives called it overreaching on the part of the Obama administration, and say it rewards homeowners who haven’t been paying their home loans.

Obama Give 10 States a Pass on No Child Left Behind Deadline

President Obama gave 10 states a pass regarding an approaching deadline under the No Child Left Behind law, after the states struggled to meet the proficiency standards for reading and math. The executive action will circumvent Congress, which has been stuck on how to rewrite the law. The 10 states will receive “flexibility” allowing them to miss 2014 targets for student proficiency. The executive action by Obama is one of his most prominent in an ongoing campaign to act on his own where Congress is rebuffing him. The move also reflects the sobering reality that the United States is not close to the law’s original goal: getting children to grade level in reading and math.

Nuclear Agency Approves First Reactor Since 1978

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the nation’s first nuclear power plant in a generation on Thursday, clearing the way for Atlanta-based Southern Co. to build two reactors at its Plant Vogtle site near Augusta. It’s the first approval since 1978, the year before the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania. Some residents of the communities near Plant Vogtle, who maintain that some cancers have increased since 1987, when Southern opened the first of two existing reactors, were dismayed. Nine environmental groups plan a challenge in federal court in Washington. The groups say that the approval process was rushed and that regulators failed to incorporate lessons from Japan’s accident.

One in Five Americans Receiving Federal Assistance

A new study finds more Americans than ever before are dependent on the federal government for financial assistance. The Heritage Foundation’s “Index of Dependence on Government” also finds that the average American relying on federal government assistance receives $300 more in benefits ($32,748) annually than the average American’s disposable personal income ($32,446). William Beach of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis reports, “We now have 67 million Americans who are getting significant aid from the government for their housing or their food or their income support or their healthcare or their education — or all five put together, That’s one out of every five Americans.” Beach also points out that while the number of Americans receiving federal aid rises, the number of federal taxpayers continues to drop, with nearly half of Americans (49.5 percent) not paying any federal income taxes. Unless significant steps are taken to cut debt, reduce spending, and restore prosperity, Beach warns this unsustainable fiscal model will collapse.

Americans’ Trans Fat Levels Decline

Years of warnings about the dangers of artery-clogging trans fats that Americans get in their foods seem to be paying off: The amount of trans fats in the blood of white adults in the USA dropped a “dramatic” 58% from 2000 to 2009, a government study shows. Trans fats increase bad (LDL) cholesterol and decrease good (HDL) cholesterol, so the consumption of these fats increases the risk of heart disease. Trans fats occur naturally in foods such as milk, butter, cheese and beef, but most are found in the form of partially hydrogenated oils. They are created by a process that adds hydrogen molecules to vegetable oils, creating a more stable oil that’s useful for food processing and cooking. These oils help create a special texture, firmness and longer shelf life for many products (but a shorter shelf life for humans). In recent years, many food companies have taken trans fats out of their products, and many big chain restaurants have switched to healthier oils. A government regulation requires food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats on the nutrition facts panel of the food labels.

Momentum Growing for Online Sales Tax

Attention, online shoppers. The days of tax-free online shopping may be coming to an end. More than a dozen states have enacted legislation or rules to force online retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases. Similar legislation is pending in 10 states. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that uncollected state sales taxes will cost states $23 billion this year. Residents of sales-tax states are supposed to pay taxes on online purchases, but because retailers don’t collect them, they rarely do. Retailers have long argued that exempting online purchases from sales taxes gives online retailers an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar stores. In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that states couldn’t require retailers to collect sales taxes unless the retailers had a physical presence in the state. Increasingly, though, states have interpreted that requirement to include subsidiaries or affiliates of online retailers, or online retailers with a warehouse or distribution center in the state.

Economic News

After falling steadily since the recession began four years ago, household income appeared to turn the corner by rising sharply the last four months of 2011. Inflation-adjusted median household income increased 4%, from $49,434 to $51,413, from August to December. That’s the biggest jump since the start of the recession in December 2007. Real median household income is still 7% lower than it was in December 2007 and 3.9% lower than in June 2009, when the recession officially ended.

The Greek government announced a deal with private creditors that may help it make a 14 billion euro payment due next month, heading off a default that threatened to cascade into a run on debt issued by nations such as Spain and Italy. Greece agreed to lay off public employees, slash pension benefits and lower the minimum wage in exchange for a 70% reduction in the amount of its debt held by private investors. The deal is not a final solution to Greece’s fiscal woes. It doesn’t address the majority of the nation’s outstanding debt, which is now held by other governments and the European Central Bank.

