Signs of the Times (2/13/12)

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.

Greece

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?

Syria

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.

Japan

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.

Mexico

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.

Earthquakes

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.

Weather

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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