Signs of the Times (2/3/12)

Economy Adds 243,000 Jobs; Unemployment Rate Falls to 8.3%

The U.S. unemployment rate fell for the fifth straight month after a surge of January hiring, a promising shift in the nation’s outlook for job growth. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.3% in January from 8.5% in December. That’s the lowest in nearly three years. The Labor Department says employers added 243,000 jobs in January, the most in nine months. Employers have added an average of 201,000 jobs per month in the past three months. That’s 50,000 more jobs per month than the economy averaged in each month last year. Manufacturers expanded at the fastest pace in seven months in January, a private survey showed.

  • After a brief respite, debt and currency issues will cut the recovery short

LGBT, Occupy DC Groups Protest National Prayer Breakfast

Two groups protested the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Thursday morning — GetEQUAL, a gay rights group and Occupy DC. The National Prayer Breakfast, held on the first Thursday of every February, attracts top leaders, including the president, legislators, lobbyists and business executives. GetEQUAL said it would be protesting the event to raise awareness of LGBT “hate” and “persecution,” and Occupy DC protesters said they would be there to object to the event’s “exclusivity” and catering to the “1 percent.” President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend this year’s event, along with many members of Congress.

  • Reveals linkage between Occupy organizers and the gay agenda. Opposition to prayer shows their anti-Christian bias.

Washington Passes Gay Marriage Bill

The Washington state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, setting the stage for the state to become the seventh to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. The measure now heads to the House, which is expected to approve it. Gov. Chris Gregoire supports the measure and has said she will sign it into law, though opponents have promised to challenge it at the ballot with a referendum. Four Republicans crossed party lines and voted with majority Democrats for the measure. Three Democrats voted against it. Nearly a dozen amendments were introduced, including several that passed that strengthen legal protections for religious groups and organizations. Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

House Votes to Continue Pay Freezes

Republicans have pushed through the House a bill that would freeze the wages of federal workers for a third year and bar members of Congress from giving themselves a pay raise. Republican sponsors said their measure, which would freeze federal worker wages through 2013, would save taxpayers $26 billion. It would not apply to military personnel. Many Democrats objected to the freeze, arguing that federal workers already had done their part in reducing budget deficits. President Obama is expected to propose a 0.5% hike in federal employee wages in this 2013 budget proposal.

Indiana Passes Right to Work Law

A right-to-work bill became state law in Indiana on Wednesday. The state Senate voted 28-22 to pass the labor union bill as thousands of protesters packed Statehouse hallways, shouting their disapproval. Thousands more were outside waiting to get in. Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the bill shortly thereafter without ceremony, making Indiana the 23rd state in the nation with such a law. Indiana also is the first state in the “Rust Belt” of the Midwest and Northeast to adopt the measure. Under right-to-work laws, companies can no longer negotiate a contract with a union that requires non-members to pay fees for representation. The House earlier passed the measure 54-44. Democratic Sen. Tim Skinner called this part of a “union-busting” agenda. After the Senate vote, the protesters poured out of the Statehouse to join a rally on the Statehouse lawn and a march to Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be held Sunday.

Obama Unveils Housing Plan

President Barack Obama is proposing new legislation that would change the way houses are bought, sold and refinanced as an effort to stabilize the nation’s ailing housing system. One immediate goal of the so-called Homeowner Bill of Rights is to enable more borrowers to refinance, reduce their monthly payments or pay off their loans sooner, rebuilding equity lost in the housing crash. The legislation announced Wednesday also would create a standardized system for mortgage applications and would expand bulk sales of government-owned foreclosure homes to investors, with the goal of decreasing the number of empty homes. Nearly 3.5 million U.S. homeowners with private mortgages, who owe more than their houses are now worth, could be eligible if the legislation passes. However, the proposal is expected to meet strong opposition from Republicans. The program would cost between $5 billion and $10 billion.