PepsiCo says it will cut 8,700 jobs to cut costs as it increases investment in advertising and marketing. The snack and drink giant also says net income for the quarter ended Dec. 31 rose 4% to $1.42 billion.

  • More profit, more advertising, fewer jobs. How helpful.

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a special plenum meeting in honor of the Knesset’s 63rd birthday on Wednesday, declaring that the Palestinian Authority has rejected the possibility of permanent peace with Israel by agreeing to form a unity government with the Islamist terror militia Hamas. “We said [the PA] needs to choose between the path of Hamas and the path of peace,” he said. “The Palestinians embraced a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction.” In related news, the leadership of Hamas in Gaza added its voice to a rising chorus condemning the choice of PA president Mahmoud Abbas to be the prime minister in a future unity government between Hamas and the PA. The agreement was signed by Hamas leader in exile Khaled Mishaal, and the Gaza based leadership says they were not consulted and do not consent.

A series of public statements by high-ranking officials in both the U.S. and Israel over the past few days have revealed a deep division between the two allies over the proper response to Iran. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that action must be taken before Iran “reaches an immunity zone.” But U.S. officials downplayed the threat that Iran is close to having a nuclear weapon, saying that they are still several years away and that there is time for diplomacy and sanctions to work. The division raised fears among the Obama Administration that Israel will act unilaterally, without getting approval or even notifying Washington.


Twin blasts tore through government buildings in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, fueling President Assad’s claims that “terrorists” and not government forces are causing the violence that has left thousands dead across the country. The explosions at two security force buildings happened the same day that tens of thousands of Syrians across the country demonstrated against Russia for its veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the violence. Amid international criticism of its U.N. veto, Russia fired back Friday and accused the West of having a military presence in Syria to stoke the fighting and intervene in Syria’s internal affairs.

Between blasts of rockets and mortar fire, Syrians used loudspeakers to call for blood donations and medical supplies Thursday in the stricken city of Homs, where a weeklong government offensive has created a deepening humanitarian crisis. Government forces are trying to crush pockets of violent resistance in Homs, the epicenter of an 11-month-old uprising that has brought the country ever closer to civil war. The intense shelling has made it difficult to get medicine and care to the wounded, and some areas have been without electricity for days. Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed since early Saturday in the heaviest attack the city has endured since the uprising began in March,.


Egyptian activists vowed to flood Tahrir Square and cripple the country with a strike this weekend, saying that one year after forcing a dictator from power, their revolution is far from complete. Egypt’s economy has suffered since Mubarak’s ouster: Foreign investment has dried up and tourists are staying away. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party says it plans to improve things by ending corruption, but little has changed. The streets have yet to calm since Mubarak’s ouster. The festive air that enveloped Tahrir after Mubarak’s ouster has been displaced by clouds of tear gas. This week, medical workers tended to the injured inside hospital tents while protesters rested from the day’s battle on sidewalks pockmarked by broken tree planters and piles of garbage.


India has boosted its imports of Iranian oil, becoming the Islamic Republic’s largest customer last month and largely offsetting a cut in Chinese purchases as sanctions fail to dent Tehran’s sales for now, people within the oil industry said this week. Iranian crude exports to India rose to 550,000 barrels a day in January, up 37.5% from December, the person said. That partly offset a 50% cut in crude exports to China–now at about 250,000 barrels a day–amid a pricing dispute. Based on preliminary figures, overall Iranian crude exports remained broadly unchanged at 2.10 million barrels a day, compared with 2.14 million barrels a day in December, amid easing seasonal demand in the first half of the year… Despite a pledge to find alternatives, South Africa also doubled its Iranian oil imports to 100,000 barrels a day

  • Sanctions are not going to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons


A U.S. drone fired two missiles at a house in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region, killing three suspected militants in the second such attack in as many days. The back-to-back strikes could be an indication the drone program is picking up steam again after a slowdown caused by tensions with Pakistan over accidental American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers late last year.


Increasing violence in Nigeria has strengthened the faith of local Christians, even sparking a revival at the Deeper Life Bible Church in Gombe, where nine Christians were killed in an attack on the church on Jan. 5, according to Voice of the Martyrs. During a funeral service for those killed, many accepted Jesus and many other believers rededicated their lives to Christ. The crowd of about 500 then joined in intercessory prayer for the church of Nigeria, the country as a whole, Muslims in Nigeria, and the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Ever since Boko Haram issued an ultimatum on Jan. 3 ordering Christians to leave northern Nigeria or face violence, the group has claimed responsibility for the murders of at least 44 Christians, including another church attack on Jan. 22 that killed seven.


