Signs of the Times (2/15/12)

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.

Syria

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.

Iran

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.

Egypt

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.

Earthquakes

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.

Weather

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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