Obama Expedites Offshore Wind-Farm Plans

In a bid to help launch offshore wind power in the United States, the Obama administration said Thursday that it was moving forward to lease four areas off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said federal environmental reviews for “wind energy areas” off Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia are now complete and find “no significant environmental impacts” from their development. That finding clears the way for companies to seek leases. A similar announcement for the Massachusetts coast is expected later Friday. Wind power has expanded quickly in the United States — up 33% annually in each of the past five years — but all of that growth has occurred onshore. Offshore projects have been proposed, but none is in operation or under construction. Only one, Cape Wind in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, has been approved after a decade of wrangling.

Secrecy Shrouds ‘Super PAC’ Funds in Latest Filings

Newly disclosed details of the millions of dollars flowing into political groups are highlighting not just the scale of donations from corporation and unions but also the secrecy surrounding “super PACs” seeking to influence the presidential race, according to the New York Times. Some checks came from sources obscured from public view, like a $250,000 contribution to a super PAC backing Mr. Romney from a company with a post office box for a headquarters and no known employees. Most of the money disclosed this week went to independent groups supporting Republicans, giving them an enormous money advantage over similar Democratic groups in the first phase of the 2012 election cycle. Such donations were made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 and subsequent court rulings, which opened the door to unlimited corporate and union contributions to political committees and made it possible to pool that money with unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals.

  • No matter how many ‘reforms’ are legislated to limit political contributions, big money will always find a way to pollute the process

S.E.C. Voiding Tough Sanctions for Large Banks

Even as the Securities and Exchange Commission has stepped up its investigations of Wall Street in the last decade, the agency has repeatedly allowed the biggest firms to avoid punishments specifically meant to apply to fraud cases. By granting exemptions to laws and regulations that act as a deterrent to securities fraud, the S.E.C. has let financial giants like JPMorganChase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America continue to have advantages reserved for the most dependable companies, making it easier for them to raise money from investors, for example, and to avoid liability from lawsuits. An analysis by The New York Times of S.E.C. investigations over the last decade found nearly 350 instances where the agency has given big Wall Street institutions and other financial companies a pass on those or other sanctions.

Economic News

Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf on Wednesday projected that economic growth will slow by next year and unemployment will rise before that. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is chairman, raised alarm given projections that 2012 “will mark the fourth straight year of trillion-dollar deficits. Trillions more dollars will be added to debt in the years ahead, putting a chilling effect on jobs creation today and committing the next generation to a diminished future,” he said.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, a sign of more gradual improvement in the job market. The Labor Department reported Thursday that 367,000 people filed for initial unemployment benefits in the week ended Jan. 28, down 12,000 from the previous week and less than the benchmark 375,000 signifying potential job growth.

California Controller John Chiang said his state could run out of cash next month. The state needs $3.3 billion for March and the first two weeks of April. State receipts were $2.6 billion less than forecasts through December 31. And expenditures were $2.6 billion higher.

  • California is already one of the most oppressive tax climates in the U.S. due to their extremist liberal policies

While cor­po­rate profits have risen steadily since the mid-1980′s, per­sonal wages have stagnated. This is the direct result of cor­po­ra­tions using dirt-cheap labor in coun­tries like China, India and Mexico and the inevitable result of glob­al­iza­tion. But it’s not just the corporations who are to blame: con­sumers are just as guilty because they want every­thing as cheap as possible, playing right into the globalist New World Order agenda.

Money-printing by the European Central Bank (ECB) will undoubtedly bring inflation to our shores. And according to the European Union’s biggest banks, it will happen soon. Last month, the ECB “loaned” banks nearly 500 billion euros. (The loans were basically free.) The ECB will hold a three-year auction for more funds on February 29. And many of Europe’s biggest banks told the Financial Times they could easily double or triple their request for funds.

Middle East

Israeli leaders on Thursday made their strongest suggestions yet of possible air strikes against Iran, citing Iranian plans to move uranium enrichment facilities into newly constructed mountain bunkers. The Washington Post reports that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a ‘zone of immunity’ to commence building a nuclear bomb.” President Obama and Panetta are said to have cautioned the Israelis that the United States opposes an attack, believing that it would derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program and other non-military efforts to stop Iran from crossing the threshold. But the White House hasn’t yet decided precisely how the United States would respond if the Israelis do attack.