A Bible school backed by the American ministry Samaritan’s Purse was destroyed in the latest bomb attack to hit Sudan’s South Kordofan state, CNN reports. On Feb. 2, Heiban Bible College’s first day of classes, at least eight bombs were dropped in the area, destroying two of the school’s buildings and starting fires. No injuries were reported. Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, blamed Sudan’s air force for the strike, and called on the international community to establish a no-fly zone in the region. “We are deeply concerned for the welfare and lives of the people of South Kordofan, and we condemn the bombing of … Christian facilities,” he said. At least four churches in the area have also been destroyed in recent months, and more than 78,000 people have fled South Kordofan and the neighboring Blue Nile state since clashes between Sudan’s government and an armed rebellion broke out in August.


The slow pace of rebuilding in Haiti two years after a devastating earthquake has demoralized Haitians and could destabilize the country, Prime Minister Garry Conille said Thursday. The catastrophic magnitude-7.0 earthquake that struck 15 miles west of Haiti’s densely populated capital Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010 killed more than 300,000 people and left more than 1 million people homeless. Two years later, nearly 500,000 people still live in squalid tent camps. Less than half the $4.5 billion pledged by international donors following the quake has been paid out to various projects, the United Nations said in a January report. The vast majority of the money disbursed has gone to non-governmental aid groups that operate in the country, rather than through the government, which is widely perceived as corrupt. Transparency International, a global civil society organization that helps countries identify and root out corruption, ranks Haiti among the most corrupt nations — 175 out of 182 countries — in its latest Corruption Perception Index published in December.


At least four Balkan nations suspended shipping on the Danube River because of severe frost and the vast amount of ice blocking the heavily traveled waterway. Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia made the decision because up to 90 percent of the river’s surface is covered with floating ice. The conditions are making it extremely difficult to traverse Europe’s main commercial waterway, which winds 1,777-miles from Germany and serves as the natural border between Bulgaria and Romania. Europe has been battling a deep freeze that started in late January and has killed hundreds, snow that has trapped thousands in Balkan mountain villages and prompted worries of flooding as heavy snow melts.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center says the La Niña climate phenomenon that contributed to the southwestern U.S. drought is winding down. La Niña is showing signs that it will be over by summer, but that’s too late for the U.S. Southwest because the rainy season will be over by that time. But it is good news for the Atlantic hurricane belt. More tropical storms and hurricanes form there during La Niñas. The effects of La Niña, a cooling of the central Pacific Ocean water, are generally weaker in summer.

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Signs of the Times (2/8/12)

February 8, 2012

California Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Ruled Unconstitutional

The controversial issue of same-sex marriage appears headed to the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that California’s ban is unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave opponents of gay marriage time to appeal the 2-1 decision before ordering the state to allow same-sex weddings to resume. The ban known as Proposition 8 was approved by voters in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote. The court said it was unconstitutional because it singled out a minority group for disparate treatment for no compelling reason. The justices concluded that the law had no purpose other than to deny gay couples marriage, because California already grants them all the rights and benefits of marriage if they register as domestic partners.

  • God is so ignored and mocked that the Creator’s laws are no longer ‘compelling’ – man is god now

Federal Judge Upholds Texas’ Sonogram Law

A federal judge on Monday upheld the Texas law requiring women to have a sonogram before having an abortion. District Judge Sam Sparks had previously struck down parts of the law, but his latest ruling said he’s bound to follow the direction of the New Orleans-based appeals court. The ruling clears the way for full-enforcement of the law, which was supposed to take effect Oct. 1 but has bounced around the federal courts in legal challenges. The law requires doctors to show women images from sonograms, play fetal heartbeats aloud and describe the features of fetuses at least 24 hours before abortions.

White House Promises to Address Controversial Birth Control Policy

The White House says it wants to allay the concerns of Catholic church-affiliated employers over a new requirement for them to provide birth control coverage regardless of their religious beliefs. Press secretary Jay Carney didn’t say how those concerns could be addressed, though he said there were a lot of ideas for doing it. He continued to defend the new policy, while making clear Tuesday that the White House is looking for a way to calm the growing election-year firestorm that’s erupted since it was announced late last month. Carney said President Obama’s focus is making sure that women employed by Catholic church-affiliated employers like hospitals, colleges or charities are able to get contraception. At the same time, Carney said Obama wants to respect religious beliefs and convictions.

