Signs of the Times (2/8/12)

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.

Greece

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

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.

Egypt

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.

Syria

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.

Libya

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.

Pakistan

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

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.

Earthquakes

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.

Weather

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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