  • Such an attack could launch the Middle East war of Ezekiel 38-39 that is a precursor to the Tribulation

Afghanistan

The Taliban dismissed reports they are preparing to talk peace with the Afghan government, and a NATO report leaked Wednesday shows captured insurgents full of confidence they will seize power after international troops leave. Steps toward finding a political resolution to the 10-year-old war continue to be bogged down in discussions among the U.S. and its partners over venues, agendas and conflicting interests. The Taliban calls the Afghan government a puppet regime. The insurgency, however, has agreed to set up a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar and has acknowledged having preliminary discussions with the U.S.

Five Taliban leaders currently residing in Guantanamo Bay are scheduled to be released by the Obama administration as part of a series of “operational steps” designed to further peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. Many have come out and denounced the unprecedented move. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that the Obama administration’s efforts reek of “desperation.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday the coalition in Afghanistan hopes to have shifted its primary mission from combat to advising and training Afghan security forces next year. According to Reuters, the U.S. military said in a secret report that the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, is set to retake control of Afghanistan after NATO withdraws its forces from the country. “Many Afghans are already bracing themselves for an eventual return of the Taliban,” Britain’s Times of London newspaper said today, quoting the “highly classified” leaked report.

Syria

Syrian troops battled army defectors in a string of towns in the mountains overlooking Damascus on Wednesday in a new assault to crush rebellious areas around the capital. The battles in a mountain valley came after regime forces succeeded in largely retaking control of suburbs on the eastern side of the city in an offensive the past week that fueled some of the bloodiest days of the nearly 11-month-old uprising.

Egypt

Gunmen intercepted a tourist minivan and snatched two female American tourists at gunpoint, along with their Egyptian tour guide Friday near St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. The abductors sped away into the mountains. A helicopter was leading a search and rescue mission. The tourists were returning from the monastery to the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. Egypt has faced deteriorating security and a surge in crime since the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak nearly a year ago.

At least 74 people were killed and 248 injured after soccer fans rushed the field in the seaside city of Port Said Wednesday following an upset victory by the home team over Egypt’s top club, setting off clashes and a stampede as riot police largely failed to intervene. It was a bloody reminder of the security vacuum that faces the Arab world’s most populous country. Most of the hundreds of black-uniformed police with helmets and shields stood in lines and did nothing as soccer fans fought, some wielding sharp objects and others hurling sticks and rocks. Police shot and killed two protesters in Suez, Egypt, early Friday, the first to die in clashes that erupted around the country after the soccer riot, protesting the security forces lack of response.

  • The spirit of lawlessness is especially active in anti-Christ Islamic environments where decades of repression has reached the boiling point

Iran

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad sent a proposal to parliament for a $416 billion budget on Wednesday. According to Iranian media, the budget included a doubling of military expenditures and lavish funding for various other pet projects but little relief for working class Iranians. Critics of the budget said it was based on an expectation of 8% economic growth, which had little basis in reality, completely ignoring the high unemployment rate and the likely effects of inflation and international sanctions on Iranian oil sales meant to dissuade the Islamic Republic from pursuing its renegade nuclear program.

A team of inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on Wednesday that they would be returning to Iran later this month after a recent three day visit which it described as “good” despite achieving no positive results. Because of sanctions designed to halt the transfer of weapons and nuclear arms-related equipment to Iran, the Islamic Republic has resorted to renaming and reflagging its ships to avoid their illegal shipments from being found. A careful study found that roughly seventy five percent of Iran’s ships have been renamed in the past four years. The report said they “are being shuffled like a deck of cards in a Las Vegas casino.” Iran has transferred nominal control of many ships to other nations to avoid the sanctions.