  • The real controversy is enforced healthcare coverage of “morning after” abortion pills and other measures sure to follow through this open door which Obama refuses to address

Second Wave of Evictions Sweeping Away Occupiers

A tent city in Portland, Maine, that’s among the longest-lived Occupy protest encampments in the U.S. is coming down. It’s part of a new wave of eviction orders against demonstrators aligned with the movement in communities including Miami, Washington and Pittsburgh. Demonstrators who established the Portland encampment just two weeks after the Occupy Wall Street encampment set up shop in New York City in mid-September vowed to continue their work to call attention to corporate excess and economic inequality. The encampments that were the heart of the movement are becoming scarcer. On Monday, a judge issued what appeared to be the final notice for Occupy Pittsburgh to leave.

FAA Told to Make Room for Drones in U.S. Skies

Within a few years, that flying object overhead might not be a bird or a plane, but an unmanned aircraft. Drones, perhaps best known for their combat missions in Afghanistan, are increasingly looking to share room in U.S. skies with passenger planes. And that’s prompting safety concerns. Right now, remote-controlled drones are used in the U.S. mostly by the military and Customs and Border Patrol in restricted airspace. Now, organizations from police forces searching for missing persons to academic researchers counting seals on the polar ice cap is eager to launch drones weighing a few pounds to some the size of a jetliner in the same airspace as passenger planes. On Monday, the Senate sent to President Obama legislation that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to devise ways for that to happen safely in three years.

  • The potential for abuse is enormous, further diminishing privacy while increasing government control

Obama Changes Tune, Urges Fundraisers to Back Super PAC

President Barack Obama’s campaign is asking top fundraisers to support a Democratic-leaning outside group that is backing the president’s re-election bid, reversing Obama’s opposition to “super” political action committees, which can spend unlimited amounts of cash to influence elections. Obama’s campaign urged wealthy fundraisers to support Priorities USA, a super PAC led by two former Obama aides that has struggled to compete with the tens of millions of dollars collected by Republican-backed outside groups. Obama had opposed the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that stripped away some limits on campaign contributions, but is now jumping on board. The new super PACs can’t coordinate directly with campaigns, but have shown they can influence elections in the GOP primaries thus far.

  • No president since Franklin Roosevelt has run for re-election with unemployment as high as today’s 8.3%. No president in more than 60 years has run for re-election with a job approval rating below Obama’s 46%.

First Class Mail Continues to Decline

In 2011, First-Class Mail — letters, large envelopes, small packages — was down 6.4%, the sixth decline in six years. As First-Class drops, Standard Mail — mostly advertising and solicitations — becomes a bigger part of the mail stream. Last year, as total mail volume dropped, Standard rose 2.9%; it now weighs more than twice as much as all First-Class Mail. Even when the economy recovers, says David Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesman, “we don’t think First-Class volume is coming back.” The Internet provides a faster, cheaper and easier way to communicate. With personal correspondence, periodicals and transactions (bills, statements, payments) now accounting for less than 40% of household mail volume, the mailbox is primarily becoming an advertising channel. This, along with a huge overhead, has plunged the Postal Service into financial crisis. Last year, it lost $5.1 billion.

  • So why doesn’t the Post Office charge more for all the advertising?

Unemployment Tricks: Jobs Claim Made by ‘Shrinking’ Workforce

Last week, the White House claimed that unemployment dropped for the fifth consecutive month to 8.3 percent — the lowest it has been in nearly three years — after adding 243,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But financial experts are saying the figures may have been manipulated — and that the significant drop in employment was because of the fact that the federal agency charged with computing key economic data has significantly decreased the number of Americans in the workforce. The same Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report that showed unemployment dropping to 8.3 percent showed total workforce participation — the number of people either working or looking for work — declining by 1.2 million people in one month. If the workforce had remained constant, the unemployment rate would have increased to 8.9%

  • The federal government wouldn’t massage their numbers for political gain, would they? Absolutely.

Economic News

Four months into the fiscal year, the federal budget deficit is on a slight downward trajectory. The Congressional Budget Office estimated Tuesday that the government is $349 billion in the red through January, compared with $419 billion at this point last year. That translates into a 2012 deficit of about $1.1 trillion, down from $1.3 trillion in 2011. The bad news for Obama: he vowed when he took office that he would halve the $1.4 trillion deficit in four years.

  • This is still a huge debt load adding to an already humongous cumulative debt of $15 trillion

Americans accelerated their borrowing in December for the second straight month, running up more credit card debt and taking out loans to buy cars and attend school. Consumer borrowing rose by $19.3 billion in December after a $20.4 billion gain in November. The two increases were the biggest monthly gains in a decade. Total consumer borrowing is now at a seasonally adjusted $2.5 trillion. That nearly matches the pre-recession borrowing level, and it is up 4.4% from the September 2010 post-recession low.

  • Consumers led the way in debt reduction, but now are back to their old materialistic ways

With the temporary extension of the payroll tax holiday, long-term unemployment benefits, and the so-called Medicare “Doc Fix” all due to run out at the end of the month, congressional negotiators admit their time is running short with little hope for immediate resolution.

With more than half the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 reporting their fourth-quarter results, it’s been a solid quarter, with 7.5% growth, but not up to the stellar levels of the previous recent quarters. Earnings growth has slowed down in each of the past eight quarters. Corporate earnings grew 17.3% in the third quarter and 28% in the fourth quarter of 2010.


Riot police fired tear gas to repel hundreds of anti-austerity protesters trying to break a cordon outside Parliament, but no arrests or injuries were reported and the clashes quickly subsided. Police said some 10,000 people took part in an otherwise peaceful march to Parliament under heavy rain, organized by the country’s two biggest labor unions. A separate demonstration by about 10,000 Communist unionists ended without incident. A general strike against the impending cutbacks stopped train and ferry services nationwide, while many schools and banks were closed and state hospitals worked on skeleton staff. Heads of the three parties backing the interim government will confer with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on new salary cuts and job losses, which Greece’s eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund are demanding to keep the country’s vital rescue loans flowing.


Romania’s government collapsed Monday following weeks of protests against austerity measures, the latest debt-stricken government in Europe to fall in the face of raising public anger over biting cuts. Emil Boc, who had been prime minister since 2008, said he was resigning “to defuse political and social tension” and to make way for a new government. Boc’s resignation came as Romania is starting to feel the effects of the widespread cuts that the government put in place in exchange for a euro20 billion ($26 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank in 2009.

Middle East

After months of wavering, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took a decisive step Monday toward reconciliation with the Islamic militant group Hamas, a move Israel promptly warned would close the door to any future peace talks. Abbas will head an interim unity government to prepare for general elections in the Palestinian territories in the coming months. The agreement appeared to bring reconciliation — key to any statehood ambitions — within reach for the first time since the two sides set up rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007. Abbas appears to have concluded that he has a better chance of repairing relations with Hamas, shunned by the West as a terror group, than reaching an agreement with Israel’s hardline prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.


Members of Egypt’s newly elected government refused to back off Monday from charges that 19 Americans and several other foreigners are aiding violent protests and will be tried in court. Meanwhile, the United States on Monday threatened to cut off $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt for what it called an illegitimate crackdown on foreign groups known as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that promote democracy. Egypt will not accept any violations of Egyptian law or interference of Egypt sovereignty, said Sobhy Saleh, whose Freedom and Justice Party is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which recently won the majority of seats in the Egyptian parliament.


As Western nations increasingly push to end the violence in Syria, dissidents on Tuesday said the killings are escalating in the city of Homs — a flash point for the uprising — where residents are fighting furiously to prevent their own annihilation. Troops under President Bashar Assad continued on Tuesday to shell the Baba Amr district of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city and an area that has been under siege for months. More than 300 people are believed to have died in Homs last weekend. Since the uprising in Syria began 11 months ago, nearly 6,000 people have died, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Damascus on Tuesday and urged Assad to move ahead with political changes to address opponents who demand Assad’s resignation. Lavrov was met by thousands of Assad supporters waving Russian flags and praising his country for blocking attempts to enact sanctions against Syria’s government at the U.N.


Inspectors searching for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles amassed by Moammar Gadhafi and prized by terrorists can’t account for thousands of them. Inspectors have accounted for about 5,000 of the portable missiles and components. Gadhafi’s regime stockpiled about 20,000 portable missiles during his four decades in power. Many were probably destroyed by NATO airstrikes, and others remain in the hands of militias who fought Gadhafi’s regime. That makes it difficult to estimate how many remain at large, but a huge amount nonetheless. The missiles, called man-portable air defense systems, are ideal for terrorists because they are easily concealed and can hit commercial airliners.