India

A staff member and two church leaders from a California-based church planting ministry have been captured in western India, ASSIST News Service reports. The three members of Empart — which trains local people to start churches in their own communities — were taken by force on their way to an evangelistic outreach event in an area dominated by militant Naxalites, a Maoist party considered to be the most dangerous terrorist organization in India. “At this stage, we do not know who took them or what their demands are,” said Jeff Cannon, U.S. director of Empart USA. “Local witnesses were unable to identify the perpetrators as their faces were covered. While this is a serious situation, we serve a mighty God who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Please … pray for God’s divine wisdom and direction.”

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake has struck about 77 miles west of the capital of the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-7.1 quake struck Thursday. The quake struck at a depth of 14 miles. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a bulletin saying “no destructive widespread tsunami threat exists” from the quake but warned that local tsunamis could occur within 62 miles of the epicenter.

Volcanoes

Scientists have known for decades that hidden under those impressive vistas at sites such as Death Valley and Yellowstone National Park are magma pools that under the right conditions can trigger explosive eruptions. Now, the USA Today reports, new research is changing scientists’ understanding of the timing of those eruptions, and prompting them to call for greater monitoring of sites to help save lives when the next big volcano explodes. Two recent papers highlight the shift. One looked at a Death Valley volcano thought to be 10,000 years old and found it last erupted just 800 years ago, and is still an eruption danger. The other found that large caldera volcanoes, such as the one under Crater Lake in Oregon, can recharge in a matter of decades, rather than the thousands of years previously thought. One thing that’s coming to light is that eruptions are often clustered, with long stretches of inactivity punctuated by periods of activity that can go on for years.

Weather

From Poland to the Balkans, Eastern Europeans have been hit by a Siberian cold front that has brought Arctic temperatures, sending residents scrambling for shelter and killing more than 100 people. The harsh weather has closed thousands of schools and roads, shut down ports, delayed flights and frozen ATMs. Hundreds of thousands are without power. Emergency workers tried to get the homeless off the streets and rescue trapped elderly people as hospital waiting rooms overflowed. Ukraine has seen temperatures of 27 below zero. At least 63 people have died there. Almost 1,000 people were treated in hospitals for hypothermia or frostbite.

At least six people have been killed and dozens more injured as a storm system that spawned several possible tornadoes moved across the Southeast. Suspected tornadoes were reported Wednesday in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina. Dozens of homes and buildings were damaged and thousands of people were without power as trees and power lines were downed.

Stores in Denver reported brisk business as customers stocked up on food ahead of a slow-moving winter storm that promised to bring nearly two feet of snow — an amount that would make it one of the heaviest snowstorms in the city’s history. Snow began falling Thursday night, and forecasters said it could keep coming down until Saturday morning. The forecast prompted Colorado lawmakers to cancel legislative work on Friday. The Legislature in neighboring Nebraska also canceled Friday afternoon hearings because of the expected storm.

Just 19% of the USA had snow on the ground Wednesday. A year ago, 52% of the country was snow-covered. In Bismarck, N.D., 5.9 inches of snow have fallen this winter; the average is 29 inches. Chicago, which was buried under about 2 feet of snow exactly a year ago, is having its warmest winter in 80 years. From Jan. 1 to 30, 2,892 record-high temperatures were recorded across the country. The high temperature in Washington, D.C., was 72 degrees Wednesday, where the average is 44, and it was 63 in New York City, where the average high is 39 degrees.

The rain that started trickling into Texas in the fall may finally be making a dent in Dallas, but the rest of the massive state is still a long way off from being out of a historic drought, and climate experts are warning against any premature partying. The Dallas-Fort Worth region and a swath of North Texas stretching to the state’s border with Oklahoma and Arkansas are officially out of drought for the first time since July. But this makes up less than 5 percent of Texas, and the downside is that the same data shows that parts of the state still in severe or exceptional drought has actually increased in the past week by 2 percent to 27 percent. In addition, almost 60 percent of the state is in some form of severe drought.

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