Pakistani intelligence officials said U.S. drone-fired missiles have killed eight people in the country’s northwest tribal region near the Afghan border. The officials said the missiles hit a house Wednesday in Spalga village in the North Waziristan tribal area. The area is dominated by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a prominent militant commander who has focused on fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan.


Iran’s parliament has summoned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for questioning over a long list of accusations, including allegations that he mismanaged the nation’s economy. It’s the first summons of its kind for an Iranian president since 1979. It follows a petition by a parliamentary committee and is part of a power struggle ahead of March parliamentary elections. The president must appear in parliament after one month.


Rescuers digging for survivors among dozens of people buried by earthquake-triggered landslides on a central Philippine island have found only bodies. The death toll climbed to 15 on Tuesday, and at least 73 people were still missing. Monday’s 6.9-magnitude earthquake also collapsed bridges and damaged roads on Negros Island, forcing soldiers and firefighters to hike mountains to reach remote villages. The damage may be worse than officials realized because the quake cut off communications to some villages.


The streets in Rome were empty Monday as the city was crippled for the fourth straight day by a massive snowstorm that shut down streets, felled trees and paralyzed villages with the heaviest snowfall in decades. Even Rome’s ancient Coliseum was closed. Snowdrifts reached 6 feet outside the city. A mini ice-age has caused record-low temperatures in Eastern Europe and rare heavy snow across the continent. Reports from hospitals and emergency agencies put the death toll over the past several days at more than 300 as of Monday. Finland’s temperatures plummeted to 40 degrees below zero. The Netherlands saw its coldest weather in 15 years. Even Algeria in North Africa had snow and ice on the ground.

January 2012 was the USA’s 4th-warmest January on record, federal climate scientists announced on Tuesday. No state was cooler than average. The national average temperature in January was 36.3 degrees F, which is 5.5 degrees F above the long-term average and the warmest since 2006, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. The other warmer Januarys were in 1990 and 1953. The data is based on records dating back to 1895.

  • Weather extremes, not global warming, will be the hallmark of the end-times

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Signs of the Times (2/6/12)

February 6, 2012

Komen Reverses Decision on Funding for Planned Parenthood

Facing intense pressure and widening furor from a growing swell of critics, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation on Friday reversed a controversial decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood. Komen, the nation’s leading breast cancer advocacy group, had provided grants to Planned Parenthood for years, including nearly $700,000 in 2011. But in a move critics said was politically motivated, Komen said Tuesday it would no longer provide funding, based on recent internal changes that bar the foundation from providing funding to organizations that are under investigation. Planned Parenthood, which provides breast examinations and related care to thousands of women unable to afford health care, is under investigation by Congress to determine whether the organization is using federal funds for abortions. Critics blasted Komen, contending the foundation decided to terminate its funding of Planned Parenthood under pressure from anti-abortion activists — a charge Komen founder Nancy Brinker denied.

  • Another barometer of America’s pulse and moralistic decay, choosing murder over the sanctity of life.

Most Women Pro-Life

As female pro-life leaders gathered in D.C. this week for one of the largest events ever held to honor and mobilize pro-life women, many of them echoed the same facts — that the majority of American women are pro-life, and that they are the ones leading the fight against abortion, CBN News reports. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, cited statistics showing that pro-life women are now a majority, and a growing one. “People keep flocking in our direction as women themselves are speaking up to talk about how much the abortion experience damaged them, how much they regret that decision,” she said. Radio personality Mary Katherine Ham added that many women were fed up with the insistence of liberal-leaning feminists that all liberated women must hold pro-choice views. “The truth is that women are at the helm of the pro-life movement,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List.

Obama Hears Pro-Life Message at Prayer Breakfast

President Barack Obama has attended the National Prayer Breakfast, where the keynote speaker spoke out against abortion. Christian author Eric Metaxas summarized biographies of William Wilberforce, who fought to outlaw slavery, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who stood up for Jews in Nazi Germany. He then asked: “Who do we say is not fully human today? Who is expendable to us?” Metaxas suggested that only God can open people’s eyes to see the unborn as human beings, and urged pro-life advocates to love those who disagree with them.

Police Sweep Away Occupy Encampments

U.S. Park Police swept through the Occupy D.C. encampment in Washington’s McPherson Square on Saturday, hauling away bedding, clothing and dead rats in what they characterized as a protest that had become a public nuisance. More than 100 police officers — some on horseback, others in yellow hazardous materials suits — arrived at the square two blocks from the White House at 6 a.m. Saturday after warning the protesters on Monday that camping in the federal space is illegal. At least eleven people were arrested, and U.S. Park Police said an officer was struck with a brick in the face. Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser says the protesters, who began the occupation Oct. 1, can remain day and night. “This is not an eviction,” he said. “They can remain in the park and exercise their First Amendment rights.”

Police also moved in and dismantled the Occupy Austin encampment at City Hall. The city said it no longer could afford the cost of police overtime and site maintenance. Meanwhile, dozens of Occupy Oakland demonstrators burned an American flag and marched through the streets Saturday night, a week after police fired tear gas to quell violent demonstrations and hundreds were arrested following a mass break-in at City Hall. Saturday’s action was aimed at protesting what they claim was abuse at the hands of officers during last Saturday’s protest that peaked with rock and bottle throwing from protesters and volleys of tear gas in response from the police.

Real Unemployment Rate 23%

The real unemployment rate for January 2012 is closer to 23% percent, not the 8.3 percent reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics no longer considers as “unemployed” those workers without jobs who have not looked for work in the past year because they feel no jobs are available. The only measure BLS reports to the public as the official monthly unemployment rate is the seasonally adjusted U3 number. However, the BLS website also shows the U6 January unemployment rate of 15.1 percent. U6 unemployment includes those marginally attached to the labor force and the “under-employed,” those who have accepted part-time jobs when they are really looking for full-time employment.

Economic News

The U.S. increased the debt ceiling on Friday (with 52 votes from the Senate), allowing us to borrow another $1.2 trillion to goose the economy. Another $120 billion was added to the national debt in just two days. This year’s $3.6 trillion federal budget is 20% larger than the 2008 budget, so spending is expanding, not contracting.

  • When numbers compound, the result is geometric expansion. And that’s happening right now with our national debt because we continue to borrow money to pay the interest.

The $15.3 trillion we owe today is really just the tip of the iceberg. Not yet included in our debt totals are the $15 trillion shortfall in Social Security, the $20 trillion unfunded prescription drug benefit, or the $115 trillion unfunded Medicare liability. The federal government’s total obligations today – including all future obligations – is more than $1 million per taxpayer.

After rising 19 cents a gallon in the past four weeks, regular unleaded gasoline now averages $3.48 a gallon, vs. $3.12 a year ago and $2.67 in February 2010. Prices could spike another 60 cents or more by May, according to industry experts.

The Air Force detailed plans on Friday to cut the service by nearly 10,000 airmen next year as part of a broad move to downsize. Overall, about 3,900 active duty, 5,100 Air National Guard and 900 Air Force reserves would be cut in the next year.

Middle East

Israeli facilities worldwide are on high alert against an attack from Iran. Police and intelligence officials in U.S. and Canadian cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Toronto — have increased patrols at Israeli government locations and Jewish institutions. According to Israeli military intelligence, today there are more than 200,000 missiles and rockets pointed at Israel, mostly Iranian supplied.

Iran began ground military exercises Saturday and defiantly warned that it could cut off oil exports to “hostile” European nations as tensions rise over suggestions that military strikes are an increasing possibility if sanctions fail to rein in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Western forces also have boosted their naval presence in the Gulf led by the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was in Israel to try to restart the stalled peace negotiations, he urged Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. The Prime Minister rebuffed those demands, correctly pointing out that settlements are not the problem preventing peace; it is the unwillingness of the Palestinians to accept Israel’s existence that is the problem.

The main Palestinian political rivals took a major step Monday toward healing their bitter rift, agreeing that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would head an interim unity government to prepare for general elections in the West Bank and Gaza. The agreement, brokered by Qatar, was signed by Abbas and Khaled Mashaal, chief of the Islamic militant group Hamas.


The Obama administration has closed the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and pulled all American diplomats out of Syria. Ambassador Robert Ford and other diplomats left Syria on Monday. It’s the most dramatic U.S. move so far after 11 months of a violent crackdown on dissent by President Bashar Assad’s regime. The United States also proposed an international coalition to support Syria’s opposition Sunday after Russia and China blocked a U.N. attempt to end nearly 11 months of bloodshed, raising fears that violence will escalate. Protesters attacked seven Syrian embassies around the world following reports of the bloodiest episode yet in Damascus’ nearly yearlong crackdown on dissent. Mobs trashed diplomats’ offices from London to Australia and set the embassy in Cairo on fire.

The U.N. Security Council failed again Saturday to take decisive action to stop the escalating violence in Syria as Russia and China blocked a resolution backing an Arab League plan that calls for President Bashar Assad to step down. The double-veto outraged the U.S. and European council members who feared it would embolden the Assad regime. Russia said the resolution on resolving the crisis in Syria must explicitly rule out a Libya-style military intervention. Russia also opposes a weapons embargo on Syria and/or a tightening of economic sanctions on the country.

Intense blasts echoed through the ravaged Syrian city of Homs on Monday after a weekend bloodbath ended in hundreds of deaths there. At least 46 people were killed across Syria on Monday. Syrian forces unleashed a barrage of mortars and artillery on the battered city of Homs over the weekend, killing more than 200 people in what appeared to be the bloodiest episode in the nearly 11-month-old uprising. Homs was virtually locked down by President Bashar Assad’s security forces to prevent residents from commemorating the 30th anniversary of an even bigger massacre carried out there by Assad’s father in 1982.


Volleys of tear gas left a white cloud over Cairo’s Tahrir Square and surrounding streets in the vicinity of Egypt’s Interior Ministry, in the fourth day of clashes between security forces and rock-throwing youth protesting a deadly soccer riot. The number of people killed in clashes with Egyptian security forces in the wake of a deadly soccer riot rose to twelve Sunday, as demonstrators in Cairo kept up their calls for an end to military rule and retribution for those killed in the post-soccer game violence. Several hundred protested in the capital’s Tahrir Square and near the Interior Ministry on Saturday morning, demanding police reforms. Others chanted for the execution of Egypt’s military ruler who has been accused of mismanaging the country’s transition to democracy.


A U.N. report issued on Saturday said last year was the deadliest on record for Afghan civilians, with 3,021 killed in the war. It was an 8% increase in civilian deaths from 2010. 2011 was also the fifth year in a row that the civilian toll has became steadily worse. The report said insurgents killed more than three-quarters of the civilians who died, with a steep rise in people killed in suicide bombings. NATO and Afghan security forces were responsible for 410 civilian deaths — about 14% of the total. The figures were a grim testament to the violence that the Taliban and allied Islamist militants can still unleash in Afghanistan. A car bomb exploded just outside the police headquarters of a southern Afghanistan city on Sunday, killing at least seven people.


Their frozen breath rising in the brutally frigid air, tens of thousands of protesters marched through downtown Moscow on Saturday to keep up the pressure on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin one month before a presidential election that could extend his rule for six more years. The protesters have few illusions that they can drive Putin from power now, but for the first time in years Russians are challenging his control and demanding that their voices be heard. Wrapped in furs or dressed for the ski slope, as many as 120,000 people turned out for the third and perhaps largest mass demonstration since Putin’s party won a parliamentary election Dec. 4 with the help of what appeared to be widespread fraud.


A strong earthquake in the central Philippines killed at least 13 people Monday as it destroyed buildings and triggered landslides that buried dozens of houses, trapping residents. At least 29 people were missing. The 6.8-magnitude quake, in a narrow strait just off Negros Island, caused a landslide in Guihulngan, a city of about 180,000 people. As many as 30 houses were buried. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology issued a tsunami alert for central islands, saying the quake could trigger a 3-foot (1-meter) wave along the island’s eastern coast


Bosnian authorities on Sunday used helicopters to evacuate sick people and deliver food to thousands of people who have been cut off by the heaviest snow the country has ever recorded. More than 100 remote Bosnian villages are cut off by snow over 6 1/2 feet high in the mountains. More than 3 feet has fallen in the capital Sarajevo, where a state of emergency has been declared. In neighboring Serbia, officials said 70,000 people remain cut off. All across Eastern Europe, thousands of people were digging themselves out from heavy snow that followed a weeklong cold snap that has killed hundreds.

The most powerful storm of the winter season pounded Colorado with up to 6 feet of snow in the Rocky Mountain foothills and forced the cancellation of more than 600 flights in Denver. Blizzard conditions hit the eastern Colorado plains, with 5-foot drifts in parts of Elbert County. Near-zero visibility forced officials to close all 160 miles of westbound Interstate 70 between the Kansas state line and Denver. The snow was a welcome boost to several ski resorts around Denver that have suffered below-average snowfall this season. However, the storm only dusted larger resorts, such as Vail, with a few inches in the central Colorado mountains.

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